As many regular AHA blog readers know, we are big fans of Brian Solis. He is a smart guy who “gets” social media and is able to explain it in a straightforward manner in a business context. If you haven’t discovered Brian, read his book Engage or keep up with his blog. The information he shares is valuable and there are few people in the social media world, in my opinion, who can clearly explain the how to of both strategy and execution – and the why behind it. He is a thought leader and he happens to have the ability to inspire and move you to action.

Brian recently wrote 14 Best Practices for Long-Term Social Media Success, which appeared on Mashable. It is well worth a read. The 14 best practices put forward in this piece are gold; they are points that we drive home over and over again with clients. If you want to engage in social media for the long-term and create positive relationships with your community – read this blog post.

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AHA - Boardroom ImageAt AHA, we are communicators. Quite often that means that we work with our clients on projects that they want to share with stakeholders – either internal or external (and often both).

Sometimes, our role with them is to assist in developing communications vehicles – a website, an online newsroom, a Facebook or Twitter page or other social networking presence along with a strategy. Other times, we work with them on a business project and to help develop a communication strategy around it. Quite often, we are brought in at the start of the project and asked to contribute to the project as a whole – rather than being given the directive to “communicate this.” That’s always an exciting time because it shows that the client organization understands that communication deserves a seat at the leadership table. They see that a strategic communicator can provide value in a business strategy session, not just build a communications plan around a strategy.

Often we are asked to participate in product development brainstorming sessions, to contribute to refining a corporate structure, to work with them on plans for growing their business or improving their organization with a focus on becoming more relevant and valuable to stakeholders. As senior communicators, many of our clients find it of value to have us in at the start of the project to provide our input and feedback.

When I came across this article in Forbes online, it reinforced the value of communication throughout an organization and to external stakeholders as an organization focuses on innovation.  It’s worth a read.

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It seems like a long time since I wrote an AHA blog post. We’re back in the office preparing for the new year. It’s been an exciting year for us here at AHA and we’re looking forward to 2011.

One of the topics of conversation that we’ve been having at our Vancouver PR agency revolves around exceptional customer, client or stakeholder service. For us, exceptional service is a priority. How we work with our clients, our AHA Crew, our suppliers and others is important and our focus on this area is reflected in the success of our work with clients and the overall success of AHA.

I have two other examples of exceptional service to share today – one is personal, the other doesn’t touch us directly, but is a great example of someone who clearly cares about what they do.

The first example is about Newark Mayor Cory Booker. Mayor Booker has been out and about – hands on dealing with some of the insane weather that the North East is dealing with. And he’s been tweeting about it, responding directly to constituents. He’s used humour, empathy, understanding and he has really connected with the people who are being hit with the extreme weather. Wired.com has a great piece on it that’s worth a read.

My next example is one that is personal. For many of you who interact with us at AHA, you know that Paul and I took some time off in December for a vacation. We started off in Barcelona, took a Mediterranean Cruise and then returned to Barcelona.

We had never been to Barcelona before so I had done some research online into hotels there. The Hotel Barcelona Universal stood out because the manager, Pablo Perez, was active online. If a guest had a complaint on TripAdvisor.com, Pablo responded – either to clarify, apologize or set the record straight. The fact is, no hospitality or tourism provider can ever please every person every time and sometimes, things happen and stuff goes wrong. I found that Pablo’s hands on approach gave me a great deal of confidence in the hotel and the service that we would receive there, so we booked three nights (one pre-cruise and two post).

Now, three nights in a hotel isn’t a big deal. We could have been treated to the basic service – get us in, get us out – but that’s not how Pablo or the Hotel Barcelona Universal works. I emailed Pablo to tell him that I appreciated his proactive approach and to ask about recommendations for restaurants. What I got back was amazing. Pablo went out of his way to tell us about events and activities that we might be interested in Barcelona. He recommended great restaurants and helped us get reservations. He explained what would be going on around Christmas Eve and Christmas Day there. He went out of his way to make us feel welcome and comfortable in Barcelona. Before we even landed, it felt like we had a friend there.

Pablo wasn’t at the hotel when we arrived, so we actually didn’t get to meet him until December 24 – almost two weeks later. However, the service at the Hotel Barcelona Universal was exceptional. Everyone at the hotel went the extra mile to help us, whether that was bringing our luggage (a lot of it!) from the taxi to our room, hailing a cab, calling to let the restaurant know we would be a little late for our reservation or giving us directions for the Metro. We were treated like we were the most important guests at the hotel. As I sat in the lobby and watched (as PR people are prone to do), I noticed that every guest was given the same respect, consideration and service.

How Pablo and the team at Hotel Barcelona Universal treated us made our vacation so much better. It made Barcelona feel like home; it created a positive impact that really impressed us. Throughout this hotel, people went out of their way to provide us with an exceptional experience. It was a highlight of our trip. I will tell anyone going to Barcelona that this is where they should stay. This is public relations at its finest, and is a great example of exceptional customer service.

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Now that the 33 Chilean miners are above ground and safe and sound, it is interesting to look back at their ordeal and review how it was handled and what that might mean for the miners in the future. Movie deals? Book deals?

I have to admit, I was obsessed with this story. And, from the sounds of it, so was a great deal of the world. I think that the reason for this is that there was ongoing, honest communication being put out about what was going on and there was a realistic hope of a happy ending.

The fact that the world was kept up-to-date on what was happening underground with the miners, with their families and with the rescue effort was incredible. We were allowed into the story and that made us feel connected. I think the Chilean government and the people working on the rescue did an exceptional job of providing information and because of that, they earned worldwide support. Not a small thing when you are in the spotlight like they were.

Sunglass maker, Oakley, stepped in and provided sunglasses for the men. Now, I have read some criticism about why Oakley did this; but, in fact, they were approached by a journalist covering the story. They responded and said yes, of course, they would provide sunglasses to help protect the eyes of the men. And to their credit, they wrote one blog post about it and that seems to be it. They didn’t try to maximize coverage of their role; they just did something good and that was that. Of course, as each miner came out of the ground, their brand was front and centre and was connected to the success of the rescue. They received an estimated $41 million in television coverage. But, they handled their contribution with class and style and if it benefits them, good for them.

There is a great article in the Jamaica Observer about leadership lessons from the mines that focuses on the communications efforts. It’s one of the best pieces I have read on this topic and worth a read.

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Mat Wilcox of Wilcox Group announced yesterday that she is closing her shop. In the world of a Vancouver PR agency, that’s big news. There have been several iconic Vancouver PR agencies close over the past year, including our good friends at QUAY Strategies.

The women that began these agencies are smart and innovative and are moving on to different chapters of their lives. I think it is important for those of us who have learned from them, looked up to them and modeled ourselves after them in so many different ways to take a moment to acknowledge their contribution to PR in Vancouver.

They have changed perception of PR professionals from one of people who run events to one of being strategic partners that have earned a seat at the executive table. They have mentored and inspired many, many people in the world of PR and have made an indelible imprint on the PR industry in Canada.

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