April 2014

scale, lawyer, judgeI have quite a few journalist, lawyer and communication friends on my personal Facebook page. The current issue facing Trinity Western University (regarding the opening of its law school and its controversial policy about same sex intimacy – being called discriminatory by many) is a big topic of discussion right now among a wide range of people. At the heart of this issue is Trinity Western’s requirement that its 3,600 students sign a community covenant forbidding intimacy outside heterosexual marriage. This is being called discriminatory against gays and lesbians.

The Ontario Law Society has rejected accreditation and Nova Scotia voted to approve (but only if the school drops the controversial policy prohibiting same-sex intimacy). The BC Law Society has voted to accredit the school, although a petition has been circulated that got more than twice the required number of signatures necessary to force a special general meeting of the society’s whole membership, within 60 days, to revisit the issue. According to an article in The Vancouver Sun, that vote has been confirmed by the Law Society of BC and will take place.

This issue will create huge challenges on a national scale if there isn’t one clear decision to accredit or reject accreditation for the school. It also threatens a new national mobility process that allows lawyers licensed in one province to practice across Canada.

Bob Kuhn, president of the university, has said: “We feel the Ontario and Nova Scotia decisions are legally incorrect.” That key message is strong. And Trinity Western University has an advantage because they are speaking with one voice, with cohesive positioning, and a clear and direct goal – to launch a law school.

On the other side are individual provincial law societies – each with their own messaging relevant to their vote of whether or not to accredit. It is individuals or groups of legal professionals who agree or don’t agree with what their law society decided and the national mobility process comes into play as well. That means disconnected – even opposing messages – multiple voices and conflicting goals.

This is an incredibly important issue that has several crucial elements in the mix – religious freedom, discrimination and the ability of lawyers who would graduate from this school to function as a part of a diverse society. From a communications perspective, Trinity Western University is one up on those fighting against accreditation. Those opposing this law school need to find a way to come together with one voice and to define solid positioning and messaging so that they can clearly communicate why this law school should not be accredited and what this means for equality.

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RomeWe have clients in a range of sectors including travel and tourism. Online networking sites such as TripAdvisor, Cruise Critic, Yelp and others can provide exceptional opportunities for tourism and hospitality-based businesses – and they can also be incredibly damaging.

I spend time on many of these sites for both personal (I travel a lot) and professional (seeing what people are saying about our clients) reasons. I am always surprised when I speak to someone in the tourism and hospitality world who says they don’t monitor or respond to reviews on these sites. (Our clients are fully engaged in these sites because it’s an important component of their overall brand reputation and PR strategy.)

Not responding is a huge risk – unless you are happy at the bottom of the heap, are the absolute cheapest in the market, and know that you will always get someone prepared to put up with low quality because of price. And today, with so many deals and reductions coming through Groupon and other deal brokers, even that isn’t a good approach. If you don’t respond, at some point negative reviews will decrease your revenue flow.

As someone who travels a great deal in my personal life – I know how much a response to a critical review means to me. It shows me that the hotel, airline, tour operator or restaurant team cares about the experience. And if they acknowledged that they made a mistake – I am good with that. Everyone makes mistakes, the key is to acknowledge it, take responsibility and show how it won’t happen again. It’s not rocket science, people.

If the reviewer has some facts wrong or has a different perspective, I like it when the service provider puts forward their side of the story. I don’t think every reviewer is absolutely right in their criticism. If you read their other reviews – you will often see that they never like anything. A review that is so over-the-top negative, that has been written by a competitor, can be smelled a mile away.

As a professional who works in the tourism and travel industry, I know how important it is to read the reviews, to take the criticism seriously (it provides a real opportunity to improve your business), and to respond to the good and the negative. Saying thank you to those who leave you good reviews is a nice touch and it gives you an opportunity to highlight some of your key offerings within your response.

Responding to a critical review to explain why something happened and, if necessary, to offer to make it right is crucial. Otherwise, that negative review sits there telling the story of your brand. No one should be able to own your brand story except you. Take the time and make the effort. It will provide return on investment for you.

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brandI had an interesting conversation with a client the other day. He called to ask us about Search Engine Optimization (SEO). While we have a foundational knowledge about SEO and integrating SEO elements when developing online content (including websites, blog posts and news releases), our client’s needs went beyond our communications abilities in this area and we referred him to an SEO specialist.

His response: “You are always so responsive and take care of what I need, even if you don’t provide it. You make it easy for me.”

That’s a big compliment to receive. Our commitment to providing exceptional service to our clients is a big part of the AHA brand promise. From the moment we decided to open our doors, we knew that was who we were (and 11 years later, we still are). And it is one of the reasons that we have so many long-term clients and others that regularly use us on a project basis. We have excellent skills, solid expertise and a depth of knowledge that comes from experience and that is very important. But, I believe what tips the scales in our favour are the seemingly small details that are built into our brand promise.

We are client service oriented and are incredibly responsive. We have a strong focus on providing value to clients; we respect their budget and do everything we can to maximize return-on-investment. And while we take our work seriously, we like to have fun in our workplace and with our clients. There are times to be serious and focused and there are also opportunities to enjoy the moment and each other’s company, and we try to do that whenever it is appropriate.

We’re not your average communications agency, which means we’re not for everyone. Our brand promise is that for our clients – for the people and organizations where we are a fit – we’re a part of their team. Their success is as important to us as our success. It matters to us and we’re going to act and respond that way – during successes and challenges.

What’s your brand promise and how do you deliver on it?

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Social MediaRecently, I have had several conversations with potential clients about social media. Interestingly enough, they all wanted to discuss how to begin to engage in social media as a part of their overarching communications strategy. Each person I spoke with is in a senior position at a reasonably high profile organization. Yet, each one of them told me that they felt lost or overwhelmed (or both) about how social media fits into their overall strategy. And they didn’t know what to do about it.

This is far more common than many people realize. Not everyone understands social media or knows how it should fit (or not fit) into their communications plan. And it can be challenging to voice that, in this day and age, when we assume that everyone is completely immersed and knows a lot about social media. The fact is, many people are still finding their way. And that’s okay; you are not alone.

One of the challenges is that technology continues to change at a rapid pace, and identifying which social media networks are right for your organization or brand takes some effort. Not everyone can keep up with all of the different tools and technologies available – and knowing what to use is only part of the equation.

Below are several high-level questions you should ask yourself before your organization steps into social media.

  • Why would you use social media to engage your stakeholders?
  • Is it right for your stakeholders?
  • Are they participating on specific social networking sites?
  • What is your objective?
  • What do you want to achieve?
  • Who do you want to connect with and why?
  • What are your opportunities and what are your risks?

Once these questions are answered, then you can shift into the more tactical details. Some examples are:

  • What social media platforms are we going to use?
  • What department is charged with developing the content?
  • What is the process if there is an issue or crisis on social media networks?
  • How often will your organization post to each social media platform?
  • How quickly will you respond to social media queries?

We often work with clients to identify their objectives, relative to their overarching marketing and communications strategy, and then help them to build a plan that includes social media. There are times when a client comes to us and we advise them to monitor social media, but not engage – it depends on the organization, their brand, their objectives and the stakeholder groups. Active social media participation isn’t for every organization and that is a key element in defining a strategic approach to communication.

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