We just posted a new video on the front page of our website, and I have to say, we’re pretty excited about it. It is a graphic recording that we produced in collaboration with Tanya Gadsby of Drawing Out Ideas. Graphic recording is a creative way to communicate and it is a tool that can be incredibly useful in helping you to connect with your audience or community. The AHA video is only one example of how a graphic recording can be used; there are several other options, depending on your needs and objectives.

Tanya is exceptional at her craft. Not only was she an absolute delight to work with, she also brought a level of creativity to the project that was of huge value. She has a rare talent and is able to blend creativity with a strategic approach – it’s really impressive. She understood who we are (as AHA and as individuals) and she was able to help us to create a visual story that captured our uniqueness in a way that is engaging, compelling and useful. This graphic recording helps to showcase who we are and what we do, and it does it in an interesting and imaginative way.

The world of communication has changed. It is important that as PR professionals, we evolve with new tools and technologies. I believe that graphic recordings are a great example of a new way to tell your story or to explain a complex topic to your stakeholders. It’s different, it’s fun and yet it provides the opportunity to give details in a way that holds a viewer’s attention.

At AHA, we’ve always been interested in the visual components of storytelling – our Fast Take Friday video blogs are highly popular and we are looking at bringing those back soon. The graphic recording is another way to help connect with potential clients to explain what we do and showcase our ability to use new tools to tell stories.

For our blog posts, Paul has become an expert at finding the right images to help explain the information. Visuals are becoming more and more important as the world continues to search for information online. I love words, and I have made my living by stringing them together to tell stories for longer than I care to admit. However, words and imagery go together. As communicators, it’s up to us to identify and embrace new ways to tell our clients’ stories. Graphic recording is one of those new ways that we are incredibly excited about.

Do you have a medium that has worked well for you?

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DSC_0175This is the second post in my “top communications lessons learned in New Zealand” series, and it focuses on the most fabulous Hapuku Lodge in Kaikoura. Kaikoura is on the east coast of New Zealand’s South Island. It is a beautiful, rugged, wind-swept seaside area that I completely fell in love with.

Hapuku Lodge is a pretty spectacular place. However, today’s post isn’t about the lodge itself (but the lodge is worth checking out, believe me). It is about the two incredible people who run the lodge – Fiona Read and Chris Sturgeon. As amazing as the lodge is, they made our experience there so much more enjoyable and memorable.

Fiona is a bit of a celebrity in New Zealand – she was a favourite on the television show MasterChef New Zealand. She takes care of the food experience at Hapuku and her husband Chris takes care of the stay side. They make a great team. And without realizing it, they taught me a couple of important life and communications lessons during our brief stay with them.

Lesson 1:  Understand your audience/community/peeps.

I am an aspiring foodie and was thrilled that we had a cooking class – and even more thrilled when I learned that our teacher was Fiona. The class was just with Paul and I, and it was clear that I am no expert – but I am enthusiastic. Fiona completely read our interest and knowledge/experience level and she focused in on that. I was really interested in learning and Paul was pretty interested in eating. She balanced it out so that we felt comfortable and the information wasn’t too basic or too over our heads – so that the experience was enjoyable for us. That is an important skill and one that is often overlooked in the world of communication. It is important to understand what the people or person you are communicating with wants to know; don’t just focus on what you want to tell them.

Lesson 2:  Everything matters – especially the small details.

At Hapuku, Chris was very attentive to our needs without making us feel overwhelmed.  It was quite subtle really, but we were paying attention just like he was. Chris asked us about our wine experiences in New Zealand and what our preference was – and he provided recommendations for what we would like. When we sat in the lounge, which sits in my heart as a place of my dreams (I loved sitting there blogging with a glass of New Zealand sauvignon blanc, looking out at the beautiful landscape), he made sure the fireplace was just right, he checked in to see if the Internet was fast enough, and he brought us little snacks. He would stop by and check in on us at exactly the right time, without breaking our concentration on our blogging or discussions. The tree house room was perfect – comfortable, luxurious, fabulous – everything we could want was in that room.

The big things were there – fabulous scenery, beautiful lodge, amazing region – and if no one spoke to us at all, this would have been a good experience. The attention to detail is what took it from good to exceptional. For one small moment in time (well, 24 hours), life was perfect. And it was the commitment to the details by Chris and the Hapuku team that created that paradise.

