When the Message is the Bicycle

Three example bicycles

Summer’s here and we’re scrambling for offline time to enjoy it. From roadside stands to festive events, savvy marketers shift strategies to engage us while we embrace the fleeting warm weather. For many, the season includes cycling on that timeless icon: the bicycle.

From the early posters of the late 19th century, the bicycle has featured in advertising or served as a platform for it.  These days, this bicycle is increasingly used in not-for-profit, advocacy and cause marketing campaigns. In fact, when anthropologist Luis Antonio Vivanco wrote Reconsidering the Bicycle in 2013,  he named one chapter: “Good for the Cause” – The Bike Movement as Social Action and Cultural Politics.

It works effectively as a versatile communication ‘vehicle’ that can represent many values, such as: youth, health, fitness, renewable energy, sustainability, environmental care, transportation, even enterprise.

Here are a few examples where the creative core is the bicycle:

  1. Wrapping an value-laden social or political message around a bike to carry it to a broader audience. Examples include one bike I spotted aiming to take its anti-bullying and teen suicide prevention messages over 9,000 miles, as well as another with an anti oil wars message.
  2. Visually driving a safety public service message via stationary bikes. This is something ghost bike memorials have done to a certain extent since they began in St. Louis, Missouri in 2003.
  3. Embedding bicycles in an event, such as the Bicycle Music Festival, held in San Francisco.
  4. Putting a business ‘in the saddle,’ as the Bicycle Opera Project is doing this summer to take its music across Ontario.
  5. Building a cause marketing program around a socially conscious initiative featuring bicycles, such as the Village Bicycle Project.  Since 2009, The Cadbury Bicycle Factory has supported this initiative by providing more than 25,000 bikes to help children in rural Ghana get to school.

I think the bicycle is as an ideal fit for offline ‘grass roots’ initiatives — but do we have to stop there?

Cadbury and Grassroots bikeFull, integrated campaigns supported the Bicycle Opera Project and The Cadbury Bicycle Factory initiatives but others fall short of tapping the full potential. For example, after seeing the anti-bullying bike in Sausalito, California last summer, I searched for online references but found nothing.  I even Googled various combinations of ‘bicycle campaigns’ to no avail. How many more people they could have reached with greater impact if they’d bumped the sign’s quality up a notch and created an online campaign to support it?

Beyond cause marketing, I also wonder: Are there other ways to use this timeless icon in a for profit initiative? Maybe even in a Guerrilla campaign?

How have you seen a bicycle used to effectively drive a message, change an attitude or inspire an action?

How Do You Measure the Days in a Year?

Time to reflect back on 525,600 minutes, assess and plan for the year ahead.  We know it’s important to examine our own personal growth strides and professional results but what about the world beyond?

Increasingly companies are measuring and being measured for more than their financial output and stakeholders are asking: “Success at what cost?”  Should we use a similar scale to take stock of our own results? If we do, what would it look like?

Taking a page from triple-bottom line reporting, it might look something like the graphic below, with the core spheres and their guiding principles, with of course some cross-over between them. As with traditional corporate social responsibility, we’re not legally mandated to adhere to these principles but when we do, we contribute to sustainable well-being of our society and world for today and future generations.


To assess 2012 against this model and set goals for the year ahead, here are some possible questions to ask or examples to identify:


  • What specific networking actions helped others? When did you tap into your network for support? (Did you “take” more than “give”?)
  • Did you mentor or provide support to someone at an earlier stage in their career?
  • How did you connect with and nurture relationships with your family and close friends?
  • How did you volunteer or “give back” locally, professionally or even globally? How much time, in-kind support or resources did you provide?
  • Did you treat co-workers, staff and management fairly and ethically? When you had to make hard business decisions, did you take the most humane and respectful route? What could you have done better?


