Communications

800px-Carnival_SplendorThere is a direct link between generating results for your organization – whatever that means to you (sales, engagement, response, behaviour change, perception change etc.) – and living your brand promise.

I had an interesting experience over the weekend that so clearly showed the importance of customer service and how it supports PR and the brand promise, that I want to tell you about it. We are cruisers. While we might not meet the stereotype of a cruiser, we have taken quite a few cruises – in the Mediterranean, to Mexico, in the Caribbean.

Now, it’s pretty clear that the cruise industry has been challenged over recent years – the Costa Concordia tragedy, several ships having issues out at sea, dealing with norovirus, and other serious challenges. The industry is in desperate need of some good PR. Even as I wrote this blog post, there was more negative news coverage of the cruise industry.

This past weekend, I got a call from Chris, our “personal cruise consultant” from Carnival Cruise Lines – a cruise line we have sailed with in the past (the last time was probably five years ago). It was at the end of the day on Friday and I was a little bored, so I took the call. Chris was knowledgeable, engaging and professional and he came across as a nice guy who authentically wanted to help us find a cruise vacation that we would enjoy – at a good price. And his enthusiasm was contagious. I ended up talking to him for 15 minutes or so and he gave me some good options for a Caribbean cruise. We had no plans for any cruise at this point, but he engaged me – and he had some great promotional offers for us as past cruisers. By the time I hung up the phone, I was thinking about taking one of the cruises he had offered.

On the flip side of that, we have also cruised with Norwegian Cruise Lines and several other cruise lines (some five star, some budget, some in the middle). We book ships based on the ports they visit – so we have hopped around a bit between cruise lines.

I am planning a bucket list trip of the British Isles and likely Ireland and Scotland, for my dad and his wife. Once cruising was in my mind, I wondered if maybe Norwegian had some love for me, so I called them. In trying to find the right person to speak to, I was put on hold for 45 minutes. (I have to say, the first person who took the call was very good and tried to help.) I finally gave up. An hour later, I got a call from someone at Norwegian who said they had seen that I was on their website and they asked what could they do to help get me on that cruise I was looking at. They didn’t mention that I had called and had been put into “on hold hell” – with Norwegian audio ads cycling over and over – just that I was on their website. I explained my issue and the person did the surface “I am so sorry for your inconvenience” but they still couldn’t help me access whether I would qualify for the specific promotions I was asking about. It was not their department.

By now, we had received an e-mail from Chris at Carnival outlining what we would receive through the promotion, a link to the ship’s layout and some additional information on the cruise. A nice touch, especially on a cold, gloomy winter day in January when the thought of sun, surf and sand was quite appealing. It tipped us into deciding to take the Carnival cruise.

We booked with Carnival and it was because of the exceptional customer service and follow up by Chris. I know he is there to sell me a cruise, but he made it fun and easy and he hit all of the right notes with me (five amazing ports in a seven-day cruise). It helped that he had some nice promotions to offer. Good for Carnival for giving him the tools he needs to do his job well. I now have a sense of loyalty to him – and Carnival – because he made me feel like we were important past guests and he wanted to do whatever he could to bring us back to the Carnival family.

As for Norwegian, I called them again on Monday because I wanted to know how long it would really take to get someone to talk to me about the British Isles cruise (Carnival doesn’t have a British Isles itinerary). I finally got to the right person at the promotions desk and they told me that since it had been 18 months since I had taken a cruise with them, I was not eligible for any of the specific promotions I was asking about. My slate, so to speak, had been wiped clean. Interesting – it had been much longer than 18 months since I had been on a Carnival cruise, but they wanted me back and were offering some pretty sweet incentives to interest me in returning!

I thanked the person and hung up the phone a little surprised and disappointed. Clearly, Norwegian isn’t trying to woo me back as a past cruiser. Then – two hours later, I got a call AGAIN from another Norwegian “personal cruise representative” trying to get me on a cruise! I explained that I had already talked to someone and I got the “I am so sorry ma’am” talk and then the “that’s a different department” excuse. Not once did Chris from Carnival try to put me off to another department – so good on Carnival for giving their team the ability to be what I need from a cruise specialist. On Tuesday, Norwegian called again – another different “personal cruise representative” wanted to talk to me about my cruise interests. Obviously, no one at Norwegian puts any notes on a person’s file so that they will know who has called or what the feedback has been.

