The AHA 100 Cups of Coffee Campaign

Posted by Ruth Atherley of AHA Creative Strategies on July 27th, 2016

dreamstime_xs_48486420Several conversations with colleagues, mentors and the AHA Creative Strategies team recently inspired me to take on an interesting campaign. We’re calling it The AHA 100 Cups of Coffee Campaign. In a nutshell, I am aiming to meet 100 different individuals for a cup of coffee (or tea – we’re not sticklers for that detail) from July 1, 2016 to July 1, 2017.

I am currently at person number five and I am loving this opportunity. I am meeting with people I know and those I don’t – people recommended by friends and colleagues and others who I am connected to on LinkedIn or on other social media networks, but haven’t met yet. I am meeting with former colleagues I worked with or wish I had and with former clients. Others are individuals who I like and respect, but have lost touch with.

My goal with this campaign is pretty simple: I just want to learn about the person, about his or her professional life, perspective, passions and ideas – and to connect. I hope I provide value to the conversation and that our meeting provides a benefit to that person too – that each of us leaves our coffee meeting feeling inspired or having learned something or just happy to have met someone interesting.

I am not going into these meetings with an “ask” or any kind of agenda. I have to admit, I am tired of people – mostly strangers and acquaintances – only wanting to connect when they want something from me. It gets old fast.

The AHA 100 Cups of Coffee Campaign came about from some incredible conversations about how many smart, thought-provoking and thoughtful, engaged and engaging, interesting people there are in the world – and that if I don’t get out there, I won’t get to know them!

What I hope will happen is that everyone I meet with will find the interaction to be of value and that we will both walk away feeling inspired, interested, with new ideas or a different perspective. Perhaps I will be a conduit to something positive for them or I will facilitate an introduction or an opportunity for them – or perhaps they will do that for me… who knows. But the main purpose is to connect and engage in an authentic way that is enjoyable, inspiring or thought-provoking – or all three.

Let me know if you – or someone you think I should meet – have time for a coffee with me! I would love to connect.

You’re wrong (and I’m right)

Posted by Ruth Atherley of AHA Creative Strategies on July 19th, 2016

dreamstime_xs_42729484There appears to be an unfortunate trend happening in how we communicate. It’s the “you’re wrong” approach, typically followed by “and I am right.” It is an incredibly ineffective, divisive approach to authentic and engaging communication, yet it is one that is growing – particularly when it comes to public discussion and discourse. The challenge is that once this type of approach becomes “normal” or typical, it bleeds into how we communicate in other ways.

The recent Canadian federal election and the upcoming U.S. presidential election appear to be key contributors to this fast-growing trend – as do many of the challenging social and political situations that we are facing in the world. Recently, on Facebook, I watched a discussion on something that Donald Trump, the Republican presidential nominee, said. And, the fact is, it really wasn’t a discussion – it was a series of smart, educated, caring people stating things like:

  • “Americans are so stupid. Why can’t you see how evil he is?”
  • “I can’t believe that people are dumb enough to be fooled by him.”
  • “The U.S. is full of idiots and fools.”

In my experience, this isn’t the way to get someone to actually listen to you. If someone spoke to me in this way, I don’t think I would feel encouraged to have a respectful dialogue with them. And a respectful dialogue might lead to both of us learning something and opening our minds.

Now, this post isn’t about Trump, the U.S. election or any specific event or situation. It is about understanding a more strategic, respectful and inclusive approach to sharing an opinion, idea or ideology – even when you are passionate and truly believe that you are right. The declarations about Trump and the U.S. could have been about coffee (“I can’t believe you don’t drink coffee in the morning; you are stupid not to see how good it is.”) or anything else.

Many of our clients often have to put forward information that stakeholders don’t want to hear, might not agree with, or that just makes them feel frustrated or angry. In order to do this, it is always crucial to understand what it will feel like for the stakeholder (employee, partner, customer, etc.) to hear this news or information. It is important to listen to why they feel a certain way and what their perspective is – even if you don’t agree with it or understand it.

