January 30, 2012

Our Generation's Question: To Blog or Not to Blog?

The Inc 500, published by Inc magazine (my guilty pleasure/bible for creative ideas), has brought up an interesting analysis of how these successful companies use social media. Interesting to note is that there seems to be fewer companies blogging these days preferring Twitter and Facebook to engage with customers. As a blogger, Tweeter, and poster I can appreciate this. When life gets busy it is very difficult to make time to compile thoughts in any kind of coherent way that might be interesting to people. On the flipside, the people who follow me on Twitter and Facebook are family and friends with an entirely different taste in the kind of information I deliver. No, my Mum does not really care about defense technology. She only cares that I still have a job (go budgets!).

Frank Reed from Marketing Pilgrim breaks down why this trend may not be something companies in the B2B space should use as a beacon for driving their social media program. He points out that "Twitter and Facebook responses are a mile wide and an inch deep"meaning that real, valuable feedback can't be given. Really, are thousands of "I love my new shoes" and "I hate bananas" all that valuable to you? I know from past experience that tracking the "I love you" Tweets was nice from a quantifiable reporting standpoint. But it was the detailed responses with valuable insight that enabled my clients to foster change and develop better relationships with their customers.

January 26, 2012

Andrew Elvish Brings Tailored Services to M&S with Atelier ID (Part Two)

DTP: Can you describe one of the programs/initiatives you are most proud of?

AE: Well, obviously, I am exceptionally proud to have been a part of the team that created Presagis.  CAE made a very savvy move in acquiring the leading software companies in their respective technical specialties, but aligning all of those companies and products and technologies under one umbrella brand was a major undertaking.  Having the opportunity to lead such a significant rebranding effort was something that was both exciting and scary at the same time.  We wanted to honour all of the hard work that went into building the individual company and product brands that made up Presagis, while at the same time creating something new, powerful and industry changing.  But what made the Presagis project so rewarding was not just the re-branding that went on, it was the fact that I was working alongside a team of highly skilled engineers, product managers, sales executives and customer support experts, who were busy at work ensuring the products and technology lived up to the vision of a unified company and technology roadmap.  It was extremely challenging, but Presagis both as a brand and a portfolio of products, has gone from strength to strength over the past five years.  It is something for everyone who was involved to feel proud of.

DTP: At I/ITSEC we saw one of your clients, MASA Group really amp up their presence at the show. What is the company working on and how is Atelier ID helping them to achieve their goals?
AE: Thanks – I’m glad that you could see the change!  MASA is an excellent example of a company that is taking advantage of the changes in the M&S market to further the penetration of their constructive simulation products in both this market and others.  As a growing company, it became clear to MASA that both demand and competition were increasing for their brand of cutting-edge AI technology, and their potential market was expanding as well.  To ensure that they were maximizing their exposure and clearly communicating their competitive differentiators to their global audience, they turned to Atelier ID to begin working with them on a variety of out-bound marketing and PR initiatives.

Right now we are working with the MASA team to support them in their public relations outreach in North America and the U.K. as they continue their expansion into the homeland security, emergency management and serious games markets.  A move like this requires a company to leverage its skills and successes in its traditional markets while making its commitment to the new markets and their constituents clear.  So we are working with the team at MASA to ensure a strong central message that is meaningful across their worldwide M&S, homeland security and serious games markets, while developing stories that are resonant specifically to the concerns and needs of each group of potential clients. We also have a few other exciting new projects coming down the pipe, so you’ll have to stay tuned!

DTP: You and I have talked at great length about the value of integrating marketing and PR programs to get the most out of a campaign. Do you have any advice for companies that may just be starting to approach this?

AE: The first thing, and it seems obvious, but know who you are before you do anything.  How do people perceive your company and its products?  How do you want to be perceived?  What is your story?  What is your brand promise?  Who are you now, and who do you want to become?  If you have trouble articulating answers to these questions then you would do well to take a bit of time to solidify some thinking around these points.  The reason I say this is that if a company does not have a solid, well-articulated picture of who it is and where its going then increased marketing and public relations could serve to underscore this lack of direction, and it could have serious consequences for both the brand and the company.  The good news is that the vast majority of companies intuitively know who they are and where they are going, and it is a matter of firming up the story, getting internal buy-in and writing it down – start simple, but stay consistent.  This way, you have a central document that can act as a guideline for all of your outbound activities whether that is PR, email marketing, events, tweets or graphic design.  In so doing you have a fundamental thread that runs through all of your activities and enables one activity to enhance and amplify the next activity.  The more you stick to telling your unique story in a consistent and disciplined way, the more your customers will ‘know’ you and feel comfortable approaching you.

