Posted by Ruth Atherley of AHA Creative Strategies on June 17th, 2013
We’re always interested in explaining what we do here at AHA in the realm of public relations and communications. I remember several years ago seeing this amusing definition of some of the areas, including PR, that fall under the marketing umbrella:
- If a circus is coming to town and they use a sign saying “Circus Coming to the Fairground Saturday” – that’s advertising.
- If that sign gets put on the back of an elephant and the elephant is walked through town – that’s promotion.
- If the elephant walks through the mayor’s flower bed and it makes the front page of the newspaper – that’s publicity.
- And if you get the mayor to laugh about it – that’s public relations.
It’s a little more complex than that, of course. But this is a good way to get people thinking about the definition of public relations. There is so much more to it, especially in the age of social media and digital communication.
Public relations and communications have evolved over the years. They are complex areas and are now important components of an organization’s business strategy. An interesting infographic about the evolution of PR came into our inbox recently and we thought you might enjoy it. Have a look below – it’s pretty interesting.
Enjoyed this infographic? Visit MaxBorgesAgency.com.
Posted by Ruth Atherley of AHA Creative Strategies on June 10th, 2013
We just posted a new video on the front page of our website, and I have to say, we’re pretty excited about it. It is a graphic recording that we produced in collaboration with Tanya Gadsby of Drawing Out Ideas. Graphic recording is a creative way to communicate and it is a tool that can be incredibly useful in helping you to connect with your audience or community. The AHA video is only one example of how a graphic recording can be used; there are several other options, depending on your needs and objectives.
Tanya is exceptional at her craft. Not only was she an absolute delight to work with, she also brought a level of creativity to the project that was of huge value. She has a rare talent and is able to blend creativity with a strategic approach – it’s really impressive. She understood who we are (as AHA and as individuals) and she was able to help us to create a visual story that captured our uniqueness in a way that is engaging, compelling and useful. This graphic recording helps to showcase who we are and what we do, and it does it in an interesting and imaginative way.
The world of communication has changed. It is important that as PR professionals, we evolve with new tools and technologies. I believe that graphic recordings are a great example of a new way to tell your story or to explain a complex topic to your stakeholders. It’s different, it’s fun and yet it provides the opportunity to give details in a way that holds a viewer’s attention.
At AHA, we’ve always been interested in the visual components of storytelling – our Fast Take Friday video blogs are highly popular and we are looking at bringing those back soon. The graphic recording is another way to help connect with potential clients to explain what we do and showcase our ability to use new tools to tell stories.
For our blog posts, Paul has become an expert at finding the right images to help explain the information. Visuals are becoming more and more important as the world continues to search for information online. I love words, and I have made my living by stringing them together to tell stories for longer than I care to admit. However, words and imagery go together. As communicators, it’s up to us to identify and embrace new ways to tell our clients’ stories. Graphic recording is one of those new ways that we are incredibly excited about.
Do you have a medium that has worked well for you?
Posted by Ruth Atherley of AHA Creative Strategies on June 06th, 2013
How can your organization’s stories be told?
Media relations is an important component of what we do here at our Vancouver PR agency. We love developing newsworthy media pitches and connecting with journalists. It’s exciting, interesting and fun. And it’s more challenging than ever to grab the media’s attention – even with a great story pitch.
The world of journalism has changed. There are fewer resources being put towards the types of stories that we, as PR professionals, pitch to media. Good stories aren’t picked up because of lack of space, airtime and journalists to cover them. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve had a conversation with one of our media contacts and they say: “I love this story, but we don’t have the resources available.” I have to admit, there are days when it is a little heartbreaking. However, there is a silver lining to this shift.
Organizations can tell their own stories in a compelling, authentic and engaging editorial style. Your stakeholders are out there looking for information about your product, services and brand, and you have the opportunity to provide it to them through your website, your blog, social media and other online sites, videos (and they don’t have to be expensive, slick corporate videos – flip style or editorial style videos can be great and far more reasonable than you may expect), articles, white papers, etc.
We are quite thoughtful about our media pitches. We go through the same process of gathering information that I learned at Maclean’s magazine. We take our media pitches very seriously and our high success rate at getting pick up in media outlets reflects the quality of our work in this area. Although sometimes, there just aren’t the resources available for a media outlet to cover the story. That’s when we take the media pitch and use it to build out an article, a broadcast segment, or a series of blog posts that we share via social media networking sites. This means that if a good pitch doesn’t get picked up, it still has huge value. And I have to say, sometimes the results that we get from the organization producing their own content is more relevant than if it had been covered by traditional media.
