Sponsoring Play

The other night at a party, one socializer asked another – What’s your favourite sport?”

The answer? “To play or to watch?” replied the respondent. 

The hot-off-the-press Jumpstart State of Play Report – https://jumpstart.canadiantire.ca/pages/the-state-of-sport-in-canada, asks thousands of Canadian youth the questions we have been guessing at for years: What do kids like to play? What do you want to play? Why do you play? Why don’t you play? What does sport mean to you?

I found this report fascinating and timely. It is a fantastic trove of input variables for everyone entrusted with changing sports participation outcomes. City planners, equipment manufacturers, kinesiology professors, policymakers, politicians, community sports organizers, and educators should all dive in with this information—deep, very deep. 

As a sponsorship marketer, I want to weigh in on a few perspectives that band leaders should chew on with the assistance of this report. I will not quote numbers or stats from the document because you need to read it to understand it. But I am going to editorialize. 

Here are three takeaways for you:

  1. Does your sports marketing partnership portfolio align with the data?
  2. How nuanced is your portfolio when understanding specific youth cohorts, especially regarding intersectionality?
  3. When it comes to community support, are you solving problems or looking for the most significant media hit?

Number 1 – Portfolio Alignment

If I were selling sponsorships for an amateur sports association or a professional league, I would leverage these numbers to the maximum. We know that participation is the key to growing fandom, and some sports come out as clear winners in this report, and some have to be uncertain about their future. Regardless of what side of the ledger you fall on, the data provides an opportunity to act. If you are a brand owner, ask your sponsorship agency to do a simple mapping exercise to overlay your sports portfolio spending over the participation numbers shared in this report. Do they match, or are you investing in the wrong areas? Do a second mapping phase and look at the sports that youth want to try. Somewhere between the two, you have enough data points to help identify your short-, mid-, and long-term strategies. 

Number 2 – Nunaces and Intersectionality

The concept of intersectionality is a significant consideration in DEI today; this report is no exception. This report provides a fantastic slicing and dicing of age, gender, geography, race, place of play and ability along many dimensions. Who knew that Arab youth wanted to try football? I am not surprised that Black boys are highly confident in their skills but have never seen the data to validate it. I am concerned that Girls of Colour are more concerned about injuries than other cohorts. Amazing to me is the eagerness of almost every cohort to try martial arts and wonder if gaming, anime or some other external influence is contributing. The richness and robustness of this report should motivate every marketer to apply more differentiation and laser-like approaches to their sponsorships. The interests and motivations of all girls and all boys are different. If we believe our diversity as a nation is our superpower, put on your cape and jump into creating a blockbuster approach to youth sports founded on ensuring you include all groups in your cast.


Number 3 – Community Matters

I have often said that Black kids don’t need more basketball courts to progress in society. They need systemic fairness, equitable financial support, and opportunity. This report proves that. One of the biggest challenges for Black youth participating in sports is transportation. While other kids are getting rides to practices and games, Black youth are walking, taking public transit, and leveraging other unsupervised low-cost methods. What good does a refurbished court or a pitch do if someone cannot get there? Worse, when they do get there, can they afford to play? It is not surprising that participation in sports clubs that charge fees is much higher for White youth than non-white youth. If Black youth can get to the field and afford the payments, would it not be even greater if they had a coach that looked after them? Brands should stop trying to win awards by building courts in underestimated neighbourhoods or providing a special day at the pro area as their BIG community activation idea and start doing what matters. One-off activations do not build community or address the systemic issues that only worsen.

We should applaud Jumpstart for sharing the State of Play Report with all of us. They and their partners have done the foundational work by providing us with the facts and figures to justify our work.

Now, the hard part is over to you. We should keep this from becoming a report that sits idly on a shelf, which means we are ignoring Canada’s youth. The respondents in this survey represent our future players, fans, and consumers. We need to do more than listen to them. We need to act; if we do, we will all win. 

Paris as Theatre

Did you know Mr. Bean appeared in Olympic history’s most-watched social media clip?

I didn’t, but according to Andy Miah, Chair in Science Comms & Future Media, University of Salford, Manchester, Rowan Atkinson’s appearance with the London Symphony Orchestra during the 2012 Olympic Games is the # 1 clip on the Olympic YouTube channel. (I haven’t checked, but I will take his word for it.)

What about the most-watched television event in the world?

At the time of its showing, the Beijing Olympics’ Opening Ceremony in 2008 from the Beijing National Stadium – better known as the Bird’s Nest – was the main stage for the program that garnered over two billion viewers for four hours of broadcasting of the 15,000 performers from all over the world. The ceremony, the most-watched television event in history, occurred on Friday the 8th, 2008, at 8 pm – the prominence of the number eight being its association with prosperity and confidence in Chinese.

The 2024 Olympic Opening Ceremonies are looking to set new records and already have the first-ever ceremonies occurring outside of a stadium. Last week at SportAccord in Birmingham, UK, Pierre Galy, Head of Sports, Agence France-Presse and Yannis Exarchos, Chief Executive Officer, OBS, and Executive Director, Olympic Channel, shared their plans to cover and broadcast this spectacular event.

