Danielle Desharnais's Posts

Brand JournalismHere at AHA, we’ve been talking about brand journalism for years. We know how valuable it is for organizations to tell their stories in the same editorial-style manner that a journalist would. Creating informative, interesting and entertaining content, branded content or as we call it – brand journalism – allows an organization to connect directly with their target market or stakeholder group.

The Internet allows an organization to produce its own “news station” – and to use print (articles and written information), broadcast (video and audio) and interactive (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and more) to fully engage with the individuals and/or groups they want to connect with. It should be time for everyone to do a happy dance! So much of the opportunity and power has been placed in the hands of the organization – yet very few do it well or even at all.

Brand journalism could mean a series of how-to articles about something relevant to the products and services you provide. It could be a series of short video segments that showcase the individuals or companies using your products and services. Brand journalism could also be a podcast about something unique to your organization. Then it gets shared on your website, on social media sites and on your blog. (Do you have a blog? It is a key element in building relationships with your target market.) If the content being created is informative, helpful, engaging and interesting, it will help to build social media audiences.

We work with a range of clients in creating brand journalism campaigns and content. The key is that we develop a strategic approach. We work with our clients much in the same way as a newsroom works. We identify key stories and we make sure the content flow works together and leverages off each element rather than just dropping random bits of copy out there. We identify the target audience and how they like to consume information. We build an editorial schedule that has some room for flexibility for when news happens, and we develop strong content with solid visual elements.

It is such an exciting time to be a communicator – or a business leader who understands that content can be an incredibly valuable tool that: a) builds relationships with target markets and stakeholders; and b) can be measured. There is a huge opportunity to create strong return on investment using branded journalism.

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Timmies SignToday, I had the honour of doing another AHA Random Act of Kindness. This is the third time I have been given this opportunity and I have to tell you it is very hard to commit to an idea. After much deliberation, I received a tip (thank you Paul) that I could leave money at a Tim Hortons’ drive-thru, which would pay for many coffee drinkers’ orders. Perfect!

So, after purchasing a $50 gift card, I knocked on the drive-thru window and told the ladies working what I was up to. I would be sitting in my van in the parking space directly in front of the window, watching people’s reactions as they found out they didn’t have to pay for their order.

I don’t know who was more excited about this – them or me! Honestly, one of the ladies working was having so much fun with this, she was shouting out the reactions to me as people drove away. “That guy wants to make sure he’s in your will!” It was awesome!

You’re probably wondering what I observed. Well… I saw many smiles and much confusion. I saw a man pay for his order anyway (which one of the employees had told me people often do in this situation – they don’t feel right taking it for free when someone else might need it more). I think I saw one or two customers leave a tip. Many people just looked completely confused as they were trying to figure out what was happening. Someone mentioned that it might be a Just for Laughs gag and was looking for the hidden camera. The biggest smiles came from the older generation, and oh – we got a horn honk or two!

This experience left me feeling amazing. I think it really made the employees’ day as well.

Something I notice every time I do a Random Act of Kindness for AHA is that we all seem to have a real need for connection. I didn’t want anyone to know that I was the one who had bought the coffees, but I did want to see how it affected the recipients. And the employees said that many desperately wanted to know who had done this. Where is she? Who is she? But they kept it top secret. No one had any idea that I was sitting right there in front of them, in the old Dodge Caravan.

In doing something nice for someone, I think the only thing we really want in return is to feel something… to know we’ve made a difference. We aren’t looking for a pat on the back, but we do need to feel the impact of what we have done. I was craving those smiles! And people seem to have a real need to give back and to say thank you. It’s been a constant theme each time I’ve done this and I’m very thankful to AHA for once again giving me the wonderful gift of giving.

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AHA CEO Ruth Atherley spoke at TEDx BCIT on January 24, 2015. Ruth identified that in this 24/7 connected world, doing the right thing all the time is much easier and more effective than having to face the destruction of your reputation and potentially your business.

Here is her presentation.

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Seahawks footballMillions of fans watched in dismay as the defending Super Bowl champions – the Seattle Seahawks – lost to the New England Patriots in the final 30 seconds of the game yesterday. According to those in the know, making the call to throw the ball (which had been intercepted) rather than passing it, was the reason for this devastating loss.

With the exception of a little bit of a scuffle on the field right before the Patriots won, the Seahawks team has taken the high road in their discussion of the loss. In interviews, head coach, Pete Carroll, and quarterback, Russell Wilson, clearly showed the integrity and class of this organization. They recognized the abilities of the other team and they acknowledged that it was a great game. When asked about the decision to throw instead of run the ball, Carroll said: “That’s my fault, totally.” The coach took responsibility rather than throwing his offensive coordinator under the bus. It’s no wonder their fans, called the 12th Man, are so loyal.

Seahawks fans also seemed to take the high road. I have a colleague who is a Facebook friend. He is pretty outspoken at times and he was having some fun on the social network site as the game progressed, talking it up about how the Seahawks were going to trounce the Patriots. When they lost, I worried a little that Facebook was going to turn into a nasty battleground, but Seahawks fans didn’t go there. In fact, my Facebook friend – like many Seattle fans I saw on social media – congratulated the Patriots and their fans for a game well played, while still putting forward their admiration for the Seahawks team and organization, and re-affirming their loyalty to their team.

The Seattle Seahawks have a strong brand. Their brand promise appears to be “doing our best on and off the field.” That’s a pretty big brand promise, if you ask me. But talk to any Seahawks fan and they will tell you how great the people are who play for this team and who work for the organization. They are engaged in the Seattle community, do more than is expected in the area of charities and volunteering, and they always take the high road – even during high stress and incredibly disappointing moments, like yesterday.

The fans deliver on the brand promise too. As the 12th Man, they are the loudest fans in the league and the team encourages their participation and – as was clear on social media last night and today – they love their team, win or lose. While they would have preferred a win yesterday, the team, the organization and the fans showed true leadership in how they handled the loss. It was impressive.

I am sure that in the Seattle Seahawks’ post-game debrief, errors and mistakes will be reviewed by the players and coaches many times, and individuals will be held accountable for their decisions or actions – but they didn’t do that in public. That is a task that belongs within the walls of the organization and behind closed doors.

The Seahawks’ form of leadership and communication should be applauded. They fully deliver on their brand promise.

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TEDxBCIT_Black_V1_miniHere at AHA, we regularly write speeches and presentations for clients. I really like digging in and understanding what the client wants to communicate, what the objective of the speech is, who the audience is, and how they will take in the information. It’s a process of discovery that is quite interesting. There is always something to learn and usually a challenge or barrier to overcome in getting the message heard.

For the past couple of months (which is never how long we have to write a client speech – they usually need a much quicker turnaround than that), I have been working on my TEDx Talk. I will present it as part of the TEDx BCIT event this coming Saturday, January 24. It has been an interesting process for me to develop this speech – and I really appreciate the advice and feedback I have received on everything from my outfit to speech content and speaking pace. This has been a great opportunity for me to learn and improve – something I am always looking to do.

There is a great deal that goes into writing any speech and this one is no exception. It took about 30 hours to write and revise it to the point where I was confident it had a strong message. I have rehearsed it for about 10 hours (it’s a 15-minute speech) – that includes rehearsing it on my own, taping it and delivering it to family, friends and colleagues – and deciding what to wear was another couple of hours with a stylist.

Here at AHA, we believe that if we are going to do something, we need to do it right. I am looking forward to speaking on Saturday – and I have to admit – I am also looking forward to Saturday night, when I don’t have to worry about it anymore.

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