Posts Tagged ‘Ottawa’

When a landscape architect says: “Stop that racquet!”

Everybody makes mistakes. I certainly have. You have too. Even if you’re shaking your head.

The key to mistakes is getting past them. This is the story of what happens when you try not to.

Here in my city of Ottawa, there once was a man named Jack Purcell. Postal worker Jack Purcell lived in Ottawa’s Centretown neighbourhood and became famous for helping local youngsters to take part in hockey. For his contributions to the city, a park near his home was named after him, as well as an adjacent community and recreation centre, which opened in 1974.

That park was being revitalized, with a $525,000 budget, and it was decided to put some public art in there. Great idea. I’m a big fan of public art. But, according to the local city councillor, that’s where things went wrong. A quick Google of “Jack Purcell” led the landscape architects to a famous Canadian badminton player of the 1930s and 1940s who was the world badminton champion of his day. They then designed 10 sculptures.

CBC image of the new sculptures at Jack Purcell Park, which in NO WAY LOOK LIKE BADMINTON RACQUETS, OKAY?

Now here’s where it gets a little fuzzy. According to Councillor Diane Holmes, quoted in this Ottawa Citizen story: “The original design actually called for the racquet-shaped light fixtures — which each cost $4,595 — to be strung like real racquets, but that plan was nixed, Holmes added.”

The city staffer in charge of the project says the sculptures were never meant to commemorate Purcell, and that many people say they don’t look like badminton racquets anyway.

And — here, finally, is my point — the landscape architect says they’re stylized trees. In an interview with the local paper, architect Jerry Corush, a principal at CSM Landscape Architects, is quoted as saying ““We just didn’t stick our heads in the sands and say, ‘Well, we had a design and we’re going with it no matter what…In my eyes, it’s a stylized tree…We’ve been out there and some people will walk by and they’ll go, ‘It looks like a tennis racket, it looks like a tree, I don’t know what it looks like, and we just go, ‘Perfect, it’s a piece of art, it’s your own interpretation of what it is…This was the perfect example of why you go out to the community with design ideas ahead of finalizing anything…We knew that what we were doing. It sounds like we didn’t know what we were doing.”

This is one of those really embarrassing situations. There’s blame enough to spread around, that’s for sure. The Canadian Encyclopedia’s online entry states (incorrectly) that the centre is named for the badminton player (please note that Wikipedia does not duplicate that error). Worse, There’s not a word about who Jack Purcell is on the city’s website, or on the community centre site. And when media contacted Jack Purcell (Ottawa, not the badminton guy)’s son to talk about the sculptures, he mentioned that he hadn’t been contacted about the revitalization of the park or invited to the reopening ceremony. Awkward.

But worst of all, the landscape architect is trying to have his racquet and tree it too. While Corush might like to believe that they changed their idea, it appears the biggest change was to take the “strings” out of the “racquets” and add some LED lighting. Corush would be well advised to back down on his earlier remarks to the Ottawa Citizen and take a line like this: “We screwed up. We’ve tried to make the best of it, and eventually people will forget about all this. It’s a bit embarrassing for us, but the sculptures are attractive, and with their lighting, they’re also functional. We hope people will grow to love them.”

Public art is one of the easiest things in the world to criticize. And when something like this happens the criticism comes VERY easy. It would be better for all concerned if they owned up to their mistakes rather than trying to spin, obfuscate, or stretch the facts to try to cover up what is, in the end, a mistake.


Don’t mix your messages: UPDATED

There’s a shop in my neighbourhood with a patio that intrigues me every time I go past it. Which is just about every day.

They have a lovely patio. It has the following sign on it:


Which is lovely, right? Friendly,  inviting, colourful. Sadly, the website isn’t operative right now, but if my research has not led me wrong, Corrie Gibson was a young artist who died in 2009. What her connection to the store was I don’t know, but the patio is there.

