Thursday, November 16, 2023
Now that the pandemic is mostly in the rear-view mirror, it’s easier to take a second look at what we sped past in the last couple of years. Without doubt, the pandemic created the biggest shift towards more automation, faster digital transformation, and exponential leaps in robotics and artificial intelligence. Estimates around investment in robotics and supply chain automation hovers around the $250 billion mark for just 2023. And the global adoption rate is set to increase to 70%+ by 2025.

So, when you have this level of automation, you can be sure that there will soon be a slew of people whose sole task will be to manage this ever-growing non-human workforce. Are you ready to manage a group of robot assistants? Not sure if you’re aware of this, but the pandemic-fueled isolation and digital transformation has led to the rise of robot-dependents – people who feel emotionally connected to chatbots or robots. I’m not kidding. This is a real thing. How quickly did robots transition from anxiety-inducing entities to familiar everyday support systems that bring a sense of calm and safety? 


When you think about it, autonomous robots range from innocuous chatbots to the Roomba to even aerial drones. There are more of them around than many of us can comprehend. They’re no longer the stuff of science fiction, but increasingly ubiquitous objects that deliver significant value. They no doubt improve the speed and accuracy of routine operations and add efficiency while working alongside humans.

They’re increasingly deployed in dangerous situations like nuclear plants or to track and diffuse land mines. Judging by the speed of things and how every organization is glued to scaling, it won’t be long before bots are life companions. Now imagine encouraging, criticizing, or mentoring bots. We’ll soon have to develop language, etiquette, and protocol around all this. Let’s begin by translating eye rolls. 

Now fast forward to the reality of contactless delivery and automated transportation, and suddenly we need to figure out how to reengineer our roads to accommodate for their increased presence around us, especially in cities. It’s only a matter of time before driverless cars and delivery robots will be jostling for road space alongside bikes and scooters. Are city planners thinking about this? Typical to technology, automated vehicles (AVs) will make some jobs redundant and create some new ones.

Today’s truck driver or Uber driver will have to transition to an AV specialist. Someone who manages automated vehicles and customer service in Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) offerings. New roles will emerge like AV Service Mangers, AV Deployment Specialists, AV Technicians…. Can you see where this is going? The good thing is, AVs will also make mobility more equitable and accessible.

Think of seniors, people with disabilities, even children will have greater access to independent transportation. And let’s also consider the potential drop in road accidents – if things go as cited. Removing human error from road accidents can have a significant impact on everything from life to insurance costs. What about parking lots? Dare we hope that they’ll turn into green spaces within cities? Especially since AVs can drive themselves to their own pens. 

Among the most compelling lessons of the pandemic is the impact of artificial intelligence (AI). Estimates suggest that over 50% of companies accelerated their AI adoption plans because of the Covid crisis. And Big Tech has clearly doubled down on this in the last few years. From a marketing perspective, the hope is that AI is going to help us narrow in on the ‘why’ and not just the ‘what’ in terms of people’s behaviour.

Speculation, of course, is very high with large language models like Open AI’s Chat GPT. Even though Chat GPT can scan the entire internet in a matter of seconds, it cannot (yet) connect outlying dots to create a fresh perspective on a human insight.

So, I doubt very much that Copywriters are about to disappear. But the potential for AI to iterate and optimize copy in bulk digital ads, and add personalization, can be a real game changer. Ad tools like Meta’s Advantage+ lets AI choose audiences and creative assets, and Google’s Performance Max decides how to distribute the ad spend across its properties. So, if targeting and audiences are going to be taken care of by AI, what else will the age of automation bring?

Another quick glance into the rear-view mirror throws up one of the most talked about fallouts of the pandemic - information epidemic. Especially the dubious kind. No one seems to know if the information they’re consuming is indeed true or factual. Things got so bad the World Health Organization held its first ‘Infodemiology Conference’ in 2020.

Misinformation and disinformation are by no means restricted to scientific or health-related topics. Indeed, technology has helped to weaponize information. Disinformation thrives in societies where systemic inequality and deep-seated discrimination is rampant. When everyone is a content generator, it’s easy for bad actors to twist misinformation (someone who got facts wrong accidentally) to disinformation (creating false information).

