International Relations

 

After a recent trip to the State of Zacatecas in Mexico, it is now abundantly clear just how the uncertainty and instability created in the United States have provided substantial motivation for national and state level governments to solidify and expand existing economic relationships and plenty of incentive to search out new global opportunities.

Mexico has benefited from billions of dollars in the auto sector investment due to its geographic proximity to the United States market. For several decades, this close relationship with the United States has provided beneficial trade relations. The depth of the relationship has provided Canada and the United States with access to strong production quality and the ability to leverage positive economics while Mexico has gained billions in social and physical infrastructure investments. In fact, prior to the 2016 US election, Mexican officials estimated the domestic automotive sector growth included the production of more than five million light vehicles across 13 different auto-brands through more than 30 facilities by 2020.

Currently, more than 80% of the domestic production is intended for export given generous access not only to North and Latin American markets but growing demand in both Asia and Europe. My trip to Mexico demonstrated the eager interest of States such as Zacatecas for diverse growth, not only in the auto sector but in information technology, Aerospace, tier two manufacturing among many others. The resource economy remains a strong counter with mining and agribusiness remaining strong in the State as well.

I witnessed first hand the massive facilities built by Nissan in neighbouring Aguascalientes. The complex was built in 2013 at a cost of roughly $2 Billion ($US) and created more than 9,000 direct and indirect jobs. This plant is nearly 6.5 million square feet of state of the art production facility. The Aguascalientes complex is just one of 3 that Nissan has in Mexico and typical of the kind of investments auto manufacturers have been making in Mexico since the mid-1990’s. Every major automaker has a substantial manufacturing and assembly presence, including the North American ‘Big 3’. However, this level of production has caused very public concern north of the Rio Grande.

President Trump’s protectionist policy framework has proposed that all import vehicles would be levied with stiff tariffs is meeting with substantial resistance, and not just from Mexico. Former US auto executives are helping to spell out what this would mean for the US economy, and the results would appear to contradict Mr. Trump’s intentions. A CBC report highlighted how Mr. Trump’s threat to “wall off the import of Mexican-made cars with a 35 percent tariff would be a disaster for the U.S. auto industry, according to Marina Whitman, a former vice-president of General Motors”.   The report goes on to note that 40 percent of the parts that go into cars built in the U.S. come from Mexico.

Mr. Trump’s ongoing rhetoric of dismantling NAFTA remain a concern for both Canadian and Mexican officials. Trump recently noted that he has “very serious” concerns about NAFTA, stating that the agreement has been “a catastrophe for our workers and our jobs and our companies”. However, the Michigan-based Center for Automotive Research(CAR), concluded that dismantling NAFTA could cost more than 31,000 jobs in the US. Mr. Trump’s rather undisciplined approach to floating trial balloons on public policy are creating far more chaos than value.

The ongoing discussions about destabilizing of existing agreements in North America, and the potential for further dilution of the EU with several key elections this year in Europe, has created intense concern about the existing economic world order. At the national and state levels, progressive leaders such as those in Zacatecas are developing new strategies and approaches to developing progressive economic development and searching out new partnerships. Zacatecas continues its progressive approach to economic development, looking for diversification across a variety of sectors. In the face of this uncertainty, progressive leaders continue to pursue economic security and long-term development by building new relationships.

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Is The End Near for Ontario’s Liberals?

Ontario has a long history of bipolar political relationships between Queen’s Park and Ottawa. As a rule, over the past 4 decades, the consistent trend is for ideological neutrality between the two parliaments, with rare few years of overlapping political stripes. With the Liberal government in Ottawa set to remain on task until the next federal general election (October 2019), this isn’t good news for Ontario’s Liberal Party.

After a year in office, Prime Minister Trudeau’s approval ratings remain high at over 50 percent, while Premier Wynne’s continue to slip dramatically. After three turbulent years as premier, Wynne’s popularity is now scraping bottom at roughly 14% popularity leaving the party scrambling. Despite the Premier’s very public insistence that she isn’t going anywhere, persistent rumors suggest Liberal party leadership contenders are starting to quietly wrestle for campaign staff and resources behind the scenes.

Premier Wynne has maintained her public schedule, including appearances at events like the Ontario Mining Association’s “Meet the Miners” where no one remembers an Ontario premier attending in the last 20 years since former Premier Mike Harris was a regular attendee. The Premier is likely to maintain a relatively active schedule to dispel rumours of an early departure while she and the party contemplate plausible exit strategies.

Overall, the news hasn’t been great for the Liberals. CTV has reported, that the Ontario Provincial Police have laid multiple bribery charges under the Election Act against the premier’s former deputy chief of staff (who became party CEO and 2018 campaign director), and a key liberal strategist and fundraiser. Including the extensive coverage of outrage over hydro rates and past mismanagement concerns and things are becoming increasingly tense for Ontario Liberal’s.

