Case Studies


Tourism New Zealand (TNZ) sought to increase Canadian travellers’ knowledge of New Zealand and its offerings and move travellers to the action of booking a trip to New Zealand.

To meet this objective, the AHA team implemented a range of strategic themes to generate word-of-mouth and coverage in both traditional and online media. Each supporting tactic focused on the key messages.

In addition to ongoing media and blogger outreach with new, timely and relevant tourism and travel information from various regions, cities and events within New Zealand, the AHA team also identified key media to approach regarding TNZ’s International Media Program. This program provides key travel journalists with the opportunity to participate in familiarization trips to New Zealand. The trips are usually individually planned, as the key media approached to participate in this program are top-level media. AHA works with the journalists to develop and define story ideas relevant to their media outlet(s). Journalists from The Toronto Star, The Toronto Sun, The Globe and Mail, The National PostThe Vancouver Sun, The Province, CTV’s Canada AM, CTV’s eTalk, Discovery Channel’s Daily Planet, CAA Magazine,, and several trade publications have visited New Zealand as participants in this program over the past five years. AHA works with TNZ Los Angeles and Auckland to coordinate and manage these trips, works with the journalists on their return to provide photos and additional material, and then follows up to ensure that articles are generated.

In the area of brand journalism, AHA also develops written travel articles for Tourism New Zealand. These articles can be used free of charge and are written in an editorial style. They are distributed to online publications, community newspapers and other media. They have run on (1.9 million unique visitors per month), (640,000 unique visitors per month), and Travel Video News (10,000 unique visitors per month). They have also been used on AOL Canada (1 million unique visitors per month), (1.1 million unique visitors per month) and (233,000 unique visitors per month).

The AHA team also developed an annual, internationally-focused travel, trade brand journalism campaign that was distributed via social media channels. This was done on behalf of TNZ and the Tourism Industry Association of New Zealand. TRENZ is the largest travel trade show in New Zealand and is held annually. Travel trade media and travel professionals are invited to this trade show to connect with New Zealand tourism operators.

In 2009, there were several challenges in getting media to New Zealand, including concerns over H1N1 and the global economic recession. AHA put forward a proposal that would use a brand journalism approach delivered online through flip-style videos, a time-limited blog and Twitter, to provide “almost live” first person updates from TRENZ to offer relevant and timely information and give those who could not be at TRENZ the opportunity to interact and ask questions of specific travel operators.

This brand journalism approach was then expanded to include a week-long familiarization trip in specific areas prior to the trade show. This three-week travel brand journalism campaign was heavily promoted to English-speaking travel trade and consumer travel media, and travel agents around the world.

AHA’s focus on raising awareness of Tourism New Zealand as a long-haul destination has garnered solid results over the past seven years. AHA has generated positive media coverage in national, regional, local and community media, and has connected directly online with the general public, travel agents and wholesalers.

Below are examples of Flip-style video blog posts we did for the time-limited blog.

In the fall of 2010, the British Columbia Provincial Government proclaimed the 2010-2011 school year the Year of Science in B.C. This initiative was to raise awareness among B.C. families, particularly young people, about the many exciting and rewarding careers in science related fields.

Vancouver Community College (VCC) created a series of events as a part of the Year of Science. The first event had VCC hosting astronaut Cmdr. John Herrington – the first Native American in space – for two special presentations to primary and high school students, and to the public.

We were asked to work with the VCC team to develop a strategic outreach and PR campaign for this event (as well as subsequent Year of Science events).

The AHA Brand Journalism Team developed a strategic Brand Journalism/PR outline that included:

