Time to write again

173485323It’s the Christmas break and, after a challenging year, I found the time to read and think. And I realized that I’ve written in this place less and less frequently in the past year. It’s time to change that. It’s time to write again.

If you’re still subscribed to this feed, I thank you. Really.

And starting now, I’ll try to publish more frequently.

A renewed commitment to blogging and commenting

Throughout 2010, I disappointed myself. As the weeks went by, I realized I was posting less on ProPR.ca. Just as bad, I failed to make the time to comment on other people’s blogs.

I found several reasons to rationalize my flagging effort at blogging. I had transferred much of my attention to twitter. More and more, I would tweet my thoughts in snippets and link to content that caught my eye. At the same time, I was being asked to speak to groups more often. I try to deliver a different presentation to every group. So I was spending an increasing amount of time creating content that would be presented to small groups, but which I failed to translate into blog posts. Add to this the uptick in the business cycle that took more of my time on company work and you I had all that I needed to justify my less frequent posting on Pro PR.

But I feel guilty about that. I take great value from the posts that others spend the time writing. And I feel I should contribute in equal measure.

So my promise to myself (and you) is to post much more frequently in 2011. My target is five posts per week. That’s ambitious and I don’t know whether I’ll be able to achieve this all or even most weeks. But I’ll try.

At the same time, I will make a real effort to write comments on other people’s sites. I frequently tweet links to the content that I find interesting. But I know as an author of a blog, tweeted links are no substitute for a healthy conversation in the context of the blog post itself. So I will try to contribute more to the conversation in the place where you create it – your blog – as well as tweeting links.

I hope that you will continue to visit and subscribe to ProPR.ca in 2011. If you see something interesting here, please take a minute to leave a comment with your own thoughts.

Ultimately, it’s the conversation that validates the effort of blogging.

The Enduring Value of Blogs

…blogging perseveres – as it should. It is a place where context, thoughtfullness and continuity are rewarded with inbound links, ReTweets, bookmarks, comments and Likes. Blogs are the digital library of our intellect, experience, and vision. Their longevity far outlasts the short-term memory of Twitter or any other micro network. In fact, with Twitter, we are simply competing for the moment. With blogs, we are investing in our digital legacy.

Brian Solis captures in a paragraph why I continue to blog. Thank you Brian for a succinct reminder of the enduring value of blogging.

The rest of Brian’s post is well worth reading – an analysis of key indicators in Technorati’s 2010 State of the Blogosphere report.

Thornley Fallis' new Online Communications Policy

Simple works

For the past four years, Thornley Fallis has had a simple, two sentence online communications policy: “Be smart. Cause no harm to any person.”

This simple policy has served us well. We had only a few bumps – and we learned from each one.

This policy worked because we have many people who are active in social media and they are steeped in the blogging culture. They understand the importance of transparency, authenticity and generosity. They also understand the power of search and the permanence of what we put on the Web.

New people. New needs

A few months ago, we updated the Thornley Fallis and 76design Websites. In doing this, we introduced new Twitter feeds for both Thornley Fallis and 76design. We also created a page on our corporate Website that displays the current conversations our employees are having in social media. Each employee has their own page on which they can display whatever social media and information they want to share. They can add their personal blog feeds, links to their Facebook pages, Twitter streams, LinkedIn profiles – whatever social media they wanted.

I soon realized that our employees are generating much more social media traffic than I had been aware of. I also realized that not everyone spends as much time thinking about social media best practices as Dave Fleet or Terry Fallis might.

So, it’s time to take a second look at our online communications policy to be sure that it provides basic guidance for new employees and others new to social media and our perspective on its culture.

Under the hood

In refining our policy, I wanted it to be written in plain language. I also didn’t want to be so prescriptive that people would feel the need to refer to it constantly. And, bottom line, I respect the intelligence of the people I work with and trust their judgment. So, how to draft a policy that provides essential guidance but still puts the onus on people to exercise good judgment?

