Thursday, November 26, 2015

Gift Giving Guide - Going Local

There are many reasons to shop locally this Christmas. It strengthens your community’s economy, benefits community groups, keeps your area unique, and reduces environmental impact to name a few. It’s win-win for everyone involved. We have curated a list of great gift ideas that support local businesses in the Ottawa and Toronto areas.

For the Working Women in Your Life
Dayna Lee Collection is an Etsy online store featuring “sassy and inspirational hand lettered goods” made in Toronto by young entrepreneur Dayna. Her items including pillow covers, day planners and notebooks, make great gifts for anyone in your life that you would describe as a “girl boss,” or to whom coffee and champagne are necessities. They will remind your loved one to stay positive, keep hustling, and stay focused on achieving their dreams.

Beautiful & Personalized Coasters 
Versatile is a specialized custom printing company run by entrepreneur Dan Fallak, from his home in Almonte, Ontario. He uses 100% natural marble stone imported from Turkey, along with a unique machine and ink formula to create fun and beautiful designs, and also customized coasters via spinoff brand Coasterly. This great local business actually made us some Bowda coasters and we couldn't have been more pleased with the results.

Give Parents a Date Night 
Sometimes the best gifts can’t be defined by something tangible. If they could, some people would put “time” at the top of their Christmas list. If you know a couple with a young child (or two), ProCare after school centre offers Parent’s Night Out services every Friday night from 6 to 10 and Saturdays 5 to 9. This provides a great opportunity for busy parents to get a break and treat themselves (you CAN give the gift of time)! It also would pair great with a gift certificate to their favourite restaurant. 
Coffee, Tea, Treats 
An easy and excellent gift this year would be a gift card for the Ministry of Coffee, an unique and cozy cafe located on Elgin St. where they make delicious lattes, are conscientious in their coffee sourcing, offer a selection of high quality loose leaf teas (try the lemon ginger) and have a variety of food options as well. This gift is a guaranteed success!

DIY Unique Ceramic Pieces 
Take thoughtfulness a step further and put some work into your gift by visiting The Mud Oven, a paint-it-yourself ceramics studio. Here you can create a truly unique gift, be it a mug, teapot, bowl… you get the idea. You may even want to turn this into a participatory event and bring your loved one along for some creative fun! Just be sure to make a reservation ahead of time. 

Everything He Needs for a Perfect Shave
STOUTHEART is an all natural grooming product company based in Ottawa. We love the story behind the company, and what they stand for. As told on their website, “STOUTHEART was created based on the idea that hardworking men deserve a product that is affordable and benefits him in more ways than just a simple shave. The primary goal of STOUTHEART is to make all natural products that are free of harmful chemicals and will activate your senses beyond what is normally expected from your typical morning routine.” Check them out at and give the men in your life a new and invigorating shaving experience that will become a staple in their routine.

Bath and Skin Care
You can give the gift of awesome smelling, nourishing, and environmentally friendly soaps and skin care products this year by swinging by Purple Urchin located on Somerset in Chinatown. They make it easy by offering gift bundles of delicious products. Perfect for daily care as well as those at-home spa days everyone needs once in awhile.

Canadian Winter Staple: The Scarf 
Can anyone have too many scarves? Of course not! Ottawa designer brand Krista Norris Collection features unique, gorgeous scarves for both men and woman, with a wide range of textures and fabrics to suit different styles and occasions. You can find something here for everyone, and the scarf you give will undoubtedly become a staple in your loved one’s wardrobe.

What to do when you’re done your shopping, but need to ship gifts to loved ones who you won’t be seeing this Christmas? Try Flyta, a new Canadian startup shipping company that uses spare airline cargo to provide lower shipping costs (up to 40% cheaper)!  Did we mention that they also pick up and pack for you? Gift wrapping not included though!

Hopefully this list has given you some new gift ideas and inspired you to look locally for your Christmas shopping. For more information on local events and businesses, check out Apt. 613 Support Local. Not from Ottawa? Yellow Pages has developed an initiative called Shop the Neighbourhood that will help you find small businesses in your area.   

