Header photo by Hamish Grant. Used with permission.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Men of Movember I Salute You (Especially You, Dad)

I’m writing from the heartland of the mo’.

No, it’s not where the moustache was pioneered; but it is the birthplace of Movember, a month-long event where men around the world unite to wear a mark of distinction. A sign of class. A vestige of manliness.

As the story goes, a few guys in Melbourne (pronounced here in Oz: Melbuuuhn) were sitting around, enjoying a few beers. They lamented the absence of the moustache. The resolved to bring it back. They partnered with Prostate Cancer charities, and started a movement. Just a few short years later, and Movember has to date raised millions of dollars, and helped spread the word about men’s health.

But that’s not what I’m writing about.

I want to share the story of my dear ol’ dad, who braved something that he has not done since he was 16 years old: a bare upper lip.

You see, while most Movember participants grow their moustaches for the month of Movember; my dad, who has always sported a moustache of some kind, decided that he needed to up the ante. He was starting fresh. Clean-shaven. A new man.

My mother had never actually seen dad without a moustache before. Another first.

Scientists, I hear, were clamouring to get to the Sandor residence to be the first to run carbon dating and other tests on flesh that had not been exposed since the late 1960s.

To my dad – congratulations on a month of fresh growth. May your moustache be like a tree, pruned in the autumn so that new growth may spring forth!

To all the other mo' bros out there: Well done. The weeks of mothers ushering their children past you; the raising eyebrows in the mall; the rejection and ridicule from your significant other are behind you. And you're all the more manly for it.

It’s not too late: you can still donate to this Movember pioneer and first-time participant … my dad … Thomas Sandor. To do so, visit my dad's mo-space.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Still want to get promoted in PR?

Remember that little piece that I wrote on "How to get promoted in PR (with the help of social media)?"

Someone very clever in the Burson-Marsteller Asia-Pacific office re-purposed it to go into a SlideShare presentation.

If you thought the original article was too wordy and gave up, you're in luck.  It's now available for your viewing pleasure, condensed into a slide show.

Monday, November 8, 2010

How to get promoted - with a social media twist

I am an intern.

I like to help people with things.

I enjoy brainstorming sessions.

I'm humbled when I'm asked for advice.

As someone who has been in the workforce for a little while, then went back to school, and am now back at the bottom of the business hierarchy (again), I've been thinking a lot about adding value to my workplace, doing more and how to make myself indispensable.

It all boils down to two things, I think.



In keeping with the spirit of Pizza Friday (community, connectedness, creativity and collaboration), and in line with these two ideas, I wrote a guest blog post that was picked up by an Australian media and marketing blog.

The subject: How to get promoted ... with a social media twist.

Mind you, I have only ever been promoted once. That promotion, I actually turned down to go back to school.  I'm not an expert, which is why I leaned very heavily on the words and advice of the co-founder of my employ - William Marsteller.

Call it a collaboration - over 40 years with a PR giant.

It has resonated strongly with the Burson-Marsteller community.

It took a little creativity to bring it around to social media.

But it in the end, it's all about connectedness.

Give the article a read, and let me know what you think!


All the best,


Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Camp Changes Lives: How Kintail Changed Mine

 I first attended Camp Kintail in 1994. I was 9 years old. It was my mom who convinced my brother and I to go. We really didn't want to camp - she did. She'd met one of the assistant directors while on vacation with my dad (we kids weren't invited to this one), and casually asked if the camp ever needed nurses. They did. Badly. A few weeks later, brochures and information arrived in the mail.  My brother and I weren't impressed. Singing around campfires? Arts and crafts? Please. Low ropes courses and canoeing sounded kind of cool, but weren't all that alluring compared with a summer of endless (original 8-bit) Nintendo!

Mom eventually won, and we packed up and left for camp. She was eager to go. My brother and I? Not so much.

After an eight-hour car ride from Ottawa, we arrived at camp: nervous, apprehensive, unprepared for what to expect. We were greeted by a brood of excited camp counselors. Their enthusiasm was contagious.  Before I knew it, I was whisked away to my cabin, sleeping and duffel bags in tow.  I chose a bottom bunk.  The cabin filled up with other boys my age.  Most of them, I discovered, were first-timers like me.

My first week at camp flew by. My counselors were committed, hard-working guys who I really admired. They were cool. They were fun.  They seemed so old, so mature (they were actually 17 and 18)!  It turns out that the campfires, songs, arts and crafts were a lot better than expected.

That week, I fell in love with Lake Huron's sunsets. I delighted in the smell of a cedar forest. I learned how to shoot an arrow and roast the perfect marshmallow. I marveled at the vastness of on endless sky full of stars.  There is no place like this camp.

Moments after my cabin-mates all said goodbye, my brother and I were back in the van, being driven down the camp lane.  We begged to go back to camp the next summer, and our return was arranged before we reached the highway.

I've been back to camp every summer since. I was a camper for seven years, a participant in the leader-in-training program for one, and a staff member for five years. I've also been back as a visitor and volunteer since.

Camp has been a formative place for me. The most formative place. 

This weekend, I visited camp to attend the Staff Commissioning. This was an open house event in which the camp community came together in support of the 2010 camp staff (many of whom are my former campers).  The moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Canada blessed the staff. Past staff, camp supporters, parents and friends of Kintail came together to enjoy a day at camp to kick off the summer.

After spending the day at commissioning,  I spent a lot of time reflecting on my own camp experiences, thinking especially of the first-year staff. When I was 17 - the age of many of these staff members - I didn't understand the gravity of the job. I didn't fully get that I was assuming the role of my first two counselors from 1994 - people who catalyzed the most life-changing period of my life.

Being a camp counselor is a tremendously important job.

These camp staff will be the caretakers of hundreds of children this summer. They will be nearly-instant role models and mentors. Their impact can be profound.

It's my hope that this summer they get the support that they need; that they understand how important this job is; and that they treat it as such.

