Thursday, April 30, 2009

Not MY Alberta Blog

Let me apologize now, this whole thing has me irked, and well, this may go all tangenty once and a while. Also, this is going to be long. I have been holding this in for a few days.

I am an Albertan. I know I live in BC now, but I am definitely an Albertan. Edmonton is my home. I grew up in Slave Lake. I spent Easters in Kananaskis and May Long Weekends in Jasper. Alberta is my home and I love it.

A lot.

Recently, my lovely home province suffered a bit of a PR ... snafu. Alberta launched a new branding campaign: Alberta - Freedom To Create. Spirit To Achieve.

The campaign was developed by the Government of Alberta and Calder Bateman. (A communications agency in Edmonton)

Sure, whatever. Really, I don't remember our last slogan, and this one doesn't stick out more than that. And I know I am not the only one that sees 'Slberta'. It is the same problem that existed with the previous brand - you couldn't tell it was an 'A'.

I was totally ready to ignore the whole thing all together. I really didn't care that much.

Until I found out it was a $25 million campaign.

Yup, you read that right. $25 million campaign.

Sure it's over three years. No big deal. Especially when for the first time in 15 years, the province will be running a deficit.

No big deal. NOT!

At this point I got pretty annoyed. $25 million for a branding campaign and three-year rollout?

Then came the kicker, the campaign features images that aren't of Alberta!

Listen, I know the Province of Alberta. I know how beautiful and majestic it. I know how many amazing pictures could be provided courtesy of Alberta's background.

These are things I know.

But apparently, the Alberta Government and Calder Bateman don't know.

Because they used an image from England's North Umberland region.


And this story gets so much worse.

So, the Premier goes ahead and spins the slip as best he could. "It's more broad than Alberta ... because we do care, not only about Alberta environment but the world."


Through all of my irritation, I had been following this screw-up through blogs and online news.

And finally, I decided to take my concerns to the "Your Alberta Blog".

While my exact words escape me now, the comment I tried to leave mentioned how these were stock photos used, and stock photos always have location information on them and that Calder Bateman should be apologizing as well.

So, I posted my comment, interested to see if there was going to be any follow-up comments, you know, the usual bloggy geeky stuff.

I check my email and there is one from David Sands, with the Public Affairs Bureau of the Government of Alberta.

This is what it read:

Hi Irisdias;
You concern over the use of stock photos is fair comment
and I'd like to post it. However as the blog moderator I am uncomfortable with
your singling out Calder Bateman as blameworthy for something that the PAB
If you would repost your comment without that (undeserved) aspect, I
will approve it. Thank you for considering this.

David Sands
Moderator - YourAlbertaBlog
Wha? I have never posted a comment on a blog that has been rejected. I am not that person.

So, I emailed back:

Mr Sands,

I am a little unclear as to why the PAB believes that blame being place on
Calder Bateman is undeserved - are they not the group that developed this $25
million campaign?

As the government put this contract out to tender, and the tax payers of Alberta paid for the $25 million price tag, I expect some accountability on the side of the contractor, as I am sure many more Albertans do. It seems absurd that the PAB is shouldering all the blame, when blame should be distributed to deserving parties, including Calder Bateman.

In my head, it made sense.

Sorry Iris, to be clear, the buck stops here, period. We will not use
our own forum to publish the suggestion that someone else is responsible for our

Again, you raise a point regarding stock photos that is
worthy and fair public discussion, and I'd rather not "lose" the chance to
put that up because you and I don't agree on the fairness or
appropriateness of your ancillary point.

I'll watch the blog site to see if you can reconcile my concern with your
point of view and promptly post your comment if so.

Ok, so now I am really annoyed and now we are here. To this blog post. About
freaking time hey?


Calder Bateman should shoulder some of the blame. They should apologize - and please, do so in a Google-able way. They are an Albertan company - they should just know better.

How many other shots in this campaign aren't from Alberta? Does anyone know? Didn't they think they could capture as impressive of a shot within the Alberta borders? Or by not using stock photos? The North Umberland shot was almost definitely NOT done by some Albertan dude, who got flewn over to the UK to get the shot.

Could the partnership of the Government of Alberta and Calder Bateman not come up with something more ... I don't know, authentic? Something that highlights Alberta, Albertans and Alberta talent.


I would welcome a list of the photographers and locations used in every shot of this brand.

I generally get over this shit really quickly, rant for a second, next day it's gone. But this has been a few days now and well, here I am. Blogging about it.

I had to though. PAB didn't want to share my comments in their entirety.


Anonymous said...

I work in Iris' office and can testify to that fact that she has be going on and on and on about this.
Though I cannot vouch that Alberta is "majestic and beautifual" as I come from BC which according to our government is the "Best Place on Earth".
However, I can agree that some blame should be shouldered by the agency contracted to develop this lacklustre marketing service (I for one, will not be visiting Alberta anytime soon and the tagline has not induced me to do so). This is a substantial campaign, and one that has been now marred by pure laziness or the lack of appropriate research (though even I, not from Alberta, could tell you that Alberta is not next to an ocean, which it claims to be in that picture).
Not only that, by why would Alberta want to have a blog for comments, if it is not willing to engage in discussion. Why do they not just use a simple feedback form, if appropriate and well compsed comments are going to be banned or removed from the site. Not a free and open dialogue as is suggested by using a blog platform.

Anonymous said...