DTP: One of the fun things about working in marketing is the opportunity to shake things up with a BIG idea. At the same time, this can be scary for companies that aren’t used to taking risks in a creative capacity or within a conservative industry. What advice can you give to people looking to create transformational programs?
AE: Don’t be afraid!  Trust me, if you take a calculated risk and execute it flawlessly, I can guarantee you that your competitors will be following your lead in six months.  The key words are calculated risk, and flawless execution – those are the parts that take planning and preparation.  Also, part of this comes back to knowing yourself as a company – is your big idea consistent with who you are, or who you would like to become, or is it simply a big idea?  Once you know the answer to that then you need to build a plan and flesh out the details – if the idea is big enough, or if it’s a bit off the beaten track, you can be sure you will get lots of questions about why you are doing it.  That’s nothing to be afraid of, but you should know yourself how to address skeptics, or naysayers – the best plan for this is to know why you are initiating a big idea and what the desired outcome is.  Next be sure and build buy-in, both internally and externally.  Having your entire company excited about a project means that they are likely to endorse and engage with the big idea, helping spread its effectiveness and reach.  Externally, bring on board some key influencers outside of your company, or at very least solicit their input and opinion.  Again, having a core of support for your initiative out of the gate is an excellent way of ensuring success.  Finally, set out a plan to build anticipation and buzz around your initiative whether it’s a new advertising campaign, a micro-site, a conference or seminar, getting people curious is important.   It isn’t easy to launch a new big idea into the market, but if it is thoughtful, well-planned and relevant to your target audience then you stand a strong chance of success.  (and afterwards when you see your competitors doing the same thing six/twelve months later you can take the satisfaction that you did it first … and probably better ;)

DTP: What can we expect from Atelier ID in 2012 – any hints on your big ideas?
AE: Right now all of our big ideas are for our clients!  Honestly, starting a new business with a roster of clients, means that you have very little time for the promotion of your own business – I am actually still surprised we found the time to get our website up and running!  Nevertheless, 2012 is already shaping up to have a slew of interesting new projects on the horizon.  Our experience in 3D graphics and M&S software has given us entry into some new fields including the RFID market, personal and retail security, as well as high-end electronic component design.  So I doubt there will a dull moment in 2012 for Atelier ID.

January 23, 2012

Andrew Elvish Brings Tailored Marketing Services to M&S with Atelier ID (Part One)

Name: Andrew Elvish
Title: President & Lead Strategist
Company: Atelier ID
Home Base: Montreal, QC
Twitter: @AtelierID
Web: http://www.atelier-id.ca
Pets: an abnormally intelligent pug with an addiction to off-track betting
Quirks: a strong desire to stamp out the use of the phrase “At the end of the day” – it must be stopped!
Contact Info: aelvish@atelier-id.ca

DTP: You’ve recently started Atelier ID, tell us about the company and your services.
AE: Atelier ID is a company dedicated to the creation of powerful and intelligent brand and identity campaigns.  The word atelier means “workshop” and like a workshop our company brings together the right team to address our clients’ needs and draws on a select group of like-minded publicists, designers, analysts and web technologists.  We bring our clients the skills and robustness of senior marketing expertise without the overhead and long-term commitment of fully staffing a marketing department.  I like to think of Atelier ID as a marketing-team-for-hire.

What makes us most unique is our knowledge and experience in a very targeted and challenging market: modeling & simulation software technology.  There are very few marketing and design firms that can fully understand the complexity, demands and challenges of this particular market, and even fewer who can produce exciting, interesting and compelling brand and identity projects for their M&S customers.
DTP: How is Atelier ID different from an agency? What can clients expect from your team?