This is an active listening approach – where you actually listen to what is being said. The how, why and, often, what isn’t being said are important here too. It is why authentic public consultation has become an integral part of any large-scale change by both public and private sector organizations. Respectful, authentic engagement is at the heart of effective communications – and a solid, well-functioning society.

We have worked with countless clients on stakeholder communications, managing public consultation initiatives and organizational change, where engagement was key. Anytime we have experienced real challenges, we could trace a direct line back to the stakeholder group feeling unheard, disrespected or disconnected.

What happens when absolute and insulting statements, like the ones I saw on Facebook, are put forward? It pushes people farther away from finding any common ground, from working to understand the situation from a different perspective, and from engaging so that they can learn more. Unfortunately, it appears that we are losing sight of that, especially in the world of social media.

Author and communications professional Jim Hoggan has written a great book, I’m Right and You’re an Idiot: The Toxic State of Public Discourse and How to Clean it Up on this subject. I am about one-third of the way through the book and I think it’s worth a read for everyone – not just communications professionals.

Digital content is important

Posted by Ruth Atherley of AHA Creative Strategies on June 24th, 2016

dreamstime_xs_52765848The AHA team recently met with several of our clients and a few prospective clients to plan out communications initiatives. More and more often, digital content and brand storytelling is an important component in how we are helping our clients to tell their stories, moving forward.

In this day and age, an organization cannot rely solely on media relations or publicity to tell their stories. More and more media outlets are shifting to sponsored content, especially in the “softer” news segments (think breakfast TV, talk shows, lifestyle and business sections of publications and, of course, online). They might not announce it, but there are partnership and sponsorship deals happening that result in advertorial-like coverage. The challenge right now is that the media outlets doing this aren’t exactly being transparent with their audiences about the source of the content. As communications professionals, we all know it. We can spot a sponsored segment a mile away, but our clients are not as immersed in the media and may not.

It is harder and harder to get “earned” media coverage (editorial coverage that is pitched to media and is covered because it is a solid news item or tells a good story). That means that organizations must tell their own stories. These days, people get online and go to a search engine to find out information. This is an opportunity for your organization to tell your story and to use search engine optimization (SEO) to help potential clients, customers or other stakeholders find you.

There are now full-time digital content producer/manager/editor/curator positions at many companies. Creating your own content and housing it online is not something that is leading edge or brand new, but it is something that every company needs to be doing.

Rather than lament the decrease in media coverage, smart organizations are seeing this as a huge opportunity to build relationships with stakeholders, to engage with their communities, and to tell their own stories in an interesting, engaging, compelling and often entertaining way. Articles, Q&As, videos, photos, blogs, podcasts, videocasts… there are so many mediums to choose from and, depending on the demographic and content consumption habits of your stakeholder groups and communities, you may choose to use two, three or four different approaches to sharing information.

One of the first things we do with a client who wants to start or increase their digital content production is to look at who they want to connect with and where these individuals and groups are online, and we find out how they consume content, what their online habits are, and what are they interested in. It is a combination of an audit and research approach that provides us with solid information on what communications tools, tactics and mediums to use in order to engage in a fulsome manner. Knowing this allows you to build out your content/editorial schedule, to identify how to measure success, and to set key performance indicators.

Once you have created or produced content, it’s not enough to upload it and hope someone will read or view it; you need to think like a publisher and promote it to your potential audience. And you need to continue to monitor and engage. This is a key element of the plan that we focus on when working with clients. SEO, promotion of your content, identifying and connecting with influencers who can help expand and extend your audience base, and engaging with your readers/viewers in a timely, authentic and relationship-building approach is a long-term commitment that increases in value as you build momentum (and relationships).

It is an exciting time for organizations with a good story to tell. The ability to create great content and build an audience is in our hands. And it can be an incredible asset when done well.