  • Did you take steps to optimize your health through diet, exercise, sleep, medical check-ups and other recommended practices? Did you meet (or approach) your fitness goals for the year?
  • Did you feel like you made a viable contribution at work and home this year? Did your efforts make a difference beyond your organization or could they?
  • Did you challenge yourself to learn new skills and what level of mastery did you reach?
  • Did you take a course or tap other resources to expand your knowledge? What were the 3 most important things you learned?
  • How engaged were you within and outside your workplace? At what points did you feel particularly valued, respected or part of a community?
  • What did you do that was particularly innovative or creative this year (at work or elsewhere)?
  • What were your 3 most noted achievements? What goals are carrying over to next year?

To dig deeper in this sphere, you may want to check Eileen Chadnick’s 12 questions to get the jump on the year ahead, which appeared in the Globe and Mail or  Finding Meaning at Work Even if your Job is Dull , a recent HBR post.


  • Did you meet your personal compensation goals for the year (in terms of salary, bonus and other perks)?
  • Did you maximize your investment opportunities and take full advantage of RSPs, tax-free savings accounts, RESPs and other financial savings options? Where could you improve?
  • If you had a budget, did you stick to it or where did you go astray?
  • Did you research, compare costs to make sensible purchasing decisions? (Did you pay $100 or more on anything you quickly regretted?)
  • Did you make ethical financial choices personally and at work (where applicable)? If relevant, did you practice good governance at work?


  • Did you reduce, recycle and reuse items within your home this year and if so, how much?
  • Do you know your personal or family’s carbon footprint and what did you do to reduce it in your daily lifestyle? (If not, you may want to measure it through zerofootprint and set a reduction plan for 2013. Alternatively, you can calculate your footprint and amount to offset it at BC’s Lifestyle Carbon Calculator.)
  • Did you support any community efforts to improve the environment? (If not, what is your community doing to reduce its environmental impact and what role might you play in the coming year?)

Put this into a carefully crafted instrument and we could have a personal scorecard to measure our year, as well as identify imbalances and growth opportunities for the coming year.

Caveat: Please note, I’m not a professional coach and don’t profess to be one. I’m posing these questions simply to scratch the surface on how we might want to consider integrating CSR practices and sustainable thinking into our own lives.

Making Lemonade with Life’s Lemons

A year ago, my position was eliminated after a corporate sale. Déjà vu to many.

Sometimes you can’t jump back to full-time immediately for fiscal or other reasons. Given the options of resting, hitting the pavement for an elusive senior role in a recession or a hybrid of working and growth, I chose the latter. Here’s what I aimed for and did. Hopefully one or two options suit you.

  1. Pursue a short-term contract (even if it’s slightly below your ideal title or compensation) – While the fallout from an involuntary exit varies, I don’t think anyone escapes a jab to their self-esteem. Bouncing back’s important but you may need to regain balance first. I contracted to a former manager who wanted my skills for a short-term crunch.
  2. Catch up on giving LinkedIn accolades & pursuing some yourself – It’s an ideal time to recognize people who’ve made a huge impression or been a major asset. As networking starts with giving, I didn’t position it as quid pro but separately pursued references from established contacts, with one from my last employer as a top priority.
  3. Boost your social media knowledge & online library – Set-up a feed reader, subscribe and devour social media blogs. Adopt a bookmarking tool to catalogue relevant articles. I set-up iGoogle but readers have grown since. I fell for Delicious to bookmark but latterly switched to trunk.ly.
  4. Strengthen  personal use of social media & grow your online brand – Update your online profiles, claim new ones (check your name’s availability) and take ownership of those morphed with your name (begin with zoominfo.com). Participate in conversations. Post thoughtful comments & answer forum questions. (Even one favoured answer to a LinkedIn query earns you a profile highlight.) For me, it’s a work in progress.
  5. Develop content creation or curating skills in low-risk settings – Learn WordPress.com and develop blogging acumen if possible. If not, focus on curating. (I fail at blogging but took rudimentary steps with a sustainable living wiki using Wikia and managing facebook pages, starting with one for my church.) Curating is on the rise with even more opportunities to explore, such as Paper.Li, the time’s ripe to embrace it.
  6. Volunteer during core hours (as well as night-time) to enhance skills & learn new disciplines – Daytime hours open new insights and sometimes you can negotiate a work-in-kind donation. One day a week, I re-vamped a national, not-for-profit’s website. And don’t forget IABC’s wealth of volunteer roles.
  7. Polish your presentation skills with diverse audiences – Present to professional and IABC forums but also stretch your audience agility by addressing PR college classes or career day at your child’s school.
  8. Teach a post-secondary class part-time – Teaching doesn’t have to be full-time but taking on one class forces you to identify the steps behind core PR skills, keeps you current and gives you firsthand knowledge of gen next thinking.
  9. Take in-class or online courses – They don’t have to be expensive. IABC offers select free webinars  and other organizations offer IABC member breaks.
  10. Reconnect with family & friends for intangible value but sometimes this too uncovers opportunities.

