Friday, April 22, 2011

Top 10: CreComm assignments

This seemed a fitting topic for my last blog post as a CreComm student (but certainly not my last blog post ever!).

Feel free to agree/disagree in the comments below!

#10. personal website

This was the very last assignment I handed in, and I can already see it’s going to become one of the most useful. With everything online, it’s only smart for new grads to consider having a website to post and update their portfolios. Listing the website on resumes means potential employers can look at the quality of your work even before an interview. And having an online presence means you might get offered jobs not even on the market yet.

#9. business card

Another one of those assignments that’s going to be very handy in the job search; in fact, it already is. Getting us students to design our own business cards in class got me thinking about where I could start handing them out which got me thinking about networking - and if you network well, you’re off to the races.

#8. alt. magazine project

Perhaps the bane of first year CreComm for some, our group pulled this one off swimmingly and enjoyed ourselves along the way. Choosing an alternative art magazine meant we covered some bizzare topics and got to meet a lot of really cool people. It was the first time we got to combine a bunch of our talents – design, PR, journalism, advertising, marketing – all in one project, and inspired me to look for a career that will support that.

#7. BLACKOUT integrated marketing campaign

A joint effort between the PR and Ad majors, this assignment wasn’t without its challenges, but our wonderful group laughed in the face of those challenges and like true professionals pulled it all together in one weekend to deliver a solid campaign. It taught me a lot about group brainstorming, organization, problem solving, and the differences between Ad and PR. Together, we came up with some really innovative ideas that I know I’ll be coming back to in my future career.

#6. Polar Bears International sponsorship proposal

Who can say no to adorable polar bears? I loved the client and I loved this assignment because it got us asking for money. It’s not something I like doing, but challenged me to come up with some smart ideas that would make it easier: by showing our target audiences ‘what’s in it for me?’. This’ll definitely come in handy regardless of whether I work for a non-profit or not.

#5. job package

I did not expect to be returning to my handouts from this assignment almost one year later. Sure there’s lots of how-to’s out there for resume and job letter writing, but Chris Petty narrowed it down to the good stuff. Combined with Melanie Lockhart’s blog posts, I think I’ve sent out some really solid job applications. Just have to wait and see!

#4. GLEE mock news conference

Maybe not a fav among the J majors, but it’s certainly a highlight in my PR books. Combine the popularity of GLEE with the energy and talent of 20 some PR majors – you’ve got yourself a great first foray into the wonderful world of media relations.

#3. The Hitman? short film

Maybe I should’ve put my montage here but it was only after this assignment I really got the sense I was filming for TV. Continuity editing rules.

#2. news release

If you can’t write a news release, you’re not in PR. It’s that simple.

#1. Zooey & Adam publicity campaign

As our first major assignment in PR, it taught me the crucial basics of the profession and convinced me to choose it as my major for 2nd year, hands down.

It also helped that we had a fantastic client and product that encouraged thinking outside the box and therefore generated a lot of creative ideas.

I still refer back to it from time to time to make sure I’m still hitting the mark when it comes to analysing the situation, understanding audiences, coming up with creative tactics/communication, and tying it all together with an effective evaluation.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Thanks, CPRS!

I don’t usually post my accomplishments here, but I’m making an exception for this one.

Every year, the Canadian Public Relations Society of Manitoba awards a scholarship to a second year Creative Communications student for the top mark in the Public Relations major.

I, like many of my classmates, worked hard at what was a challenging final year in the program and did my best to tackle the many projects assigned to us with creativity, professionalism, and good ol’ fashioned smarts.

I am honoured to have been chosen from such a talented group of people and recognized for my efforts throughout the year which only further assures me that I will do well in my future PR career.

Thank you Melanie for your outstanding instruction, PR savvy, and dedication.

And thank you CPRS Manitoba for the award!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

April showers bring flowers and flash mobs

Once a novelty, flash mobs – or groups of people meeting at a predetermined place to perform some sort of action, then disperse – are a guerilla marketing tactic that has become popular among big businesses and non-profits alike.

You’ve seen spontaneous dancing in train stations and the Hallelujah Chorus in mall cafeterias – all of which are interesting but don’t really have a connection to where they’re being held.

Last week, the Canadian Cancer Society (CCS) and Vancouver Improv Anywhere held a flash mob at the Vancouver Art Gallery to promote CCS’ month-long daffodil campaign.

Called Operation: Daffodil about 75 participants appeared in downtown Vancouver with signs that asked passersby “Who are you fighting for?”. They then converged in front of the gallery with yellow and white umbrellas to form a giant daffodil.

