Vancouver PR Agency

I spent last week in meetings with journalists in Vancouver and Toronto. Here at AHA, we regularly meet with writers and editors and TV and radio producers so we can keep informed about what they are looking for; how we might be able to provide them with information about our clients that they would see as relevant, valuable and useful; and how their jobs have changed. (They have changed a lot in the past five years and continue to change.)

We’re quite fortunate that we have built up solid relationships with some of the key journalists in Canada and the U.S. and that they take our calls, open our e-mails, and agree to meet us for coffee when we are in town. This is an important activity for us and for our clients. It is a priority for us.

I heard something very interesting in the meetings last week. Toward the end of our meetings, several of the journalists who deal with sections that are not breaking news brought up sponsored content. They made it clear that a good story is a good story and they would run it, but added that there is an opportunity for sponsored content that is written by editorial staff and is like editorial, but paid for by the organization.

This is interesting to me on several levels. When I was at Maclean’s magazine – there was no way that any journalist would have brought up content that was paid for by the interview subject. But that was a different time and the media world has changed completely over the past decade. We used to call this type of content: advertorial. It was more of an article than an ad, but was developed and paid for by the client organization and you paid ad rates to run the piece.

Now, there is a hybrid – you are paying for space but a journalist writes the content. And it is crucial that as communicators we realize that this is now our reality. The question is – how do we best manage the process now that PR or communications is no longer just about earned content, but includes paid content as well? It changes our strategy and our approach.

This is yet another canary in the coal mine, in my opinion. While media relations and generating editorial coverage (and now potentially paying for some of it) will always be important to many organizations, it is also a wake up call that organizations (and their communications teams) should be creating their own content. You need good editorial writers who can authentically tell your story – and not make it feel like a marketing piece.

This is another signal that content is crucial, and that the way we create and share information and our organizational story continues to change. The train has left the station; it is important that you bring your organization or your clients along for this amazing adventure. An adventure that continues to change and evolve – meaning that as communicators, we need to adapt and grow.

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Candy CrushCandy Crush Saga is a popular online game played on Facebook and mobile devices (iPad, iPhone and Android). Players try to match three or more candies in order to gain points, remove obstacles and meet goals. Currently, the game developers state that the Facebook version has 485 levels and the smartphone version has 425, with new levels being regularly released. Players need to unlock levels as they play. To do so, they can ask friends to help, they can pay for more “turns,” or purchase assistance in the form of “boosters.”

As much fun as this game is (and it is fun), Candy Crush also provides some valuable PR lessons if you look past the little animated intros, flashy candy explosions, and the feeling of victory when you move up a level. Below are the top five PR lessons learned from Candy Crush.

You Need a Strategy Specific to Your Goal

In order to move up levels in Candy Crush, you have to develop a strategy that is specific to the level you are on. The obstacles and goals change at every level, and the strategy that worked on the last level might not work on the next one. Without a defined strategy, you’re just moving little pieces of animated candy around, hoping for a Candy Crush miracle. And don’t just try to do what you did successfully last time; a cookie cutter strategy doesn’t work in PR or on Candy Crush. In PR, it is crucial to identify and understand the specifics of your initiative, project, organization and culture – as well as the timing and external events that may impact it. You need to identify your goals relevant to those influences before defining a strategy. One size does not fit all.

Community is Crucial

In Candy Crush, you can ask friends for help – for additional lives, moves or to help you get to the next level. You can also respond to the requests from friends or you can help out of the blue and randomly send them lives and moves. In fact, Candy Crush makes it easy to be a part of a community. It asks you who you want to help. Now, if your approach is always to ask for help and never give it, eventually your Candy Crush pals are going to get tired of you and stop responding. Sound familiar in PR? Great PR is a two-way street – with your community, your stakeholders, media and bloggers, on social media networking sites, at events and tradeshows, with your colleagues… everywhere. If the only reason you connect is to ask for something, you will wear out your welcome pretty quickly. People will stop responding. No candy for you!

