AHA CEO to speak at CPRS Vancouver event

Posted by Ruth Atherley of AHA Creative Strategies on October 27th, 2014

AHA-logoOn Wednesday, October 29, I will have the privilege of speaking at the Canadian Public Relations Society Vancouver chapter with the Honourable Wally Oppal, Q.C., who was the Commissioner of the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry (MWCI).

The Missing Women Commission of Inquiry was an important initiative that was tasked with making findings and recommendations regarding the conduct of police in handling numerous reported cases of missing women from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside – a controversial, highly sensitive subject with a diverse range of stakeholder groups.

I served, with the support of the AHA team, as director of communications for the MWCI and as editor of Forsaken: The Missing Women Commission of Inquiry Report. This was the 1,400-page, five-volume report for the Commission. I also wrote the executive summary.

I look forward to speaking with the Commissioner. Working on this project is a highlight of my career, and I feel incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with the MWCI team. These were exceptional professionals dedicated to making improvements in the world. Working on the MWCI was one of the most challenging things I have ever done professionally. It was a 24/7, seven days a week job – that was emotional, demanding and unrelenting.

As a communications person, I knew how crucial the communications role was in this initiative. There was a wide range of stakeholders and it was important that each of these groups was kept informed – even during times when they were being highly and publicly critical of the Commission. I also have to say, I was fortunate that Commissioner Oppal, Senior Legal Counsel Art Vertlieb, Policy Counsel Dr. Melina Buckley, and the Commission team also knew how important it was to inform, update and strategically respond to the stakeholders.

During the presentation, we are going to discuss some of the key communication elements from our work during the Inquiry and the development of the report. They include:

  • Managing controversial, high stakes communication with tight deadlines and diverse stakeholder groups.
  • The importance of planning ahead when it comes to potential issues and controversy.
  • How a communications professional can build a trust relationship with the leadership team during a challenging time.
  • The reality of embargoed information in the age of social media.
  • How to manage a consistent message when communicating with diverse stakeholder groups.

There was certainly much more to the communications aspect of working at the Commission, but these five areas are, I believe, at the foundation of strategic communication outreach.

Another component that will certainly thread through what Commissioner Oppal and I talk about is how we balanced the emotional side of the work we were tasked to do. Everyone who worked at the Commission cared deeply about having recommendations made that would make a positive difference to some of our most vulnerable citizens. This feeling of dedication, passion and commitment to making a difference ran through everything that we did – it wasn’t just a job for any of us. We were all emotionally involved. And we all had a commitment to help make positive change. I know I had to be vigilant that I didn’t let my or anyone else’s emotions influence my actions – it had to be about effectively managing the communications aspects for the Commission, instead of leaping into a discussion about feelings and emotions (positive, negative or defensive).

Commissioner Oppal is a great speaker and I look forward to discussing the communication aspects with him at this event – which will have an informal setting. Since there are two of us speaking, my sense is that it will be a little more interactive than a typical presentation. It will be interesting and, I hope, informative for attendees.

The event is on October 29, from 7:30 a.m. – 9 a.m., at the Metropolitan Hotel, at 645 Howe Street in Vancouver. If you are interested in attending the event, you can register at: https://members.cprsvancouver.com/eventcalendar.aspx.

What makes a good agency/client relationship?

Posted by Ruth Atherley of AHA Creative Strategies on October 16th, 2014

Shaking HandsAs a communications agency, we don’t do anything in isolation. We work with clients, strategic partners, other PR agencies, media, bloggers, online influencers, government, community members, stakeholders, target markets, the public… the list is never-ending. That means we had better know how to play nice with others.

For today’s blog post, I am going to focus on what we do to create a strong relationship with our clients – there are responsibilities on each side. In my next blog post, I will focus on what we look for in a good client. (We all know that a good client gets a more productive communications team and bad clients suck the energy out of you.)

Below is a list of what we believe makes a good agency/client relationship.

Define Scope of Work

That means laying it out in a letter of agreement and ensuring that the client understands what they are paying for, how much they are paying, and how often. This agreement also means that we know their expectations of us. By doing this, if a project expands, it is easy to sit down with the client and explain what has changed and what it will take to include the new piece of work in the contract. And, if the scope of work lessens, we have that conversation too.

Communicate Regularly

We make sure that we communicate with our clients on a regular basis. That can be via e-mail, phone calls or in meetings; sometimes it’s just a quick update so they know the status of the project. We have clients who use us as their marketing and communications department – and often that means they handover the work and we have a monthly meeting and check in when we need something. We go past that and provide weekly status reports and we call and check in to find out what is new, challenging or if something has changed. We don’t leave the client in the dark – ever.