AE: Atelier ID is founded in a strong business-oriented approach to servicing the needs of our clients.  Having worked in-house for several software companies over the past 15 years, most recently as the Vice President of Marketing for Presagis, I have found that traditional marketing and PR agencies often do not have the time or desire to fully understand the specific demands and drivers of markets like M&S.  Thus, my teams and I often decided to assemble our own teams of designers, PR experts, analysts and web technology specialists.  Teams that are specifically appropriate to our business needs and strategic goals.  Many companies can benefit from this type of specific approach to marketing and communications, but do not have the in-house expertise, connections, budget, or bandwidth to build such a team.  Seeing this need in the market was a key driver for the formation of Atelier ID – we bring strong domain-specific knowledge and the resources to build and execute world-class marketing campaigns for our clients.  Campaigns that align to our customer’s strategic vision and product roadmap and deliver results for both the business and its investors.

Probably the biggest difference between an agency and us is that we don’t have an army of Vice Presidents that get trotted out in front of the client, only to be replaced on signing with an 18 year-old intern.  We are a small team of dedicated marketers, designers, PR executives, writers and web specialists, and we don’t take on a vast number of clients.  Thus, clients can expect to receive a high-level of attention and service at every stage of their project – even after the project is delivered.  Combine that with the low overhead of a small team of individuals, and our clients get a powerful team of hand-chosen experts, focused on our client’s business, for a fraction of the cost of a traditional PR or marketing agency.
DTP: In your experience how is marketing in the M&S community different from other industries (ex. Consumer or enterprise technologies)?

AE: The M&S industry is an exciting realm – especially for companies willing to take a bold stance in the marketing and publicity of their products.  My feeling is that many M&S companies – especially COTS software companies – shied away from focused marketing and public relations, as their business models were often based on tight service-oriented relationships with one or two major clients.  However, over the past ten years a greater level of industry consolidation has been taking effect and smaller companies are being combined into larger companies.  As companies grow it is not as practical, or profitable, to maintain a service-only style organization and there is an increasing need to diversify the client-base, geography, and product offering.  As this shift takes place, companies are finding that targeted marketing and publicity are key tools to helping them speak to their customers while at the same time providing and effective platform for differentiating their product offering from their competitor’s.  Thus, the companies that take an early and strong lead in building awareness around their brand and identity stand to reap greater rewards in the increasingly competitive M&S software market.

One of the key differences about the M&S market grows out of the fact that it hasn’t had need to market itself as vigorously as a consumer technology, nor even as hard as other business to business technologies.  As a result there has been a traditional reticence towards publicizing or marketing one’s technologies – indeed, many customers in this market demand a high level of discretion from their software vendors due to the sensitive nature of the projects that they are undertaking.  While this is completely understandable and part of the unique characteristic of the M&S market, many companies err too far on the side of caution and often let great opportunities to communicate pass them by.  There is a strong sense of community in the M&S market, and even amongst competitors there is a camaraderie, so the desire to know more about one another, about successes and innovations, ideas and opinions is certainly there.  At this year’s I/ITSEC you can see how much the industry has changed in a few short years – only two years ago it was considered almost comical to leverage Twitter and LinkedIn to promote your company at the show, and now we are seeing even the most reserved companies tweeting and re-tweeting each other’s news.  So, yes, M&S is conservative by nature and by necessity, this is a fact, but what we are seeing is that companies who can take an intelligent, measured and strategic approach to marketing and public relations can gain a real competitive advantage – and this is what excites me about the M&S market.

January 18, 2012

Taking Human Out

This post from Skyler Frink at Military & Aerospace Electronics has been sitting with me for a couple of days. It describes the way we discuss (market) the weapons that ultimately kill people by removing the human element of our targets. Rather than stating the weapon is used to kill people, Skyler makes the point that we reduce the living, breathing, person to an enemy target that may as well be a rock, tree or germ.

It's interesting to me because we as a society are very good at disassociating the human element from any corporation, strategy, or tool. How many times have you blamed a corporation for poor customer service when in fact the poor customer service came from a person and that the corporation responsible for the bad experience is made up of people.

This post from Skyler makes me realize that we have become very good at absolving ourselves from the decisions we make by removing the human factor out of the equation. By doing so corporations become entities larger than ourselves - corporations provide bad customer service, drugs make people sick, and weapons are responsible for killing.

It may just be language, but ultimately we have a role to play in this and its something that I believe should be carefully considered as it impacts how we view the world and make decisions.

