At its core, public relations are about storytelling and now more than ever brands need to have a powerful and compelling story to engage and mobilize their audiences.
The trouble is, storytelling has its limitations. In today’s saturated communications marketplace, where information is digested in smaller sizes and competing against more channels, the ability for a story to engage and retain an audience is becoming increasingly difficult. Furthermore, technology has expanded the ability of audiences to digest information, so brands must find a more meaningful means to deliver a coherent and credible message.
Moving beyond storytelling
Brands today must move beyond segmented campaigns and episodic storytelling and develop a narrative, an central thematic that is the basis of the brand’s identity and strategy. A foundational idea that encompasses and forms all areas of a brand’s engagement across its myriad of channels and stakeholders, be it employees; consumers, traditional media, social influencers, policy makers, etc. A company’s narrative should tell everyone what it stands for and offers an idea for those stakeholders to connect with and align behind.
Today, public relations, corporate relations, publicists and marketers are all competing to engage the same audiences through more integrated means – paid, earned, social and owned – meaning that messaging needs to be not only engaging but also consistent across the various streams, and most important of all, in real time.
Brands must lead conversations
Digital and social media platforms have changed the way brands engage with their audiences. Communication no longer flows in a single direction; audiences are now feeding back to companies on a constant basis. Brands must now lead “conversations”, interacting with their audiences in real time, which has quantifiable impact on their reputation.
Proactively driving engagement is now an absolute. While engaging with audiences across these various channels, brands need to utilize a coherent narrative, one that provides clarity and consistency of that engagement. The ability to communicate a compelling, inclusive and consistent narrative has the power to inspire, energize and mobilize an audience in ways our industry never thought possible.
How to develop a strong narrative
Have a real understanding of the brand’s purpose and its values. Consumers today are more value driven than ever before. How a company is trying to achieve its objective, is as important as what it is trying to achieve. Ensure your narrative seeks to explain what the brand stands for and what is it is seeking to achieve.
The narrative must be relatable and easy to explain. To maintain the attention of audiences, a narrative cannot be bogged down in jargon. A strong narrative is based on fact and is not only persuasive but also easily repeatable.
Be inclusive and insightful. Narratives need to evoke an emotional connection and invite participation. It presents an idea for an audience to believe in, support, and ultimately recommend.
In our hyper-completive, over-saturated communications environment, being able to portray a potent and authentic narrative has the power to genuinely connect with an audience, inspire them to action, and lead them on a journey.
Take the case of the Sunshine Coast Health Centre, a well-respected addiction treatment centre in Powell River where 20-year-old Brandon Jansen died of a fentanyl overdose last March. The centre was getting a lot of bad publicity with family members saying it was easy for Brandon to get contraband drugs within three days of entering treatment.
But investigations by both the RCMP and the regulator – Vancouver Coastal Health’s Community Care Facilities Licensing authority – determined there were no contraventions of rules and regulations.
In fact, the facility had consistently maintained a low risk rating with no other critical incidents or any drug-related incidents reported since the facility was first licensed in 2004. Yet, the centre’s reputation was taking a beating.
CEO Melanie Jordan has much to say about what treatment is – and what it isn’t. Addiction treatment centres are not prisons or lockup. Clients have rights and freedom.
Accredited staff members treat people for many types of addictions including alcoholism and prescription drugs abuse. Root causes of addiction are addressed including mental health and physical issues. Melanie Jordan wanted to speak publicly about the tragic death in her facility and have a voice in the search for solutions to stop the unprecedented number of deaths caused by fentanyl.
She enthusiastically embraced the concept of being front and centre at a news conference to be held November 14th. A Media Advisory was sent out inviting reporters and videographers to attend.
As the news conference got underway, news cameras quickly swung to the doorway where three visitors had appeared: Brandon Jansen’s mother Michelle, her son Nicholas and her lawyer.
They politely listened as the news conference went forward with Melanie Jordan providing reporters with the written investigation reports that found her centre was operating within the regulations.
But her most important message was aimed at the government and the medical profession.
Staff at the centre had not been permitted to administer the opiate antidote naloxone and it was possible that could have saved Brandon’s life.