Social Media 101 – The Series

Posted by Ruth Atherley of AHA Creative Strategies on June 15th, 2016

Social MediaWe have had an exceptional response to our Social Media 101 series (Facebook; Twitter). In fact, I met with a client the other day, a senior executive at a high-profile organization, who told me that he really appreciates the series because it is helping him to better understand social media tools, technology and tactics. He laughingly told me: “I kind of have to fake it a bit when my team talks about social media because I know so little and I don’t want to admit that to them.” And he said that our series is giving him the basics, so now social media is starting to make sense to him – and that means more productive meetings with his staff.

People like this client are exactly why we are producing this series. Many people understand social media, but there are also others who don’t. In our experience, there are many senior executives – CEOs, presidents, executive directors, general managers, vice presidents, directors and senior managers – who may have limited knowledge or understanding of social media in general. Some of these professionals may even work in the marketing or communications departments or divisions and, because of their leadership role, they don’t get as involved in the use of social media as others who handle the day-to-day activities. Because of this, they feel like they don’t know enough about social media and, often, they don’t really want to publicly admit this because they are in senior positions.

It’s a tough spot to be in. These are smart, engaged professionals. It can sometimes be challenging for them to grasp even the basics of social media because they are busy and social media technologies and tools change so rapidly and regularly. This blog series – Social Media 101 – aims to help anyone who is struggling with social media basics to understand the networks and use them a bit better. We know we can’t be everything to everyone, but providing a brief overview with a little bit of context of how social media is being used today seems to be useful to quite a few people – from the feedback we have heard.

With that in mind, after asking a few people who expressed interest in this series, we have a list of the topics that we are going to cover here over the next few months. If there is something you would like to know about that isn’t listed here, please send us a message and let us know.

Upcoming Social Media 101 posts are:

  • LinkedIn (including LinkedIn Pulse)
  • YouTube
  • Google+
  • Pinterest
  • Instagram
  • Snapchat
  • Vine
  • Tumblr
  • Reddit

We will, of course, be updating this list as needed. And, if it continues to be popular, we may go back and revisit it, adding specific ways to use these networks to engage your stakeholder groups and communities.

What’s the purpose?

Posted by Ruth Atherley of AHA Creative Strategies on June 08th, 2016

Question mark imageWhat’s the purpose? That’s a question that we often ask when working with clients to plan proactive, positive PR campaigns, in delivering issues or crisis communication, and in creating any type of content – articles, online, web or social media copy, video, news releases, speeches, presentations, media pitches, brochures, ads and so much more. And it’s one we ask clients over and over again because it’s easy to get sidetracked with what you can do – and the reason for doing it can take a backseat.

The challenge that we, as communicators, face in today’s world is that we have so much opportunity to connect. There are hundreds (maybe even thousands) of channels and mediums compared to the limited few that existed back in the pre-social media days. There is always going to be a shiny new social media network or channel being promoted, a website being refreshed, or an idea to run a contest in order to build followers, fans or supporters. But before any of these ideas pass beyond the brainstorming session, it’s crucial to ask the question: What’s the purpose?

Clearly defining what you want to achieve is the first step. It allows you to better understand exactly who you want to engage or build a relationship with, identify the channel and/or medium that will work best to reach your stakeholders or target audience, develop effective messaging and positioning, and to set your objectives and campaign goals so that you can measure your success or ascertain what you need to shift or revise, if you aren’t hitting your targets.

Here at AHA, for example, our main purpose in creating content for this blog is to showcase our knowledge, expertise and experience in the areas of strategic communications, such as proactive PR, issues and crisis communication, content creation, speechwriting, brand journalism, social media, media relations, event management, etc. Our secondary purpose is for search engine optimization so that someone searching online for our expertise can find us. When we are writing the blog posts or producing Fast Take Friday video blogs, we always keep our purpose in mind. Our clients tend to come to us through referral, finding us via an online search, or they see us on social media – and want to know more about us. Our website and this blog give them the information they need to drive them to action – to pick up the phone and call us to discuss their needs and find out whether we might be a good fit.

For example, we work with several clients that produce consumer goods. When working with them on publicity, events, social media engagement and content creation, our focus is on engaging potential customers to purchase their products. We use storytelling, brand journalism and great writing and editing to engage potential customers with a call to action to purchase.