January 13, 2012

Show Daily Madness Means Working Together....Our Interview with Darren Lake

Today we're chatting with Darren Lake. Darren hails from the UK and makes the trek to Orlando to produce the I/ITSEC Show Daily. I've been fortunate to work with Darren in spreading the word about my clients' news at the show but I've always wondered why anyone would sign up for such a task. With hundreds of vendors - and inevitably hundred of PR people and hundreds of press releases - I can only envision the insanity and hard work that must ensue. So, today Darren shares a little insight into how we can help out his team in the development of valuable news for the Show Daily and Shephard Media Publications.

Name: Darren Lake

Beau - Whose face is not to be trusted.
Title: Publishing Director, Land & Support Editor

Publications: Shephard Media Publications, I/ITSEC Show Daily

Home Base: Slough, United Kingdom
Twitter: @ShephardNews

Blog: Not yet, it’s a bit scary
Pets: Beau the cocker spaniel

Quirks: Not too many I hope
Contact Info: darren.l@shephardmedia.com, +44 1753 727022

DTP: Tell me Darren, we’re hot off the heels at I/ITSEC where you along with your team have the insane task of writing and producing the Show Daily. Do you have any advice to PR pros who want to pitch you at the show?
DL: The best advice I can give is to get your story ideas and press releases to us early. We start to work on the Show Daily in the week before the event and quite often we’re full in terms of stories by early in the event. 

The second bit of advice is to make sure you have good print quality images to go with your news. It helps us make a decision on what goes in and of course enhances the story. 

DTP: Regarding PR and Marketing, how do you think the defence industry is changing? 

DL: Well certainly in the case of North America and parts of Europe there is a much greater emphasis on using social media to keep in contact with journalists. On the marketing side it tends to still be a very traditional and conservative culture, but I think that really reflects the client base. 

DTP: Where do you get your story ideas from? 

DL: All sorts of places. There are obviously press releases from PR contacts, we watch a lot of social media feeds, but you can’t beat face to face time with people at shows or conferences.

DTP: What is the biggest mistake (or missed opportunity) you see PR people make when pitching you and your colleagues? 

DL: I guess the main one is not always understanding what the news angle is for us. I can’t count the number of times that the most interesting bit of news in a release has been buried somewhere in paragraph 18. 

DTP: What advice can you give to PR and marketing pros when sending you a pitch? What distinguishes a great pitch from those that get tossed in the bin? 

DL: Well for us it really has to have a business to business angle. Contracts, new technology, that sort of thing.

DTP: What makes a great spokesperson? 

DL:Someone who can be candid and has been well briefed by their company. Also, someone who is happy to trust journalists and go off the record when necessary.

DTP: Shephard Media has an established brand and well-respected group of publications. What’s next? Will you be heading online? 

DL: We’ve just revamped our website and changed the company name and domain to Shephard Media. That reflects an increased emphasis on the online part of the business. We recognize that it’s an important way to get the news out there with our magazines being journals of record. 

We’re also looking at digital versions of the magazine and have an established twitter presence. 

DTP: What is your perspective on the influence of social media and journalism? 

DL: I think it has become increasingly important. You speak to journalists in other sectors and it’s having a huge impact. I don’t think aerospace and defence has been an early adopter, but I’m sure that we’ll see the influence continue to grow over the next few years. 

DTP: Any last words of wisdom – opinions, suggestions, etc. – for the PR and marketers out there? 

DL: Not really I guess the main thing is to just make sure that you don’t forget us B2B guys. There’s quite often a focus on high profile online and national media – but where do you think they’re getting their story ideas and information from in the first place?

January 12, 2012

Why Books Should Become More Important

There has been a lot of discussion happening online lately about the influence of social media on Search Engine Optimization. Jeff Sonderman writes in an article for The Poynter Institute that Google has again made a move that will significantly impact the information you receive when you search for something online. Now when you search the information presented to you will be as Jeff writes, "shaped by each user's online friends and social networking history"

I think this is 'neat' and certainly makes the networks we live and work within increasingly tighter and more influential. But should it make our social networks more or less relevant? While I appreciate learning what my friends are reading, listening to or watching, will that enhance my ability to find the right information?

Think about this for a moment. Searching online is now an acceptable practice for almost every student - from public, to high school, to university. The information presented to them is determined by a search engine ... the people at Google ... I mean the advertisers paying Google to make sure that their information is presented at the top. Now, add in this new social element and students are going to be presented with information that is further convoluted by what they did online yesterday.