Money Talks, but it’s Not Always Authentic

On Candy Crush, it’s easy to purchase more lives, more moves and “booster” help (and it’s encouraged, since that’s how the game developer makes money). Sometimes, spending the money works; but if your only success comes from paying for it, at some point it loses its authenticity – in PR and on Candy Crush – and no amount of messaging or positioning makes it any different. I did a poll and no one I spoke with admits to spending money on Candy Crush.  In the world of public relations, we use a range of communications vehicles, including those we pay for such as advertorials, ads (including Facebook ads), promotional PR, brand journalism pieces, and partnerships/sponsorships – and they work. However, media relations, blogger relations, social networking conversations and discussions are key to authentically connecting with stakeholders – and heaven help you if you try to pay for that. The reason this type of coverage is successful is because it is earned, not bought. PR has evolved and today it definitely includes more elements that are created and paid for (which can be a great thing), but no matter what – great communication has to be authentic, transparent, engaging and informative if you want stakeholders to care. A blend is good, but don’t buy your way into everything; sometimes you just have to do the work necessary to earn it.

Don’t Share Too Much About How Great You Are

Lots of people who play Candy Crush allow the game to share their score on Facebook – if they achieve a high score, which friends they have just surpassed with their score, etc. It gets really annoying after a while. It’s too much. In public relations, if all you do is tell people how great you are and what a success you are, and your only communication is to show them how you think you have “passed” them in any given area, you lose any meaningful connection. Think before you brag about how great you are. Sharing a genuine success is one thing; populating your social media feeds with shameless (and usually empty) self-promotion doesn’t achieve anything. In fact, it could make people wonder who you are trying convince about how great you are.

It’s a Process

In Candy Crush, you get past one level and do a little happy dance and bam, the next level is right there to conquer. Did I mention there are more than 400 of those levels? That’s how we live our lives as PR professionals – and we love it. We celebrate the successes, review the lessons learned, and then turn our focus to the next challenge. It’s an ongoing process that we accept and embrace. It’s a never-ending need to move forward, to improve, to meet our goals and set higher ones, and to take our organization or clients to the next level. That’s what makes us leap out of bed in the morning ready to crush it!

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AHA works with clients in a range of sectors – consumer goods, technology, post-secondary education, health care, fitness, law and the judiciary, fashion, not-for-profit, insurance and, of course, travel. We provide a range of services for our clients including promotional public relations, community relations (including social media), strategic communications planning, writing and editing services, messaging and positioning, crisis and communication planning, and issues communication management.

We have extensive travel PR experience and a strong skill set in this area. Our clients range from tourism boards to hotels to airlines to tour operators and local activities. We have spent a decade building positive relationships with traditional and online journalists, bloggers and editorial content creators. AHA works in the world of travel because we love it, we’re really good at it, and we continue to grow and evolve our skill set in this ever-changing world.

Recently, we decided to put a little more focus on travel PR. Believe me, that doesn’t mean that our non-travel clients will get any less attention. Each one of our clients knows how important they are to us – and how dedicated we are to providing world-class client service and generating exceptional results. What it does mean is that we are going to get a little more proactive in the area of travel business development. We’re a little spoiled here. We have been incredibly fortunate that colleagues, clients, former clients and professional acquaintances recommend us and refer new clients to us – and that has kept us pretty busy. However, we have a kick-ass crew across the country and it’s time to reach out and connect with some great potential clients.

As a part of the launch of our increased focus in the area of travel, we worked the fabulously talented, incredibly professional, and delightful to work with Tanya Gadsby of Drawing Out Ideas to produce a short graphic recording video that highlights the benefits of working with AHA for your travel PR. We hope you like it!


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p&r egyptHere at AHA, we work with clients in a range of sectors – government, not-for-profit and private. We have clients around the world, in the U.S. and, of course, in Canada. One of the perks of working here is that we do get to travel a little and see the world. We are set to visit a client in South Africa in December, so I have been doing some online research about activities and events that will be happening when we are there. Finding information that specifically interests me for travel has never been easier – TripAdvisor is of huge value. So are Facebook and Twitter. You ask your community – the people you know and trust – for recommendations.

