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http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photos-antique-typewriter-2-image7470898At our PR agency, we have been doing quite a bit of work with clients on the development of compelling content for their blogs, websites, e-newsletters and social media networking outreach. Developing content that informs, engages and creates a conversation between an organization and its stakeholders is crucial, especially in the connected world that we all live in.

Creating great content should be a priority for every organization; but quite often when I speak at conferences, present to groups or even speak with potential clients, what I hear is that content creation is frequently left to interns, junior staffers or others who don’t understand its importance. These people don’t have any content production experience (written, video, photos or images) or know how to link the content back to the organizational objectives. And, if things go sideways and there is a backlash to the content, they don’t know how to effectively respond.

When we work with clients, we make sure that we understand the organizational objectives, we work with the client to develop an editorial schedule that includes key points that need to be reflected in the content, and we set up a process not unlike the ones that are used in newsrooms and editorial offices throughout North America. It is important to take content creation seriously.

I can’t tell you how often I have had someone ask me why no one is reading their blog post or e-newsletter, or why they get people yawning (or worse) during their speeches or presentations. When I ask them what their content creation process is, they look at me blankly and say – “I sit at my computer and write down what I want to say.” While that’s a good start, there is so much more to it than that. What are your objectives with this piece? How do they relate back to the project or organizational goals? What does your audience or community want to hear? How are you going to grab their attention – through an image or a shocking, surprising or clever headline? How will you tell a story, rather than push out information? How will you engage the reader, viewer or listener’s heart, as well as their mind? How will you create a connection with that person who is on the other side of the computer screen or sitting in the audience at a conference? If your content is on your website or blog, how will the people who are interested in what you have to say find you? Do you have search engine optimized keywords threaded throughout your headlines and copy – and is it done in a way that doesn’t take away from the integrity of the content?

Great content takes time and effort to produce and it is well worth it.

Do you have a process for creating compelling, engaging content?

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TorontoI was born and raised in downtown Toronto. As much as I love the West Coast (and I really do), Toronto will always be my hometown. I have been watching the saga of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford develop – or perhaps I should say unwind – for quite some time now. The most recent development added to the allegations of crack use is now rumours of one of the people in the video having been murdered. This sounds more like the plot of a made-for-TV movie than reality, but it’s real.

Not only has this issue (which I think has actually morphed into a full-blown crisis) created challenges for the people working at City Hall, but Toronto has now become the fodder for late night TV hosts – you can see Jimmy Kimmel’s take on it here. I have to admit, it’s pretty funny. However, from a communications standpoint, you never want to see your boss, client, organization or colleague mocked by the media. Keep in mind that it’s no longer just a few minutes of ridicule by Jon Stewart, Jay Leno, Jimmy Fallon and others – it now lives on forever online. And I would bet there are now several investigative reporters digging further into this story – and others concerning Ford – and we will start to see a lot more in the next few days.

From a communications perspective, I don’t think I have seen many better examples of how not to handle an issue or a crisis. Start with the fact that it took Ford a week to respond to allegations regarding the existence of a video that showed him smoking crack cocaine. A week. That left a great deal of time for people to speculate on whether or not it was true – and the fact is, it’s human nature to fill in the gaps. If you don’t provide accurate information, people will create theories, speculate and come up with their version of what could have happened – which, after a few times of talking it through, starts to feel like – in their minds – what really happened.

When Ford did respond, he said: “I do not use crack cocaine.” He declined to comment on the video, which he said he had “never seen” or “does not exist.” Hmmmm… rather than come out and clearly refute crack cocaine use (using words like, “I have never used crack cocaine and will never use crack cocaine.”), he skirted around words. As for the video, if it’s true, he could have said: “Since I have never used crack cocaine, there is no possibility that the alleged video could exist.” Of course, had Mayor Ford just taken a drug test, all of this would have been put to rest quickly. But he did none of the key things necessary to effectively manage an issue or a crisis.

He fired his Chief of Staff and, yesterday, word came out from City Hall that two more senior staff had resigned – both communications people. That sends a clear message. I don’t know these communications professionals at all – not even by name. But I can tell you, in my experience, when one communicator leaves in the middle of a crisis, you start to wonder what is going on behind closed doors. When two leave – well, it signals something pretty big. I know the only reason I would leave during an issue or a crisis is if: a) the client was not listening to me at all; or b) I felt that my ethics or integrity were being violated.

In my next blog post, I will talk about what you can do during an issue or a crisis.

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I have been thinking about how much I should share here about the issue that my stepmother is facing with H&R Block. And then I realized that this is a live case study of poor public relations by H&R Block; so let’s dive in.

I’ll start off with the fact that the person who did my stepmother’s tax return was inept and clearly not experienced or skilled enough for the job. While this professional incompetence has absolutely nothing to do with PR, it does lead right into the controversy that started because of an ad campaign by Intuit (parent company of TurboTax). The ads showcased how horrified people were when they realized that the person who prepared their tax return also worked as a plumber or a retail sales clerk. Check out the commercial accompanying this blog post. Here’s another.

