Peak Communicators
July 31, 2018

Langley Memorial Hospital Auxiliary: Apparently small story packs huge punch

When Langley Memorial Hospital opened in 1948, it was, essentially, a country hospital.

Langley was a small town, dwarfed by Vancouver and its neighbouring communities.

No one could have seen its exploding population coming.

Seventy years later, the hospital announced that it would build a new emergency department. The Langley Memorial Hospital Foundation launched a multi-million-dollar fundraising campaign in May, and enlisted Peak’s help.

It’s been an outstanding project. The new emerg is needed, badly. The current facility is too small, too cramped, awkwardly designed and, as you can imagine, isn’t capable of handing the new Langley. We were able to draw attention to this critical undertaking, and felt we served a small but important role in the campaign launch.

At the initial news event, two big donors were announced. One family gave $2 million, and then a $5-million donor was unveiled. The assembled guests were wowed. Even the usually skeptical media was impressed – and we were able to attract media that wouldn’t normally be interested in a regional hospital.

Six weeks after the launch, we were at it again. The foundation was set to name its latest donor – the Langley Memorial Hospital Auxiliary. What could we do with that?

This is where effort needs to fight perception. After all, at a glance, we had a vision of what a hospital auxiliary is. They’re those blue-haired ladies, right? The ones who give you directions when you arrive at a hospital, who run the gift shop that has all the stuffies and balloons. Don’t they wear frocks? I think they wear frocks.

What sort of story is this?

Turns out, one heck of a story. Over the course of a quarter-century, Langley’s auxiliary has given about $10 million to the hospital. They have a wildly successful thrift store in town, and they’re a beast of an organization, with more than 200 volunteers and a highly committed base whose roots go back at least a century, to volunteer organizations that preceded the hospital.

At first, we didn’t think a $1.5-million donation would grab much attention when we’d already announced $7 million in one fell swoop. We certainly didn’t think media would be very interested in telling the story of the auxiliary.

Like I said, it turned to be a heck of a story. We met Diane Thornton, the longtime past-president. And Thelma Boileau, the current president. Thelma and Diane. Thelma and Diane. Hmmmm, sounds almost familiar. A couple of driven, independent women.

And when I spoke to Diane, this was the first thing she told me: “We have changed. We’re no longer a bunch of little old ladies knitting toilet roll covers. We’ve come a long way.”

That sure made the pitch a whole lot easier. This isn’t the auxiliary you’ve got in your head, we said. This is a serious kick-ass bunch, who know what they want and get it. Who wouldn’t want to tell that story?

That’s exactly what happened. CBC and CKNW. The Province. Pretty much every TV station in town. All telling the story about this powerful, motivated, altruistic group.

And so, the simplest of reminders: Don’t judge a book by its cover. Or, uh, its toilet roll cover.

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May 10, 2018

Dig for the story, believe in the story: the Alzheimer Society of B.C.

You’re a fundraising organization and you’d like to draw attention to the events you’ve organized.

 

This won’t be easy.

 

If anything makes media yawn, it’s another charity doing another walk to raise money.

 

Whether that makes sense or is simply callous, it’s a fact. It’s exactly what happens in a newsroom – they get pitched pretty much every day about those sorts of initiatives, and are often invited to write about the event based on, frankly, uninspiring hooks.

 

There are so many of them, it’s understandable so many get deleted. It’s hard to tell one from another. And the excuse for not biting is an easy one: “We get these pitches every single day. If we’re going to say yes to one, we’re going to have to say yes to all of them.”

 

Look, you and I both know that’s not true. Media doesn’t have to say yes to all of them. But they’ll say yes if — and here’s the big if — there are compelling stories to tell.

 

So when our longtime client, the Alzheimer Society of B.C., asked us to pitch the 2018 Investors Group Walk for Alzheimer’s – 23 fundraising walks around the province on May 6 – we couldn’t help but feel challenged. The society planned to honour longtime volunteers, or others who’ve been impacted by Alzheimer’s, at each site. If you think charity events are a tough thing to pitch, how about volunteerism? In both cases, absolutely worthy. In both cases, media usually shrugs.