Stay on Track

We meet our deadlines and our budgets. If there is any kind of issue, we inform the client and explain why as soon as possible.

It’s Not Just 9-5

We also make ourselves available to our clients. I know some communications professionals who don’t answer their phone after 5 p.m. That’s not how we work – if a client needs me, they can get me. We work with clients in a lot of different time zones. If a client has a concern or an idea and they want to connect to discuss it, that is part of my role. And certainly during an issue or crisis, I am available 24/7.

Normally, we work with communications managers, directors, vice presidents, presidents and CEOs – and their schedules are busy. Sometimes, the only time they have to speak with me is on a Saturday morning. I have to say that we have had some clients who have needed to have boundaries set. A random 7 a.m. call on a Saturday morning to talk about an idea for a blog post doesn’t work, but a meeting set for a Saturday morning because the client has been out of town or was in meetings with lawyers all week because of an acquisition or merger – I am there. For the most part, our clients have always been respectful about contacting us outside of office hours, but they absolutely know that when they need us – we are there for them.

Go the Extra Mile

We go the extra mile. Every so often a client will come to us after working with another agency that they weren’t happy with. When I review the work done, it’s not that it was terribly done, it just seems that they didn’t take that extra step to make it great or exceptional. We are always working to do that. We love to exceed expectations… it makes our AHA crew do a happy dance and it keeps our clients loyal.

Provide Sound Advice

We aren’t “yes” people. Our clients pay us for our expertise and experience. I have had to deliver some tough feedback over the years and not everyone in the room was happy with me at times, but I had to do my job. If we feel that a client is going in the wrong direction, we will explain why we think that and provide advice on what to do.

Be Professional

We take our work seriously. Our clients know we like to have fun, but they also know that we’re a solid professional team and that they can count on us to deliver. They trust us – and that is important.

It isn’t always easy or convenient to do all the things necessary to build a great client/agency relationship, but you need to work at them. When a client trusts us with their brand reputation, it’s our job to do what it takes to meet the objectives. The points in this blog are a big part of how we do that and how we get great clients who stay with us for years.

Is it editorial or advertorial?

Posted by Ruth Atherley of AHA Creative Strategies on October 08th, 2014

Question mark imageThe world of media relations is getting trickier and trickier. I was listening to a news radio station this morning and they had a counsellor/therapist on to talk about Seasonal Affective Disorder and how the shorter days can influence our moods. There wasn’t any real news value attached to the interview, except that we are heading into shorter days. There was no news to report, no survey results, or a big breakthrough in helping to treat people; the interview rehashed the same stuff we always hear.

Interestingly enough, the counsellor/therapist is from a company that regularly advertises on this station. I recognized the company name and about five minutes after the interview, their ad came on. Hmmm….

It’s a fact of life that by being an advertiser, you are on the station’s radar should they need to do an interview about something you know about. But more and more today we are seeing the lines blur, and what would have been called advertising or advertorial is frequently being passed off as editorial. That is a frightening thing to me. We – as a society – count on journalists to be that unbiased source of information. If someone is getting media coverage because they are paying for it – how can they be unbiased?

We all know media companies are having financial issues, and this may be one of the ways they are able to keep their heads above water. But if the way to get good media coverage is to bundle it in with your advertising purchase, then it’s not unbiased media coverage and it shouldn’t be dressed up like it is.

Employee engagement – delivering on the brand promise

Posted by Ruth Atherley of AHA Creative Strategies on September 25th, 2014

brandEvery communications professional has seen this happen. You work hard to develop a strong, reputable brand, the brand voice and the brand promise. You create brand standard guidelines and you build out a tool kit for staff to use when creating documents, presentations or in any communication of the brand. You generate great media coverage where your CEO, President or GM hits the key messages and positions the brand well.

A success, right? Not so fast. Then a client, customer, guest or patient shows up to the frontline and no one delivers on the brand promise (#EpicFail).

A great brand and brand reputation have to be brought to life through the actions of employees. They have to deliver on the brand promise. But to do that, they need to be engaged – and the brand promise needs to “belong” to them. An exceptional brand is developed through the consistent, long-term actions of employees. Great marketing, ads, social media and PR campaigns are damaged by a cranky staff member, an employee who doesn’t return calls or e-mails in a timely fashion, or someone in your organization commenting negatively on social media about your product, services or another element.