Another example of this is when an organization engages directly with potential customers using tools like Facebook contests. They can promote their products in a manner that brings more people to like their Facebook page, they get to provide information about their products in the context of the contest, they help to raise awareness of those products and their company, and it helps them to build relationships with their target market. Contests work for them. But they don’t work for everyone. If we, at AHA, ran a contest – we might get new likes for our Facebook page, but how many of those likes would ever turn into a new client? Not many… The people who may decide to hire us aren’t going to choose us because they might win something. They want an agency that is experienced, skilled and smart. Creating content for this blog helps to showcase this to potential clients.

Asking, “What’s the purpose?” is a big question that can help you to become more effective in your communications efforts. It’s an easy-to-use and important question that should be asked daily.

Social Media 101 – Twitter

Posted by Ruth Atherley of AHA Creative Strategies on June 01st, 2016

AHA - Twitter ImageNext up in our Social Media 101 series is Twitter. Twitter is an online social networking and microblogging service that allows users to send and read short 140-character messages called “tweets.” As of the first quarter of 2016, Twitter averaged 310 million monthly active users.

If Facebook is like a coffee shop where (almost) everyone knows your name, Twitter is a busy airport pub where you are welcome to join the conversations that interest you and connect with strangers (who can often become clients, colleagues and even friends).

Depending on your organization and what you provide – Twitter can support your sales and offer timely customer service. It can provide you with an understanding of how people perceive your industry, company or a specific incident, event or activity. It can help you to showcase your expertise and subject matter knowledge and it can help you to expand and extend your network. It is a great engagement tool.

Twitter provides an excellent opportunity to join the conversations that matter to you and your organization. On Twitter, your goal should be to engage followers (real ones, not the fake bots that just up your follower count) in authentic and timely conversations and discussions. You can use Twitter to link to a blog post, make a statement on something happening in the news, share your opinion, ask questions of others, and do just about everything you would do if you had the opportunity to be in the same room with a whole lot of smart people who are relevant to your world. (Just remember that you need to be relevant to their world too for this to work.)

The best way to engage and increase your followers is to follow others who you are interested in and participate in discussions. Respond to questions and comments and showcase who you are and what you bring to the party! Twitter is like a great big cocktail party where people are interested in what you have to say.

Writing in 140 characters can take some getting used to (and Twitter is about to make it a little easier to do this), especially if you aren’t succinct. Writing less is an art and it’s worth it to be thoughtful about the craft of writing tweets. A great tweet can be retweeted (shared) by your followers and increase your reach – as well as bring more people to follow you.

Like Facebook, it’s important, to understand your social media brand and voice and have that reflected on your Twitter account. And because Twitter is fast-paced and smart, it is also crucial that you understand how important it is to think through what you post here. There are many, many examples of Twitter #fails (if you don’t know what a # (hashtag) is – we’ll explain that in an upcoming post) because someone posted something inappropriate, confidential or even inflammatory. Writing in 140 characters might seem like nothing, but think of it as writing a really short article with a readership of millions – and be sensitive to how they might perceive what you are saying.

Twitter is a hot social network for organizations and it’s important that you are on there and know what’s going on. It’s equally important that you identify what you want to generate through Twitter – and know when, why and what you want to share with the Twitterverse. It can be an exceptionally positive tool or it can be one that creates issues that drive you to spend valuable time retracting, explaining, clarifying and apologizing.

Do yourself a favour and take Twitter seriously. You wouldn’t disseminate information or opinions that reflected poorly on your organization through email, at an event, at a tradeshow or when making a presentation. Don’t do it on Twitter either. There is a great deal of power in the hands of the people on Twitter. Respect them and your brand.

The importance of a strategic approach

Posted by Ruth Atherley of AHA Creative Strategies on May 30th, 2016

dreamstime_xs_54104060I have recently had several conversations with colleagues and clients about the importance and value of a strategic approach. One former colleague, and now friend, who leads the communications efforts for a large multi-national organization was complaining about the lack of strategic thinking from her team, many of whom are mid-20s to late 30s. She was wondering what she could do about it and whether strategic thinking can be taught.

