Public Relations

dreamstime_xs_29206617I don’t think a week goes by at AHA when I don’t learn about another social media communications channel. And some days, it can feel like there is so much information about the technology, usage and user demographic, that it can be really confusing and overwhelming.

We go through a process here at AHA that includes defining the demographic user, how this technology or channel can be effectively used for clients, and how challenging it might be to get it up and running – relevant to client understanding of technology or appetite for new channels. It can be a time-consuming process, but it’s worth it for us so that we can be aware of new opportunities for clients.

We are going to start a regular (every two weeks) feature here on the blog that focuses on explaining, in the context of communications or PR, different social networks, channels, tools and technology. And – we’re going to start with the most popular ones like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+. While many people are fully versed with these, many others aren’t – and we have had several new clients come to us because they want help with the basics. Other people might already be using the more popular social media networks for their organization, but don’t have a strategy. We’ll talk about that too.

We’re looking forward to developing this feature series here on the AHA blog – and we hope it will provide you with some useful information so that you can navigate through all of the communications opportunities online.

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How we communicate, both professionally and personally, has changed drastically in the past decade. The online world has created a different way of connecting with stakeholders, your target markets and your community, as well as with family and friends. And that has had an impact in the world of media, including journalism, advertising and marketing.

For the purpose of this blog post, I am going to focus on journalism because publicity and media relations are often important components of what we do as communicators. In Canada and the U.S., newsrooms are not just shrinking – many are ceasing to exist. Print publications that have been in business for more than 100 years are going out of business and local television and radio stations are being closed down. We are at a critical stage in how local and international news is delivered to us. There is a great deal to be discussed about what this means to our communities. I strongly believe that journalists are a key element in maintaining a functioning, democratic society. They ask the tough questions, they investigate, and they hold public and private figures accountable to their promises and for their actions. However, for this blog post, I am going to stay off of my soapbox about this subject and focus on the practical business actions that need to be taken in response to the shrinking opportunity to connect with your stakeholders and tell your organization’s story through media relations or publicity.

The fact is, it’s harder to generate positive media coverage for your organization. Newspapers and magazines are smaller, radio and television breakfast shows and talk shows are being cancelled, and the opportunity for a communications professional to generate coverage is shrinking because the process of who gets interviewed has changed and no one is really talking about it. You see, advertisers have become the priority for who gets interviewed. The only way the media outlets that are still standing are going to stay standing is by increasing their revenues. That means creating added value for advertisers – like having them on a morning breakfast show as a guest, choosing to write about their product, service or event, or profiling the CEO or organization in a print publication – creating copy that is written by a journalist, but that leans more on the side of advertorial than editorial. And – none of this is to criticize the working reporters, producers or editors who are doing this work. The world has changed and they have had to adapt. None of the journalists I know are happy about this, but the fact is – they are trying to do their absolute best while the sand continues to shift under their feet.

One example showing how much things have changed is a recent pitch we did to a television breakfast show for a coffee company client. We had an interesting, newsworthy announcement about what the (Canadian) coffee company is doing at their plantation in Thailand for the environment and for the people of the surrounding villages. It is visionary, they use sustainable business practices, and it is environmental excellence. And the producer of the breakfast show said he loved it and that is was a great story and it was something that their viewers would be interested in, but (and it’s a big but here), they had just taken on a “coffee sponsor” and couldn’t cover any coffee news on the show. And low and behold, within the week, there were the hosts with their branded coffee mugs.

The AHA Moment

Organizations can no longer rely on traditional media to tell their stories, to help build their communities, or to connect with their stakeholder groups. They need to become their own media outlets – creating well-written editorial style articles, taking great photos that help showcase who they are and what they offer clients or customers, and producing short videos that share their news and information in a way that makes people want to watch. The good news is, brand journalism – branded content – can be done in a reasonable time frame for a reasonable budget. It will require a shift of budget and effort from media relations, publicity and even advertising and marketing to tell your own story in a compelling, engaging and entertaining manner.

We are going to be talking a great deal about brand journalism and branded content here on this blog in the coming weeks and months. And that’s because it’s a conversation we are having more and more with our clients. While publicity and media relations will always be an important part of the work that we do, the reality of the current landscape and the declining state of journalism and shrinking newsrooms around the world means that organizations will have to produce their own content – in an authentic and meaningful way (no marketing speak) – in order to stay relevant and build stakeholder and customer relationships. It’s an interesting and exciting time in our world and we’re looking forward to helping our clients to effectively tell their stories in a way that engages and informs their target market, stakeholders and influencers.

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dreamstime_xs_50255076Super Bowl ads are highly anticipated and costly. It is estimated that just buying the time slot for a 30-second spot for Super Bowl 50 would have set you back around $5 million U.S. And then there are production costs, which are estimated to be up to $10 million U.S., depending on the commercial.

The halftime show is another big element. This year, Coldplay was listed as the headliner, and then Beyoncé and Bruno Mars were added to the playlist – all high-profile entertainers with huge followings.