How could you tell the stories about your organization? Would it be by using video? A blog? An editorial style article? There are huge opportunities in this area. It’s very exciting for PR agencies like ours, that have writing and storytelling skills, and for our clients.
Posted by Ruth Atherley of AHA Creative Strategies on June 04th, 2013
Being prepared for an issue or crisis is important. Even if you don’t think something negative will happen to your organization, take a moment and think about all the worst-case scenarios that could possibly happen. Then, at the very least, outline the chain of command for communication, how you would provide this information to those affected and to other stakeholders – including media – and how you would follow up and ensure that you consistently communicate and update people as the issue or crisis evolves or is resolved.
Here at AHA, we have worked with clients on some incredibly challenging issues and it’s not easy on anyone. Days are long, pressure is high and depending on the issue or crisis, there can be non-stop media attention, which has its own set of challenges. Planning is important. In fact, for many organizations it is crucial, but I know that there are many people out there who will never be convinced of that and refuse to plan.
Below are some key points to consider when creating an issue/crisis communications plan. This certainly isn’t a comprehensive list, but the information below should get you thinking about what to do in order to be prepared.
Define Communications Vehicles
It is important to know how your key stakeholders (staff, friends and family of staff, customers or clients, community members, board members, media, etc.) should receive information during an issue or crisis. Defining how you will share information – and confirming that it is the right approach for your stakeholder group – is crucial.
Develop a Straightforward Approval Process
Understanding the approval process for sharing information is also crucial. Setting up a complicated, time-consuming approval process creates unnecessary pressure and stress – and the fact is, during an issue or a crisis, there is no time. Information needs to be accurate, it needs to be timely, and it needs to be communicated quickly. Make sure you have put a process in place that lets the communications person have direct access to the CEO, president or senior executive who is in charge at that time. Don’t put barriers in the communicator’s way.
Communicate with One Voice
Speaking with one voice is critical. Sending out information that contradicts other information because there are too many people communicating publicly only confuses and frustrates everyone. Identify one spokesperson, with one or two backup people (should the spokesperson be unavailable). If you need experts to explain complex topics, have them available with the spokesperson and ensure that they only speak on their specific topic. Make sure there is one communications person in charge of the communications team (if you have more than one person). Let that person update his/her team and manage the messaging directly with the senior executive who is in charge.
Be as transparent as possible and respond to questions as much as possible. If you can’t respond to a media question, explain why you can’t. (For example: “This situation is evolving and that is a matter for the police, fire department, government, etc. to deal with; we are in the process of understanding just what happened and when we do, we will make a statement.”) Don’t hide, avoid questions or refuse to respond to specific questions. That only makes you look guilty or like you are hiding something. Be upfront; if you made a mistake, say so. Explain how it will never happen again and how you are going to make it right. And for crying out loud – apologize. If you messed up and did something illegal, unethical or wrong, take responsibility for it.
Don’t Take Responses Personally
Don’t take negative or critical responses or attacks personally. This is easier said than done – especially when people have been working late hours, under high pressure. Responding emotionally to comments online, to critical people who come at you as you go to work, or even in the coffee line can create a bigger issue. Sometimes the critics are right, and reviewing negative comments can help you to understand the public’s perception – but that is a job best left to the communications team.
Be Ready 24/7
Realize that the news cycle is 24/7 – and during an issue or a crisis, it is relentless. Social media has changed how we respond to a challenge. It is crucial to understand the social media world and to know when and how to provide news and updates, share information and respond.
Posted by Ruth Atherley of AHA Creative Strategies on May 28th, 2013
I was born and raised in downtown Toronto. As much as I love the West Coast (and I really do), Toronto will always be my hometown. I have been watching the saga of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford develop – or perhaps I should say unwind – for quite some time now. The most recent development added to the allegations of crack use is now rumours of one of the people in the video having been murdered. This sounds more like the plot of a made-for-TV movie than reality, but it’s real.