  • A promotional awareness-building event where free Tang was given out to students, encouraging them to come to the event.
  • An event notice/photo opportunity notice for media – encouraging them to cover the event.
  • Targeted pitches to identified key media – providing the opportunity for interviews prior to the event. (As Cmdr. Herrington’s time was limited, this opportunity was only offered to two television shows.) We secured an appearance for Cmdr. Herrington on Global Television’s Morning News – Vancouver’s most watched news station.
  • Opportunities for media to interview Cmdr. John Herrington at VCC after his presentations. (Media that interviewed Cmdr. Herrington at VCC included: News1130 radio, Metro, Ming Pao and Aboriginal Peoples Television Network. The Vancouver Province ran a piece after the event, from the photo release and video news release.)
  • A photo release with images of Cmdr. John Herrington speaking and posing with students.
  • A video news release with interviews with Cmdr. Herrington, VCC President Kathy Kinloch, several students and members of the public – for media, for use on the Year of Science website and via the VCC website to the general public. (This video was edited and produced within two hours of the presentations for distribution to media and was showcased that evening to VCC’s Board of Governors who were meeting. The video was also provided to the Provincial Government to showcase VCC’s involvement in the Year of Science.)
  • A stand-alone interview with Cmdr. Herrington was provided to the Provincial Government and put on the VCC website.
  • A video of the highlights of Cmdr. Herrington’s presentation was provided to the Provincial Government and put on the VCC website.

Each year, in November, Richmond Centre creates a magical winter wonderland. Located in Richmond, B.C., Richmond Centre has focused their holiday season marketing efforts on the Santa at Richmond Centre interactive experience. The objective is to create an in-mall experience for visitors to the shopping centre.

When we were asked to develop a strategic PR campaign for Santa at Richmond Centre, we recommended a Brand Journalism approach.

The AHA Brand Journalism Team developed a strategic Brand Journalism/PR outline that included:

  • Opportunities for media to interview the “real” Santa. (This component of the process was so successful that one journalist from an ethnic publication, who was reasonably new to Canada, didn’t understand that the “real” Santa approach was a marketing initiative and was struggling to understand the concept – a reality in her mind – of Santa Claus.)
  • A photo release.
  • A video news release for media and via the Richmond Centre website to the general public.
  • An internal video that highlighted the benefits of the experiential campaign to retailers in the mall for the mall’s senior executive.
  • A short 30-second general video for Facebook and other social media networks.

Our efforts over the six-week Brand Journalism/media relations campaign resulted in strong editorial coverage, a substantial increase in visitors to the mall’s website, a positive reaction from the mall’s senior executive team and from retailers in the mall, as well as an increase in sales in the mall (when other malls in the area experienced a decline due to the global economic downturn).

In March 2008, we were contracted to develop a strategic online communications plan for a national financial organization.

In our initial meeting, we discovered that the senior executive had a range of knowledge of online media and differing opinions on the importance of developing an online community for the launch of the organization.

In order to be effective, we recommended to the senior team that before we began to develop a plan, that we needed to first provide the senior executive with a foundation of knowledge and understanding of online media, its uses, opportunities and challenges. Then, as a team, come to a decision as to whether developing an online communications plan was the right approach for this organization.

In this case, there were substantial and legitimate concerns regarding creating an “open online conversation” in light of strict regulations, laws and the challenges of perception regarding security and privacy that many financial organizations face.

In order to demystify and explain the online world to a busy team of senior executives, we created a series of short workshops that educated, enlightened and opened the world of online media, developed specifically for this organization. Each component was done in small “bite sized” pieces, so as to not overwhelm the participants. It also provided the opportunity for them to digest and reflect on specific components. At a follow-up workshop, we assisted them in putting what they had learned previously into context in their specific roles in the organization. The small sized workshops provided a “safe” environment for the senior team. They allowed AHA, in our role as communication consultants, the ability to discuss, dissect and thrash out the idea of a social media community for the bank.

Over a three-week period, the senior executive was taken through the benefits and risks of developing an online community for both external and internal use. Our role was not to “sell” them on the idea, but to provide facts and stats, case studies and to facilitate the discussion. Challenges, threats and weaknesses were given as much discussion time as opportunities and strengths.

At the end of the three weeks, it was unanimously decided that we would move forward and develop the plan. This would include an online approach to a 24 – 45 age demographic that targeted entrepreneurs and small to medium sized business owners and would be at the heart of our communications strategy. The overall plan also encompassed promotional PR, as well as the original external and internal corporate communications campaigns.

We then developed an online communications plan that included guest blogs by industry professionals such as a business coach, accountant, financial planner, PR specialist, management consultant and more.

The online community would be available to the general public. Organizations and individuals—who chose to do business with this financial organization—would have access to a password protected, more robust site.