To the 2010 Camp Kintail staff: This summer, there will be first time campers who are nervous, apprehensive, and not too keen on singing camp songs. You have the ability to bring them out of their shells.  You have the ability to show them the magic of a crackling fire and the joy of dipping a paddle into Lake Huron. You can be the reason they come back year after year and eventually come to meet their future bridesmaids and groomsmen.  You can catalyze lasting change in the lives of children.  You can.

Good luck this summer. I'll be thinking about you.

Zack "Zenith" Sandor-Kerr

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Going Green with Grain

Last week I participated in a public relations case competition hosted by Optimum Public Relations.  The challenge was to come up with a comprehensive communications strategy for the Grain Farmers of Ontario. The "campaign" was designed to promote how grains are being used instead of petroleum products in everyday items like furniture. I worked with four of my colleagues on this program.

I was asked by a few people to share the Prezi that I developed for the creative e-pitch. Embedded in the Prezi is a video that I also made.

What do you think about this idea of using grains to make other products? It seems reasonable enough, doesn't it?  But are corn couches the next ethanol? Will they use up costly agricultural resources and inflate grain prices in order to meet a new need? Certainly grain farmers would be happy, but probably not cattle farmers who use those same grains to feed their livestock!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The End of Blogging Monogomy

I have a confession to make: I've been neglecting this blog. When I first started blogging, I was cautioned about other bloggers who start strong, but whose enthusiasm eventually wanes and posts become sporadic and infrequent. I thought to myself, "I'll never be like that."

The reason for this is because I’ve been splitting my digital time. It’s good to be busy, and something’s had to give.

So what’s been consuming my time? A scooter. Orange and black. Electric.

It's Me! On the GIO Electric Scooter

I was recently hired as a “social media editorial intern” by Maverick PR, a firm that is handling a GIO Bikes—maker of ATVs, dirt bikes and electric scooters ... like the one I’ve been given.

I was given this scooter, and have been tasked with the assignment of blogging about my Toronto electric scooter adventures as GIO in T.O. The gig is to ride through Toronto on the electric scooter, and tell the story using social media.

It’s been a lot of fun so far. The scooter is a blast. It’s an environmentally-friendly way to get around the city, and has been saving me a bundle in gas and TTC fare. I’ve been blogging about it, taking photos of it, tweeting about it and will eventually be making and posting some videos too!

I will pledge to you, loyal readers, to strive for more consistent and regular blogs on this site. But as an alternative, I would invite you and encourage you to visit http://GIOinTO.com.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Social Media Revolution

If you haven't seen this video about social media, you should check it out.  It's a fabulous summary of the power and scope of social media. 

Powerful stuff.

I was surprised to see these stats:

80% of companies use social media for recruitment.
95% of these are using LinkedIn.

78% of consumers trust peer recommendations.
14% trust paid advertisements.

Only 18% of traditional TV ad campaigns generate positive ROIs.
90% of people skip ads with DVRs.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Giving Up Number One on Google

I'm facing a conundrum.  I've been told by some social media people that blogging on the platform "Blogger" is beginner's stuff. Kindergarten.  The sandbox.  They say that serious bloggers who are taken seriously, blog on other platforms like Wordpress.  There are a number of differences between the two, each with its advantages an disadvantages.

The conundrum is that this blog is the number one result when you Google "Pizza Friday."

Now I want to move by blog over to Wordpress (I have a shiny new domain name and everything), but I don't want to sacrifice my Google search ranking. I'm pleased (and a little surprised) about this.

I'm unsure what to do.  Do I transfer all the content I've produced on the Blogger version of Pizza Friday to the Wordpress, and just direct traffic to the new blog?  Do I start fresh with a new layout and theme on the new platform?  Do I just keep the Pizza Friday theme and look, but have the Wordpress version of the blog as a continuation of the first iteration? 

I don't know. 

What would Google prefer?  I know it doesn't like replica content ...

Perhaps I'm making this a bigger deal out of this than I need to.  If I made it to number one in the search after four months of blogging on Blogger, presumably I can get there again on Wordpress.  Unless the idea of Pizza Friday is popularized by Justin Bieber, it stands to reason that the only person I'll be competing with for Pizza Friday search dominion is ... myself. 

Perhaps I'm being to proud.  Should I just not worry about it, and humbly move my blog over because it's what I want to do, and not worry about search engine optimization

I'm not sure.  Can anyone offer any insights or suggestions? 

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Twitter Security Hole: The Aftermath

On Monday, I blogged about the Twitter security hole.

It turns out it was discovered by a fan of a Turkish heavy metal band called "Accept." The fan wanted to Tweet "Accept [the band] pwnz!!!"  Instead of sending the tweet, he discovered that Twitter user @Pwnz was now following him.  Interesting.  He eventually put two and two together, and Gizmodo ended up getting a hold of it and blogging it, which resulted in chaos!

So Twitter fixed the bug, after temporarily setting everyone's followers and following to zero.

But in that window of time, over 6,000 people exploited the "force follow" bug.

Wondering who they forced to follow?  The top people were Oprah, Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, Conan O'Bian and Perez Hilton.
I like when the nerds come up with stuff like this.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Twitter Security Hole: Forcing Friends & Spreading Panic

Tech blog, Gizmodo just posted a Twitter hack that exploits a security hole, which can be used to force anyone to follow you.  Interesting.

In case you're wondering how, here's the link.  However before you go ahead and get yourself followed by Twitter kingmakers and celebrities, a word of caution: Hacking someone's Twitter account to force a follow is not only a personal violation; but will also do your personal brand some damage.

In March, I blogged about how Conan O'Brien followed Sarah Killen at random, and her Twitter following immediately skyrocketed.  Conan's decision to follow Sarah cast her into online notoriety.  But will forcing a follow do the same for you?  Not likely.  Actually, it might have the opposite effect.  It could do some damage to your personal brand - "forcing" Conan to follow you might actually imply to people that you don't care about infringing on their digital privacy and you're willing to go to great lengths to help yourself ... and at what expense?