The event is fitting for what promises to be the most immense Olympic Games ever.

Over 10,000 athletes will be ferried by 160 boats on a 6km route passing by famous landmarks, including the newly renovated Notre Dame Cathedral, and ending at the Eiffel Tower. The river parade will follow the course of the Seine, from east to west, departing from the Austerlitz bridge beside the Jardin des Plantes and passing around the two islands at the city’s centre (the Île Saint Louis and the Île de la Cité) before passing under several bridges and gateways. Athletes on board the parade boats will get glimpses of some of the official Games venues, including Parc Urbain La Concorde, the Esplanade des Invalides, the Grand Palais, and lastly, the Iéna Bridge, where the parade will come to a stop before the ceremony finale at the Trocadéros.

Several hundred thousand spectators will be watching from the shores as boats stream past (like my pun) and augmented by over eighty onshore screens. The original plans for two million live spectators are in flux due to logistical and security concerns.

Undeterred, the Olympic Broadcasting Service has elaborate plans to cover this unique event from land, sea, and air. The broadcast team will utilize three helicopters, eight drones, and four specially built stabilized boars, each fitted with seven cameras and three robotic arms. If you don’t believe your mobile phone is a movie camera, you should now, as the OBS will deploy more than two hundred mobile phones as what they call “POV cameras” in National Olympic Committee boats. Thank you, 5G!

Meanwhile, the AFP will deploy dozens of content gatherers and hundreds of camera positions along the route on every facet, team, and Opening Ceremonies presentation to outlets worldwide in six languages.

From a project planning standpoint, the OBS and AFP see the Paris Games as two events. Given its magnitude, impact, and planning requirements, the Opening Ceremony is a stand-alone event, while the Games are separate. In both cases, the broadcaster and media gatherer plan to go to great lengths to celebrate the city and country’s history. That starts with a nod to Paris being the birthplace of cinema.

In December 1895 in Paris, the first presentation of a projected moving picture to a paying audience was staged by the Lumière brothers. In tribute to this innovation in Paris and to capture the city’s beauty, the OBS will utilize cinematic lenses for the first time in Games history. These lenses bring more emotional storytelling in broadcasts for MLB and NFL, and I suspect they will do the same in Paris.

While the cinematic approach is a nod to history, the next wave of broadcasting is also receiving its nod as new sports to the Olympics, such as Breaking, Skateboarding, and 3v3 Basketball, are being shot and broadcast live in 8k, which will provide incredible detail and lifelike imagery. Now, if only I had an 8k TV!

A significant non-technical feature of the 2024 Games broadcasts is the ongoing effort to ensure gender balance. These Games are touted as the first gender-equal Olympics in history, which, due to the complexity of national athlete selection, may still need to be realized, but that is the plan. The OBS is putting thoughtful and inclusive planning in place to ensure equal representation behind the camera.

These plans include a 50% increase in hiring of female commentators in comparison to Tokyo 2020 and staffing two-thirds of broadcast venue management roles with women. A critical ongoing initiative is the IOC Portrayal Guideline, which ensures that all athletes are featured for their athleticism, not superficial reasons. Suffice it to say that the broadcast product should feel more inclusive to the viewer by being more diverse behind the camera and on the microphone.

In addition to pushing harder for gender equality, the OBS is also highly conscious of reducing its sustainable footprint. Despite the expansion of coverage, use of more innovative tech, and the complexity of the Opening Ceremonies, they claim to be using 29% less power for their efforts. It will be heralded as a creative and impactful approach if they succeed.

I doubt Mr. Bean will return to the Paris Opening Ceremonies, but I suspect the organizers will have some celebrity cameos for the fans. No doubt. However, we all know the athletes are true stars of the Olympics. Paris 2024 will be a thrilling opportunity to witness packed venues cheering on these competitors who have worked all their lives for their Olympic moment.

It will be the first time since 2018 that international fans from across the globe will experience the Games’ environment in real life.

Indeed, the pandemic convinced me that sports aren’t sports without the fans. You will agree. That impact applies to the in-person experience and the broadcast experience almost equally. Fans in the stands and throughout the city of Paris will make the athlete experience even more rewarding and bring an exciting atmosphere to you wherever you are watching. However, you are consuming, whether it be your mobile phone, your flatscreen at home or on a movie theatre screen near you.

Don’t Believe the Headlines, Work is Becoming Boundaryless

Last week on CBC’s Metro Morning, I spoke about workplace flexibility. https://www.cbc.ca/listen/live-radio/1-39-metro-morning/clip/16053107-return-office-work-home-lose-promotions-thats-ultimatum

Recently, the headlines have been screaming that workers must return to the office.

Dell told employees they would not be considered for promotions or job transfers if they wished to remain remote. The company has begun differentiating remote workers from hybrid workers—those who appear in the office 39 days per quarter.

