Posted by Ruth Atherley of AHA Creative Strategies on December 03rd, 2014
In my last post, I left off where Paul and I had just agreed to staying in Houston (with no help from United for the hotel), going to Seattle the next day, and then getting a connecting flight to Vancouver – because we thought we had no options.
As we were standing there discussing the very limited options (it seems all United flights are oversold, so when something like this happens, there aren’t many choices for replacement flights), the flight crew that was taking over for the next flight was off to the side of us. They were right beside the lineup of very frustrated passengers – all of whom had missed their flights.
We could clearly hear their discussions – and their jokes about all the people with missed flights. One of the pilots asked someone in the line what was going on and the person explained we were all pretty much stranded – he laughed and said: “Hey – you’ve just spent time in the sun in San Juan – you can’t complain.” Yes, yes, we can Mr. Pilot and you are not helping the situation.
I like a good joke (in fact, I happen to be quite hilarious), but his comment fell flat with everyone. The flight crew continued to joke and laugh and the pilot kept on making funnies about how we (the people in the lineup) probably wished we had stayed in San Juan. I actually wished I had been smart enough not to book a flight on United. It really felt like the issues that everyone in the lineup was dealing with were being discounted and disrespected.
I watched an elderly couple – I estimated they were in their mid-to-late 80s – who were clearly distraught and confused. They didn’t know what line to stand in or what could be done to get them home. No one, not one United Airlines employee, stepped forward to help them. I had a brief conversation with them and got them into the line – I sure hope they got home okay that night.
On top of the concerns about getting home when you thought you would – it was clear that many of the people in line were worried about the cost of a hotel and food. Some were students, some were seniors, and others were young families with children. I felt badly for them. United clearly stated that they were not going to provide accommodation or meal vouchers because this issue was caused by weather (just for the record, it was caused by the fact that our airplane didn’t have enough fuel to circle for more than a few minutes). We weren’t thrilled about having to spend money on a hotel, but we are fortunate in that we can afford it. For those on a tight budget, this was clearly a challenge.
As the person behind the United desk did what she had to do to get us on the flight she said was our best option the next morning, she made it clear how difficult we were making it. She then said to us: “You need to go to the customer service desk to reroute your bags on your new flights. I am unable to do it.”
We didn’t understand why she couldn’t reroute our bags. The customer service desk and the gate desk access the same computer program and we had our baggage tags, but she made it clear that we had to go to the service desk – so off we went like good little order takers (which I think might be a Canadian thing). At the customer service desk, we stood in line for another hour and a half to get our bags rerouted.
While we were in the line, we heard from others that they had run across the terminal only to arrive to hear that their seats had been given away (even though the flight hadn’t closed its doors yet). Another said that the boarding gate had been changed without it being posted, so while they might have made it, with the gate being changed – they didn’t… and that they were never going to fly United again.
When we got to the front of the line and told the person at the customer service desk that we had been sent there to reroute our bags – she shook her head and said: “Why would they do that?” And I had to wonder if it had been done because I kept questioning what could be done better in finding us a flight. Maybe we were being punished or maybe the woman at the gate had just had enough of me.
Then she said – why aren’t you going to Seattle tonight? We told her that the other United person at the gate said there were no flights available. She shook her head again and said, “It’s boarding now. Let’s get you a little closer to home tonight – and get you on an earlier flight to Vancouver from Seattle tomorrow morning.” I wanted to kiss this person for doing her job. My question is – why didn’t the other person do hers? The woman that we dealt with at the customer service desk was the only person who worked for United that seemed to care.
This angel of mercy sorted us out and got us our boarding passes, explained that our bags would never make that flight – but they would make our morning flight from Seattle to Vancouver – and wished us well. I really wanted to hug her.
We hurried across the terminal and fortunately made it just as the plane was boarding. And then we sat there for an hour because of a mechanical difficulty. This pilot at least turned on the Pay TV for the entire time that we were delayed and then for the flight to Seattle.