Upon seeing the link from Gizmodo, I checked Conan, Oprah and Stephen Colbert.  They were all following a whole bunch of randoms.  Obviously a lot of people were taking advantage of this security hole and trying to be followed by "big names."

Conan Tweeted this:

He was following a lot of people:

Then, minutes after Gizmodo's tweet, I looked at Conan's followers again (to write this post) and they were cleared to zero.  He had zero followers too (from two million or so).  I checked my followers, and I was reduced to zero and zero too!  It's most likely Twitter trying to fix the bug.

People on Twitter are panicking! 

Incredible!  It seems as though Gizmodo has caused quite a stir ... again.  It's been a busy month for the tech blog!

Update: It seems that my speculation was right.  From the Twitter update blog:
We identified and resolved a bug that permitted a user to “force” other users to follow them. We’re now working to rollback all abuse of the bug that took place. Follower/following numbers are currently at 0; we’re aware and this too should shortly be resolved.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Nine Ways to Start Writing Better Today

Writing is tricky.  Writing effectively is even more so. In university I developed a propensity for long-windedness and unnecessary verbosity, which ultimately impeded readers from grasping the key postulations of my compositions. I was wordy.  I was unclear.

(Did you get as far as "propensity" and start skimming?)

I've since learned that good writing is easy reading.  If you're writing to be understood, be clear and be concise.

These are a few tips for better writing that writing instructor Kalene Morgan passed along.  I've found them extremely useful, thought I must admit I don't always follow them all the time (and deserve appropriate scolding for it).

1. Use shorter sentences
As a rule of thumb, aim to keep sentences shorter than two full lines, or about 20 words. Writing shorter sentences ensures that each sentence has just one idea.  This keeps things simple and readable.

2. Vary sentence length
Varying the sentence length keeps the reader engaged and enhances the rhythm of your work by building suspense and adding variety. It works, if done judiciously.

3. Avoid ugly words
This one boils down to personal preference, and can be subjective. Many words are thrown around a lot, but don't mean much. Get rid of them.  Consider finding better words than: great, nice, astounding, amazing, terrific, exciting and tragic.  What would you add (or delete) from the list?

4. Use strong verbs
Strong verbs evoke feeling. They command attention. They describe with precision.  Using strong verbs transforms your writing and enhances clarity and readability.

5. Write in the active voice
In the active voice, the doer is doing the do-ee.  It happens in that order: subject, (strong) verb, object.  Sentences written in the active voice are stronger and easier to understand.  The understanding of a sentence is made more difficult when written passively.  See what I mean?

6. Use the shortest form of the word
This is a big one.  I'm most guilty of this in emails.  The trick is to simply avoid wordy phrases.  Instead of: This blog post expressed opposition to questionable writing practices; consider: This blog post opposed questionable writing practices.

7. Avoid jargon and acronyms
Terms, words and expressions commonly used in your workplace or industry should not be taken for granted.  All academics know that RA stands for "research assistant," unless of course you live on campus, in which case you're a "resident advisor." Of course you could also be referring to "rheumatoid arthritis." If you're writing to be understood, write to be understood by your grandma, not only other engineers.

8. Avoid cliches, redundancies and overworked expressions
An exact duplicate?  Due to the fact that ...?  As far as I can remember?  Each and every?  Completely eliminate? At the present moment?  Giving 110 per cent?  At the end of the day?  Comon!  We can do better, I promise!

9. Be careful around the verb "to be"
When you proofread your work, highlight every instance of is, are, was, were, be and being.  Can you replace them with a stronger verb?  If so, do!

What other tips do you think should be added  to the list?

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Time Travel and Public Relations

If you could ask future you three questions, what would you ask?  What would you want to know? Would you take your own advice?

Yesterday was the last day of the semester in PR school at Humber.  To mark the occasion, social media instructor, and all-around insightful guy, Micheal Cayley turned the class over to us to discuss the future.

Jenna Stothers and I took the lead, and organized Future Camp - an event designed to stimulate discussion around maintaining social capital and staying connected as a network of public relations professionals.  It was casual, interactive and a whole lot of fun.

The day focused on three aspects:
  1. The Future: Together
  2. The creation of a digital time capsule
  3. The Google Doc Shuffle

Overall, Future Camp was inspiring.  I was impressed to see the class come together, recognizing the value of maintaining our real-life and digital networks.  Though we still have four months of PR school ahead of us, Future Camp was helpful in proactively nurturing relationships to ensure a robust network.

After all, the interconnectedness of social media is incredible, but it will never replace good-ol'-fashioned face-to-face social capital.

Happy future.

For more on Future Camp, check out the blogs of:

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Did I Just Sell Out?

Two weeks ago, I attended a presentation about social media and search engine optimization by Rob Campbell from SMOJoe.  Rob uses a lot of different social sites and tools to create "information funnels" and "buckstops," building "keyword sandwiches" to win Google results.  Google eats them all up.  Fascinating stuff.

In his presentation, Rob encouraged the class put grass cutting in a blog post which would link to http://thegrasscutters.ca.

Key word: grass cutting.  Not grass cutters, not lawn mowing.  Grass cutting. Why?  Well, that particular company is a client of Rob's.  This link on my little blog is just one aspect of Rob's story funnel which ultimately leads to the buckstop: the Grasscutters' website. He wants his client to be number one on a Google search on the matter of "grass cutting."

So I've blogged it.  There it is, Rob.

Now what?  Has my blog become a billboard?  Has my personal brand taken a turn for the commercial?  Am I  *gasp*  ...  a"sell-out?"

I've been thinking about this for a while.  Blogging continues to grow as an important marketing and PR strategy.  It's not a secret.  Companies are realizing the strategic potential of getting well-read bloggers on board with brands, products and ideas.   It's pretty straightforward: a company gives me a snazzy new product and encourages me to blog, tweet and facebook about it.  I create some buzz and before you know it, my social media community wants one too. 