 

How, then, did we do it? By investing time. Effort. Delving into the subject. Getting to know people. And becoming emotionally involved with our client’s story.

 

The society wanted us to pitch Michele Buchignani and her parents, Reg and Sally. They were, no doubt, keen and experienced volunteers. Reg’s mother had had Alzheimer’s. Reg came to the society for help, for guidance. And 30 years later, he’s still giving his time. So is Michele, who’s had her boots on the ground as a volunteer as well as being the past chair of the board of directors.

 

We knew we needed more than the volunteer angle. So we invited Michele to Peak’s offices one Friday afternoon. We sat her down and said: “Tell us about your grandma. Take us back to when she was healthy. What was she like?” And just like that, Michele brought her grandma back to life. It was really something: funny in places, sad in others. Mary Buchignani was a strong woman of tremendous character and personality – and then she wasn’t. Michele learned a lot, watching her grandma’s long struggle with Alzheimer’s. It led to her getting involved, becoming an advocate.

 

After an hour in our boardroom, we knew we had at least one great story. We had someone with lived experience who had the personal story, but also could deliver the key messages – the walks, the fundraising, the need for increased awareness about and support for people with Alzheimer’s and their loved ones – in succinct and effective ways. Listening to Michele, we knew she would make a compelling TV or radio talk show guest.

 

From there, our task was simple: Sell Michele. And determine what the other best stories were. We had a planner from the City of New Westminster who’s not only been working on New West becoming B.C.’s first dementia-friendly community but also has a father who was recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s; a couple who’ve had a long life together, filled with affection and love, and the disease won’t steal those things from them; and a 69-year-old woman, several years into her diagnosis, who decided she wanted to go skydiving. Fantastic stories of different types. All meaningful. All human.

 

We went into this project knowing it would be a challenge. But when we take on a project, we always find a way to get media results. It’s where Peak has earned its reputation. So we landed the major media, from the Vancouver Sun to Global TV to CBC Radio and CKNW. And the regional media, who told those powerful stories about people who live in their area. We had a client in the Alzheimer Society of B.C. that was passionate and communicative and positive, and we were able to help successfully convey their chief messages time and time again.

 

When it was all over, the event was behind us and we all knew so much more about Alzheimer’s, we were able to say to the client: We can keep getting you, and the work you’re doing, attention. And we don’t need the walk to do it.

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March 7, 2018

Shawn Hall

Specialties

Communications strategy; reputation and trust management; issues, crisis and change; training; media relations; social media management and governance; content development.

Sector experience

Newspaper reporter and editor; corporate communications, most recently national Director of Social and Media Relations for TELUS; PR consulting in sectors including real estate, aquaculture and food production, mining and resource development, biotech, technology and health care.

Education

BA in journalism.

Farthest flung city you’ve been to

Charlottetown, PEI, for the 1989 Scouts Canada Jamboree.

Favourite part of Peak life:

Collaborating with great clients.

Career highlight:

Taking on a New York hedge fund trying to disrupt TELUS’s merger of voting and non-voting shares into a single class in order to profit from short trades.

Favourite B.C. pastime:

Skiing, backpacking, camping with my Scout troop.

Favourite social media site:

LinkedIn.

Random fact:

I won third place in the Agassiz Fall Fair celebrity goat milking contest when I was editor of the local newspaper. The mayor and MLA beat me to the gold.

September 13, 2017

Victoria Ullrich

Sector experience

Sports, Corporate and Social Enterprise

Career background

I spent two seasons working for the Vancouver Canucks. In my second year with the Canucks I joined the Media Relations Department, where I honed in on my passion for the industry.

Education

Bachelors of Arts (B.A.) Majoring in Communications with a Minor in Print & Digital Publishing and Co-operative Education Distinction from Simon Fraser University

Volunteer experience

I currently volunteer with the Canucks for Kids Fund.

