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The Great Email Consent Gold Rush of 2014

April 17th, 2014

Skunkworks Creative Group

The Great Email Consent Gold Rush of 2014

With Canada’s anti-spam legislation coming into force on July 1st, professional services firms are rushing to “use it or lose it” with their mailing lists. If your firm has an existing mailing list that you use to reach clients, prospects, or people in your referral network, you’ll need them to expressly opt-in to receive future communications. If you don’t obtain this opt-in by July 1st, your contact list’s value will immediately drop to zero. The risks and legality of the anti-spam regulations have been covered in detail elsewhere.  For ourPublic domain image of man panning for gold purposes, this is a simple reminder that the clock is ticking. You’ll want to make sure that you have a strategy for chasing down all those express consents. There is wiggle room for “implied consents,” but we don’t recommend going this route. You’ll also want to make sure that any newsletter (MailChimp, ConstantContact etc) and sign-up systems that your firm uses are compliant with the new regulations (opt-ins and unsubscribes).

There are severe penalties for non-compliance. The maximum fine for organizations is $10 million canadian dollars. Do we have your attention yet? We expect regulators will be looking to make early examples of a few unlucky organizations. Don’t let this be your law firm/accountancy/veterinary practice/investment group.

You have 75 Days!



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Posted in Law, Things we like | Add a Comment »

Interesting Lawyers Needed

April 7th, 2014

Skunkworks Creative Group

Interesting Lawyers Needed

In Search of Interesting

Legal communications are defined by precise, qualified, long-winded, and (sometimes admittedly) boring language.  Most lawyers are best suited to communicating within legal audiences. This presents obvious challenges in marketing law firms where the recipients of the message are, for the most part, not lawyers.

News Flash: when even the eyes of other lawyers glaze over when their colleagues start to expound on much of what lawyers do, how do you think the general public is going to respond? Because law is a vast area, sound-byte attention spans will inevitably gravitate to the most interesting snippets. The law is no different from academia, “interestingness” trumps (or at least obscures) the truth.  Oliver Burkeman’s recent column in the Guardian offers a reminder in how interestingness, and our addiction to it, remains dominant in most fields. The rise of the web has made interesting into something of an unofficial religion. The risks of interesting things are a) that they are not necessarily true and b) that they ignore the fact that many of the most important things are mundane. British Columbia Judge or Lawyer

Interesting as SEO

Google claims to be a company in pursuit of providing relevant search results. In practice, this often means delivering interesting search results. Distinguishing the two is less meta-data and more metaphysics. This problem cannot be solved through engineering alone.

Much of what we do at Skunkworks is try to make lawyers and law firms interesting to the general public (we also try to make them look good while we’re at it). It’s worth reviewing the paper cited by Burkeman in terms of identifying what types of things are interesting (at least according to Burkeman). Some of them include:

  • Arguing that something good is bad;
  • What seems like different things are actually part of the same thing;
  • What seems like a local phenomenon is actually a general thing;
  • What seems to be stable is actually changing;
  • What seems to be dysfunctional is actually functional;
  • What seems to be unrelated is actually correlated; and
  • The inverse of any of the above.

In an attempt to make this post interesting, let me note that legal communications are actually part of a much broader group of specialized communications. Within this group, interesting things will triumph over the boring (even if the boring ones are technically accurate). Secondly, the hallmarks of legal communications are not stable, but ever-changing (albeit slowly). Latin was once standard and is now seen as literally archaic.

Most importantly, the fact that so much of what lawyers produce is boring (bad from a marketing perspective) is actually a good thing. It provides an opportunity for some lawyers and firms to differentiate themselves. The bar remains high, but the bar for interestingness is relatively low. In making this case, I want to emphasize that many of the most interesting things are also true.

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Posted in Google, Law, Law firm websites, Marketing Strategy | Add a Comment »

The Risks of Redesign

March 11th, 2014

Skunkworks Creative Group

The Risks of Redesign

The thing about change is that it is value neutral. Despite a commonly held assumption that change is for the better (see also progress), one of the risks of change is that things may actually get worse. This risk is certainly applicable to web design. In redesigning a website, what if you make it worse?

Some good examples are currently front page news…literally. Both The Globe and Mail as well as The Guardian (you’ll have to opt-in for the beta site) are undergoing major redesigns. My personal opinion is that the Globe looks terrible while the Guardian offers a best-practices example of modern web design. Change is a mixed bag.

 Globe and Mail Home Page

The Guardian Home Page


Without being familiar with their exact motivations for the respective redesigns, my guess is that they were doing their best to keep-up with the fragmentation of device screen sizes. Between Apple’s Retina Displays (2880 x 1800) and the most common resolution at 1366 x 768 (not to mention several other relevant considerations relating to the actual display of the pixels), what is the best way to display your website such that it looks good to the most number of people? This is increasingly one of the fundamental challenges faced by web designers. It also offers a very good motivation to pursue a redesign.

The Globe opted to pursue a “boxed” approach with a narrow middle column that is scaled to fit relatively low resolution screens. High resolution displays will simply have large white margins. In contrast, the Guardian is pursuing a “wide” approach using all screen real-estate and a responsive design platform that re-arranges content to fit the size of the screen. The latter is harder from a development perspective, but offers a cleaner layout. 

