Olympic flame ignited patriotism

Just Saying by Paul Sullivan published in Metro Canada

You could write 2010 off as another year when bad things happened to good people.

That’s how it started, with the earthquake in Haiti, which gets more than its fair share of terrible disasters, natural and otherwise.

Meanwhile, bad people continued to do bad things: Hugh Hefner’s engagement to a woman 60 years his junior, for example. Or Lady Gaga’s meat dress: One giant leap for bad taste.

But 2010 was different enough to warrant a footnote in Sullivan’s Brief History Of The World. It all started with the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics.

The U.K. media were primed to slam dunk Vancouver right from the get-go. The Economist routinely picks Vancouver as the best city in world, which mystifies Londoners who have yet to hear the bad news about the British Empire.

It didn’t look good for the home team, faced with a tragic accident, melting venues and broken down buses. “The worst Olympics ever!” crowed the London crowd, prematurely, it turned out. By the end, John Furlong and VANOC had composed a triumph: Canada won a record number of gold medals; it stopped raining and Vancouver lifted its veil to an enchanted world. And if you believe Furlong, the Games broke even.

Furlong has earned the right to be believed. While the jackals were barking, he rallied his troops to overcome opening jitters. What started as the worst will be remembered as the best, and how’s that for a turn of events?

Canadians, even jaded hockey millionaires, dug deep into their reserves to come up with the performances of their lives. But speaking of deep, how about those Chilean miners? Somehow, 33 men survived 69 days buried deep under 700 metres of rock. Just writing the words sends chills up my spine. All 33 survived and emerged, dignity (almost) intact despite overwhelming media scrutiny. If that’s not a triumph of the will, I don’t know what is.

Magic comes in threes: Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, took on the might of the American Empire, which, while weakened by the foibles of Hugh Hefner and Lady Gaga, is still a formidable outfit. Assange struck a blow for freedom of expression, honesty and transparency, and seeing as the U.S. government is founded on those principles, at least in principle, there’s not much it can do. Except maybe try to get him convicted on trumped-up sex charges in Sweden.

I can hardly wait for the sequel. 2011? Bring it on.

One belief unites us all: Who doesn’t love a festival?

Just Saying by Paul Sullivan published in Metro Canada

’Tis a few days before Christmas and the Grinch is on the prowl.

Turns out the Grinch is a team at Simon Fraser University that has published the following anti-Christmas research: “Identity moderates the effects of Christmas displays on mood, self-esteem, and inclusion.”

According to the professors and their grad student Grinch accomplices, their research shows that “the pervasive presence of Christmas displays in December makes people who do not celebrate Christmas feel like they don’t belong, and it harms their emotional well-being.”

For those of us struggling to breathe under a seasonal avalanche of Bing Crosby, this is nothing new, but the closer you look at the actual experiment, the more you have to ask: Don’t these guys have anything better to do?

Here’s what they did — they put one group of students in a lab decorated with a 12-inch Christmas tree and another group in a lab with no tree. Then they asked them how they felt.
Subjects didn’t know they were in a study on the psychological effects of Christmas trees, but were asked to fill out a questionnaire about their mood. Moods varied depending on the presence of the tree and the background of the respondents. In the presence of the tree, Sikh and Buddhist respondents felt less sure about themselves and felt excluded from the university. Christian students reported a more positive mood.

Putting aside questions about the research (maybe 12-inch plastic trees are culturally depressing. Maybe Sikh and Buddhist students require much bigger trees to feel good?), this just encourages the brand of self-righteousness that blights the yuletide season annually.

Some killjoy kicks Christmas out of the mall in case someone might feel excluded. And now, they’ve got research to back them up. “Studies show …” they’ll proclaim, ignoring the fact it’s one study and one tree.

I wonder what would happen if the team put its subjects through the Halloween test. Or the Thanksgiving test. At some level, they’re all religious festivals, but they are also festivals.
I’m in favour of festivals. Thanks to multiculturalism, we keep adding them to the calendar: Hanukkah, Kwanzaa; Diwali; Narooz. If we keep this up, we can have a parade every day of the year. And how good is that?

The point is to use festivals to include people, not exclude them. We all believe different things, but if there’s one belief that unites us all, it’s simply this: Festivals are fun.

So, without prejudice, I offer the following greeting: Merry Christmas! (And happy holidays to everyone, even professors).