In today’s environment where people are ready to jump to the nearest conclusion without much thought or debate, it undermines some basic principles we collectively accept and agree upon. It’s scary to think how easy it is to tear apart any society with disinformation, immaterial of where it is. Ultimately, trust will be the most valuable asset anyone, individual, or organization, can have. And if you haven’t guessed it yet, pro-truth influencers are a thing too. 

Which brings me back to the question - who then has the responsibility to ensure trustworthiness, inclusivity, and sustainability in our breakneck speed for technology triumphs? Thankfully some people across the pond are taking this a bit more seriously than the rest of us in North America. A European Commission initiative aims to reimagine, reshape, and re-engineer the internet and it’s called the Next Generation Internet (NGI). It funds innovative research to develop a safer, more transparent, and inclusive internet for all. Wishful thinking? I hope not.

Despite the handwringing, there’s no doubt that technology will move faster than people, or policy. So, where should the guardrails be? And who gets to decide that? And where’s the crystal ball that can see what’s in store? When we started playing hockey no one thought about the need for helmets. In fact, it took about a hundred years before helmets were mandated in hockey. How long do we wait before we get protection from the trauma of technology?

Abut The AuthorZach Abraham

Zach has spent over 25 years in the advertising and marketing industry in a leadership position. Prior to starting Us Communications, he was Associate Creative Director at Anderson DDB responsible for all the Digital and DTC work produced by the agency. Zach has won several awards for creative excellence including the London International Advertising Award, The New York Festival and RSVP among others.
Thursday, November 09, 2023

“Why’d you call me?”

Asking the question was my friend and one of my many journalistic mentors, Ernest Hillen. 

I’ll get to the answer to his question in a moment, but first, in case you don’t know, here’s how Wikipedia describes Ernest: 

 Ernest Hillen
“A longtime editor with Saturday Night, he became best known for two memoirs which he published in the 1990s about his childhood experiences during World War II. Hillen was born in the Netherlands in 1934 as the child of a Canadian mother and a Dutch father, and the family moved to West Java, Indonesia when he was a child. However, following the Japanese occupation of the Dutch East Indies in 1942, the family was confined to detention camps for several years.  After the war ended the family moved between Canada, the Netherlands and Indonesia for several years until the 1950s, when Hillen moved to Toronto.”

I met Ernest when I was new to the magazine industry; we worked on a publication called Influence then went separate directions but remained close. 

He’s in his 80s now and lives in Cambridge Ont., and Ernest is literally the reason my wife Helena and I keep a landline. True fact. Phone conversations with Ernest seldom clock in at less than an hour and who likes to talk on a cell that long?

Here’s why I’m telling you about Ernest. 

Last Monday afternoon, at about 2:00, I realized I had a few spare hours so figured it was time to start reading the entries in this year’s Canadian Online Publication Awards (COPAs). 

I’m a judge in two categories and feel privileged indeed. I get to immerse myself in a whole pile of some of Canada’s finest reporting and writing and frankly, I have a hard time thinking of any activity I’d rather do.  


I love making it, reading it, talking about it. Defending it. 

What’s not to like about being a judge in the COPAS?

(Quick aside, in a work meeting last month, my writer/editor colleague Amanda Jerome advised that if you have a task to perform that you’re putting off, you can radically reframe the job by  instead of saying, “I’ve got to” do this job, try “I get to” do this job. Take Amanda’s theory out for a test spin. It’s powerful.)

I get to judge these stories 

PLUS it’s a duty. Which means I must ignore other, less important chores. Here’s me, Monday, shortly after lunch, to Helena: “Sorry darling, the trip to Winners can’t happen. I really should get to those COPA stories. Duty calls.”

I never actually said “duty calls.” I hope I’d never sink to such a cliché unless I was playing with it, as in “Cat litter needs changing! Doody calls.” Like that.

Where was I? Oh right.  Calls.  To Ernest.

First thing I did when I started judging Monday was pick up the landline and dial Ernest because, well, because I’m a writer and that’s what we do when we’re facing a deadline. Find a distraction. 

So here’s what I told Ernest when he asked “why’d you call me?”

