I recently had an interesting conversation with a friend that, when I recounted it in the AHA PR office, sparked a pretty animated discussion. It was about advice that my friend received from some marketing professionals that she happened to meet at a workshop.

The people she met spoke with her for a short amount of time about her work (which is in the not-for-profit arena) and gave her some advice that she got quite excited about. Now, this friend isn’t a marketing person or a professional communicator. So the advice that these good meaning folks gave her sounded really good. Until you put it into context of the budget, resources and current situation of her organization. Then it made no sense at all. It wasn’t strategic; it didn’t have clear objectives. It was advice given with good intentions, but with no basis in the reality my friend lives in.

I have said it before and I will say it again – context matters. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. A while ago, we had the opportunity to develop an app for AHA. We thought about it quite seriously, but then we put ourselves through the same exercise we ask clients to do when it comes to this kind of thing. We asked ourselves what our stakeholder group would get out of this, what we, as a company, would get out of this (besides the fun of having our own app), and what the return-on-investment was for this project – was it financial, raising awareness of AHA and our services, was it providing additional value for our clients? In the end, we realized it wasn’t right for us at the time.

I have been a professional communicator for many years and I have put a great deal of energy into helping to shift the perception of what we do from tactical to strategic. Having random people toss out (in my opinion) unrealistic tactics regarding an organization that they really don’t understand – and not having a clear view of their objectives – pushes us backwards. Don’t be that person. Before you put forward an idea for your organization or your client, think about why you should do it. If you want to do it just because you can – that’s just not good enough.

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Before I leap into today’s blog post – I owe you an apology. Our AHA blog hasn’t been as active as usual and it completely falls on my shoulders. It’s been busy in our office and our focus has been on working with our clients to meet some tight, challenging deadlines. We’re loving every minute of it – we live for challenges and deadlines – but our blog and Fast Take Fridays have suffered. My apologies. I am committed to getting back on track starting today and going back to our writing, videotaping and posting schedule. I know if we had a client who went off track, I would be giving them a little grief with some nudging to get them back into the schedule. So, I had the same talk with myself this morning – and here I am back at it. (I can be quite persuasive when I want to be!)

I was reading a piece in the New York Times about people who write fake book reviews. And it really struck a nerve with me. I learned a long time ago not to trust all the reviews online – especially about books and for travel.  There is an entire growing industry that will write reviews on books, products or services – and just about anything you can think of – for a price. That’s not a review; it’s advertising or advertorial or promotion, but it’s not a review. And in my mind – it is unethical.

Public relations is about authenticity and transparency – and not disclosing that you have been paid to do something is about as far away from that as you can get. It doesn’t mean people can’t get paid for checking things out for organizations. In my opinion, Chris Brogan is a perfect example of approaching this with integrity. He discloses when he has been given something – the product, a payment or he gets an affiliate referral fee when you click from his email or website and buy something. I also trust Chris; he has proven time and time again that he won’t lie to me about a product just because he got paid to review it. I am good with that approach; just tell me your relationship with what you are reviewing.

This New York Times article is worth a read. It may open your eyes to the fact that a lot of information that we are being fed online just isn’t true – and, in fact, some of it is downright dishonest. We’re still working out the ethics and values of the Internet. And I think it’s going to take some time.

When you do check out reviews online, put the review and reviewer in context. Check out their other reviews. I almost didn’t stay at a hotel because there was a scathing review of it from someone. At the last minute, I checked out what else this person had reviewed – and he had reviewed a lot. He hated everything. He had over 200 reviews on TripAdvisor and not one of them was positive.

Often the first five to ten reviews for a book or product are from friends, families or employees of the company. Unless they disclose their association or affiliation, I wouldn’t trust them. And especially with people who have self-published or are from a smaller company promoting their book, products and services – you will often see a small group of people who write reviews for each other. There is a little circle of promotion that happens that is pretty easy to identify. Put reviews in context. Don’t take them as face value.

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Each week, I get a little piece of wisdom in my inbox. It’s from Della’s Deck.  This engaging, interesting, well-written, smart as all get out blog provides techniques and tips to help you be a better communicator. Della’s Deck offers weekly communications advice to make life easier and more enjoyable. And it delivers.

Full disclosure here, Della Smith is a close friend, my mentor and she used to be my boss. However, she is also an incredible communicator. Della brings a strategic approach (believe me, she thinks like a CEO) and she combines it with realism (she knows what we go through as communicators), perspective and an in-depth understanding and consideration of human nature. Blend this with her knowledge of communications – including social media. Her tips and advice are relevant, timely and interesting.

The blog posts are shared in a way that allows her readers to take them and implement them immediately. They aren’t filled with corporate speak or bafflegab. They are relatively short, to the point and – I have to say – I have yet to read one that I didn’t relate to.

Check out Della’s Deck.

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There are times when I feel really, really, really busy – and it can feel overwhelming. The fact is, I like to be busy. I work better when AHA is busy and I have more fun when I have many things on my list to get done – in both my professional and personal life. Some days, however, it feels a little less exciting and a little more pressured and overwhelming. It’s not necessarily in response to anything except the conversation that runs through my brain.

I came across a fabulous blog post on today that spoke to my anxiety and concern. It was like the writer knew how I was feeling and was speaking directly to me. Believe me, it’s worth a read. Especially in these sunny, beautiful days of summer.

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I came across this quote recently: “Public relations are a key component of any operation in this day of instant communications and rightly inquisitive citizens.” – Alvin Adams, diplomat, (1804-1877)

It’s interesting that in the 1800s, Mr. Adams thought they had instant communications and inquisitive citizens. I wonder what he would make of social media and our online, connected world.

It also reinforced a key element that we, at AHA, believe in and have been sharing for some time. That is: Good communication is a result of strategy, not technology.

Don’t get me wrong – social media, the online world, and technology have created much positive impact in the area of communication. And the use of these tools needs to be acknowledged and integrated into an overall communications strategy. But, it’s a part of the overall strategy – it isn’t the strategy.

You can have plans for Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest or any other social media networking site. We believe that is important; but these plans are components of an overall communications plan which should support your overall organizational objectives. How does that happen? With a communications strategy.

Communicators have a more complex role these days. It is important that we see the bigger picture, as well as the day-to-day details. We still live in a world of “instant communications and rightly inquisitive citizens” and it takes attention, effort and strategy to effectively and authentically connect.

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