If you were going to write an autobiography, what would it be called? 

The best is yet to come: a tale of pushing yourself to achieve your dreams.

Career highlight

Profiling families who benefit from the Canucks for Kids Fund (CFKF) in order to raise awareness and funds for the cause. Meeting these deserving families and sharing their stories was a heartwarming experience.

Favourite part of Peak life

The people! Peak nurtures a positive and collaborate environment, with ample opportunity to develop and grow professionally.

Favourite social media site

Instagram

Favourite B.C. pastime 

Hiking

Secret talent 

I have a great memory when it comes to song lyrics, my friends call me a walking karaoke machine.

July 13, 2017

A simple guide to your social media plan

Identify your social media goals

Having a clear direction or end goal to your social media plan is key to determining your strategy and how you measure your return on investment (ROI). To set this up, you need to understand your company’s overall business goals, as well as their marketing / PR objectives. Ideally, a social media plan plays a part in achieving your company’s overall business goals (eg. increasing ticket sales, generating online transactions on an e-commerce website, or breaking into a new market).

Create a content calendar

Keeping your social media accounts active with relevant and quality content is key to being noticed in densely populated platforms. More than 60 million businesses worldwide now have a Facebook page, and each and every one of them are aiming to grow their following. A social media content calendar is an easy way to organize your content strategy and ensure that your company is publishing new (and relevant) ideas regularly.

Social Listening

To judge how well your social strategy is working, monitor the activity around your accounts and listen to how audiences are engaging with you.  Firstly though, make sure you know what you know what you want to listen for. There are approximately 6,000 tweets sent in the twitter world every second, so understanding the language around an issue will make it quicker and easier to find the relevant ones.

Using social media listening tools helps you understand what is being said about your business, your brand, and popular topics within your industry. You can even listen in on what your competitors are saying, how they are engaging with their followers, who their followers are, and how their followers are responding to their content.

Engagement

Now that you’re listening and monitoring your conversations, don’t forget the most important part of social media — engagement. Social media is a powerful communications tool and has revolutionized the way business and brands reach their customers / stakeholders. Engaging with your followers or audience goes towards boosting your brand and reputation in the social sphere.

Analytics and Reporting

Arguably, the most important part of any social media plan is the analytics and reporting. The only way to show value in your social media plan is to demonstrate ROI. For example, if your social media goal is to drive traffic to your website, keep track of these numbers using Google Analytics. Try your best to track absolutely everything based on what your ROI would look like. Report on what social users like and don’t like. Generating reports periodically will help you evaluate your social strategy on an ongoing basis, and guide you to tweaking it so you can achieve your social goals.

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May 10, 2017

Did a hashtag cost the BC Liberals a majority government?

It was a brief encounter, only a few seconds, typical of an election campaign when a busy leader meets a non-supporter at a public event and brushes them aside.  Liberal leader Christy Clark abruptly terminated a conversation with a retiree named Linda as Clark walked though the Lonsdale Quay.  It was captured by media following the election.  #IamLinda was born.

An error by zealous Liberal party members to try to make it look like Linda was an NDP plant resulted in a backlash and #IamLinda went viral.  As the campaign wore on, while it was considered an embarrassing moment, few pundits thought it would have much impact when there were other larger issues for the electorate to consider.  On election night, the Liberal incumbent in the North Van Lonsdale was soundly defeated and the BC Liberals came up one seat short of a majority.

There is a risk in giving too much credit to a single event, even one which goes viral however there are PR lessons in this that go beyond politics.

Everyone is watching and they have the evidence.  The safest assumption for a politician, a company or an individual is that everything you do is being observed and recorded.  Incidents take on global implications when captured on a cell phone camera.  Airlines forcibly removing passengers may have resulted in a letter to the editor 20 years ago.  Now everyone sees the evidence and the damage is ongoing.