Brain Alkerton, a classmate from the highschool days, argues that "personal sponsorship is personal censorship."  Of social media sponsorship he writes,
These are the thoughts that go through the heads of the people holding the pursestrings, and it’s simple enough math. They don’t have to demand that you restrain negative opinions because you know the gravy train stops when you start criticizing too strongly. So you temper your words, and you tell yourself that because you’ve got a “blog with integrity” badge on your page you’re doing things right, as if disclosing that you’re on the take makes it okay.
Brian's point is well-taken.  If company X is paying me to blog or tweet about something, it's possible (likely?) that I will take it easy on them - even if I have an axe to grind.  But then again, maybe not.

Many bloggers are well-liked and widely-read exactly because they are outspoken and unpredictable.  If they're making a buck from a corporation that does something to piss them off, this brand of blogger had no qualms about saying it, even at the risk of losing that sponsor.

But is it "selling out?"  Is it making a compromise in integrity?

I don't think so.  It's all about how you do it.  If the corporately-sponsored blogging is annoying and alienates his or her community with relentless ads and commercial pandering, then it is possible that he or she may lose readers and the blog posts will be less valuable to the sponsoring corporation.  However, if it's done in a dynamic way that continues to add value and appeals the the audience, it can work.

Besides, isn't that the dream?  To get paid to do something you love, something that other people enjoy (hopefully) and something you would do anyway?

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Stepping up for clean air in Toronto

I like my air clean and my transit accessible.  How do you like them?

Let me tell you little story about Metrolinx: Metrolinx (formally known as the Greater Toronto Transportation Authority) is the public authority that manages transportation planning throughout the GTA. It operates GO Transit, and is responsible for planning and implementing the growth of transit in the region.

Transit = good

One of the projects that Metrolinx is involved with is an expansion of the rail corridor between Georgetown and Union Station.  Currently, about 45 trains run through that corridor each day.  After the expansion, that number will rise to between 200 and 450.

More transit = more good (right?)

Maybe.  Problem # 1 is that all this new rail infrastructure is being built to increase diesel train capacity. Four hundred more diesel trains running through the west end of Toronto daily?  That's a lot of diesel.

"Toronto is the new L.A." has a nice ring to it if we're talking about famous people. It's less appealing if referring to smog.

Here's what I'm thinking: If we're spending all kinds of money expanding the rail service through this corridor, why not invest in sustainable transit?  Why not make it electric?  With the PanAm games coming to this city, wouldn't a modern, clean, electric rail system be something that we would want to proudly showcase, rather than a smoke-spewing diesel behemoth?

Problem #2: These trains aren't going to be stopping in the communities they run through; they will be going straight from Union Station to Pearson International Airport.

It doesn't seem like a well-thought out plan.  Shouldn't these trains running through these west-Toronto communities at least serve them?  That's what I think.

The GOOD NEWS is that it's not a done deal yet.
But the cause needs further support.  You can:

Monday, March 29, 2010

How To Get a Job In PR

Like many of my colleagues in PR school at Humber, I will soon be on the job market. On Friday, I attended a Humber / IABC panel about the job hunt, and how to maximize success.

Three panelists spoke to a modest-sized group of PR students.  They were: Alison Bing from Canada Dry Mott's Inc; Daphna Nussbaum from Palette PR and Cyrus Mavalwala from Advantis Communications.  These three PR pros offered some outstanding insights into seeking, interviewing for and getting the job.  Here's what they shared with the group: 

Treat your job search like a communications plan and write it out
  • SWOT analysis (don't spend too much time here)
  • Goals / Objectives. Make them SMART, and be specific.  "To get a job" just isn't going to cut it.  Perhaps something along the lines of "To obtain an entry-level PR job in the CSR department of a medium-sized corporation."
  • Know your audience.  Who are you writing to?  What are you applying for?  Spend more time putting out fewer, more-targeted resumes and customized cover letters.
  • Strategies and tactics.  What are you going to do that will set your apart from the other people applying?  This relates to your personal brand, and yes, Cyrus assured us that PR pros care about it.  Also consider joining IABC and/or CPRS, fill out your LinkedIn profile and get recommendations, apply to awards and conduct informational interviews.  Be an A+ networker. Follow up with calls and (flawless) thank-you letters.
  • Feedback and evaluation. If you don't get the job, call the hiring manager and ask why.  Seriously.  Suck it up and get some feedback on your interviewing skills.  Not only will you learn from your mistakes, but you will also show the interviewer that you're serious.  Try asking for a referral.
Other really important tips
  • Buy your domain name.  Buy it now.  Don't you want control of yourname.com? 
  • Do your homework.  Learn about the company and brand that you're applying to.  "To whom it may concern" is not an option.  Following the hiring manager ahead of time is.  I'd do the latter.
  • In an interview, ask a couple of questions.  Show them you've done your homework.  Show them you're already engaging with the organization.
  • Go on information interviews. At the end, ask for a referral for a colleague who you can interview next. Interview and repeat.
  • Apply to the companies and brands you're passionate about.  Let that passion out of the cage.
  • Say thank you.  Then write a thank you card.  Then tweet it. 
Alison, Daphna and Cyrus - thanks for coming and speaking at Humber!

What else?  What would you add to the list?

Happy hunting.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Kittens Inspired By Kittens

This made my weekend. I'm not really into the meme of kittens with funny captions, but the little girl narrating this video makes me laugh every time.

All I can say is that I hope I have a child this funny one day.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Personal Branding on a T-Shirt

Brand strategist Paul Copcutt suggests that you think carefully about your personal brand before jumping in and trying to articulate it.  At Personal Brand Camp 2, Paul said that one of the first things he has his clients do for their personal brand is to send a questionnaire to their friends, families, colleagues and mentors.  The questionnaire is designed to develop a brand snapshot - a jumping-off point from which the personal brand can then be nuanced.

Three years ago, my brother Jeremy did this when he decided to make me an unforgettable Christmas gift.  Unbeknown to me, Jeremy emailed a number of my friends with a few questions:
In the future, Zack will be ...
If Zack had a super-power, it would be ...
If Zack were reborn as another life form, he would be ...
If Zack were a smell, he would be ...
Jeremy then collected and compiled the results, and made t-shirts based on his favourite answers.

