Sunday, October 07, 2007

Ontario is going through an election!

Recently, I produced a brief podcast on Ontario's current election campaign. While recent polls have shown that John Tory's Conservatives are having a more difficult time more recently (as opposed to 2 weeks back), I believe there are some definite lessons to be taken from this campaign and how those interested in government relations can push their agenda forward. Check out Action Strategies' most recent podcast here.

Mark Buzan is the owner of Action Strategies, a public affairs & government relations consultancy. He brings a number of years of understanding of working with various government agencies and policy makers. You can subscribe now to his monthly public affairs newsletter by visiting the newsletter section of his website.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Oh ya...Special Olympics and the Truck Convoy

Two weeks ago, I made mention of how Action Strategies has been offering its media relations and public relations services to the Special Olympics Committee of Ontario. While I wasn't able to report on how the event went off during that same weekend, I am happy to report that it all went off with a huge success. Over 114 trucks took part, over $58,000 was raised and with the help of Action Strategies; some very notable media covered the event including CTV television (Southwestern Ontario) and CFRB, Toronto's largest talk radio station!

Special thanks go out to Tammy Blackwell, organizer of the event and to Lynn Miller of Special Olympics Ontario for allowing Action Strategies to be associated with such a great cause and great event. This photo here was taken by the editor of Truck N'Roll Magazine just after the press conference.


Wednesday, September 19, 2007

What I've heard through the grapevine: New hires on Parliament Hill

Here's what I have learned.

In addition to Gary Keller as the new Director of Communications for the Minister of Environment, this summer's cabinet change brought the arrival of Diane Ablonczy as the new Secretary of State for Small Business and Tourism. With that comes new staffers that GR practitioners like myself will watch. Rob Taylor becomes her new Staff Director, Jason Valentin as her Policy Advisor; Catherine Godbout as her Senior Communications Advisor; and Anna Marie Young as her Special Assistant.

Stay in touch as I will report back from time to time on any other leads I find and/ or contacts in Government Relations I develop.
Mark Buzan is the owner of Action Strategies, a public affairs & government relations consultancy. He brings a number of years of understanding of working with various government agencies and policy makers. You can subscribe now to his monthly public affairs newsletter by visiting the newsletter section of his website.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Understanding the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency

Charged with reviewing major projects that can potentially have a serious impact on the environment, the CEAA works in partnership with other government bodies and stakeholder groups. Federal departments and agencies, provinces and territories, environmental and Aboriginal groups, industry and others are often included ensuring that department efforts are coordinated and harmonized.

Why pay attention to CEAA? Can our organization make a difference?

Well, is your organization looking to launch a major project that could have an impact on the environment? Energy sector firms, construction companies, chemical industries and organizations with an interest in the environment would be wise to pay heed. There are enormous opportunities to have your word heard and influence government policy! here are many current opportunities and ways to get involved in federal environmental assessment, through the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.

Agency officials value the knowledge of participants about a project's physical site because it can help to identify and address potential environmental effects at an early stage of the environmental assessment process. It is even possible to apply for funding to assist your participation, or that of your organization or group, in the comprehensive studies, mediations and review panels through the Agency's Participant Funding Program. (Contact Action Strategies for help in this process)

Other opportunities exist in taking advantage of opportunities to participate in screenings, including reviewing and commenting on screening reports before a final decision is made on the project. You can examine and comment on a class screening report before the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency declares it an appropriate means to assess similar projects. Finally, you can review and submit comments during a comprehensive study process. The Minister of the Environment takes public comments into account before determining the future of a project.

Action Strategies has worked with energy sector clients in the past. Give us a call if you think your organization would have an interest in taking part in a CEAA review.
Mark Buzan is the owner of Action Strategies, a public affairs & government relations consultancy. He brings a number of years of understanding of working with various government agencies and policy makers. You can subscribe now to his monthly public affairs newsletter by visiting the newsletter section of his website.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Job Openings at Managing Matters

From time to time, I'm approached by colleagues in the event managment, PR and advocacy field either looking for work or looking for candidates to fill a position.  A good friend of mine, Jenny Faucher the President of Managing Matters is seeking full time Event Coordinators and Membership Managers from her Toronto office.

If you are looking for more information, I invite you to visit her website at: www.managingmatters.com


Saturday, September 08, 2007

Action Strategies helping Ontario Special Olympics

Hey all.  As an added note, I thought I would give a heads up.  I've long spoke about the importance of using charitable events as a good leveraging point for publicity.  Action Strategies is now working with Special Olympics Ontario to coordinate the media relations of the World's Longest Truck Convoy!

Stay tuned, and I will try to give further details as we approach next Saturday, the day of the event!


Thursday, September 06, 2007

No Matter What Your Marketing Efforts, Ignoring the Basics Cancels the Best Intentions

When I consult clients on developing a promotional campaign, I am insistent on
developing a brand image that is consistent throughout every aspect of their operations. This extends to the commitment to what they preach in their tag lines and the presence of their logo everywhere it counts. Marketing does not stop at the expression of a brand.

Most recently, I was confronted with a client's desire to improve membership recruitment efforts through their website. While they were successful in reaching thousands of visitors, their brand was unclear and the visitor was left confused as to what services were available to purchase and navigation the site was confusing.

The lesson? No matter how good your marketing efforts are, you cannot expect tangible results without working on the basics first!

This lesson brings me to another great article I found. This time written by Laura Pasternak, I thought I would bring your attention to this great article:

Brand Beyond Marketing
From Laura Pasternak

Imagine you are about to embark on a trip of a lifetime. You’ve received brochures for a luxury resort. The rooms are lavish; the grounds impeccable. Photos of the restaurant’s signature dishes look delectable. You’re sold.
You go to the hotel. The room is musty and a tad dirty. The food is barely passable. Service is brusque and spotty at best. When you complain to management, you’re met with indifference, or worse, silence. You leave disillusioned and disgusted. For all the resort’s slick marketing, they’ve fallen woefully short.

Branding goes well beyond marketing. It will not be successful without ensuring that all aspects of your business reflect and support your intended brand. One of your most valuable assets—your people—must be well-trained in articulating and delivering on your brand.

This step is particularly important for service organizations that don’t have concrete products. Their offerings are soft assets like knowledge, experience and people. When employees don’t deliver the brand, it can be the kiss of death for a business. Don’t believe me? Visit a hotel review web site like TripAdvisor.com. Peruse travelers’ comments and you’ll likely come across more than a few who cite poor customer service for their negative hotel reviews. Conversely, employees who represent the brand flawlessly and consistently can propel a business to stardom.

Brand: The Sum of All Its Parts

Despite what many believe, brand isn’t about your logo, tagline and glossy brochure. Instead, a strong brand integrates multiple components, all of them necessary, including customer interactions, employee communications, corporate philosophy and advertising/marketing efforts. Your brand extends to your employees, customers, the media and even the general public as the above story illustrates. If these components don’t consistently reinforce your brand, customers will become dissatisfied. The negative impact of their perception, should they voice their opinions to other potential customers or even the media, could have a ripple effect on your business. This can erode your brand equity and create misperceptions about your company in the market, that in turn could lead prospective customers, employees and investors to pass on your organization.