Except when your head turns to the right about 10 degrees, and you see THIS sign:


Hm. “Sit :: Relax :: Enjoy” vs. “PATIO IS FOR THE USE OF BAGELSHOP’S CUSTOMERS ONLY.” What’s the result? The patio isn’t used a great deal. And I think it’s because of the sign.

Messages are important, and they don’t exist independent of each other. When you send out mixed messages like this, you confuse and alienate the people who receive them.

Don’t do that.

UPDATED, July 12: I’ve been trying to figure out the deal with this patio. And this newsletter article from the local BIA makes things curiouser and curiouser:

“It’s not every day that a business owner turns part of his property into a public park but that’s just what The Ottawa Bagelshop’s Vince Piazza has done with his lovely new urban patio and garden.

Need to put your feet up after a shopping spree in Wellington West? Or maybe you just need a nice shady corner to read a book? No matter the reason, Ottawa Bagelshop’s Vince Piazza welcomes you to take advantage of his comfy and accessible new patio.

Nobody will ask you to buy or order anything when you’re enjoying the garden. It’s a gift of public space from Vince, and on the community’s behalf we want to say thanks!” 


What we have here…

Here in Ottawa, the most concentrated area for tourists is called the Byward Market. This historic market dates to when the city was called Bytown, after its founder, Colonel John By. And while you can still get your cheese, produce, or meat in the Byward Market, there are more than 100 bars and restaurants that compete for thirsty locals and peckish tourist, and occasionally for the Rolling Stones, who filmed a video in the legendary Zaphod Beeblebrox.

When President Barack Obama visited Ottawa few years ago, he made a side trip to a Byward Market bakery called Le Moulin de Provence to pick up some cookies for his kids:

But that bakery, a bunch of others, and the business improvement area which represents the neighbourhood’s businesses, are not too happy these days. Over the next few weeks, about 25 businesses in this area will be losing power overnight, as Hydro Ottawa, the city’s power authority, works on an underground hydro vault.

The utility provided the businesses with two weeks’ notice. Moulin owner Claude Bonnet told CBC that he looked into a generator, but that $20,000 for three weeks’ rental couldn’t be justified. At least one nightclub has coughed up for a generator; other restaurants have reduced their service hours, and the bakery is reducing hours and struggling to rework its baking schedule.

So what’s to learn here? I guess there are two lessons. First off, while Hydro Ottawa has told media it consulted with businesses, it apparently didn’t consult widely enough. And it’s hard to imagine why this work would be scheduled during the start of Ottawa’s tourist season when we have months of winter when the work could have been done, and why business owners could only be given two weeks’ notice. It’s one thing to cut off power to my house overnight; I may miss an alarm or have to set up a battery-powered alarm clock. But when you’re a food business in the premier Ottawa tourist destination, it’s not an inconvenience, it’s a disaster.

And for businesses like Le Moulin de Provence, interruption strategies are crucial. I’ve done tons of crisis communications sessions where the organization has said “but that would NEVER happen.” I’m sure that M. Bonnet would have said “Hydro Ottawa would never cut off our power three nights per week for three weeks! We’re paying customers!” Just because an event is unlikely doesn’t mean it won’t happen.

So… what we have here…

is a failure to communicate.

The sad tale of Aubrey’s Meats and “daily deals.” UPDATED

I was watching my local newscast the other night when I watched a story about a local — and legendary — butcher shop.

Aubrey’s Meats is over 100 years old, and located in the Byward Market, one of Ottawa’s oldest areas. This may be one of its problems, actually. The Market, as it’s known to us Ottawans, is usually packed with a combination of tourists in search of the right tchotchke to take home to a coworker or maiden aunt and young revelers heading to The Heart and Crown or the Chateau Lafayette to get their drink on. If I’m gonna buy some steaks or a nice roast for the grill I’m not going to head to the Market.

