Aeroplan: This is no way to run a customer loyalty program

OK. I’ve been a member of Aeroplan since the year the program was founded in the mid-eighties. And I’ve never strayed. CP Air flirted. Wardair came calling. Westjet entices. And Porter Air makes me an offer I can’t refuse.

AeroplanBut I do. I’ve always been faithful to Air Canada and Aeroplan.

And how is my faithfulness rewarded? Well, last Tuesday I posted about my disappointment at reading in the Globe and Mail that Aeroplan had changed the rules applying to the million miles that I had earned by being a faithful Air Canada customer. The miles I have earned over the past 20 years will now have an expiry date applied to them.

I’m one of those people who travels a lot for work. And I just don’t have the time to use my miles now. But I look forward to the trip in the future. And now Aeroplan has changed the rules RETROACTIVELY.

So, let’s add insult to injury. Did I mention that I read about the change IN THE NEWSPAPER? So, where was my personal message from Aeroplan? Well it arrived last night – one week after I read about the announcement IN THE NEWSPAPER!

Sheesh. Aeroplan, get an email campaign manager. Didn’t anyone ever tell you that you can notify all your members simultaneously.

But, heck. I guess I matter one heck of a lot less to you than the shareholders. And after all, you want to raise your share price. Service to members is just an afterthought.

And for those who are still with me, here is how Aeroplan opened their belated communication to me – one of their VALUED members:

Go to

October 24, 2006
Dear Joseph,

Aeroplan recently announced changes to the program’s terms and conditions affecting mileage expiry. We have received calls and emails from our members asking for greater clarification of these changes. Aeroplan would like to take this opportunity to apologise for any confusion created, clarify these changes and explain what they mean to our members.

Best wishes,

Rupert Duchesne

Rupert Duchesne
President and CEO

Well golly gee Rupert – (I hope that my million miles and twenty years of loyal travel entitle me to call you Rupert) – your apology is accepted. But holy shades of Edelman! You took a whole week to think it would be nice to communicate with your members directly?

Aeroplan, I’m disappointed in you. It seems that customer loyalty goes only one way…

UPDATE: The Aeroplan program  clearly arouses strong emotions in its detractors. I’ve continued to receive comments on this post for more than a year after I originally published it. Unfortunately, many of the comments use very strong language and make claims and allegations that I cannot verify. Others come from email addresses that I cannot verify. So, I have decided to close comments on this post.

CPRS speaks out on Canadian Government procurement practices

Marketing Magazine reports that a task force of the Canadian Public Relations Society has made representations to Canada’s Minister of Public Works and Government Services, Michel Fortier.

According to Marketing, “the PR industry is seeking a transparent and fair process in the selection of PR firms and an end to a bidding system in which ‘you’ve got to reinvent the wheel every time there’s an RFP.'”

CPRSI am a member of the Task Force. And I believe that the issues discussed are of importance to all practitioners. All members of the community, not only the members of the task force, should have an opportunity to consider and discuss these issues. So, to that end, I’m making the full Task Force report available for downloading. I invite anyone interested in this topic to download the complete CPRS Task Force Submission.

Read it. Think about it. And tell me what you think about the issues it raises.

A must-read post for all marketers and public relations practitioners

Eric KintzI’ve only recently discovered Eric Kintz’s blog, but I’ve quickly discovered that he’s writing some of the most thought provoking posts around.

Recently, Eric pulled together a top-tier panel of marketing thinkers to reflect on the implications of blogging for marketing. His discussants included:

David Armano – Creative VP – Digitas – Logic + Emotion
Peter Blackshaw – CMO – Nielsen Buzz Metrics – Consumer Generated Media
David Churbuck – VP Global Web Marketing – Lenovo – Churbuck
Dan Greenfield – VP Corporate Communications – EarthLink – Bernaisesource
Eric Kintz – VP Global Marketing Strategy – Hewlett-Packard – Marketing Excellence
Will Waugh – Senior Director, Communications – ANA – Marketing Maestros 

Dan GreenfiedlDan Greenfield’s comments on public relations and blogging in particular caught my attention – in part for their departure point portrayal of PR as an outdated top, control-oriented discipline, but mostly because Dan captured the essence of the opportunity that blogging offers for public relations.