“Thing is, Ernest, I just started judging stories in the Canadian Online Publication Awards competition and frankly, there’s certain times when I just hope and wish and pray that I’ll get a phone call from somebody who will ask ‘what are you up to?’ and I’ll be like, ‘sorry you caught me at a bad time. I have to read some more of Canada’s finest journalism because I’m a judge in this national competition.

“That sounds impressive, doesn’t it?”

I continued, at Ernest: “Have you any idea how much great stuff is being reported out there? All over the place, by large outfits, tiny outfits, students? Until you get involved like this, you lose all perspective and you’d think journalism’s drying up or something, and you’d be dead wrong. It’s flourishing. You just have to know where to look.

“Some of these online publications are not-for-profits while others seem very profitable indeed and you know the best part Ernest? 

“They remind us how important everybody is; how one person’s concerns are as serious as the next’s. Like say if you’re having a hard time finding daycare in Nanaimo and you’re afraid you won’t have enough money for rent, that’s as worrisome for you as some guy who has been told his cat’s dying or somebody whose mom is in a questionable nursing home or whose son is being sent off to war.  That’s what this kind of journalism does, Ernest. 

“You’d love it!

“And the young journalists! They’re doing such amazing work. They do way more research and go further indepth than I ever did. They do better work, too. I’m glad I’m not competing with them.”

Oh wait. I think I and the publication I work for, Law360 Canada, might be competing in a category or two. So never mind that last part.
And maybe I didn’t say those exact words when talking to Ernest. I wasn’t taking notes or recording. 

But that was certainly my message.

It is a privilege to judge.  I do love every moment of judging. 
But just because you love something doesn’t mean you can’t procrastinate, like I did with considerable success by calling Ernest on Monday afternoon. Cuz you can bet the call didn’t end there.
Ernest and I were on the phone for 57 minutes. 

He’s a journalist, for my (Pete’s, get it?) sake. At work or in everyday conversation, people like Ernest work diligently at finding new, helpful and interesting methods to discuss ideas using language and communicative tricks in wholly innovative ways.  

It’s what we do. And that’s what makes judging so damn wonderful. 

I just had a terrific idea for a new category for next year’s COPAs. 

The competition would be Olympian.

Best Procrastination Techniques 

Details to follow.

About the Author: Peter Carter


Toronto writer/ editor/ one-time magazine owner and publisher---35 years experience in Canadian magazines; currently Analysis Editor at Law360 Canada; an online daily news source for Canadian lawyers; Winner of Best Business Blog at COPAs 2014 for Pete's Blog&Grille; National Magazine Awards finalist; accordion player and motorbike enthusiast.

Friday, March 24, 2023

In the world of digital marketing, search engine optimization (SEO) is an essential tool for businesses to attract and retain customers. SEO is a set of techniques that are used to improve the visibility of a website in search engine results pages (SERPs). While there are many factors that contribute to a successful SEO strategy, one of the most important, in my opinion, is content.

Content is the backbone of any successful SEO strategy. It is what search engines use to determine the relevance and usefulness of a website to users. The more relevant and useful your content is, the higher your website will rank in SERPs. This is why it is essential for businesses to create high-quality, informative, and engaging content that aligns with their target audience's needs and interests.

One of the most significant benefits of creating high-quality content is that it attracts and retains website visitors. People are always searching for information online, and if your website has the answers they are looking for, they are more likely to stay on your site longer and return in the future. This increased engagement can lead to more conversions, which ultimately results in more revenue for your business.

Moreover, search engines like Google prioritize high-quality content when determining search rankings. These search engines use sophisticated algorithms that evaluate websites based on a wide range of factors, including the quality and relevance of their content. By creating high-quality content that is optimized for search engines, you can improve your website's visibility and attract more organic traffic.
In addition to attracting organic traffic, high-quality content can also help businesses establish themselves as thought-leaders in their industry. In turn, this can have additional positive impacts in being involved in mainstream media such as tv, radio, podcast and print.

While I still believe Link Building to be an important part of the process, I also find it having several challenges that most businesses are not prepared to accept.

First, the definition of a link has changed over the years. Back when I got started in digital marketing in the early 2000's it was ok to keyword stuff words on your site, to do link exchanges with other sites and to "acquire" links that offered little to no benefit to the site.

