Celebrating some great client work

Could there be anything better than working with clients who are fighting for a fairer society and a better deal for working people?

It’s hard to think of how. Creating compelling, effective creative pieces together is profoundly satisfying. And having that work recognized with a Summit Creative Award? Icing on the cake.

Make that half a dozen servings of cake, fully iced. This year’s Summit Creative Awards (celebrating outstanding communications from small and mid-sized marketing firms) saluted the work of six NOW clients. We’re proud to work with them, and proud of the products of our collaboration: Read the rest of this entry »

How did Alberta happen? And what does it mean for better politics?

#abdebrief: Learning from the historic Alberta election

When the votes were tallied on election night in Alberta last month, the shock waves reverberated well beyond the province’s borders. For anyone working for a fairer Canada, Rachel Notley’s astonishing victory has been galvanizing. (We posted Marie’s take a few weeks ago.)

Earlier today, four panelists – including two New Democrats who were close to the action – gathered at the invitation of the Broadbent Institute and Simon Fraser University to see what lessons they could draw from the NDP’s historic victory. Read the rest of this entry »

Deeply flattered, Mr. Harper. Really.

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. If so, we’re feeling awfully flattered today.

Here’s an ad we created with the Manitoba NDP during the 2011 provincial election.

And here’s an ad the federal Conservatives have just released, four years later:

There’s a reason they’re using our spot, and that’s because it was very effective in Manitoba. It defined Hugh McFadyen and turned the tide at a time when the NDP was vying for a fourth term and trailing the Conservatives in the polls. It spoke to people’s real concerns about Mr. McFadyen and his agenda of cuts and privatization. And it did it in a light way that people could connect with. That, in turn, set the stage for the Manitoba NDP’s come-from-behind victory.

Whether the Conservative ad will be as effective is another question. We believe every campaign is unique, with its own challenges and opportunities. Copying even a highly successful ad (cough, blush) from a previous election isn’t necessarily a smart approach.

Their best point is that Mr. Trudeau isn’t ready for the job; the more Canadians look at him ahead of the fall election, the more likely it is they’ll conclude he doesn’t have the experience they want in a Prime Minister.

The problem for the Conservatives (and the Liberals) is that there’s a better choice who is ready. Tom Mulcair has the experience, intelligence and understanding of Canadian families to be their Prime Minister. And after the Quebec breakthrough in 2011, and Rachel Notley’s victory this month in Alberta, Tom’s resume may well be the one that makes it through.

What progressive communicators everywhere can learn from Rachel Notley’s victory

Rachel Notley at a campaign rally

When the dust settled on Tuesday night, Rachel Notley and the Alberta NDP had won a stunning victory—and electrified activists from coast to coast to coast. Alberta is a progressive communicator’s “New York, New York”: if we can make it there, we’ll make it anywhere.

So how did the woman who is now premier-designate of Alberta create the magic that propelled the NDP to victory? Because while she didn’t cause the scandals and cynical manipulation that derailed the PCs or the chaos that plagued the Liberals, Rachel and her party were well-prepared to make the most of the opening when it came.

I’ve just posted an article in our NOW Strategy section suggesting six ways Rachel Notley laid the groundwork for the Alberta NDP’s victory. For instance:

Get ready: Yes, Alberta was clearly ready for Rachel…but Rachel was also ready for Alberta. She worked hard on her message and her connection with voters, and that work began long before she was elected leader. It paid off throughout the campaign, and nowhere was that more evident than in the TV debate. In the face of a relentless attack, she kept her cool, stayed on message and even maintained a sense of humour.

Be real: Rachel’s quick wit and highly-tuned bullshit detector are matched by her genuine caring for people, her sense of community and her passionate belief in what the NDP stands for. She had the confidence to let that all shine through authentically; none of it felt forced or insincere. And voters — and the media — clearly recognized it.

Check out the full article here… and let’s talk about what lessons (and inspiration!) you drew from Rachel’s victory. What do you think communicators can learn from Tuesday night’s results?

Photo from Rachel Notley’s Facebook Page.

Your newest must-read website: Civicist

Civicist front page

The high-speed tango that is the dance between technology and politics can be hard to follow. It moves quickly; people seem to be constantly trying new steps; and the folks who fall flat on their faces can take your attention away from the very real successes. Read the rest of this entry »

Memejacking: hopping the bandwagon without getting run over

ACLU meme image excerptEver been tempted to jump on board the latest meme bandwagon—and hope it brings your message along for the ride?

It’s called “memejacking”. Done right, it lets you tap into the energy of a lively conversation to help amplify your message. Done poorly, it can do you some damage. Read the rest of this entry »

Welcome to the new NOW

Change happens, and we’ve had some big changes at NOW over the past while. New faces. New partnerships. A new head office.

And as of today, a renewed brand: a new logo, a new name and a new tagline. We’re now The NOW Group, and our tagline is “communications creating good.”

Why rebrand? Partly because it’s time: every design grows worn over time, and while ours has stood up far longer than any of us expected, we knew we wanted a change.

And we’re a different company today. The company’s leadership has changed (when the dazzling Ron Johnson retired five years ago, it turns out he meant it!), and we have a nationwide presence with more staff and associates across the country than ever before. We can do more, in more places.

In more ways, too. We’re doing much more training and coaching of our clients’ staff and leaders. Digital has taken on much more prominence, and our online campaigning expertise now sports NationBuilder developer certification. We’ll soon be opening our research facility for conducting focus groups right in the Vancouver head office.