The next morning, we went to the Seattle Airport and as we were checking in (we were now on a United partner – Air Canada), I realized that I had a bottle of salsa from the airport in Puerto Rico in my carry-on. This would never get through security. So I asked the person checking us in if I could check my carry-on bag at no cost – since the reason I had this salsa in my carry-on was because: a) United made us miss our flight and b) they didn’t get our checked bags to us for this flight. She said that she could check my carry-on but that there would be a $25 charge. I explained the reason why I had to check my bag again… and she said there was nothing she could do. Because I had bought this salsa specifically for Paul because he loved it, I ponied up and paid the $25. So the salsa’s cost had now gone up to $40. Ridiculous.
The highlight of this entire journey from San Juan to Vancouver was the quick, efficient and professional approach of the TSA agents in Seattle. They were exceptional in doing their job, not making us feel like cattle, and getting us through security in a timely manner.
The flight from Seattle to Vancouver is pretty quick. When we hit Vancouver, we went to the Air Canada desk to ask about our bags that weren’t on the carousel. The fellow at that desk was incredibly helpful and said to us: “You were right to come to this desk to get some answers as he glanced over at the person at the United desk leaning on his elbows, staring off into space. It took our bags 48 hours to finally be returned to us after we landed in Vancouver.
Between the flight crew not seeming to care that people were worried and upset, the gate staff person who clearly didn’t do her job and who was rude to me, the flight crew laughing about our inconvenience, the $40 salsa, the cost of a hotel and food, our bags being lost for two days (they went to Chicago), and the fact that almost all United Flights are overbooked – which means if you hit a problem with your flight, it’s extremely difficult to find another flight that you can get on – I am done with United.
In my opinion – #UnitedSUCKS.
Posted by Ruth Atherley of AHA Creative Strategies on November 27th, 2014
In my last post, we were just about to board our flight from San Juan to Houston to connect to Vancouver. In writing this installment, I realized it was going to take three blog posts to cover it all. This story of poor service has too many elements and I don’t want to jam them all in and overwhelm you.
As we waited to board the plane, the United representative at the gate announced that the flight was overbooked and they were offering $300 per person for someone to take a later flight. I thought that was interesting because the United flights we took to get to San Juan had been oversold too and they were trying to get people to take an offer and switch to a later flight.
We were happy to get on the plane and be heading home. The disorganized, ineffective manner in which United handled passengers at the San Juan airport had sucked the energy out of most of us. No one was happy and people were frustrated, hungry and they just wanted to get to their seats.
The flight was reasonably uneventful. I worked, read a bit, and kept checking the map on the screen to see how close we were… Then the pilot announced that the Houston Airport had quite a bit of air traffic due to rain and we would be in a holding pattern for 12 minutes. No problem, I thought – we have an hour and a half and our next flight was at a gate that was close to our landing gate.
Then, 15 minutes into our holding pattern, he announced that we needed to continue holding for a few more minutes…
Then, 10 minutes later, the pilot said that we were diverting to a nearby military base. Hmmm. Now I am sure he must have said to refuel, however – almost no one heard that part – everyone in the seats around me started asking questions and worrying – Why was this happening? Is there some kind of security risk? What is going on? Why are we landing there – will they bus us to Houston? Will I miss my connecting flight? It was all quite concerning. Yet no one addressed the clearly worried and upset passengers or clarified anything.
Upon landing, the pilot announced that we would simply refuel as quickly as possible and fly back to Houston. Why did we run out of fuel in a holding pattern for 25 minutes?
The time started to creep closer and closer to our connection flight’s boarding time and we began to worry. I asked a flight attendant, who was passing by my seat, about this and she said: “I don’t know – you will need to speak to someone when we land.” Really? On West Jet and Air Canada flights, when it seems passengers might miss their flights – the flight attendants are on it and even if they don’t have the answer, they communicate on a regular basis so people know they are doing their best. We received no information from the crew – and many of the passengers on this flight were worried about missing their connections, as Houston is a hub for United.