Vancouver and Toronto take different paths

Urban Compass by Paul Sullivan published in Metro Vancouver

This is a tale of two cities.

One is Vancouver, which wants to be the greenest city in the world. The mayor and his team of Visionaries are busy building homeless shelters, dedicated bike lanes and community gardens. They encourage residents to raise chickens and even keep bees at city hall.

Toronto, on the other hand, is going thataway. New Mayor Rob Ford considers cyclists “a pain in the ass” and the moment he was sworn in cancelled a vehicle levy, declaring “the war on the car” over. Ford has told more than one protester to “get a job,” and the only bees are in his bonnet, at least according to his critics.

Not too long ago, Toronto had, in David Miller, a mayor who was pretty much indistinguishable from our own Gregor the Good. Not that it seemed to do Toronto much good. A recent report shows the middle class is being squeezed out of Canada’s biggest city and low-income residents have increased to 53 per cent of the population.

The issues are much the same in both cities — only the well-heeled can inhabit their gleaming towers. At the same time, there are fewer well-paying jobs, so working families have to move to Maple Ridge or Langley near Vancouver, Brampton or Orangeville near Toronto. Everyone else ends up in substandard housing. Or on the street.

Rob Ford’s response to all this is to assemble a giant time machine and take everyone back to 1970, where cars ruled the road and the standard response to social unrest was: “Get a job.”

Here in Vancouver, it’s full speed ahead. We can’t get any more progressive, but that won’t stop us from trying.

So we have this giant, national social experiment and I hope I’m around long enough to see how it turns out. I just have to be careful when stepping off a downtown curb. Those bicycles are silent and deadly.

Who knows? Mayor Ford may be right — he’s certainly right wing — maybe the antidote to crime, homelessness, unemployment and other forms of urban decay is to “get a job.”

Or maybe the genie has been out of the bottle too long, and if we’re going to combat pollution, alienation, hopelessness and poverty, what better champion than the man from Happy Planet?

I get the feeling that it won’t be too long before the answer comes our way.

I just hope I’m in the right city at the right time.

Season’s Greetings from BreakThrough Communications

Martin Livingston and Paul Sullivan of BreakThrough Communications hope you have a joyful holiday and offer our best wishes for a Happy New Year. May it be your breakthrough year, whatever your endeavour.

Social Media Magic

By Paul Sullivan of Breakthrough Communications

Magic is in the air these days. Harry Potter is making magic at the box office, the magic of Christmas is upon us, and my inbox is full of emails promising to help harness the magic of social media.

Sadly, a lot of social media wizards should take lessons from Harry or Santa. Many of them hail from marketing and are a little stronger on form than they are on content.

The magic of social media is pretty simple. There is a potential audience of millions lurking out there, unrestricted by time or place. If your YouTube video, FaceBook page, blog or Tweets make the magic connection, you could be like 26-year-old Justine Ezarik, aka iJustine, who has 300 million video views, a million subscribers to her YouTube channel and 1.2 million followers on Twitter.

What kind of magic does iJustine perform exactly? Simply, she’s a 21st century news channel for 13-24 year-old girls and women. While publishers are knocking themselves out trying to figure out the secret incantation to make the Internet pay, iJustine just goes out and covers Justin Bieber. And gets paid by GE, Intel and Mattel.

In a world where there are almost as many online marketing consultants as there are online surfers, iJustine cuts through the mystery. She’s a trusted source who provides relevant news to self-selected audience that has an insatiable appetite for what they like.

Don’t get me wrong. There is much technical knowledge required for successful social media: search engines, aggregator sites like Digg and Reddit, conversion rates, spammers, flamers, trolls, freaks, etc. But all of the social media savvy is meaningless unless you have killer content, like iJustine, who started posting her quest to live a healthier life, and now takes followers inside the Mattel secret toy factory or the Intel secret chip factory.

And it’s not all about the kids. Gary Vaynerchuk has transformed his father’s local New Jersey wine shop into a $50 million online business with his video blog called Wine Library TV, which has 150,000 viewers per episode, and it pretty much sticks to the basics – news about wine.

The magic spell, if you like, is that if your content isn’t news, who cares? Which is the same magic spell we’ve always had to weave. “What’s the news?” is not a new question.