And the work has changed dramatically. Audiences aren’t passive recipients of messages; they collaborate in building your brand and spreading the world. Collaboration is deeply ingrained in our approach: amongst ourselves, with our client, and with their audiences and supporters. Our new name underlines the importance of that collaborative approach—and the team of passionate, experienced professionals we offer our clients.

Which brings us to the things that haven’t changed about NOW… and we’re not just talking about the parallelogram in our logo. We’re coming up on our 25th anniversary next year, and alongside the freshness and innovation, we bring a lot of experience to the table. We’re a modern, forward-looking firm, but we’re still steeped in the values that brought NOW about in the first place back in 1991. Every one of us believes that the forces of positive social change deserve professional, effective communications—“communications creating good”—and we’re committed to delivering on that belief every day.

We look forward to hearing what you think of our new look and our new website. And most of all, we look forward to 25 more years working with you… and creating good together.

Good luck, Kristen! And three big hellos!

KristenWe’ve started spring this year with an exciting new adventure for Kristen Keighley-Wight, who is wrapping nine months of production on an actual human being! We wish Kristen and her husband Nate every joy in the world as they wait for their new arrival. We’ll miss her to bits, but she’s returning to us at the end of December—which, at long last, is a good reason to look forward to winter.

Meanwhile, we have a few new arrivals of our own to announce!

ChristinaChristina Day has joined us as our new Production Coordinator, helping to wrangle people, pixels and products into the communications corral. A graduate of BCIT’s Media and Communications Program, she already has an extensive background in TV production (including The Bachelor Canada!) and has helped organize fundraisers for such great folks as Disability Alliance BC and the Coquitlam Variety Show of Hearts Telethon. Which you might think would leave no time to be a competitive dancer, but you’d be mistaken.

CarlaCarla Olson is coming aboard for the next several months as our Agency Producer, and she brings with her years of film and advertising experience. Her ads and videos have told the stories of such diverse clients as the Vancouver Winter Olympic Games, a Crown corporation, an activewear company, a National Historic Site and the Wickenheiser International Women’s Hockey Festival. Her independent short films have received international festival acclaim—with her latest funded through Kickstarter. She has that rare combination of creative vision and hard-headed production smarts, and we’re delighted to work with her.

TrevorAnd Trevor McConnell is joining us as a Strategic and Creative Associate out of Calgary. Trevor’s career spans three decades with some of Canada’s best-known advertising firms. When Calgary hosted the 1988 Winter Olympic Games, Trevor led the brand launch of the Province of Alberta—and developed the province’s tourism brand for the next five years. These days he’s devoted himself to the labour movement, helping unions connect to the public in new ways. We’ve already enjoyed working with him on several projects, and we’re looking forward to many more.

A new office, new faces—and you may have noticed one or two other new things. More on that shortly. :-)

Your Facebook Page probably got less popular. Here’s why you don’t need to panic.

Facebook logo with a downward-trending graph

Obsessing over metrics like the number of “Likes” your organization’s Facebook Page has received is a fool’s game.

It’s also damn near irresistible, which is why a few cheers went up at NOW headquarters recently when we passed a minor milestone on that front. No bottles of anything were uncorked, mind you—we’re not that numbers-crazed.

And besides, we all took a hit on March 12. Read the rest of this entry »

Get me rewrite! Study says many union print ads aren’t connecting with audiences

Photo of a stack of newspapers

Two University of Saskatchewan researchers are about to publish a must-read study about union communications—specifically, print advertising.

Professors Barb Phillips and Dionne Pohler studied 177 union ads spanning five years, and while “unions are doing a better job on advertising than the researchers thought,” they could be doing a lot better.

“[T]he ads were often far too text heavy, often did not have a call to action, and missed the mark on answering the ‘what-does-this-mean-for-me’ question, particularly when it came to providing an understanding of what unions do for the general public,” according to the university website. “They also found that many union ads too frequently focused on strikes.”

Of course when a strike is underway and your audience is being affected, it’s important to keep communicating, and avoid leaving the conversation exclusively to management. But an effective strategy involves communicating and building support, trust and relationships long before a strike is on the horizon.

And it requires communicating based on your audience’s values, needs and experiences. The study’s authors suggest unions “focus on what they do for society to build good will with the public.”

The study hasn’t been published yet, so we’re not sure exactly how the authors mean this, but we’d frame it more sharply. “Society” doesn’t vote, decide where to shop, or phone their elected representatives; individual people do. Building public support requires you to show your audience how unions benefit them personally.

And there’s another factor we hope the study addresses, one that comes up frequently for us in our work with public- and private-sector unions: the need to engage your members as well as your external audiences. Often labour communications are aimed as much at reinforcing internal solidarity in the face of management attacks, or at mobilizing members to take action, as they are at persuading members of the public. Reconciling messages crafted for those different audiences is one of the biggest challenges unions face.

But that aside, what we’ve seen so far suggests this study could open a lot of eyes. It reinforces much of what NOW’s Paul Degenstein said a few years ago in his manifesto Reviving Labour’s Image, when he urged unions to “Make friends – because when you need a friend, it’s too late to make one,” “Know your audience” and “Talk about them, not you.” It amplifies what Marie Della Mattia told the Canadian Labour Congress Political Action Conference two years ago, when she said “Our real power is when you talk about what’s in it for everyone,” and advised attendees to ask themselves, “Are my words and actions telling everyone, every day, that I care about them?” And it underscores Joanne Deer’s bargaining communications tips published just last month on the Canadian Association of Labour Media blog.

NOW was founded in 1992 to help bring a new communications discipline to the Canadian left, grounded in modern methods and strategies. Progressive communications have come a long way in Canada since then, but this study makes it clear there’s still a lot of room for improvement.