As much as we know the information on the internet shouldn't be trusted, even someone like me who works in PR has to remind myself every now and again to validate sources and that sites like Wikipedia aren't verified to be accurate. At what point will we not be able to trust any of the information we receive? How will that impact us? Will it matter?

It makes me think that books, newspapers, and magazines that create vetted, peer-reviewed content using multiple sources have a serious responsibility and opportunity to help keep us from ourselves in the land of (in)-convenient content.


January 10, 2012

A New Definition for PR

PR does not stand for press release. PR is no longer just media relations. And PR should not be an add-on to your business. Public relations can help to elevate your brand, create the foundation you communicate with, and engage your customers, employees, and partners in ways you've never even dreamed.

The advantage PR people have always had is that they keep a birds' eye view on your company and are quick to identify trends, issues, and opportunities - and not just for media - but for your marketing, R&D, product, and human resources teams. Paying attention to every function of your business and trained to analyze perception, the role of the PR person has changed from the gal (or guy) that used to spend the entire day on the phone asking journalists, "Did you get my email?"

The influence of social media and the integration with marketing and internal communication initiatives now has PRSA (Public Relations Society of America) revisiting the definition of public relations. Check out #PRDefined on Twitter and the PRSA discussion PRDefined to keep up to date on the definition development. Then get ready - tomorrow, three definitions will be shared with the public. In three weeks PRSA will then compile feedback to make revisions. Fingers crossed with another round of feedback we'll have a final result by end of February, early March.

Side Note: Crazy to think that this is the modern way of creating definition of words and phrases. I wonder if this was recommended by Oxford?

January 9, 2012

Jumping in with Sebastien Loze at CM Labs

Happy Monday everyone. I can't think of a better way to kick of this week than with a discussion with my friend Sebastien Loze. I had the pleasure of working with Seb when he was the Product Marketing Manager at Presagis - where his creativity was well-known and his ability to make the most complex concepts (to a PR person like me) simple. Working with Seb is always a great experience and now that he is the lead of marketing initiatives at CM Labs I expect we're going to see some big things in the very near future!

Name: Sebastien Loze

Title: Director, Marketing & Partner Sales
Home Base: Montreal, QC
Twitter: @SLFeeding
Pets:  Does a 4 year old daughter qualify? 
Quirks: Many along with a passion for photography and surrealist poetry
Contact Info: sebastien.loze@cm-labs.com / 514.690.5693

DTP: Seb, you’ve recently taken on the role of Director of Marketing at CM Labs. Tell us, how has the transition been?
SL: CM Labs is a company full of expertise, passion and bright people working to deliver solutions for a very complex problem in the industry: “How do I ensure that my training and analysis of complex equipment is more accurate and effective than “good enough” simulations?” It’s a common question asked in our industry – one that many of us need to consider and resolve – and for operators of equipment it’s one that when answered correctly saves time, money and more importantly keeps people safe.  

My role is challenging and exciting; it requires me to leverage both my marketing (and market) experience as well as my computer science/engineering background. I’m surrounded by a team of savvy and passionate engineers and like with any new job, am focused on communicating their incredible expertise to our community. There is a learning curve as with any new role, but the idea of developing CM Labs’ corporate and technology story is incredibly exciting.  

DTP: You have always been an ally to PR – you’ve helped me cultivate many a trend and customer story – now that you’re responsible for PR have there been any surprises you’ve learned about the profession? 

SL: I am still ramping up on this aspect of my work and it is very interesting to see that our community is a very small world when it comes to the PR community and through this small network there are a lot of people offering to help PR newbies like me develop best practices and build relationships with the media. By the way thank you Cerys ;) 

DTP: Many think that PR is synonymous with media relations. What does PR entail at CM Labs? Do you see its role growing within your company? 

Storytelling and public relations has been a missing piece of the communications puzzle at CM Labs in the past. We’re now making this a priority to help share our expertise with the community as a whole – not only related to our products and services – but related to the great people we have at our company.  

As we build our marketing team moving forward, we’ll expand our initiatives to further embed PR into the fabric of CM Labs.  

DTP: How would you describe the integration of PR and marketing at CM Labs? Where and when should the two roles intersect most? 

