Vancouver PR Agency

TorontoI was born and raised in downtown Toronto. As much as I love the West Coast (and I really do), Toronto will always be my hometown. I have been watching the saga of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford develop – or perhaps I should say unwind – for quite some time now. The most recent development added to the allegations of crack use is now rumours of one of the people in the video having been murdered. This sounds more like the plot of a made-for-TV movie than reality, but it’s real.

Not only has this issue (which I think has actually morphed into a full-blown crisis) created challenges for the people working at City Hall, but Toronto has now become the fodder for late night TV hosts – you can see Jimmy Kimmel’s take on it here. I have to admit, it’s pretty funny. However, from a communications standpoint, you never want to see your boss, client, organization or colleague mocked by the media. Keep in mind that it’s no longer just a few minutes of ridicule by Jon Stewart, Jay Leno, Jimmy Fallon and others – it now lives on forever online. And I would bet there are now several investigative reporters digging further into this story – and others concerning Ford – and we will start to see a lot more in the next few days.

From a communications perspective, I don’t think I have seen many better examples of how not to handle an issue or a crisis. Start with the fact that it took Ford a week to respond to allegations regarding the existence of a video that showed him smoking crack cocaine. A week. That left a great deal of time for people to speculate on whether or not it was true – and the fact is, it’s human nature to fill in the gaps. If you don’t provide accurate information, people will create theories, speculate and come up with their version of what could have happened – which, after a few times of talking it through, starts to feel like – in their minds – what really happened.

When Ford did respond, he said: “I do not use crack cocaine.” He declined to comment on the video, which he said he had “never seen” or “does not exist.” Hmmmm… rather than come out and clearly refute crack cocaine use (using words like, “I have never used crack cocaine and will never use crack cocaine.”), he skirted around words. As for the video, if it’s true, he could have said: “Since I have never used crack cocaine, there is no possibility that the alleged video could exist.” Of course, had Mayor Ford just taken a drug test, all of this would have been put to rest quickly. But he did none of the key things necessary to effectively manage an issue or a crisis.

He fired his Chief of Staff and, yesterday, word came out from City Hall that two more senior staff had resigned – both communications people. That sends a clear message. I don’t know these communications professionals at all – not even by name. But I can tell you, in my experience, when one communicator leaves in the middle of a crisis, you start to wonder what is going on behind closed doors. When two leave – well, it signals something pretty big. I know the only reason I would leave during an issue or a crisis is if: a) the client was not listening to me at all; or b) I felt that my ethics or integrity were being violated.

In my next blog post, I will talk about what you can do during an issue or a crisis.

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Trenz_logo_nauticalHere at AHA, we are preparing to head to New Zealand for the 5th year of TRENZblog, the social media campaign that has us blogging and tweeting from the country. First, as we check out areas on a familiarization trip (this year it’s Wellington, the Marlborough region, and the Christchurch & Canterbury region), and then from TRENZ, New Zealand’s largest travel trade show.

We are always excited to head back to New Zealand – it’s a fabulous place. The beauty of the country is breathtaking and each region has its own unique charm. And the people of New Zealand are exceptional. Friendly, welcoming and more than a little bit cheeky.

Five years ago, TRENZblog was a bit of a leap of faith on the part of Tourism New Zealand. In 2008, the online world was just finding acceptance in the mainstream. In fact, five years ago I had the opportunity to interview New Zealand Prime Minister John Key and I was the first travel blogger to be granted an interview with him.

TRENZblog has now become a bit of a “regular” connection between trade media and New Zealand tourism operators. This project is a resource in providing trade media and travel trade professionals with timely and relevant information about tourism activities in the country.

We have recently been working on several proposals and that always makes us take a look at ourselves as communicators and what and how we do things. TRENZblog is a good example of seeing a shift in the landscape and moving that way. We recognized that the online world and social media were game changers when it came to PR and strategic communication and we knew that in order to serve our clients well, we had to evolve. TRENZblog is one of those projects that could have easily slipped by without much fanfare. It’s kind of workhorse PR initiative. It’s not big and flashy and it likely won’t win us any awards, but it gets the job done – and it gets done well. TRENZblog produces results and over the past four years, we have measured and reviewed what we could do differently, what works and what doesn’t, how we can continue to improve.

We’re really proud of TRENZblog. It’s a good project that meets its objective. The fact that we get to spend time in New Zealand while we implement it is a bonus.

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I got up quite early this morning (2:30 a.m.) because I had some work with a tight deadline that I had worked on over the weekend and wasn’t quite happy with it yet. I had an early ferry (6:20 a.m.) to catch, so that meant that getting up at my usual early time (5 a.m.) to catch up on things was out of the question – I needed to get up earlier. As I hauled myself out of bed, I wondered if other people do this – get up this early because something is due and it needs work. I thought about my boundaries and the AHA boundaries that we set – and if we need to be stronger about them. Then I had a cup of coffee and laughed at myself.