Engaging your employees as “brand ambassadors” and helping them to deliver on the brand promise is a worthwhile investment for an organization. Making a strategic decision to engage employees in this way happens over time. And you need to be consistent in these efforts.

Here are the steps for creating brand ambassadors.

Step 1 – Survey

Develop an internal (and anonymous) survey to see where engagement currently sits. This will give you a benchmark so that as you move forward, you can identify where you have improved and what still needs work.

Step 2 – Identify Influencers

Identify key employees who are influencers, community builders, outliers and even skeptics and create an employee engagement advisory panel. Don’t just pull in managers and people you know will agree with you. Bring in those who will challenge the status quo – find out what they think and why. Ensure you have a range of employees and that all areas or departments are represented.

Step 3 – The Advisory Panel

Provide the results from the survey – keeping necessary information confidential – to the advisory committee. Work with them to identify the key areas that need attention. Choose one or two areas to work on – don’t try to change everything overnight. Create an engagement plan based on the areas and through a town hall meeting, an all staff meeting or another approach (online meeting, etc.) – share the plans with staff. The advisory board should meet monthly.

Step 4 – Internal Communications

Creating an internal site on your intranet, where employees can ask questions, provide feedback and communicate with each other, is always a good idea. Building your internal community and engaging employees is not a “top down” process.

Step 5 – Measure

Measure your success to ensure you are on track and continually improving. This goes back to the initial survey, as well as defining other key measurement elements and key performance indicators, and setting your goals and objectives. You need to know what you want to achieve in order to measure your progress. And measurement must be a key element of your internal plan.

Step 6 – Celebrate Successes, Address Challenges

Share your wins and challenges with staff. Keep them involved and informed. Meet with the advisory committee once a month, at a minimum. They will be the ones who will help spread the word internally.

Remember: without employee engagement, your brand promise is just words on paper and is of no use to anyone – especially your clients, customers, guests or patients.

 

Raising your profile in an overcrowded marketplace

Posted by Ruth Atherley of AHA Creative Strategies on September 11th, 2014

Crowded

We work with quite a few consumer products or services clients. We were writing a proposal the other day for a potential client that offers products and services in an overcrowded and very noisy market sector and it started an interesting conversation in the AHA office. In this day and age of digital and social media, how spread out does an organization need to be in order to reach their target market?

One of the first things we do with clients is review where they stand relative to competitors – both online and in traditional media. It’s important to understand the current landscape before developing a strategy.

Once we know what the playing field looks like, we review the products and services of the client and what they offer potential customers, guests or patients. In a marketplace where many companies are offering similar products and services, it is important to take a bit of a deep dive into this. To not just take what you see at face value, but to look for the unique areas – the “magic” that belongs only to the client – and how that can be packaged and promoted to engage both traditional and online/social media. We also look at how it can be used on their own website.

Many of our business to consumer clients are in specialized fields. That gives us some excellent opportunities to educate and inform their target markets. It also lets us profile the client as an expert in their field. We do this through bylined articles printed in trade and consumer publications and online, with informative and entertaining blog posts, through a series of short videos, through Ask Me Anything (AMA) on Reddit, and by using webinars and a range of other tactics that put forward editorial style, valuable information that is not marketing speak and doesn’t try to “sell” – rather it educates and informs. In a crowded marketplace, consumers want to understand the expertise of an organization and they want to see the benefits of their products and services. Providing this type of information is far more valuable than focusing on a hard sell.

There is a great deal of opportunity to blend a media relations, social networking and direct to consumer approach that, done well, will have a measurable (and strong) impact on driving potential business through the door. Once they are in the door, it’s up to the staff to deliver on the brand promise and take good care of this customer, guest or patient.

Supporting staff in delivering the brand promise will be next week’s blog topic.

Should you use social media during an issue?

Posted by Paul Holman of AHA Creative Strategies on August 29th, 2014

In today’s AHA Fast Take Friday, Ruth talks about the use or non-use of social media during an issue.

Update – reputation management

Posted by Ruth Atherley of AHA Creative Strategies on August 27th, 2014

protest angryI wanted to write a quick update on the example I used in my most recent reputation management and issue communication blog post.

According to a Global News report, Centerplate, the company whose CEO Desmond Hague was seen in a video kicking a dog in an elevator, has released a statement. It says that they do not condone animal abuse and are undertaking an internal review. The statement also says that Hague has agreed to undergo counselling for anger management issues and has pledged a significant, personal, multi-year financial commitment to help support the protection and safety of animals.