H&R Block went to court and tried to “block” the ads. That failed. They then attempted a push back with a social media campaign with #IAMHRBLOCK that featured snapshots of its tax-preparing “professionals” holding up signs – many of which said what they did for a living… It’s quite the list: air traffic controller, Zumba instructor, a guy who owns a power washing company… not quite the kinds of people that you would expect to have the skills, education and experience necessary to understand the complex world of tax returns. (I’m not saying that some of them don’t have the necessary skills and knowledge; it’s just that when you hear the words “tax expert” – you don’t think of the guy who power washes your house.)

While there are some with day jobs that are more closely aligned with what we would expect from someone who calls themselves a “tax expert” – what I want to know is when a person like my stepmother sits down to have her taxes prepared at H&R Block, does that person disclose what their real job is? I love my Zumba instructor, but I wouldn’t want her to do my taxes.

Today, I am reaching out to Intuit President and CEO Brad Smith. Perhaps TurboTax will want to launch a new campaign, showcasing people like my stepmother who are the casualties here – the “regular” people that H&R Block swears it serves, but who are completely abandoned by H&R Block once they get their hands on their fees. I can see the hashtag now: #IAMHRBLOCKED.

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Ruth generated national coverage for Wallace the Llama and the TV show Healing with Animals.

Ruth generated national coverage for Wallace the Llama and the TV show Healing with Animals.

Over coffee each morning, I read newspapers (many of them), I check out my favourite blogs (again many of them) and I check out the blogs that are relevant to clients (also many). I update myself on what is going on in the big picture world, in my world and in the world of each of our clients. Did I mention that I get up early?

I found a somewhat humorous blog on Ragan titled “5 signs you’re not cut out for PR” that was also incredibly accurate, which made it a little frightening. The writer, Scott Signore, nailed it – it’s a good read for anyone thinking they might want to work in this crazy field. And for those of us who love what we do, it reminds us of why we’re here.

So, I took Mr. Signore’s blog post and turned it on its head. Here are “5 signs I was born for PR.”

I am a news hound

It’s 5 a.m. PST, 8 a.m. EST and I am wide-awake, checking out the morning news – looking for opportunities or potential issues for our clients. And this hour, when I get to review the news and send links to my clients, is one of my favourite times of the day.

I see opportunity where others see work

When we identify an opportunity, it’s an “AHA” moment (sorry, I couldn’t help myself). We genuinely get excited about the ability to do more, to add value, to extend or expand the benefit of working with AHA for our clients. We realize it might take more effort on our side, but that’s why our clients rely on us.

Pitching a journalist or blogger and generating coverage makes me do a happy dance

I have to say this extends to writing a speech that resonates with the audience, creating a kickass campaign, developing a communications plan that nails it… seeing coverage that profiles our clients, their products, services or initiatives accurately within the context of an interesting piece of journalism makes me so happy that I dance. And if there’s a photo with it, I add in a twirl.

We’re a team

We work in a collaborative world. We work with journalists to get them what they need. We work with clients to identify their PR objectives and to develop the strategy, tools and tactics – not to mention the content – that engages their stakeholder groups and target markets. We work with other agencies as partners and we work at AHA as a team. I am surrounded by smart, creative, strategic people and I get to collaborate with them on a daily basis. It really doesn’t get much better than that.

We are always looking for ways to do more, to do better, to improve

At AHA, we take the time to look at each campaign, each outreach, each project and ask ourselves – what more can we do? What one additional action could we take that would make it better, that would open that next door, that would increase our client’s return on investment? And we get regular feedback – on proposals, on plans, and on campaigns. We measure, we debrief, we review, we discuss openly and honestly (and respectfully) what we could have done differently, what we learned, and what we need to improve on. Constructive criticism is seen as a positive here at AHA – it might not always be easy to hear, but it’s always worth it.

We get results

At AHA, we work on a range of projects. Some are focused on creating positive change in the world. For some clients, we get to tell their stories in a compelling way; for others, we help improve communication between the organization and key stakeholder groups. Some of the work we do focuses on ensuring that individuals and groups that are experiencing change are given the information they need to manage that process. Other projects involve sharing the benefits of an organization’s products or services with consumers – or as in the case of our travel clients – the reasons to visit a specific destination.

We also get to experience success because a) we generate results, as we’re good at what we do; and b) we measure and report on the effectiveness of the initiative. Results matter and we know that – which is why we’re always measuring, adjusting and reporting back on opportunities or challenges. We like to see success as much as our clients do.

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Go Canada Go!

At AHA, we’re into the Olympics. We watch the coverage at lunch and on our breaks (which are amazingly timed to see Canadians win medals). For these two weeks, our conversations are pretty Olympic focused. This includes the broadcast coverage and how the media, bloggers and citizen journalists are participating.

Times have changed. Technology has changed. How we want to get our information has changed. I am not so sure that broadcast strategies have changed enough. The fact that NBC delays coverage until U.S. prime time doesn’t make sense – thank goodness our Canadian broadcaster, CTV, doesn’t do that. Social media ensures that results are all over the place by the time NBC is even close to airing the event.

And what about the athletes who have been pulled from the games for inappropriate social media usage? That’s a whole new ball game too.

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