Posted by Ruth Atherley of AHA Creative Strategies on November 28th, 2013
Media relations is a crucial component of your public relations efforts. It is important to maintain positive (and ongoing) relationships with journalists. This doesn’t mean they are always going to write what you want them to write (they don’t work for you, your client or your organization), but creating mutual respect and trust is valuable. Below are several guidelines that will help build a positive relationship with journalists.
- Understand what the journalist you’re pitching does. Don’t send a music pitch to the TV critic unless the song is about to be played on a hit television show and you are hoping for a small mention. (You wouldn’t believe how many PR people out there don’t take the time to do this or just spam an entire list of random media. This doesn’t work and it doesn’t build long-term relationships.)
- Don’t pitch four journalists at the same outlet without letting them know the others you also sent the pitch to. (Going into a story meeting with a good story and having another colleague pitch it to their editor isn’t any fun and they will realize and remember that they were put in that position by you.) Be transparent. The fact is, some stories cross media “sections” – let them know of everyone receiving the pitch at their organization.
- Don’t exaggerate your stats or details. (If you don’t know, it’s okay to say: “I am not certain about that; let me get back to you.” Then make sure you get back to them ASAP.)
- Do not be late for anything with the media. (Deadlines people. And live TV or radio waits for no one.)
- If you say you will do something for the media, do it immediately. They have deadlines. You have a made a commitment. If you hit a snag in getting them the information, give them an update on where you are in getting it for them.
- Be respectful of their time. Have everything prepared and be ready to go immediately.
Posted by Ruth Atherley of AHA Creative Strategies on October 29th, 2013
I recently had a conversation with an acquaintance that went something like this:
Him: “Hey Ruth, I was thinking about those hash mark thingies…”
Me: “Do you mean hashtags?”
Him: “Yeah, those things. Do you think it would be worth choosing one to put on our e-mail signature?”
Needless to say, we had a more in-depth conversation about hashtags. We also discussed developing a one-on-one social media workshop for him so that he could better understand social media from both a strategic and a tactical (tools and technology) viewpoint.
The challenge is that this person handles a component of communications at a senior level for a very high profile organization. He is one of a handful of people who provide guidance and advice to the CEO of this organization, including advice on social media. And he has been advocating for the use of Twitter and Facebook for a few months now.
Don’t get me wrong, the person who asked me about the “hash mark thingies” is very smart and highly successful in his field of expertise. However, he doesn’t understand social media and doesn’t realize how much he doesn’t know. That is an issue for his organization.
We get calls pretty regularly from senior people who want to know more about social media. Some of them want to meet privately and have a tutoring session; others want to include their senior team, their board or others in a social media workshop. I think that for those of us who are involved in the world of communications and PR, there is an assumption that everyone knows what we know. That just isn’t the case.
First off, the tools and technologies are ever evolving. It can be challenging to keep up. And, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Talking to your kids over dinner about Facebook or Twitter is not the same as having someone who understands your business goals and your communications objectives assist you in developing your social media strategy (as a part of your communications strategy). Social media is not a stand-alone or “stand-apart” component; it belongs in your overall communications plan.
The fact is – not every organization needs to be “active” on social media. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t know what is going on in your industry or that you shouldn’t monitor what’s being said about your organization on social media. Both negative and positive conversations should be monitored. Developing your plan on how, what, when, where and why you will use social media is something that needs to be clearly defined and taken seriously.
Speak with your communications department, PR team or your consultant – or call us. We can help you define what you need when it comes to social media workshops or coaching.
Before you make any decisions about social media activities, make sure you understand the landscape relevant to your industry, the social media environment and what your risks and opportunities are – relative to your communications strategy.
Posted by Ruth Atherley of AHA Creative Strategies on October 22nd, 2013
We recently had several discussions with clients and colleagues about the use and value of hashtags. For some professionals who aren’t regular users or participants in social media, there is a perception that a hashtag can be created and it’s then yours – that you kind of own it and have control over it. Nothing could be further from the truth. (If you aren’t quite sure what a hashtag is, please check out Wikipedia for a definition. And as a communicator, don’t assume that everyone knows what a hashtag is. It might be a common term in your world, but there are many who don’t know. And they might be afraid to ask for fear of looking stupid.)
