August 2013

Boy ScoutLike a good Boy Scout, an effective communications person is always prepared – for just about anything. We have event kits full of five kinds of tape, scissors, pens, paper, ribbon, cellphone batteries and other might needs. We prepare for meetings with clients so that we can make the most of the time we have with them. We prepare for webinars, video blogs and even this blog. In our world, very little happens spontaneously. For the most part, the communications professionals I know are can think on their feet; that comes from years of being prepared for a wide range of scenarios. We are, in fact, quite a thoughtful group. We think through every angle, every probability, every possibility.

We thoroughly prepare for any media relations outreach; we go through all the questions a journalist might ask and we know the answers. We prepare. We research. We review all potential (not just probable) outcomes and we identify the appropriate next steps for each. We develop media kits and websites that might never see the light of day (and since they are usually created in case an issue or crisis arises, we hope they stay dark).

Even our quick phone call pitches to journalists are prepared (and reviewed) in advance. Here at AHA, we have strong professional relationships with many journalists and our e-mails and phone calls usually get a response. That’s because we know how busy journalists are and we respect that – and we prepare. We have our key messages outlined before we call or e-mail, we have researched to make sure we know what this journalist and media outlet is currently interested in, we have asked ourselves all the questions that we believe the journalist might ask and we have the answers (or we know who to get them from). We are prepared.

Quite some time ago, we had a client ask why we would spend so much time preparing to pitch a journalist. He thought it was a waste of time. He wanted us to just pick up the phone and call and set up a meeting for him with the journalist. We had to explain that journalists are busy and aren’t just sitting and waiting for a call to set up coffee with someone they don’t know and have never heard of (our client). A well-crafted pitch provides the journalist with background, context and the key news points in a way that engages and interests them. Taking the time to do this right is crucial. It can be the difference between unanswered e-mails and voicemails and obtaining media coverage. Preparation is a key element to success when it comes to generating media coverage.

Taking the time to properly prepare is, in fact, cost-effective. Time spent preparing means that you are equipped with what you need to do a good job and not backtrack, change direction or have to correct mistakes. It takes less time to do something right the first time than it does to go back and fix it.

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Each month someone from the AHA Crew is given a small budget and sent out to do a random act of kindness. For August, our fabulous PR Coordinator Laurie Hanley was given the job. Below is her blog post. — Ruth Atherley


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHave you ever searched for an empty parking space in your hometown? This is not an easy task in any major city and Halifax is no exception. It’s just brutal. It takes its toll on even the most delightful Pollyanna-type personalities. So when I was given $50 to do a random act of kindness, I ended up choosing to brighten the day for busy drivers who might have felt a little down in their search for a parking spot.

My kids and I went into the bank and got two rolls of loonies. The teller smiled and asked “Laundry day?” “Sort of,” I smiled back. Armed with 50 shiny coins, we set out on foot for Spring Garden Road, where we immediately bumped into my brother-in-law (Halifax is a largish city but also a very small town) who was keen to break in a new pair of sneakers – so he joined us.

We walked and we walked… all over town. It was a gorgeous day – blue sky, hot sun, cool summer breeze. We spent the afternoon looking for our target: an empty parking space just waiting for someone to pull in. And when we would finally find one, we’d sit down on the curb and wait. Sure enough, within minutes, someone would pull in… forwards, backwards, getting the car lodged in there, just right. Then there would be a moment of quiet. A quick cellphone check, some deep breathing, a fumbling for coins. And out of their car they’d step. That’s when I’d call: “Go!” and one of the kids would run up to the meter and pay for their parking. They would give a little wave and say: “Have a wonderful day!”