While we were refueling, the pilot announced that he had turned the Pay TV on for the passengers – as a gift from him for all of the delays. And I thought – that is a nice gesture. For the 45 minutes while we were on the ground, we had access to movies and TV shows at no charge. As soon as the plane hit the runway and went back into the sky, the free TV was cut off. Really? We spent another 30 minutes in the air – getting back to Houston International and circling the airport again. I think they could have left the TV on until we landed in Houston. Don’t you?
When we landed, trying to get off the plane was chaos. Unfortunately, some of the passengers either forgot or had no manners and were trying to push their way off the plane so they didn’t miss their flights.
Once off, we stood in a line at the desk at the gate – about an hour – to have the person there tell us she could get one of us out of Houston the next morning at 6 a.m. and one of us could go to San Francisco that evening and go to Vancouver from there late the next day. As United was claiming that we missed our connection due to “weather” and not due to “refueling” and that they were not going to pay for a hotel, we didn’t see the point in getting one room in Houston and one in San Francisco.
I could clearly tell that we were frustrating the woman behind the counter by asking her about better options. She sighed quite a bit and she rolled her eyes twice at my questions. Her voice held no helpful tone – it was sharp with the sound of frustration – directed at us because we had the gall to miss our flight. Let me explain here – we are polite and courteous… even for Canadians. We say please and thank you a lot. We say – would you mind checking to see if this is possible… we keep our voices calm and respectful. We knew she was having a tough day too and did our best to be sympathetic to her situation. However, that didn’t go both ways. There was absolutely no need for us to be treated like were a pain in her butt.
Finally, she said she could get us on a flight that night to Chicago and another flight the next day to Vancouver that would get us in later in the evening. That wasn’t great either. I asked her if there were any flights to Seattle (you know – that major U.S. city just south of Vancouver) and she looked at me like I had three heads… I admit I am making an assumption here, but I don’t think she actually knew where Vancouver was … She looked up Seattle and said she could get us on a flight there the next morning at 10 a.m. and then from Seattle to Vancouver later that afternoon. We would arrive in Vancouver at 5 p.m. We’d miss a day’s work, have to pay our dog sitter for another day, have to get a hotel room, and pay for all the meals. Thinking that this was our only option, we said yes.
In our next installment, I will tell you about the United pilot who thinks he’s funny, the $40 bottle of salsa and how the TSA provided the best customer service of this whole trip.
Posted by Paul Holman of AHA Creative Strategies on November 21st, 2014
Here at the AHA office, we’re used to working with clients to develop speeches and presentations. Today we’re talking about what Ruth will speak about at TEDx BCIT on January 24, 2015. She received the call yesterday confirming her as a speaker for this engaging, thought-provoking event. We did an AHA Happy Dance in the office after that call.
We’re looking forward to this event and seeing all of the other speakers that day.
Posted by Ruth Atherley of AHA Creative Strategies on November 19th, 2014
I travel quite a bit for business and pleasure, and I have to say my most recent travel on United Airlines (from San Juan, Puerto Rico to Vancouver) was the worst experience I have ever had on an airline. #UnitedSUCKS (the trending hashtag) should be painted on their airplanes. Talk about the inability to deliver on a brand promise – although I have to admit, I am not sure they actually have a brand promise, understand, or even care about what their brand reputation is. Their customer service was so shockingly bad that it almost felt like we were being pranked. As it turns out, when I shared our experience as it was happening on Facebook with family, friends and colleagues (many of whom are journalists – quite a few are travel writers), there were dozens of responses talking about how United Airlines had treated them poorly too.
I am going to write this blog post in two installments – there was so much wrong with how United Airlines treated us and many, many other passengers that it will take more than one post to explain it. I am appalled by the unprofessional, often rude, clearly incompetent actions by United staff in both Puerto Rico and Houston (where we ended up stranded after United caused us to miss our connection to Vancouver).