Carnival will need to keep up with delivering on their brand promise on the cruise – and I am interested to see what they will do in this area. However, I can say that in my experience this weekend with my interaction with Carnival, they walked the talk. All of the advertising, marketing or PR in the world won’t work unless the person who your customer, client or stakeholder connects with delivers on your brand promise. Every interaction – from what the president of the organization does when he or she is in line for their daily coffee, to how the customer feels they are being treated through the sales process, to the actual experience you have with what you have purchased or contracted for, has to reflect the brand promise. Chris from Carnival completely delivered on their brand promise – he made it fun, he made it easy, and by living the brand promise, he got us to book a cruise that wasn’t even in our minds before he called. He got results. He re-engaged us with the Carnival brand and he earned my loyalty.

I am now telling people that I think Carnival gets it right – without having been on a ship in about five years; I have re-engaged with their brand and have become an ambassador for them. In fact, I have put it out to several of my friends that they should come on this cruise with us. It’s that straightforward – if your employees bring your brand promise to life with each interaction with a customer or client, you get results.

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dreamstime_xs_25327121Happy New Year. On behalf of the AHA crew, we want to take this opportunity to wish you much happiness and success for 2014.

I had several interactions throughout the holiday season that made me think about how many levels and approaches there are in the world of communication (and in the world!).

I had the good fortune to travel to South Africa in December and, while there, I met several people I will keep in touch with. In our conversations about how to keep in touch, the response was split pretty evenly – half of the people were on social media (especially Facebook and Twitter) and half weren’t.

Some of these people are senior people in organizations; they are the decision makers and influencers. I learned that, for the most part, their preference for staying connected with others is by e-mail, telephone or in-person meetings. But, being curious, I had to ask – where do they get their news and day-to-day information, and how do they stay connected? The answers included reading the newspaper (hard copy), reading the newspaper online, listening to news radio, and watching the morning and/or evening news. It is interesting to note that when I asked about providing their opinions and feedback – or seeing the opinions and feedback in others – there really wasn’t as much interest as I thought there would be. One person responded: “Have you seen some of the comments on news articles? Not only are they uninformed, but they can be nasty, racist and border on bullying. I am not interested in getting into that kind of discussion.”

It’s important to remember that, for a range of reasons, not everyone gets their information or connects on social media. Here at AHA, we spend a fair amount of time in the social media arena – for our clients, for AHA and personally. It’s always good to remind ourselves that not everyone is as engaged on social media as we are. When it comes to planning out a campaign, initiative or project – while social media should always be on the table – it’s also important to identify where the target audience or community gets their news and information. Being clear about this will help you to build an effective plan for where, how and when to reach out with what you want to communicate.

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who, what, when, where, whyThere are many social media platforms out there. I have seen some organizations attempt to use them all and the fact is, I have yet to see anyone accomplish that. Unless you have a huge communications team, a big fat budget and are all things to all people, it is strategic to identify the right platform or platforms for you and to limit them.

For our clients, we often review their social media platforms as a part of the planning process. Depending on the size of the client and the scope of our work with them, we make recommendations on changes and additions in this area.

We develop a great deal of content in a brand journalism style for our clients. The fact is, I believe communicators and public relations professionals have been using the brand journalism approach for decades – we just called it “content.” Today, we call it brand journalism and we use that content in a variety of ways, including on social media platforms. But before we do anything, we define where the organization’s stakeholders/community/audience hang out on social media platforms, we spend time understanding their needs, wants and expectations regarding interaction with brands and organizations (and often the world as a whole), and we develop a strategic editorial plan and schedule. And that plan and schedule is reviewed and revised on a regular basis as trends, interests and expectations shift.

I was fortunate to work with some incredibly talented editors and journalists back in my journalism career and they taught me a great deal more than how to write a good article. There is so much that goes into developing compelling content that speaks to the reader, listener or viewer. As much as each piece should be able to stand alone in its value, it’s also important to understand how all the pieces come together.

The content that is put forward in newspapers, magazines, in online publications and in broadcast news isn’t randomly pulled together. There’s a plan. As much as the media follows the news of the day/week/month, the content as a whole is strategically planned out with themes, context and flow. How pieces reflect on each other, what the sidebars attached to major news stories can communicate, how all of the images/visuals and articles/segments flow, what kind of follow-up or updates are expected, what time of year it is, whether the information will be important to people today, what the other seemingly unrelated events and news stories are, etc. All of these elements need to be taken into consideration when developing an editorial schedule/plan and when writing or producing the content.

It’s a thoughtful process and when it is done right, you can engage your community in meaningful and valuable ways. Not only is this approach important for which social media platforms you use, but also for the content you will share on them, including how often to share, what the themes are, the style and tone, how often you will self-promote (please, not often – it’s annoying and you will lose your community), what your level of engagement is, how much you will repurpose or repeat content from one platform to another, and – at the heart of it – what you have to say that matters to the people you want to connect with.

