We have a refreshed, updated and re-energized website! Welcome!

As we were going through what needed to be revised on the AHA site, we realized that we’ve been blogging for close to 15 years. The blog on this site goes back to 2007 – that’s 11 years of having our own blog, with a few years before that when we were working with early adopter clients to get them up and running. That is incredible.

Creating content has become a large part of what we, as communicators, do. The world has changed and while mainstream media coverage will always be important, it is no longer always the priority in the strategies that we develop for clients. That is a big shift.

Owned content (what you create yourself) has become a powerful tool for organizations that are looking to authentically and fully engage with stakeholders. The way to reach customers, clients, government, vendors, suppliers, community partners and others is via social media networks and information, news, updates, case studies and other stories that are shared online.

Whether you are B2C or B2B, you have an audience – a community that is looking to you for knowledge, expertise, guidance or advice. They want you to solve a problem, provide a service, or offer a benefit. The way to tell them how you do these things is through online content.

You have to be a storyteller – to inform, educate and even entertain (when appropriate). No marketing speak, no sales push, no pressure. It’s about creating a compelling reason to move each person to action – and to do that, you must engage.

We’re going to be talking a lot more about blogging here – on our blog. We’re also bringing back Fast Take Fridays starting in March. (We get so many e-mails about them!)

So, stay tuned – it’s going to be fun!

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On Tuesday, I saw an announcement that the Toronto Star, the largest daily newspaper in Canada, has laid off 60 people – most from the newsroom/editorial side of the paper. This unexpected mass layoff is devastating news for the individuals involved, for journalism in Canada, and for organizations who use media relations and publicity to raise brand awareness, to tell their story, to humanize their business, and to show how they are a good corporate citizen and member of their community.

Here in the AHA office, we feel terrible for the people who lost their jobs. Not only did I work in the world of journalism for many years, everyone on the AHA team interacts with journalists on a daily basis as a part of our job. These people are our friends and our colleagues and we strongly believe that journalists are a crucial part of a well-functioning society. This is devastating news – and it comes on top of so many layoffs over the past five years. It is clear that something has to change and a journalism 2.0 industry needs to be created – because the old business approach isn’t working.

There are times when I feel like I am a broken record about this topic. With newsrooms and opportunities for media coverage shrinking at a drastic rate, organizations need to step up and tell their own stories through blogs, social media and brand journalism. The opportunity for proactive, positive media coverage is so small these days and many of the best media outlets for this kind of coverage have shifted to a more sponsored-content approach. Here, you pay as a “sponsor” or “partner” to be on their show or included in a promotional article. We used to call them advertorials – now they just appear as editorial coverage, even though they are not produced with the same journalistic integrity as would happen if there wasn’t money involved.

Creating a great website – an online destination for your stakeholders, your customers, clients or other interested parties to learn more about your organization, your culture, your products or services – is an important component of your marketing communications outreach. And having the articles, the videos, the social media content and the blogs produced by professionals is key. Well-written and professionally produced content will engage the people who visit your site, it will entertain and inform, it will help to build a relationship between you and that person, and it will move them to action.

Profiles of the people who come to work at your organization every day, videos of your community’s participation and support, Q&A sessions with your senior team… there are so many opportunities to engage and create positive relationships, to build trust with your customers or clients, and to showcase who you are as a human being, as a good corporate citizen, and as a member of the community. Now you can reach out and ask for feedback and input. You can join conversations and discussions relevant to your industry and your organization and learn what your stakeholders like or don’t like about what you are doing. (And believe me, you can learn a lot about opportunities from actually listening to what people don’t like.)

I have faith that journalism will find its place in this 24/7 wired world, but it won’t be for a few years – maybe even a decade or so. Until then, you had better start telling your own story.

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Question mark imageWhat’s the purpose? That’s a question that we often ask when working with clients to plan proactive, positive PR campaigns, in delivering issues or crisis communication, and in creating any type of content – articles, online, web or social media copy, video, news releases, speeches, presentations, media pitches, brochures, ads and so much more. And it’s one we ask clients over and over again because it’s easy to get sidetracked with what you can do – and the reason for doing it can take a backseat.

The challenge that we, as communicators, face in today’s world is that we have so much opportunity to connect. There are hundreds (maybe even thousands) of channels and mediums compared to the limited few that existed back in the pre-social media days. There is always going to be a shiny new social media network or channel being promoted, a website being refreshed, or an idea to run a contest in order to build followers, fans or supporters. But before any of these ideas pass beyond the brainstorming session, it’s crucial to ask the question: What’s the purpose?

Clearly defining what you want to achieve is the first step. It allows you to better understand exactly who you want to engage or build a relationship with, identify the channel and/or medium that will work best to reach your stakeholders or target audience, develop effective messaging and positioning, and to set your objectives and campaign goals so that you can measure your success or ascertain what you need to shift or revise, if you aren’t hitting your targets.

Here at AHA, for example, our main purpose in creating content for this blog is to showcase our knowledge, expertise and experience in the areas of strategic communications, such as proactive PR, issues and crisis communication, content creation, speechwriting, brand journalism, social media, media relations, event management, etc. Our secondary purpose is for search engine optimization so that someone searching online for our expertise can find us. When we are writing the blog posts or producing Fast Take Friday video blogs, we always keep our purpose in mind. Our clients tend to come to us through referral, finding us via an online search, or they see us on social media – and want to know more about us. Our website and this blog give them the information they need to drive them to action – to pick up the phone and call us to discuss their needs and find out whether we might be a good fit.

For example, we work with several clients that produce consumer goods. When working with them on publicity, events, social media engagement and content creation, our focus is on engaging potential customers to purchase their products. We use storytelling, brand journalism and great writing and editing to engage potential customers with a call to action to purchase.