But I digress. Aubrey’s Meats, according to its own “About” page, found itself in a serious bit of difficulty recently. The death of its owner and his declining health meant employees were running the shop. And not too well.

…in December 2010, Catherine Davis, the store’s bookkeeper, was made ad-hoc manager of Aubrey’s. When she took over, certain employees had run our store, between rent to the city and money owed to the suppliers, into a debt in excess of $300,000. Though it didn’t appear so, Aubrey’s was a sinking ship that some might not have tried to save. Out of a respect for Brian and his work, and an undying faith in this store’s potential, Catherine set about to keep Aubrey’s afloat.

So they were in trouble. Like some on a sinking ship, they grasped at anything that looked like it might help them float. And what they grabbed were Groupon and Kahoot.

They embarked on a number of different offers. One offered $200 in value for $89. They sold over 1000 of those. They offered others at $55 for $175 worth of meat. They sold thousands of those.


The hammer started to fall for the people running Aubrey’s when they realized that they couldn’t fulfil all the orders placed. So they limited it to redeeming $50 worth of meat at a time. Now they’ve suspended all redemptions until May 1.

What went wrong here? I think it should be obvious. The cash crunch they found themselves in made them decide to try this for an immediate cash infusion (even though they only get a portion of the revenue — according to the butcher who is the spokesperson for Aubrey’s right now, each $55 coupon resulted in $24 in revenue to Aubrey’s). But they didn’t look even one step down the road to figure out what to do if they SUCCEEDED with the offers. I feel for Aubrey’s employees. It sounds like they’re in a tight spot. But they’ve done themselves no favours by pursuing this strategy.

The companies which marketed their deals? I’d wager that they’re in no way suffering the way Aubrey’s is.

This isn’t a new story. Others, including my buddy Anne Weiskopf, have written about some of the challenges of managing daily deal sites for small businesses. Don’t just dive in. Think about the risks AND the potential benefits. If you’re new to doing that sort of thing, get advice. And if you’re considering a daily coupon site, you need to not only ask what will happen if your offer goes nowhere, you need to  think VERY carefully about what the implications of SUCCESS will be. Dying of popularity is not any better than dying of neglect. 


UPDATE, January 23: Three of the four companies which issued coupons for Aubrey’s meats are refunding those coupons, according to CBC Ottawa. Those are: Team Buy, DealFind and Groupon. CBC is reporting that Ottawa-based company Kahoot told its customers:

“We have been made aware of these unfortunate circumstances regarding Aubrey’s. Unfortunately we are unable to refund vouchers outside of seven days after purchase. If interested in a refund, we suggest going directly to Aubrey’s as they are now liable for their commitment to honour all vouchers sold.”

I wonder if Kahoot has thought about the several thousand people who bought through them rather than another of the coupon sites, and how likely they are to return to Kahoot to purchase.

UPDATE, JANUARY 24: I’ve asked Kahoot a couple of questions:

1. Can you provide the statement sent to customers who purchased Kahoot deals for Aubrey’s?
2. Is Kahoot concerned that its decision to not refund coupons will cost it brand loyalty when compared to the decisions of Teambuy, DealFind and Groupon to refund the coupons?

I’m hoping for a reply more substantive than this one from them:



Your business isn’t every business

Hat shop, from Flickr user Slimmer_Jimmer

Just 3 more and I get one free!

The Consumerist is one of my must-read blogs. But I don’t necessarily read it for solid marketing and communications advice. Until this morning, when I opened up my feed reader and found a post called “The Silly Hat Shop.”

It reminded me of a cool furniture store in my neighbourhood in Ottawa. They sell the sort of furniture that funky condos would have, as well as custom design services for furniture.

On their door, they trumpet that they’re on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. What’s that mean? For Twitter, they’ve posted 76 tweets in two years, with less than 50 followers. Most of those tweets are for sales on their products. On Facebook, a page with 133 friends and an unending series of sales. And on LinkedIn? Well, they have some employees there.