On the other hand, brand consistency throughout all levels of the organization helps drive an organization to grow and prosper. Strong brands can drive an increase in sales. The company is better suited to attract and retain the best employees. Vendors can see value in your brand and look to establish partnerships with your business, while investors will see the business and your brand equity as a valuable commodity.

Maintain Brand Consistency
This step is essential to building a strong brand. However, it is often one of the first steps to unravel. You must establish consistency throughout all aspects of your organization. But setting the standards is not enough. You must constantly evaluate your actions. Establish checkpoints for each aspect of the business that interacts with customers and the general public. Ensure that each employee is empowered to identify and address inconsistencies in your brand. Fail to deliver on brand with one customer, and he or she might forget. Fail to do so for another, and he or she might not be so forgiving. It only takes a scant few to dispel the brand you are touting.

Practice What You Preach.
The best way to lead is by example. If your brand projects your organization as one which supports its employees and then reneges on that promise, your brand (and sales) will suffer. Case in point: Wal-Mart. The company says, “We believe that one of the keys to our success is our people and how we treat them.” However, the retail chain has been the subject of unfair employee wage practice lawsuits. Moreover, though they say they value their target customer (the hard working middle class) their actions aren’t necessarily consistent with the rhetoric.

Implement Brand Guidelines.
In order to ensure brand consistency, your organization must establish a framework or set of brand guidelines for all to follow. We’re not merely talking about logo or corporate identity guidelines, but actual brand guidelines that communicate the company’s brand positioning statement, key messages, core values, brand attributes, measures of success and processes for handling customer issues or feedback. Federal Express was an early pioneer in this idea. The international shipper utilizes an Internet-based program which outlines the company’s brand guidelines. This detailed approach provides guidance on everything from the graphic standards for use of the company logo to how cultural differences affect brand (particularly important for global companies). Establishing brand guidelines leaves no room for misinterpretation and helps maintain consistency throughout all levels of the organization.

Mark Buzan is Principal and Chief Magnifier in Action Strategies, a full service Strategic Communications, Public Relations and Public Affairs Consultancy. Make sure to contact him for advice on reaching audiences you may or may not have yet considered in your marketing communications and PR campaigns. Drop him a line if you are looking for help in developing a public relations campaign. You can view his website at www.actionstrategies.ca.

11 Tips for Using Photos & Graphics for PR

With my new work at the Canadian Paralympic Committee, I've become more sensitized than ever to the need for effectively managing a database of photos and video for the media. At CPC, we manage an Image Bank specifically for interested sports media. With a ready source of print media ready images of athletes in action, we greatly increase our chances of good media coverage. With our focus directed at improving this service, it got me thinking of what many in the business take for granted: Snapping up headlines with good photos (emphasis on good) is part an parcel of media relations success.

In my search through the net, I came across a great article of real relevance in public relations. A woman whom I respect, Joan Stewart aka the Publicity Hound, had this to say on good photos and public relations:

Snap up some headlines with the right snapshot:

1. Make sure you have good-quality, above-the-shoulders photos of all your experts who are likely to be interviewed by the media.

2. Consider asking your photographer to shoot "environmental portraits" of your experts. An architect, for example, might be shown holding several rolled up architect's renderings under her arm. A construction executive can be shown holding a hard hat or other tools of his trade. Weekly newspapers that don't have big photo staffs would probably welcome these photos.

3. Have interior and exterior shots of your company available for the media. The interior shots can show people at work. Please, no cliche "on the telephone" or "working at the computer" shots.

4. Submit photos with news releases about routine announcements such as new hires, promotions, retirements, awards, etc.

5. Pie charts, bar charts and other graphics can often help readers understand complicated issues such as budgets. Offer to supply information to media outlets so they can create their own graphics to accompany the article they're writing about.

6. If you're sponsoring an event that doesn't necessarily warrant a story, call the photo desk at your local newspaper and let photographers know what's happening.

7. If a photographer from a newspaper or magazine takes photos at your company, never demand to see the negatives, or dictate what photo they should use with the article, or ask for free copies of prints. The negatives are the property of the media outlet, and the media maintain full control over their use. If you want prints, expect to pay for them.

8. Make sure all photos are scanned at print-quality 300 dots per inch and available for instant download at your website, preferably under a button called "Media Room" that can be accessed from the homepage.

9. Avoid using big clunky photos at your website because they slow down the time it takes a page to load.

10. Never, ever ask a newspaper or magazine to take photos of a check-passing, ground-breaking or ribbon-cutting ceremony. The media hate these staged events. And don't wimp out by uploading these cheesy-looking photos to your expensive website.

11. Offer an architect's rendering instead of a ground-breaking shot. In place of a check-passing photo, take a photo that illustrates what the money will be used for. Instead of a ribbon-cutting photo, how about a photo of a business person with a customer on the first day of business?

Are you starting to get the picture? Photos and graphics can be a powerful publicity tool--but only if you use them.

Joan Stewart, aka The Publicity Hound, is author of the ebook
"How to Use Photos & Graphics in Your Publicity Campaign."
She also publishes the free ezine "The Publicity Hound's Tips of the Week."

Mark Buzan is Principal and Chief Magnifier in Action Strategies, a full service Strategic Communications, Public Relations and Public Affairs Consultancy. Make sure to contact him for advice on reaching audiences you may or may not have yet considered in your marketing communications and PR campaigns. Drop him a line if you are looking for help in developing a public relations campaign. You can view his website at www.actionstrategies.ca.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Understanding Regulations

The practice of government relations is often simplified down to what is believed to be relationship building with politicians. What is less known are the years of expertise government relations practitioners develop in specific subject matters. Most often, the value of this specialization comes from years of focusing on changing those aspects of policy that do not require new legislation.

Regulations are often that lesser understood part of the process.

Who is involved in making and reviewing regulations?

The following are the main participants in the regulatory process:

* the delegate of the regulation-making powers (usually the Governor General acting on the advice of the Cabinet, but sometimes a particular Cabinet minister or an administrative agency)
* the officials in the department or agency responsible for the regulations
* the Regulations Section of the Department of Justice
* the Regulatory Affairs Directorate of the Treasury Board Secretariat
* the Standing Joint Committee of the Senate and the House of Commons for the Scrutiny of Regulations.

Who should be consulted?

Regulations Section

When legislative proposals involve the delegation of regulation-making powers, consideration should be given to consulting the Regulations Section. It can provide advice about which sorts of provisions are appropriate to include in regulations and which should be contained in the enabling Act. It can also provide advice about drafting enabling provisions. (See Chapter 4 - The Regulatory Process)

There is a close connection between Acts and regulations. Decisions about the drafting of an Act can have a considerable impact on the regulations that will be made under it. It is often desirable for departmental legal advisers, drafters and regulations specialists to meet to discuss these issues when preparing the Memorandum to Cabinet or drafting the bill.

The General Public

Public consultation should be viewed as an integral part of the legislative process, particularly where a bill will have a significant impact on members of the public.

Public consultation should normally occur after internal consultation within the Government and consultation with other governments have taken place.