“…blogging and PR complement each other. Companies are looking to find new ways to reach media saturated consumers who are tuning out more traditional forms of communication. With blogging, PR is no longer beholden to traditional media to legitimize a story. Corporate blogs can be used for the “long tail” of news that does not warrant a press release (or would not get picked up). And because real estate in cyberspace is infinite, you can escape the time or space restrictions of a news broadcast or publication. …

“Unlike the one way communication of a press release, a blog posting is two way, allowing for comments and feedback. As such, blogging lets companies personalize the news. It provides a platform for individual perspective and permits an informal tone that may be “inappropriate” for a more traditional news story. Blogs are more about opinions than just the facts. But that’s ok. People can contextualize the information and adjust their expectations accordingly.

“We are living an age where boundaries are collapsing, definitions are changing and roles are combining. Blogging and PR need each other, belong with each other, even though they can sometimes appear to be working against each other. I don’t think blogging will replace PR, especially when the news is financial or material in nature. As in life, there is always room for both formality and informality. The key is to understand when each is appropriate.” 

I think that Dan is right on. But I’d go farther.

Six degress of perspective

Public relations has always been about conversation. In the past, we have prepared ourselves for the crucial conversation with media gatekeepers. We have studied their interests and previous writings. Then we have drawn out those aspects of our client’s story that would dovetail with the interests and perspective of the journalist we wanted to reach (and good PR practitioners would recognize when they had a story that would not fit a media contact’s interests and not bother that person). Once we were sure that we understood the interests and perspective of the media contact, we’d make the all important call – hoping that our homework would cause him to want to stay on the phone past the crucial first 20 seconds. Talk about the ultimate in permission marketing! Case by case. Call by call.

I believe that this perspective gives PR practitioners a head start in the conversational conventions that underpin social media. We have been “other focused,” spending as much or more time trying to understand the interests of our media contacts as we have framing the messages of our clients. And we have understood that our job wasn’t done by simply blurting out the messages. Instead, we have prepared ourselves for intensive and challenging questioning about what we were saying and what lay behind it. We were successful only to the extent that we could successfully engage in a two way conversation.

Sound familiar? You’re right. We have lived in micro form the cut and thrust, the free flow of conversation in the blogosphere. We have the skills. We have the aptitude. But we must open our eyes to the potential that this represents.

We must be prepared to step out from behind the veil of ghost writer or spokesperson and take ownership of our communications.

Of course, this means that the social media communication practitioners will work only for clients that we genuinely support and causes that we sincerely support. And isn’t that a good thing? Won’t that strip away some of the cynicism that causes people to believe that PR practitioners will work for anyone willing to pay their fees? I know that’s not true of the people I’ve worked with. The new era of social media will expose any mercenaries who persist. And it will restore pride to the vast majority of public relations practitioners whose client base consists of companies and causes about which they are passionate.

The era of social media: let’s embrace its potential.

Heading to Seattle for the Blog Business Summit

Blog Business SummitI’m travelling to Seattle this week to attend the Blog Business Summit. They have a great line up of speakers this year, including Buzz Brugeman, Chris Pirillo, Dave Taylor, Jason Calacanis, John Battelle, John Furrier, Jory Des Jardins, Maryam Scoble, Matt Mullenweg, Ponzi Indharasophang, Tara Hunt, Tris Hussey and Robert Scoble.

I plan to blog about the sessions I attend. So, I hope that you’ll subscribe to my feed and follow along with me.

Government Blogging and Garth Turner

Garth TurnerThis past week Canadian Member of Parliament Garth Turner was ejected from the Conservative Party Caucus. His expulsion was linked to his blogging. It was suggested that the Prime Minister and his fellow Conservatives were fed up with Turner’s penchant for stating his views on his blog, views which did not always adhere to the Conservative line on key issues.

Some have suggested that this illustrates that blogging is incompatible with government (differentiated from politics.)

I disagree.

I think that the Turner expulsion illustrates that, regardless of medium, people will adhere to rules of membership that they agree with, and that organizations are entitled to withdraw membership from those who fail to live by their group’s rules. In other words, this affair is about the specific approach to control of information adopted by the current Conservative government and the refusal of one independent minded MP to play by those rules.

This same story played out a few years back when the more aggressive supporters of then-Finance Minister Paul Martin would regularly BlackBerry messages to sympathetic reporters with details of secret caucus discussions from inside the room while those very discussions were underway.

In an earlier era (and still today), this story played out in leaks by “unidentified sources” who provided insider information with a large dollop of spin to carefully selected reporters in the hope that the exclusive coverage would tilt strongly to the leaker’s perspective.