In theory, what is outlined in the statement are the right things to do. However, I find it interesting that this statement comes out after many of the company’s clients, such as the San Francisco 49ers and the Seattle Mariners, have made their own statements of concern about this issue.

As I said in my earlier blog post, I don’t know what Centerplate’s strategy is for managing this issue. I don’t know the specifics of why it was decided to respond via statements. My opinion is based on how it is being played out in a public forum.

However, having said that, it is clear that this reactive, hiding behind statements from lawyers and PR people is not working. People are angry, they are calling for Centerplate’s contracts to be cancelled, and are threatening to boycott the food that is sold at stadiums that use Centerplate. It’s time to change up the strategy and get authentic about this.

Is Hague or his PR team reading the tweets and comments on articles about this issue? Centerplate’s website is still up, but the list of clients has been taken down. That’s not transparent.

To me, the Centerplate statement is clearly reactive and having these statements coming from lawyers and PR people is not helping. Not to mention that social media sites have been taken down and the website is being changed, so we can’t find specific information about the clients. They have taken an “information out” approach, instead of finding a way to engage in a dialogue. (It would be a very tough dialogue.)

Hague needs to stand up and visibly get in front of this – and take the heat. In my professional opinion, he needs to do a video where he acknowledges what he did wrong and fully apologize. He needs to do a media tour and go to the breakfast shows or morning news in the cities where Centerplate has clients and talk about his mistake, what he is doing to make it right, and what he is doing to help abused animals. And he needs to do it now. I don’t want to hear “we are doing an internal review and he has pledged money” – I want to know what is being reviewed, how much money he is going to contribute, the names of the animal organizations, and that he realizes that this is unacceptable behaviour.

He needs to do more than send out these statements to media. I want to see a real person who is truly sorry for what they have done and realizes how horrific his actions were. It seems that many other people do too.

It feels like he is hiding behind his legal and PR teams and using statements that he doesn’t have to actually speak about what he did. In my opinion, until he steps forward and shows us that he realizes what he did is wrong and takes full responsibility for what he did, the anger of the stadium food-buying public isn’t going to stop.

Everyone is watching – reputation management

Posted by Ruth Atherley of AHA Creative Strategies on August 26th, 2014

Reputation management

(Editor’s Note – August 27, 2014: Ruth Atherley has written a second blog post to update the situation.)

 

Many people are outraged after seeing a video showing a man in an elevator kicking a one-year-old Doberman pinscher dog and then hauling the dog off the elevator by its leash.

If you don’t know about this deplorable act, you can learn about it here.

Desmond Hague, CEO of American corporation Centerplate, Inc. (which has contracts with BC Pavilion Corporation, the Crown Corporation responsible for operating BC Place and the Vancouver Convention Centre) was identified as the person abusing the dog (who is named Sadie) in the video and he has apologized, via a letter through his legal counsel, to Global Television.

Responding to this type of issue is quite sensitive – and never easy for a PR or communications team. While I wasn’t in the room and don’t know what was discussed or recommended by Centerplate’s PR team, I do have to say the response of a letter coming to one media outlet through Hague’s lawyer isn’t good enough. The fact that the CEO’s corporate Twitter account and the company’s Facebook page were shut down tells you: a) how strong reaction is to this incident of animal abuse and b) that the company – and by the company, I mean Hague – doesn’t want to hear what we, as the public, have to say.

I work on a lot of issues and have had many where a high profile individual had to step forward, take responsibility and say he/she is sorry for their actions. One of the key elements of the apology is that it has to be authentic; the person truly needs to be sorry for their actions – not that they got caught. People aren’t stupid – they can smell when it is fake and can see through someone who is saying the right thing without meaning it. To me, Hague’s letter stinks to high heaven. I don’t believe him and I don’t think many do.

I also found it interesting – and I have searched for it – that no one from his personal or professional life has stepped forward to defend his character. A good person who makes a bad decision will have a community of people who will jump into the fray on social media and support that person. There wasn’t a peep or a tweet or a public FB update out there that did that.

Hague should have immediately made a video where he apologized and explained himself to us and publicly to Sadie’s person (apparently Sadie is not his dog). He should make a sizeable donation to the BC SPCA or another group that helps abused animals. And he should take the heat on social media – by shutting it down, he has effectively locked himself in his office and closed the curtains, refusing to speak to his stakeholders. That is not how you handle an issue. While Hague can pull his Twitter account, he can’t get rid of all of the tweets about this issue and it is clear that it touched a nerve.