The answer, in my mind, is to ground the policy and guidelines in a clear statement of our objectives – why we are active in social media. Having stated this, I’m comfortable encouraging people to post freely if they know that their actions contribute to the achievement of our objectives. If they aren’t sure or feel that their posts/actions may actually detract from those objectives, then I suggest that they don’t post it. It in doubt, I ask people to consult a colleague before proceeding. Having spelled out this general framework, I needed only a handful of specific guidelines.

I posted the policy on our Internal Wiki and asked for comments. I received some good feedback from several people, including Jeremy Wright, Dave Fleet and Bradley Moseley-Williams. So, here’s the first draft of our new online communications policy.

What do you think of it? Have we missed something important? Would it work for your organization?


Thornley Fallis Online Communications Policy

This policy is intended to provide us with practical guidelines that we can apply to ensure that our online actions and communications will make a positive contribution to our reputation as individuals and members of the Thornley Fallis & 76design team.

You’re always one of us

Each of us represents the company to the world and the character of the company is defined by our beliefs and actions. We must be mindful of this when participating in social media and any kind of online communications.
You may be active in social media on your own account. That’s good. But please remember that whether you are on your own time or company time, you’re still a member of our team. And the judgment you exercise on your own time reflects on the judgment you exercise at work. There’s only one you – at play and at work.

Our Objectives

First, when participating in social media, please always be mindful of why we are involved in social media. Our company’s objectives are:

  • To educate ourselves.
  • To contribute to our community by sharing our knowledge with others. (We believe in the culture of generosity and recognize that we should contribute more to the community than we take out.)
  • To attract talented people
  • To attract sophisticated clients

As a first step in deciding whether to write or post something online, ask yourself if doing so would contribute to the achievement of these objectives. If so, then publish away. If your post would be at odds with these objectives, please do not post it.


Of course, sometimes, it’s nice to have some simple, plain language guidelines to point the way. So, here are some basic rules for day to day conduct.

  1. Cause no harm to any person.
  2. Be respectful and civil in your tone. (After all, that’s the kind of people we are.)
  3. Respect our clients’ right to decide for themselves what they want to make public. Unless they specifically grant us permission, do not post about client wins or client assignments.
  4. Be transparent. If you are posting about a client or commenting on a client competitor or posting about anything in which we may have a material interest, disclose the relationship or interest.

Still in doubt?

If you’re still in doubt, seek out the counsel of one of you colleagues. Two sets of eyes are better than one.

Coming to a small screen in the palm of your hand

Terry Fallis, Dave Fleet and I are weeks away from launching a new video podcast. And Terry Fallis, Dave Fleet and I have completed three demos. With each one, we’ve changed the setting –

starting in our boardroom,

then moving to a couch and chairs and,

finally settling on the staff gathering area just outside our kitchen. And we think we’ve found the right spot.

There must be a reason why people arriving at a house party often head straight for the kitchen. We just feel comfortable there. It’s where we gather during the day. We share meals with family and friends. We relax there. So, that’s where we’ve decided to produce our video.

We’re not quite ready to launch publicly. But soon.

b5Media: From blog network to online media company

WoJeremy Wrightuld you take a 60% reduction in your salary in order to keep your company alive? The President of b5media, Jeremy Wright, would – and has.

In the first heady days of blogging, every conference and gathering of bloggers would echo the question: “How do I monetize my blog?” One answer was to join a blog network – harnessing the power of a single advertising sales team to place ads on your blog along with other blogs in the network.

Since its launch in September 2005, b5Media has been a pioneer in testing and reshaping the blog network model.  In its four year life (so far), it has evolved substantially – evolved in terms of what it presents, its authors, how it compensates bloggers and how it packages and sells the advertising opportunities. In February of this year, b5media evolved further, consolidating many of its 300 individual blogs into a handful of portals focused on specific subjects.

There is no doubt that b5media has attracted viewers. Each month, b5media receives 30 million page views from 10 million unique visitors.

