Thursday, September 28, 2006

A tall order

A bunch of media and journalism veterans getting together to produce a bi-monthly 300 page news and analysis magazine with 100,000 subscribers eh….?

The management won’t reveal how they derived the 100,000, but earlier, their PR reps mentioned subscribers had to pay $3.80 for each copy. It’s a confirmed $15.80 off the newsstands but they’ve since retracted the $3.80 and the amount is now to-be-announced.
They are even planning to audit the publication (MCS/BPA) six months into print.

The mag’s credentials are fantastic but it’s a risky endeavour considering The Business Times only has an audited circulation of 29,533 and that only goes for 80 cents per copy.

Ok, you may say The Business Times is a daily so it can’t be compared to a bi-monthly, but what about the bi-monthly Singapore Business Review with an audited circ of only 11,639?

Very interesting stuff indeed and I’m eagerly anticipating the launch in December.

Seriously, it sounds like a mag I’d love to read, because it aims to give a different perspective to politics in Singapore, amongst other things.

I think everyone who works and plays in Singapore deserves to hear a unique perspective on our political landscape, aside from what we’re currently getting.

Editor-in-chief Ken Jalleh Jr--------
Hopefully then, my generation will no longer be labelled as the one that couldn’t care less about politics.

So the politics angle, coupled with the fact that they’re targeting it mainly at men (what?!?!?!?!) makes me want to tell even more women about it, and make sure they get on the mailing list.

So can they pull this off or will the mag crash and burn? I can’t wait to find out!

Creative Director Dick Lee
(picture from Lee's CV on his website)

GM Holman Chin

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Beijing on Sunday

Sunday Sep 24

The one thing you notice in Beijing is the speed at which the chinese talk -- it's rapid fire, and when your command of the language isn't strong like mine, it's a tad difficult to understand what they're saying sometimes. This is in stark contrast to the speed at which Beijing taxi drivers drive. On my way out on Sunday morning, I caught a cab which drove at approximately 40km/hr, and it wasn't just him, the rest of the taxis on the road were driving at a similarly languid pace. Bicycles are the choice of transport here, and if Singaporeans cyclists think they have it bad, they should come have a look at the road etiquette here: basically, there is none.

Beijing is pretty much a grey city -- from the sky to the buildings around you, there isn't much colour around. Still, sometimes you pass sprawling temples with Qing dynasty architecture or old historical houses along hutongs (alleys) that lend the city its character and that makes all the difference.

Like this church I went to on Sunday:

Known as the North Cathedral (i think because it's situated in the North district, according to the taxi driver who took me there, there's one in the south, east and weat of Beijing as well), it dates back to 1703 when the Emperor of the Qing dynastry granted the land to the church. Nondescript outside, you just have to step through the metal gates and you're greeted with a Kodak moment.

The next cab I hopped into took me to a favourite haunt -- a shopping strip. By and large Beijing taxi drivers are a friendly bunch and this one yakked non-stop although I'm sure he knew I didn't understand all of what he was saying. He took me to Xidan, a shopping mall a 5 minute ride from my hotel, and it was here that you could see China's progress at its best (see above pic right). Construction and development was all around, and the roads were lined with cars, bicycles and people. Drivers here are a fortunate lot -- you get to park your car right in front of the shopping centre, and there're parking wardens to guide you as you parallel park. If you have a manual car and leave your gear in neutral, the warden will even push your car forward when lot ahead of you is vacated.

The highlight of the day though was the WTA tourament -- we arrived at around 3pm and watch a doubles match against Spain and Russia. The Spaniards won (see below pic, left). The electric moment though was the women's final match between Amelie Mauresmo and Svetlana Kuznetsova. Though the match was marred by an overcast sky and patchy rain which delayed the play, the audience was an appreciative one, clapping frequently and letting out collective "aiyah!!!!"s whenever a shot was missed. The crowd was also clearly in favour of Mauresmo, cheering her on even when it was clear she was going to cede the match to Kuznetsova (that's her, below pic, right ). It was the first time I was watching a match live and while it wasn't as exciting as I'd hoped it would be (I thought Mauresmo gave up too easily, but she had a difficult match on Saturday while Kuznetsova was more rested) it was good enough.