There are also questions that remain unanswered – the SPCA said that when they went to the apartment, the dog was found in its cage, surrounded by the stench of urine, and her food and water bowls were out of reach. There is more to this case than what happened in the elevator – which was bad enough.

Success in reputation management and issues communication only comes when there is integrity, authenticity and a commitment to making things right. If you are facing an issue because of the actions of an individual or a group of individuals, and the person or persons just want it to go away, you can put lipstick on a pig for the short term… but in the long term, it doesn’t work. Our world is far too connected. The person or persons involved will do something else that puts them in the spotlight for the wrong reason. Videos in elevators, cell phones with videos, social media, electronic messages… it will come back to bite you – lipstick and all.

Reasons to use a PR firm

Posted by Paul Holman of AHA Creative Strategies on August 21st, 2014

AHA-logoRagan’s PR Daily has a blog post on the 10 skills that PR pros have that other professionals don’t.

If you are doing public relations and media relations on your own, here is a link to the article to see what our profession brings to organizations that we work with.

 

How to attract media to your event

Posted by Paul Holman of AHA Creative Strategies on August 15th, 2014

EventEvery organization planning to host an event wants media coverage. It’s a way to create awareness and raise the profile of your organization, your products or services, your brand, and your spokesperson. Depending on the event, media coverage may lead to more attendance the following day or the next year (if it is an annual event).

How do you engage the media and make them interested enough to want to know more?

An AHA client recently held an event that we were able to generate a tremendous amount of coverage on. Media coverage included eight newspaper articles, four television feature segments (three to eight minutes long), three radio feature segments, nine website/blog features, and 14 event listings – excellent coverage for a local first-time event. (Needless to say, our client loves us even more now. And we love them right back.)

We’ve decided to share a few tips and hints on how you can generate strong media coverage for your next event.

Host a Public Event

Rather than just inviting people on your networking or sales database, invite the public. The more people that the event is open to, the more the media will be interested.

Tie the Event to a Charity

If there is a cost to attend, tie it in with a worthy charity. Provide a percentage of ticket sales, allow them to participate with you at the event if possible, and identify ways that your organization and the charity can work together. Not only will this be of interest to media and to the public that may attend, if your event benefits a charity in some way, you may also get event suppliers to provide their products and services to you at a discounted rate.

Hold a Great Event

It is easy to fall into the trap of assuming the event is great and that it deserves media coverage. Brainstorm with people in your organization and think blue sky! Those seemingly over-the-top ideas may be what are needed to host a great event, get lots of interest from the public, and grab the media’s attention. Are there fun things you can incorporate? Media love children, animals, unique activities and special opportunities. Think about how you can pitch the event to media by tying it into a current trend or time of year. What will make the event be of interest to a large segment of the population – that is what media will want to know.

Submit Information to Event Listings

There are many media outlets, websites and blogs that offer free event listings. Develop a short paragraph of the “who, what, when, where, why and how” of your event and reach out. Make sure you understand the format that this information needs to be presented in for each outlet. (They are generally all different.)

Be Prepared

When a journalist e-mails or calls, be ready at a moment’s notice to respond. Take the call or immediately call them back. Have your key messages on the “tip of your tongue” and be ready to tell the world (or taped over your desk as long as you don’t sound like a robot when you are reading them out). Ensure that your spokesperson is always available during the time you are pitching. You never know, you (or your client or spokesperson) may be asked to do a radio interview within the next few minutes or a breakfast television show the next morning.

Develop a Visual Opportunity Notice

You need a great visual to attract media attention. Plan this carefully. Let media know exactly what they can photograph/film at the event. The more details the better, but keep the notice to one page or less. Work to offer two or three great visuals so that media have a choice. One is not enough; there may be dozens of other events at the same time as your event. What visual does your event have to offer that would create interest from the media and put you on the top of the list over other events? It is important to provide media that come to the event with interviews with spokespeople.

Phone the Media

The day of the event, it’s a good idea to call the media newsrooms to make sure that you are on their radar. Just because you sent information to them, that doesn’t mean they saw it. A newsroom receives hundreds or even thousands of e-mails a day. Be prepared for a brief 10-second call (that’s about all the time you will get) to explain the visuals of your event. Have your pitch ready – make it brief, but make sure you have enough information to interest the journalist on the other end of the telephone line.

The key to engaging media to attend and cover your event is in the preparation. The publicity magic happens for your event in the planning stages. Making the effort to plan will result in strong, positive media coverage.

css.php