The choice of boxed vs wide alone won’t determine the success of a redesign. In my view, The Globe failed the redesign by cramming too many puzzle pieces together. The result is overwhelming and practically illegible. It actually looks a lot like a poorly executed version of the New York Times (which I gather provided the inspiration). This brings me to my tenets of website redesign:

  1. Don’t make it worse. Developers will develop and designers will design. If you have something good, be very careful when you instruct your design team. They will inevitably be more inclined towards change. In contrast, your users/visitors will inevitably avoid change and would prefer incremental modifications. You’ll need to balance the two.
  2.  Beta, Beta, Beta. While all large websites will be tested internally and with focus groups before launch, allowing for an opt-in beta design or a limited application of the new site will provide important insights. Google has made this type of opt-in testing a feature that their customers actually get excited about.
  3. Be prepared to fail. In my book, The Globe has failed this redesign. This creates a difficult management decision: should they roll-back to the old site? Management is not an easy job and making this kind of executive decision is tough.
  4. Follow trends. Everyone wants to do their own thing when it comes to design, but trends exist for a reason. Most redesigns are currently leaning towards the wide format because it looks amazing. This shouldn’t be determinative, but it should give you a strong push in that direction.  

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Posted in Digital Marketing, Law firm websites, WordPress Websites | Add a Comment »

Brute-force attack targeting sites running WordPress

March 6th, 2014

Skunkworks Creative Group

Brute-force attack targeting sites running WordPress

We’ve seen several reports this morning of a brute-force attack currently underway against websites running WordPress. According to one source, the frequency of attacks range from 2,000 to 40,000 attempts per minute.

In simple terms, a brute-force attack is a technique hackers use to try different username and password combinations until they are able to successfully log in to a site. Usually these attacks are automated, allowing hundreds or thousands of attempts at once.

Read a more detailed definition of brute-force attacks on Wikipedia.

Such attacks are not unique. Fortunately, securing WordPress against brute-force attacks is relatively easy. Here are some simple steps you can take to keep your site protected:

Use a unique username and strong password. Easy to guess usernames, such as ‘admin’ or ‘webmaster’, should be avoided, and passwords should use a combination of upper and lower case letters, numbers, and symbols. Strong Password Generator is one tool for creating random passwords.

Install security plugins. There are many free WordPress security plugins. Here are a few options:

An alternative to these plugins is to subscribe to Sucuri.net, a premium service offering full-scale security protection and monitoring for your site. It does all that the plugins above do, and more.

Backup frequently. Keeping a recent backup of your website files and database will save you a lot of time, money, and headaches in the event your site does get hacked.

Keep your WordPress installation and plugins up to date. Updates to the WordPress core and third-party plugins usually fix security vulnerabilities. Keeping your site up to date will make the site less open to exploitation.

If any Skunkworks clients are experiencing issues with your site loading slowly, not loading at all, or worse, please get in touch.

Posted in Security, WordPress Websites | 1 Comment »

Advertising by the Seat of your Bike

February 17th, 2014

Skunkworks Creative Group

Advertising by the Seat of your Bike

One of the benefits of living abroad is being exposed to innovative ideas that are just waiting to be transplanted back to native soils. The question of “why don’t we do this at home?” is enthusiastically answered with “let’s do this at home!”

Branded Bike Seat Covers

Living in the United Kingdom (Oxford), I am particularly smitten with one popular advertising tool in these parts that has not yet gathered much traction across the pond. I’m referring to branded bike seat covers. 

Like Vancouver, it rains a whole lot in these parts. Also like Vancouver, commuter cycling is a growing movement with support from cities, businesses, and a bike “lifestyle” culture that grows every single year. Irrespective of ideological motivations, commuting by bike just makes practical sense to a large part of the population. Many of those bikes are being locked on outdoor bike racks. Almost every new building offers bike racks near the entrance. This visibility provides a canvas of opportunity for marketing professionals.

Waterproof seat covers are either handed-out as promotional items or applied directly to parked bikes in target neighbourhoods. They come in small carrying pouches. The recipient gets to protect their seat and avoid the unpleasant experience of getting back on a soaking saddle. As any Vancouver bike commuter knows, rain is an unpleasant certainty. The advertiser gets valuable brand awareness opportunities for years to come.


Branded high-visibility backpack covers provide a similar opportunity. Despite a legacy of tweed, high-visibility clothing is ubiquitous in UK cities (even without MEC). Neon/reflective backpack covers are great for both commuter cyclists and pedestrians (including transit commuters). For every marketing dollar you spend, you also help make safer streets for all of us.

OnYerBikeSeat.com is a leading supplier of both bike seat and backpack covers here in the UK. They are London-based, but sell into the North American market. These things are all the rage over here and I’m obviously a big fan. I don’t have any formal relationship with the company, but I do support good ideas.

Why so slow on the take-up Vancouver?

Let me propose some copy to get you started with your seat covers:

VanCity: The more you ride, the more you save. Get on it.

ICBC: Bike safety is a two way street. 

City of Vancouver: Your city. Your seat.

Vancouver Police:  Remember the rules of the road. Red means stop. Green means ride.  

HUB: We are making cycling easier.

BCAA: Broken down? Our emergency roadside assistance covers bikes.  

Buntain Insurance: Let us keep you covered.

Personal Injury Lawyer: Accidents happen. We’re here when they do.

Physiotherapist: We help you get back in the saddle.

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Posted in Corporate Promotional Items, Marketing Strategy, Things we like | Add a Comment »

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