The answers that he received reflected my personal brand through university (as well as my friends' senses of humour).  Some of the predominant themes were:
  • a desire to make a difference, 
  • environmental consciousness, 
  • vegetarianism
  • a love of sharing music
  • a sense of humour, fun and joy

The way that others perceive us is critical in our personal brand.  If I say my brand is one thing, but others see it as something else, then there is a disconnect, and I either:

a) view myself differently than others do; or
b) am being inauthentic with my personal brand.

In both cases, it is time to go back to the drawing board.

So how am I doing with my personal brand?

Some of the responses to Jeremy's questionnaire and more of the t-shirt designs after the jump.


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A Native Narrative: My Visit to Deer Lake, Ont.

The summer of 2007, my perceptions about the "developed world" changed.

I was nervous.  I didn’t tell anybody, but I was. I gazed out the window of the small, nine-passenger airplane and beheld a vast expanse of trees, lakes, and bare rock in all directions.  There were no signs of human existence anywhere below me.  That’s when it set in: I was going to Northern Ontario—remote Northern Ontario.  I remember thinking, What have I gotten myself into?  I was on my way to Deer Lake, Ontario, an Oji-Cree First Nations community of about a thousand people, and I was nervous.

I was travelling to Deer Lake as a member of a five-person team sent to run literacy-based day camps for the children whose ages spanned from four to fifteen.  We were sent by Frontier College, an organization devoted to the empowerment of Canadians through literacy.  Our team consisted of three individuals from “Southern Canada” and two from Deer Lake itself.

Over the course of the summer, the five of us worked together to come up with a daily program that was meant to keep the children coming back day after day.  Our goal wasn’t to teach them how to read; rather, we tried to show them the joy of picking up a book and enjoying it.  We wanted to get these young boys and girls excited about books, and give them something fun and constructive to do over their summer holidays. 

It wasn’t easy.  In fact, at times, it was devastatingly difficult.  As a team, we dealt with some issues that I had never been exposed to before.  We were faced with the issues of suicide and self-harm.  We saw poverty, unemployment, and substance abuse up close.  We learned how to creatively address the unique needs of children with special needs and fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.  Our hearts were broken by the honesty of the children who would tell us about the challenges of their home lives.

Those moments of sorrow and hardship were, however, far outnumbered by the times of boundless joy, laughter, and strength that we witnessed day in and day out.  I was amazed at the sense of strength, support and solidarity that the community possessed and asserted, especially in times of need.  I was even more impressed by the strong-willed children whose determination and love of life was inspiring.

This arena of juxtaposition between challenge and vitality was where I made, what I perceive to be, my greatest discoveries.  Aboriginal people, particularly those in remote regions, face some serious difficulties and strains.  They have been relegated to the margins and forced to live on the terms of others.  This, of course, has had substantial economic, social, political, psychological and cultural implications.

What’s worse is the fact that most Canadians don’t seem to care.  They’ve heard the stories about residential schools; about xenophobic government policies and treaties; and about the many social problems that affect First Nations communities.  They’ve heard all these things, and they want to hear no more, so what do they do?  I would like to say that they try to help solve the problem from the structural level in order to ensure justice, but we know that this is not the case.  No, they flip to the sports section.

In my time up north, I came to realize the shocking degree to which Aboriginal people in Canada are being marginalized, and how little our governments and society are doing to help.  In Deer Lake, I witnessed the community fight to overcome challenges with solidarity and empathy.  When difficulties arose for individuals or families, others would step up and help in any way they could.  There was this feeling while I was there that they were all in it together, and each was going to help the other every step of the way.  This inspired me.  To think that despite some of Canada’s most extreme injustice and hardship, the First Nations people in these communities are finding the strength and agency to help one another and refuse to be overcome is tremendous.

But it’s not enough.  Some of the people have fallen through the cracks.  This concentrated effort, though incredible, can not be sustainable against social and legal frameworks that are set against them.  Land disputes, resource-hungry corporations, an apathetic Canadian public, and a government that does not meet the needs of the Aboriginal population are all forces that communities like Deer Lake are up against. 

They cannot and should not have to do it on their own.

We are all culpable in this injustice, and so I believe that we have a collective moral responsibility to seek to help and address the problems and issues that are affecting our fellow Canadians.  I’ll be the first one to admit that I, too have been ignorant.  I have tried to shut out the stories in order to shut off empathy.  That changed for me when I went to Deer Lake.  I can no longer be passive and just sit back as people suffer through so-called “Third World” conditions within the very borders of my home province.

To quote Thomas King, “Don’t say in years to come that you would have lived your life differently if only you had heard this story.  You’ve heard it now.”

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's YouTube Interview

This week, Prime Minister Stephen Harper took a page out of President Barack Obama's blog, and utilized social media to engage with Canadians on a variety of political issues.  Canadians were invited to submit questions via text and video, and then could vote on their favourites.  The Prime Minister answered the top questions on YouTube.

According to the PMO:
"Social media is changing the way Canadians interact with politicians."
"Canadians, especially younger Canadians, are no longer getting their news from just television, radio and print media. They are turning to new media in increasing numbers."

Engage a younger audience using a relevant communications vehicle:  Excellent strategy.

The problem? The video ended up being a 40-minutes long.  To the PM's target audience, it was dull.  Poor execution.

The fact that the questions were crowd-sourced was useful.  Canadians could ask what they wanted frankly and with candour.  The questions were also "social" in nature because the community could vote on their favourite ones.  Excellent strategy. 

The problem? The process wasn't transparent.  You could not see how many votes each question got, nor could we see  a ranking of the top questions.  There was no way of knowing if the questions asked were the top questions voted on. This made the entire process appear controlled and manipulated.  Poor execution.