We always tell clients that public relations and a brand promise are connected. Having everyone who works for your organization deliver on the brand promise is crucial to your success and a strong brand reputation. Customer service is at the core of your business – especially if you are a service organization. Clearly, no one cares about this at United Airlines. They are a shining example of what not to do when it comes to customer service.
Two cruise ships docked in Puerto Rico on Sunday, November 16 – letting thousands of passengers off – most of whom were heading home. Many had flights with United Airlines. Paul and I were two of those people. We got to the airport at 9 a.m. – our flight boarded at 1:20 p.m. We were going to spend some time working before we boarded, but there was no one at the United desk to check us or anyone else in. However, Southwest, Delta and all of the other counters were open. The United desk was completely empty.
At about 9:15 a.m., people started to line up at the United area – so we did too. We were about 25 people back in the line. We expected that the desk would open at 9:30 a.m. – nope. 10 a.m. came and went. Still not one United employee to check anyone in. The lineup kept on growing longer and longer and longer… The clock hit 10:30 a.m. and still no one arrived to take our bags (we had already checked in online) or to help any of the hundreds of other United passengers who were growing increasingly frustrated with standing in line (while so many other people who had booked with different airlines sailed through check-in and were off to their gate). There were no signs to say when the desk would open. No one at the airport knew when the United staff would show up.
At 11 a.m., the United Desk finally opened with two people (one for first class and one for economy). By that time, all of the other airlines had maybe 20 people in line at any given time. They had checked in the majority of their passengers – passengers who were now through security and enjoying a coffee or bite to eat on the other side. The United lineup had grown to hundreds and hundreds of people. Frustration was in the air.
There seemed to be some confusion about how a lineup works, as the first person to arrive at the United desk took anyone who came up to her – instead of looking to the first person in line (the people who had been standing there since 9:15 a.m.). People from the middle of the line started to swarm her and she began checking them in. It was chaos.
By the time we got to the front to be checked in – about an hour and 15 minutes later (even though we were only behind 25 other people in the “proper” lineup), they had added two other United check-in agents. Yet – the line behind us had not become any shorter. It was long and full of upset and frustrated people. We wondered if some of the people at the back of the line would be checked in by the time their flights left. As we were checking in – I mentioned that to the person behind the United Airlines desk. She shook her head and said: “The cruise ships do this to us every week. They let you off the ship too early.” Really? So this happens every week when the cruise ship lets people disembark and readies the ship for the new passengers… Apparently, no one at United realizes that if they opened up the counter an hour or two earlier it wouldn’t turn into such chaos. This wasn’t the cruise ship’s fault. It was United’s for understaffing a busy period – that they know happens every week!
Adding two people for an extra two hours each, once a week – how much would that really cost budget-wise? I would estimate less than $250 in hourly wages. And what is the cost to their brand reputation for all of the people who went on Facebook and Twitter that morning and talked about how poorly they treat passengers and showed how long the line was. (You actually couldn’t get it all into one photo – the line wrapped a long way around the airport.) Or all of the people who said they won’t fly United again. Me included. It seems like they are busy watching their pennies while dollars are flying out the door.
We finally got checked in, through security, and then sat at our gate. Because we were near the front of the line, we got to the gate about an hour before our flight – which was a luxury compared to what others experienced. We saw person after person coming to the gate minutes before boarding. They were frustrated, angry and upset about the inefficiency of United. People – including some elderly and physically challenged individuals – stood in line for anywhere between two and three hours trying to check in. No other airline at the San Juan airport had this kind of issue.
There was no communication from United to passengers waiting in the line to check in. No one from United asked anyone in the long lineup what their flight time was – or if someone needed to be rushed through so they wouldn’t miss their flight. If they were cutting it close, people had to take it upon themselves to cut into the line to get checked in and go through security. And everyone I asked in the airport who was booked on United said the people checking them in blamed it all on the cruise ships and the fact that “every week, they do this to us.” Talk about denial.