Since Brandon’s death, the centre has received permission to train staff to administer naloxone and the staff physician can treat clients with Suboxone that takes away the craving for opiates.
With more than a dozen news organizations present at the news conference, this important information was received by the public across Canada. The record was set straight. The way forward was articulated. The news went out – all at once.
And the voice of Brandon Jansen’s family was also heard. They held their own media briefing following the news conference so as much information as possible surrounding this tragic death would be in the public forum.
Melanie Jordan and the Sunshine Coast Health Centre have standing at an inquest into Brandon Jansen’s death scheduled for January. This will be another forum where voices will be heard.
Social media is still a relatively new phenomenon and the features are constantly being updated. PR professionals should consider how these changes impact or enhance their campaigns.
Below is a round-up of recent ‘need to know’ social media news this fall.
Dislike is the new thing
Facebook announced that soon a ‘dislike’ button will launch. Mark Zuckerberg explained that the new function would allow people to show ‘empathy’.
Brands need to pay attention to this; consumers will be able to voice their dislike for campaigns with a simple click of a button. Brands will make headlines for the wrong reasons when a campaign backfires as a result of this function.
Twitter is making its ‘Buy’ button available to everyone in the US, as a result of a partnership with Stripe. This is great news for online retailers and enhances the importance of Twitter as a customer service channel – the more followers you have, the more likely customers are to make an instant purchase.
The value for this activity will be measurable based on sales directly through the Twitter platform – this will make it easier getting buy-in for social media at the executive level.
Retailers should enhance their social media plans to develop an engaged, relevant and sizeable following on Twitter as a result.
Pinterest announced in September that it had hit the 100 million users’ milestone. Out of this number, around 70 per cent are considered to be ‘actively’ engaged. The company also confirmed that while Pinterest users are predominantly women, the gender gap is closing month by month.
The benefit of Pinterest for brands is people are often browsing the site for items they potentially want to buy; it is often treated like a shop window. Advertisers can proactively pay for promotional pins now and this feature will become more valuable as the number of users grow.
Pose for a portrait
Instagram is moving away from simply showcasing square images; now users can choose to post portrait or landscape photos. This is generally better for brands. Images won’t need to be compromised to fit the square frames, and will be better for accommodating specific brand guidelines.
At Peak Communicators we monitor for these social media updates daily and consider how they can be used in client campaigns. We’ll continue to share relevant updates via this blog and also our social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin).
Communicating well in writing is one of the most important skills you can have, whether your job formally involves writing or not. At Peak we’re constantly striving to create engaging content for our clients: blog posts, white papers, reports, articles, tweets. The list goes on.
Once you know your purpose and audience, you need to get some words on the page. Here’s how.
Fill your brain
Before I can write about a topic, I need to know what I’m talking about. Once I’ve processed the background information, it’s much easier to synthesize cohesive arguments and writing goes a lot more smoothly. To organize my thoughts, I create a text file devoted solely to research and notes. In here I copy and paste relevant information I find online, any ideas that occur to me as I’m researching, and raw quotes from individuals I interview. If you come up with key points or sections you want to convey in your piece, put them in here.
Dump your brain
The biggest inspiration killer for me is setting rules or expectations for my piece of writing at the beginning of the creative process. Instead, just write down whatever’s on your mind. Set a time limit and keep typing until your timer goes off. If you think of a phrase that sums up what you want to communicate, put that at the top and work to it, but don’t feel limited by it. While you’re doing this, there will be additional questions that come up. Whenever I feel a brain blank about a topic, I highlight it so I can come back to it later, like so: [insert in-depth description of the process here]. Then I continue writing about something else.
At this stage, value quantity over quality. Only in the editing stages should you polish this piece. Beware of correcting grammar and restructuring sentences. Just dump your ideas.
Fit the pieces together
Now it’s time to determine which ideas you’re going to keep and how you’re going to sequence them.
Once I think I have sufficient content on the page to start putting my ideas in order, I create a new document and save the research doc as-is. It gives me peace of mind because my research and ideas notes are always there for reference. It’s an assurance that frees me to use this new first draft document to experiment with order, change wording and delete with abandon.
Defining sections is a handy way of designing the big-picture information flow for your piece. As you determine your sections, insert subheadings and make sure you put only information related to that subject into that section. You don’t have to keep these headings in the final piece.