The fundamental elements for meaningful consultation that apply to both the Government and members of the public are:

a shared understanding of the purpose of the consultation;
mutual respect;
clear communication;
an appreciation of the need to agree on workable approaches, often entailing a compromise;
meaningful input into the policy formulation process; and the recognition that consultation will not always lead to consensus.

Public consultation are guided by the following principles:

The need for public consultation will be determined early in the planning process, followed by the identification of the individuals and groups interested in the bill. Public consultation processes will be carried out in an objective and open manner, within reasonable time frames and with consideration of the cost to both the public and the Government.

The manner and extent of public input will be determined by such factors as:
how the bill will affect the public, particularly those who may have special rights or interests; the nature or extent of consultation (for example, issue-specific or ongoing); feasibility (for example, resource implication and time constraints);
national and regional interests; and the objectives and scope of consultation, including the method of consulting and the time frame for doing so, will be clearly defined at the outset in order to facilitate a clear, mutual understanding of the purpose of the consultation.

Mark Buzan is the owner of Action Strategies, a Government Relations consultancy. You can subscribe now to his monthly public affairs newsletter by visiting the newsletter section of his website.

Canada's New Cabinet...Who's in it?

Last Tuesday, a number of changes to the federal ministry meant some significant developments in the make of the Cabinet. The most significant came with the demotion of Gordon O'Connor as Minister of Revenue from the National Defence portfolio. Poor communication skills in Canada's role in Afghanistan no doubt played a role in this change. Mr. O'Connor can nonetheless be satisfied he has maintained his role in the Cabinet.

Chuck Strahl has taken over the portfolio of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. This portfolio was being managed by Jim Prentice, a higher performing Minister who he himself has been promoted to the Industry portfolio. Peter MacKay, the former Minister of Foreign Affairs has taken over the Defence portfolio from embattled Gordon O'Connor. Long recognized as a strong communicator, the Prime Minister will be counting on him to better the persona of the government and better communicate Canada's involvement in Afghanistan - a weakening aspect in the tory position in the polls.

Bev Oda has been moved from the Heritage portfolio to International Development and in her place, Josée Verner has moved in as the new Minister of Heritage.

Beginning to be recognized in a higher light of prominence in Quebec for the Conservative government, Maxime Bernier's performance as Minister of Industry has motivated the Prime Minister to placing him in the role of Foreign Affairs. With opposition to Canada's involvement in Afghanistan most prominent in Quebec, Prime Minister Harper is no doubt seeking a strong francophone communicator as Minister in a high profile section of where the tories seem to be losing points. With MacKay communicating Afghanistan to English Canada and Bernier communicating to French Canada, the goal of shoring up this soft point of support in advance of an election presents an interesting scenario.

The final changes in the federal ministry comes in the agriculture portfolios and at the junior ministry level. The only new additions to the cabinet came from the arrival of Gerry Ritz as the new Minister of Agriculture and Diane Ablonczy as Secretary of State for Small Business.

Many have criticized the changes as merely cosmetic. In my estimation, time will tell. It is clear however, that these changes were made to better the communicating abilities of the government as it seeks winning conditions for an eventual election call.

Mark Buzan is the owner of Action Strategies, a Government Relations consultancy. You can subscribe now to his monthly public affairs newsletter by visiting the newsletter section of his website.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Think Strategically...PR is MORE than just Press Releases!

Building "exclusive credibility" is one of the best ways to describe the benefit of thinking strategically when it comes to Public Relations. It is about establishing a corner where your organization is the reputable representative to speak with authority on a given subject. This is no easy task to undertake, is it?

When the time has come to review how you reach your customers, audience, prospects, investors, members, or the community; an overall strategy that encompasses addressing your audience and how to reach them is essential. For example, if you are preparing a product launch aimed at youth for this Christmas, it is a known fact that their preferred media is the internet. Developing a public relations strategy with a challenge going out to youth on a MySpace account would be an advisable strategy. The thought process of being strategic produces a more effective and measurable campaign than if you were to rely on guess work.

The process of being strategic in your Public Relations thinking starts with identifying your objectives. While in my view, your most important objective should be to establish "exclusive credibility", other objectives could include building relationships, protecting reputations, and supporting marketing efforts.

From there, being "strategic" means laying your ducks in line. Where do your audiences get their information? Are they middle aged men concerned mostly with what's on the news? If so, lining your PR strategy up with a media relations campaign driven by creating a story board of stories would be the best direction to focus creative thinking. It may even be advisable to back such media relations with well-placed advertizing in these same arenas. Is your audience comprised mostly of "soccer moms"? Community outreach campaigns may be the obvious venue. Linking your organization with sponsoring junior sport or breast cancer research for example, builds a reputation of corporate social responsibility. Strategically speaking, a corporation with a reputation of helping the community will undoubtedly receive more positive feedback from its marketing efforts. The other options to public relations strategy can vary from stakeholder relations, product demonstrations in public areas, and internet PR.

After choosing the strategy, it is also crucial to develop what will measure success. Again, strategic thinking is essential. As an example, measuring a gain in positive reputation is a laudable goal. However, how is that measured? Planning ahead allows organization executives to identify milestones and benchmarks. Because no two campaigns are alike, it is essential to profoundly reflect upon expectations. Are they reasonable? Can PR alone achieve these objectives? While measuring the success of Public Relations based on the number of sales an organization achieves is a dubious endeavour, Public Relations Strategists can work with your marketing department or marketing plan to identify points where increased exposure have delivered clear and sustainable results.

Deciding which strategy to undertake requires an ability for creative and out-of-the-box thinking. Planning is your key. Public Relations strategists are experienced in creative thinking and planning. The value of PR planning becomes obvious from their experience and input.
Mark Buzan is Principal and Chief Magnifier in Action Strategies, a full service Strategic Communications, Public Relations and Public Affairs Consultancy. Make sure to contact him for advice on reaching audiences you may or may not have yet considered in your marketing communications and PR campaigns. Drop him a line if you are looking for help in developing a public relations campaign. You can view his website at www.actionstrategies.ca.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

How Not to Launch a New Product

If you've built a better mousetrap and plan to introduce it into this tidalwave of new products, it is more critical than ever to carefully plan and execute your launch using a strategic approach.

Here are seven classic mistakes companies make when developing new product launch campaigns. Avoiding these pitfalls will greatly increase your odds of success:

Mistake #1: Don't plan the launch until right before the release date

Nothing is more disheartening to a PR or marketing consultant than to have a client call and say, "We have a great new product ready to launch next month. Can you develop a plan by next week?"

Sadly, this happens all too often. Companies spend months—even years—developing a new product only to think about creating the launch plan as the product is rolling off the assembly line.

In a market where over 33,000 new consumer products goods were launched last year, you need a truly outstanding launch strategy to entice consumers to buy your new product. That's not something you can create overnight, so start your launch campaign planning early. If possible, begin launch planning when the product gets the "go" sign from management. That way, you'll have the same amount of time to plan and execute your launch as your production team has to manufacture the product.

Mistake #2: Carve your launch plan in stone

Few new product introductions go exactly according to plan. Snafus occur. Distribution gets delayed. Be sure to build flexibility into your launch plan. Always ask the unpopular question, "What if the launch date gets delayed?"

