22 July 2008


No sweat to tell the difference between a public relations professional who knows how to use the tools to do the job compared with well, the opposite.

On the opposite side, we have this ham-fisted piece of nonsense from the company doing advertising for the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador. Incidentally, the ham-fist is not the billboard on the Gardiner.

Then compare it to Joseph Thornley's personal pictures from a recent holiday in Prince Edward Island. Sure he used it as a means to talk about how easily he uploaded the great photos to his blog and to Flickr, but what he is telling is a simple story of someone who went to the Island, had a great time, took gorgeous pictures and then uploaded them to the Internet complete with geotags.

I uploaded about 100 pictures of the attractions and historic areas of Charlottetown, North Rustico Harbour (the epitome of a Canadian east coast village), the beaches and cliffs of Prince Edward Island Park (look for the picture of the fox that trotted right up to our car while holding a rabbit in its mouth) and, of course, Green Gables (if you’re the parent of a girl, you’ll know what that is.)

I uploaded photos from my flickr page directly to PlanetEye. It was simple. Took about 2 minutes for each batch of 20 to 25 pictures. And then the geotagging worked perfectly. I simply dragged and dropped my photos onto a map in the location where I’d taken them.

The difference between the two approaches is a simple word: authentic. Thornley's experience carries with it all the credibility of someone who has actually been there and done it. There's a story to be told here and the pictures are part of the whole thing.

Now theoretically, he could be working for the PEI tourism department or the software companies he mentions but nothing on the site would suggest he is. Ethically he'd be obliged to disclose such a connection and base don a number of factors, including the fact he doesn't comment on the issue, it's a reasonable assumption that he isn't. Note that one of Thornley's viewers chides him about the software developer.

Even after a suspicious mind has gone to that point and returned, you come back to the integrity and the sincerity of the post.

His last line, which will be seen by thousands in exactly the demographic Islanders are looking to hit, says it all:

If you’re interested in an unspoiled place for a summer vacation, take a look at Charlottetown on PlanetEye or at my Charlottetown photo set on Flickr .
A simple call to action - for you marketers out there - and the links are left in it so you can act, just as Thornley would have wanted.

Compare that to the other thing. There was a conventional media story in the billboard. The thing would have to be pitched and worked to get coverage.

A n Internet search turned up this story online, albeit in a media trade publication. There's another mention, again from a trade publication that focus es on the agency and not the client. The Telly had a picture on July 11. Notice this story appeared the very same day as the release, suggesting it was organized ahead of time.

There might be other stuff but it sure as heck isn't turning up online where the video and the story of the billboard had a chance to go truly viral.

If handled properly.

And that's the catch.

This was a potentially hot new media story, completely with daily blog posts about the development, complete with amateur video done by the creators as they were doing it. Three weeks worth of material is stuff most blogs would kill for, especially stuff as compelling as that. When you combine the story inherent in the billboard production with the authentic flavour of a local artist hired to complete the work you have a truly delightful tale that tells itself.

And seriously, except in a world where agency self-stroking is the goal, the trade pubs that showed up in the search are useless to accomplishing the client goal of boosting the number of people who don't usually come this way headed to the farthest eastern airports in the country.

It's not like the record on this over the past couple of years has been anything to write home about, although plenty has been written and spoken at home about it.

Throwing more cash into tourism advertising isn't necessarily the way to go in a highly competitive market at a time when it's tough to get people to travel.

Being genuinely creative in your approach - being authentic - sure can make a difference. As the great advertising persuader put it, authenticity helps break through the wall of cynicism about advertising generally.

It's easy to talk about authenticity, but sometimes it's pretty obvious that some people don't get what the word means.