June 2012

We recently had a call from someone who wanted to hire us to “distribute a release and build media relationships” for them. Those requests immediately gave me concerns and I was pretty certain that we wouldn’t be a good fit for this particular project. However, we never want to shut someone down before understanding what they need. If we’re not a good fit, we will do our best to help them find someone who is.

I questioned this person a bit further. Even though AHA doesn’t distribute releases that aren’t written by us, I asked to see the release so I could understand what this person wanted to promote. It was five pages long, filled with corporate speak and industry jargon. And, as far as I could see, there was no news value. When I explained the fact that we aren’t a news release distribution service and identified the challenges in the release, this person then asked if we could just develop a media database for them of all the journalists we know and they would distribute it. He went on to explain that he needed to create some media relationships and wanted to do that as quickly as possible. I did my best to explain how it doesn’t work that way, but I am not sure that he understood what I was trying to tell him.

At our PR agency, media, blogger and social media relationships are an important component of what we do. We spend a great deal of time and effort on this. We have established strong, positive relationships in a wide range of areas including travel/hospitality, entertainment, food and beverage, education, non-profit and government to name a few. As we build our relationships with journalists, bloggers and influencers, we build our clients relationships with them as well. We set up information meetings, we help our clients provide relevant information (which is not always about them), we provide access to interviews with senior people at client organizations, and we make sure there are images, information, facts and stats ready and available to their deadlines. We get our clients to participate in social media and to authentically connect with their communities.

We follow journalists on Twitter, connect on LinkedIn and even on Facebook (sometimes – but that’s a different blog post). We read their articles every day, we watch their newscasts, we listen to the radio shows and we spend a lot of time online to see what is going on. We engage on social media sites with influencers (never disguising who we are, by the way). It takes time and effort. We work at it. And we get results for our clients.

You can’t just casually hand over relationships like those and expect that it would work that way. And the fact is, even if you could, we wouldn’t.

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I came across this quote recently: “Public relations are a key component of any operation in this day of instant communications and rightly inquisitive citizens.” – Alvin Adams, diplomat, (1804-1877)

It’s interesting that in the 1800s, Mr. Adams thought they had instant communications and inquisitive citizens. I wonder what he would make of social media and our online, connected world.

It also reinforced a key element that we, at AHA, believe in and have been sharing for some time. That is: Good communication is a result of strategy, not technology.

Don’t get me wrong – social media, the online world, and technology have created much positive impact in the area of communication. And the use of these tools needs to be acknowledged and integrated into an overall communications strategy. But, it’s a part of the overall strategy – it isn’t the strategy.

You can have plans for Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest or any other social media networking site. We believe that is important; but these plans are components of an overall communications plan which should support your overall organizational objectives. How does that happen? With a communications strategy.

Communicators have a more complex role these days. It is important that we see the bigger picture, as well as the day-to-day details. We still live in a world of “instant communications and rightly inquisitive citizens” and it takes attention, effort and strategy to effectively and authentically connect.

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At AHA, we’ve known about the value of video for quite some time. Our AHA Fast Take Fridays are popular and have been successful in opening doors to many new opportunities for us. A great deal of the brand journalism work that we do has video components. And, of course, many of our clients have embraced video and make regular and powerful use of it.

Video allows you to tell a story using words and visuals. It is a highly popular medium and it can be quite budget-friendly. People make a different emotional connection with video than they do with an article or other written information. It can be a straightforward message from the CEO or president or a fun lip dub-style video that showcases the people behind the scenes at your organization.

There is a human quality to video that makes us feel like it is more personal and less corporate. You can see the person and what’s going on with their emotions; you get a feeling from their body language and from their tone and style. It is a very effective medium.

Having said all that, it has to be done well. And I am not just talking about production values – a quick Flip-style video done well can create strong results (in the right context). I am talking about the content.

We had a client many years ago that wanted to try video, but they had real challenges in getting it right. I think one of the first mistakes was that they created a committee to provide input on the video creative. Unfortunately, there were a lot of individuals on the committee who wanted to focus on creating a Hollywood movie rather than an internal video and there was a huge shift from how this video was initially planned to how it ended up.

Don’t get me wrong, I think that being inclusive is a good idea and we have client committees that provide incredibly valuable ideas and input in many cases. In this case, however, the professionally developed video idea morphed into something very different. Several people revised the creative to a point where it was almost unrecognizable and the message was getting lost. Unfortunately, many of the people on the committee didn’t fulfill their role of providing feedback and input. There were strong suggestions for dream sequences, more people in the video than should have been in it (to keep it short and entertaining) and more locations than were reasonable given the budget and timeline. When we put forward the concerns and challenges, it became evident that the now smaller committee was committed to their concept. We had lost them – and they had lost the original objective. They also weren’t willing to listen to the professional video producer and our crew.

This video didn’t get traction. It was too long, there were too many people in it, too many locations and the storyline got skewed because of trying to be too inclusive. With all the people and locations, this should have been a different type of video (a lip dub or a flash mob), not one with a linear storyline. But the committee was… well… committed to their concept and wouldn’t consider a revision to the approach.

At the start of the project, it’s really important to outline what you want to achieve with your video. What message are you trying to get across? What do you want to communicate and how will you do that? Does the creative concept meet the communications strategy? How long is your video? (With few exceptions, if it is longer than three minutes, you will lose a large part of your audience.)

It’s important to listen to the people you hire to work with you on the video. They know what they are doing; they have an in-depth understanding of what works and what doesn’t in the medium. If there is something you want to do, talk to them about the best way to do it. It should be a partnership. I always worry if the client wants control of the entire creative concept and how it could be produced.

Video is a great medium – if it is done right and the client-agency team is truly a partnership.

I came across an interesting piece on Ragan.com with tips on how to produce a good video. It’s worth a read.

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Over the weekend, I had dinner with friends and the talk turned to the ethics of public relations. Their son is in grade 10 and he wants to be a journalist, so we often have discussions about public relations, journalism and the shift that both fields are going through right now. We got onto the topic of the importance of ethics in a person’s life. Then it turned to what happens when an organization has an issue – how they are able to be ethical and manage their reputation.

The values of an organization and the ethics of the senior team are key drivers in how the organization does business. Having solid values and ethics doesn’t mean that they will never face an issue or a crisis, but it does mean that they will likely deal with it in a respectful, productive, transparent manner. As a communicator, our role is to communicate internally and externally about what is being done. Often, we are brought into the planning because we can provide the perspective of stakeholders and ask the tough questions that need to be asked.

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