What Were They Thinking?

AHA CakeRegular visitors to this blog know that I strongly believe that a great brand reputation is only as strong as its people. The organization’s brand might be reflected in its tag line, positioning statement, key messaging, advertising and PR campaigns, but it is brought to life by the actions of the people who are connected to it. The best ad campaign in the world won’t work if you don’t execute your brand promise every day.

I recently had two very different experiences with brands. One exceptional (hello, Las Vegas) and one so bad that I can hardly believe they use this tag line in their e-mails: “Customer service is not a department… it is an attitude.” (Yes, H&R Block, it’s me again, hoping you will step up and do the right thing this time.)

Let me explain. Here at AHA, we recently submitted a proposal to be named the Canadian PR agency for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. We knew that there would be quite a few agencies that wanted this gig and we needed to stand out from the crowd. We developed a Canada Loves Las Vegas teaser campaign to engage the interest of the team reviewing the proposals. We approached several Las Vegas-based businesses for fun items to deliver along with cheeky little love notes from us to Las Vegas. I can’t tell you how incredibly helpful, open and responsive these small businesses were – not to mention that their products are spectacular. Their customer service was so good, it was like they became a part of the AHA team. Each one of the businesses listed below (with links to their websites) is one I would recommend without hesitation. They could write the book on customer service.

  • Enchanted Florist – They delivered fabulous flowers for us.
  • Distinct Impressions – They delivered delicious white chocolate-covered strawberries for us.
  • Caked Las Vegas –They delivered the incredible custom cake that you see in the image for us. (Get it? We sent a proposal with the cake.)

In another part of my life, I am assisting my 71-year-old stepmother with an issue with H&R Block. They made a mistake on her tax return that has created a huge amount of frustration for her – and has cost her a tax refund of $3,200. They have been giving her the runaround for close to a year. I stepped in to help and was pleasantly surprised to get a quick response to an e-mail that I sent to H&R Block’s head office and the PR agency. It was a phone call from the area manager where my stepmother had gotten her taxes done. I immediately sent him over 60 pages of information, documentation and details about the issue. And then… nothing. It went silent.

A week later, I followed up with him and he e-mailed me saying he was hoping I would wait a few more weeks because it’s tax time and he wants his staff to focus on clients. Really? My elderly stepmother is a client. I thought: “Customer service is not a department… it is an attitude.” How does this response live up to your e-mail tag line?

I can’t think of two more extreme examples – excellence from the people of Las Vegas and an epic fail from the people of H&R Block.

While there is nothing better than having AHA share your news with the world (hello again Vegas), there’s nothing worse than having a daughter with PR and social media expertise protecting her mother from an uncaring company.

I hope you will be hearing more from me about how fabulous Las Vegas is as a tourism and convention destination and I know you’ll be hearing more about my issue with H&R Block.

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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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Anyone who knows me or has worked with us at AHA knows that we have a commitment to authenticity. Being true to yourself is important. In my opinion, it should extend outwards and should include those times when you have to reach out to a complete stranger on a professional level.

I have written about this before – using those pain in the neck marketing/sales calls that every organization receives. You know the ones… where the person mispronounces your name, then cheerfully asks how your day is going, how you are enjoying the weather (often not realizing you are thousands of miles and several time zones away from them and often have different weather) and tries to get you to buy, donate or support something that has no relevance in your life or business. Those unsolicited calls (and sometimes visits to the office) are a pet peeve of mine.

This morning, I woke up in a bad mood. It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen. As I sat down to drink my coffee and embrace my crankiness for exactly the amount of time it takes to drink a cup of coffee, I came across a great piece by Barb Sawyers on Ragan.com.

The lesson of the day is don’t pretend you know me, don’t make assumptions and don’t act all buddy-buddy when we’re not. And – if you want money from me, don’t misrepresent it by trying the old bait and switch. We’re on to you. And we don’t like it.

Now, I don’t know Ms. Sawyers, but I have a feeling that she and I would get along just fine. She doesn’t appear too impressed with those phony baloney, pretender, feels like you want to trick me calls either. And her astute (and funny) blog post was just what I needed to make me snicker and get out of my cranky pants.

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I have seen a couple of incidents of criticism that were wrapped in the concept of  “feedback” that are still wrinkling me. Given that as communicators, most of what we do is put out for review and input, I think that there might be some value in my little rant about what is and isn’t constructive criticism.

I have a friend that is currently working on a volunteer project. She is putting in many, many hours as a volunteer to help our former high school celebrate its 100-year anniversary. The small group of volunteers producing this event have done a spectacular job and should be applauded.

In a short time frame, they have reached out and found many grads and engaged us in the celebrations. They are producing a video that showcases some grads doing interesting things in the world. They somehow got funding from a former student, now a successful businessperson, to pay for ads in a large daily newspaper to promote the anniversary celebrations. There are active Facebook events, which include a pub night, a gala and many other activities.

Please visit our blog to read the rest of the post.

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