On TripAdvisor, there is an opportunity for the travel professional (tour operator, hotel manager, etc.) to respond to each review. I am always impressed by the travel professionals who respond to both the positive and negative reviews. In fact, if I am travelling to a place I have never been to before – for work or pleasure – it is the review that has a response that gets my attention and, usually, my business. I have seen hotel managers apologize for something that went wrong that was their responsibility and I have seen them respectfully take on a reviewer who perhaps wasn’t sharing the whole story. It impresses me when a service provider responds and when they take responsibility publicly for something that went wrong; it tells me that customer service matters to them. Things are going to go wrong; I just want someone who cares enough to make them right.

TripAdvisor isn’t perfect – not all reviews are necessarily authentic. Sometimes tour operators or hotel managers have staff or friends write positive reviews for them and negative ones for competitors. Let’s face it, there are also people out there who just don’t like anything and who always write negative reviews. It’s important to take these reviews in context. However, it does provide a great opportunity for both travellers and for the travel and tourism world. And it’s a great example of how the world of public relations has changed – and not just in travel and tourism, but in every industry sector.

People – consumers, clients, influencers, investors, government, media, etc. – are all online and talking. They are likely online somewhere discussing your organization or industry right now. Do you know where they are? Do you know who they are? Do you know where you can engage in the conversation (if it is strategic for you to do so)? Are you paying attention to what they are saying?

What is your website like – is it easy to navigate? Is the information up-to-date and relevant to your stakeholder group? Is it engaging and interesting?

These are important questions. Your stakeholders are online looking for information about your organization and if your website isn’t up-to-date, you may be responsible for any misinformation they have. If they are discussing you and – at the very least – you aren’t aware of what the hot button topics are and what they are interested in, you are not only missing out on an opportunity to engage and build positive relationships, but there may also be an issue emerging that you don’t know about and that could be damaging to your organizational reputation.

If you aren’t a part of the conversation, it could hurt you.

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It isn’t often that I get to write a post like this – one that celebrates an organization that authentically lives its brand and keeps its brand promise. However – I just had (yet another) excellent experience with WestJet and I think they deserve to be acknowledged for this experience and for consistently behaving in an authentic, respectable and customer-focused manner.

I recently flew my father and his wife into Vancouver for a visit. My dad had a bad fall last year, shattering his femur, and he is still recovering from that. He still has some mobility issues, so when I booked his flights, I requested a wheelchair.

Well, I have to say, WestJet treated my dad and his wife like royalty. They were treated with respect and they were well taken care of – and not on WestJet’s schedule, on their schedule. They got to the airport early and because of a bad snow storm in Ontario, their flight was delayed – they were taken to a restaurant and were told to take their time; the person who was chauffeuring them around the Toronto airport in one of the carts would come back when they were done and take them to the gate.

On the return flight, it was the same approach – completely customer service focused. Everyone from the person at the ticketing counter to the person loading the plane to the flight attendants to the person who helped them get their luggage treated them with respect and went out of their way to help them.

Every airline has planes that get delayed or issues that happen, and WestJet is no different. But I have to say, as a traveller and a customer, even when stuff happens, I have found WestJet to be responsive, to be accountable and to focus on what they can do to make me, as the customer, feel better about the experience.

When given the option, I choose to travel WestJet. I am loyal to this airline because I feel that the people who work there actually care about me as a customer. That means something in this day and age, and the result is customer loyalty.

Now, I happen to be a PR professional. So I am always looking at customer service, how the staff communicates the brand promise and what that means for public relations and building trust and loyalty with their target market. WestJet does it right and everyone in that organization deserves to be congratulated. I have said time and time again that you can create a great brand and develop a fabulous brand promise, but if the people who work there don’t bring that brand promise to life every day, then you are going to have an issue. WestJet isn’t going to have that issue – because they live their brand authentically and they have engaged and inspired the people who work there with their brand promise. Not an easy thing to do, but so valuable.

Thanks WestJet – not only are you our favourite Canadian airline, you are also a great example of an excellent brand being brought to life one person at a time.

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