Reporting from Beijing

Saturday Sep 23 (my laptop went bonkers so apologies for the late posting)

I was part of the media invited to Beijing by Sony Ericsson on a four day trip -- the mobile phone company was sponsoring the Women's Tennis Association and the itinerary promised a ticket to catch the final match, an interview with SE's branch manager in Singapore, and lots of free time.

I actually wasn't expecting very much from Beijing -- the accumulation of 'horror stories' about the city over the years had me forming a perception of the city that was not flattering. The terrible flight over didn't help either. During a particularly bad bout of turbulance (the plane was shaking so violently you could hear the toilet doors rattling) the bottom of my muffin was wet with tea that had sloshed over, and the elderly passenger next to me had his whole tray flooded with coffee.

I realised I was dead wrong about Beijing the moment I set foot in the airport -- it was as modern as any other I've ever seen, and probably even better than some others. On the way from the airport to our hotel (which is very swank), the city landscape was an ecletic mix of both bricks, motar and wood buildings standing side-by-side with concrete, steel and glass high-rise skyscrapers. While traffic was chaotic, it wasn't nearly as bad as what I had thought and we reached our hotel at around 4pm, with about two hours to unpack and settle in before meeting in the lobby again at 6.30pm for dinner -- we were going to have the capital's most famous dish, Peking duck.

We were shuttled to a duck resturant which according to our tour guide Echo, was legendary for its Peking duck -- it seems all the famous people and state guests come to the Qianmen Quanjude Roast Duck Restaurant to eat the bird.

The first thing I noticed after biting into the dish was how was how oily the skin was, much more so than the ones you get in Singaporean. There is literally an explosion of oil when you bite down -- which, according to your preference, you may or may not like. Echo explained later that the duck is force fed about 10-20 days before being killed, which explains the fatty-ness of the dish, and after that roasted in a oven fired up with fruit tree wood (in this restaurant at least) to give the dish a special fragrance. We then washed down the whole meal going through around 10 bottles of Nanjing beer. Very yummy.

Friday, September 22, 2006

High5-ing again

Follow up blog time, more than a week ago I posted a story about the supposed pictures of a certain bread maker’s secret factory inspection. It left some readers wondering what the bread maker and its PR firm were doing to managed this viral ‘crisis’

The answer can be found in the newspapers and from my chat with Integrated Marketing Solutions Group (IMSG) chairman, Rose Tan. High5 is a client of IMSG in case you’re wondering.

The viral emails and of course blogs as well have led to the lawyers coming in and cleaning up the mess. They’ve placed legal ads in various newspapers and not just the English language papers too. Here’s one from an English language newspaper though (left).

And the lawyers have also instructed High5 to make a police report to find the culprits of the fake pictures. When I spoke to Rose Tan, chairman for IMSG, she laid down the law to me on how they approach such problems.

“Any good PR agency would sit down with the client and find out what is true and what is false and then advise the client to tell the truth. If the product is a health hazard then we have to tell the client to recall it. In this case, the truth is High5 bread is safe for consumption. This has been verified by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore. The bread is halal and safe for consumption and we believe this (the viral pictures) is the work of spies and espionage. A police report has been made.”

Woaah! So now we know what they think (as in team High5) but what do the bloggers think? Is it espionage or disgruntled workers or do some people still think the pictures are actually accurate?

What I do know is this forum of blogs and viral videos and emails can be deadly to a brand. As I said last week, it really doesn’t matter if the pictures are fake because the average person probably doesn’t care or worst case scenario, they don’t trust printed media anymore.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Today’s Blog: Missing – big arse Volvo seat

Some big butted thief appears to have made off with the huge Volvo seat which once made a big bold statement on Alexandra Road.