Now, however, the recession is hitting advertising budgets and advertising sales – hard. Traditional media has been first to take a hit. We`ve seen newspapers disappear and television stations close. But online media outlets have not escaped. And b5media has been hit as hard as anyone.ThirdTuesdayToronto

So, Jeremy and his management team developed a survival plan. Jeremy took a salary cut to just above minimum wage. Other senior executives left the company. All in the name of preserving the core publishing platform to grow again when post-recession budgets are restored.

That takes guts. And it takes belief in a vision – a vision not only for a company but for the entire sector.

So, what is that vision and belief that caused Jeremy Wright and his executive team to choose the course they did? Well, come to the next Third Tuesday Toronto to find out. Jeremy will be in the Third Tuesday Toronto spotlight next week. He’ll talk about the survival plan he developed and what he hopes the future will bring for b5media, blogging and online advertising.

You can register online to attend Third Tuesday with Jeremy Wright. I hope to see you there.

And a big thank you to CNW Group, whose sponsorship for Third Tuesday has been rock solid – even through the recession.

UPDATE: We reached our room capacity only 2 hours and 10 minutes after announcing Jeremy’s appearance. Happily, the Berkeley Heritage Event Venue was willing to put us in their larger space. So, we’ve increased the number of spaces for the event.

Blogging brought the world together. Twitter is pushing us apart.

istock_000004986387xsmallWhen I first started blogging, I was struck by how quickly and easily I discovered bloggers around the world who shared my interests and from who I could learn. My community of interest spanned the globe, including people like Neville Hobson (in Amsterdam and later the U.K.), Darren Barefoot (at that time on a one year sojourn in Malta, now in Victoria B.C.), Allan Jenkins (Copenhagen), Katie Paine (New England), Josh Hallett (Florida), Shel Israel (California), the other Shel, Shel Holtz (California), Jeremiah Owyang, Lorelle VanFossen (Pacific northwest) and even and Lee Hopkins (Australia). Blogging had enabled me to form a community with others who shared my interests – a community that transcended time zones and geography.

Over the past two years, Twitter has taken up an increasing amount of my intention. Its 140 character micro bursts of ideas, links, emotions and idle musings bring me into instant contact with the people in my community. I drop in and out of the flow several times a day.

But at the same time that Twitter has given me the ability to connect constantly and quickly wiht the people in my community, it also has led to a shrinking of that community. Yes, it transcends geography. I regularly tweet to people in other countries and in Europe. But at the same time, it has restricted my community to people within a band of time when we are all on the network live. In other words, I’ve lost sight of that part of the world in which our business days don’t overlap.

In effect, my world through the lense of Twitter has shrunk to encompass only those people who are online at the same time as me. So, I’ve lost sight of those people whose workdays and online times don’t overlap with mine. They are invisible to me and I too am invisible to them.

So, Twitter is a good news / bad news story for social networking and its ability to expose us to different points of view and draw us closer together. In a way, Twitter has narrowed my horizons while making my experience with the smaller community richer.

Have you experienced this “invisibility effect”, losing track of people you previously experienced regularly? if so, what are you doing about it?

Typealizer, have you been stalking me?

I came across Typealyzer on Susan Shaw’s Every day art – Art every day blog.

I`m not sure how Typealyzer works. There`s really no documentation provided. However, when I submit ProPR`s URL, this is the profile info that it returns.


“Since they are not very good at seeing and understanding the needs and other people, they might come across as arrogant, impatient and insensitive to people that need some time to understand what they are talking about.”

What the heck. Has Typealizer been following me around every day?

It’s a reminder that I need to develop my “Spidey sense” to be more aware of the impact I have on the people around me.

ProPR turns 3 – Should I stay or should I go?

ProPR quietly turned 3 years old in mid November. As I do every year at this time, I look back at my first post to ask myself whether my stated purpose is still valid.

Why did I start blogging?

I wrote in my first post

Through this blog, I hope to have a voice in the discussion surrounding new developments in public relations, communications and marketing.