Keep the launch team in daily communication with the people who are manufacturing and shipping the product so the launch campaign calendar can stay in sync with the shipping date and eventual availability of the product at retail. There is no use implementing a launch campaign touting a product that won't be on the shelves for another month due to production delays.

Mistake #3: Put the head honcho in charge of the launch

Brand managers or product managers are best suited to take primary responsibility for the launch process—not senior personnel whose multiple and competing duties can impair focus and tactical expertise. The involvement and support of the CEO, president and other senior leaders are critical to the success of a launch, but not on a daily basis.

These individuals should be kept in the loop so they can make key decisions when needed and ensure that adequate financial and human resources are being allocated to the effort. But the day-to-day leadership for the launch initiative should come from someone whose sole focus is on making the launch a success.

Mistake #4: Don't educate employees until after the news breaks elsewhere

Your employees are your most important word-of-mouth brand ambassadors. Educate them about the launch plan and prepare them to talk about the product with their family and friends so they can begin to build the buzz.

It's important to enroll these "passionistas" in your launch strategy so they can reinforce what is going to be said when the product is introduced in the trade, business and consumer press.

Mistake #5: Use the same forms of media you've always used

The number of potential media outlets that can talk about your new product grows daily. Don't just dig out the same media list you used for your last launch. There are 6,200 magazines and 240 television stations available today, with hundreds more being introduced each year. There are multiple publications and channels that cover every topic.

Get up-to-the-minute information on each media outlet to make sure its audience is your audience. Don't overlook Internet media outlets that might not have existed when you executed previous launches. And don't forget foreign-language publications and channels, especially if your product appeals to ethnic groups.

Today, the fastest growing demographic in America is the Hispanic population; take advantage of this group's love for news and programming by contacting the publications and stations that cater to this important audience.

Mistake #6: Pour all your resources into "push" strategies

According to findings in the Schneider/Boston University New Product Launch Report, a joint academic research study that examined how marketers launch new products, how you spend your launch budget is as important to success as allocating a healthy budget at the outset. Among the launches studied, those that used a "push" strategy that says "put it on the shelf and they will come" were far less effective than "pull" strategies that drove consumers into stores looking for the new product.

While trade advertising is certainly important, particularly during the sell-in phase, using a significant portion of your overall launch budget on consumer-oriented marketing initiatives will increase your odds of success.

Mistake #7: Skip the crisis plan

The number of things that can go wrong when a new product hits the market is limitless. Brainstorm all potential pitfalls to ensure your plan provides remedies for what might go wrong. Develop a crisis plan that outlines what the team would do in case of a crisis, like a recall or food contamination.

It's always better to have a crisis plan in place rather than trying to create one while facing a major issue that could tarnish your brand.

by Joan Schneider
* * *
Mark Buzan is Principal and Chief Magnifier in Action Strategies, a full service Marketing Communications, Public Relations and Public Affairs Consultancy. Make sure to contact him for advice on reaching audiences you may or may not have yet considered in your marketing communications and PR campaigns. Drop him a line if you are looking for help in developing a public relations campaign for a product launch. You can view his website at www.actionstrategies.ca.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Best Practices in Selling to Government

Action Strategies' newest affiliate and Magnifier, Derrek Konrad provides a brief insight into how organizations looking to sell to government can get ahead of the curve.

This month we will deal with influencing the buying decision.

When you or your business plan to do business with the government, you enter into a highly competitive environment. The Government of Canada’s top 10 clients purchase almost 13 billion dollars worth of commodities and services annually and many suppliers and potential suppliers are competing for a piece of the action. How can you influence the decision in your favour? If you limiting your chances of success to simply responding to a Request For Proposal (RFP) you are not taking advantage of all of the tools at your disposal.

There are many factors that go into successfully competing and one of them is having an effective voice in the decision-making arena detailing the benefits of awarding a contract to your firm or organization. Your business will have unique characteristics that bring added value to the market that cannot be written into a proposal. This is where a government relations professional can help influence the decision to award a contract.

A government relations specialist will get to know the materiel managers in the target departments of interest to the client and develop an understanding of exactly what their requirements are. This will allow a client to respond more appropriately to an RFP. After a bid has been issued all contact with the department ceases and all communications must be directed to Public Works and Government Services.

Having your firm become known to a department before bids are issued can pay other dividends as well. When a department sends PWGSC a requisition for goods or services they may list suggested sources so doing a good job of promoting your business could get it named as a suggested source. Departments also have authority to do their own contracting for non-mandatory services consequently you could be short-listed for work that falls below the mandatory limit for PWGSC involvement.

Finally, a bit of advice on payment for GR services. While the use of government relations practitioners by prospective contractors is permitted, Treasury Board guidelines prohibit payment on a contingency basis. They must be compensated on a retainer or fee for service basis. If lobbyists are to be used a clause prohibiting contingency fees must be inserted in the contract.


Derrek Konrad is a former Member of Parliament living in Ottawa and practices government relations. He is the principal of Konrad Group and can be contacted by e-mail at: Derrek.konradgroup@rogers.com or by phone at 613-822-9846

Mark Buzan is the owner of Action Strategies, a Government Relations consultancy. You can subscribe now to his monthly public affairs newsletter by visiting the newsletter section of his website.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Change of address

Just a quick note for those wishing to reach Action Strategies by regular mail. As of August 1, 2007 our new Gatineau address will be:

Action Strategies
270, Champlain #3
Gatineau, QC J8X 3S3



Understanding CATSA; The Canadian Air Transport Security Agency

One of the challenges I have with keeping up with the needs of readers of this blog comes about in equitably dealing with the divergeant needs of corporation heads, association executives, and those simply looking to sell to government. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy the challenge!

In meeting this challenge, I endeavor to highlight a particular federal government agency, crown corporation, or department from time to time. In this post, I'm highlighting CATSA; the Canadian Air Transport Security Agency.

CATSA's responsibilities fall into six major areas:

  • Pre-board screening of passengers and their belongings;
    Acquisition, deployment, operation and maintenance of explosives detection systems at airports;

  • Contracting for RCMP policing services on selected flights and all flights to Reagan National Airport;

  • Implementation of a restricted area identification card;

  • The screening of non-passengers entering airport restricted areas;

  • Contributions for supplemental airport policing services.

  • There are four pieces of legislation for which the agency is responsible:

    CATSA is governed by a Board of Directors composed of eleven members, including the Chair, Mr. D. Ian Glen, appointed by the Governor-in-Council, on the recommendation of the Minister of Transport. Of the current eight members, two were nominated by airport representatives, and two were nominated by airline representatives.

    The creation of CATSA as a separate agency means that those looking to lobby or influence air transport policy need to understand the governing bodies involved. CATSA has the autonomy from Transport Canada necessary to implement private-sector expertise with the accountability and public confidence of a government department.
    Mark Buzan is the owner of Action Strategies, a public affairs & government relations consultancy. He brings a number of years of understanding of working with various government agencies and policy makers. You can subscribe now to his monthly public affairs newsletter by visiting the newsletter section of his website.