SL: They are feeding each other in term of content, but I support a vision where marketing activities embed the PR activities in a holistic combined activities approach. Marketing tells a story, define the path and PR is both: sharing the story and ensuring that feedback and trends are properly brought back to marketing.  

DTP: How do you balance the idea of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” with the latest tactics and tools you’re dying to try?  

SL: Today in our stage of development of our PR and marketing activities, I am facing a much simpler paradigm: “if it doesn’t exist, make it happen!” So I am having a brutally candid approach to PR. We’re identifying what we are able to do now, and what we will work toward in the future. 

DTP: Are there any tools that you find particularly useful? (i.e. web-based tools, video, monitoring, distribution, etc.) 

SL: I am a serial browser so I had to simplify and limit my time searching the web. I created a few dashboards with Netvibes which allow me to view all the content I want in a single webpage – it’s sorted and organized the way I want it to monitor news, track blogs, and to make sure I have all the newswires monitored without having to surf for hours on many different websites.

DTP: Over the last few years we’ve seen a shift in how marketing and PR people are getting their information in front of their customers. Can you share one of your favourite, “go-to” tactics?

SL: We work at both ends of the spectrum - we have very good relationships with existing customers where we focus on 1:1 conversations and direct communications. At the same time we are working strategically with large international organizations like NATO to bring awareness to an audience that may not be familiar with CM Labs. For me, it’s important that we accurately assess the different groups we communicate with and ensure that we develop content that is valuable to each audience. From there we can best determine what tactics we use – whether that’s a webinar, speaking opportunity or video campaign.

January 6, 2012

Don't Forget About TSJ

As many of you already know, Training & Simulation Journal will be moving online as part of the Defense News community. The publication will have two print editions supporting ITEC and I/ITSEC.

To make it easy to receive T&S-specific content, you can sign up for the TSJ E-Report. If you don't already subscribe to Defense News, the online version is $99 for the year and gives you full access to online content.

Kristin Quinn who can be found on Twitter at @ or @ will continue to lead the charge for developing insightful articles about our community.

January 5, 2012

Tim Mahon and the Training & Simulation Forum (Part Three)