While social media conversations and dialogue can be started, facilitated and participated in, any organization that believes that it can – for any length of time – control the dialogue is sadly mistaken (and really isn’t seeing the value of social media, in my opinion).
One of the interesting things to come out of advertising, marketing and even PR is the defined use of hashtags in campaigns. Many (usually larger) organizations use them in the hopes of driving social media users to help their hashtags trend and get their community to engage in positive sharing about their goods or services. That approach has some big risks involved. If it goes sideways, your hashtag no longer becomes a tool for positive communication; it can become a key facilitator for negative comments, humour at your expense and, at worst, attacks on your brand.
Hashtags are meant to allow people to easily find a topic, to bring people interested in a topic together organically, and to help organize and find the incredible amount of information out there on Twitter and Instagram. They aren’t meant as a promotional tool for your organization.
Now, that doesn’t mean you can’t use them in that way, but you do need to clearly identify the risks to this type of usage and have a plan in place in case your hashtag is hijacked. You can’t stop popular opinion (or in the case of Twitter – active opinion by a small, committed, influential and often really funny group of individuals). They could take what you thought was a brilliant promotional campaign and turn it into a mockery of your brand that then makes it onto The Daily Show with Jon Stewart or The Colbert Report. And that’s bad for your brand reputation.
I found a piece on Mashable that showcases some hashtag hijacks that have gone wrong (and one that went right as far as truth, justice and equality go). You can read it here. You have to admit, hashtag hijackers can be funny people.
We always go through a strengths, opportunities, weaknesses, threats (SWOT) review with clients if we are considering any kind of social media outreach. You can’t make assumptions that everyone is going to respond in the way you want them to/expect them to on social media. And it is always important to remember that you don’t own your hashtag, your Twitter feed, your Facebook page or other social networking sites. You might be the administrator who facilitates the discussion, but it’s the people who decide the tone and topic. Respect and appreciate that. Even if there are negative discussions, you can glean some valuable stakeholder/target market feedback.
Posted by Ruth Atherley of AHA Creative Strategies on October 17th, 2013
There are many social media platforms out there. I have seen some organizations attempt to use them all and the fact is, I have yet to see anyone accomplish that. Unless you have a huge communications team, a big fat budget and are all things to all people, it is strategic to identify the right platform or platforms for you and to limit them.
For our clients, we often review their social media platforms as a part of the planning process. Depending on the size of the client and the scope of our work with them, we make recommendations on changes and additions in this area.
We develop a great deal of content in a brand journalism style for our clients. The fact is, I believe communicators and public relations professionals have been using the brand journalism approach for decades – we just called it “content.” Today, we call it brand journalism and we use that content in a variety of ways, including on social media platforms. But before we do anything, we define where the organization’s stakeholders/community/audience hang out on social media platforms, we spend time understanding their needs, wants and expectations regarding interaction with brands and organizations (and often the world as a whole), and we develop a strategic editorial plan and schedule. And that plan and schedule is reviewed and revised on a regular basis as trends, interests and expectations shift.
I was fortunate to work with some incredibly talented editors and journalists back in my journalism career and they taught me a great deal more than how to write a good article. There is so much that goes into developing compelling content that speaks to the reader, listener or viewer. As much as each piece should be able to stand alone in its value, it’s also important to understand how all the pieces come together.
The content that is put forward in newspapers, magazines, in online publications and in broadcast news isn’t randomly pulled together. There’s a plan. As much as the media follows the news of the day/week/month, the content as a whole is strategically planned out with themes, context and flow. How pieces reflect on each other, what the sidebars attached to major news stories can communicate, how all of the images/visuals and articles/segments flow, what kind of follow-up or updates are expected, what time of year it is, whether the information will be important to people today, what the other seemingly unrelated events and news stories are, etc. All of these elements need to be taken into consideration when developing an editorial schedule/plan and when writing or producing the content.