According to an internal memo by Bloomberg, Deutsche Bank managers must come into the office four days a week, and all other staff must come in at least three, as of June. Additionally, remote work on Mondays following remote work on Friday will be banned, evaporating the chances of long remote work weekend holidays. Chalking the change up to inefficient use of real estate, Chief Executive Christian Sewing and Chief Operating Officer Rebecca Short said in the memo the bank wants to “spread our presence more evenly across the week.”

Bank of America has not changed their policy three days a week since 2022 but has been sending Letters of Education to employees about attendance to those who are not complying. 

These are a few recent business headlines garnering attention about companies forcing people back to work, but loud these headlines scream that this is not the reality.

According to the Q1 2024 Flex Report (https://www.flex.scoopforwork.com/stats), across 7500 companies in this study done with Boston Consulting Group, the number of companies demanding full-time office has dropped from 49% at the beginning of 2023 to 38% now! Their research also shows that only 6% of companies demand employees to be in the office four days a week, and 1/3 of US companies require no office time. 

The data also shows that this has been a wise choice. In 2021-22, fully flexible companies (either fully remote or employee choice) outperformed their peers by 16% in revenue growth. Excluding tech companies, it was still 13%, and a University of Chicago study found that workers saved 72 minutes on average and invested 40% of that time into extra work.

May be a graphic of 1 person and text that says 'Thriving beyond boundaries: Human performance in a boundaryless world 片 Deloitte. Insights'

So why are some companies demanding people back to the office?

To some Dell’s actions are deceptive ways to trim its headcount as it faces challenging and uncertain economic times. But if you dig deeper, it is more than just economic headwinds.

According to Deloitte, 85% of leaders have Productivity Paranoia that remote workers are less effective, yet only 3% of companies have a reliable way to measure and track that. Why have so many top executives said remote work is for the lazy and a leader? In their minds, remote work could again be recognized as something desired for less committed workers, as before the pandemic.

Given the economic headwinds, perhaps big companies think they can get away with it. One primary reason for this is the stability of staff employment. Bank of America’s employee turnover rate dropped to 6% in 2023’s fourth quarter, the bank reported this month. That’s roughly half the typical rate.

In short, it’s easier to say that it’s essential for people to be onsite to maintain culture than to tell your people that you don’t trust them. However, according to Deloitte, this narrative does not resonate with employees choosing to work for flexible companies that prioritize human performance to help organizations jump into a boundaryless future.

The data demonstrates that fully flexible is the approach most companies currently use, and the research indicates that structured hybrid will be the most prevalent going forward. This evolution is good news for women as more women are in the workforce than ever. Balancing personal duties with their careers more easily will reduce the chances of their not being considered for advancement. We should not limit this to women; we should look at all parents of young children.

Embracing flexible work is also good for people looking to live in less expensive areas or with tethers to specific geography (i.e. a partner’s role or aging parents).

The Oxford Institute of Population Aging says that hybrid work could benefit older employees because it cuts commute times, makes it easier to care for aging partners and frees up time for hobbies. “Hybrid and remote working models are giving older generations new opportunities to have flexibility around work,” says Wayne Berger, IWG’s chief executive officer of Americas, based in Toronto. (Globe & Mail)

Flexible workplaces are excellent for those who may not have felt safe or confident being in a full-time office setting but prefer to interact with their colleagues on their terms, free from any feelings of judgement they may have encountered.

Welcome to the world of boundaryless work. Is that a word? Is boundarylessness a word? They may not be, but the sentiment is powerful.

This shift to boundaryless work is great news for companies as they recognize that it is time to trade in the rules, operating constructs, and proxies of the past. According to Deloitte, these are barriers to maximizing human performance.

I can attest that I have entirely changed my mind on this since the end of 2022! Why is that? Like you, I was brought up in a system that became self-fulfilling. Think about it. We are born and housed in a family, but early on, we are shepherded into buildings: churches, schools, and community centres. As a monolith, we are told when to show up and how to behave.

In the workplace, we then followed these approaches. Managers and Vice-Presidents replaced our Teachers and Vice-Principals. We were scolded for being late, reprimanded for being too loud, and told to learn or work during daylight hours, which confirmed the schedules of others and did not work for us.

If we want to emphasize Human Performance, that has to change, and it is. This rocket ship has launched. Today, we can reimagine the workplace, make it as experiential as we preach, and prioritize individuality as we pontificate. This will allow people to increase performance while empathizing with work-life balance.

Outside of those who have heavy real estate investments, this upheaval will benefit enterprises large and small. We will change where we invest money from rent to team building, capacity building, and upskilling. Our offices will become hospitality, entertainment, and wellness destinations. We will stop scheduling meetings and start curating programming and events.

One of my favourite authors, Priya Parker, discusses how to treat people at events. She says, “Find a way to honour that person instead of their job description.”

Let’s follow that direction when it comes to the boundaryless workplace.

Thank-You Halifax!

I have had many amazing trips to Halifax in my lifetime; however, none of them were like this past one.

I have attended events in Halifax. I have been a tourist in Halifax. I have

staged conferences there. I have run large-scale activations there. One remarkable yet unscientific statistic is that I have never had a crummy time in Halifax. Never. Yet somehow, this trip topped them all.