This is the final installment of my interview with Tim, whom by now you know is a great writer with a lot to say (check out part one and two of our discussion). Today, Tim gives us a little advice on how to propose story ideas and why we all need to recognize we’re on the same team working toward a common goal – a good story!
I’m sure this isn’t the last conversation we’ll have with Tim and I hope this has inspired you to join the Forum.
DTP: What advice do you have for PR and marketing people who want to pitch you and/or contribute to TSF?
TM: Be honest and forthright. Not every journalist out there is a scandal-monger, seeking to embarrass, expose or vilify you in print. Some of us work very hard at finding the positive side of any story and relating it to the most important part of any social, political or industrial construct – the people. Sure, we will ask searching questions. Yes, some of them may have the perceived potential to be embarrassing. But I firmly believe that if you have a good relationship and open communication with a journalist, you should be able to help him or her shape a story that retains objectivity while not being an ‘in your face’ damnation of the company or ministry you represent. Honesty, in this case, is the best policy by an almost incalculable margin.
There are lots of cynical journalists out there. That is a given. It’s worth asking, however, what made them cynical in the first place!
Be prepared to add context that brings value to a story, please. An announcement that Liverpool Floggletoggle Limited has delivered the last three MysticKey Widgets to the Ministry of Irrelevance may have some value for a list of industrial contracts. But for an interactive service aimed at informing people as to what is important, it would be far more effective to provide information on what this contract has meant for local employment, what interest has been expressed by other potential customers, what are the enabling technologies or how the wretched thing actually works. You can’t put all this in the press release, I realize that. But you can, when approached for further information, find an answer better than “it’s all in the release.” That defeats both parties in a single brilliant stroke of apathy.
Oh! And images, please. The Internet has given rise to a thirst for imagery that grows unceasingly. Print pubs will need hi-res photos, web-based services will prefer low-res. But they need to be stimulating and relevant. Let’s see equipment in people’s hands, not photos of a black box in a pristine factory environment that demonstrates how uncannily like a black box it looks.
And as to contributors to the Forum, the fist article of faith above is the overriding consideration. Be honest. You can be controversial, provocative, questioning, humorous, even transparently self-serving. But please – be honest!
DTP: What is your perspective on the influence of social media and journalism?
TM: Three years ago I ran for political office here in the UK at the local level. I learned a great deal from that experience, not the least aspect of which was how to be gracious when coming second. The most important thing, however, was seeing how the use of social media on my behalf by my mentor engaged the electorate and brought into starkly clear focus the issues on which we needed to campaign. The fact that it was potholes, parking and planning applications rather than my frankly Benthamist approach to seeking the greatest good of the greatest number did not detract one iota from the power of that lesson learned.
Fast forward to 2011. We started to use social media as a means of promoting the Forum about three months ago and the results have been staggering. We have much to learn yet and a great deal of experimenting to conduct, but we can already see the results of our Twittering and LinkedIn efforts far outweigh direct mail and personal contact in driving engagement.
I come from the ‘digital colonist’ generation, unlike my 21 year old nephew with prehensile thumbs and a complete lack of fear about potentially exposing his views to the entire planet. Social media was an uncomfortable foray into the unknown for me. But I am enormously pleased that my initial efforts have proven to be wonderfully productive. I have seen the light!
Journalists tend to be Type A personalities and have almost as many opinions (if not more) as the numbers of questions asked. Blogging is a heaven-sent opportunity to ‘let loose the dogs of war’ and engage in direct contact with the readership. Small wonder there are so many bloggers out there!
DTP: What is the biggest mistake (or missed opportunity) you see PR people make when pitching you and your colleagues?
TM: Transparent apathy, if I can call it that without causing unnecessary offence. It’s the antithesis of the “be honest” article of faith mentioned above. Issue a press release that says nothing much and deliberately avoids answering questions obvious to the meanest observer and you have a recipe for the release to be ignored. Organising a press visit or briefing for which the presentation slides cannot be released means we have to take more copious notes and risk missing the essential additional or anecdotal points made by the presenter. It wastes everybody’s time and effort. Sitting at a press dinner next to an executive who doesn’t know (or care) why he is sharing a rubber chicken with a member of the Fourth Estate, or what he is ‘allowed’ to say, is an exercise in frustration.
All these mistakes, errors, missed opportunities etc., can be cured with frankness, openness and honesty. The answer to a question you can’t answer is “Sorry, chum – I can’t answer that.” Most of us are intelligent individuals with an appreciation of the limitations and restrictions under which you operate. We understand there are some questions it is impolitic for you to answer. But that won’t stop us asking them, or speculating on the reasons (if the question is legitimate) they can’t be answered.
And press conferences need a real purpose. At an event like Farnborough we as individual journalists need to choose carefully among the dozens of events taking place at the same time. To turn up at a conference the theme of which is “We are holding this conference because we always hold one at Farnborough to tell you what we said last week/month/year” is not an ultimately productive policy, dare I say. 
DTP: Any words of wisdom for the defence community that you’d like to share? Any information about TSF that you want people to know about?
TM: Defence is an insurance policy and carries with it the necessity of paying a premium. We may not like the size of the premium and we are entitled to discuss and debate methods of providing the insurance more effectively. But it is pointless to try to do away with the responsibility of paying those premiums. If I insured my car for theft only and watched it burn to the sills as a result of a car park fire, would I be entitled to moan at the insurer? We need to ensure that our defence planners are empowered to prepare responses to a wide range of existing and emerging threats – not just able to respond to yesterday’s events.
What do I want people to know about Training & Simulation Forum? I want them to know, perceive and believe it is their Forum, not ours. If the dream of making this the Forum for informed debate, sharing and polling of resources, experience and expertise, it is up to us to provide the facility – and up to the wide world out there to take advantage of us.
Come on in, folks – the water is fabulous!

Photo Credit: Ian Kahn

January 3, 2012

Simple Creative Can Sometimes Be Best

I love this art installation at the Queensland Gallery of Modern Art. Such a simple concept: take a white room, get a bunch of stickers, and let kids go nuts!

Art Installation: Yayoi Kusama
Not only is the result amazing, but this is such a simple, creative idea that engaged and mobilized people, getting thousands of children and their parents involved and inspired.

I want to focus on this principle in my next brainstorm - how can we get our community working together to create something amazing that will have impact -- and hopefully a little fun?