Secondly, most primary keywords in most industries have been solidified by sites that have been at SEO a long time, government sites, educational sites and even directory sites. The opportunities are slim and require a lot of time to hopefully make it to page 1. Any link building strategy will take a long time, will be costly and will not come with any guarantee you'll reach your goal.

This is where the alternative of focusing on content can be a fruitful opportunity to focus on. Since Google is ranking the content of a page rather than a specific keyword we now have the ability to create detailed content that can focus on secondary, tertiary and related keywords to that "core" keyword we (probably) won't rank for. Meaning we can drive meaningful and quality traffic based on several keywords rather than one that may not even work out if the content doesn't align!

Now go a step further and take that content you've created and divvy it up into several social pieces of content. Not only are you building shareable content for social media, we also know that there are social cues when it comes to rankings.

In my opinion content will be the key factor moving forward when improving the SEO of your site and overall business.

About the Author: Patrick Herman is President of pH Dgital Marketing that offers paid ads, SEO and Social media services.  
Friday, March 24, 2023

For 25 yearsI worked as a print magazine editor specializing in association and regulator publications. For the last eight of those years, I was the managing editor of a regulator’s magazine that was mailed to 250,000 members.

When the pandemic hit in March 2020, we lost 30 percent of our advertisers that month as the world began to shut down. In November 2021, the magazine stopped publishing entirely and I found myself unemployed, along with two of my colleagues. The decision to shut down the magazine was not unexpected. The decline of print media had only accelerated during Covid-19, and our publication was no exception. 

I saw this as an opportunity to recalibrate, to try something different, something new. A friend had just launched a digital real estate platform called Wahi. The company was in its early stages and he was embarking on a large content project as part of a long-term Search Engine Optimization (SEO) strategy. He needed someone to manage the content and to come armed with a plan. 

I wanted to try something different, but I wasn’t sure I was the right person for the role. My first thought was, I know very little about real estate and even less about technology. Next, I thought, I know nothing about SEO, let alone online content. Print was all I knew -— or, at least, so I thought. I had a bad case of imposter syndrome. 

As I pondered the opportunity before me, I recalled the words of marketing guru Seth Godin: “If it scares you, it might be a good thing to try.” At the time, I had failed to recognize how transferable the skills I had honed as a print magazine editor were to the digital world. Nine months later, I am amazed at how much I have learned from working with a diverse team of product leads, data scientists, software developers, SEO and digital marketing experts.

For anyone in publishing looking to make the leap from print to digital, here are some tips (based on my experience) for a successful transition: 

Seven Tips for a Successful Transition from Print to Digital Content.

Create a content plan. It’s essentially no different than an annual editorial calendar for a magazine. Whether it is print or digital, content is still king. 

If you don’t have SEO expertise, partner with an SEO expert to help optimize your website for greater search visibility. SEO is a marketing strategy that will help people find your website and increase brand awareness. A combination of strategies including publishing high-quality content (and lots of it -— see #3) and building backlinks from high-ranking websites will help boost your Google ranking. 

Get used to More is More (at least in the beginning). I used to think that writing for the web was all about short form. Well, in the world of SEO it can be the exact opposite — especially when you are a new domain and want to drive organic traffic to your website. Often it’s pages with longer form articles (think 1,500 - 5,000) that rank better on Google, which can help increase organic search visibility when keyword searches are conducted for that topic. So, be prepared for VOLUME.

Consider a multi-platform approach. People today digest content through many different platforms, so you need to meet them where they are. Consider social media, video, and other channels to broaden your reach. 

Invest in the right tools. Find a content management system that is flexible and allows you to do all the things you need it to do — publish content to multiple platforms, schedule content, track audience engagement and more. 

Measure it. There’s a classic adage used in business, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” This rings true for your digital content big time. Metrics are your best buds and can help paint a picture of how well your content is performing and what’s resonating — or not —  with your audience. 

Manage your expectations — particularly if the website is new. SEO is a long-term strategy that can build brand awareness and establish that brand as an authority on a particular topic. But it doesn’t happen overnight; it can take months to reach the top of page one for certain keywords. For several months now, Wahi has been continuously publishing over 50,000 words (approximately 25 articles) per month through our SEO-optimized Real Estate 101 articles, which provide homebuyers and sellers with valuable real estate advice.