Once I have these headings, I shuffle my research, quotes and idea fragments into the different sections.
As you’re doing this, delete irrelevant information mercilessly. Shorten and rephrase cumbersome sentences that are essential. Cut out redundant information, or synthesize it with the bits you want to keep. If there are phrases that don’t fit anywhere but you like them, keep them at the end in an Extras section. Later you can delete them forever, or bring them back from purgatory as supporting points.
If you’re using info from an interview you did for the piece, use quotes very selectively. Quotes should insert information you couldn’t deliver any other way, such as your interviewee’s colourful opinion, interesting phrasing or their retelling of an experience.
Continue to insert your notes as you go through, highlighted like so: [insert better transition sentence here].
Let it sit
If you can, take a couple days off.
Kill your darlings
Come back with fresh eyes and a taste for blood and slash anything that doesn’t support your points. Zero in on anything that sounds awkward or doesn’t make sense and tinker with it until it works, or remove it.
This piece of writing is not about you. Remember your audience and write the piece with their interests in mind. Show your sentences no mercy.
Whittle and polish
Your piece has structure and it’s streamlined. It’s nearly done. Now it’s time to tweak the small stuff. If you fiddle with the details before this stage, you risk wasting your time crafting exquisite sentences about irrelevant points that get trashed.
Do any remaining research and fact checking
Make sure there are clear transitions between each idea
Use active voice whenever possible
Clarify long and/or convoluted sentences into concise thoughts
Vary sentence lengths
Replace vague phrases with specific ones
Include illustrative examples where relevant
Think your piece is good to go?
Here are some final tests to make sure it’s bulletproof:
Get someone else’s feedback
Read it aloud
Leave it alone again and come back in a week
It’s usually better to publish something that’s less than perfect than to leave it sitting forever unpublished with the hope of someday achieving perfection. Ain’t no such thing. After you’ve done your due diligence to ensure the piece makes sense, let it loose.
It helps me be more creative when I remember not to take myself so seriously. The quality of your writing doesn’t reflect your personal worth. If the article turns out bad, learn from your mistakes and take them into account next time. Once you’re OK with the worst-case scenario that this might be the worst thing you’ve ever written, you’ll feel freer to put words on the page.
MR MIKES SteakhouseCasual launched a brand awareness campaign called ‘Mikes Unite’ to gather a record number of Mikes and Michaels in Regina. The campaign raised $30,550 in support of KidSport. Donations went back to kids in all 26 MR MIKES communities in Western Canada.
F-Pacific Optical Communications Co. Ltd. announced the establishment of their North American headquarters in Vancouver and plans to open a new manufacturing plant in Surrey that would create 200 jobs. The campaign resulted in over 50 pieces of coverage, equating to over 47 million impressions.
“What we’ve got here is failure to communicate,” is the famous line from the 1967 Paul Newman movie Cool Hand Luke. It best sums up the Marathassa – Burrard Inlet oil spill and points to a critical failure we often see in a crisis. In planning for a crisis, organizations forget the importance of communication, not only in dealing with the crisis, but also when informing the public. They plan how to deploy resources and deal with the crisis internally, while often forgetting what exists outside of their organization.
A timeline in the Globe and Mail shows several communications failures that lead to delays in calling out cleanup and containment crews in the Marathassa spill. Once deployed, the Western Canada Marine Response Corporation (WCMRC) teams did an excellent job, cleaning up 80 per cent of the oil in 20 hours, but the communication delays turned what might have been a minor incident into a major event. Those internal communication failures were then compounded by a failure to inform the City of Vancouver until 12 hours after the spill was first reported. This turned it into a major story.
Rather than being praised for its response, the Coast Guard faced a storm of criticism for an inadequate response and cleanup effort. The public was unhappy. Local politicians were unhappy. The Provincial Government was unhappy. This could not come at a worse time for proponents of expanded crude oil shipments out of the Port of Vancouver. Oil spill prevention and a world-class response are central to gaining public support. Public and political sentiment is that this was not world-class. Poor communications lead to a slow response, which let the crisis get out of hand.