It’s a thoughtful process and when it is done right, you can engage your community in meaningful and valuable ways. Not only is this approach important for which social media platforms you use, but also for the content you will share on them, including how often to share, what the themes are, the style and tone, how often you will self-promote (please, not often – it’s annoying and you will lose your community), what your level of engagement is, how much you will repurpose or repeat content from one platform to another, and – at the heart of it – what you have to say that matters to the people you want to connect with.
Working all of this out is one of the most interesting, exciting, challenging and rewarding parts of the work we do. When a client is committed to doing it right and puts in the effort, the results are often incredible. Their followers multiply, their web visits increase and they find themselves in authentic conversations with their key target markets, which – depending on their ultimate goal – drives sales, increases brand awareness, changes behaviours or perspectives, informs, educates and engages. But it all goes back to knowing who you want to connect with, why they would want to connect with you, where to connect and when.
Posted by Ruth Atherley of AHA Creative Strategies on October 04th, 2013
Candy Crush Saga is a popular online game played on Facebook and mobile devices (iPad, iPhone and Android). Players try to match three or more candies in order to gain points, remove obstacles and meet goals. Currently, the game developers state that the Facebook version has 485 levels and the smartphone version has 425, with new levels being regularly released. Players need to unlock levels as they play. To do so, they can ask friends to help, they can pay for more “turns,” or purchase assistance in the form of “boosters.”
As much fun as this game is (and it is fun), Candy Crush also provides some valuable PR lessons if you look past the little animated intros, flashy candy explosions, and the feeling of victory when you move up a level. Below are the top five PR lessons learned from Candy Crush.
You Need a Strategy Specific to Your Goal
In order to move up levels in Candy Crush, you have to develop a strategy that is specific to the level you are on. The obstacles and goals change at every level, and the strategy that worked on the last level might not work on the next one. Without a defined strategy, you’re just moving little pieces of animated candy around, hoping for a Candy Crush miracle. And don’t just try to do what you did successfully last time; a cookie cutter strategy doesn’t work in PR or on Candy Crush. In PR, it is crucial to identify and understand the specifics of your initiative, project, organization and culture – as well as the timing and external events that may impact it. You need to identify your goals relevant to those influences before defining a strategy. One size does not fit all.
Community is Crucial
In Candy Crush, you can ask friends for help – for additional lives, moves or to help you get to the next level. You can also respond to the requests from friends or you can help out of the blue and randomly send them lives and moves. In fact, Candy Crush makes it easy to be a part of a community. It asks you who you want to help. Now, if your approach is always to ask for help and never give it, eventually your Candy Crush pals are going to get tired of you and stop responding. Sound familiar in PR? Great PR is a two-way street – with your community, your stakeholders, media and bloggers, on social media networking sites, at events and tradeshows, with your colleagues… everywhere. If the only reason you connect is to ask for something, you will wear out your welcome pretty quickly. People will stop responding. No candy for you!
Money Talks, but it’s Not Always Authentic
On Candy Crush, it’s easy to purchase more lives, more moves and “booster” help (and it’s encouraged, since that’s how the game developer makes money). Sometimes, spending the money works; but if your only success comes from paying for it, at some point it loses its authenticity – in PR and on Candy Crush – and no amount of messaging or positioning makes it any different. I did a poll and no one I spoke with admits to spending money on Candy Crush. In the world of public relations, we use a range of communications vehicles, including those we pay for such as advertorials, ads (including Facebook ads), promotional PR, brand journalism pieces, and partnerships/sponsorships – and they work. However, media relations, blogger relations, social networking conversations and discussions are key to authentically connecting with stakeholders – and heaven help you if you try to pay for that. The reason this type of coverage is successful is because it is earned, not bought. PR has evolved and today it definitely includes more elements that are created and paid for (which can be a great thing), but no matter what – great communication has to be authentic, transparent, engaging and informative if you want stakeholders to care. A blend is good, but don’t buy your way into everything; sometimes you just have to do the work necessary to earn it.