We are now starting to see our efforts pay off. Traffic from organic searches is growing, the number of pages we are ranking for on Google is up, as are impressions and clicks. We still have a long way to go, but building a brand takes time and, more importantly, a diverse team that believes in the product and understands the goals. 

About the Author: Kristin Doucet is the former managing editor of Professionally Speaking magazine and is currently the director of content at Wahi, a real estate website for buyers and sellers. 
Tuesday, January 03, 2023
Content is everywhere, and content is king, they say. But what exactly makes a piece of content good or bad? How do you create content to suit a brand's needs? You see, the word content is pretty generic and applies to various mediums, whether it is print, video, or podcast form. 

Content is king by itself is a bit misleading because by adding a simple adjective could modify the meaning greatly;(good) content is king,or  (bad) content is king. It suddenly changes the meaning which is the issue with buzzwords.

Content can be found everywhere you turn, and in this digital age, even bad content finds an audience. But what is very important is tailored content, where the content really connects with the audience it is meant for and will be meaningful and valuable to them, not just a generic fluff piece.

Now apply this principle to branded content, and it becomes even more true. If the content is not suited perfectly to the audience, people will disconnect from the content, the brand, and the publisher. 

On YouTube, for example, too many times we see a generic VPN or mattress-in-a-box company pay for “branded content” but it is always nothing more than a glorified advert. Understandably, the wheel of the industry has to turn, we all have salaries, overhead and incidental to be paid, and some of these brands have limited budgets, so they have to find ways to keep up.

The recipe is fairly simple; combining the value proposition of the brand with what the publication offers. When the offering of the publication and the interest of the audience is combined, true integrated branded content is achieved. You need a strong and extensive understanding of the publication and the brand to get home runs. This is where it pays off to have creative people in your team, as engaging in brainstorming to generate these ideas will help you eventually get the winning idea.

There are a few basic questions that one must ask when coming up with content ideas for a brand. 

1. What does the brand offer?
Why are we here? What is our purpose? Does it resonate with our audience(s)? These are basic questions you need to ask to come up with great content ideas.

There is an old saying in advertising that says “You can’t sell a bad product”. This is the same here because sometimes the client or brand may not be the right fit and other solutions may be best. But on the flip side, if the offer is strong and there’s alignment, then it can lead to strong creative content ideas that can boost the brand image.

2. What is their goal? 
There’s always a motive that makes a company spend dollars on marketing. Do they want to increase app downloads? Do they need to raise their awareness of the product? Drive sales? Etc. Knowing this will help you narrow down your options and figure out what can or can’t be done, how it may be done, and so on. 
3. What is their brand tone?
Are they a fun brand or a more serious brand like pharmaceuticals? The kind of tone the brand adopts has a major effect on the type of branded content that would be created. This would help you pair various content ideas with the right team or the right product (show, site, paper…). This way you make sure that each one fits and would work perfectly for the brand. 

4. The most important of all… what is unique to the publisher? 
This is what is often forgotten, and most of the time it is because of a lack of time, creativity, or knowledge. It takes a bit of effort to sit down and ask the right questions to come up with the right idea. What makes this creative idea OURS, and what makes it so special, that nobody else can offer that? 

This is why it’s the most important because this is the creative team or publishers’ edge over everyone else. What connects the brand to your content? It could be as simple as a specific talent unique to that niche, or the ability to ignite an audience behavior that is unique to one provider.

When you answer all of these questions, you come up with a winning idea that would make your content stand out and make for an amazing branded content piece. Ultimately, throughout the years and in my experience from trying out various branded content methods, I realized as long as the content is good, the audience will not care if it is branded or not. Once they get value out of it, that's all what matters to them.

About the Author: Jean-Francois Berube
Quebec native Jean-Francois is an energetic and creative integrated media professional and experienced producer. Over the years, JF has cultivated creative branded entertainment innovations, with the CBC and Postmedia, and now with Valnet. His creative experience includes production and film content across both the U.S. and Canada with clients such as Ford, Lincoln, Budweiser, Mini, RBC Avion, Bioré, Honda, and many more brands.
About Me
Guest Blogger
This is a guest column for the COPA judges so they can share some of their wisdom with the industry. The COPA Judges are the who's who of the publishing industry in Canada.  COPA Judging Panel Link 
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