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Friday, November 30, 2012

Is there a place for opinion in traditional media?

I recently wrote a decidedly snarky article for the University of Winnipeg's weekly newspaper, the Uniter. My editor gave me free reign to do with it as I pleased, and so I wrote it with what I thought was a goofy, fun tone. It was for the Culture section of the paper, which can consist of lighter, opinion-based pieces with a focus on the writer's voice, rather than the hard leads of the News section or the stats and scores of Sports.

The Uniter Volume 67, Number 13.

The thing is, not everyone gets my sense of humor. And that's okay! I figured the label of the 'culture' header would alert those who read it not to take it seriously - it's just me trying (probably too hard) to be funny.

That's not how human nature works, though. When we read something that strikes us, we don't step back and contextualize it. And why would we? If we take offense to something, it's hard to forgive it based on its context.

Given that a lot of people consume their news these days online, article by article, instead of sitting down and reading a paper from front to back, is it still worth it to separate 'news' and 'opinion'? Are we setting ourselves up for disaster and mixed messages if someone reads a a column or opinion piece - without seeing it within the context of its section - and interprets it as news?

Even then, though - if someone interprets something the way it's meant to be interpreted they have every right to be offended. Just because we might rub someone the wrong way, should we still censor ourselves? As long as we're not spouting hate speech, can we say whatever we want and run the risk of hurting peoples' feelings?

Anyway. What do you think? Is there a place for columns and opinion pieces in traditional media, or should people like me keep snarkiness for the safety of our own personal social media sites (or just keep it to ourselves)?

"I'm just second hand news I'M JUST SECOND HANDS NEEWWWSS!" (I'll take any excuse to post some Fleetwood Mac)

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Sephora versus Lush: the Battle of Target Audiences

Last week, one of my very good friends was in town and I was lucky enough to have her stay with me for a few days.
Looks just like us! Picture from

Because she lives in a small town, my friend always likes to hit up the mall when she's in town to soak up the excitement of the big city life (and the glorious shopping that simply does not exist in the Gillam Co-op store).

We hit the second floor of the local mall where two of our favourite stores are located. Lush for me, and Sephora for her.

Although the two stores specialize in beauty products, their target audiences could not be more different. True, they both appeal to women, but one sells high-end make-up for those who know what they're doing with it, and the other specializes in organic bath products for those looking to pamper themselves without feeling too guilty.

Each brand knows itself and its audiences very well. When we walked into Sephora, I'm not sure I even registered on the staff's radar, yet they made a beeline for my friend. Despite the fact I didn't plan on buying anything, I felt a little snubbed.

We walked next door to Lush, and the tables turned. The salespeople swarmed me like bees to honey (which, coincidentally, is a main ingredient in many of their products), urging me to try this new product and that new shampoo, and telling me about the latest sales. My friend quietly perused the products, left in the dust.

When we got home later that day, we talked about how left out we each felt in the other's store of choice. I remembered what I'd learned about marketing and target audiences - how it's better to appeal to one specific audience rather than saying "there's something for everyone."

But is that bad customer service? What do you think?

Friday, November 9, 2012

News conferences for newbies

Yesterday, I helped put on my very first news conference. And it was great.

It was a fictional scenario for a school project, but we treated it like the real deal. My group and I put together a stellar media kit, came up with a concept for the conference itself, and timed everything out perfectly.

Is this thing on? [Picture from]

It went amazingly well, and when it was all said and done, all the blood, sweat, and tears we'd put into it were worthwhile.

It was also a great learning experience. Here are the top four lessons I've taken away from putting on a news conference:

1. The media's primary concern is getting a story.
For the purposes of this project, the media covering our story were the journalism and media production students from my school program. When they came into the studio to start setting up for the conference, it was very clear they were there for one thing and one thing only: getting a story, and getting it quick.

Journalists are busy people, and it's great if you've created a beautiful set-up complete with refreshments and decorations, but their primary objective is setting up their camera equipment then getting out of there as soon as possible to write and edit their stories.

2. Technical difficulties happen to the best of us.
I believe that technology is inherently evil and out to destroy mankind. That's why microphones don't work when we need them to, or the video cuts out at the prime moment. It's not our fault, it's the robot revolution taking over. And we can't blame ourselves if these things go down during a news conference, and it's certainly not going to make the news if your mike didn't work. The media are there to get a story, and a faulty mike is hardly a scoop.

3. There's no I in team.
I love cliches. This one speaks for itself, really - this was a major group project and couldn't have happened without everyone getting along. I was lucky to have been put in a wonderful group where everyone got along and contributed. Some people take the lead, and others follow directions. As long as everyone knows their role and is open to suggestions and directions, everything will be a breeze.

My lovely team of PR superstars. Photo courtesy of Amy Tuckett.

And last but certainly not least...

4. Know your key messages!
After your announcement is over, it's the media's turn to grill you for answers. You have to know your key messages like the back of your hand before they have a chance to stump you. And they will always, always ask you something you didn't prepare for - but you can always, always answer in a way that communicates the positivity of your announcement. Whenever I was stumped, I would take a short pause, address the journalist's question, but tie it up in a way that reiterated my key messages. I hope I pulled it off okay...!

And there you have it. A year ago, I wouldn't have thought I had it in me to take part in something like this. It's a testament to the Creative Communications program, my instructors, and my classmates that I was able to accomplish something I never expected to be capable of.