    Monday, June 25, 2007

    Exerpt from our Recent Video Podcast

    In my last post, I mentioned Action Strategies' most recent video podcast with Lesa Crowe of Itancan. The power of social media is really something else and with that, wanted to demostrate further what video and the internet are capable of. Take a look here as the first ten minutes of the vodcast is posted from a sharing link to You Tube:


    Saturday, June 23, 2007

    Cheez...I forgot!!! New podcast and other news...

    It has recently dawned on me that in the flurry of getting out the next edition of the Magnifier, I neglected to get the word out on some great new developments.

    To start, I invite everyone to check out my most recent podcast on how Public Relations can be leveraged for speakers, authors, and experts. With the benefit of the beautiful Gatineau hills in the background, I interviewed Bob Urichuk at his wonderful hide-a-way in Cantley, Quebec. Check it out!

    In other news, I've been contracted for three days of the week as new the Chief of Communications for the Canadian Paralympic Committee. I'm quite excited about this new role as the Paralympic Movement is something that interests me greatly and they are a client I'm anxious to get to work for.

    Action Strategies has also signed on other clients such as MarineBio.org to perform a website and marketing audit, Tony Gyenis of the Gyenis Group to develop a communications plan and we are in serious negotiations with the American Finishing School, a Chinese-based Etiquette school.

    Great times are ahead for Action Strategies and we owe it all to the support of our clients, friends and family. Thanks!



    Sunday, June 17, 2007

    Changing GR Gears for Summer: Derrek Konrad, former MP

    Action Strategies' newest affiliate and Magnifier, Derrek Konrad provides a brief insight into how organizations can influence government. As a former Member of Parliament, this article will be the first of many articles to come on best practices used by Action Strategies and its affiliates.

    Summer is a great time to initiate or strengthen your organization’s government relations strategy. Members of Parliament are away from their Hill offices and back in the ridings. Government officials in Ottawa and across Canada have time to hear from industry representatives who have legislative and regulatory concerns and businesses wishing to do business with the federal government.

    During the summer most Members of Parliament maintain regular hours in the office except for holidays when they will likely be away from the riding. While it may be a challenge to schedule time with an individual M.P. in his or her riding office, it is a great time to issue an invitation to meet over coffee to develop an open dialogue and to present your point-of-view on upcoming legislation in a one-on-one environment. Doing that can deliver many benefits: it puts the relationship on a less formal footing, and sends Members back to the next session better informed about the effects of legislation that may have been overlooked in the early stages of development. They will be equipped to suggest amendments to legislation to remove or mitigate sections that will harm a sector that has a significant presence in their riding. They may also lobby their caucus colleagues or a minister personally if they have come to believe in your cause.

    Many caucuses also have retreats prior to a new session and getting your message to individual members and Hill staff before a retreat can make a difference in achieving your objective.

    Officials in Ottawa who have input into ministerial briefings may have more time to meet with industry representatives in order to hear industry concerns and to develop the informal relationships that lead to productive meetings in more formal settings at other times.

    One example of an issue that needs, and is getting, attention this summer is the federal budget. Budgets alter the economic climate in profound ways and the latest one is no exception. Entire regions of the country are upset by some provisions of the budget, and Ottawa is getting messages ranging from disgruntled provincial politicians to corporate Canada and everyone between. Now is a good time to let individual Members of Parliament know how the budget affects your sector and what you want them to do about it. A government relations specialist can help you prepare an effective message and a strategy for delivering it.

    Derrek Konrad is a former Member of Parliament living in Ottawa and practices government relations. He is the principal of Konrad Group and can be contacted by e-mail at: Derrek.konradgroup@rogers.com or by phone at 613-822-9846

    Mark Buzan is the owner of Action Strategies, a Government Relations consultancy. You can subscribe now to his monthly public affairs newsletter by visiting the newsletter section of his website.

    Monday, June 11, 2007

    A welcome to our newest affiliate and Magnifier

    In my ongoing efforts to keep Action Strategies a viable and relevant organization, I'm proud to announce the addition of another affiliate to Action Strategies: Derrek Konrad, former MP for Prince Albert, Saskatchewan.

    Derrek was a member of the House of Commons from 1997 to 2000.

    He was elected as a member of the Reform party, later serving as a member of the Canadian Alliance. After serving in the 36th Canadian Parliament, he left federal politics to pursue an number of initiatives in the private sector and now runs a strategic communications and GR consulting firm, the Ottawa-based, Konrad Group.

    I'm excited by the chance to work with Derrek as his connections earned over the years have been notable. His addition to the list of affiliates with which I work will undoubtedly be a door opener to many offices on Parliament Hill.


    Understanding the Taxman: Canada Revenue Agency

    The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) is undoubtedly one of the largest departments any Canadian or Canadian business faces. Apart from the "dreaded" submission of taxes
    every April, the CRA renders a number of tax rulings every month with enormous impact on businesses. Needless to say, it is in every association executive and business owners' interest to understand this agency and have expert advice in navigating this department.

    Should your organization need review of an interpretation or regulation, the key in navigating CRA is understanding where to bring issues of contention and raise concerns. While the CRA is an independent agency, it reports to the Minister of National Revenue. The Minister responsible for CRA is Carol Skelton.

    The Minister of National Revenue is accountable to Parliament for all the CRA's activities, including the administration and enforcement of the Income Tax Act and the Excise Tax Act. The Minister ensures that the CRA operates within the overall government framework.

    Her responsibilities also include liaising with the agents who run CRA:

    Role of the Board of Management

    The Board of Management consists of 15 members appointed by the Governor in Council. Eleven of these members have been nominated by the provinces and territories. The Board has the responsibility of overseeing the organization and management of the CRA, including the development of the Corporate Business Plan, and the management of policies related to resources, services, property and personnel.

    The CRA's Board of Management is not involved in all the CRA's business activities. It does not have the authority to administer and enforce legislation or to access confidential client information.

    Role of the Commissioner - Chief Executive Officer

    As the CRA's chief executive officer, the Commissioner is responsible for the day-to-day administration and enforcement of program legislation that falls under the Minister's delegated authority. The Commissioner is accountable to the Board of Management for the daily management of the CRA, supervision of employees, and implementation of policies and budgets.

    Moreover, the Commissioner must assist and advise the Minister with respect to legislated authorities, duties, functions, and Cabinet responsibilities.

    The Role of the Chair

    As the presiding director of the Board of Management, the Chair manages the affairs and functioning of the Board and guides the Board to ensure it meets its responsibilities.

    Lobbying for policy change

    Tax rulings and the understanding of them in their application is a complicated process. If your interest is in affecting change on a macro level, your best focus would be on the above apparatus. As with most other departments, it's important to know your 'targets' and focus on relationships. Because the board of the CRA, is of a provincial nature with appointments coming from the provincial capitals, your best bet would be to think of your issue along regional lines.

    For those concerned with micro levels of concerns or disputes more specific to an individual company's interest, there are a number of interesting initiatives. For example, the Minister had recently announced the creation of the Office of the Taxpayer's Ombudsman. Other interesting links can be found at: CRA's website.
    Mark Buzan is the owner of Action Strategies, a public affairs & marketing communications consultancy. He brings a number of years of understanding of working with the Canada Revenue Agency and was the Executive Assistant to the Official Opposition Critic for National Revenue at the time of the agency's creation. You can subscribe now to his monthly public affairs newsletter by visiting the newsletter section of his website.

