June 2011

We recently did a communications audit for a client. The results were surprising to them. When we undertake a communications audit, depending on the objective, we usually review everything being done that focuses on communication – e-newsletters, staff memos, meetings, town halls, intranet, external website, news releases, media pitches and, of course, social media interaction.

This particular client wanted to know what they were doing well and what they could do better. Social media was something that had just kind of happened at their company – with great intentions. Staff had taken it upon themselves and started a Facebook page and Twitter account and the CEO had taken to Foursquare. To their credit, they updated quite regularly. The challenge was that the communication coming from this company was all push out – and this wasn’t just through social media channels. The tone and style of communication was outdated throughout the organization because it was a top-down, “we want you to know this” style. Facebook and Twitter were used to send out information about what the CEO was doing – board meetings, business events, etc. and on Foursquare, we could learn at any given time where the CEO was having coffee, drinks or dinner. And there was no interactivity. It was all about what they wanted you to know.

There were solid intentions from the people of this organization; it’s just that the execution fell short because their approach wasn’t based on any kind of strategy. (Do most people care where company’s CEO gets his/her coffee or have dinner?)

If you want to improve your organization’s outreach on social media or through any communications vehicle, it’s important to identify how people want to get the information (e-newsletter, blog, website update, Facebook, etc.) and this means doing your research. Don’t make assumptions. It is crucial to define what your audience or stakeholders are interested in hearing; don’t assume you know what they need to hear. And, last but not least, don’t make it all about you. It’s about them and the value you can bring to them. Create opportunities to interact. Ask questions. Ask for feedback and comments.

While you are developing a communications strategy, take a moment and think about that time you were at a party and the most boring person in the room cornered you and talked about themselves for half an hour. Do you want people to feel that way about your organization? (The fact is, if you are boring them, they don’t have to be polite and stick around for half an hour. They have a delete button.)

Have you taken a realistic look lately at how you reach out – what did you find?

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AHA Creative Strategies is a PR agency and we often get calls from individuals and organizations that are looking to work with an agency. From the moment that we started AHA more than eight years ago, we had a vision of the type of clients that we wanted to work with. It wasn’t necessarily focused on any one industry or field, but more the approach, the integrity, the character and personality of the person and the organization. We’ve been incredibly fortunate that we have been able to work with great clients that came to AHA because they were focused on communication either within their organization or to an external stakeholder group (or groups).

We provide a range of services, which if you are interested you can see here. Most importantly, I think, we have always approached our work with clients as a partnership. We take the time and make the effort to understand their needs, objectives and expectations. We also have honest and respectful discussions about what is possible and what is probable.

There are times when we reach high and we’ve achieved some great results that we are proud of. However, there are moments when a potential client says something like: “I expect to be on Oprah.” Or, because I worked at Maclean’s, they want to be on the cover of the magazine. That’s when we start to provide a reality check. There are people and organizations that have been on the now defunct Oprah show. There are people and organizations that are on the cover of Maclean’s (not always for positive reasons) and while we never say never, we also don’t often take on a client who thinks that is success. There is so much more to what we do – more than a short blog post will allow. At the core of it, what we provide is strategic PR and communications services that help build awareness, provide visibility for the brand and that develops, maintains and expands an understanding of the organization and what they offer. If their only goal is to get on the cover of Maclean’s, we’re not the right agency for the project.

I had to smile when I came across this piece on Seven Stupid Reasons To Hire a PR Agency. It puts a great deal into perspective when it comes to how and why to work with someone like us.

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I have to admit, I had to laugh when I read this post on Ragan.com about all the ways that we now have to be contacted. Back in the day, there were just a few ways to connect. This communicator counted 10 platforms that he now uses – and funnily enough, in person is the last on his list.

What about you? How many platforms do you use for communication?

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We recently watched the challenge that McDonald’s faced with a hoax that falsely suggested that the global company discriminates against African-American customers. Is your organization prepared?

At AHA, we often develop crisis communication strategies, plans and manuals for clients. We recently worked on a crisis plan for a client that included a section on how to respond if a hoax hits their brand. The online world has changed communication and facing a crisis or issue, which may include a hoax. Many communicators know this, but are experiencing a challenge in getting the senior executives, CEO, Board of Directors or Board of Governors to realize how crucial it is that social media is included as a part of any communications plan (issue and crisis or a proactive, day-to-day approach).

A good plan needs to be strategic. It also needs to recognize how the online world has influenced how an organization communicates and how stakeholders expect to receive information. Think about how the online world could take hold of a hoax related to your organization and expand its reach on a global level. That thought should make you sit up straight and think about how your organization might react.

There are some initial questions that we would ask a client if there was even a slight chance that your organization could be the target of hoax. Here are a few of them:

  • Does your organization have a proactive strategy in place? If the first time you reach out online is to stop rumours or a hoax, you are already at a disadvantage. A proactive strategy both online and in the real world is important.
  • Are you connecting with your stakeholder groups on a daily basis?
  • Do you know who the critics and supporters of your organization are and where they communicate online? If you don’t know where they gather online, how will you know what is being discussed? (And, if you aren’t aware of their style and tone prior to an issue such as a hoax, you will have challenges connecting with these individuals and groups.) Understanding the people involved in either creating or perpetuating the hoax is also important because if you don’t know who the community is, you will have no basis in making a strategic decision regarding a response (including not responding at all, in some specific cases).
  • Do you have the right processes in place to move quickly should there be a hoax that impacts your organization? If it is appropriate that you respond, then you need to respond quickly. If your organization takes days to respond, the hoax has all of that time to build momentum and that can make it much harder to bring the truth to light.

It is important that you honestly answers these questions and make sure that you are connecting with stakeholders proactively, that you are aware of where your supporters and critics live online (and in the real world) and that you have streamlined your process so that, if it is strategic to do so, you can respond quickly and accurately should your organization be targeted with a hoax.

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