I am shocked that with such a huge working budget, Calder Bateman did not do a complete check over the source of photos?? Wouldn't that have been the key focus for their staff-- to find amazing ALBERTA photos??

Beyond the mistake is how the Government of Alberta completely dismissed your comments. Calder Bateman should take the blame and own up to their mistake.


Anonymous said...

I work in the biz and we as communication professionals have to have professional standards. We also need to be transparent with our clients.

As for PAB's censor rejecting your comment becase he doesn't agree with you - that flies in the face of the whole idea of social media. Iris - you have been asked not to join the discussion - unless you walk the party line. LB

Owen Rogers said...

Geez, someone has their knickers in a knot!

Anonymous said...

One thing about this government (Stelmach) that I have been pleased with in the past is the ability to say, sorry, you're right, we'll fix it. (Seismic testing on Marie Lake is one that comes to mind)
(This time accepting ALL the blame may be a detriment.)

LB's comment. "you have been asked not to join the discussion - unless you walk the party line" holds weight. This act of censorship in not permitting a justifiable point of view on a public site is not acceptable (not my Alberta blog indeed).
It would be nice if they came out and said “sorry, you're right, we'll fix it”.

Now, in most instances discipline, consequences, terminations are matters that generally don't involve making a public statement, but this may not be one of those instances.

I agree with you Iris, the marketing firm hired to perform the work should be held accountable. And since public funds paid for the project… we may have a right.

Good post

Anonymous said...

Was the old slogan "Wild Rose Country"?

For 25 million less, I would've stuck with that.

As for using pictures of elsewhere, that's just awful. They could've appealed to the public for pictures of their home province. It could've built up interest and intrigue in the process.


Sarah said...

Love this post, Iris! I am blown away by the way the blog moderator handled the situation!

Anonymous said...

glad someone else thinks wasting $25 million of our tax money is a little excessive on some marketing bs that will have ZERO impact on alberta tourism. wtf kind of a tag line is that??? see... i just tried to remember it after reading it three times and by the time i scroll down, it's gone from my mind. i assure you my memory is fine - the tag line just sucks. good work PAB. i have some things i'd like to say about CB, but dare i step out of line... the gov of AB may punish me, as they clearly back everythign CB does, says and produces...
just say you're sorry and change it people!


Anonymous said...

If the government acknowledged the private sector's mistakes and involvment in situations like this, there would be no one left to vote for them.
Whereas the opposition parties and public can point fingers all they want and point out every mistake the government makes, the government more often takes the high road and just moves on. The public would be shocked were the gov't to point out some of the opposition's or private sector's mistakes on a regular basis- they have the ability to do so, but rarely do- bad business.

Anonymous said...

$25 million is ridiculous especially during an economic and food crisis. Why not put that money to proper use towards stuff that Canadians will actually be proud of and remember. Like helping our inner city schools, or working with heavy industries so that animals and wild life are protected from development, or here's a good one...providing food aid so that a person doesn't die every 7 seconds of starvation.


L F said...

I had to sit for awhile and think about how I really felt about this 'PR Gone Bad' situation. I also had to make sure that the image isn't just a photo taken from one of our many beautiful lakes here in Alberta. Nope. It's not from any lake here. How would I know? Being born and raised in Alberta is how- do you take me for a fool?!

So how I feel is embarrassed. You know the embarrassed you feel when someone else does something really stupid?

How could this happen?! A firm from Alberta mistakes the images as one of ours? Was there noone in their office that knew any better to say 'Hey, thats not from Alberta?

I guess this just goes to show how desperate it has become to get a good paying job in this slumped economy. Still that is no excuse!

We deserve an apology and someone needs to own up for this mistake!

Anonymous said...

take it to the media.

Anonymous said...

Wow, I'm shocked by the response of the PAB! I can't believe that they wouldn't post your comments, what's the point in them having a blog.

Also really $25 million on a campaign that doesn't even have a picture from Alberta. Especially considering how beautiful Alberta is!!!

Did you send the blog moderator a link to your blog? You should!!!


Dean said...

Re: PAB and your blog comment - bureaucratic CYA. No doubt they fear legal action or backlash of some sort and someone from higher up is putting on the pressure to make this all go away. My advice to them is to publish your comment and then reply with their point of view - now that's dialog and conversation. Any thing less is censorship.

Re: 'Beach-gate' - At least they had the back-bone to say they screwed-up. But I see the photo is still in the video on YouTube and according to a spokes-person from the government it will stay because 'it shows the international flavor or appeal of Alberta' (or words to that effect). Oops - wrong answer. That's an excuse after the fact and not even a good one.

Contracting out services is not a bad thing, but why would the GOA allow the contractor to subcontract to an international company not only outside of the province but out of the country? How much of this goes on? Not only in Alberta but other provinces as well? How many millions of dollars worth of our tax payer money is sent out of the country by our provincial governments on these outsourced services? If you turned over a few rocks to look you'd probably be surprised,disappointed and angry.

I'll subscribe to your RSS - keep us posted on this one.

Thanks and don't ever forget "they work for us!"

Dean in Alberta

Elle Bee... said...

The old slogan was "Alberta Advantage" I believe. Which is a lot easier to remember than "Freedom to Create. Spirit to achieve."

I agree with you about Calder Bateman. As a contracted communications company, they are expected to provide photos and documents that accurately reflect Alberta. Or at least know where the photos come from.

...not to mention the Northumberland photo was 7 years old.