Other ideas?  Please share.

Take-aways from Helping Manage an IABC Chapter

After eight years on communication association boards (the last six for IABC/Toronto), I’ve done my last ‘ritual’ as immediate past president. This means time to shift to new priorities, including bringing this blog back to life.

During these years, I’ve been asked why I immersed myself in IABC and what I learned. As an extrovert, part of the attraction was the opportunity to work with smart and inquisitive people. The other reason was to give back and sometimes push the envelope towards change, which may be slightly easier from the inside.

Beyond broad personal development and growth, here are some specific things l learned through my tenure:

  1. Concerns cross continents…while we sleep. I once woke to an email from IABC Chair Barb Gibson asking about a controversial blog post on a Toronto event’s promotion. (Thanks to a pre-planned visit, I was able to alleviate the issue that day in person with the student blogger and online with the chair.)

  2. Sometimes a budget in the red is positive. When a not-for-profit, like IABC, earns a surplus in one year, a loss may be incurred in the following year to spend it. Although accurate and prudent, it’s an awkward message to deliver. (We’re still ‘wordsmithing’ the best way to say it.)

  3. Social media fosters a crowd mentality, which veers toward the positive. It can also bring defenders from the most unlikely places. I was once jarred by two volatile tweets from a member questioning IABC’s value. I invited offline discussion, while several tweets extolled the association’s benefits, including the detractor’s boss (not usually an overt supporter).

  4. Responsiveness counts more than ever, particularly online. Following the incident above, a member sent kudos for the quick response.

  5. For a great volunteer outcome: Start with a passionate volunteer. Provide a base, remove roadblocks and step back. To establish a mentoring program (which was a personal goal), we found a strong director with firsthand appreciation of a great mentor.  We held a ThinkTank to gather primary research, developed an outline and moved mentoring from a heavy portfolio with minimal cycles to a lighter one, with room for support. Our volunteer ran with it, doubling engagement and boosting feedback within two years.

  6. Leverage the expertise of varied generations, particularly when change is involved. We made the leap to social media through demos from Gen X and Y members on how it worked, combined with Boomer and Gen X insights on policies and guidelines to mitigate risks.

  7. Tap into IABC’s Worldwide network to access award-winning solutions for personal and chapter benefits. After grappling with website options, we found the answer in IABC Maritime’s revered site. By emulating it, we cut some corners but upheld quality.

  8. IABC members are welcoming and inclusive worldwide. (Once, when rooms were in short supply at Leadership Institute, I shared with a member and her beloved Labrador Retriever.)

  9. In terms of ‘Be heard,’ less is definitely more, when it comes to IABC.

  10. Setting SMART objectives for a chapter’s strategic plan is a best practice. It also means extensive follow-up to validate metrics and write CMA submissions….with sometimes a glistening award or two at the end.

For me, it was a great experience and one that I would highly recommend. I imagine leaders in other chapters have similar, as well as varied insights.  If you were on an IABC board for a couple of years or more, what did you learn?

(For more about IABC/Toronto, see IABC/Toronto 2008/2009 Annual Report.)