Monthly Archives: June 2014

Influencers, Prophets and Charlatans

This post is supposed to engage a key influencer, but I confess that I don’t yet know any influencers, so instead I thought I would profile one (with a healthy dose of skepticism for good measure).

In most cases “influencers” are naturally identified due to their influence over specific stakeholders or consumers within a community, market or sector, but sometimes influencers are an industry unto themselves. David Shing, who goes by the moniker Shingy, is one of those people. The bespectacled Australian with the Edward Scissorhands hairdo who looks like he is part of LMFAO is actually the “Digital Prophet” at America Online.

One of these dudes is Redfoo, one is a party rocker, and one is a highly successful influencer of business.  Can you spot the Prophet?

                  A Redfoo, a party rocker, and a highly successful influencer of business. Can you spot the Prophet?

Being a Digital Prophet is one hell of a title for any sort of position within a company. The fact that the company is AOL gives it significantly less credence. However his role at AOL doesn’t really seem to matter since it seems Shingy spends most of his time away from the office giving talks and presentations at various events around the globe. Most recently he was one of the speakers at Cannes Lions, which I wrote about last week. He was also in our fair city of Toronto last month to visit the offices of JWT Canada to talk about predictions for the future of digital.

Now obviously I have never had the pleasure of being at a Shingy presentation, but I must admit that I am skeptical. On his website he has a publication called Future Doing, a sort of sparse manifesto on digital trends. To be honest most of the information seems pretty basic, self-evident and oriented around buzzwords, though styled in way that is reminiscent of Marshall McLuhan. I am not saying his advice isn’t useful, maybe he is on the cutting edge and pushing industries in the right direction, but he also seems to be an influencer simply because he states he is one. In the same way that today we have de facto celebrities, we have de facto influencers and there is definite overlap. Look at Will.I.Am going from The Black Eyed Peas backup vocalist to a Creative Director at Intel.

Once you’ve made the claim that you’re an influencer and visionary you can really soar off your own momentum. Then you can pretty much say anything you want and people will pay good money to listen. Clearly I am not the first person to rag on Shingy or Will.I.Am, but I think that is important companies don’t spend their time embracing the cult of personality.

Despite my skepticism of these self-proclaimed influencers/futurists/prophets or whatever they want to call themselves, I certainly agree that it’s a cushy job. If you can find enough rubes to make your prophecy self-fulfilling then go for it. In fact I now aspire to be one of these self-styled gurus. Goodbye Benign Propagandist…hello Social Soothsayer. I need to purchase some extremely large sunglasses, garish outfits and grow out my hair. Next year I’ll be ready to peddle some influence and pseudo-wisdom.

Sorry for prophet knockin’

An Awarding Career

Cannes-Lions-2014-Logo1It is no secret that the goal of this journey back to college is to finally end up where I’ve always wanted to be: a respected creative/communications agency. I say agency without too much definition because they come in many different forms that are currently colliding. There are agencies that define themselves as: advertising, creative, marketing, public relations, government relations, strategic communications, branding and probably even more that I am unfamiliar with. At this point, it doesn’t matter too much what type of agency I end up.

I desire to work for an agency because I like the idea of working in a dynamic environment. After working previously in a corporate environment where you are usually writing about the same products to the same audience, I want to be able to work for different clients. I understand the environment is challenging, but it also sounds exciting and extremely rewarding. One thing I didn’t realize about the industry is that in addition to being rewarding, it’s also awarding.

I follow many different agencies on twitter so I can keep up-to-date with what they’re doing. This past month twitter has been dominated by award galas from different organizations.

And of course right now the most exciting of all the awards ceremonies is being held in the gorgeous French Riviera: The Cannes Loins festival for creativity. This is really a mecca for creativity where advertisers, public relations agencies, artists, musicians, celebrities, tech superstars and all the finest creative types get together. I yearn to go one day. Not just to spend a week in beautiful south France though. I mean where else can you find Richard Edelman, Kanye West and Sheryl Sandberg at the same conference? Perhaps at South by Southwest as it evolves into a similar sort of party/conference/gala, but that still doesn’t have the same cachet as Cannes, and honestly I’d like to go to both. My twitter feed for the past few days has been tantalizing me as Edelman, Ketchum, JWT, Ogilvy + Mather, Leo Burnett and the like keep me up to date on everything awesome going on.