It seems that the interview missed the mark. If the Prime Minister wanted to utilize social media in an effective way to engage people, then he and his staff should have looked at social media at its best, and how it is being used effectively to generate conversations, build communities, and leverage connectedness.  That would have shown excellent strategy.

Instead, the entire exercise looked used the same, tired format - the fireside chat with a similarly-aged yes-man moderating questions, buffering the PM from the people.  The only difference is that this was presented on YouTube.  Poor execution.

This two-way asymmetrical model of communication fails to leverage the best of social media.  Though pundits and journalists may be calling the exercise a success, as an avid social media user and public relations student in PM Harper's target audience, I was neither fooled nor impressed.

All in all, the strategy was there.  The execution was not.

For more on this, check out the blogs of a few of my colleagues:

Sarah State
Robyn Landau
Kathleen Napier
Kaitlynn Dodge

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

College vs. University


I was recently discussing some of the differences between college and university.

Jeff, one of my colleagues, astutely observed:

"In university I was taught about the past and why; 
in college I'm taught about the future and how."

I think there's a lot of truth to this.  Thanks Jeff.  It makes me think about some of the differences between college and university - especially post-graduate programs.  Hmmm ...

Monday, March 15, 2010

What is Stephen Harper Reading?

Stephen Harper is at the centre of the country's most exclusive book club.  He hasn't acknowledged it yet.

Every second Monday, author Yann Martel (writer of the Man-Booker Prize-winning book The Life of Pi) sends Prime Minister Harper a book that will help him govern better through teaching more about "stillness."  Martel writes:
Who is this man? What makes him tick? No doubt he is busy. No doubt he is deluded by that busyness. No doubt being Prime Minister fills his entire consideration and froths his sense of busied importance to the very brim. And no doubt he sounds and governs like one who cares little for the arts.

But he must have moments of stillness. And so this is what I propose to do: not to educate—that would be arrogant, less than that—to make suggestions to his stillness.

For as long as Stephen Harper is Prime Minister of Canada, I vow to send him every two weeks, mailed on a Monday, a book that has been known to expand stillness. That book will be inscribed and will be accompanied by a letter I will have written. I will faithfully report on every new book, every inscription, every letter, and any response I might get from the Prime Minister, on this website.
Since April 16, 2007, Martel has sent the Prime Minister 77 books.  He has received five replies from various assistants, correspondence officers, and even Industry Minister Tony Clement; but nothing from the Prime Minister. 

Martel recently also received a hand-written letter from President Obama. Nothing from Harper.

What an interesting series of political statements Martel is making.  In each letter, he explains why he has sent the book and the lessons he hopes the Prime Minister will learn from it.  He also posts the letters on his website.

What do you think about this?  What books would you recommend Stephen Harper read?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Shaping the Future of Humankind

The internet is transforming the world.  There are countless examples of how the interconnectedness of the net changes social, political, economic and developmental landscapes.  This isn't news.  It is, however, important to consider.

BBC explores the ways in which the internet is changing the world in its series Superpower: Exploring the Extraordinary Power of the Internet.

This is the promo commercial:


Not only is the video compelling, but the entire project is chock full of fantastic information over various online platforms and formats.

Good one, BBC.


Sunday, March 7, 2010

Three Days and 16,000 Twitter Followers

Conan O'Brien has 573,000 odd followers on Twitter.  He doesn't follow anyone back.

That is ... he didn't before Friday, March 5th.

Then he tweeted this:

... and followed Sarah Killen at random.

Sarah now boasts 15,896 followers.  Talk about star power.  This graph shows the number of people following her, and the utter explosion of followers after Conan's tweet.

Out of curiosity, I started following Sarah too.  It will be interesting to see how this affects her personal brand, and where else Conan plans to go with his newest friend!

How might Sarah leverage this exit from anonymity?

If you were going to get a boost from any celebrity, who would it be? President ObamaLance ArmstrongThe Dalai LamaMichael Ignatieff?

Me? I think I would go with Stephen Colbert.  I think the Colbert Bump would do my personal brand some good!

Volunteering Doesn't Get More Trendy

Toronto's 7th annual Timeraiser is coming up on March 20th.  This is an event where you can make a difference, bid on some local artwork and have a fun night out!

"What's a timeraiser?"

It's part volunteer fair, part silent auction and part night on the town.  Throughout the night, you meet representatives from different Toronto charities and not-for-profits who are looking for volunteers.  After you have found some agencies that interest you, you are able to bid on artwork in the silent auction.

But you don't bid with money.  You bid with volunteer hours. 

If you have the winning bid, you have 12 months to complete your pledge of volunteer hours to receive the artwork.  What a creative way to motivate people to make a difference in the community!

So far, Timeraiser events have:
  1. Generated over 51,000 volunteer hours
  2. Invested $300,000 in the careers of emerging artists
  3. Engaged 5,000 Canadians to pick up a cause
  4. Worked with 250+ charitable organizations.

I went to this event last year and was blown away by the number of young professionals in Toronto who took an evening out to learn about volunteering.  This is a tremendous opportunity to encourage volunteerism in the community and support local artists. 

Richelle Forsey
Late Night Laundromat
25" x 25"
Archival lightjet print

Click here for more of the art that you can bid on!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Zack Sandor-Kerr: Branded

I've been working on developing my personal brand through various avenues as a PR practitioner.  I'm hoping that it will help position me in the field as someone that companies want to hire.  I've developed a "Personal Brand Plan" that is meant to help inform and guide my efforts by generating goals, developing strategy and laying out tactics. 

This is really a guide for myself, but by blogging it, I am committing to the process of intentional brand-building, to which I will become accountable.  This is a part of a fluid process.  As I've mentioned before, personal branding isn't about creating something contrived or artificial.  This exercise has been about laying out some priorities, goals and ways to keep my brand on track.

Please feel free to share your thoughts with me on this journey.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Real-Life Personal Branding with Threadless T-Shirts

I like t-shirts.  They can be a "real-life" way of expressing a personal brand.  From the silly to the profound to the downright offensive, I think t-shirts say something about the wearer's personal brand.

