brandI had an interesting conversation with a client the other day. He called to ask us about Search Engine Optimization (SEO). While we have a foundational knowledge about SEO and integrating SEO elements when developing online content (including websites, blog posts and news releases), our client’s needs went beyond our communications abilities in this area and we referred him to an SEO specialist.

His response: “You are always so responsive and take care of what I need, even if you don’t provide it. You make it easy for me.”

That’s a big compliment to receive. Our commitment to providing exceptional service to our clients is a big part of the AHA brand promise. From the moment we decided to open our doors, we knew that was who we were (and 11 years later, we still are). And it is one of the reasons that we have so many long-term clients and others that regularly use us on a project basis. We have excellent skills, solid expertise and a depth of knowledge that comes from experience and that is very important. But, I believe what tips the scales in our favour are the seemingly small details that are built into our brand promise.

We are client service oriented and are incredibly responsive. We have a strong focus on providing value to clients; we respect their budget and do everything we can to maximize return-on-investment. And while we take our work seriously, we like to have fun in our workplace and with our clients. There are times to be serious and focused and there are also opportunities to enjoy the moment and each other’s company, and we try to do that whenever it is appropriate.

We’re not your average communications agency, which means we’re not for everyone. Our brand promise is that for our clients – for the people and organizations where we are a fit – we’re a part of their team. Their success is as important to us as our success. It matters to us and we’re going to act and respond that way – during successes and challenges.

What’s your brand promise and how do you deliver on it?

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There is an interesting blog post on on the evolving skills of tomorrow’s PR pro that sparked an interesting discussion among the AHA Crew. The way the world communicates has changed and as communicators, we have had to evolve right along with it in order to remain effective and relevant.

Our approach at AHA is to blend traditional communication and social media. Online communication is an important component of our toolkit. Arik is right when he says that the skill set required has changed.

Strong writing is an important asset for any PR agency – it’s one of the abilities we look for when bringing someone onboard. Telling the story of our client’s organization is important and good writing facilitates great storytelling. But times have changed. Shorter is now better. Getting a message across in 140 characters isn’t easy, but with the popularity of Twitter, it’s important. When I was at Maclean’s, I used to write a lot of pieces for the People page of the magazine. I often wrote short, snappy articles that were only a paragraph long and got teased by some of my colleagues who were writing six page feature articles. Others I worked with understood that sometimes it’s harder to write short pieces than it is to produce a full-length article. The world now demands short and to the point, but still wants to hear the story, be entertained and engaged. The PR person that can do “short” well is in demand.

In his blog post, Arik also touches on what we, at AHA, believe is key to developing a strong outreach. You need to reach your stakeholders where they live and interact. Understanding all the ways that the individuals or groups you wish to have a conversation with communicate is essential. If they are on Twitter, your organization needs to be there. If they are writing or reading blogs, you need to be doing that also. If they are actively attending events or are reading and watching specific media outlets, well…you get the picture. It’s not about how you want to communicate with them any more, it’s about understanding where they want you to be and how they want you to initiate or join the conversation. This is an approach that has always been strategic, but with today’s opportunities to connect through online communities, understanding the culture of the new paradigm of connection and conversation is key.

Online search is another important component of today’s PR. Understanding Search Engine Optimization well enough to include keywords in an article or blog post without damaging the content is a huge asset.  So is the ability to use search tools to better understand how your stakeholders or community base perceive your organization.

Another element that we are focusing on more and more is how to evaluate and measure a campaign, program or overall success. The traditional ways don’t work for the online space and there needs to be a process that combines the two without creating so much work that the time spent on this overtakes the time spent on communicating. While there are some ways to evaluate and measure for both traditional and online that might be considered adequate, and there are certainly some excellent companies offering this service, for our part, we always want to do better and it’s an area that we continue to research and improve upon.

Arik also points out that understanding the use of mobile tools is critical and as the iPhone and the Blackberry and their apps become more and more the norm, understanding how to use these tools and what they mean strategically is essential.

One of the tools that we use quite often—and that is becoming more and more important—is the use of video and podcasts. From live streaming video with interactive chat components, to person on the street video interviews, to a personalized message from a senior executive, this is gaining credibility as a valuable communications tool. With the growing use of video, it becomes important that as a communicator, we understand the visual elements as well as the messaging.

We’ve embraced the new paradigm of business and communication here at AHA. It’s become a part of what we do everyday and each of us is always looking to expand and improve our knowledge, expertise and understanding of the evolving skill sets necessary to succeed. For us as communications professionals, it’s challenging and exciting. As a business, it’s a necessity. Our clients expect the best from us and we want to exceed those expectations as often as possible.

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