At my firm, we encourage people to develop to their maximum potential.

Thought leadership is an important goal for all professionals. With this blog, I hope to stimulate others to think about these issues and advance their own thinking.

Comments are an important means of contributing to the discussion. I encourage any who read this blog to offer their comments on my entries.

I don’t kid myself about being a thought leader. But I am happy to be able to contribute my perspective on issues. And I’m even happier that people have commented on the posts they have found interesting or thought provoking.

So, will I keep going?

Blogging has become part of my life. I cannot imagine ever going back to reading a book without being able to make a note in the margin, “Post about this on ProPR.” Or to reading an online article without being able to tag it to delicious with the intention of linking to it in a post. Blogging provides me with motivation and occasion to think twice about things and to find connections and patterns. It changes me from passive reader to active thinker.

So, let’s end the suspense. Will I keep going? You bet.

Thank you to my community!

Since I started, you have been my constant companion. I have posted 566 times. For every post, you have written on average three comments. So, in a very real way, this blog is a truly collaborative creation. And I thank you for this.

As I keep writing for ProPR, I hope that you will continue to find content here that entices you to read and, even better, comment.

Here’s looking forward to another year of posting on Pro PR and having great conversations with you, my community.

Mainstream Media challenges Social Media

Ira Basen objects to the way I covered his presentation last week in Toronto to the Canadian Institute Conference on Social Media.

Ira BasenIra is a smart, respected senior producer who has had a distinguished career at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

He is also a highly opinionated person who knows how to use the pen and the editing room to make his points in a way that causes people to sit up and take notice. He does this by adopting a distinct point of view. He also is unafraid to make broad declarative statements that make a strong point. Most recently, he attracted attention and sparked debate with his six part radio series, Spin Cycle.

I definitely did not agree with many of the sweeping statements he made about public relations and social media when he spoke last week at the Canadian Institute Conference on Social Media in Toronto

I voiced my thoughts on Basen’s presentation in my Twitters from the conference. Ira was offended by my tweets. And he sent me an email to tell me so. The first paragraph in his email framed his complaint to me:

I guess it’s fashionable these days to slag speakers online while they are still on the podium.  Why wait until after they are finished so you might have an opportunity to actually reflect on what they had to say?  This way, you can impress your friends by how clever you are, as opposed to how insightful.  And besides, who has time for reflection in this busy world?


I don’t think of myself as someone who slags people. Nor do I tweet “to impress my friends.” My hope is that I can provide people with information and a chance to know what is being said at events they aren’t able to attend. And along the way, it gives me a chance to test my perceptions against those of others in real time.

I wasn’t alone in disagreeing with Ira Basen’s approach. On the other hand, some found value in what he said. And that, to my way of thinking, demonstrates the value of Twittering during a presentation. We can profit from other people’s thoughts in real time, deepening our understanding and providing validation or challenge for different perspectives.

So, to be fair, I’ve decided to post the original twitter stream, Basen’s email to me, my response to him and his further response. I’ve also offered to post the complete script of his presentation if he will provide it to me so that we can all have firsthand knowledge of what he said. In the absence of this, I think the Twitter stream provides insight into what different people culled from his remarks and the discussion that took place.

What do you think?

Once you’ve had a chance to read this, please tell us what you think? What are the real issues here and where do you come down on them?

The Conference Twitter Stream

Remember, this is Twitter. So, if you read top to bottom, you are reading in reverse chronological order. I have edited the stream to capture only the tweets directly relevant to Ira’s presentation. There were some other side conversations interspersed with these tweets. I’ve removed these tweets to make the conversation regarding Ira Basen’s presentation easier to follow. You can find the complete conversation by entering “CdnInst” into Twitter Search.

Ira Basen’s Email to me

Hello Joe:

I guess it’s fashionable these days to slag speakers online while they are still on the podium.  Why wait until after they are finished so you might have an opportunity to actually reflect on what they had to say?  This way, you can impress your friends by how clever you are, as opposed to how insightful.  And besides, who has time for reflection in this busy world?