The giant Volvo car seat was part of a Euro RSCG Singapore marketing campaign for their client SM Motors, the distributor of Volvo cars in Singapore.

The two-month old, charcoal black seat is over two metres tall and sported the tagline, ‘The most comfortable seat in town’, across its front. At a size like that, the person, or more likely persons, who took it away would have needed a pretty big car or a truck to transport it.

The seat was placed on Alexandra Road, an area full of luxury car showrooms such as BMW, Mercedes, Jaguar, and Rolls Royce. The Big Seat was placed outside the BMW showroom.

So far, attempts to locate the missing seat have been futile and due to the cost associated with replacing the execution, it was decided that a much more affordable out-of-home poster covered in bubble warp (to convey Volvo’s safety features) would be much more erm, safe.

If you have any information on the seat’s whereabouts, drop us a comment.

We’re not sure whether a reward will be offered for the seat’s safe return though, but we're curious about how and why it was nicked.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Strip us of our professional integrity, leave us with nothing

Once upon a time I went to journalism school and my lecturers taught me that a journalist’s (or reporter’s – my Aussie bosses convinced me it’s cooler to be seen as a reporter on the ground chasing stories than a high-and-mighty ‘journalist’) job was to report the news OBJECTIVELY.

Which means there is no such thing as an article being influenced by ANYTHING -- especially not an amount of money paid to my publication in the form of an advertisement.

That was no problem for me to learn and accept because I thought nobody in the right mind would expect anything less from a reporter.

Well what do you know? I was wrong – duh.

Today, many local newspapers and magazines (you know who you are) condone some form of ‘paid editorial’ – which basically means if you’re willing to buy an ad, the reporter’s willing to write an article which is favourable to you, regardless of whether that is the truth or not.

In fact, I’ve heard that reporters nowadays come straight out and ask interviewees: “Would you like to buy an ad?”

Which goes against the journalist’s code of ethics. Here’s an example of such a code according to The New York Times.

“72. The Times treats advertisers as fairly and openly as it treats readers and news sources. The relationship between The Times and advertisers rests on the understanding, long observed in all departments, that news and advertising are strictly separate — that those who deal with either one have distinct obligations and interests and neither group will try to influence the other.

73. Members of the news department should maintain their disinterest and objectivity by avoiding discussions of advertising needs, goals and problems except where those needs or problems are directly related to the business of the news department.”

I really hope I won’t have to take more calls ‘encouraging’ me to write something because someone’s considering advertising in my publication. Sometimes, these people even mention that other magazines are offering them a cheaper ad price – like I should care, seriously!

We’re a business and we know how important advertising dollars are. But we also know our readers – you are intelligent, discerning professionals who are in the business of buying and selling and creating advertising so you can smell an ad five miles away.

If one day you read something I wrote and you can sniff the distinctive scent of paid editorial off it, that’s the day you lose trust in my reporting, and that’s the beginning of the end for my publication.

A fellow publisher once admitted to me she accepts ‘support’ from advertisers for her articles on them. Call it whatever you want, lady, but it’s all the same thing.

Some publications which practice editorial integrity include the Financial Times, TIME, Businessweek, The Economist and MIS Asia. I’m sure there are many more but for every one that upholds the code, there are five more that don’t.

The ones that uphold the code.

Monday, September 18, 2006

SMA boleh

Last Friday’s Singapore Media Awards was a star-studded event, with most of the big players in the media planning and buying business turning up in full force in the hope of picking up some metal.

The Awards also boasted a whopping 39 big names from both agency and client side including APB’s Les Buckley, MediaCorp’s Florence Lian, Nokia’s Karen Low, Ogilvy’s Stephen Mangham, BBDO’s Seshadri Sampath and UOB’s Gan Ai Im.