What does their online presence say to me? I’m NEVER buying full price from them, and they aren’t that different from a Leon’s, a “The Brick”, or other furniture stores.  In short, Ben Popken needed a hat and bought one at a new hat store. They then subjected him to a variety of marketing and loyalty techniques that, in his opinion and mine, don’t fit a hat shop. A frequent buyer card? Really?

I’d also wager that neither the hat shop nor the furniture store have put a second of thought into how they are going to evaluate the success of their frequent buyer club or their Twitter account.

Being a great buyer / retailer of hats, of furniture, of whatever, does not make you a great communicator of what you’re REALLY all about. If you sell great funky furniture that deserves premium treatment — and prices — why not treat it that way? And act as if you’re a trusted advisor rather than a salesman? If you sell hats, don’t treat them like they’re a cappuccino.

And if you can’t think this through because you’re too close to your store, too much in love with what you do — hire someone with a clear vision and trust their insights to do it for you.

(Photo CC licenced from Flickr user Slimmer_Jimmer)

Five tips on choosing the right medium, thanks to Tony Clement

Tony Clement

Tony Cement demos a new Twitter app

While politics isn’t a huge part of my business life (unlike my compatriot Mark Blevis, for example), I am an armchair political quarterback of the first water. So this post by Maclean’s magazine parliamentary correspondent and blogger Aaron Wherry really caught my eye.

Minister of Industry Tony Clement is possibly the most passionate user of Twitter within Canada’s federal cabinet (although there are others.) And he should be given credit for not cutting and running despite being in charge of some controversial files, including changes to Canada’s census, an attempted takeover of Potash Corporation by Australian firm BHP Billiton, and most recently the government’s awarding of $300 million to Pratt & Whitney Canada to assist the company in carrying out research & development on new aircraft engines.

The announcement of this funding led to some stiff media criticism, and last night, as Wherry illustrates, Minister Clement took to his Twitter account to joust with several people, including journalist Andrew Coyne and economist Stephen Gordon (who had been intensely critical of Clement’s decision to discontinue the mandatory long-form census).

Screengrab of Tonyclement_MP feed

Clement puts on the gloves Twitter-style

The exchange lasted about two hours and ended at about midnight. I think it’s remarkable (in a good way) that Clement is doing this. But it makes me wonder about a couple of things. The Stephen Harper government has been painted as exceedingly locked-down in terms of communication, and there has been a long history of clashes between journalists and the government. But here’s a senior cabinet minister slugging it out with a journalist and others in the public twitterverse.

So I tip my hat to Minister Clement. I think it’s great that he’s doing this. And now, some tips that I think his tweeting can teach us all:

  1. Use the tool that you are comfortable with. It could be argued that a blog might be a better tool for Clement. But for whatever reason or reasons, Clement likes Twitter. So he’s using Twitter. You can’t force a minister to do stuff. But I don’t think anyone’s twisting Clement’s arm to do this. He’s engaged. So work with that.
  2. Don’t cut and run when things get tough. Clement has gone through some bruiser battles on Twitter. But he’s still there, and while he may end a given exchange, he doesn’t go to ground when critics appear. You have to brace yourself for the critics and be ready to respond.
  3. Remember that you control your message, no matter the medium. In the exchange from last night, Andrew Coyne presses hard for Clement to disclose departmental research. Note that Clement doesn’t say “no.” He ignores the request. He could provide it at a later time, or he might not. Or Coyne could do an Access to Information request to obtain the research.
  4. Choose a medium you can communicate in. Clement appears to be a tech savvy guy; he also appears to like cut and thrust. That makes Twitter useful for him. Furthermore, he uses the shorthand and conventions of the medium to his own advantage. He shortens words, uses hashtags, etc.
  5. Choose a medium that matches your urgency and frequency needs. I mentioned in tip 1 that a blog might be better for Clement in terms of putting out fleshed-out arguments. But the conversationality wouldn’t be there, and the need to polish the writing would be higher. A podcast would require some sort of equipment (even Audioboo would require a mobile device), and it doesn’t have the immediacy of a tweet.

