What Were They Thinking?

AHA Creative Strategies is a PR agency and we often get calls from individuals and organizations that are looking to work with an agency. From the moment that we started AHA more than eight years ago, we had a vision of the type of clients that we wanted to work with. It wasn’t necessarily focused on any one industry or field, but more the approach, the integrity, the character and personality of the person and the organization. We’ve been incredibly fortunate that we have been able to work with great clients that came to AHA because they were focused on communication either within their organization or to an external stakeholder group (or groups).

We provide a range of services, which if you are interested you can see here. Most importantly, I think, we have always approached our work with clients as a partnership. We take the time and make the effort to understand their needs, objectives and expectations. We also have honest and respectful discussions about what is possible and what is probable.

There are times when we reach high and we’ve achieved some great results that we are proud of. However, there are moments when a potential client says something like: “I expect to be on Oprah.” Or, because I worked at Maclean’s, they want to be on the cover of the magazine. That’s when we start to provide a reality check. There are people and organizations that have been on the now defunct Oprah show. There are people and organizations that are on the cover of Maclean’s (not always for positive reasons) and while we never say never, we also don’t often take on a client who thinks that is success. There is so much more to what we do – more than a short blog post will allow. At the core of it, what we provide is strategic PR and communications services that help build awareness, provide visibility for the brand and that develops, maintains and expands an understanding of the organization and what they offer. If their only goal is to get on the cover of Maclean’s, we’re not the right agency for the project.

I had to smile when I came across this piece on Seven Stupid Reasons To Hire a PR Agency. It puts a great deal into perspective when it comes to how and why to work with someone like us.

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There are many discussions online and, I am sure, in offices all over the world, about what BP is doing regarding its crisis communications. It has been a very hot topic in the AHA office as well.

One of the key points in our discussions is how much the world has changed because of social media. Technology and the online conversations happening all over the world mean that, as communicators, we have to evolve how we deal with an issue or a crisis.

There are many articles and blog posts out there about the crisis and people are weighing in with their opinions. Check Twitter and search BP or @BP or #oilspill and you can see how much information is out there, how many opinions are given and just what people are thinking.

An article in Ad Age discusses whether the firm doing BP’s crisis communications is doing it well. I think there have been a lot of mistakes made, not necessarily by the agency – but overall. Let me clearly say that unless you are behind those closed doors and a part of the strategy discussions, it’s hard to know why a strategy was developed or why certain decisions were made.

Time Magazine has a great piece on the crisis and it goes into why there is now a lack of trust between almost any stakeholder (which is really anyone who cares about the environment, the ocean, the fish and animals who live on Gulf Coast) and BP. Once you lose that credibility, it is almost impossible to get it back. And, whether it is all accurate or not, BP is getting slammed in traditional media and online (and I would bet at water coolers, in pubs and coffee shops around the world) for almost everything that they do. The thing is, right now, it doesn’t matter whether the information is accurate or not, it’s out there and perception is everything.

The Onion also has a good, in-your-face piece entitled Massive Flow of Bull Sh*t Continues to Gush From BP Headquarters.

This is a huge environmental crisis and one that people care deeply about. I have searched to find answers – and I can’t find them anywhere – for the most basic questions that everyone wants to know. Without answers to these basic questions, how do they expect to maintain any credibility?

  • How this could have happened?
  • Why there wasn’t an operational plan in place – one that they KNOW would work – to fix an oil leak if there was one?

As for the credibility and trust crisis facing BP, their reputation is severely damaged. Rumours that they are using Search Engine Optimization so that when you type in oil spill, you also get their side of the story haven’t been substantiated yet, but it’s something I would recommend to a client. The thing is, no matter how you get your information out, you have to have a credible story that shows your stakeholders that the crisis is important to you and that you are doing everything possible.

I don’t think that any tools or tactics, whether their traditional or social media-based, can do anything for an organization that isn’t ready to be transparent, admit their mistakes and do whatever it takes to make it right. Social media has changed everything because we can now share information globally in a matter of seconds. If the worst-case scenario happens, like it has in the Gulf oil disaster, it is only a matter of minutes before your organization will begin to lose credibility. Without the trust and support of your stakeholders, what do you have?

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We are seven years old today! Since we started it has been an incredible adventure and we’re looking forward to the next seven years.

We’ve survived some challenges, we’ve grown our business and evolved our business model…and we’re proud of who we are and what we provide to our clients. AHA has a great culture, each person on the AHA crew is world-class and our clients are exceptional. We are also extremely grateful for our AHA friends—those people that recommend us to their colleagues and business associates, those that go out of their way to support us and to help us grow and improve.

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I have to admit, when I heard about the accident over U.S. Thanksgiving weekend involving Tiger Woods, I thought “hmmmm.” There seemed to be something missing from the story when I first heard it – what was Tiger doing leaving his house at 2:30 am on Thanksgiving, distracted enough to hit a fire hydrant and a tree?

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