Not only has this issue (which I think has actually morphed into a full-blown crisis) created challenges for the people working at City Hall, but Toronto has now become the fodder for late night TV hosts – you can see Jimmy Kimmel’s take on it here. I have to admit, it’s pretty funny. However, from a communications standpoint, you never want to see your boss, client, organization or colleague mocked by the media. Keep in mind that it’s no longer just a few minutes of ridicule by Jon Stewart, Jay Leno, Jimmy Fallon and others – it now lives on forever online. And I would bet there are now several investigative reporters digging further into this story – and others concerning Ford – and we will start to see a lot more in the next few days.
From a communications perspective, I don’t think I have seen many better examples of how not to handle an issue or a crisis. Start with the fact that it took Ford a week to respond to allegations regarding the existence of a video that showed him smoking crack cocaine. A week. That left a great deal of time for people to speculate on whether or not it was true – and the fact is, it’s human nature to fill in the gaps. If you don’t provide accurate information, people will create theories, speculate and come up with their version of what could have happened – which, after a few times of talking it through, starts to feel like – in their minds – what really happened.
When Ford did respond, he said: “I do not use crack cocaine.” He declined to comment on the video, which he said he had “never seen” or “does not exist.” Hmmmm… rather than come out and clearly refute crack cocaine use (using words like, “I have never used crack cocaine and will never use crack cocaine.”), he skirted around words. As for the video, if it’s true, he could have said: “Since I have never used crack cocaine, there is no possibility that the alleged video could exist.” Of course, had Mayor Ford just taken a drug test, all of this would have been put to rest quickly. But he did none of the key things necessary to effectively manage an issue or a crisis.
He fired his Chief of Staff and, yesterday, word came out from City Hall that two more senior staff had resigned – both communications people. That sends a clear message. I don’t know these communications professionals at all – not even by name. But I can tell you, in my experience, when one communicator leaves in the middle of a crisis, you start to wonder what is going on behind closed doors. When two leave – well, it signals something pretty big. I know the only reason I would leave during an issue or a crisis is if: a) the client was not listening to me at all; or b) I felt that my ethics or integrity were being violated.
In my next blog post, I will talk about what you can do during an issue or a crisis.
Posted by Ruth Atherley of AHA Creative Strategies on May 21st, 2013
We’re all about finding things that make life easier. A recent blog post by digital marketer Todd Maffin gave six really good tips to do just that and we want to share them with you. Click here, read his post, and use the technology and apps he recommends. They will make things run more smoothly.
Posted by Ruth Atherley of AHA Creative Strategies on May 03rd, 2013
This is the second post in my “top communications lessons learned in New Zealand” series, and it focuses on the most fabulous Hapuku Lodge in Kaikoura. Kaikoura is on the east coast of New Zealand’s South Island. It is a beautiful, rugged, wind-swept seaside area that I completely fell in love with.
Hapuku Lodge is a pretty spectacular place. However, today’s post isn’t about the lodge itself (but the lodge is worth checking out, believe me). It is about the two incredible people who run the lodge – Fiona Read and Chris Sturgeon. As amazing as the lodge is, they made our experience there so much more enjoyable and memorable. (Click here to see our blog post on our stay.)
Fiona is a bit of a celebrity in New Zealand – she was a favourite on the television show MasterChef New Zealand. She takes care of the food experience at Hapuku and her husband Chris takes care of the stay side. They make a great team. And without realizing it, they taught me a couple of important life and communications lessons during our brief stay with them.
Lesson 1: Understand your audience/community/peeps.
I am an aspiring foodie and was thrilled that we had a cooking class – and even more thrilled when I learned that our teacher was Fiona. The class was just with Paul and I, and it was clear that I am no expert – but I am enthusiastic. Fiona completely read our interest and knowledge/experience level and she focused in on that. I was really interested in learning and Paul was pretty interested in eating. She balanced it out so that we felt comfortable and the information wasn’t too basic or too over our heads – so that the experience was enjoyable for us. That is an important skill and one that is often overlooked in the world of communication. It is important to understand what the people or person you are communicating with wants to know; don’t just focus on what you want to tell them.
Lesson 2: Everything matters – especially the small details.
At Hapuku, Chris was very attentive to our needs without making us feel overwhelmed. It was quite subtle really, but we were paying attention just like he was. Chris asked us about our wine experiences in New Zealand and what our preference was – and he provided recommendations for what we would like. When we sat in the lounge, which sits in my heart as a place of my dreams (I loved sitting there blogging with a glass of New Zealand sauvignon blanc, looking out at the beautiful landscape), he made sure the fireplace was just right, he checked in to see if the Internet was fast enough, and he brought us little snacks. He would stop by and check in on us at exactly the right time, without breaking our concentration on our blogging or discussions. The tree house room was perfect – comfortable, luxurious, fabulous – everything we could want was in that room.