All of this remains good news for the opposition as both Conservative leader Patrick Brown and Andrea Horwarth maintain strong opportunities to generate traction and interest in the lead up to the June 2018 election. While it is very early, polls suggest that Brown sits as the leading candidate as the next prospective premier and his party has picked up some strong candidates in former federal parliamentarians who will add bench strength to the Conservative campaign including the notable addition of former Finance Minister, Joe Oliver.

What this means for organizations, associations and firms looking to influence public policy, government spending and improve their relationship with Queen’s Park is the need to adopt a strategy of absolute non-partisan advocacy. Creating policy options for consideration by parties is strong thought leadership. As organizations plan their government relations activities for the next two years, it is incumbent upon them to create clear, actionable strategies that can be adopted in full or in part as possible campaign additions. This is the time to align marketing, government relations and public relations activities to ensure the best possible outcome for their stakeholders.

Is the end near for Ontario’s Liberals?    (Photo: Mark Blinch/CP)

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Those folks at HBR know a thing or two

It’s been a while and no doubt you’ve missed my random musings about life, business, marketing and communications. I’m here because I read a piece that I think is worth sharing when evaluating your digital presence. In reading it you realize those folks at HBR.com know a thing or two.

I have been pulled form the darkness however to comment on this HBR piece – which is fantastic and I couldn’t have authored a better piece myself (otherwise, I’d be a published HBR contributor and not, well…. ). Anyway this piece turns management insights about competition on its head a bit and I like that. Call it a disruptive piece, call it new aged thinking, I’m not sure I really care, but the essence is evaluating your business model not based on your competition but your customers.

The digital now culture has for the past generation rapidly and assertively modified business models, where disruption is the norm. The kicks traditional business norms in the ass suggesting that “We believe the greatest challenge to companies today is not keeping up with their competitors, but with their own customers.”  I love this. So many firms, large and small ‘think’ they focus on their customers and yet more often than not in my experience these firms are actually focused on what everyone else is doing.

It rings so true to me that large organizations, those who chase the competitors tail, are often laggards in digital transformation because they are simply not nimble enough to do it. The article goes on to note “One reason is that individuals are transforming to digital faster than organizations. Think for a moment about people as tiny enterprises. They’ve redesigned their core processes in the area of procurement (online shopping), talent acquisition (marketplaces), collaboration (social networking), market research (peer reviews), finance (mobile payments) and travel (room and ride sharing). Have you reinvented your core processes to the same degree?” This is music to my heart.

Of course, but there are the issues of practicality. Can organizations shift as fast as individuals no, could they shift faster? Absolutely. The bigger question remains ‘should they’ be so fleet to change process/structure/output to adapt to the rapid advances in consumer behaviour? The authors seem to think so.

There are some really well polished notions of improving engagement and experience through the use of digital that will require organizations to fundamentally evaluate their place and role and likely, require some outside feedback to help channel the discussions.

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DIY PR? DIY Disaster?

So, you’re a small business who wants to get some positive press. Who doesn’t? We know that positive media attention has a strong relationship to revenue growth through sales, membership development, and lead generation. Positive press has a significant impact on a brand by building credibility, authority, and trust.  We also know that ‘earned media’ (a story written about you)  is both less expensive and has more statistically more beneficial compared to paid media ( paid advertising).

Should you spring for a PR contractor or do the news release yourself? It can be done and has been done well. If you’re thinking about investing in real PR help. Keep the following in mind…

1. Journalists aren’t interested in what you think is new… Reporters, bloggers, Yelpers want something no one else has talked about. Why is YOUR story different than your competitors? What are you doing differently than everyone else? It doesn’t need to be significant, but different and unique.

2.  A press release won’t get you an interview… the release is just a starting point to build a relationship. The relationship starts after sending it to the right person too. An interview or a story isn’t guaranteed but you can get pretty close if you know what you’re doing.

3. A PR consultant is good, as long as YOU know what to ask for… The proof is in the pudding as they say. When hiring a PR person, ask for results from past work. Passion isn’t everything and neither are fancy words. Does she understand what your customers love about your business? Does she know why a reporter would be interested?

4. Be specific… a good PR consultant can effectively manage your expectations. You should know what is possible before anything gets started. Beware the consultant that promises, “Oprah or Marilyn Denis.”

5. Creativity… Your PR pro should be able to spot opportunities and act fast. Ask for experience in such a situation. How’d it go? What results did you get? A PR consultant worthy of your money should add value to your business in ways you never imagined.

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Perspective is Everything

Communicating effectively is a rather steep and treacherous mountain to climb sometimes.  A key principle is to always keep your audience in mind and how they will receive information.