The plan was not focused on a one-way push out of information, but included a forum, wiki, offered blogs for small business, engaged members in LinkedIn and Twitter, and had many more functions and benefits. It also created “In Person Meet Ups” in specific cities across Canada that encouraged networking and professional connections.

The plan was presented to the senior executive and the board of directors and it was unanimously approved.

In mid-May of 2009, Vancouver ad/marketing agency Hot Tomali recruited AHA to develop a national media relations campaign to support the launch of a public awareness campaign focused on the growing unemployment issue in Canada. The campaign was already planned and set to launch on June 1.

Within a two-week period, AHA:

    • Developed the media relations plan and received approval.
    • Developed messaging for both national and locally focused audiences.
    • Developed a national media database.
    • Developed national and local news releases, photo opportunity events and photo opportunity releases.
    • Media trained the spokespeople.
    • Worked with several key stakeholders (including union and government) to produce a news conference at Parliament Hill in Ottawa.

Our efforts over the six-week media relations campaign resulted in more than $600,000 in editorial value. The campaign was considered a great success by the client.

Through our partnership with QUAY Strategies Inc., AHA Creative Strategies Inc. was asked to provide an online/social media strategy to support the internal launch of a new brand, vision, and set of goals for the Vancouver Convention Centre (VCC).

The objective of the online initiative was to further improve internal communications within VCC, and encourage both staff and contractors to have a role and participate in the ongoing culture shift. A major challenge faced by this organization was that their staff and contractors were geographically spread out and had different work hours. Further to that, because of their role within the organization, some staff did not have daily access to a computer.

AHA developed an internal website with the short-term goal of encouraging participation in an internal survey and the long-term goal of building an engaged online community site. The site held information on the organization’s goals and vision and housed a blog written by the GM.

Through email invitations, department meetings and other online and in-person outreach tactics, staff and contractors were invited to visit the website and comment on the blog and take a survey. The initiative was very successful, a large percentage of both staff and contractors visited the site (website stats were strong and staff and contractors stayed on the site much longer than expected) and the number of participants in the survey exceeded the client’s expectations. The responses were well thought out and provided valuable feedback for the organization.

The organization provided an update to staff and contractors regarding the feedback received and indicated that some of the suggestions were being implemented immediately and that others were being put forward for discussion to the appropriate staff members.

There are plans to expand this internal community and develop a comprehensive intranet that includes a strong, interactive component that will allow staff, contractors and senior executives to continue this positive conversation.

For an independently produced documentary television show that featured the importance of animals in health care, we had a “star” llama (named Wallace) that was famous for working with patients with dementia. We brought Wallace to the set of the now defunct Vicki Gabereau talk show. After the taping of the nationally televised show, in which Wallace and the Healing With Animals’ writer and director were featured, we then took him onto a busy city street and he “signed autographs” with his hoof. We had alerted media to this unusual autograph session and received national coverage, both on the Vicki Gabereau show and in newspapers throughout the country.

A Canadian animation studio that was growing was about to move into a new building that the founders had purchased. In the big picture, this purchase did not contain any news value (it was exciting for the company, but not necessarily for anyone else). However, we approached the Minister of Small Business, Technology and Economic Development and the Minister of Tourism, Culture and the Arts and invited them to help “christen” the building with a group of 100 animators – using water balloons. We held a media conference and had a strong visual with 100 animators throwing water balloons, mostly at the building, but a few threw them at the founders, which was all in good fun. We received national media coverage as a result.

Vancouver Film School is situated in Vancouver, BC, but more than 40% of its students come from outside of British Columbia. In order to effectively position the school to potential students, we developed a “Road Show” that had us take components of the school to cities in Canada where potential students lived. (We visited Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Regina, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Calgary and Edmonton.)

In each city, we created media interview opportunities for staff and, where possible, interviews for graduates that were doing well in their field. We held open auditions for the acting programs and provided portfolio reviews for classical and 3D animation, film and interactive media. The acting auditions quite often attracted media because of the visual of actors performing. The instructors from each program were regularly invited as guests on breakfast shows because, as professionals, they had impressive backgrounds. We also had a recruiter on-hand for those students who needed help in filling out their application.