I have to say the organisers did a pretty darn good job this year, considering the size of the guest list, the number of judges, and the 38% increase in total campaign entries.

The only downside to the evening was that some in the crowd were getting restless towards the middle of the award presentation ceremony which saw every finalist for each category receive their prize on stage.

Kudos also to Pamela Oei for a very imaginative (though somewhat recycled) stand-up comedy sequence that got us roaring with laughter prior to the award ceremony.

From L-R: Anthony Kang, president of the 4As, Chang Long Jong, Group CEO for MediaCorp TV, Jayne Kwek, CEO, Moove Media.

Manpreet Singh, chairman of the SMA and Kang addressing the audience.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

The Breaded Viral Email

Well it’s been a long time between blogs for me but my colleagues have been posting everyday so high fives for them! Speaking of high fives, have you been forwarded the supposed images of bread maker High5’s secret factory inspection? Everyone loves a good viral email right?

I was forwarded the email from a friend with the subject line: HIGH5 BREAD – For those who love bread. Inside there was a message which is cut and pasted below:

> >High-5 bread's factory is really terrible. Pls don't buy in future.> >> >In summary, the High-5 bread sold here is manufactured in Malaysia. > >The local news reported that the factory was recently raided by some > >Health Dept officers from the Government sector of Malaysia. They > >found the entire premises to be dirty, stench odor and unhealthy > >environment; even the bread-making process to be unacceptable by the > >Health Dept - no gloves, dirty utensils, etc. See pictures attached!> >> >Please pass this message to your friends!> >Thank You.

Well obviously the next thing I did was open the attachments and what I saw was shocking, check out some of the pictures below.

After that I forwarded the email around to my friends as one does in today’s viral community. Everyone loves a viral right, good or bad? Well all those connected to High5 won't now.

Just as the internet can be a good thing when consumers develop funny and often trend setting and globally viewed viral videos for brands, this is an example of how the internet culture of ‘pass it on’ can also deliver negative PR for a brand. It doesn’t matter if the pictures are real or not, and that’s the scary part.

The question is did the viral come from a rival bread maker or, and this is increasingly the case with this type of thing, from a disgruntled worker.

The fact is the damaged has been done and will continue to be done with every click of the mouse on the forward button. Even if the public don’t read about it in trusted news publications, the negative message can be embedded in their memory banks of the consumer to be uploaded every time they need to buy bread.

On the shelf they will see Gardenia then Sunshine and then High5…hmm..*uploading memory with those nasty pictures* “err…I think I’ll maybe pass on the bread for today”.
Don’t believe me?

Think about it, over a slice of bread.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Prepare to be wowed

For the art directors amongst you, take a look at the work I’m displaying here and remember why you do what you do. Give it up for Susan Alinsangan – last I heard, she’ll be visiting us so prepare your best T-shirt!

Susan’s credentials read like one of Rob Gax’s much awarded long copy ads.

She won a Cannes Gold Lion for her work on Apple’s ‘Think Different’ brand campaign. Her commercial introducing the iMac was named Adweek’s ‘Spot of The Decade’ and she was touted by Adweek as a ‘Creative All-Star–The Hottest Talents in Advertising’. She has been recognised by The One Show, Kelly Awards, Art Director’s Club, Beldings, D&AD, Clios, Obies, Andy’s, Effies and Communication Arts. She has also won some of advertising’s most coveted awards such as the Sweepstakes Belding, Grand Effie (twice) and the Grand Kelly. Most recently, she was the architect behind the visually stunning – and deceptively simple – iPod silhouette TV, outdoor and print campaign. The iPod work is considered by many to be one of TWBA\Chiat\Day’s most successful global campaigns to date and is the newest, in a long history of creating cultural icons.

Oh and this is just the lead paragraph. Hehe.

Some fast facts about Susan other than the one about her coming to judge the CCAs.