The reaction to this was amazing. Watching the person’s face as it turned from completely rushed and frustrated into the biggest grin was so worth the wait. “What are you kids up to?” said one smiley man. “Here, buy yourselves some ice cream,” said a woman trying to hand us money – which we, of course, politely declined. “Here…” said a very grateful man as he reached into his shirt pocket. “Oh no, it’s all good! Happy Friday!!” we said. But he kept on coming closer… his hand coming out of his pocket so eagerly… “I have candy! I have four of them here… and lots more in the car.” Is that a Werthers? Well, I wouldn’t want to be rude.

We did this all afternoon. It was the best Friday I’ve had in a long time. We got completely immersed in our random-act-of-kindness bubble. Normally, walking around downtown, I am like everyone else – on a mission. I have a limited amount of time to be somewhere and I don’t notice anything or anyone. But our Random Act of Kindness Day was different. We relaxed, took things in, and connected with people. And believe it or not, we still have so many loonies left. These empty parking spaces are hard to find. So one sunny day this week, we’ll pick a peak time and head back down to finish the job.

People are busier than ever these days. But what I was reminded of on Friday is that underneath the serious business face, there is still a human being. There is genuine good spirit. And we all have a need to give back. People want to connect – it’s just a difficult thing to do when we are rushing around, trying to be in 10 different places at once. But it’s so good to know we can still take the time to make eye contact and smile and make a difference in someone’s day.

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Screen shot 2013-08-13 at 8.15.04 AMI had an interesting conversation last week with someone who is doing quite a bit for his organization in the world of social media. Without giving away too many details, I will discuss his approach and my questions/response to his approach here.

This person works in a high risk, high potential for negative response environment. He is very active in pushing information out via social media and yet when I asked how he manages responses and the potential for negative responses, he laughed and said: “We don’t respond at all – and if they are negative, we just delete them when we are able.”

In our conversation, I asked him what his organization’s objective was in using social media. His response was that it was for providing information to stakeholder groups.

I asked how he identified which stakeholder groups were on which social media sites. His response was that they took the most popular and used those (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram). I asked how he measures success. His response was that he doesn’t measure anything on social media, but measures how many people open his e-newsletter.

I have to admit, it was quite a disjointed conversation. I kept asking about his objectives and how these objectives would form his strategy, and I focused on the importance of measurement. He kept trying to convince me that using social media as a distribution system is a strategy. (For the record, I believe that using social media as a distribution system is a tool – not a strategy.)

There are many social media networking sites that can be of value to you in your communications planning. It’s important that using social media – even if it just means that you are monitoring it so that you know what is being said about your organization – be included in your overall communications strategy. It is only one component of your strategy and your tactical plan.

In our view, the development of a communications strategy needs to start with answering some key questions, including:

  • What is my overall objective? (What do I want my stakeholder group to know, do or think after I have informed, educated and engaged with them?)
  • Who is my target audience/community/stakeholder group?
  • How do they want/expect to receive information from your organization?
  • How interactive and engaged are they?
  • Where do they gather online and on which social networking sites?
  • How often will I communicate with the stakeholder group?
  • What will I do if there are negative responses?
  • What are the risks I am taking by reaching out? (How do I mitigate those risks?)
  • What are the resources (human and financial) that I need?
  • How interactive should my communication outreach be, relevant to specific stakeholder expectations and tools used?
  • How will I measure success? (What are the tools I will use? What are the metrics or baseline I will measure against? How often will I measure and what type of analysis will I use to understand the actions or non-actions of my stakeholder group in response to communication from my organization?)

These questions are just the start of what needs to be defined in order to develop a strategic plan for your communications outreach. And throughout the year, it is crucial that you review the success of your campaigns, initiatives and projects – and refine or even change them if you aren’t getting results.

I don’t know of any communications professional who doesn’t struggle with tight budgets or limited resources. We must be strategic to generate the most valuable results possible for each outreach. In this wired world, it just doesn’t work to simply push information out and hope someone is listening or reading. And, in my experience, pushing information out and not engaging in conversation is an issue or crisis waiting to happen.

It’s crucial to develop a strategy that clearly defines your objectives and outlines how you will measure success.

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