    Wednesday, May 30, 2007

    What Can PR do for Me???

    I've received a number of questions over the past 3 weeks dealing specifically with the kinds of returns PR can deliver. As the discussion progresses, it is interesting to find that the real motivation seems to be a need to understand what PR does and what Action Strategies can do. In my view, there are six areas where PR helps and how I've been able to make a difference for clients and former employers:

    The six general categories of Public Relations Services

    Developing media and press coverage for your organization:

    Many organizations and professionals value and in fact, seek out press coverage. Getting into the media and becoming their ''darling'' when it comes to recognized value of one's expertise can deliver long lasting publicity, credibility, and notoriety. Constant contact with the media and identifying appropriate press contacts for one's expertise is one of the biggest responsibilities I undertake for clients in search of my services. It's about relationship building.

    If I am able to introduce my clients to journalists with specific 'beats' or areas they report on regularly, the potential relationship becomes a 'win-win' situation. My client gets the opportunity for being quoted and over time, the journalist gets a dependable source of information.

    Effective publicity events:
    Getting quoted in the media is not the only means of building brand recognition, building credibility, and setting one's name apart from the pack. For businesses opening a new location, inviting a targeted group of one's key clients and prospects can be a means of going directly to the source. Public Relations consultants such as Action Strategies have the contacts, expertise and time required to fill a room of targeted publics that can get the word out for an organization. The value of this comes about when those who might not have been able to attend an activity hear about an organization through those who did attend. In other words, referrals are built.

    PR Consultants know how to pack a hall. They know the value of getting the word out on a coming event. They also know how to leverage the good publicity long after an event has taken place.

    Strategic Communications planning:
    While any organization or professional can benefit, larger organizations particularly seem to be interested in strategic plans. Like any involved effort, public relations or communications need to be an integral part of an organizational business plan. One of the flagship product services of Action Strategies is its communications plans and communication planning work books.

    Any PR Consultant worth his or her salt takes the time required to plan. Strategic Communications planning is about identifying the opportunities to get out the messages that are in tune with an organization. They are also about defending or defining reputations. Timing in planning when messages are delivered is also critical. Finally, planning defines the vehicles through which messages are delivered.

    Sponsorship development and charity linkages:
    Why is it that large corporations sponsor charitable events and festivals? The reason is simple. Investing in a good cause reflects well on the reputation of an organization. Repeated over the years, people will associate a brand name with a cause. If Public Relations is about giving 'good vibes' about what a company does, then associating an organization with a cause it the perfect vehicle for that.

    Picking the right cause however, should not be done on a whim. For example, Action Strategies' charitable and sponsorship strategy is geared towards assisting the Ontario Special Olympics. By associating our pro-bona work towards sport and community, we were later able to use that good publicity towards securing paid work with the Canadian Paralympic Committee. Companies can therefore direct their sponsorship strategies towards business development and brand reinforcement.

    Organizations have also been known to link their brand towards charities in integrating themselves into the community. I recently interviewed Lesa Crowe of Itancan for an upcoming podcast. From the heart of oil and gas country in Oklahoma, Lesa revealed to me that while people are paying more than ever at the pump and tempers are simmering, local oil and gas providers are ingratiating themselves into well-known local charities to assist with keeping their reputations in tact. In essence, they are showing that 'not all oil companies are bad'.

    The relationship isn't all one-sided. Charities benefit from the obvious influx of cash but they also benefit from the knowledge and experience the corporate world can bring.

    Reputation and credibility building/ protection:

    It's often said that it can it can take as many as 7 different touch points of reputation building exposure before one can say they recognize a brand and say they have a favourable opinion. In reverse, it can take only one negative comment in the media, a complaint process on blogs or a simple corporate fumble to tear down a good reputation.

    Public Relations works to build and protect an organization's credibility and reputation. There are a number of cases wherein otherwise profitable companies have been brought to their knees because of a crisis that seriously broke the line of trust held with customers. Public Relations Consultants understand the basics of crisis communications and how to get a client back on the road to reputation stability.

    Internet Public Relations:

    The internet has exploded in its use over the past 10 years. It remains one of the key sources from which people attain their information. Web 2.0 is the new term for internet communications that allow PR practitioners to diffuse information out to targets directly and seek engaged feedback in return. This blog is one example. After reading what you see in this article, the opportunity to leave your own questions and comments or exchange comments with other commentators is possible. Public Relations Consultants have the where-with-all to reach out to bloggers and encourage coverage that has the potential to increase website traffic.

    Action Strategies Magnifier Series of Podcasts are also an example of internet PR. People are no longer limited to getting their video and audio information from television and radio. Podcasts offer select groups and publics the opportunity to subscribe to specialized video and audio content. If one's PR efforts need to be to a very small select group of people who are internet savvy, offering a podcast feed is the way to go.

    Many PR consultancies such as Action Strategies have the technical ability to produce podcasts and other social media strategies.
    Mark Buzan is Principal and Chief Magnifier in Action Strategies, a full service Marketing Communications, Public Relations and Public Affairs Consultancy. Make sure to contact him for advice on reaching audiences you may or may not have yet considered in your marketing communications and PR campaigns. Drop him a line if you are looking for help in developing a public relations campaign. You can view his website at www.actionstrategies.ca.

    Monday, May 28, 2007

    Why is Market Research Important?

    This month, I've come across a number of organization heads throughout Ontario and Quebec. One of the common themes we seemed to have touched on was research and how that applies to marketing.

    On that note, I came across an interesting article by Martin Day that touches on this important point.


    Market research will help you better communicate - Your current customers experiences are a valuable information source, not only will they allow you to gauge how well you currently meet their expectations they can also tell you where you are getting things right and more importantly where you are getting things wrong.

    By asking the customer you not only show them that you care but you also take the guess work out of customer services.

    Market research helps you identify opportunities – If you are planning to operate a new service and want to know the preconceived attitudes people have then market research can help, not only in evaluating the potential for a new idea, but also by identify the areas where a marketing message needs to honed.

    Market research will minimise risk - Market research can help shape a new product or service, identifying what is needed and ensure that the development of a product is highly focused towards demand.

    Market research creates benchmarks and helps you measure your progress - Unless you measure you may not be able to gage how well your business is performing. Early research may highlight glaring holes in your service or short falls in your product, regular market research will show if improvements are being made and, if positive, will help motivate a team.

    Martin Day is a Director of Survey Galaxy Ltd a web site that allows anyone to create, design and publish online surveys. For more information please visit http://www.surveygalaxy.com.

    I couldn't agree more with Martin on these points. If you are looking for advice on where to target your marketing efforts, Action Strategies develops solid marketing plans that are based on research.

    Mark Buzan is Principal and Chief Magnifier in Action Strategies, a full service Marketing Communications, Public Relations and Public Affairs Consultancy. Make sure to contact him for advise on reaching audiences you may or may not have yet considered in your marketing communications and PR campaigns. Drop him a line if you are looking for help in developing a marketing campaign. You can view his website at www.actionstrategies.ca.