Small events become big ones if you miss handle them.  #IamLinda shows how a very minor incident can be made much worse if it is mishandled.  These types of encounters happen every time a politician from any party goes out in the public and it almost never gets reported.  But when unfounded accusations are made against a citizen expressing an opinion it becomes social media news even if Linda doesn’t want it to go that far.

Swift corrective action is necessary.   It took six days for BC Liberals to admit their allegations were wrong.  That is nearly one-quarter of the election campaign.  Finding a picture on the internet of Linda and an NDP politician is not evidence of anything more than a citizen who is interested in politics.  Jumping to a wrong conclusion and not correcting it immediately made matters many times worse.

When things go viral – an apology is the best course of treatment. Social media spreads information like a virus and it spreads negative information faster and farther.  United Airlines problems became a global pandemic.  In an election campaign you can’t be sure about the damage until the votes are counted.  For a business you don’t know until you start adding up your sales.  Time is not your friend.  The old adage time heals is now only true if you put the apology Band-Aid on the wound.

Information is permanent and access is democratic (for the most part).  This is a lesson which we will see played out in the coming weeks.  Normally after an election the platform, the policies of a party are soon forgotten only to be resurrected in election attack ads four years later.  A minority government keeps those principles front and centre.  A minority government is by its nature is one of compromise.  Principles often move aside in favour of doing something “for the good of the province.”  This presents a danger to the Greens who doubled their vote, and tripled their seat count.  They have momentum but on the big visible issues they are not in alignment with either major party.   This is what makes the coming weeks so fascinating.  The Greens principles and vision is there for all to see and any compromise, even for the good of the province can easily be misunderstood.  The hashtags are probably already being written.

April 12, 2017

Navigating through the social media storm

Most of the world now knows about the “United Airlines incident” after a video of a 69-year-old passenger being forcibly removed from his seat went viral earlier this week.

The video, shot from another passenger’s phone, showed clearly the screaming man being dragged down the aisle, leaving him bloodied and terrified – along with the over- booked flight of witnesses.

Within hours of the video being captured, #United was the leading hashtag worldwide on Twitter. Even in China, where Twitter and Facebook don’t exist, more than 97,000 comments had been recorded on one Weibo post by the end of the day, along with a new hashtag #Chineselivesmatter.

Following the Twitter (and Weibo) eruption of the United Airlines incident, we’re reminded us just how vital a solid social media communications strategy is to any business, particularly in the event of a crisis.

When a crisis does hit a business, social media excels as a way to spread news in a quick and efficient manner. Bad news will always travel fast, and these days it’s likely to gain traction on social platforms before the traditional media get to it. It’s important to have steps in place to manage reaction in the midst of a social media storm and how monitoring early warning alerts of any change in volume or sentiment around your brand will give your team a chance to prepare for what’s coming.

When tackling a social media crisis, I believe there are 5 essential steps that need to be included in any PR plan:

  1. Plan ahead.

Even if you can’t predict what might set off a social media meltdown, the steps you will need to take are the same: Respond, reassure, research, respond again, and react. Your plan needs to state how you will do this within the tight time demands of social media. Who gets notifications? Who can access the Twitter account? How slow is your approval process? Who has final sign off? Contact details for spokespeople? Have pre-approved statements available, this will make the reaction process far more manageable.

  1. Listen.

Every business should have social and media monitoring set up to capture what is being said about its brand so that if there’s a spike in negativity, or an emerging issue, you can react instantly. Frankly, a Google alert isn’t really sufficient. For effective monitoring, you need to pin point what it is you want to listen for. There are 6000 tweets sent every second, so understanding the language around an issue will make it quicker and easier to find the relevant ones. Successful monitoring should include daily reporting, early warning alerts if there is a change in volume or sentiment, or mentions from highly influential critics.

  1. Prepare your posts.

When something happens, you need to be out, publicly, with a response in about 10 minutes. Have a holding tweet at the ready, or a post that acknowledges that something has happened – even if you can’t give out specifics, being the first to acknowledge a situation can go a long way. Even a post that says “We understand an incident has occurred. We are finding out more information and will update in 10 minutes” is better than nothing.