Another example of this is when an organization engages directly with potential customers using tools like Facebook contests. They can promote their products in a manner that brings more people to like their Facebook page, they get to provide information about their products in the context of the contest, they help to raise awareness of those products and their company, and it helps them to build relationships with their target market. Contests work for them. But they don’t work for everyone. If we, at AHA, ran a contest – we might get new likes for our Facebook page, but how many of those likes would ever turn into a new client? Not many… The people who may decide to hire us aren’t going to choose us because they might win something. They want an agency that is experienced, skilled and smart. Creating content for this blog helps to showcase this to potential clients.

Asking, “What’s the purpose?” is a big question that can help you to become more effective in your communications efforts. It’s an easy-to-use and important question that should be asked daily.

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Happy New YearHappy New Year! From everyone at AHA – we wish you a happy, healthy and prosperous 2015.

In the AHA office, we have been talking a lot about 2015 and what it will bring in the world of communication. It is clear to us that this year will bring PR, branding, social media and marketing together – even more than it already is.

I think we have been fortunate because we have been involved in the online world for so long – close to fifteen years. We recognized where corporate and organizational communication was going a long time ago and have always been working towards a blended approach, with strategic PR and brand leading the strategic communications approach (which should include social media and marketing).

Building relationships with your stakeholders and communities has always been at the heart of public relations. And that is what the world demands now – relationships. Whether it is in branding, marketing, advertising, social media or PR – people want an authentic connection with the brand and the people who work at an organization.

There are no longer two worlds for a CEO or president – their personal life runs into their professional life and vice versa. If an organization only uses social media to push information out – it isn’t going to be effective. If ads are only about what the company wants to say rather than what the consumer wants to hear, they won’t work. (And if they don’t have some kind of social media component – there isn’t much chance of building any kind of connection or community.)

“Integrated” might be the word of the year when it comes to what we do for our clients. We need to blend PR, branding, social media and marketing so that you are speaking with the same voice, messaging and positioning, allowing your target market, stakeholders or community hear from you through a diverse range of platforms in a way that is engaging and interesting to them.

We strongly believe that this is the year for strategic engagement with stakeholders, customers or clients, and your communities. We are excited to help our clients achieve this through a blended approach that produces results and is budget-effective.

This year is going to be great for AHA and for our clients!

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writing editing proofreadingThe widespread (and growing) use of online technology continues to push organizations to realize the value of creating their own content. (Full disclosure – here at AHA, we push them to take advantage of this opportunity too!) It is a good way to connect with stakeholder groups (including customers or clients).

Creating strong, compelling, engaging and informative content doesn’t happen without effort – or good writing and editing. I was fortunate that I worked in the world of journalism prior to jumping the fence to PR and strategic communication. At Maclean’s magazine, where I worked, each article was developed by a team – there was the journalist/writer, the editor*, the researcher/fact checker, the copyeditor and the proofreader. It took several different skill sets to produce a good article. (*There were actually several editors – the section editor, the senior editor and the managing editor – who reviewed each piece with different perspectives: the piece itself and how it fit into the section and the overall magazine.)

For a communications piece – whether it is an annual report, newsletter, white paper, brochure, website content, frequently asked questions document, news release, speech or other document – it is important to understand and make use of all of the skill sets at your disposal.

The Writer

The role of the writer is to gather the information, arrange the thoughts and ideas, and present an organized approach for the piece. A writer normally provides a creative outline or brief on what we expect to deliver. It may be as straightforward as a newsletter outline that identifies each article with its key messages, if anyone will be interviewed and quoted, and the deadline. Annual reports or other more complex documents get more detailed outlines.

The Editor

The substantive editor is a person who works closely with the writer and deals primarily with the creative aspect of the content and the structure and order of the piece. If the content is highly technical, this person normally liaises between the writer and the subject expert as well. This person brings a clear perspective to the writing and supports the writer in ensuring that the information is clearly communicated, well organized, and that it makes sense. (Sometimes a writer can be so deep into the topic that they need support in making sure someone who is not as knowledgeable can understand the information.)

The copy editor deals with matters specific to the words (rather than the ideas of the content) and focuses on clarity, flow, sentence length, word selection, grammar, spelling and internal consistencies.

The Fact Checker

Another crucial role, the fact checker works with the writer and/or editor(s) and confirms the factual accuracy of the information in the document.


The proofreader reviews the document after all levels of editing and fact checking have been completed. The content is reviewed for overlooked errors in spelling, grammar, typos, etc., and when visual elements are used, they are the final check that all visual elements are placed correctly.

From our experience with our clients and in speaking with many of our colleagues who work in-house at organizations, many communicators either don’t have all of these skills or they don’t have the time to effectively write or edit pieces, with everything else on their plate. It’s a bit of a challenge because to develop a useful communications piece that informs, engages and inspires your target market or stakeholder group to action, it takes time and effort. For us, nothing is more disappointing than when we see a poorly written or edited piece; it loses its value and, unfortunately, doesn’t create the expected results (and it doesn’t look good for the communications professional). The need to create good content continues to grow, and understanding how to deliver solid content is an important component of the role of a communicator.

We have a strong writing, editing and proofreading team at AHA and, because of this, we do a great deal of this type of work for clients. One of the most high profile projects we have worked on was editing Forsaken: The Report of the Missing Women Commission of Inquiry – a 1,400-page, complex report.

At AHA, we offer a full range of editorial services – we write and/or edit and proofread newsletters, annual reports, special reports, white papers, briefing notes, plans, speeches, brochures, websites… the list goes on and on. We have always had a focus on content creation, and we have grown our writing and editing team to reflect that.

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