    Wednesday, May 23, 2007

    The Top 5 Reasons to Hire a Lobbyist...and why they're not the ''Boogeyman''.

    Shirley E. Greenberg from Ottawa's Women's Health Centre said it so clearly last April when in reference to a lobbyist initiative on health care, that lobbying has its place in Canadian public policy. Click here for the background information relating to this story from the Toronto Star.

    I could go on forever on how unfair I believe the criticism government relations recieves from media commentators and the public alike. In itself, this issue could form the basis of a thesis! What I will say is that the stereotypes need to be addressed. To do that, what's needed is a clear understanding of when the practice of government relations is most effective. These conditions need to be communicated more vocally. Specifically, lobbying isn't right in every circumstance, nor is hiring a GR consultant.

    To be clear with my clients and prospective clients, I lay out at least five conditions and/or circumstances that warrant a lobbying campaign:

    1. A municipality or non-profit needing funding: Some may be aware that I've succeeded in the past with gaining previously refused infrastructure funding for a municipal client I once had. In fact, for the Municipality of Allumette Island, I secured over $30,000. Often, I'm approached by other non-profits and municipalities seeking funding.

    The conditions for success here usually depend on a number of factors. First, a GR consultant will need to review if any existing sources of funding are out there. There is little sense in trying to re-invent the wheel. I've found the benefit of good government relations in this aspect promotes an application one step further. It also helps to ensure a file doesn't remain buried at the bottom of the pile of the thousands others received. If the funding programmes don't already exist, organizations should not expect immediate results. Time will be necessary to build awareness and the case for WHY funding would be needed.

    The next condition for success deals with whether or not an organization has the funding to hire a consultant. Contrary to the beliefs of some, government relations consultants cannot charge based on commissions received from the total amount acquired. In fact, recent legislation at the federal level has even made this illegal! The same is the case with several other provinces. This means that the clients we take on understand that like everybody else, we have mortgages to pay as well:)

    The final condition for this subset is the general purpose for which the subsidy or funding is being sought. Long gone are the days wherein governments would finance every demand under the sun. For a request to made, there needs to be a rock solid case that every Canadian will benefit from the transaction. In addition, it certainly would not hurt if it can be proven that the cause promoted backs the agenda of the government or would assist in improving their popularity.

    2. Assistance in seeking procurement advice: Government relations people can also help companies acquire new business! Acquiring contracts through the RFP process can be challenging to say the least. It's about understanding and getting to the heart of what government purchases are really seeking. One of the most common areas GR consultants are called upon in this field is with the Department of National Defence (DND).

    3. Ongoing monitoring and advice of political developments and how those can impact an industry or company: There is enormous value in having the input and insight of an ''insider'' with connections in the corridors of power. Contrary to popular belief, the connections lobbyists have are not used to gain special favours for themselves or clients. Instead, the connections they have become useful when the particular direction of a government is uncertain. When a client needs to know if a Minister or bureaucrat's inclination is leaning one way or if consideration is being given to study or review a regulation, upfront notice is invaluable. During my time with the Canadian Construction Association, my connections within the Finance Department and the continual contact I had there meant I was able to warn the association executive of pending review and study of bankruptcy regulations. Without having the benefit of ongoing monitoring, CCA could have been ''surprised'' with a decision unfavourable to the industry.

    4. Coalition building amongst associations and varying stakeholders: Lobbyists are team builders for causes not always understood by policy makers or all Canadians. Sometimes it becomes necessary to gather different interests together on a common point. While at the Canadian Construction Association, I coordinated 7 different associations together to form a united front on the need for more investment in infrastructure. Each of the respective associations (including the Canadian Construction Association) had valid points but had we all gone to government on the same issue with varying points and at varying times, the risk of a dilluted message was very plausible. By combining our efforts into a single event on a message with which all could be comfortable, our message was heard more loudly and more clearly.

    Needless to say, coordinating such an effort takes finesse, time and skill. Government Relations Consultants possess the know-how and abilities to make these campaigns and events possible.

    5. Building awareness of unfair legislation or regulations that could hurt a segment of Canadian industry or the population:
    In reality, Government Relations is an offshoot or cousin of Public Relations. The difference of course comes from whom the message is targeted. Effective Government Relations builds awareness with policy makers. By the nature of the amount of decisions Parliament must make every day and the varying interests with which it must contend, it is inevitable that every day decisions may overlook the concerns of affected parties. Engaging a good lobbyist would be similar to engaging the services of a good lawyer. It means that a cause will get its fair say before those who ''judge'' what will be the acceptable policy course of action.


    After dealing with what good lobbying practices are about, I think it is pertinent to briefly deal with what the government relations business is not about. Unfortunately, our business has some work ahead of itself in educating the public about perceived ideas of what it is we in GR do.

    1. Influence peddling: As I touched on before, lobbyists generally do have contacts. However, these contacts are not used in the sense of a ''wink, wink...do my client a favour please.'' The laws in Canada regarding influence peddling are quite strict. While contacts help, they are not the be all and end all of success in the lobbying world. Contacts help break the ice in initial discussions but they will never replace good and solid understanding of the policy environment.

    2. Setting up single meetings: The contacts I have developed over the years are precious. They have been built on a solid basis of a give and take relationship. On occasion, I will be asked if it is possible to set up a meeting or two as the sole basis for a contract. The trouble with this approach is that it neglects the whole purpose of WHY a meeting should take place. Before a meeting happens, there has to have been a solid case built to present to those targeted in government. If the basis of the government relations business was solely on setting up meetings, you could imagine how quickly our contacts would be burned out if lobbyists sent repeated client interests on different subjects there way every other day. To be honest, if setting up a meeting is your sole objective, you don't need a lobbyist! Pick up the phone yourself!

    3. Contracts that take commissions or success fees: In the first paragraph of this article, I touched on the misconception of government relations consultants accepting success fees or commissions based on the amounts of funding a cause would receive or on contracts awarded to clients. Briefly said, this is illegal!!!

    But legalities set aside, there is an aspect of this that unknowing clients fail to consider when suggesting such a fee schedule. In real terms, government moves slowly. As a result, rarely does it occur when a lobbyist is able to achieve a contract mandate in under a year or more. If payment were based solely on the final outcome without consideration of all the work that lead up to the success, a consultant could not reasonably expect payment for services rendered for more than a year or two! Needless to say, payment schedules based on commissions or success fees are hardly practical. Unfortunately, they remain the perceived form of payment lobbyists accept.
    Mark Buzan is the owner of Action Strategies, a public affairs & marketing communications consultancy. You can subscribe now to his monthly public affairs newsletter by visiting the newsletter section of his website.

    Saturday, May 19, 2007

    Wow! An admission from the Finance Minister!

    Believe it or not, Jim Flaherty has admitted that not all Lobbying is Bad! With the constant rhetoric you seem to hear from Ottawa that lobbyists seem to grow horns, the Finance Minister is on the record in the Toronto Star:

    Not all lobbying is bad: Flaherty
    Ex-aide to PM lobbied for firm producing vaccine

    Apr 17, 2007 04:30 AM

    Les Whittington
    ottawa bureau

    OTTAWA–Not all lobbying is bad, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said after confirming Ottawa's commitment of $300 million for a national vaccine program to protect women and girls from cancer of the cervix.