The communications lesson: Sweat the small stuff. You can do big things well, but to be excellent, you need to make sure that you pay attention to the small things and do those well too. Freshly brewed coffee for client meetings, one final, solid proofread of a document, showing up on time – every time – sending thank you notes, checking in when you know a client is experiencing a challenge or an issue just to see how they are… They might seem small from a day-to-day perspective, but they have a huge impact.

Lesson 3: Be yourself.

This lesson appears to be the theme from this year’s New Zealand trip. Fiona and Chris are incredibly interesting, charming and welcoming. And what is most interesting and charming about them is that they don’t pretend to be anything or anyone other than who they are. They are down-to-earth, easygoing and incredibly professional (which is quite a balance, in my opinion).

I watched as they engaged with other guests, each other and with the Hapuku team. They didn’t shift out of one persona into another. They were authentic and that comes across. Hapuku is a luxury lodge, but they are inclusive. While they often have guests who are CEOs, rock stars and celebrities, quite often their guests are regular people like you and me who are looking for a special experience. Fiona and Chris treat everyone equally and stay true to themselves and to the lodge – which is an incredibly welcoming, comfortable, luxurious place to stay. Hapuku felt like we were staying at a close friend’s house (a friend who had an incredibly fabulous home!). That didn’t come from the design or the locale of the lodge – that came from the heart and soul of Fiona and Chris.

The communications lesson here: Authenticity matters. When you embrace who you really are, you will attract the clients/customers/guests who are right for you. 

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DSC_0047Each year, around this time, AHA heads to New Zealand to blog for TRENZblog. This initiative is part of our work with Tourism New Zealand. We spend a week travelling the country and then we attend TRENZ, New Zealand’s largest travel trade show – and we blog our way through the country and the trade show.

Each time I visit New Zealand, I learn both life and communications lessons. Most times, they are intertwined (after all, we all communicate and it is one of the most challenging aspects of life sometimes). Each time, one big lesson stands out. This year, that lesson is about bringing your passion and your “A” game every day. While this lesson can be translated to any profession, it certainly hit home for me in what we do here at AHA.

In the two weeks in New Zealand, I had several opportunities to speak with/interview people in the tourism world. Several people really stood out for me. Over the next two weeks, I am going to share those experiences here on the AHA blog, showcasing what each of them taught me.

The first is Nicolas, the winemaker at the boutique winery, Black Estate, in the Canterbury Region of New Zealand. Nicolas took the time to let us see what was going on just a day or so after the harvest. This is a very busy time for a winemaker, and yet Nicolas let us into the area where the grapes were being squished (not the technical term) and he also spent a good thirty minutes showing us around and answering my questions.

Lesson 1: Be so excited and passionate about what you do that you want to share it.

Nicolas’ passion was clear – as was his knowledge and talent. I could almost see the delight in his eyes as he explained the process. It made me want to support this winery because it was clear that it mattered to him.

Lesson 2: Be patient and open to questions from those who know much less than you.

While I have been known to sip a glass of wine or two now and again, I know next to nothing about the behind-the-scenes workings of a real vineyard. Nicolas answered all my questions, never spoke down to me, and encouraged me to ask more questions. He opened my mind to many aspects of winemaking and he educated me, making me want to learn more about what he does.

Lesson 3: Embrace who you are. Not once did Nicolas apologize for being a small winery. In fact, he was proud of it and confident in the quality of his wine. Black Estate is a boutique winery and it embraces that – it doesn’t try to be a big winery; it focuses on being the best it can be. Not trying to be anyone else.

While these lessons might not seem to be communications lessons – they are. Nicolas lives the Black Estate brand. He is clear and consistent in how he speaks about the grapes, the process, and the art and craft of making wine. And he clearly loves it. His passion shone through and he used humour to explain things to me. He is an excellent communicator when it comes to his wine.

Next up: Fiona and Chris of Hapuku Lodge in Kaikoura.

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My dad recently accompanied me on a trip to San Francisco. While I had to do some work while I was there, this city was a bucket list destination for him. As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, he had taken a bad fall last year and shattered his femur. Coming on this trip to San Francisco offered some incentive for him during his physiotherapy.

In San Francisco, we got a wheelchair for him, even though he can walk reasonably well with a cane. Given that he is still healing, I didn’t want him over-extending himself as we discovered the delights of the city by the bay. I really didn’t expect to learn anything about PR or communications because my dad had a wheelchair, but I did. (Funny how that happens.)