The fact is, some of the work we do happens on weekends. This weekend, we had a client with an important event – so for three hours on Saturday and Sunday, Paul was on the phone with media pitching them to come out to the event. He was pretty successful and his efforts resulted in three major media outlets covering the event.

I am working on a big project for a client and I feel a little behind on it. It seems everyone on the client team feels that they are behind too – it’s a result of the enormity of the project – and we’re all working hard to keep up. I don’t like feeling behind; I don’t think anyone can do their best work if they are always rushing to meet deadlines, and my goal for this week is to get ahead of this project – no matter what it takes (early mornings, long days and working on the weekend).

We have great clients. They approach the relationship as a true partnership – they work with us, they listen to our advice and counsel, they bring us into interesting projects, and they rely on us and trust us to provide support for the tough projects (like when they may be facing an issue or crisis and need strategic communications help). And in return, we do whatever it takes – within our abilities and power – to deliver excellence. And I have to say, excellence isn’t a 9 to 5 activity. It goes beyond that. We are committed to our clients and in our world that means something to us and to our clients. And the work we do doesn’t always happen during the regular workday. It’s great when it can and does, but it’s not the reality we live in.

We believe in a work/life balance here at AHA. We believe in working as partners with our clients – and that means setting boundaries on both sides that are clearly communicated. And we believe that our commitment to our clients pays off every day. We have loyal, caring clients that are engaged with us, they pay us in a timely fashion and they go out of their way to recommend us to other organizations. I’d say that getting up a little earlier is a small price to pay for those kinds of professional relationships.

This morning, as boundary thoughts bounced around in my mind, a blog post by Danielle LaPorte came winging into my inbox and, since I am a big fan of hers, I drank my coffee and read it (I always want to know what she has to say to me!). She is a sassy, upstart, smart, spiritually-focused business/life coach who defies description. She isn’t for everyone, but if you “get her” and are ready to truly listen to her and yourself, she can change your entire life (business and personal) for the better. And her blog post today was about boundaries. It’s worth a read.

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Last year was an interesting, challenging and rewarding year for the AHA team. Our small PR agency worked on some incredibly challenging, rewarding and important projects. We discovered things about ourselves as professionals and as people that have changed how we engage with the world. We learned new things. We bonded as a crew. We improved and evolved as an agency, as communications professionals and as human beings. And that means that 2013 is going to be even better.

In 2012, AHA was a very active PR agency. We had several very large, high-profile projects that kept us busy working 18-hour days, seven days a week, for months on end. If we weren’t working, we were sleeping. It was that busy. We are a small agency on purpose – and that means that something had to give (besides social activities and sleep – we were already giving those up!). Our blog and Fast Take Friday videos became causalities of how busy we were as an agency and how busy I was, since I write most of the blog posts and am the “face” of the Fast Take Friday videos.

I have to say that while I do regret that there wasn’t time to write the blog posts and produce the Fast Take Friday videos, I did learn a valuable lesson. I give some of our clients grief about not keeping up with their blog posts and, in the past, I haven’t given enough respect to the fact that we live in a busy world and sometimes there really isn’t enough time to do it all. That doesn’t mean it’s right to put a hold on your external communication outreach. It isn’t. It does mean that you need to find more realistic approaches and ways of creating the content and making sure you are consistent in your communication outreach. Ways to do this include having more than one blogger on your team, developing some blog posts ahead of time that can be used when you are busy, and making sure you don’t just “go away” and not explain that you are busy and will be back shortly.

I am thrilled to be back blogging and am looking forward to producing our first Fast Take Friday of 2013 this week – check back Friday morning for that. And – for those of you who took the time to email and call asking when the blog posts and Fast Take Fridays would be back – thank you. It’s always nice to know that we have a core community who count on us to connect with you.

From the entire AHA crew, we wish you a very happy, challenging, inspirational and successful 2013.

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We are happily busy here at AHA. Busy enough that it keeps us all out of trouble, but not so busy that we aren’t able to get it all done. It’s a nice blend. Personally, I have had a busy few weeks and haven’t had time to get ahead in my AHA blog posts or AHA Fast Take Fridays. I have several things to write about, but haven’t found the time yet to put my mind to it.

This morning, I took an early ferry into Vancouver (which is what I usually do), I grabbed a coffee and sat down to write this blog post and realized A) I have a few good blog posts and articles to talk about and I want to share them all, and B) it’s a beautiful morning and I am sitting here, overlooking False Creek with a lovely dark coffee in my hand. No offense, but the call of a half an hour enjoying the view, the weather and this coffee is pretty appealing.

However, I do want to share some interesting pieces with you that are worth a read.

Ditch these 5 business writing mistakes (This is an informative post!)

Why a high Google rank is becoming ‘worthless’

How social media transformed a Canadian city

I hope you find them interesting and of value. I am off to enjoy a coffee break in my beautiful city.

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