And maybe it is also considered unfashionable to respond to being twittered, and to do so using more than 140 characters, but as I probably demonstrated the other day, I’m an old fashioned guy.  I assure you that I do not regularly follow your twitters, but a friend was kind enough to send along your remarks about my presentation, and I must say, I was disappointed.  I expected better from someone who is widely considered a leading light in Canadian PR.

In the five years that I have been writing and speaking to and about the PR industry, I have observed that there are basically two sets of responses to my work.  The first group considers me to someone who needs to be closely watched, and makes the assumption that as a journalist, particularly a CBC journalist, writing about PR, I must be both negative and wrong-headed.  I find this to be an almost reflexive response since those people often don’t seem to listen very closely to what I’m actually saying.  The second response is that I might have valuable questions to raise, and so I might possibly be worth listening to.

I have been gratified that the second group seems to far outnumber the first.  In the past three weeks alone, I have spoken to a group of about a hundred government of Ontario communicators, appeared on a CPRS panel, and did the Canadian Institute speech.  [text deleted at Ira Basen’s request]

I do it because I think entering into a dialogue like the one we had on Wednesday is useful for everyone.  For some reason, you mock the fact that people were actively engaged in that discussion.  “Is that a good thing?” you wonder after observing that I got people talking.  I find that to be an incredible question for someone of your stature to ask.  Frankly, I think you should be embarrassed that you even raised it.  Why would you minimize the importance of that dialogue?

My point, in case you missed it, was that we need to think about the implications of the road we are going down in social media.  I raised issues that I think journalists need to think about as we embrace “citizen journalism”, and issues raised by PR’s entry into a world of social media where the gatekeeper function has been diminished.  If you don’t think those questions are worth discussing, you should have invited one of the many social media kool-aid drinkers on the circuit, rather than me.

My sense was that people in that room wanted to engage in that debate, even if you did not.  By the way, after reading your comments on Twitter, I was surprised that you did not raise your objections at the time, or come up and speak to me afterwards. I guess that is old fashioned as well.

You made several comments about my exchange with the representatives from Molsons. Surely you must know that the points I was raising were raised first, and with much greater vigour, within the PR community when that “blogger relations” event took place last July.   In case you missed it, here’s a place you can start…..

I had been hoping to attend the Molsons presentation on the first day of the conference, but I wasn’t able to make it.  I assume that the objections raised by Heather Yaxley, Judy Gombita and other PR practitioners about that event were discussed in that session.  If they weren’t, I’m glad I was able to raise them, because I think they are rather important. I would hope you do to, but I must say, after reading your comments, I rather doubt it.

You should also know that I take all of these invitations to speak to PR groups very seriously.  If my perspective on PR is as misguided and distorted as you seem to think it is, if all I do is propagate “simplistic and misleading stereotypes”, why do I keep getting asked back to speak?  I’d like to think it’s because many PR people appreciate the fact that there is at least one journalist around who takes what they do seriously, who knows more about the history and theory of PR than most of them, and who wants to try to improve the often dysfunctional relationship between PR and the press.  Or maybe it’s just because I’ll show up for free.

I do try to tailor my remarks to be of interest to my specific audience.  So no, I don’t have a set speech that I have memorized, and I’m not a snake oil salesman with a fancy slide show.  Those people seem to thrive on the PR conference circuit.  So perhaps my “entertainment” value is not up to your standards, but I guess you get what you pay for.  Perhaps it is a legacy of my years at CBC Radio, but we tend to think audiences can rise to a challenge, and content is rather important.

This is really all I have to say.  I’m feeling better now.  Have a nice day.


Ira Basen

My Email response to Ira Basen

Hi Ira,

Thank you for your email.

Without doubt, your views and the way that you present them on air and in person spark discussion and tap emotions.

I used Twitter to offer comments on what you were discussing. It supplemented and informed the discussion in the room. And you will recall that during the question period, I did offer my views in the room itself (I was the person at the back of the room who suggested that social media is used to develop long term relationships with people who share interests with us, not simply to sell things.)