Don’t Share Too Much About How Great You Are
Lots of people who play Candy Crush allow the game to share their score on Facebook – if they achieve a high score, which friends they have just surpassed with their score, etc. It gets really annoying after a while. It’s too much. In public relations, if all you do is tell people how great you are and what a success you are, and your only communication is to show them how you think you have “passed” them in any given area, you lose any meaningful connection. Think before you brag about how great you are. Sharing a genuine success is one thing; populating your social media feeds with shameless (and usually empty) self-promotion doesn’t achieve anything. In fact, it could make people wonder who you are trying convince about how great you are.
It’s a Process
In Candy Crush, you get past one level and do a little happy dance and bam, the next level is right there to conquer. Did I mention there are more than 400 of those levels? That’s how we live our lives as PR professionals – and we love it. We celebrate the successes, review the lessons learned, and then turn our focus to the next challenge. It’s an ongoing process that we accept and embrace. It’s a never-ending need to move forward, to improve, to meet our goals and set higher ones, and to take our organization or clients to the next level. That’s what makes us leap out of bed in the morning ready to crush it!
Posted by Ruth Atherley of AHA Creative Strategies on September 17th, 2013
AHA works with clients in a range of sectors – consumer goods, technology, post-secondary education, health care, fitness, law and the judiciary, fashion, not-for-profit, insurance and, of course, travel. We provide a range of services for our clients including promotional public relations, community relations (including social media), strategic communications planning, writing and editing services, messaging and positioning, crisis and communication planning, and issues communication management.
We have extensive travel PR experience and a strong skill set in this area. Our clients range from tourism boards to hotels to airlines to tour operators and local activities. We have spent a decade building positive relationships with traditional and online journalists, bloggers and editorial content creators. AHA works in the world of travel because we love it, we’re really good at it, and we continue to grow and evolve our skill set in this ever-changing world.
Recently, we decided to put a little more focus on travel PR. Believe me, that doesn’t mean that our non-travel clients will get any less attention. Each one of our clients knows how important they are to us – and how dedicated we are to providing world-class client service and generating exceptional results. What it does mean is that we are going to get a little more proactive in the area of travel business development. We’re a little spoiled here. We have been incredibly fortunate that colleagues, clients, former clients and professional acquaintances recommend us and refer new clients to us – and that has kept us pretty busy. However, we have a kick-ass crew across the country and it’s time to reach out and connect with some great potential clients.
As a part of the launch of our increased focus in the area of travel, we worked the fabulously talented, incredibly professional, and delightful to work with Tanya Gadsby of Drawing Out Ideas to produce a short graphic recording video that highlights the benefits of working with AHA for your travel PR. We hope you like it!
Click here to visit the travel section on our website.
Posted by Ruth Atherley of AHA Creative Strategies on September 09th, 2013
Here at AHA, we work with clients in a range of sectors – government, not-for-profit and private. We have clients around the world, in the U.S. and, of course, in Canada. One of the perks of working here is that we do get to travel a little and see the world. We are set to visit a client in South Africa in December, so I have been doing some online research about activities and events that will be happening when we are there. Finding information that specifically interests me for travel has never been easier – TripAdvisor is of huge value. So are Facebook and Twitter. You ask your community – the people you know and trust – for recommendations.
On TripAdvisor, there is an opportunity for the travel professional (tour operator, hotel manager, etc.) to respond to each review. I am always impressed by the travel professionals who respond to both the positive and negative reviews. In fact, if I am travelling to a place I have never been to before – for work or pleasure – it is the review that has a response that gets my attention and, usually, my business. I have seen hotel managers apologize for something that went wrong that was their responsibility and I have seen them respectfully take on a reviewer who perhaps wasn’t sharing the whole story. It impresses me when a service provider responds and when they take responsibility publicly for something that went wrong; it tells me that customer service matters to them. Things are going to go wrong; I just want someone who cares enough to make them right.