She started as an art director at TBWA\Chiat\Day, Los Angeles
She spent 11 years there
She’s now freelancing
She’s an accomplished black-and-white photographer
Her mentor is Lee Clow.
She’s only 4-foot-11!

Thanks to Rob Gax, aka Boss, for this information.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Hub is a key word

I was flipping through the papers over the weekend, when an article about Singapore’s upcoming attempt to rebrand itself caught my eye.

Realising it has one too many branding taglines, the search is now on for an agency that can come up with an overarching branding strategy that can encompass us wanting to be the hub of everything: in the air and sea, for telecommunications, BTMICE, financial, medicine, life sciences, retail, healthcare, technology, education…. The list goes on and on. All you have to do is google “Singapore, hub” and look at the results returned.

In any case, the appointed agency is to come up with an umbrella positioning that will serve as a guide for all Singapore agencies in their future marketing campaigns. Before, each government agency used to came up with their own branding of Singapore, which is being put down as the reason for the country’s current fragmented image.

In Saturday’s article, the writer rightly commented the inherent problem with the current branding tagline, which is “Uniquely Singapore”, is that it lacks an emotional resonance as the definition of unique differs from person to person. Just based on the above factors, I can’t help but think a huge task lies ahead for the branding agency tasked with this job: to come out with a branding campaign that will resonate emotionally, but be general and flexible enough to be adapted into each individual government agency’s campaign. So we’d like to throw this open to you: using the word ‘hub’, what suggestions have you for Singapore’s new umbrella brand?

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Even creatives grow up

How do you convince one of the creative brains behind the Gold Cannes-winning Sony Bravia ad and the person responsible for Apple’s advertising identity for the iPod to fly all the way to our island home to judge one of our biggest award shows?

No, you don’t entice them with promises of night after night of steamy, wild rendezvous with exotic Asian chicks (apparently this used to be the case!).

You lure them with the Merlion, zoo excursion packages and our proximity to Club Med – basically a holistic family getaway. Quite unlike what you would expect for the stereotypical anti-establishment, eccentric, creative type eh?

Such is one of the tasks of this year’s Creative Circle Awards (CCA) chairman Rob Gax, who has been working hard trying to secure these role models to inspire our shores. He’s also hoping to get them to speak at the event so keep your fingers crossed.

Gax has started an “unofficial” blog on the CCAs, giving us the inside story on the happenings in the lead up to the show as well as a peek at the international names coming to judge the work so if I were you, I’d add this address to my favourites list:

Hey Rob, you might have to update your blog more often now ;)

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

It's all about service, stupid

Don’t fret if you didn’t manage to attend the Forbes Global CEO Conference, I’ve got insights to share; well at least if you market to the rich anyway.

One of the talks I attended was a session titled Life’s Luxuries, which offered the barest of glimpses into the lives of the obscenely rich. Underscoring the seemingly light hearted session was the knowledge that the luxury sector is becoming big business these days, what with the growing number of million/billionaires in the world. China, in particular, was singled out during the session as the fastest growing ‘millionaire’ country in the world, and as incomes across Asia rise, more and more new markets are opening up for luxury marketers.

How then can luxury marketers court the rich? One of the hot topics raised was the question of service. Panellist and MD of YTL Corporation Francis Yeoh said one of his pet peeves was the fact that as a frequent first class flyer, he expects his airline to know what his favourite drink is, and what his favourite seat is, which they don’t despite there only being 12 people in first class. And right there is what differentiates luxury from normality – the service you get. What rang through the conference was that get the service right and the rich will pay, and keep coming back.

That’s why Thailand is so well-known as a country with impeccable service; one panellist described it as the silicon valley of service. Because the competition is so stiff, among hotels for example, the service each establishment offers is sometimes the only differentiating point to ensure customer loyalty.