We are all bombarded with messaging through various channels constantly through email, web, text, social channels, phone etc.  So while you may spend hours/days/weeks honing your messaging so that it is ‘perfect‘, your readers capacity to receive your messaging in its intended form may be less than pristine.

So often when crafting communications plans and executing them we lose that perspective. It can be very easy to move too quickly and fail to appreciate the perspective of those receiving the information.

I like examples and so I found one that I think demonstrates the point entirely – inclusive of the rather extreme fail on the back end. Consider the video below. A rider and his snowmobile out for what seems a leisurely ride. A GoPro video camera affixed to the riders helmet captures the execution fully. From the first moment through to 49 seconds, this individaul could be out for a ride through the mountains. Given the camera’s positioning and his point of view, we have no concept of what he is really doing. Please watch the video

 

After the 49th second in this video we appreciate that this rider was facing a mountain and we had no concept of it because of our perspective. We fail to appreciate that in the first minute because of the video camera’s positioning on the helmet.  The relationship you have to what you see/read is not always the same as others, nor should we expect it to be.

So how do we avoid such communications catastrophes?  Keep in mind your audience and their position. If you want to now how effective your messaging is, go and ask them. Don’t be afraid to engage your audience in a real, meaningful conversation.  Their understanding of the subject matter and how much they would care about the message. This is critical – not how much you want them to but rather how much they will actually care about what you’re trying to communicate.

A few key pointers

  • Keep jargon to a minimum
  • Do it in person if you can
  • Avoid overloading readers
  • Keep it concise
  • Talk to your audience and get their feedback

Communicating key messaging is always an uphill battle but it doesn’t have to be as treacherous as an uphill ascent on a snowmobile.

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Engaging the New Government

The CBC has reported that the country has been quivering with anticipation as Prime Minister-designate Trudeau prepares assume power and announce his new cabinet today. November 4th will mark the introduction of what is reported to be the most diverse and regionally representative in Canadian history.

After a near decade long hibernation spent deep in wilderness of the opposition benches, the Trudeau Liberals have emerged as Canada’s government. The Prime Minister will announce his cabinet and a renewed approach to governing the country, including a series of campaign promises and policy issues that will take on the immediate agenda for the government.  Keeping in mind of course that the Liberals have been out of office since before Apple’s App Store went live; social media was just in its infancy, and everything went wrong with the economy in 2009.

Experience counts for a lot in government, but it isn’t everything. After a decisive 2015 election victory, Mr. Trudeau had a strong supporting cast from which to choose his closest elected advisors, some of whom have previously held cabinet positions or senior roles in the private sector. Reputation and resumes aside, the learning curve for a federal minister is substantial and unrelenting.

As a stakeholder, you have both an opportunity and an obligation to your constituencies to ensure your advocacy and lobbying efforts are in motion. First impressions are critical as new ministers looking for the quick wins, friendly faces and good counsel. Ministers and their staff will be briefed for numerous hours a day and want to know what your key issues are, what events you have and most importantly what support you are looking for.

A change in government doesn’t entirely wipe the slate clean, as federal bureaucrats do tend to have long institutional memories. However this does provide you with a new opportunity to create new momentum for your organization to build relationships, educate and influence the development of public policy under the Trudeau banner.

The question for you, your organization and your sector is whether or not you are prepared? Do you have a plan in place and the knowledge of process and protocol to actively engage a new government and ensure not only that your voice is heard, but that you are able to become a key influencer of government policy, one that ensures an optimal operating environment.

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Clean up in Aisle 9

I’m exhausted.

I’m exhausted by the horrible customer service I get these days. It used to be just Rogers and Bell and occasionally the clerk at the local dry cleaner who prattled on about how life was so much better in the old country.  It was the norm for customer service to be useful and helpful. The retail experience was defined by its sole purpose from clerk to the store manager with a fairly simple construct – help customers find what they want,  ensure they get out of the store with ease and maybe a bit more than they came in for (the old school up sell).

This is big business. Really big.

The lovely people at Stats Canada tell us that 12% of Canadians work in retail and it generates roughly $500 billion dollars (2011 data).  Not surprisingly when you eliminate Auto/Grocery&Beverage/Gasoline – mass merch comes in at the top of the heap.  So with all the potential in this category to grow and generate profit why is sales execution so poor? I am honestly  just a few steps (or clicks?) removed from shopping exclusively online and I’m not alone. I rarely grocery shop in a store anymore. Like millions of others, I haven’t purchased music, videos or books in a store in what seems like a decade. Why? Because I’m completely fed up with ALL of my retail shopping experiences. I have long loathed numerous large retailers, the Bay, Home Depot, Walmart, Toys’r’us for the apathetic approach to taking my money for goods and services I can just as easily purchase online.

**Before I get the eye rolling nasty comments and ‘you don’t know how hard it is‘ response – let me just say – that I’ve worked retail sales. And it sucks.