The big things were there – fabulous scenery, beautiful lodge, amazing region – and if no one spoke to us at all, this would have been a good experience. The attention to detail is what took it from good to exceptional. For one small moment in time (well, 24 hours), life was perfect. And it was the commitment to the details by Chris and the Hapuku team that created that paradise.
The communications lesson: Sweat the small stuff. You can do big things well, but to be excellent, you need to make sure that you pay attention to the small things and do those well too. Freshly brewed coffee for client meetings, one final, solid proofread of a document, showing up on time – every time – sending thank you notes, checking in when you know a client is experiencing a challenge or an issue just to see how they are… They might seem small from a day-to-day perspective, but they have a huge impact.
Lesson 3: Be yourself.
This lesson appears to be the theme from this year’s New Zealand trip. Fiona and Chris are incredibly interesting, charming and welcoming. And what is most interesting and charming about them is that they don’t pretend to be anything or anyone other than who they are. They are down-to-earth, easygoing and incredibly professional (which is quite a balance, in my opinion).
I watched as they engaged with other guests, each other and with the Hapuku team. They didn’t shift out of one persona into another. They were authentic and that comes across. Hapuku is a luxury lodge, but they are inclusive. While they often have guests who are CEOs, rock stars and celebrities, quite often their guests are regular people like you and me who are looking for a special experience. Fiona and Chris treat everyone equally and stay true to themselves and to the lodge – which is an incredibly welcoming, comfortable, luxurious place to stay. Hapuku felt like we were staying at a close friend’s house (a friend who had an incredibly fabulous home!). That didn’t come from the design or the locale of the lodge – that came from the heart and soul of Fiona and Chris.
The communications lesson here: Authenticity matters. When you embrace who you really are, you will attract the clients/customers/guests who are right for you.
Posted by Ruth Atherley of AHA Creative Strategies on April 29th, 2013
Each year, around this time, AHA heads to New Zealand to blog for TRENZblog. This initiative is part of our work with Tourism New Zealand. We spend a week travelling the country and then we attend TRENZ, New Zealand’s largest travel trade show – and we blog our way through the country and the trade show. If you are interested, you can check out the case study on TRENZblog here (click Tourism New Zealand) and read the blog here.
Each time I visit New Zealand, I learn both life and communications lessons. Most times, they are intertwined (after all, we all communicate and it is one of the most challenging aspects of life sometimes). Each time, one big lesson stands out. This year, that lesson is about bringing your passion and your “A” game every day. While this lesson can be translated to any profession, it certainly hit home for me in what we do here at AHA.
In the two weeks in New Zealand, I had several opportunities to speak with/interview people in the tourism world. Several people really stood out for me. Over the next two weeks, I am going to share those experiences here on the AHA blog, showcasing what each of them taught me.
The first is Nicolas, the winemaker at the boutique winery, Black Estate, in the Canterbury Region of New Zealand. (You can check out our blog post on this experience here.) Nicolas took the time to let us see what was going on just a day or so after the harvest. This is a very busy time for a winemaker, and yet Nicolas let us into the area where the grapes were being squished (not the technical term) and he also spent a good thirty minutes showing us around and answering my questions.
Lesson 1: Be so excited and passionate about what you do that you want to share it.
Nicolas’ passion was clear – as was his knowledge and talent. I could almost see the delight in his eyes as he explained the process. It made me want to support this winery because it was clear that it mattered to him.
Lesson 2: Be patient and open to questions from those who know much less than you.
While I have been known to sip a glass of wine or two now and again, I know next to nothing about the behind-the-scenes workings of a real vineyard. Nicolas answered all my questions, never spoke down to me, and encouraged me to ask more questions. He opened my mind to many aspects of winemaking and he educated me, making me want to learn more about what he does.
Lesson 3: Embrace who you are. Not once did Nicolas apologize for being a small winery. In fact, he was proud of it and confident in the quality of his wine. Black Estate is a boutique winery and it embraces that – it doesn’t try to be a big winery; it focuses on being the best it can be. Not trying to be anyone else.