It was a nightmare. By the time people boarded their flights, they were frustrated. And it only got worse from there…
Stay tuned for the next post on more challenges United faced with its brand promise. To give you a glimpse of things to come, it took us 32 hours to get from San Juan to Vancouver and we arrived in Vancouver 46.5 hours ago but haven’t seen our luggage yet.
They really should change the branding on their planes to #UnitedSUCKS. It’s what their reputation is – and it’s the brand promise they deliver.
(Image credit: © Boarding1now | Dreamstime.com – United Airlines Boeing 757 Photo)
Posted by Ruth Atherley of AHA Creative Strategies on November 05th, 2014
A good relationship between a client and an agency is a two-way street. We have been fortunate at AHA – for the most part, we have had exceptional relationships with our clients. However, that isn’t to say that we haven’t had relationships that just didn’t work – sometimes, it just isn’t a good fit in personality or “chemistry” (that magical ingredient we search for). Other times, the client’s expectations may not have matched with what we knew we could deliver. (I remember one client saying that we needed to get him on the cover of Maclean’s magazine because I had worked there… his story wouldn’t have interested Maclean’s and when I explained this – he just didn’t understand why I couldn’t call up my former colleagues and “get it done.” Needless to say, we had to end our relationship with this client). And, of course, every communications person I know has had a client that is just too “out there” for a productive relationship to exist.
A positive client/agency relationship benefits everyone involved. At AHA, we go the extra mile for our clients, and that’s because of the good relationships we have built together. It’s hard to be motivated to work over a holiday weekend for a client who is unreasonably demanding, has unrealistic expectations, or is just hard to work with; but for the clients you like and respect – you dig in and do what needs to be done.
Below are our five key elements for a positive relationship.
When we know what is expected of us, and what our client has committed to deliver, we can focus on strategy, creativity and generating results. We know that every once in a while, a goal post has to move – but that should be the exception, not the rule. Understanding expectations, our roles and our goals makes both the AHA team and our clients happy.
Keep us in the loop and respond to our requests for information
It is crucial that we are kept up-to-date with what’s new and our clients’ marketing initiatives. (That means regular meetings and knowing what is going on at the client office.) When we need information or a response (to a media request for an interview, for example), it is important that we get this as quickly as possible, or at least know the client’s schedule so that we can understand why they aren’t responding.
We connect with our clients on a regular basis – a quick coffee, a phone call or an e-mail just to check in – and they do that with us too. At AHA, we send status reports each Monday – so our clients always know what we are working on and where the project budget or monthly retainer stands. If a campaign isn’t going the way we thought it would, we brainstorm internally and reach out to the client to discuss solutions – and they will flag it if they see something that doesn’t look effective as well. If there is an issue, we come together with our clients to discuss it. Regular communication is essential to a good relationship, and it is important that both the agency and client are proactive in this area.
Make us feel like part of the team
Making your agency feel like a seamless part of your team is really important. Department or organizational e-mails, team meetings, including us in company functions… these are all of value. Our clients see AHA as an important part of the team. There is huge benefit to that – we get to know the marketing and communications people (including those managing social media), we understand the internal challenges that you face, and we have an emotional investment in your success. For AHA and our clients, there is no “us” and “them” – it’s all “we” – and our clients will tell you that provides exceptional return-on-investment.
Pay us on time
While this might seem like a no-brainer – not paying your agency on time can create a problem in your relationship. Treat us with respect – and pay us on time. When you don’t pay our invoice on time, trust is lost and that can negatively impact how we work together.
Posted by Ruth Atherley of AHA Creative Strategies on October 27th, 2014
On 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.
Posted by Ruth Atherley of AHA Creative Strategies on October 16th, 2014
As 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.
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.
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.
Posted by Ruth Atherley of AHA Creative Strategies on October 08th, 2014
The 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.
Posted by Ruth Atherley of AHA Creative Strategies on September 25th, 2014
Every 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.
Posted by Ruth Atherley of AHA Creative Strategies on September 11th, 2014
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.