The Coast Guard’s prime stakeholder in a crisis situation is not the Federal Government or Coast Guard management in Ottawa. The Coast Guard’s number one stakeholder in a crisis is the public who they are charged with protecting and that includes local governments who represent all of us. That stakeholder was forgotten.
So how do you avoid making the same mistakes in your crisis? Here are seven things to think about:
1) Have a crisis communications plan. Crisis planning is not complete without a crisis communications plan. Who to call (or tweet), when to call (or post on Facebook), what to say, and how to best get your message out. To be seen to be effectively responding, you have to tell someone about it
2) Alert your communications team right away. Don’t wait until the story is out of control—get the communications team working on the crisis from the outset. Bringing in heavy hitters from Ottawa didn’t save the Coast Guard’s reputation, nor change the public perception of the crisis. By then the story was written by the public, the media, and the critics. The story was “clean up was a failure,” “world-class spill response was anything but” and “Coast Guard cuts made the problems worse.”
3) Prepare your statements in advance. Have fill-in-the-blanks templates for media advisories, statements and news releases for predicted events so you can get those out to the public quickly. It should include social media channels and your website as well.
4) First out with the information controls the message. The first voices set the narrative, the tone of the story. It’s your crisis so you know the most and you know first. Use that to your advantage. Become the source of accurate information. Media and the public go to who can provide the best information. In an information vacuum, they go to who screams the loudest.
5) Know who your stakeholders really are.Make a list. Make a list and have it as a key element of your crisis communications plan. Who they are and how to reach them. If the public isn’t on the list, they need to be there and the best way to reach them is through the media: both social media and traditional.
6) Define each potential crisis in advance. You should have a list of potential crises, each given a crisis rating based on seriousness and a planned response for each level of crisis. That way in the heat of the moment you can just follow the plan and effectively manage crisis communications.
7) Exercise the plan often. The worst thing you can do is create a plan and never practice it. If you regularly deal with minor events, get in the habit of pulling out the plan, assessing the seriousness and whether to call in the communications team. It’s free practice! Follow the same steps until they become routine. Use the templates mentioned above. It should become second nature so when a major crisis happens you know what to do. If you don’t have regular minor occurrences, then you need to do formal practice until you are confident in your ability in a crisis.
Look at the oil spill and relate it to a crisis your organization could face. Would you do better or make the same mistakes? If you don’t have a crisis communications plan, or if you have a plan but don’t know how to use it or where it is or who to contact and how to do that, then expect bad news. A crisis defines your organization. Your response to a serious event is revealing.
Peak Communicators is a green office, and I mean that in both the literal and figurative sense.
The walls are green, the carpet is green, our logo has green in it, as does some of our office supplies, and there are a few pieces of greenery around the office.
Sometimes we also wear green.
But green isn’t just one of Peak’s brand colours. When it comes to environmental practices, green is our mantra.
While we work hard all year to be environmentally sustainable, here’s a look at what makes the Peak offices green and eco-friendly in the spirit of Earth Day:
1) Car-free commute: Whether it’s by foot, bike or transit (shout out to bus 241!), the overwhelming majority of us Peakers saunter in via an Earth-friendly mode of transportation. We forgive Alyn for driving because he’s kind of a notorious ‘car guy,’ and because Chris offsets Alyn’s drive by telecommuting in from Kelowna.
2) Organic waste recycling: We received our compost bin a few weeks ago and the announcement raised a round of email cheers from the staff. Clearly we’re all about composting because we fill that bin up every single day.
3) Paper recycling: We’re media people and therefore we read all of the daily local and national newspapers. But with great power comes great responsibility, so we happily turn around and recycle them (almost) as quickly as we read them
4) Reusable dishes and containers: Those of us who cook at home bring our lunches in reusable containers and will use the office dishes to chow down. Also, Peak generously provides us with our morning coffee and tea (that doesn’t come from k-cups, and which gets recycled after brewing/steeping), so we keep some of those disposable cups from the local coffee shops out of the landfill by using our ceramics.
Hundreds of buyers lined-up at the WestStone Properties Evolve sales centre for an opportunity to buy a home in the 35-storey concrete condo tower in Surrey, which boasts prices starting at $93,900 during pre-construction.