As a JUNOS Board Member, I was excited to witness our JUNOS & MusicCounts teams, local host committee, EventsEast, Discover Halifax, and partners’ plans come to life.

Halifax made the Canadian music industry proud.

The 2024 JUNOS was an energetic event that took over the downtown area and made it a three-day celebration of humanity. Every nook and cranny of downtown was full of musical joy. Industry titans mixed with individual fans like they were long-lost cousins.

As the host of SponsorshipX, staging our Future of Fandom event, I was eager to evaluate if our city takeover approach to a conference would resonate. We had sessions and experiences in ten different venues across the waterfront, and they worked out seamlessly. The benefit of walking everywhere played a huge factor, but the people were the more impactful component. Collaboration is essential in staging large-scale events, building activations, and curating experiences. I cannot underestimate how fantastic every venue, local partner, and supplier was to work with in Halifax. More than their hospitality, their problem-solving, innovativeness, and insight-sharing made our experiences so much more impactful.

SponsorshipX Halifax was an incredible mix of new friends and longtime friends for me. Our delegates were in awe by the heartfelt origin story that Bernadette from Osmow’s shared of her family’s business that now has thousands of fans. It was Bernadette’s first appearance at SponsorshipX, and it won’t be her last if I have my way. Don Mayo took to our stage for the thirteenth time and blew everyone away with the powerful message that Live Will Thrive in 2025. It was a full circle moment watching Leslie Blachford from TD take our delegates through their fantastic partnership with the JUNOS. It’s always fun to see a T1 alumnus soaring through our industry. Leslie is flying high by always ensuring that the groundwork and preparation for partnerships she leads results in flawless execution.

Speaking of partnerships, SPX collaborated with ADVANCE – Canada’s Black Music Collective for our opening session, which featured pop star and Juno Nominee LU KALA. In her opening comments, Keziah Myers, who runs ADVANCE, shared how they had spent the week visiting Halifax high schools to inspire and inform Black students of the career opportunities in the music industry—legacy building.

My most significant collaboration was with Andres Mendoza and Byron Alfaro of the CARAS team. These two maestros and their colleagues seamlessly integrated SPX into unique events such as the Honouring Ceremony for Indigenous nominees, JUNOfest, and the MusicCounts after-party.

Of course, we couldn’t have a conference about fandom without talking about Taylor Swift, and we were delighted to have some super fans join our discussions, including Jillian Wagner, the Atlantic Canada Swifties co-founder.

If you want insights on fandom, JCJ – Just Call Jillian.

To Jillian and all of our delegates, speakers, partners, and volunteers – you made this trip to Halifax so unforgettable that my only challenge now is how to get invited back quickly.


The Future of Fandom

by Mark Harrison

The passion and intelligence of its largely younger attendees, she thought, “could save the humanities.”

These words summarize the impact on Penn State University English professor Hester Blum after attending Terror Camp, a two-day virtual event for fans of the 2018-19 AMC Television series The Terror. 

Many traditional marketers are eager to secure their consumers’ adoration at a level of Fandom, the way entertainers, games, movies, books, television shows, and other cultural offerings do. But to think that Fandom could save academia? Is that going too far, or is that demonstrating the power of Fandom?

Who doesn’t desire more fanatics, loyalists, brand champions, community animators, or prosumers? Show me the brand, the movement, and the person who doesn’t yearn for greater Fandom. It’s invaluable and elusive—a magic that’s hard to find and even harder to contain once unleashed.

Fandom is incredibly powerful in the entertainment world, whether it be the Beyhive or Harry Potter community or the ARMY following BTS. UK-based firm Brand Success (https://www.brand-success.co.uk/) has research that demonstrates that traditional businesses that are successful in creating brand fans are proven to grow some 2.5 times faster than their competitors who don’t. In the B2B world, Google research shows buyers who consider themselves devotees of your business are 30x more likely to pay a premium for your brand.

These staggering numbers will encourage marketers to get out of traditional mindsets about consumers and customers and think about fans. 

One of my favourite examples of a brand building its’ way to success through Fandom is Gymshark. They have reached unicorn status (valuation of over $1B) in just ten years after emerging from the founder’s garage because of their relentless focus on community. They are a magical company not just for their use of relatable influencers, incredible content reaching 20 million YouTube viewers, encouragement of UCG, and credible partnerships but also because of their humility. I recently read a piece about how, “during a website outage on one of their famous Black Friday sales, the founder wrote over 2500 apology letters to customers (including discounts) so they could make their purchases later. This is just a single example of their excellent customer service, but if you’ve ever purchased from Gymshark and used their support, you’ll understand the hype. “(https://theaccountancycloud.com/blogs/the-rise-of-gymshark) 

In my desire to learn more about how to build a positive, devout community for brands, I recently set out to understand where Fandom is growing and where it is not. 