Being innovative and creative was another point brought up. One speaker said it was imperative for those in the luxury business to challenge conventional norms of luxury in order "create individual special experiences", in short going "beyond the necessary, in defiance of the ordinary" to create intelligent luxury. Because let’s face it, the obscenely rich don’t really need a luxurious product, they need the experience that comes with having one. It’s more about emotions than about the price points. Hope these points help some.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

I think we need more beer

I’d like to think I’m the most popular person in the office these days – for some bizarre reason, I’m been scoring the office quite a bit of free beer. The latest coup arrived in the form of a 30 litre keg of Stella Artois, which I won in a recent World Cup promotion.

As one of five grand prize winners, I won the keg of beer, as well as a very nice 37’’ LCD TV and a home theatre system. The beer was delivered to our office yesterday, complete with a cylinder of CO2 (thanks Pacific Beverages delivery guys for heaving the whole contraption up our creaky shophouse stairs), which means we have beer on tap, served deliciously chilled.

Here’s Marcus our new writer and very friendly bartender enjoying the experience -- at 9.30am!

A few months ago I also won a year’s supply of Tiger Beer at an APB party too.

If you’re a marketer, this is just a friendly note that we’re happy for you to send us free stuff like booze and more whenever you like. Feel free!

Monday, September 04, 2006

SPH Magazines makes bold statement with audits

I had to fight from letting my emotions show through when writing today’s story on SPH Magazines getting Her World, Citta Bella and Shape audited. It was hard because I have to maintain objectivity while being overwhelmed by the fantastic news.

Read the article ‘SPH Magazines audit Her World, Citta Bella and Shapehere.

Great work SPH Magazines!

This move by SPH Mags is no small step. It deserves to be lauded and rewarded for taking a stance which in the long run, is great for advertisers, agencies and for the magazine publishing industry.

Marketing's views regarding circulation auditing are no secret. No other publication has been as active as Marketing has been in exposing the massive fraud in Singapore's magazine publishing industry and encouraging debate on circulation auditing.

Some articles on the topic are as follows:
Advertisers vote for Singapore publications to get audited – Poll
MDA, MICA say no to industry call to end magazine publishing rip-offs
Industry pros disagree with MICA, MDA’s audit inaction: Poll

Our at times confrontational and in-your-face approach at encouraging Singapore publishers to make their figures accountable has earned us both supporters and detractors.

We’re not going to hide our delight at this announcement and we sincerely look forward to more of such.

All but one of SPH’s newspapers are already audited – save for the newly launched My Paper. What’s left is 13 more titles in SPH Magazine’s stable and a bunch under the Blu Inc banner.

Keep it up SPH.

ACP, Eastern Publishing, MediaCorp Publishing, MediaCorp Press, Sun Business Network and the hundreds of other smaller publishers in Singapore -- it's your move.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Outdoor out of the door?

I’ve been working on an outdoor feature for the October issue and I’ve noticed that outdoor often seems to get sidelined during the marketing campaign planning process.

Sometimes it might stand a chance of getting a position in the marketing schedule, but only at the last minute, when the campaign planning process is at its tail end and the marketer discovers he has money left over for an outdoor execution.

Keeping in mind the fact that securing outdoor can be a very lengthy process in Singapore, what with all the regulation and approval, why are marketers still treating outdoor as an afterthought? If they want to do outdoor execution, they should, as with every media, allocate proper lead time to ensure their money’s being spent on getting the most out of it.

After all, when the medium’s brought in so late, with no proper planning or dedicated creatives for the outdoor execution, what kind of result is the marketer expecting anyway? At that point, all the media planer can do to ensure the campaign rolls out on time is to check availability. And when the campaign does roll out, it really doesn’t add any value to the client’s marketing mix. There are of course examples where outdoor’s been given the time and planning needed, and when that happens, it achieves its aim for securing attention and engaging with consumers, and that’s pretty darn good. And that’s not because the campaign was special in any way, it’s simply because it was thought-through more clearly and given more time to develop. So I say marketers should think about making better and smarter use of their time and marketing budgets, otherwise they should just keep whatever’s leftover.