My point is not that I yearn to hob-knob with celebrities (though who doesn’t?), but that I like that aspect of the industry celebrating each other’s work. There are plenty of careers out there that provide no recognition beyond a nice pat-on-the-back from management for a job well done. The fact that creative types routinely submit their work for awards provides an opportunity to give some exposure to the agency and their work, but also to provide some sense of fulfillment and appreciation for the people who create these award-winning campaigns. It must be a great feeling to be recognized amongst your immediate peers, as well as the industry as a whole.

I don’t know how I’ll get to Cannes just yet, but it’s nice to have goals. In the meantime I look forward to breaking into a rewarding and awarding career.

The GOP’s Cannibalistic Communication Strategy


Recently I haven’t had the chance to post anything that is especially timely, so tonight I thought I would give it a try. I also haven’t written much about politics, or anything else possibly inflammatory, so I thought I’d touch on something new. Of course, this is still fundamentally about communications and more specifically about propaganda.

This evening Eric Cantor, the U.S House Majority leader of the Republican Party lost his seat in the primaries. He lost to David Brat, an economics professor and official Tea Party candidate, who won the heart of primary voters of Virginia by demonizing Cantor as not being conservative enough. Even though polls apparently showed that Brat was no threat, he managed to win by a margin of 11%. How did this happen?

For all intents and purposes Fox News is the propaganda wing of the Republican Party and plays a major role in crafting and delivering the messages of the party to its viewers. I know Fox News is actually quite popular and apparently has much better ratings than other news networks in the U.S, but as a Canadian, I can’t help but feel that they are absolutely crazy. There is such an extreme reaction to anything remotely progressive, such a sense of outrage for all things not-conservative, and such an emphasis on twisting the facts. Hot button issues in America like the Affordable Care Act, Immigration Reform, Gun Reform and Gay Marriage are for some reason at the forefront of the Republican psyche. These aren’t even political issues, these issues in the minds of some Americans are about the very nature of “Freedom”.

In its most terrifying and vitriolic form, it keeps people in a constant state of fear and in an endless posture of defence that breeds a sort of natural radicalism. Much like the recoiled rattle snake on the Gadsden flag, these people consider themselves in a defensive poster and are prepared to strike. This isn’t an attempt to attack these people. It is the natural result of being constantly bombarded with messaging that makes them feel under threat. It engenders distrust and suspicion. If the left is apparently a socialist juggernaut hell-bent on destroying your freedoms, it only makes sense that one would go from right to far right, and in the process, cannibalize your base.

The odd element to this is that no amount of outrageous violent acts or mass killings seems to even remotely curb the propaganda. If anything, it seems to help the momentum of their arguments. The American response to a mass shooting is more gun sales and a renewed vow to protect the rights of gun owners, as if that is somehow the answer to the problem. Now this post isn’t about guns specifically, but espousing some far right-wing ideology, of which gun right seem to be a major issue. I think the de-throning of Cantor will be the first step in trying to back-peddle this process.

Shootings happen and the crazies will always be out there, but losing political power and the wasted funding of vested interests will cause the Republicans to suddenly wake up and realize that they are doing real damage to themselves in addition to the general public. There are more primaries to go and given the magnitude of the upset for Cantor, it is entirely possible that more Tea Party members will unseat traditional conservatives. It’s unfortunate that a lost seat will be the catalyst for this change, rather than more important problems that arise from this situation.

The Republicans have created their own monster by fanning the flames through years of negative and paranoid messaging and it will threaten their future. They have set up a situation where candidates battle to prove that each is “more conservative” than the other, so they can pass some sort of imaginary litmus test. They have created a conservative vs conservative battle that severely weakens their base. I expect in the upcoming weeks and months we will see a toning down of this inflammatory rhetoric, if only to fight for self-preservation. It will hopefully make way for a new communications strategy that isn’t so fear-based. In the short term it may help Republicans keep control of their seats, and in the long term it might help to change the trajectory of the increasingly disenfranchised and paranoid segment of the American population that is wrecking so much havoc.