The reactions on social media to the ads and the halftime show are a perfect example of how the world communicates and how reactions have changed. Some people absolutely loved a specific commercial and others really hated it. They shared their opinions all over social media, which were then picked up, retweeted or shared by others – including traditional media.

Some loved the halftime show; others slammed the performance and Beyoncé specifically – saying it was an attack on police officers. And that was also shared and retweeted – creating a pretty heated discussion about what she was trying to communicate.

Anyone with an opinion – whether you think that opinion is right or wrong – can speak out on social media. And, while Super Bowl 50 was a huge event and your organization might not have that kind of following, it is important for any organization to realize that someone, somewhere might not like what you are doing – and someone, somewhere else might love it. And they might be sharing all of this all over the Internet.

Opinions like the ones being shouted out on Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites on Sunday night used to be contained amongst the person’s friends and family – or perhaps those sitting next to them at the local pub. But now those opinions can find a global audience – and depending on how you respond or don’t respond, this can impact your brand.

The AHA Moment

It’s important to: a) know what is being said about your organization; and b) be prepared for both positive or negative conversations. The positive comments are of huge value and acknowledging them can help you build strong relationships with influencers and potential brand ambassadors. The negative comments are equally important – especially if the discussion goes beyond opinion and the information being shared is inaccurate, misleading or an attack. Depending on the circumstances, responding isn’t always strategic, but you need to know what is being said before making that decision.

It’s important to know what conversations are being held that either talk about your organization or brand, or that impact your industry – and it’s crucial that you understand how to respond effectively.

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Timmies SignToday, I had the honour of doing another AHA Random Act of Kindness. This is the third time I have been given this opportunity and I have to tell you it is very hard to commit to an idea. After much deliberation, I received a tip (thank you Paul) that I could leave money at a Tim Hortons’ drive-thru, which would pay for many coffee drinkers’ orders. Perfect!

So, after purchasing a $50 gift card, I knocked on the drive-thru window and told the ladies working what I was up to. I would be sitting in my van in the parking space directly in front of the window, watching people’s reactions as they found out they didn’t have to pay for their order.

I don’t know who was more excited about this – them or me! Honestly, one of the ladies working was having so much fun with this, she was shouting out the reactions to me as people drove away. “That guy wants to make sure he’s in your will!” It was awesome!

You’re probably wondering what I observed. Well… I saw many smiles and much confusion. I saw a man pay for his order anyway (which one of the employees had told me people often do in this situation – they don’t feel right taking it for free when someone else might need it more). I think I saw one or two customers leave a tip. Many people just looked completely confused as they were trying to figure out what was happening. Someone mentioned that it might be a Just for Laughs gag and was looking for the hidden camera. The biggest smiles came from the older generation, and oh – we got a horn honk or two!

This experience left me feeling amazing. I think it really made the employees’ day as well.

Something I notice every time I do a Random Act of Kindness for AHA is that we all seem to have a real need for connection. I didn’t want anyone to know that I was the one who had bought the coffees, but I did want to see how it affected the recipients. And the employees said that many desperately wanted to know who had done this. Where is she? Who is she? But they kept it top secret. No one had any idea that I was sitting right there in front of them, in the old Dodge Caravan.

In doing something nice for someone, I think the only thing we really want in return is to feel something… to know we’ve made a difference. We aren’t looking for a pat on the back, but we do need to feel the impact of what we have done. I was craving those smiles! And people seem to have a real need to give back and to say thank you. It’s been a constant theme each time I’ve done this and I’m very thankful to AHA for once again giving me the wonderful gift of giving.

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TEDxBCIT_Black_V1_miniHere at AHA, we regularly write speeches and presentations for clients. I really like digging in and understanding what the client wants to communicate, what the objective of the speech is, who the audience is, and how they will take in the information. It’s a process of discovery that is quite interesting. There is always something to learn and usually a challenge or barrier to overcome in getting the message heard.

For the past couple of months (which is never how long we have to write a client speech – they usually need a much quicker turnaround than that), I have been working on my TEDx Talk. I will present it as part of the TEDx BCIT event this coming Saturday, January 24. It has been an interesting process for me to develop this speech – and I really appreciate the advice and feedback I have received on everything from my outfit to speech content and speaking pace. This has been a great opportunity for me to learn and improve – something I am always looking to do.

There is a great deal that goes into writing any speech and this one is no exception. It took about 30 hours to write and revise it to the point where I was confident it had a strong message. I have rehearsed it for about 10 hours (it’s a 15-minute speech) – that includes rehearsing it on my own, taping it and delivering it to family, friends and colleagues – and deciding what to wear was another couple of hours with a stylist.

Here at AHA, we believe that if we are going to do something, we need to do it right. I am looking forward to speaking on Saturday – and I have to admit – I am also looking forward to Saturday night, when I don’t have to worry about it anymore.

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