Let’s start with the approach as a marketer to your target markets. Do we call them consumers, customers, or clients? Experts recommend we begin by labelling our buyers as fans. In that case, we will naturally recalibrate our approach to the purchasers of products or services, the stakeholders we wish to influence, and the channels we want to create. Who is your target “fan”? What is her persona? What metrics do you seek to secure? Do you want a larger share of the purchasing power or a larger share of her voice? Brand strategy based on Fandom is the future for the rest of the world, says Ear to the Ground’s Jack Ward.

The most prominent components of Fandom are passion and emotion. What is the emotional element of fandom? Where does the joy come from? Today, it is not just love or adoration. Is it relatability? The most prominent person to discuss when talking about Fandom is Taylor Swift. Those who study Fandom, though, identify that her power is not just being an artist, but her power is connected to her followers as a person. By sharing her private life, the challenges and the triumphs with the world, the Swifties are not only devoted to her; they will defend her. (https://www.thenationalnews.com/arts-culture/music-stage/2024/02/21/most-powerful-fan-bases-swifties-potterheads-bts-army/). Also, modern-day fans have a deeper understanding of self. They spend more time considering their identity, values, and mantra, which significantly impacts what tears their devotion. 

The economics of a brand strategy based on Fandom are to be enjoyed by all stakeholders, not just the sponsoring business. Enterprises often cite the proliferation of social media, customization, and personalization as the driving forces of fandom marketing. They are merely channels and platforms or enablers. The real driver is that Fandom relies on new structures with less hierarchy and more distributed value. This opportunity is where Web3 comes in. Maddie Raedts writes in Forbes that “Web3, a decentralized online ecosystem built on the blockchain, facilitates unique experiences and consumer activations to ensure the continuity of community engagement.” Plenty of businesses talk about the brands curated by consumers, but how many take this bottom-up approach and allow their fans to participate in product design, marketing, and distribution? How many consistently turn the masses into influencers who build loyalty to the community transparently and genuinely? This is the shared approach to creating inclusivity and loyalty. 

Finally, I want to understand the purpose of Fandom. 

At their core, fans want to belong, to be a part of a community, and to achieve status for sharing their devotion within the community and earning recognition. Fan club members believe they are contributing to the success of their idols and not merely loyalists who follow them unthinkingly. 

Douglas Dunn of One Minute to Midnight and Kim Bayley of the Entertainment Retailers Association (ERA) has written about this deeper human meaning of Fandom in the entertainment industry. “Key to participant motivations were values including achievement and the thrill of demonstrating this achievement within their personal fandom community.” We think of digital channels as the superpower when, in fact, they can be a deterrent. Dunn and Balyley maintain, “In a digital age, the risk is that ‘fandom’ comes too easily, so finding ways to make fans work a little more to ‘earn’ their Fandom means they can experience the emotional pay-off and this ‘thrill of discovery.’ “

Thinking of the future of Fandom, which will influence my business this way: If we went out of business tomorrow, who would care? 

Don’t Be Afraid of the Truth

There is an old expression that the “truth hurts.”

In today’s business landscape, however, we must be bold in the truth. More importantly, we can no longer hide from it as the proliferation of data, analytics, and insights that we now have at our fingertips is almost unlimited.

On Sunday, at the Soho House Austin, I moderated a panel on the role of data in Sponsorship Success as part of our new SPX Global series of networking events. When a question from the audience was presented to our panelists, “What do you do when a sponsorship program isn’t going well?” – that panel segment became unofficially entitled “Don’t Be Afraid of Truth.”

It’s good news for the sponsorship marketing world that the opportunities and accessibilities to data are becoming more prolific daily. Our panelists, Adam Grow of KORE and Harrison Kim of AUSTIN FC are accomplished experts in leveraging data to measure sponsorship effectiveness, so I will not try to match their wisdom. Instead, I will share my key takeaways and develop a hypothesis from their words.

Adam and Harrison got me thinking.

What struck me most is that data tools now allow us to correctly answer our business’s oldest question and statement: that sponsorship programs must be aligned with objectives. While this could be considered table stakes, it is now a breakthrough because we can not only measure the return that sponsors receive; we can predict it.

Austin FC has a significant partnership with YETI, and one of their major corporate strategies is around sustainability, which they want to integrate into their partnership. This need requires Austin FC to provide a unique set of data points about how they are meeting their sustainability goals. This is a whole new avenue for partnership activation, but only if properties are willing to provide the metrics that withstand the scrutiny that comes with sensitive topics such as ESG.

Employee engagement continues to rise as a crucial metric for any major sponsors. Hospitality today is not just for customers and clients but also for your team. Alignment with properties needs to be more than just a brand fit; it should connect to employee values and inspire them to contribute to their employer’s and their partners’ purpose.

One of the best questions from the audience was specific to how data, both first-party and second-party, is being utilized to understand the fan journey. Understanding the fan journey, akin to the consumer journey for any B2C brand, is a significant priority for many teams, leagues, and sponsors. With today’s fluid fan, the need to understand which team(s) they cheer for, how they consume the sport, where they socialize their sport, and with whom are all vital. Fans move around and adopt primary and secondary teams, and brands want to know every step they take. Today, you can harness technology to learn more about these fans and provide them with a more customized experience, increased satisfaction, and more commercial value for sponsors.