This particular flash mob caught my attention because it’s smart: they didn’t just get a group of people together to do something crazy and attention-grabbing, they did so in a way that was appropriate to the location they were targeting. By doing so, they were appealing to their audience as well since it’s likely that some of the people around the gallery would be interested in art and spontaneous art creations like this flash mob.

I’m really liking this daffodil campaign from the Canadian Cancer Society – not only does it brighten up the office during my work placement with them, but it can be used in so many creative ways – from real daffodil sales to poppy-inspired pins. Their promotional videos are also simple, but very effective.

To get your own daffodil pin, go here to find a location nearest you. Or, ask me to pick one up – I’m at CCS for the next two weeks.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

“That’s just not fair”: Media Interviews 101 part 2

I wasn’t planning on writing another post on bad media interview techniques, but this one was too good to pass up.

As part of the public relations major in Creative Communications, we practice on-camera interviews – remaining calm, answering journalists’ questions without getting tripped up, and getting our key messages out to our audiences.

Last term, we focused on the good news: announcing a new program or product. This term, we focused on the bad news: mismanagement, natural disaster, CEO screw up, etc.

And I can proudly say this: 23 public relations students with no previous media experience handled an on-camera interview better than the co-CEO of RIM, developer of the BlackBerry and one of the more influencial tech companies out there.

In an amazing feat of poor PR, CEO Mike Lazaridis somehow managed to turn a simple good news announcement into a bad news story.

This week, RIM announced the launch of the BlackBerry PlayBook – the first major competitor for Apple’s iPad, the much-touted revolutionary computer tablet that’s currently the talk of the tech world. It’s a pretty big deal.

Lazaridis sat down with the BBC for what you would think (and probably Lazaridis thought – which was most likely the problem) would be a fairly straightforward interview: talk about the product, its features, and why it’s better than the iPad.

As always, however, interviewees should be prepared to respond to questions related to their company, but maybe not the particular thing they’re announcing. For example, when our class put on a mock news conference about GLEE coming to film at the college (good news), we also prepped our spokespeople for questions about the controversial GLEE GQ shoot (bad news).

While you may not think such a topic would ever come up, it did get asked. And lucky for us, we were prepared for it.

The funny thing is, the question that caused Lazaridis to terminate the interview was on a legitimate, well known, and recent issue ­– something they should have expected to come up.

Only last October, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and other Arab countries began banning BlackBerry services because their governments couldn’t monitor messages coming from the devices.

Has RIM come to an agreement and will the new PlayBook work in these countries? Definitely a fair question, if not a sticky one, but nothing a well trained PR person (or student...) couldn’t fix.

According to my trusty Melanie Lee Lockhart notes, the BBC initially asked a ‘loaded’ question, which should be responded to by saying (nicely!) “I don’t agree with your premise” (if you don’t), explaining why, and following up with your key message.

Not doing this just made things worse for Lazaridis because the BBC turned it into – note check – “the question that keeps coming back”. Don’t get annoyed. Keep repeating your first politely and well phrased answer.

And if all else fails, smile politely and say “I think we’ve already covered this.”

Moral of the story: know your company’s issues and have an answer ready to go, regardless of whether it’s connected to the announcement or not.

And never, ever, lose your cool.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

heather oh web 2.0

The last assignment of my web design course was both intimidating and exciting: design your personal website.

As a very soon-to-be-grad, having an online portfolio is an amazing new tool to have when going out into the job market, especially now when everything is online and everything is new media.

In looking for inspiration, I ran into my first problem: most of the websites I liked were portfolios for graphic designers or others who possess way more skill then me, hence their fantastic sites.

I do know some very basic HTML and have experimented with page layouts in the past, but I’m by no means a coder. So, I had to lower the bar a tad and come up with some creative ways to make my site look somewhat as cool without having to know all the techy language.

Here’s some of the sites I modelled mine on: Dennis de Leon, London Creative+, Janell Loewen.

And here’s what mine looks like (screen caps for now, until I find a suitable hosting site):

Plays a slideshow of some of my work, thanks to the awesome Chad and Nivo Slider.

Thumbnails open to PDFs of work.

Friday, April 8, 2011

All aboard!: Win N Trak model railroad group

A couple months ago I mentioned that I had started filming my first documentary on model railroading. And today I’m happy to announce that it is officially complete!

As I expected, the models were amazing; the venue, perfect; and the guys were enthusiastic and certainly not camera shy.

But the main problem I suffered from was information overload. I didn’t just shoot the evening set up and show day, I also got the chance to film one of their monthly meetings, a demonstration, and a layout in Gooch’s Hobbies where one of the members works.

It all seemed a good idea at the time, until I was sitting in the edit suite watching back the footage and came to the conclusion that I had about seven different stories lines and not all of them would fit together nicely.