I hope these tips are useful. If you have any more to add, please leave them in the comments.

Some worthy advice for new politicians… and others.

BlogIn Ontario, new mayors and councillors are settling in for a four-year term that began last night.

Here in Ottawa, Mayor Jim Watson was sworn in, along with the 24 city councillors, 10 of whom were new to council. That’s a big turnover in municipal politics, where incumbents are generally thought to have a great advantage in election races.

The ceremony was marked by a couple of interesting symbolic actions. First, instead of City Hall, the ceremony was held at the Shenkman Arts Centre, a new city-owned arts facility in Ottawa’s suburban east end. And second, rather than a wine and puff pastry reception, Watson ‘called a friend at Tim Horton’, and the ceremony featured donated coffee, cookies and donuts from the company. Apparently that saved taxpayers $25,000. Yay, I guess.

Eric Darwin of the truly excellent West Side Action blog attended the swearing-in ceremony. One paragraph way down in his post about the ceremony really caught my attention(emphasis mine):

While chatting with a new councillor and a few other residents, someone pointed out I wrote the West Side Action blog. The conversation then turned to the blog, recent posts, the value of the micro-reporting on neighborhood affairs … and I noticed the councillor had drifted away, no longer centre of attention. Conclusion: Councillors, start a blog today, blog daily, if you don’t write it yourself get a staffer to do so, and write in plain English and not bureaucratese. Get someone who can spell better than me.

Compare this with some similar advice given to Carleton University by David Reevely, the “Greater Ottawa” blogger (also truly excellent, by the way) at the Ottawa Citizen yesterday(again, emphasis mine):

People want to talk to people, not to Carleton as a corporate entity. There are no people [on Carleton's new community engagement site]. It’s just an empty room. Maybe Katherine Graham could blog. Just her — no committee approving the posts and making sure they all align with Carleton’s strategic plan and have enough Latinate words in them. Just be a human being talking about work she’s proud of.

Sensing a theme here, folks? Is it a sign of a collective failure that 10 years after Pyra Labs launched Blogger, this advice still has to be given? And attention Rob Ford: it’s not free, but it’s pretty close, and I’m sure we’d all be entertained.

Member vs. non-member prices: recruitment inside out?

Is the price right?

... or IS it?

I get lots of invitations to events related to public relations, usually from local chapters of professional associations like CPRS or IABC or business groups like the Ottawa Chamber of Commerce, or from companies like Ragan Communications. Quite often, the pricing structure for an event – a breakfast, a webinar, a professional development session, whatever – goes like this:

  • Members $40
  • Non-members $55
  • Students $20

For example, Ragan says on its site

“Ragan Select members always get the lowest prices & access to all content.” (emphasis theirs)

This is a sensible structure in some ways. Members pay a membership fee, so this is pitched as one of the benefits of membership — reduced admission costs to events. Makes sense. Also makes sense to give students a break on attendance. I didn’t have much money when I was a student.

But I was thinking about this as a way of recruiting new members. Associations cost money. Unless you’re a student, joining CPRS will run you nearly $400; IABC is a bit cheaper. And unlike the old days, there are a ton of PD events out there that don’t require a membership: Social Media Breakfast, TEDx, Case Study Jam, Third Tuesday, Ottawa Brain Drain, Podcasters Across Borders

So if you’re an association, and you want to bring in new members, is the best way to recruit to charge people more? Might you not be better served by holding special “non-member events”, where you gave the noobs a discount? Or an event without a charge at all? And for that matter, given the negligible amount of revenue that student attendance at these events likely brings in, might it be worth it to not charge them at all?

If you don’t change your pricing structure, do you risk losing people who want to pay “à la carte” for their professional activities? Is it the membership fees that pay for things like the massive research library that IABC offers (to members and non-members, at different prices)? Without those fees, what happens to the research? Or to the associations themselves?