The big winner in big data won’t just be the big players. As we leverage data to push both valuation and evaluation, we will unearth the truths about the impactfulness of properties we may have overlooked. Properties that may not have the broadcast reach or traditional impressions often will deliver more resonance, credibility, and precision than previously understood. Data will prove that and come to the rescue of the frequently ignored property.

The truth and consequences of understanding what’s working and what’s not are ears to be embraced, studied, and appreciated.

The Case for Black History Month

I am firmly in favour of there being a designated Black History Month.

Especially now. We need this moment of extra attention no differently than cultural industries that enjoy the amplification of awards shows and sports communities benefit from All-Star games. I appreciate those who ask why Black History Month should be a thing because isn’t Black History Month every month? They are not wrong. However, I understand this moment.

Especially this year.

The Black community and other “underestimated” communities (a term I have recently read from Myles Worthington) are facing increasingly more difficult times. DEI is under assault. Affirmative action has been assailed and disbanded. Agency over oneself, especially for women, is being outlawed. Businesses have de-prioritized inclusion.

You can feel the sense of dread as the underestimated start to see the gains and progress being eroded and ignored. Suddenly, the concept of one step forward and two or three back feels inevitable and depressing.

The official Canadian theme for Black History Month is rooted in excellence, and the future resonates with me yet raises the issue of how. Consider this direct quote from the theme description – “This theme celebrates the rich past and present contributions and accomplishments of Black people in Canada while aspiring to embrace new opportunities for the future.” Inspiring words, but for whom?

Will these words stimulate action, commitment, and investment from the current cohort of power brokers? Do those in power believe that the Black community needs new opportunities, or does it deserve them? Is the talk of the past few years becoming a muted whisper, accompanied by the ghostly silence of eliminated roles and budget cuts?

The argument for diversity has been that it is good for the bottom line. That diversity is what customers, clients, and future employees have come to expect. Unless your organization embraces diversity, it will face adversity and brand tarnish, or so we people claim.

These arguments, in my opinion, have failed to endure for the long term. Despite the economic upheaval, which is felt more dramatically by the underestimated than any other groups, companies are generally doing just fine, thank you very much. There may not be the massive activity in the venture capital world that businesses have been accustomed to recently. Still, the growth has been solid on many other measures, including market cap, stock gains, and profits. When the stock market has been revving, and unemployment is still at record lows, who needs to stay committed to diversity? Besides, there are other weighty and worthwhile issues to contend with – wars, climate, mental health, terrorism, politics.

I don’t believe the Black community will achieve the new opportunities it deserves if we continue to expect corporations to do the work for us. I am not suggesting we give up, but while I believe diversity is excellent for the bottom line, the argument is insufficient. In contrast to giving up, I urge the Black community to double up.

To realize the opportunities we all want for the Black community, we must equip tomorrow’s Black leaders to succeed. Whether those new leaders are young or old, their future success or failure will have more impact on combating racism and prejudice in the work world than any policy will. Committing to supporting Black leaders during Black History Month can be an ideal launchpad, assuming it continues throughout the year.

Being an ally to the Black community will require those collaborators to assist and support the development of these future leaders and not merely be the people who say DEI is important to them. Success in any sector requires resilience, self-management, capacity, savvy, and smarts, among other traits. We can cultivate, nurture and bestow those traits when our community commits to those who wish to grow.

Racism is systemic and, unfortunately, entrenched in our legislative, educational, and social systems. Long-term change will be enacted by those with influence and impact, whose faces will continue to look the same unless we elevate Black talent. The distinction between being a decision-maker and a stakeholder is significant and perpetual.

Diversity should not be your objective for Black History Month. Nor should equality. The end of racism should be your objective for Black History Month. We will achieve this goal by including Black voices in writing all future narratives. Those voices will come when we accelerate leadership development at scale and realize our full and just potential.

January 16.

It’s my birthday this week. So what?

While researching my blog, I wondered what milestones are happening this week. Now you know how we got here, and I am relieved because I have something to write about.

When people talk about birthdays, their zodiac sign is the first thing they often discuss. I happen to be one of those who do not care about my sign; however, I read my horoscope from the Toronto Star every day in my 20s. I wonder if they still print horoscopes.

I thought I would ask the intent what type of boss aligns with my zodiac sign, and the prize went to the Times of India (https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/life-style/relationships/work/what-type-of-a-boss-is-capricorn/photostory/99708813.cms) for being the first answer that came up in my search. Given the extent of their characterization, I realize that there is an exciting opportunity for self-reflection here, and one that perhaps you may want to consider doing.

Utilizing your signs, of course.

So, in the spirit of my birthday, here is the type of boss I am – according to one source – along with my reactions. I am eager to conduct this exercise to be truthful.

What Type of Boss is a Capricorn?