I took responsibility for pushing the wheelchair. It was something I wanted to do; he’s my dad after all. And we went to a lot of places: Fisherman’s Wharf, Pier 39, took a tour of Alcatraz and a wine tour of Napa Valley, rode on a cable car, went to Union Square, took a tour of the city, took a ferry to Sausalito, and more.

I discovered how challenging it can be for someone who has mobility issues. The ramps for wheelchairs aren’t always easy, sidewalk lips are a real issue, and crowded restaurants and bars are a nightmare. It isn’t because people don’t care or aren’t sympathetic; it’s just that everyone is involved in their own world and sometimes they don’t realize what it takes for someone with a wheelchair (or a cane or other support device) to get around.

For five days in San Francisco, I saw the world from the perspective of a person in a wheelchair and it was, frankly, exhausting. Even though many people went out of their way to be helpful, it was hard to maneuver around and I had to be alert for potential issues or risks. I was vigilant about making sure my dad was able to see the sites, to be respectful of other people and to stay safe – keeping an eye out for children running around, other tourists not paying attention to where they were walking, for things on the sidewalk that could catch the wheels, curb lips that weren’t that easy to navigate and – of course – hills. (We were in San Francisco…)

That’s when it hit me: People don’t always fully realize what specific stakeholders are going through or what the situation looks like from their perspective. Sometimes, you really do have to put yourself in their shoes to truly understand the challenges that they face (often on a daily basis). And there are times that these might be things that we take for granted or think are unimportant because they aren’t happening to us. It is a different world when you step into their shoes and actually experience what they live with every day.

This is very interesting to me because I believe – and have been told – that I have strength in the area of identifying how people receive information, given their specific situation or perspective. I am empathetic; I go out and listen to what people have to say. I work hard to fully understand what it means to the person I am speaking with. I am good at developing communications pieces that support change management because I realize how important it is to fully understand what people truly need or expect – not just what the organization wants them to know.

For me, it reinforced the importance of taking the time to really listen to the concerns and feedback of stakeholder groups. It opened me up to the fact that there are so many seemingly small pieces that can get overlooked unless you authentically shift your mindset from what needs to be communicated to what the people you are opening the conversation with want to hear. You need to “live in the shoes” of the people you want to connect with.

As communicators, we are often tasked with being the translator – taking organizational messages (positive or negative) to individuals and to stakeholder groups. I think it is important that we acknowledge how crucial it is to not just understand the messaging, but to embrace the perspective of the community and to truly realize what matters to those individuals. That will take us from being a good communicator to being a great one.

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Recently at AHA, we have been doing a great deal of brand journalism work with clients. More and more, organizations are focused on telling their story in an editorial style rather than through marketing or advertising pieces. Quite often, a good brand journalism story accompanies an advertising campaign.

Sunday’s Super Bowl is a perfect example of how brand journalism has slipped into the mainstream, without us really noticing. For many people who watch the Super Bowl, the ads are an important part of the experience. And let’s face it, they are pretty entertaining. And they should be, given how much they cost to air. I think the last estimate I heard was $3.8 million for a 30-second spot and that doesn’t include the cost of producing the ad. It’s a big investment for an organization. And the smart ones are making the most of it by attaching the “real story” behind the ad.

For example, Doritos ran a series of ads and one of them featured a funny little dog that had a lot of character. I happened to see some information about it on my Facebook page prior to the Super Bowl, so I went to check it out. It turns out the little dog in the ad is a rescue dog that was “discovered” – a little bit of a doggie Cinderella story – from being abandoned and in a shelter to becoming a star.

As a dog person, that story caught my attention and it gave me the chance to better connect with the Doritos brand – even though it didn’t promote their product to me in any way. But, as an animal lover, I like that the producers of the ad didn’t go to a breeder or only look for a purebred; they took a dog that likely hasn’t had the best life and they put her in the spotlight. This could lead to people seeing this and maybe thinking about adopting a shelter dog instead of buying one. That makes me happy. And it makes me feel a connection to the Doritos brand. Had they just run a funny ad with a quirky little dog, they would have caught my attention for a moment. Through brand journalism, I was told the backstory – and they engaged me. Smart. There are a lot of dog-loving, nacho chip-eating people in the world and that commercial and the story will get every one of us.

What’s your story? What do you have to share with your stakeholders, your target market and your community that will speak to them? Go beyond the traditional approach and think about what stories you tell your friends and family when they ask you about your organization. What makes people lean in and say: “really, that’s interesting…”

What are the human elements you can share that will engage and inspire people? Those stories are at the heart of your brand personality and they will bring your brand to life.

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