TripAdvisor isn’t perfect – not all reviews are necessarily authentic. Sometimes tour operators or hotel managers have staff or friends write positive reviews for them and negative ones for competitors. Let’s face it, there are also people out there who just don’t like anything and who always write negative reviews. It’s important to take these reviews in context. However, it does provide a great opportunity for both travellers and for the travel and tourism world. And it’s a great example of how the world of public relations has changed – and not just in travel and tourism, but in every industry sector.
People – consumers, clients, influencers, investors, government, media, etc. – are all online and talking. They are likely online somewhere discussing your organization or industry right now. Do you know where they are? Do you know who they are? Do you know where you can engage in the conversation (if it is strategic for you to do so)? Are you paying attention to what they are saying?
What is your website like – is it easy to navigate? Is the information up-to-date and relevant to your stakeholder group? Is it engaging and interesting?
These are important questions. Your stakeholders are online looking for information about your organization and if your website isn’t up-to-date, you may be responsible for any misinformation they have. If they are discussing you and – at the very least – you aren’t aware of what the hot button topics are and what they are interested in, you are not only missing out on an opportunity to engage and build positive relationships, but there may also be an issue emerging that you don’t know about and that could be damaging to your organizational reputation.
If you aren’t a part of the conversation, it could hurt you.
Posted by Ruth Atherley of AHA Creative Strategies on September 06th, 2013
Our summer intern, Christian Varty, took on the job of delivering a random act of kindness for September (although he delivered it in August since he headed back to school a few days ago). His random act of kindness report is below. – Ruth
One of the benefits of doing good things is how it can inspire others and create more good things. This is what happened to me when I said I would deliver an AHA Random Act of Kindness.
Every year, our local Marketplace IGA hosts a family outdoor movie event. They project a movie and have snacks for sale. This year, the movie had to be postponed due to dodgy weather. This meant that in the back room of the store, we had giant 10lb bags of popcorn. I was asked if I wanted to buy one of these bags for $10. Of course I said yes – who wouldn’t want that much popcorn? It wasn’t until later on that I got the idea of buying more popcorn, bagging it and giving it away to people passing by.
I asked the store owner if I would be able to do this – paying for the popcorn with the money provided by AHA. Not only did he let me set up a table in front of the store to give away the popcorn, but he also said that we could have it for free instead of paying for it.
This meant that I was able to deliver on my AHA Random Act of Kindness and I was also able to donate the money I would have used to pay for the popcorn to Kid Sport. Double good deed!
I arrived at around 9:30 a.m. and set up a folding table outside. My friend (who gladly accepted my request to join me) and I slapped on our black latex gloves and started packing bags of popcorn. Of course, we picked the windiest day of the week to do this – and our popcorn bags kept falling over and blowing around so that we had to chase them! Eventually, we got the idea of putting the bags into a box to avoid the wind.
It was slow at first; our “FREE Popcorn” sign didn’t draw too much attention. Finally, people came over, asking what we were doing and why. We tried to explain it as best we could, but some people just didn’t understand our mission. Many people wanted to give us money, which we refused. We stayed all day – until 4 o’clock – and shared around 20lbs of popcorn with people. It was a great day!
Posted by Ruth Atherley of AHA Creative Strategies on August 26th, 2013
Like a good Boy Scout, an effective communications person is always prepared – for just about anything. We have event kits full of five kinds of tape, scissors, pens, paper, ribbon, cellphone batteries and other might needs. We prepare for meetings with clients so that we can make the most of the time we have with them. We prepare for webinars, video blogs and even this blog. In our world, very little happens spontaneously. For the most part, the communications professionals I know are can think on their feet; that comes from years of being prepared for a wide range of scenarios. We are, in fact, quite a thoughtful group. We think through every angle, every probability, every possibility.
We thoroughly prepare for any media relations outreach; we go through all the questions a journalist might ask and we know the answers. We prepare. We research. We review all potential (not just probable) outcomes and we identify the appropriate next steps for each. We develop media kits and websites that might never see the light of day (and since they are usually created in case an issue or crisis arises, we hope they stay dark).