  1. They are super ambitious, and most of their life is dedicated to office work and money-making activities. Capricorn folks want to climb up the ladder of success fast, in fact, really fast. Working at odd hours in the office is not an issue for them. Zodiac signs are an excellent way of understanding the traits and characteristics of people’s personalities. MH3: I don’t believe in work-life balance because I don’t believe we have two lives. Each of us has one holistic life, which includes how we earn a living just as much as it contains our time and hobbies. My career profile mirrors my passions for people, sports, marketing, cause, entertainment, travel, and live events. I am fortunate not to think of my work hours as odd or demanding; they are what I want to be doing.

2. Capricorn bosses are very practical, determined, and hard-working in nature. They are very responsible and believe in professionalism. They are generally prudent, reasonable, calculative, and business minded. If they want something done they will make sure it is. MH3: Accountability is an absolute must-have in myself and those around me. Professionalism is how accountability presents itself, and I would encourage professionals of all tenures to audit their presence.

3. They have a no-nonsense approach to work and expect their employees to be dedicated and focused as they are. They hate excuses and can judge when someone is lying as well. They cannot stand employees with a laid-back attitude. MH3: This is one is my fave. It is me to a tee. No more needs to be said.

4. Capricorn bosses are well known for their organisational skills. This trait of theirs helps them in keeping their team on track. They are very ambitious and set high standards for themselves and their employees. At times, they are very demanding but very fair and just in their approach. They value discipline and order and expect the same from their teammates. MH3: I have always set high expectations for myself and my team. I question if those expectations have always been fair in the minds of others, and in the more recent past, my goal has been to be more blunt about the bar I set.

5. They are always punctual and efficient in their work and expect the same from their employees. At times they are conservative in their approach which may be resistant to change or new ideas. However, they are ready to embrace, new approaches if they are convinced that new and innovative ideas are practical and for the company’s betterment. They are very effective leaders who inspire their team to work hard and achieve their goals. MH3: I think I am open to new ideas to a fault and often chase the shiny and new, which is a crucial driver of why my motto for 2024 is “The Old is New.” My focus for the next twelve months is to execute what I have already launched to perfection. Being efficient with my time will help me achieve that and hopefully inspire my teams.

There may be something telling in that I searched for “boss” instead of ” colleague. ” You may have already listened to that conversation yourself. However, I would say that as much as I want to be a strong collaborator, and in this age, all leaders are pushed to think of being servant leaders, at the end of the day, I am the boss to most of my internal work connections, which makes me okay with my search.

Perhaps I should have asked the www.com if Capricorns are “bossy”?

Welcome to the Year of ???

Welcome to 2024. I wonder if we can label 2024 as the What is Old is New Year

What do I mean by that? Let’s first look at what society has to say about this year. Depending on your beliefs, it is the Year of the Wood Dragon, an eight-year, or a Leap Year. Well, if not Julius Ceasar himself, most calendars will tell us the latter is true, at least for those who follow the Gregorian calendar. 


There are some comforting messages in the various forecasts for the year if you want to find them. It should be a year of reflection and introduction, a calmer year that will bring prosperity to those who stay focused. Prosperity of many forms, to be precise. 

The international headlines for 2024 will tell you that AI will continue to dominate business, that inflation curbing will be the focus for governments, and that the US election will have a significant impact on every region’s politics. Travel will still be booming, while luxury goods will be looking to recover. 

The post-pandemic era will continue, and businesses and business leaders must address challenges beyond their profit and loss statements. Mental health. Housing. Personal freedoms. War. Terrorism. Civil unrest. The list seems endless because it is. 


Perhaps I am naive to suggest this is exclusive to the post-pandemic era and has probably been the norm through every significant historical period. When people talk about how fast things are changing, an appropriate retort could be that things are constantly changing. Fast. 

So perhaps we need to look at this year of yours, 2024, which features an extra day and challenges that businesses face as the same challenges that have always faced business. While we may align on what is new and old, we probably agree that our approach to the old cannot be the same. How best to tackle 2024? Is having an extra twenty-four hours going to provide the personal breakthroughs we crave in our lives? I doubt it. 


Let me propose an approach worth considering; although, at the risk of painting me old school or not innovative, pushing those risks to the center of the table, it seems 2024 is our year to focus on our strengths. Those strengths are the attributes and approaches that have allowed us to get to where we are today. All too often, we overlook the wins in our career and focus on the losses when, in fact, we’ve had a pretty kick-ass journey to get us where we are today. 

In addition to focusing on our strengths, how do we double up on providing our most valuable forms of support, products, mentorship, and content to our audiences, followers, clients and colleagues? This concept is another form of dealing with our strengths, where we rediscover our proven process and sought-after contribution. Naturally, this foundation of leveraging our strengths and delivering our proven value leads to a discussion regarding the audience we serve. 

To achieve a disciplined focus for 2024, consider making your priority audience your most loyal audience, specifically those who have supported us for as long as we have helped them. In addition to our current loyalists, where have those long-term cohorts we have been neglectful in our connection with over the past few years been? Laying fault for not being in touch at the feet of the events of 2020 is undoubtedly a disguised excuse at best. There will always be new people to meet and connect with; however, they should be a second priority to your tribe. 