However, the answer to the question, “Where’s the audience?” is no longer “Reading the paper at the breakfast table”.  More and more, the audience is at YouTube, Google, Gawker, FaceBook or Twitter. If you haven’t heard, everybody is online. According to Internet World Stats, 266 million people, 77.4% of the market, are online. As of August, there were 150 million FaceBook users, a 43.3% market penetration. Everyone has a desktop, a laptop, a tablet or a smart phone, and they know how to search what they’re looking for.

But you’re not going to rely only on Google to get people to your news. You’re going to send out bulletins, (also known as tweets), to your followers so they know about your news. And the tweet better be newsworthy. It’s exactly what our forebears did when we sent newsboys out to the streets to shout “Extra!” Twitter is the new newsboy.

Unless you are one of those wizards we were talking about at the outset, keep the tweet simple, a 140-character headline link to the story, which is on your website, blog, podcast, or YouTube video, etc. This is in addition to your daily email update to your email list, but the great thing about Twitter followers is that they’ll get your tweets, even if they don’t have a smart phone, as a text message.

FaceBook is a destination and a billboard combined. It’s also more complicated than Twitter, with so many dimensions that the time required to build an active, interactive page takes longer than Twitter. So I’d recommend becoming a Twitter magician first.

Before I was a consultant I spent three decades in the newsroom, print, broadcast and electronic. Wherever I was, it was always about the front page, the lead item, the cover story or simply, what comes first? And that’s what social media is about. It’s the first thing you want to share with your followers. It’s the story you know they’ll want to share and talk about. Whatever else you do today, that’s job one. If you think of your tweets as the new banner or cover story, you’ll always have an audience.

Smug BC Ferries CEO makes good case for a causeway

Urban Compass by Paul Sullivan published in Metro Vancouver

Does it ever seem that sometimes “they” go out of their way to make us crazy?

What other explanation can there be for the ridiculous salaries at BC Ferries? CEO David Hahn makes almost one million bucks a year, and when challenged, issues the following brain-exploding explanation: “I think people have to decide if they want the old, dilapidated ferry system or if they want what they have today.”

No, Dave, that’s not the choice. We want a good, reliable ferry service without getting held for ransom by its CEO and employees, four who make more than $400,000 a year, four dozen more who make $137,000 to $200,000, and 1,000 who make more than $75,000!   … read full story

Secret is out: The Internet changed everything

Just Saying by Paul Sullivan published in Metro Canada

Julian Assange, first martyr of the Internet?

It certainly looks that way. The founder of WikiLeaks, the man who embarrassed heads of state around the world by leaking thousands of messages written by U.S. diplomats, has been arrested and is cooling his heels in a London jail without bail, waiting to find out if he will be extradited for having sex in Sweden.

Yep, you read that right. The more you read about the alleged sexual molestation case against the 39-year-old Aussie, the more you have to wonder if he’s being set up for tattling on the world.

Accounts in Newsweek, The Daily Mail, AOL News, etc., make it clear he’s not being held on rape charges, but something called “sex by surprise,” and one of the women allegedly surprised by sex bought breakfast after the alleged surprise.   … read full story

The arm that pokes the fire bites the hand that feeds

Urban Compass by Paul Sullivan published in Metro Vancouver

When I think I understand what’s going on, something happens to make it clear I understand nothing.

Like the Fireplace Channel.

Every year during the holiday season, Shaw dedicates one of its apparently endless supply of cable channels to a 24/7 video of wood merrily burning in a fireplace.

Sometimes the logs just crackle in the fire, sometimes Bing Crosby turns up to sing about roasting his chestnuts on an open fire. You know…festive fireplace music.  …read full story

WikiLeaks did little more than confirm the obvious

Just Saying by Paul Sullivan, published in Metro Canada

Monday was supposed to be a day of earth shattering revelations after WikiLeaks, a cheeky web site founded by an Australian, leaked 250,000 diplomatic cables, most of them not-so-diplomatic observations of U.S. diplomats around the world.

I’m not sure what I was waiting for, but so far, in the immortal words of Yogi Berra, it’s déjà vu all over again.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is an “alpha dog” and his hand-picked President Dimitri Medvedev “plays Robin to Putin’s Batman.” As if we didn’t know who was really in charge all along, and as if Putin really cares who knows.   … read full story