It feels like a truism to say that the pace of change in public relations and communications is break-neck. The advent of social media has accelerated that pace crazily. Many people in the industry are having difficulty with the way the practice and principles of public relations are being challenged by new media tactics and by the move to make “symmetrical two-way communications,” to quote the Grunigs, approach reality.

The local chapters of associations are led by dedicated volunteers looking to make connections, and in some cases names for themselves. Is the “way forward” now to volunteer for associations, or to do “personal branding?” Is the way forward going to make PR professional associations irrelevant?

I don’t know the answers. But I find the questions interesting.

When is it time to change?

There have been some stories in my local media about the closing of an old-school men’s clothing store in downtown Ottawa.  G.L. Myles. 1918-2010

G.L. Myles has been around for more than 90 years, and the current owner’s been there for more than 40, apparently. The store has provided clothes for lots of Prime Ministers and Governors-General, and apparently did a big trade in uniforms. The store also provides silk robes for Supreme Court Justices and less ostentatious ones for lawyers.

But, the owner told one reporter, men just aren’t wearing suits as much as they used to. He reminisces about top hats and white gloves, and about how nobody tied a bow tie like Lester B. Pearson (Pearson was a Nobel Peace Prize winner, a Prime Minister, and died 38 years ago). And on top of everything, he’s 67, and he’s got prostate cancer. (You’ve probably guessed that he doesn’t have a web site, or, as far as I know, an e-mail address.)

As I was listening, and then as I happened to walk past the store, its windows filled with “LIQUIDATION! CLOSING SALE!” signs, I thought about his reminiscences.

So there must have been a point before October 2010 when the owner thought to himself “Geez, men aren’t buying top hats any more. The silk ascots are not moving the way they used to (he really does / did sell ascots). This isn’t good.”

And at that point — or points, because he had to have thought it more than once — he had a choice. He could have changed his inventory. He could have moved from his location on a downtown Ottawa street where I’m sure the rent is prodigious.

Another men’s wear store in Ottawa, E.R. Fisher, has been around for even longer than Myles. They seem to be doing OK. They sell formal wear. They still provide uniforms, I think. And they sell corduroy pants, wool sweaters, and casual shirts. They’re not cheap — by no means in TipTop or Moores terrritory. But they seem to have a market.

To get all Seth Godin on you, we all make choices every day in our business lives. We do the right thing or the wrong thing, or we avoid making the decision at all. The owner of this store decided to reminisce about the days of men buying top hats and spats rather than actually choosing to sell stuff that people want to buy now.

Am I doing that? Are you? It’s a question worth asking, and answering honestly. Because time is not on your side. Or mine.

UPDATED: Pickup route for Ottawa women in need.

routeIf you care, here’s what I’m gonna be doin’ this afternoon. Thanks to EVERYONE for their generosity, from the individuals to the folks at Case Study Jam – including La Roma – who coughed up $100+, to Laura Payton (@laurapayton) who organized the Parliament Hill / Press Gallery canvas and has a crapload of stuff for me, to Ian Capstick, who started the ball rolling, to Lori Mellor at the Preston Street BIA

Ottawa, you are generous. Well done. I’ll post pictures of the booty as I pick it up.

UPDATED: This is what generosity looks like:


$110 in bus tickets.

Fit full of stuff

Fit full of stuff

Pickup #3

Pickup #3

I missed out on delivering the clothes and other goods to The Well. But I did get the bus tickets, $125 in cheques, Tim Horton’s cards, gift cards, $100+ in cash, and toiletries and other goods to Cornerstone’s temporary location.

So if you have stuff, send me a message. I’ll get it over the weekend and deliver it with the other stuff on Monday.And if you want to donate online, you can do that through Canada Helps, right here. Just click and give. You’ll be glad you did.