The most excellent part about this foundational approach in 2024 is that it will be genuine to you. It will feel that way because it is. As someone with a pet peeve with the word authentic, I will even allow it to be highly original. However, if you follow this direction too literally and assume that it means you should run out and buy a flip phone to put in your combo lock briefcase, then I want to reset your GPS.

What you do and the value it creates for the audiences you have long supported need to be delivered in an entirely new way. Technology, advancement, and innovation give you the tools to lean into your old in a new way. In a way that is entirely more human than you could have imagined because of the humanity embedded in the DNA of your approach. 

You should not view AI platforms, bots, metaverses, and blockchains as something from a strange planet. Instead, they are the calculators, digital assistants, joysticks, and databases of the future. None of those latter four concepts should feel remotely intimidating, as AI is rolling through every aspect of your work life. Rejecting AI would be like dismissing having a mobile phone, a computer, or even a fax machine back in the day. 

As we value the impact of Machine Learning on our future, we should consider how it can help us deliver on the strengths of our past. AI and many of its applications are a new solution provider to work through data, complexity, and situations that may bog our minds down and distract us from what we should be doing past and leaning into our foundation. 

After so many years of being told to pivot, adjust on the fly, and revisit strategy daily, we can inhale and pay attention to our signature approaches. We have new tools that will make it more manageable to keep us on track and remove the distractions that prevented us from doubling down on the essentials. I know this reads like a tale of opposites, and that is intentional as opposites attract to create the force field of power for your year. 

By adopting an approach that encourages you to sharpen the tools that have made you the warrior you are, you will soon be celebrating that 2024  becomes a personal leap year. 

Is Your Brand Inspiring

I am intrigued by some new research recently shared by Steve Levy of Ipsos on inspiration in consumer behaviour and how brands should respond to it. Ipsos conducted this eye-opening study, and it got me thinking about what inspiration means to different people and how it can profoundly affect how we connect with brands.

Ipsos asked consumers a simple yet profound question: What does “inspiration” mean to you? The responses varied, but three key themes emerged: new ideas, innovation, and feeling positive. It’s heartening to know that over a third of us experience inspiration weekly, but it’s concerning that one in five of us hasn’t felt inspired in the past six months.

Regarding sources of inspiration, it’s clear that family plays a pivotal role, with 40% of people citing their family as their primary source of inspiration, compared to influencers (5%) and celebrities (4%). To become a source of inspiration, brands must align with consumer values. The research found that brands like Nike, Dove, Apple, and Adidas have successfully done this, and the key attributes they share are honesty, authenticity, and a commitment to giving back.

So, what can smaller or medium-sized businesses learn from this? To stand out, they should strive to be inspiring and personalized and connect with consumers on a familial level. But how can they do this effectively? Ipsos identified six elements of inspiration that resonate with consumers:

1. Overcoming challenges

2. A sense of accomplishment

3. A future-forward orientation

4. Learning, knowledge, and wisdom

5. The notion of creating something

6. A desire to do better and make an impact

Interestingly, the research reveals some generational trends. Generation Z, for instance, is more likely to seek inspiration from brands, with 47% reporting that they do. Cannabis brands also seem to inspire, with 53% of consumers saying they find inspiration there. For Generation X, who often find themselves strapped for time, the figure drops to 25%.

The frequency of inspiration also varies, with 34% of respondents saying they feel inspired every week, 21% monthly, and 45% less often. Surprisingly, despite our fascination with celebrities and social influencers, we tend to look closer to home for inspiration. Family and friends contribute 40% of our inspiration, while influencers only contribute 5%. This data highlights that inspiration is a deeply personal and intimate experience.

As advertisers and brands contemplate these findings, it’s crucial to recognize that inspiration is less about celebrities and more about the people closest to us – our loved ones and acquaintances. This insight challenges the conventional wisdom of relying on famous figures for endorsement.

Certain activities, even if not inherently inspiring, can trigger inspiration indirectly. For example, cooking inspires 35% of respondents (particularly millennials and females), gardening inspires 25% (more common among older individuals and females), and playing sports encourages 14% (mainly Gen Z and males). These activities may not be inherently inspiring but provide fertile ground for generating ideas.

Ultimately, the research reminds us that inspiration often comes from other people’s experiences, which ignite ideas for our actions. Brands like Nike, Apple, Adidas, and Dove have successfully harnessed these principles, focusing on design, quality, advertising, community engagement, and support for women.

Finally, the research asked if a brand has ever inspired consumers. Seventeen percent responded positively, with Gen Z showing a higher inclination. This finding suggests that what matters most is how a brand delivers its message and actions. Brands must provide quality products, innovate, and commit to doing good.

In summary, inspiration is a complex and deeply personal phenomenon with several vital elements. It’s less about celebrities and more about personal connections and shared values. Brands that wish to inspire should focus on aligning with these values and embodying the six elements of inspiration. By doing so, they can become a source of inspiration that resonates with consumers profoundly. So, ask yourself, is your brand an inspiration?