What’s different here is that Garth Turner has used his blog to speak openly and forthrightly about his views. He has not used the anonymity of the unidentified leaker to state his positions.

For its part, the Conservative Caucus has responded with the ultimate sanction – banishment. That’s their right. But, unfortunately for them, they’ve tried to spin their move in the traditional command and control way. While Garth Turner appeared on national television facing the cameras straight on with a backdrop of the Canadian flag as he explained his belief that MPs should speak their views clearly and without fear, the most memorable picture of the Conservative Caucus was of a series of hunched backs fleeing the camera and refusing to talk about what had just occurred. From a communications perspective, it was a blow out. Turner wins. (The politicial story, of course, has yet to play out. Turner may ultimately pay a much greater price, perhaps even losing the next election. But that’s for another day…)

Blogging is here to stay. We should recognize that other incidents like this will occur and that the parties will be judged as much by how they react as the blogger will be for what he or she posted. And my money is always on the person who seizes the high ground of honesty, sincerity and transparency.

What do you think?



If this is Friday… A week into Shel and Rick‘s excellent adventure, Shel Israel reflects on some of the thoughts the Global Neighbourhoods trip has generated so far.

A visual thought on Wal-Mart, Edelman and Blogging I think that Canuckflack Colin McKay had the definite take this week on the Wal-Marting Across America fiasco. If you don’t subscribe to Colin’s blog, you should. He has a unique, eclectic perspective.

How to get your blog indexed on Technorati  Kevin Marks offers some must have tips to ensure that Technorati can find and index your blog.

Ottawa communicators meet to discuss social media

At lunch today, I participated in a panel discussion sponsored by CPRS Ottawa-Gatineau on the theme: Knowing What You Don’t Know: Are Blogs and Social Media Changing the Communications Landscape? My fellow panelists were blogger Ian Ketcheson  and Rob Henderson from CNW Group.

Rob Henderson said that while many of CNW’s clients have been slow to embrace social media, they now are are expressing increasing interest in it. They know something is coming. And they want to be ready for it when it breaks into the mainstream.

Publicly traded companies are concerned about what they don’t know. The unknown lends a random, unpredictable element to the management of their corporate reputation.

Rob suggested that a number of the larger companies are holding back on social media because they want to see some of the early adaopters make the mistakes. Then they will have the “before” picture and be able to engage in social media with a set of established best practices and known conventions.

CNW has been introducing multiple streams of multimedia to match their clients’ appetite as it develops.

Ian Ketcheson talked about the environment for social media in government. He believes that senior executives in government get the significance of social media. It’s seen as one of the most pressing issues that they must deal with. And they are struck by the speed with which the changes driven by social media are occurring.

The breaking of news about the Gomery Committe on the Captains Quarters blog brought home to government communicators that traditional means of controlling news and information have broken down. Garth Turner’s expulsion from the Conservative caucus demonstrated that a public figure can harness the blogosphere to match large organizations in advancing his or her position.

There is much experimentation with social media in various parts of the government. Like social media itself, it reflects the initiative of individuals operating beyond a centrally planned and controlled strategy.

The discussion with the audience touched on a broad range of issues, including the power of social media to conduct consultations with people regardless of their geographic location; the power of blogs behind the firewall to bring organizations together and to provide a channel for genuine and spontaneous feedback; and social media as a tool to enhance collaboration.

The point was also made that many blogging reporters are exploring potential stories first on their blogs. They may then assemble a perspective and body of facts necessary to compete for the limited space in the mainstream media outlet. Finally, communicators must prepare their organizations to surrender the fiction that they control the message and instead understand that the era of social media requires that communicators engage in persuasion, not control.

I ended the session with an invitation to the participants to visit this blog post and get engaged in social media by leaving a comment. So, the success of my contribution will be judged by whether there are any comments here.

The Social Media Big Bang – IE7

Internet Explorer 7Can you hear it? The Big Bang for social media.

With tonight’s release of Internet Explorer 7 the other 85% of the world is about to see that orange icon appear on their browser toolbar. RSSAnd when they see it change from grey to orange, the clicking will start. And no one will care what RSS means. They’ll just be subscribing.

Microsoft may not be the “Great innovator.” But they definitely can play the role of the “Great Popularizer.” And that’s good for social media.

Today, social media arrived “for the rest of us!”