One of the great things about social media is that we all have a platform to offer comments to the people who are interested in the same subjects as us. Prior to the advent of social media, this ability to broadly publish comments was limited to people like you – people with access to mainstream media. And all too often, that meant that you talked at us. If we were able to comment, our comments would invariably be edited to fit into the format of a Letters to the Editor section or “Your turn” on the television news.

I think you make some good points. I only hope that you considered some of my points.

This discussion is, in my mind, all good. And I’m happy to provide you with a public opportunity to respond to the comments I offered in public on Twitter and in the room. So, I’ll publish a post with my original Twitter stream and your email reply to me. If you’d like to provide me with the script you read in the room, I’ll publish that as well.

Best regards,

Joseph Thornley

Ira Basen’s follow up response


Thank you for your reply.

I understand the point you are making, but I really don’t believe that what you were doing on Twitter could be considered a triumph of two-way conversation, or somehow analogous to how journalism works.

For example, amongst the many unpleasant things you had to say about my speech, you accused me of tossing out “provocative things without quoting sources”.  You’re obviously entitled to your opinion, but let’s pretend that you were giving a speech and I, as a reporter, was assigned to cover it.  If I felt you were guilty of making comments that were unsourced, and by implication, untrue, journalistic convention would demand that I quote the offending statements, or at the very least, paraphrase them, before passing judgment on them.

That’s not what happened here.  You got to take a free swing.  None of the people who read your comment would have any way of making an independent assessment of whether it was fair or accurate, since, like me, they have no idea what exactly you were talking about.

And if I were a reporter covering your speech and I questioned the credibility of some of your statements, journalistic convention would also demand that I approach you and ask for further clarification before I write my story.

Again, this isn’t what happened here.  Your question to the room in no way reflected the tone or substance of your Twitter comments.  If you thought my remarks were so off base, if you truly thought I had perpetrated an “odious caricature” of public relations, why didn’t you stand up and say so, instead of sitting back and telling the world what you were unwilling to say to the room?

Here’s my point…. In my remarks on Wednesday I trotted out the old Spiderman adage that with great power comes great responsibility.  In your note you wrote that “prior to the advent of social media, this ability to broadly publish comments was limited to people like you – people with access to mainstream media”.  I agree with you, but I would add that in response to the power bestowed upon us by our monopolistic position, we adopted certain conventions, like the ones that I have referred to above, to try to ensure that we wielded that power responsibly.  We also, I might add, tried to maintain a civil and respectful tone.  I understand, of course, that we often came up well short of that ideal, but that’s not really the point here.

Social media is supposed to be a two-way street, and fairness and balance is supposedly ensured by the self-correcting capacity of the web.   But let’s look at this example.  You took some shots at me that I consider to be unsubstantiated, inaccurate, and unfair.  You were bound by no codes of conduct or ethics. I was only made aware of your comments because someone I know stumbled upon them.  You have now offered me the opportunity to reply, and I appreciate that, but that was not your original intent.  If it had been, you would have taken it upon yourself to initiate a dialogue on these issues that actually could have been quite useful to people in your business and mine.  That would have been a genuine two way street.

In the end, I think this whole incident confirms the original intent of my remarks on Wednesday.  Social media holds out great promise, but for true believers to embrace a technology without thinking through the potential pitfalls as well as the promise does a disservice to everyone.  As for Twitter, I think it is a wonderful tool for making dinner plans, but to think it can be a useful springboard for meaningful communications about important and difficult questions is, in my view, seriously misguided.

Finally, I have no problem with you posting any of this wherever you choose, but my comments in my first note about [text deleted at Ira Basen’s request] is really nobody’s business, and probably unfair to the organizations involved, so I would prefer if you removed those references before posting.  I will send you a copt of my original remarks later.  Thank you.


What do you think?

So what do you think? What are the real issues here? Where do you come down on them?