My favourite go-to place for t-shirts is threadless.com.  Threadless is an online t-shirt store that prints shirts designed by members of its online community.

Here's how it works:

1) You have a doodle, slogan or drawing that you think would make a great t-shirt.
2) You submit it to Threadless for review.
3) Threadless posts your t-shirt design, and then members of the community rate your t-shirt from 1-5.
4) If the shirt is rated highly enough, threadless prints your t-shirt to sell on its online store.
5) You get paid - $2,000 cash and a $500 gift certificate.  If the shirt is so popular that it is reprinted, you are paid an additional $500.


It's a community that connects online to collaborate and share and produce creative t-shirts!  Fantastic.

There are some really cool shirts on threadless - check it out.  Maybe you'll want to pick out something that reflects your real-life personal brand!

The threadless community is huge.  Whenever I wear my threadless t-shirts out, I'm always stopped by someone who has seen that shirt online.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Quest For Social Engagement

A social media story for all ages.  A networked narrative.  A connected chronicle. A technological tale.  An electronic epic.

Meet the Wiki'd Witch.
Stay a night at the Linked Inn.
Don't get stuck in the Bogspot.

Follow our hero, the brave peasant Sandorkerr on his quest for interconnectivity and justice throughout his noble kingdom.

Please Digg this video by clicking here. You don't need a Digg account - you can sign in through Facebook. Thanks so much.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Personal Branding in 3 Easy Steps: Extract, Express, Exude

After Personal Brand Camp II (#pbCamp2) and the Third Tuesday Event with Mitch Joel, I have a clearer understanding of personal brand, what it's all about and why it matters.

First of all, personal brand isn't something artificial or contrived.  It's not something that I conjure from the ether and declare "me" or "mine."  I already have a personal brand.  So do you.

Your personal brand is reflected in your online identity - your digital footprint.  It's your Facebook profile, the pictures you post, your tweets and what comes up when you Google yourself.  Your personal brand isn't about what you think it is.  It's what Google says it is.

The key is to nuance and tweak your personal brand to put you in control of it.  This is a deliberate, but straightforward process.

Is it important?  Absolutely. Your personal brand allows you to stand out, and let your personality and passions inform who you are.  It allows you to forge connections and build online and real-life communities.  It should reflect your own values and goals.

At pbCamp2, personal brand strategist Paul Copcutt outlined the basics of building a personal brand.  He outlined it as follows:

My colleague Jenna Strothers wrote an excellent summary of Paul's advice.

Authenticity is key.

Happy branding.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Thinking About Personal Branding? I am.

Personal branding has been on my mind lately. 

Some think it's important.  Others do not.  Some people are invigorated by the idea.  Other are terrified.

I'm attending "Personal Brand Camp II" and "Third Tuesday Toronto" tomorrow, which will focus on the notion of personal branding, especially as it pertains to public relations.  At Personal Brand Camp, various PR practitioners will lead conversations (which you can follow on ScribbleLive and Twitter at #pbCamp2) and try to answer some top questions about personal brand, including:
I'll let you know what I come up with.

Pizza Friday is a part of my personal brand.  In my blog introduction, I proposed some themes that Pizza Friday would take - community, connectedness, creativity, collaboration - as a reflection of things that I think are important in building my personal brand.

I would love to know what you think ... especially those of you who know me personally:
  • How would you describe my personal brand?
  • If I were a product or company, what would you associate with it (me)?
  • Based on what you've read in this blog, am I getting it right?  
  • Are there elements of "me" that you don't see but want to?  Elements that you do see but don't think are accurate?
Please comment and let me know!

Update: There were some excellent, thoughtful comments made. Please check them out, because they add a lot of value to the conversation about personal branding.  And of course, please feel free to chime in yourself.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Volunteers Wanted: The TTC Tweets Toronto (and TO Tweets Back)

Steve O'Brien has been named volunteer head of the TTC's customer service advisory panel.  A tough job for sure, and he's doing it for free.

The volunteer panel has been set up to:
  • Examine challenges and criticisms facing the TTC
  • Draft a passenger's Charter of Rights
  • Recommend how TTC employees can improve the experience of riding the system.
The recommendations from the commission are slated to be ready by the end of June.

Today, Brad Ross (@bradTTC), the director of communications at the TTC sent out the following tweet:
Ok riders, looking for 1 public member for the cust. serv. panel. Tell us why it should be you in 140 char. Pls use #TTCpanel
I like it.  His call to action is being widely re-tweeted by Torontonians, and responses are flooding in.  Here are a few (yes, including my own).

@tamera I'd be a great fit for the #TTCpanel b/c I understand that you need more than one member of the public to get meaningful change

@pronosher #TTCpanel born in TO lived here all my life , have metropass since concept was introduced & know how to measure the experience

@mmarmoset I'm committed, optimistic, realistic, creative, diplomatic & articulate. Vision: riders & empl have positive experience & opinion #ttcpanel

@ZackSandorKerr Believer in pub. transit;Advocate for change;Mindful of TTC challenges;Open-minded;Daily rider; Neither jaded nor out to get TTC #TTCpanel
#TTCPanel@karimawad RT @daveaduncan: I love public transit and want to make it better for everyone; riders, union and management. Everyone can win. #TTCpanel    
What a great way to gauge the public and mobilize the social media community to promote change!  It's like American Idol in 140 characters!  Way to embody the values of Pizza Friday ... community, collaboration, creativity, connectedness!

Is one position enough??

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Tony Blair: Under Arrest for Crimes Against Peace?

British environmentalist, Guardian journalist and activist George Monbiot has created a bounty for the citizen's arrest of former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair. 


Monbiot declares that Blair's invasion of Iraq constitutes crimes against peace according to the Nuremberg Principles. As well, he argues that it was a violation of articles 33 and 51 of the United Nations Charter.
"Without legal justification, the war with Iraq was an act of mass murder: those who died were unlawfully killed by the people who commissioned it. So today I am launching a website — www.arrestblair.org — whose purpose is to raise money as a reward for people attempting a peaceful citizen's arrest of the former prime minister.