Saturday, July 11, 2015

5 Social Media Faux Pas & How to Fix Them

Here at Bowda the name of our game is social media. Over the years, our team has spent a lot of time online, and have come across a lot of witty Tweets, interesting Instagram posts, and fascinating Facebook pages. That being said, we are no stranger to the less than wonderful posts being shared every day. What makes them less favourable? We’ve collected a list of the most frustrating faux pas we’ve encountered, and what you can do to avoid them.

1. Automated Messages
This faux pas applies mainly to Twitter, but should be taken into account with all platforms. While we agree that thanking a new follower for their support, either through a direct message or a tweet, is a good idea, please avoid sending an (obviously) automated message. The point behind messaging a new follower is to establish an, albeit small, relationship with them, and thank them for noticing you online. However silly this may sound, going unnoticed on Twitter is never good for a new business, so you always want to demonstrate your appreciation. That being said, the entire meaning behind your message is lost when you’ve used a program to generate a very unnatural response to recently acquired followers. In some cases, it can even lead to being un-followed, if the individual suspects you may be a spam account (which do exist, by the way, and are incredibly irritating to have on your feed). Also, using these auto-mated responses as a marketing tool to advertise your services, or increase your followers, isspam, and will always be treated as such (i.e. blocking, deleting, un-following). Twitter is a fantastic way to connect with strangers all over the world, but your efforts have to be genuine (just like they would be in person).
Bottom line: If you choose to send a thank you to your newest followers, always send a personal message. 
DO: Hey @BowdaPR, thanks for following! We look forward to learning about how to improve our presence on social media!”
DON’T: “Hey, thanks for following. Sign-up for our newsletter here/buy my cool product/give me money.”

2. Overuse, or incorrect use, of the infamous #hashtag.
Since the beginning of Twitter, the use of the #hashtag has been heavily debated. It is one of the more major learning curves that comes with creating your Twitter account, and most have figured out how to use them on a trail-and-error basis. It is now 2015; Twitter was created in 2006. If you still aren’t sure how to use the hashtag, listen up! There is nothing that demonstrates amateur hour better than misusing #hashtags.
I realize you may be making funny faces at the computer by this point. “There is no purpose to a hashtag, they’re for fun” is, perhaps, one reason behind your distorted brow. Although creating a hashtag can be fun and seemingly useless, there is a method to the madness. A hashtag, essentially, places your tweet in a list of other tweets that share the same hashtag. This can work to your advantage if you decide to share something that is “trending”, where others may see. By using a hashtag, it allows others to see your content who may not have been following you before, and then choose to because you are so wise/hilarious/savvy/inspirational.
Now, you’re probably thinking “If hashtags are so great, I’m going to use them all the time! In all my tweets! Only hashtags, no words!” This is where the problem lies. Although this may seem like a great idea, it really isn’t. You only have 140 characters to demonstrate how wise/hilarious/savvy/inspirational you are, so don’t waste them on lengthy sentences that become too difficult to read without spaces. The longer your hashtag, the less likely someone else has used it before, therefore stripping the hashtag of its purpose. At Bowda, we have a golden rule of no more than three hashtags, and make sure they are short and sweet. The more concise you are, the easier it is for someone to re-tweet/quote you to their followers. And why wouldn’t they want to, since you’re so wise/hilarious/savvy/inspirational?
Bottom Line: Do not use more than three hashtags. Do your research- make sure they are concise, and preferably exist already. 
DO: “We all need a little extra pick-me-up on our Mondays. #MondayMotivation”
DON’T: “Click this link for more information on #climatechange #globalwarming #renewableenergy #letsworktogethertosaveourplanetbeforeitexplodes