Even our quick phone call pitches to journalists are prepared (and reviewed) in advance. Here at AHA, we have strong professional relationships with many journalists and our e-mails and phone calls usually get a response. That’s because we know how busy journalists are and we respect that – and we prepare. We have our key messages outlined before we call or e-mail, we have researched to make sure we know what this journalist and media outlet is currently interested in, we have asked ourselves all the questions that we believe the journalist might ask and we have the answers (or we know who to get them from). We are prepared.
Quite some time ago, we had a client ask why we would spend so much time preparing to pitch a journalist. He thought it was a waste of time. He wanted us to just pick up the phone and call and set up a meeting for him with the journalist. We had to explain that journalists are busy and aren’t just sitting and waiting for a call to set up coffee with someone they don’t know and have never heard of (our client). A well-crafted pitch provides the journalist with background, context and the key news points in a way that engages and interests them. Taking the time to do this right is crucial. It can be the difference between unanswered e-mails and voicemails and obtaining media coverage. Preparation is a key element to success when it comes to generating media coverage.
Taking the time to properly prepare is, in fact, cost-effective. Time spent preparing means that you are equipped with what you need to do a good job and not backtrack, change direction or have to correct mistakes. It takes less time to do something right the first time than it does to go back and fix it.
Posted by Laurie Hanley of AHA Creative Strategies on August 19th, 2013
Each month someone from the AHA Crew is given a small budget and sent out to do a random act of kindness. For August, our fabulous PR Coordinator Laurie Hanley was given the job. Below is her blog post. — Ruth Atherley
Have you ever searched for an empty parking space in your hometown? This is not an easy task in any major city and Halifax is no exception. It’s just brutal. It takes its toll on even the most delightful Pollyanna-type personalities. So when I was given $50 to do a random act of kindness, I ended up choosing to brighten the day for busy drivers who might have felt a little down in their search for a parking spot.
My kids and I went into the bank and got two rolls of loonies. The teller smiled and asked “Laundry day?” “Sort of,” I smiled back. Armed with 50 shiny coins, we set out on foot for Spring Garden Road, where we immediately bumped into my brother-in-law (Halifax is a largish city but also a very small town) who was keen to break in a new pair of sneakers – so he joined us.
We walked and we walked… all over town. It was a gorgeous day – blue sky, hot sun, cool summer breeze. We spent the afternoon looking for our target: an empty parking space just waiting for someone to pull in. And when we would finally find one, we’d sit down on the curb and wait. Sure enough, within minutes, someone would pull in… forwards, backwards, getting the car lodged in there, just right. Then there would be a moment of quiet. A quick cellphone check, some deep breathing, a fumbling for coins. And out of their car they’d step. That’s when I’d call: “Go!” and one of the kids would run up to the meter and pay for their parking. They would give a little wave and say: “Have a wonderful day!”
The reaction to this was amazing. Watching the person’s face as it turned from completely rushed and frustrated into the biggest grin was so worth the wait. “What are you kids up to?” said one smiley man. “Here, buy yourselves some ice cream,” said a woman trying to hand us money – which we, of course, politely declined. “Here…” said a very grateful man as he reached into his shirt pocket. “Oh no, it’s all good! Happy Friday!!” we said. But he kept on coming closer… his hand coming out of his pocket so eagerly… “I have candy! I have four of them here… and lots more in the car.” Is that a Werthers? Well, I wouldn’t want to be rude.
We did this all afternoon. It was the best Friday I’ve had in a long time. We got completely immersed in our random-act-of-kindness bubble. Normally, walking around downtown, I am like everyone else – on a mission. I have a limited amount of time to be somewhere and I don’t notice anything or anyone. But our Random Act of Kindness Day was different. We relaxed, took things in, and connected with people. And believe it or not, we still have so many loonies left. These empty parking spaces are hard to find. So one sunny day this week, we’ll pick a peak time and head back down to finish the job.
People are busier than ever these days. But what I was reminded of on Friday is that underneath the serious business face, there is still a human being. There is genuine good spirit. And we all have a need to give back. People want to connect – it’s just a difficult thing to do when we are rushing around, trying to be in 10 different places at once. But it’s so good to know we can still take the time to make eye contact and smile and make a difference in someone’s day.