I also realised that when shooting extreme close ups hand held (which I had a lot of, based on the nature of the topic) the lens is fully extended and it’s pretty hard to get steady shots – even the slightest movement throws off composition.

It took me a few days to come up with a decent storyline, and the result is a more general take on the hobby, the group, and why each member is interested in model railroading.

The guys from Win N Trak have invited me to their end of year meeting to show the video, so here’s hoping they’ll like it!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Kertész the shadow man in full view at the WAG

Hungarian-born photographer André Kertész is a bit of an enigma, like the shadows that predominate his work. After purchasing his first camera at age 18, he was called into service in World War I where he photographed moments from life in the trenches, developing a mature, engaging style that would span his entire career from Hungary, to France, to the United States.

As a commercial photojournalist, Kertész’s work was published in French, German, and American magazines, through which he steadily gained an international reputation for his innovative use of camera angles, composition, distortion, and the effects of light.

The current exhibition on at the Winnipeg Art Gallery (WAG), titled Shadow Marks, is the gallery’s effort to provide a sort of introductory class to Kertész for the unaware (which, presumably, would be quite a few), showcasing select works from his career beginning in 1914 and ending around 1980.

Although it only contains a small 30 pieces from the WAG’s collection of 180 Kertész photographs, the exhibit nonetheless offers an excellent overview of the photographer’s unusual and thought-provoking style.

Disappearing Act (1955)

Perhaps due to lack of space (the WAG is currently showcasing Inuit sculpture, Nunavik art, European Renaissance and Baroque pieces, and the Indigenous exhibit Close Encounters) Kertész’s exhibit has been placed in the smallest gallery room (#3) of the WAG on the third floor, which at first glance gives the impression that the exhibit is rather insignificant.

To get the full effect of Kertész’s art, enter not from the Skylight Gallery, but from gallery #1 or #4 which house a variety paintings in full colour that make entering an entire room of black and white photography a refreshing contrast.

In keeping with Kertész’s minimalist black and white theme, the works are displayed in oversized frames with thick, clean white boarders around each photo, then divided among the four walls into Kertész’s key periods: Hungarian, French, and American.

Lighting can make or break an exhibit, but in this case the WAG has done well to use overhead track lighting which makes the room appear light, inviting, and not as small, while reducing the amount of glare on the photographs for viewers.

Washington Square, Winter (1966)

The exhibit begins with a silhouette photo of the artist along with a short biography, after which it takes a chronological approach to layout, with each photo representing one, sometimes seven years from Kertész’s career. This approach is a good choice for viewers new to Kertész in that it is quite easy to stand in the middle of the room and be able to view his changes in themes and shifts in style and subject matter as he developed his art further.

It is from this angle that even the casual viewer can plainly see how groundbreaking Kertész’s work was – back in the twentieth century, and today. While all of Kertész’s photos depict ordinary, everyday objects, he captures them in such a way that we no longer see them as such. Even the most mundane of snowy city streets covered in tire tracks and footprints is transformed into a maze of intricate patterns by Kertész’s impressive talent of altering perspective.

One of his more popular pieces, Satiric Dancer – also on display at the WAG – is a studio portrait, but not in the traditional sense. Here, the woman as subject is posed contorted on a couch, imitating the corner wall behind her. This is the true Kertész style: an eclectic mix of still-life, portraits, and street photography, which possess an intriguing story-like quality. In fact, Kertész is considered by many photographers to be the father of photojournalism – a fact you won’t find stated anywhere in the Shadow Marks exhibit.

Apart from a brief biography, the room is completely void of information about the works and the artist, save for a handful of wall texts. As an introductory exhibit, more could have been done to answer some obvious questions – for instance, how many of Kertész’s photos were staged (certainly the headless mannequin and duck composition of Rencontre demands an explanation) and why he seemed to shift between the relatively ‘normal’ portraits and still life, to the bizarre distortions and street photography throughout his career.

Satiric Dancer (1926)

What is made evident, however, is Kertész’s place in the larger realm of the art world, albeit through an interesting comparison. Strategically placed around the room among the photographs are black and white pieces of stoneware in various shapes that echo Kertész not only in colour, but also in theme. One particular pair of vases is described as retaining the traditional form of the vessel while having been altered to assume a more artful, sculpture-like quality.

This, in fact, is the essence of Kertész’s work and his contribution to the artistic community, in that through his photographs he has reframed the traditional, and altered the ordinary, to create art in a new way out of unlikely subjects. Shadow Marks recognizes this, and is an overall excellent introduction to his work.

Shadow Marks runs until September 9, 2011 at the Winnipeg Art Gallery.