"I have put up the first £100 and I encourage you to match it. Anyone meeting the rules I've laid down will be entitled to one quarter of the total pot: the bounties will remain available until Blair faces a court of law. The higher the reward, the greater the number of people who are likely to try."

Monday, February 8, 2010

Pizza Friday's Official Pizza Dough Recipe

Want to know the secret to a successful Sandor-Kerr Pizza Friday?  Dough.

Here it is: The long-awaited, official dough recipe of Pizza Friday.

Pizza Friday Pizza Dough
4 cups flour
1/4 cup margarine (not butter)
1 tablespoon sugar
1 & 1/2 tablespoons seasoning salt
1 & 1/2 tablespoons Italian seasoning
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 egg
1 tablespoon instant / quick-rise yeast
1 & 1/3 cups hot water

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Combine all ingredients with hands. Dough should initially cling together easily without a lot of loose flour on the bottom of the bowl. If too dry, add a little more water. Knead until smooth.

Roll out dough on baking sheet.  Top with deliciousness.
Bake for 13 - 15 minutes.
Serve with beer or wine.
Enjoyed most on a Pizza Friday.

This recipe usually makes 2 or 3 (if it's thin crust) pizzas.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Shooting for B's

"Be a B student and an A+ networker."

Really?  Whoa.  You lost me at B student. 

This is the top advice shared by one of my instructors.  I've taken pause.  It's been hard to wrap my head around.  As someone with a history of chronic high expectations, I've struggled with saying "that's good enough" and moving on to something more important.  It's tricky, but I'm realizing the value.

I wish I could go back in time and tell myself to play more video games in university.  Seriously.  Since graduating, nobody has ever asked my what my GPA was.  Nobody.  Why?  Because nobody cares.  People care about what kind of friend I was.  People care about the ways in which I served the community.  People care  about the time we shared a beer or went for a coffee and had a chat, even if it was not scheduled onto my colour-coded itinerary. Having As isn't going to get me a job in PR - strong relationships, community involvement and soaking up experience is.

If you're a future employer or one of my classmates reading this thinking, "I want nothing to do with this self-confessed slacker," let me reassure you: I'm not about to let you down.  I'm driven to be successful.  This isn't a reflection of my work ethic.  It relates to my priorities.  This paradigm shift allows me to be get creative and take risks.  By worrying less about a grade at the end of the assignment, I can focus on the process and on the lessons the assignment seeks to teach.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Who's a Bigger Global Threat: Saudi Arabia, Iran, China or Canada?

I love Canada, but recently I've considered removing the Canada flag from my backpack. 

Canada once boasted an international reputation for peace keeping, foreign aid and kindliness. These things no longer define our nation.  Our deplorable environmental policy does.

On Monday, Environment Minister Jim Prentice announced that Canada will reduce greenhouse gas emissions 17 per cent from 2005 levels by 2020.  Environmental organizations agree that this target is too weak to stem climate change. 

The climate crisis issue resonates most strongly in Alberta, home of the tar sands. British writer George Monbiot accuses Canada of becoming a “corrupt petro-state” and a greater threat to global peace and security than Saudi Arabia, Iran and China, thanks to the tar sands.  This troubles me.

This is exactly the international image Prentice is trying to avoid.  Prentice reacted against the negative “perception of the oil sands” in Canada and abroad.  While he affirmed Canada’s ongoing commitment to the tar sand development, he noted that he would fight internationally to reverse these negative views.

Impossible.  Tar sands development and ecological consciousness are mutually exclusive.  Prentice cannot have both.  No amount of PR will make the tar sands more sustainable. This contradiction speaks to the government’s lack of commitment to real environmental sustainability.  Its mere appearance will do.  The government wants to benefit from Alberta’s dirty oil, but maintain an eco-friendly reputation.

It’s time we shirk infamy. 

So what can you do?

  • Understand the issue
  • Learn who your member of Parliament is 
  • Write and share why this is unacceptable
  • Tell your friends
I want to keep the flag on my pack.  I want policies I can be proud of.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Track Your Traffic Using Google Analytics

So you're populating your blog with profound brilliance, but wouldn't you like to know if it's getting read?  Google Analytics is a free service that enables you to track your website's performance and traffic in some very useful ways!  What's better is how easy it is to add and use it is.  Here's how you load it onto your Blogger site:

Get the HTML code:
1.  Go to http://google.com/analytics/.  Sign in using your Google account.
2. Click on "Add Website Profile." A form will display.
3. Select "Add a Profile for a New Domain."
4. Enter the URL of your blog.
5. Select your country and time zone.  Click finish.
6. Google Analytics will create a bunch of HTML code. You're going to put that into your website.  Highlight all the code and copy it (Edit > Copy; or Ctrl-C; or Command-C).

Next you need to add the code to your site or blog.  Navigate to it and log in.
1. In Blogger, click the "Layout" tab.
2. Next click on "Edit HTML."
3. This will open up a page with all of the HTML code for your site.  There is a link that says "Download Full Template." Clicking it will save a copy of your template so that you can revert to it if anything goes horribly wrong.
4. Scroll all the way down to the bottom of the HTML.  The last 3 lines will read:

5.  After , press return to make a space.  Paste in the Google Analytics code there (Edit>Paste; or Ctrl-V; or Command-V).
6.  The code should look like this:
7.  Click "Save Changes."

That's it! Now go check your work.
1. Return to http://google.ca/analytics.
2. There will be a summary chart in your dashboard.  Next to the blog name is a "status" column.

 =    Google Analytics is working properly and receiving data.

 =    The code is installed properly, and Google Analytics is working on aggregating your data. 
       This may take up to 24 hours.

 =    The code was installed improperly.  Try installing it again, and refresh your browser after the save.  Or, visit this link to check and fix it. 

Now you're free to enjoy the many features of Google Analytics!

Google provides some help and instructions if you're looking for more information.