3. Abbreviate, but never use lingo.
OMG, LOL, LMAO, ROTFLMAO, IDK, SMH – what on earth am I saying? Exactly!
Even though it is tempting to use MSN language, with a limitation of 140 characters, it is never a good idea. You have no idea who your Tweets are being read by, and the last thing you want to inspire is confusion amongst your followers. Being clear and concise are two absolute musts when tweeting, and as funny as these lingo terms can be, they are anything but clear. SMH? I had to open up a new window, and resort to urban dictionary to solve that one (it means “shake my head” if you didn’t already know!).
Abbreviations are acceptable (i.e. B.C. instead of British Columbia, ‘&’ instead of ‘and’, TGIF instead of thank god it’s Friday), but try to only use the most obvious ones.
Avoiding lingo also assures you avoid sounding ignorant (remember, you’re really wise/hilarious/savvy/inspirational and want to remain being seen that way). Nothing takes away from an inspirational quote or a thought-provoking article quite like “omg lololol” following immediately after.
Bottom Line: Minimize your character count without compromising your message. 
DO: Learn why BC has become the smartest & most environmentally friendly province”
DON’T: “omg look at dis pic à I h8 this s0o much! #smh #idk

4. Improper Grammar
This faux pas results in a lot of head-banging against a wall for some people. It would be really great if the individuals out there who still use “your” instead of “you’re” and “one” instead of “won” would be stripped of their right to access social media platforms, but sadly, this is not the case.
If you are one of these people, I am SMH at you! (Just kidding – there is no judgement here at Bowda. We understand that grammar mishaps happen to even the strictest grammar nerd, thank goodness for that edit button!)
However – and this is a big however – there is no excuse for the use of improper grammar and spelling on your Tweets and/or other social media posts. Nearly all, if not ALL, technological devices that provide us with the ability to post on such platforms come equipped with spellcheck. Please use this tool on a daily basis, and always pay attention to those red/green/blue squiggly lines (you know, the ones that appear every time you try to spell necessary? Or maybe that’s just me) that indicate you have chosen an incorrect letter arrangement. Other times, you have spelled the word correctly, but used the wrong form (i.e. your – you’re, they’re – their – there, whole – hole, lose-loose and I could go on and on and on...); this, my friends, is unacceptable. Thousands of people are on Twitter every day, and they are all presented with the freedom to follow, and un-follow, whomever they please. The followers that you have worked so hard to attain, you need to KEEP them. The best way to do that? Never fail to show them how wise/hilarious/savvy/inspirational you are with every single post. People may choose to write you off, and assume what you have to say, or the services you wish to provide, or the messages you want to share, or not worthwhile if they can’t trust you to pay attention to basic grammar rules. The internet can be a cruel place amigos; we just want to help you master your way through it.
Bottom Line: Always triple check your tweets, Instagram captions, and Facebook posts. As we say at Bowda  “spell-check yourself, before you wreck yourself”.
DO: “At Bowda, we represent an environment based on peace and love, and always admire your feedback”.
DON’T: “At Bowda, we represent an environment based on piece and love. and always admir you’re feedback”.

5. Don’t forget that social media is a two-way conversation.
This one is extremely important. Never forget that social media is best used as a conversational tool. Engaging your followers encourages them to continue to follow and support you. Nobody likes to see companies that choose to fill their feed with advertisements or self-proclamations about how great they are. If someone tweets at you, tweet back! When you choose to post something, always encourage a conversation. Never be afraid to ask your audience their opinions. People love to talk, and if you allow your social media page to be a place for them to do it, your number of followers will increase faster than my cat runs after a bag of Temptations treats.
Twitter chats exist for this very reason; both celebrities and companies do it frequently. This concept allows people to ask questions they may have about your company, or comment on ideas that your company represents. Twitter Q&As are always very popular (occurring more with celebrities, authors, talk-show hosts, etc.). Live-tweeting is also done frequently nowadays, which consists of individuals informing people of the details of an event that is happening, that they may not be able to attend. Either way, it’s all good press when you encourage your followers to reach out to you.
Bottom Line: Always engage ALL your followers, and encourage a conversation. 
DO: “At Bowda, we believe Twitter & Instagram are the most successful platforms; what do you think? #socialmedia”
DON’T: “At Bowda we’re so great.”
“At Bowda, we offer services to run your social media and blog accounts for you. Let us do it. We’re great!!”