  1. Pick your platform.

Twitter is the place for breaking news. Facebook is the place for connecting and seeking feedback. Instagram should not be used anywhere near a corporate crisis. Understanding the difference of your social media platforms and having sufficient followers to ensure you can engage when needed is important.

  1. Respond swiftly and carefully.

It is essential that in any situation involving your business, you are the first person to weigh in and that you have the right information on hand. If you do something wrong admit, apologize, and accept responsibility. The sooner you do, the less likely that your original stuff up will spiral out of control. It’s important to not add fuel to the fire. Understand how your situation is being reacted to on social media and plan your responses accordingly. Even if you do believe your actions are justified, pause to think about how they are perceived.

Chances are, your business is not in the habit of dragging people out of plane seats while being filmed on a smartphone, but there are lessons in United’s response for everyone.

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March 29, 2017

Grace Carpenter

Sector experience

Government relations, Mining and Energy, Arts and entertainment

Career background

Prior to moving to Vancouver I worked as a public relations consultant in Perth, on the west coast of Australia. I predominantly worked with clients in government, corporate, arts and entertainment sectors.  My broad skills and knowledge base includes social media management, government relations, community engagement, event management, relationship management and media relations.

Education

Bachelor of Arts, Public Relations and Journalism – Curtin University

Career highlight

Part of the team that won The Australasian Consultancy of the Year at the 2015 Asia-Pacific SABRE Awards.

Favourite B.C past time

Exploring the city and B.C. in general.

Favourite social media site

Instagram

Furthest flung place you’ve lived? 

Australia

Languages

English

Random fact

Muay Thai enthusiast

March 29, 2017

Tiffany Lau

Sector experience

Government, non-profit, social enterprise

Career background

Prior to joining Peak, I’ve had experience working in both international and local communications agencies. With an events heavy background, I’ve been involved with conferences such as the 2014 OMG Social Media conference; trade shows across the lower mainland; and the annual Rogers Santa Claus Parade.

Education

Bachelors of Arts (B.A.), Communication studies from Simon Fraser University

Volunteer experience

Canadian Public Relations Society of Vancouver

British Columbia Chapter of the American Marketing Association

Career highlight

Before any experience in the industry and while I was still a student, I tried to teach myself media relations by reading articles on Forbes and other business magazines. My first media hit was with Tammy Moyer on News1130’s morning show – a thrill that I’ve been chasing since!

Favourite part of Peak life

The supportive environment and team collaboration.

Favourite social media site

Snapchat

Furthest flung place you’ve lived? 

Melbourne, Australia

Languages

English, Cantonese

Random fact

One of my most memorable travel stories has to do with accidentally stepping on sea urchins in Thailand – it is probably the most physically painful experience I’ve had so far (trust me, it hurts!).

March 29, 2017

Tiffany Lau

Sector experience

Government, non-profit, social enterprise

Career background

Prior to joining Peak, I’ve had experience working in both international and local communications agencies. With an events heavy background, I’ve been involved with conferences such as the 2014 OMG Social Media conference; trade shows across the lower mainland; and the annual Rogers Santa Claus Parade.

Education

Bachelors of Arts (B.A.), Communication studies from Simon Fraser University

Volunteer experience

Currently, I am involved with the Canadian Public Relations Society of Vancouver.

Career highlight

Before any experience in the industry and while I was still a student, I tried to teach myself media relations by reading articles on Forbes and other business magazines. My first media hit was with Tammy Moyer on News1130’s morning show – a thrill that I’ve been chasing since!

Favourite part of Peak life

The supportive environment and team collaboration.

Favourite social media site

Snapchat

Furthest flung place you’ve lived? 

Melbourne, Australia

Languages

English, Cantonese

Random fact

One of my most memorable travel stories has to do with accidentally stepping on sea urchins in Thailand – it is probably the most physically painful experience I’ve had so far (trust me, it hurts!).