Is it so hard to treat customers like you want them there?

I’m tired of being treated as an obstacle in the path of some front line employee.  Or worse yet, when I actually need someone, they scatter no where to be found. So I increasingly avoid specific retailers and like the rest of us, shop online.  The retail environments (i.e. stores)  simply fail to deliver me with any redeeming qualities. Bad service. Limited inventory. Frustrating policies. The ONLY two reasons I bother to shop in stores these days is simply because I’ve left an online purchase too late that I can’t wait 48 hours to have it delivered OR because I feel the need to try something on.

Are we at risk of a collapse of retail outlets?

I have to wonder. The current issue of Canadian Retailer reports that fully 75% of Canadians are comparing prices online before they purchase. So what is stopping them from the ‘click and send’ and have items sent direct to home. Numerous retailers are offering free shipping and generous return policies. Why would I bother driving to a store for a terrible experience?  I am no expert but I have to think that the leading minds in retail customer service have to be concerned about the pervasive nature of this. The fact that dominant online brands are crushing growth figures that make Wall Street and Bay Street drool, while bricks and mortar retail continue to close up. Target couldn’t make it in Canada and we continue to see others drying up in the face of the digital consumer.

What’s the fix?

The short term fix is easy. Get a handle on how to sell product. When I worked retail – we had product knowledge seminars and programs (incentive based and others) that focused on moving product. Time, energy and oversight was put into ‘how to sell’. I was a 16 year old kid who was taught how to sell and it mattered to me that our customers had a good experience (mostly because I didn’t want to get yelled at by the shopper or store manager).

Teach them how to sell, and sell they shall.

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Walking Dead – Managing Legacy Brands

I feel like I’m now at a stage in my career where I have some (maybe?) useful insights that I can pass along to others to make their journey a bit easier. My most recent presentation was about managing legacy brands and in particular the evolution of the brand where I work at the Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada.

The presentation was one of my favorite ones in recent memory and got some great positive feedback from the crowd. It was a pleasure to give counsel on how to revitalize an old brand. There are some simple takeaways at the end that I hope you find some value in.

Brand management is the cornerstone of any good communications strategy and it isn’t hard to do if you keep your eyes on the road. So often we lose sight of the path forward and let our brands drift off and they become obscured, both internally to your colleagues and leadership but also externally to shareholders and stakeholders. It’s critical that you review and revisit your brand often and ensure you are aligning your products and execution to your brand strategy.

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The Real Power of Simplicity 2

Lack of Clarity Undermines Leadership

I try to use clarity and simplicity interchangeably here to convey a simple point. 

I have had the great challenge of working with leaders who obfuscate and adulterate (see what I did there?) their own messaging and I’ve wondered why.  To sound pompous? Smart? knowledgeable? Credible? Likely all of those things and more. Sometimes it’s simply etched out of insecurity or arrogance. Who knows.

Help Leaders be Better.

Strong leaders are clear. Consistent. Pragmatic. When delivering key messages about success, challenge or change; staff, stakeholders and shareholders don’t remember the complex. And that may be quite intentional but it’s not effective. It generates distrust internally and skepticism externally.

As an example I worked with a leader once who gave a keynote address with all the ‘right players’ in the audience. I brought along a journalist to cover it as it was his beat.  The leader spoke for 45 mins – way over the alloted time.  I turned to the journalist and said ‘wow, wasn’t that great?’ (as optimistically as I could). He said to me “I’ve covered this beat for 10 years, and I don’t know what the presenter was saying. And I don’t think they did either.” No coverage.  Not just then… ever. Credibility burned.

I have a long way to go before I can make any claims to be a good writer, let alone one who can write or present with simplicity clarity. I know I’m not alone however. I think often it comes from a lack of preparation. A true understanding of the audience – a major communications faux pas. Or an insatiable need to be ‘smart’ or the most credible voice in the room. So when a colleague of mine posted this to Facebook, I had to post. It is a great guide to reviewing your work and helping to write with improved clarity (below).

Write better. Write simply.

Write better. Write simply.

If you need more – check this quick YouTube post – its not specific to communications but it get’s to the point, quickly. As you would expect.

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The Real Power of Simplicity 1

One of the most influential books I’ve ever read about communications and messaging was “The Power of Simplicity” by Jack Trout.  As  impressive a work in its clarity as it was in its brevity.  It’s very well written, compelling and rewarding and leaves the reader with a simple message. Be clear. Be specific.

Maybe the greatest example of this is in the six word story – also known as Flash Fiction. Its powerful, simple and literately six words.  Often attributed to Hemingway, the piece is based on a 1910 Spokane Washington piece about the death of a child and the ensuing contents sale. Is it possible to write an entire piece that connected with its audience, moved through the passage of time while only in six words? You tell me.

For sale: baby shoes, never worn.

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