public relations Vancouver

Boy ScoutLike a good Boy Scout, an effective communications person is always prepared – for just about anything. We have event kits full of five kinds of tape, scissors, pens, paper, ribbon, cellphone batteries and other might needs. We prepare for meetings with clients so that we can make the most of the time we have with them. We prepare for webinars, video blogs and even this blog. In our world, very little happens spontaneously. For the most part, the communications professionals I know are can think on their feet; that comes from years of being prepared for a wide range of scenarios. We are, in fact, quite a thoughtful group. We think through every angle, every probability, every possibility.

We thoroughly prepare for any media relations outreach; we go through all the questions a journalist might ask and we know the answers. We prepare. We research. We review all potential (not just probable) outcomes and we identify the appropriate next steps for each. We develop media kits and websites that might never see the light of day (and since they are usually created in case an issue or crisis arises, we hope they stay dark).

Even our quick phone call pitches to journalists are prepared (and reviewed) in advance. Here at AHA, we have strong professional relationships with many journalists and our e-mails and phone calls usually get a response. That’s because we know how busy journalists are and we respect that – and we prepare. We have our key messages outlined before we call or e-mail, we have researched to make sure we know what this journalist and media outlet is currently interested in, we have asked ourselves all the questions that we believe the journalist might ask and we have the answers (or we know who to get them from). We are prepared.

Quite some time ago, we had a client ask why we would spend so much time preparing to pitch a journalist. He thought it was a waste of time. He wanted us to just pick up the phone and call and set up a meeting for him with the journalist. We had to explain that journalists are busy and aren’t just sitting and waiting for a call to set up coffee with someone they don’t know and have never heard of (our client). A well-crafted pitch provides the journalist with background, context and the key news points in a way that engages and interests them. Taking the time to do this right is crucial. It can be the difference between unanswered e-mails and voicemails and obtaining media coverage. Preparation is a key element to success when it comes to generating media coverage.

Taking the time to properly prepare is, in fact, cost-effective. Time spent preparing means that you are equipped with what you need to do a good job and not backtrack, change direction or have to correct mistakes. It takes less time to do something right the first time than it does to go back and fix it.

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I have been travelling across the country this week for client meetings. Contrary to what some believe, this doesn’t mean that I saunter into meetings at 10 a.m., that we break for lunch at noon and then in the evening, drink good wine and eat fabulous meals. It does mean I get up early (earlier than usual… which is already pretty early!) and that I watch a lot of television news shows and read even more newspapers than usual. (Hey – if they are going to make the effort to deliver it to my hotel room door, I am going to read it.)

I have been following several big stories this week, including the tragic Trayvon Martin case and the Jet Blue pilot who had to be subdued by passengers (two of the biggest stories). Both traditional media coverage and social media play a big role in what the public is learning in both these cases.

That got me thinking about context and how it impacts what we take in. I have been as interested in comments on news pieces and the social media discussions as I have been in the traditional media coverage itself. The comments and discussions provide insight and context and that is important. Our world has become more complicated – we have access to many opinions and perspectives. That’s important. It can help us to put information into context and to understand what the actions and reactions mean relevant to social norms and expectations. This gives us a broader scope of understanding, I believe.

However, because so many people have the ability and opportunity to participate in discussions, it’s also important to put the comments and opinions into context. In another completely random – and yet surprisingly related – moment, I was on looking for a book. I was reading reviews and there was one review that was really negative. It stood out from the other good to great reviews. So I checked out the person’s other reviews. She hated everything she read. That allowed me to put the review into context, and in this case, discount her opinion because, for me, she lost credibility. It’s important to keep the comments and discussions in context as well. Don’t take them at face value; make sure you understand the context of the information and of the person making the statements. It might change what you think about a specific topic, subject or issue.

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I read an article recently about a computer company in Germany that undertook what they thought was a smart promotion. They began gluing hard drives to alarm clocks and sending them to companies with a note reading, “Your time is running out.” Well, many of the people who received them were terrified and called the police, thinking the package held a bomb. You can read more about it here.

It reminded me of an old episode of WKRP in Cincinnati in the late 70s/early 80s, where they did a Thanksgiving promotion by dropping turkeys out of a helicopter… only problem – turkeys can’t fly.

When it comes to these types of guerilla promotions or any kind of publicity stunt, you need to think it through from all angles. You need to be critical and tough on the idea and think about the worst thing that could happen and the worst reaction someone could have. In this day and age, it’s likely someone will have that reaction and share it via social media.

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AHA Creative Strategies is a public relations agency. We’re communicators. We’re social media participants. We’re brand journalists. We use video, video news releases, b-roll, podcasts, photography, articles, news releases, media and blogger pitches, news conferences, media tours, speaking tours, speeches, special events, trade shows, community meetings, annual reports, newsletters and so much more to assist our clients in communicating with their stakeholder groups. (Notice I said “with” – not “to” – that’s very important.) We are in the business of informing, educating and creating conversation. As importantly, we’re in the business of listening and responding.

I mentioned in Monday’s blog post that I would focus on some of the tools we, at AHA, provide to clients and why they are of value. I think before I do that, I should take a step back and define what good public relations is – to us. (I don’t want this blog post to be too long, so next Wednesday I will focus on the specific tactics. Although, I have to warn you, I got a bit carried away – today’s post is a little long!)

Good public relations is working in partnership with clients. Even when it is challenging, we tell them what they need to hear – rather than just take orders and deliver what they want us to. We identify what they need (which isn’t always the same) and we approach what we do with optimistic realism. Timelines, deadlines, client resources and budgets also have to be taken into consideration.

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