I said that I believed that it could. It takes effort and, wait for it – strategic leadership on her part – but I think that part of the challenge of today’s fast paced, 24/7 connected world is that we don’t provide enough time to develop strategic thinkers in the workplace.

My friend was saying that she sees an excellent work ethic, strong integrity and great intentions from her team, but that their solutions and approaches are tactical in nature – and are often reactive. The conversation was interesting because in the past several months, we have had clients come to us with exactly this type of challenge. We have been asked to review communications plans, campaigns and other initiatives because what they feel is missing at their organization is the team’s ability to see the big picture, recognize opportunities – and risk – and to frame solutions or their approach within the broader organizational strategy.

Supporting people to incorporate strategic thinking is a commitment to your team – and it’s one that should be taken seriously. To begin with, it is important to encourage individuals to think things through and not just react. But, let’s be honest, this is not an easy thing to do these days with fast and furious conversations happening on social media – which is why a social media content, distribution and issues strategy is crucial. Asking for several solutions to a challenge or for an opportunity and helping people to identify the one that offers the best long-term benefit for the organization is important. It’s easy to step in and do it yourself, if you are a strategic thinker… but if you want to help develop this skill with your team, your role should be to support and provide feedback as they work through this process themselves.

Creating a culture where your team is encouraged to ask “why” and “when” questions is also a key element. The “how” usually comes out in the tactics once you have answered “why” and “when.” And when showcasing a solution or idea, having the person presenting explain what underlying strategic goal it serves and what impact it will have on internal and external stakeholders also helps to shift the thinking to the bigger picture.

Strategic thinking is a crucial skill to have in any professional role – especially in communications and, of course, in leadership. Helping your team develop and increase their strategic thinking ability is an excellent investment in the people and in the organization. The benefits of helping your team develop this skill are well worth the time and resources it takes.

AHA Fast Take Friday – No fooling

Posted by Ruth Atherley of AHA Creative Strategies on April 01st, 2016

In today’s Fast Take Friday, I talk about how to deal with negative comments about your organization online.

Communication using video

Posted by Ruth Atherley of AHA Creative Strategies on March 25th, 2016

In today’s AHA Fast Take Friday, Ruth talks about the best use of video communication.

Stakeholder communication

Posted by Ruth Atherley of AHA Creative Strategies on March 22nd, 2016

dreamstime_xs_45994455At AHA, we’ve recently been working on quite a few stakeholder communications projects. We really like this kind of work because you get to work with great organizations that understand the value of regular, consistent and useful communication to their stakeholder groups, and it makes a positive impact when done well.

I think that it can be easy to forget or overlook some stakeholders, especially during a time of change, transition, strategic or other long-term planning, or during an issue. Depending on what you are dealing with, the focus might be media or government relations or reporting to the board of directors or governors – the seemingly “higher priority” groups. In reality, in our experience (and we have done a great deal of work in this area), one group can’t be seen as a higher priority than another – especially in this day and age of social media.

Messaging needs to be consistent throughout your communications, no matter what stakeholder you are engaging in dialogue or updating. What you tell journalists, board members, employees and members of the public must be uniform in the messaging. Don’t share more information with one group than you want the others to know. It will get leaked and it will create resentment and mistrust.

Communication with stakeholders has to be regular and it should be as often as resources will allow (even if you need to bring in help). It may seem clear to you or others who are more involved in the situation, but for those who are receiving the updates, details or other news – especially if it deals with change (even potential change) or an issue – it takes longer to absorb the information.

Providing regular communication might seem repetitious to you, but for the person who is getting the information, they need time to take it in, process it, and put it in context of what it means to them. It is better to have your stakeholder groups complain about getting too much information (and they will) than not enough. Even if you have people complaining that they are receiving too much info, you will always have those who will say they haven’t heard enough or anything at all. It’s just how it works when you are dealing with serious subject matter.

There is, of course, a great deal more to planning and implementing a successful stakeholder communications program. However, you have to start with a clear commitment to communicate with all stakeholders, consistently and on a regular basis.

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