February 2011

Yesterday morning I found myself sitting in the Vancouver Airport, getting ready to fly to Cabo San Lucas. Paul and I are working here this week (and, hopefully, getting some sun and fun in too!). I realized that I didn’t have a “work” related book to read on the plane. I quickly opened my iPad and did a quick search for books I have been meaning to read, but haven’t got around to yet. Brian Solis’ book Engage has been at the top of my list for a while, so I downloaded that to my iPad and read it on the plane.

I am a big fan of Brian’s. If you are a communicator that wants to take your social media to that next level, I strongly suggest following Brian’s blog and connecting with him on Twitter and Facebook. 

I also highly recommend Engage. It shows you how to move forward in social media for your organization without overwhelming you or making you feel like you are so far behind that it’s too late. It’s a great book.

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AHA - Valerie LappWhen Paul and Ruth suggested I become part of the “Random Act of Kindness” movement for AHA Creative Strategies, I immediately called a family meeting and explained the premise to my husband and two children. “We have $20 to do something kind right here in Peterborough.  What do you think we should do?”

We talked about the amazing men who drive the recycling truck, and about the always-friendly crossing guard.  They had been kind to us – they were deserving of some kindness back.

And then we thought of something.

There’s been an ad on our local TV station recently, a fundraiser for the YWCA’s Crossroads Shelter for abused women and children. A child’s voice sings, “Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday…” while a voiceover makes the chilling statement that there are three calls every day about domestic violence in our small town.  Three calls a day?  1,000 a year? How was this even possible?

Our decision was made.  We all liked the idea of brightening the day for scared, but courageous women and their families at the shelter, who were taking their first steps towards a better life.*

The YWCA loved the idea, when we contacted them. We suggested flowers for the women, or perhaps toys for the children – but the YWCA opted instead for the Universal Canadian Symbol of Good Will: Tim’s gift cards.

Personal delivery to the shelter itself was out of the question, as security there is very tight.  The shelter houses almost 300 women and children each year, and is only effective as long as it’s safe.  As one former resident put it: “I’ve got a great job and my kids are all doing really well. But even now, so many years later … I wake up from the fear, from that horrible icy terror that makes my heart beat so fast I think it’s going to burst… You know what calms me down? The memory of my counsellor at Crossroads telling me… we’d all be all right—because we were finally in a safe place.”

So, instead, we delivered 10 identical $2 gift cards, each in a cheery gift envelope, to our contact person at the YWCA office.  She assured us the cards would go straight to the shelter, and she thanked us with a warm smile.

I still feel the warmth in that smile, and in fact, I feel that really I should thank her.  She gave me the opportunity to feel just a little better about being human.

P.S. There’s something I noticed about this Random Act of Kindness thing.  All the kind thoughts or feelings in the world mean exactly nothing, without the actual ACT.

* A plaque on the living room of the YWCA Crossroads Shelter in Peterborough, says: “This space is dedicated to those courageous women who take bold steps toward a safer course, and to all those who help them find their way.” – Anonymous Supporter

Valerie Lapp is one of the AHA Crew based out of Peterborough, Ontario. Check her out her bio here.

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AHA Blog Post ImageThere has been a great deal of discussion regarding a Pew Internet Study that says that young people are moving away from blogging and are more focused on using Facebook and Twitter.

The New York Times has an interesting piece on it as well.

We have had an interesting discussion on this study and the response it has received here in our Vancouver PR agency. While the report itself does show that young people prefer the fast, short updates provided by Facebook and Twitter – it appears to me that we are missing some context here. While Facebook and Twitter provide an opportunity for quick updates and fast outreach, often the updates link to an article, photos or a blog that goes deeper into the topic or idea.

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Getting copy, videos, images, etc. through the approval process is a challenge that every communicator I know has faced. It’s not always easy to get through the approval process, whether you are in-house, at an agency or a freelancer. Quite often, it isn’t about how good the copy is, it’s about the culture of the organization and, at the core of it, about the person who has the power to approve.

Quite often, people don’t understand what the review process is supposed to achieve. From a communicator’s perspective, it’s usually about ensuring that the piece is accurate and authentic. We write for a living and have checks and balances in place (thank goodness for copyeditors and proofreaders!) to make sure the piece is professional, easy to read and clear.

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Media relations is a big part of what we, as communicators, do. Working with reporters is a priority for us at AHA. Everyone at our Vancouver PR Agency knows the value of a solid relationship with a journalist and we focus on developing and maintaining those media relationships.

I worked at Maclean’s magazine for a lot of years. I got to see how all types of PR people approached pitching. Some were good, some were awful (really, really awful); the best built relationships beyond the immediate pitch. They created a connection that respected the roles of both the reporter and the communicator. They went out of their way to establish mutual respect. Building these relationships doesn’t mean you get a free pass from the journalist, it means that you understand the objective each person has, you work in partnership so that it works for everyone involved and you respect how the person has to do their job.

We take media relations very seriously here at AHA. While we don’t know every journalist in North America – or even, Vancouver. When we take on a client, we learn who the journalists are that cover that industry. We read, we watch, we listen, and we pay attention. We understand what makes a good pitch in that context. We become immersed in what makes a good story in the context of what is going on in the industry and the world at that time. We develop our pitches and we go through a process that has us pitching our colleagues to see if there are any holes or weak spots in our pitch. This process is challenging, but it makes us better at what we do.

Ragan.com has a good piece on its site that outlines other key things to do when working with reporters. It’s worth a read.

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