Working all of this out is one of the most interesting, exciting, challenging and rewarding parts of the work we do. When a client is committed to doing it right and puts in the effort, the results are often incredible. Their followers multiply, their web visits increase and they find themselves in authentic conversations with their key target markets, which – depending on their ultimate goal – drives sales, increases brand awareness, changes behaviours or perspectives, informs, educates and engages. But it all goes back to knowing who you want to connect with, why they would want to connect with you, where to connect and when.

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AHA works with clients in a range of sectors – consumer goods, technology, post-secondary education, health care, fitness, law and the judiciary, fashion, not-for-profit, insurance and, of course, travel. We provide a range of services for our clients including promotional public relations, community relations (including social media), strategic communications planning, writing and editing services, messaging and positioning, crisis and communication planning, and issues communication management.

We have extensive travel PR experience and a strong skill set in this area. Our clients range from tourism boards to hotels to airlines to tour operators and local activities. We have spent a decade building positive relationships with traditional and online journalists, bloggers and editorial content creators. AHA works in the world of travel because we love it, we’re really good at it, and we continue to grow and evolve our skill set in this ever-changing world.

Recently, we decided to put a little more focus on travel PR. Believe me, that doesn’t mean that our non-travel clients will get any less attention. Each one of our clients knows how important they are to us – and how dedicated we are to providing world-class client service and generating exceptional results. What it does mean is that we are going to get a little more proactive in the area of travel business development. We’re a little spoiled here. We have been incredibly fortunate that colleagues, clients, former clients and professional acquaintances recommend us and refer new clients to us – and that has kept us pretty busy. However, we have a kick-ass crew across the country and it’s time to reach out and connect with some great potential clients.

As a part of the launch of our increased focus in the area of travel, we worked the fabulously talented, incredibly professional, and delightful to work with Tanya Gadsby of Drawing Out Ideas to produce a short graphic recording video that highlights the benefits of working with AHA for your travel PR. We hope you like it!

 

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p&r egyptHere at AHA, we work with clients in a range of sectors – government, not-for-profit and private. We have clients around the world, in the U.S. and, of course, in Canada. One of the perks of working here is that we do get to travel a little and see the world. We are set to visit a client in South Africa in December, so I have been doing some online research about activities and events that will be happening when we are there. Finding information that specifically interests me for travel has never been easier – TripAdvisor is of huge value. So are Facebook and Twitter. You ask your community – the people you know and trust – for recommendations.

On TripAdvisor, there is an opportunity for the travel professional (tour operator, hotel manager, etc.) to respond to each review. I am always impressed by the travel professionals who respond to both the positive and negative reviews. In fact, if I am travelling to a place I have never been to before – for work or pleasure – it is the review that has a response that gets my attention and, usually, my business. I have seen hotel managers apologize for something that went wrong that was their responsibility and I have seen them respectfully take on a reviewer who perhaps wasn’t sharing the whole story. It impresses me when a service provider responds and when they take responsibility publicly for something that went wrong; it tells me that customer service matters to them. Things are going to go wrong; I just want someone who cares enough to make them right.

TripAdvisor isn’t perfect – not all reviews are necessarily authentic. Sometimes tour operators or hotel managers have staff or friends write positive reviews for them and negative ones for competitors. Let’s face it, there are also people out there who just don’t like anything and who always write negative reviews. It’s important to take these reviews in context. However, it does provide a great opportunity for both travellers and for the travel and tourism world. And it’s a great example of how the world of public relations has changed – and not just in travel and tourism, but in every industry sector.

People – consumers, clients, influencers, investors, government, media, etc. – are all online and talking. They are likely online somewhere discussing your organization or industry right now. Do you know where they are? Do you know who they are? Do you know where you can engage in the conversation (if it is strategic for you to do so)? Are you paying attention to what they are saying?

What is your website like – is it easy to navigate? Is the information up-to-date and relevant to your stakeholder group? Is it engaging and interesting?

These are important questions. Your stakeholders are online looking for information about your organization and if your website isn’t up-to-date, you may be responsible for any misinformation they have. If they are discussing you and – at the very least – you aren’t aware of what the hot button topics are and what they are interested in, you are not only missing out on an opportunity to engage and build positive relationships, but there may also be an issue emerging that you don’t know about and that could be damaging to your organizational reputation.

If you aren’t a part of the conversation, it could hurt you.

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