While these lessons might not seem to be communications lessons – they are. Nicolas lives the Black Estate brand. He is clear and consistent in how he speaks about the grapes, the process, and the art and craft of making wine. And he clearly loves it. His passion shone through and he used humour to explain things to me. He is an excellent communicator when it comes to his wine.
Next up: Fiona and Chris of Hapuku Lodge in Kaikoura.
Posted by Ruth Atherley of AHA Creative Strategies on April 10th, 2013
As some readers of this blog know, I have been dealing with an issue with H&R Block on behalf of a family member. I believe that it is important to acknowledge their efforts when an organization responds to an issue that is put in front of them.
Yesterday, I received a response from H&R Block that they are dealing with this issue. What they have put forward satisfies me for the moment. They have had someone with knowledge about the type of issue that my stepmother is facing (due to their error) look into this and they are taking steps to correct it. I was told that my stepmother should receive the refund that she is entitled to (and has been trying to get for the last year) in two to three months. I appreciate that they have taken this issue seriously and are working to resolve it. I will keep you posted on what happens next.
What I want to focus on in today’s blog post is the communications aspect of my interaction with H&R Block.
As a person with an issue, here is what I did to get results:
- I was polite. (I said please and thank you; I did not use profanity.)
- I did not get personal. (My issue is with H&R Block, not with any one person.)
- I outlined my expectations, and they were not unreasonable.
- I followed up. (I was the polite squeaky wheel.)
- I did some research and included people in senior positions in the organization in the e-mail conversation.
- When I felt that my issue was not receiving the consideration it deserved, I reached out via social media (this blog, Twitter and Facebook) to share my frustration and engaged the support of others.
- I let the person who was communicating with me know that I appreciated the efforts they told me they are now taking.
- And I will continue to follow up. This is not over until my stepmother has the refund cheque from the government in her hands.
Good customer service is a key element of operational excellence and brand reputation. In my opinion, customer service should be a priority for every organization. If you drop the ball here, it can turn into something quite costly in the long run.
And if you messed up, say you are sorry. I have dealt with issues and crisis with clients where the legal team and I have had incredibly loud discussions about this. I understand the challenges around “legal” responsibility, but if you made a mistake, acknowledge it, explain why it happened and what you will change so it will never happen again. As human beings, we want to forgive – but we won’t do that unless you apologize and take responsibility. (Which – I have to say – H&R Block has not done yet. I am waiting for them to get to this stage of our discussion.)
Posted by Ruth Atherley of AHA Creative Strategies on April 09th, 2013
Here at AHA, we are preparing to head to New Zealand for the 5th year of TRENZblog, the social media campaign that has us blogging and tweeting from the country. First, as we check out areas on a familiarization trip (this year it’s Wellington, the Marlborough region, and the Christchurch & Canterbury region), and then from TRENZ, New Zealand’s largest travel trade show.
We are always excited to head back to New Zealand – it’s a fabulous place. The beauty of the country is breathtaking and each region has its own unique charm. And the people of New Zealand are exceptional. Friendly, welcoming and more than a little bit cheeky.
Five years ago, TRENZblog was a bit of a leap of faith on the part of Tourism New Zealand. In 2008, the online world was just finding acceptance in the mainstream. In fact, five years ago I had the opportunity to interview New Zealand Prime Minister John Key and I was the first travel blogger to be granted an interview with him. (See the blog post here.)
TRENZblog has now become a bit of a “regular” connection between trade media and New Zealand tourism operators. This project is a resource in providing trade media and travel trade professionals with timely and relevant information about tourism activities in the country.
We have recently been working on several proposals and that always makes us take a look at ourselves as communicators and what and how we do things. TRENZblog is a good example of seeing a shift in the landscape and moving that way. We recognized that the online world and social media were game changers when it came to PR and strategic communication and we knew that in order to serve our clients well, we had to evolve. TRENZblog is one of those projects that could have easily slipped by without much fanfare. It’s kind of workhorse PR initiative. It’s not big and flashy and it likely won’t win us any awards, but it gets the job done – and it gets done well. TRENZblog produces results and over the past four years, we have measured and reviewed what we could do differently, what works and what doesn’t, how we can continue to improve.
We’re really proud of TRENZblog. It’s a good project that meets its objective. The fact that we get to spend time in New Zealand while we implement it is a bonus.