At the end of the day, we want to commend you for all your efforts to remain relevant on social media and expand your brand on platforms you may be unfamiliar with. If you think conquering social media is easy, you’re most likely not doing it correctly. At Bowda, we believe practice makes perfect, and hope that you take these constructive criticisms as encouragement going forward. After all, what would the world do without your wise/hilarious/savvy/inspirational self?

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

How a Hashtag Can Help: The #AskHerMore Campaign

#askhermore. A hashtag that engaged the public in a conversation that was long overdue. It was simple, it was honest, and it was powerful. Some of you may be familiar with its social media success, and others may simply recognize it without understanding its origin. Whatever the case, it goes without question that these three words exemplify how powerful social media can be when used correctly; especially when coupled with engagement from powerful Hollywood figures.

Nearly two months ago now, award season was monopolizing social media. Everyone is familiar with these spectacular productions and most can agree that they dominate the public’s attention, especially through social media networks. Although the purpose of these shows are to commemorate individuals for outstanding performances and work, a large portion of the audience tunes in for the pre-show; the red carpet. Those who tune in will admit to adoring the beautiful celebrities and their exquisitely expensive garments and accessories, as they wait to see who will be chosen for the “pressing” interview questions, the most famous being “Who are you wearing?”. Why has the public turned the focus of their admiration towards the segment on appearances rather than accomplishments? Even better, why are male celebrities the only ones questioned about their career aspirations, while women are asked to share diet secrets and nail colour choices? Gender stereotyping is the key culprit in this scenario, a problem that should be one of the past. And the creators of the Representation Project, and the #askhermore campaign, agree.

The #askhermore campaign commenced over a year ago, but seemed to only make waves this past February.  Without much explanation or introduction, the Representation Project – an organization working towards ending all forms of stereotyping, including gender – created this simple hashtag, allowing the public to create a conversation. The freedom to channel the conversation in any direction, paired with an important, relevant topic that a large percentage of the population was already passionate about, equalled an inevitable success.  It encouraged reporters to “snap out of it” and recognize the strength, power, and intelligence wearing these gowns, rather than solely the makers of them. It was an inclusive campaign with unlimited boundaries, making it all the more successful.  

It is beyond difficult to change a conversation that has been present for so many decades, but #askhermore seemed to do just that.  This campaign was active before, during and after the award show, and totalled over 27,000 tweets. During the award show, members of the Representation Project were responsible for Live Tweeting their followers, and making their mission abundantly clear.  This remarkable campaign was planned and perfectly executed and demonstrates a wonderful example of social media being used to spread a positive, future-changing message. The #askhermore campaign also taught users of social media engaging your audience, and using the variety of perspectives and locations to your advantage.

How does a hashtag possess so much power? The secret to its success lies in the minimal effort required to participate. The number of participants is limitless, with no one there to filter which comments will be shared. Social media has created an environment where all its participants are equal; the boundaries normally placed between celebrities and fans temporarily disappear. #askhermore encouraged participation from everyone, especially the celebrities being asked the mind-numbingly pointless questions. Engagement from Hollywood is huge, especially during an occasion with such high profile attendees. With the undeniable success of this simple yet powerful hashtag, it appears that reporters will have to go back to square one and brainstorm more thought provoking questions than just“Who are you wearing?”

Have you seen or participated in the #askhermore campaign? Do you think it can change the face of awards shows?