Tim Mahon and the Training & Simulation Forum (Part Two)

It’s the New Year and now is when we start re-engaging with our journalist friends. In Part One of our interview with Tim, he shared with us that while print won’t die, online is a great place for meaningful conversation. In today's post, Tim discusses the value of events like I/ITSEC to generating stories and gives us a little insight into the integrity of his writing.
DTP: Where do you get your story ideas from?
TM: A good question, to which there are many answers. The simplest response, however, is the most critical – it’s people. Press releases, news wire stories, unsolicited PR pitches and the material gathered during press visits are extremely important sources of inspiration, but it’s people that really motivate the creation of an enduring story.
As an example, having spent four event-filled days at I/ITSEC in Orlando, there were 29 news stories that are gradually finding their way on to the Forum. But it would not be an exaggeration to say there are close to 100 story ideas that stem from meeting and talking with individuals at the show. Yes, we want to cover news as it emerges and ensure we are timely in bringing important events and successes to public knowledge. More crucial to the overall aim of the Forum, however, are the ideas prompted by casual conversation.
For instance, Presagis offered their media roundtable in its fourth iteration during the show. With members of the media in an intimate and engaging environment facing members of the supply side of the industry – not just Presagis, but Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Boeing, Cubic and Raytheon – the 90 minute conversation has given rise to a dozen threads I am now pursuing to bring to the Forum early in 2012.
DTP: Who would be your dream interview? Or, what topic would you most like to cover?
Photo Credit: Jacques-Louis David
TM: Napoleon, I think. I have been fascinated by the man since I was a teenager and I am struck by the fact that there have been more words written about him than any other figure except Christ. I am busy translating his correspondence in my copious free time these days and I cannot decide whether he was a genius or a megalomaniac, a competent executive or a compulsive micromanager. I would love to ask him about his approach to training and education, however. His epoch, following on the heels of the Age of Enlightenment, was characterized by the emergence of a literate middle- and lower-class.  His contemporaries began to pay attention to the exploitation of individual talent and the deployment of human capital and I firmly believe he would have a great deal to say on the subject of training, both from a military and a macro-social perspective. After all, if you scratch a Frenchman, you find a philosopher; they are a nation that loves to debate abstract ideas and make them live.

As to a favourite topic, one that I am permanently attracted to is whether trainers see talent as a recruitment or a training issue. In other words, are great military leaders born (and therefore the challenge is to identify them at an early stage in the recruitment process) or can they be created? Can you instill genius in an otherwise anodyne character?
The answer, inevitably, is a mixture of both. But it is intensely interesting to listen to the varying philosophies. I am hoping shortly to interview a leading Michelin starred chef in London who has a reputation for finding and training the stars of tomorrow. There is a paradigm hiding away in his methodology which might be of interest to us all – particularly as government contracts increasingly seek to leverage benefits and lessons learned from the private sector’s methods of being smart about innovation and development.
DTP: What keeps you writing about the defence market?
TM: The “boys and their toys” angle is an inevitable one, I suppose. The equipment and major platforms that dominate the market about which I write are just cool – there’s no other word for it. But that is a transient and somewhat ephemeral reason for continuing to focus on this market.
The real reason is I believe it to be a critically important area of human activity. The right to self defence in one form or another is enshrined in every major democratic declaration in history, from Magna Carta to the NATO treaty. Preservation of tranquility and a safe environment for its citizens is (or should be) the primary raison d’être of every government.
And there is a reason this is called the DEFENCE market, not the OFFENCE market. I am truly tired of the knee-jerk, ill-informed point of view that brands every defence company or individual as a merchant of death. What I call the “British Robots Bombed My Baby In Baluchistan” type headline is sloppy journalism, spectacularly ill-informed and doesn’t serve any purpose other than a destructive one. By bringing three decades of experience, exposure and opinion vis-à-vis the defence market, I hope to be able to contribute to squaring the circle and inspiring better informed discussion.
Nick Friberg, President at BAE Systems C-ITS in Stockholm promulgated the idea of a “trusted community” in the T&S field a couple of years ago – a point at which the Forum was a nascent idea. Our work in the Forum is intended to support that concept, empower individuals to build or reinforce professional, enduring relationships and to create an environment in which everybody from the Chief of the Defence Staff to Joe Public understands the essential nature of defence in general and the military T&S ethos in particular. In the final analysis, it is about the preservation of life on an individual and collective basis, not the taking of it. And how can that be anything but one of our most important activities as a society?