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Finding the PR in Peru

        A couple weeks ago I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to spend a week in Peru with my stepmother, her best friend, and my sister. It was something that was on my stepmom’s friend’s bucket list, and they decided to make a girls trip out of it and invited my sister and I. Looking back on the trip from a PR perspective, there are some lessons that can be learned, from both the highs (quite literally - we were up in the mountains, above the clouds) and the (very few) lows. When it comes to travel PR, the experience itself is the biggest advocate for the destination itself, and the travel companies involved (travel agencies, tour companies, hotels and accommodations, restaurants, destinations, and attractions). Leading up to the trip, social media played a role in learning about the destination and getting excited about the trip. The best tool for us was simply searching hashtags on Instagram of the name of the trail we would be taking and names of specific destinations we would be visiting. 
The trip itself was what is called a packaged trip; it was booked with a travel agent who sold us a specific tour, with many pre-paid arrangements including transportation to and from destinations, entry to those destinations, accommodation and some meals. I was very happy with this outcome: we had enough free time to do our own shopping and exploring, and were advised as to how much extra money we would need to bring for food that was not covered in the tour. It was also helpful because none of us had ever been to South America, so we were saved the work of planning our own excursions and shown some worthwhile destinations and archeological sites by knowledgeable guides. The trip was booked by a well-known travel agency in Canada, Flight Centre, and the tour company, On the Go Tours, is universally recognized. Both companies had knowledgeable representatives who were available for any questions or concerns we had, and were happy to assist us in booking the trip and any extra amenities while there. While in Peru, our guides recommended local restaurants and massage therapists, which had wonderful results. These experiences helped build trust in our guides and reflected well on the tour company and the overall experience.

The culture of Peru itself is wonderful, from a public relations perspective as well as in general. The tourism industry has grown exponentially in the past ten years and has allowed major economic growth and development. Although it is a friendly culture in general, the prevalence and effect of the tourism industry may partly have a hand in the people being so open and helpful to tourists. This has also led to the many merchants that try to get tourists to enter their shops and buy their souvenirs. When we were with our guides, they were helpful in navigating these situations for us, and telling us where to find good quality items. At first, being called to constantly by vendors was a little annoying, however we got used to it fairly quickly and overall it didn’t effect negatively on the trip.

      A few bumps in the road during the time in Peru became learning experiences from a public relations perspective. When we arrived to Cusco, the city we were mainly travelling out of, the hotel we were told was booked for us was closed and there was no answer at the door. After waiting in the pouring rain at 7 am for 30 minutes, we learned that the hotel was under renovation, but that a second location where we had alternate rooms booked was only a short walk away. At some point, there was a break in the lines of communication. The change in accommodation should have been made clear to our travel agent ahead of time and the change in plans communicated to us. Another aspect of the trip that was not represented well was the challenging three-day hike on the Lares Trek. It was described as suited for moderately-fit people, however all of us found the hike to be extremely gruelling, even though I consider myself to be moderately fit, my stepmother works out regularly and her best friend is a marathon runner. We all got through it, however we were frustrated because at times it felt like we could barely continue on, and the pain during the descent was difficult to take. I am glad I did it and it was very rewarding, however not everyone in our group was able to finish the last day of the hike, and felt that the level of difficulty was mis-represented. A third issue that reflected negatively on the tour was that during the the final ride back to Cusco on the last day of the trip, the bus was not solely dedicated to our group, and the driver picked up other people wanting to hitch a ride for a fee. One woman on her own rode with us, as well as two men who smelled of alcohol and were clearly intoxicated. One of the men in particular was behaving in a rude way during the trip, and our guide had to ask him to please be quiet. It was translated to us after the fact that the woman was very upset at how the men represented Peru to us travellers. This situation could have been avoided by the tour company hiring the bus for tour members only, and not taking the risk of picking up strangers in order to fill the bus. Addressing these three issues would have made the trip more seamless and better represented by the travel agent and tour company. That being said, our guides remained positive in these tough situations, and helped us through them.

Ultimately, the trip was a success, and the positive experiences far outweighed the negative. In a short time I got to see a little bit of Peru, and learned just a bit about its rich culture and history. The PR lessons learned were that communication of issues and changes is vital to avoiding stressful situations, representation of tours must be honest, and that the safety of travellers should be the number one of the tour company. I also learned that when it comes to travel, the best PR is the amazing experiences that people have in and of a destination.