    The funding has raised eyebrows because Ken Boessenkool, a former aide to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, is a registered lobbyist on behalf of Merck Frosst Canada, which manufactures Gardasil, the only approved vaccine available for the immunization program.

    Boessenkool was listed as a lobbyist on immunization policy for Merck Frosst with the federal Office of the Registrar of Lobbyists in February. But Flaherty, who originally announced the funding in the March 19 budget, said he did not discuss it with Boessenkool, who works for Hill & Knowlton.

    Sheila Murphy, a Merck spokesperson, said the company hired Hill and Knowlton as part of its effort to explain the importance of the new vaccine to policymakers.

    "What they do is make appointments so we can give the information to the right people," Murphy said.

    The Conservatives have long criticized the influence of lobbyists and are moving to tighten up rules governing lobbying activities in Ottawa.

    However, Flaherty praised those who pressed the federal government to provide money for the provinces and territories to pay for vaccinations for girls and young women against human papillomavirus (HPV), the leading cause of cervical cancer.

    "Lobbying in its best sense is when people come forward to government and make clear how progress can be made, not in their own self interest but in the interest of Canadians broadly," the finance minister said during a ceremony at the Shirley E. Greenberg Women's Health Centre in Ottawa.

    Flaherty said that, prior to approving the funding, he met with health professionals and representatives of the pharmaceutical industry.

    Gardasil is the only approved vaccine for HPV in Canada. But finance department officials said other vaccines are expected to be available before long.

    "And this initiative will make it available to Canadians broadly rather than only those who can afford it," Flaherty said as he reannounced the funding. A course of three injections of Gardasil costs about $300.

    "There was no question that this would result in saving the lives of women in Canada."

    HPV is the major cause of cervical cancer, which is the second most common cancer in women aged 20 to 44, after breast cancer. Last year, new cases of cancer of the cervix totalled 1,350 and there were 390 related deaths in Canada, according to government statistics.


    My comments...wow! What will be next? Let's hope this can mark the beginning of a defrosting in the relationship between Ottawa and the GR practioners that put them in touch with some of the issues it might not be otherwise aware of :)


    Friday, April 27, 2007

    A well written blog post: The pitfalls of PR RFPs

    For those in the business, I'm sure many can relate to this blog posting. Check it out:


    Anyone who has ever read a government RFP on www.merx.com, can I'm sure...relate!


    Wednesday, April 25, 2007

    I Can't afford Public Relations, Can I?

    I recently came across a study done by Tom Brabender, a PR consultant with Spread the News Public Relations. His findings from a survey of organizations on their impressions of the costs of PR were very interesting:

    11% - Thought a professional PR campaign would cost $10,000+ per month
    32% - Thought a professional PR campaign would cost $5,000-$10,000 per month
    39% - Thought a professional PR campaign would cost $3,000-$5,000 per month
    12% - Thought a professional PR campaign would cost $1,000-$3,000 per month
    6% - Thought a professional PR campaign would cost less than $1,000 per month

    The truth is -- you can get a publicity/PR campaign in all of those price ranges. What you get for your money and how effective the campaign will be is the real question. It is true that the more you pay the more you get. But getting the most publicity/PR exposure doesn't mean you have to get the most expensive PR agency or specialist.

    A good rule of thumb is to align yourself with a PR business that best reflects your business size. Most times their rates will be in line with your prospective PR budget. If you are a small business owner with two employees, you need not hire a high-dollar PR agency with dozens of employees. Find a PR business whose office size and capabilities closely resemble your business.

    Signing up with the big firm doesn't mean you'll necessarily get an experienced associate working on your campaign. So are you getting what you are paying for? As someone who worked in a larger agency, I can tell you that the general breakdown of fees usually works like this:

    Interns/Junior Executives - bill at $75 / hour (Very little, if any professional experience)
    Account Executives - bill at $100 - $125 / hour (1-3 years of professional experience)
    Senior Account Executives - bill at $125 - $200 / hour (Multiple years of professional experience. Agency decision makers.)

    Compare those prices to many small PR shops or individual PR specialists (like Action Strategies). Many have started their own PR businesses after years of experience in the industry and typically charge $50 - $100 per hour to professionally launch and maintain your campaign. Many times, you can get a seasoned PR veteran who will work directly with you and your staff for cheaper than the "Intern/Junior" executive rate at a downtown firm.

    However, one word of advice -- when choosing a smaller firm or individual to do your PR, make sure they have the same tools that the bigger agencies do: updated media lists/contacts; personalized media distribution capabilities; professional clipping/tracking services to get copies of each of your media placements (articles, tapes from TV/radio shows) as well as the intangibles of expert communication/media relations skills and professional pitching prowess. If they are cheaper, but don't have all the tools to help you in the best manner possible, you are probably better off spending a little extra money to make sure your campaign is launched and maintained correctly.

    The major benefits of hiring a professional (individual PR specialist or PR firm) to launch your campaign are:

    Proper Campaign Implementation - Improperly composed or poorly pitched campaigns are the major downfall of many PR efforts. Poorly written, over-commercialized media releases; uncalculated, misdirected mass e-mailing of the release pitch; no follow-up media relations/media request fulfillment; etc.. Your first impression to the media is a lasting one - make sure it's a good one.
    Media Contacts - Most PR agencies have established multiple media contacts over several years that can lead to much better and more numerous media placements for your campaign. Let their foot in the door benefit you.
    Efficiency and Effectiveness - PR specialists/agencies generate publicity full time, 8-12 hours per day and know the ins and outs, shortcuts and secrets to getting the job done better and quicker. Sure you could hang your own drywall or do your own plumbing, but do you have the tools, the time and the expertise to make it cost effective? I always tell my clients, "You do what you do well, I'll do what I do well and we'll collectively move this business further up the ladder."

    There is one caveat when it comes to choosing a professional PR agency or individual to work with - signing up for a higher priced campaign doesn't necessarily mean you will get better results than a cheaper campaign. The inverse is true as well. Over the past year or so, many "low-cost PR/publicity services" have begun to pop up all over the Internet. Ones that promise to write and launch a press release for as low as $99. They are low in cost - because frankly many are low in quality. Bigger is not necessarily better, and cheap does not always mean a good bargain.

    If you have the time, tools and talent to launch and maintain your own campaign, you should definitely do so. If not - there are a number of public relations/publicity firms, specialists and services out there. Research to find the one whose services and fees match your business plan. Once business owners, entrepreneurs, and inventors learn more about their options when it comes to launching a PR campaign -- many find that they can't afford NOT to have one.

    (The above article was taken and amended from an original article by Todd Brabender.)
    Mark Buzan is Principal and Chief Magnifier in Action Strategies, a full service Marketing Communications, Public Relations and Public Affairs Consultancy. Make sure to contact him for advise on reaching audiences you may or may not have yet considered in your marketing communications and PR campaigns. Drop him a line if you are looking for help in developing a public relations campaign. You can view his website at www.actionstrategies.ca.

    Sunday, April 22, 2007

    Come check me out on Facebook

    You'll need to permit me for a moment to deliniate away from talking shop for a while! I've taken the next step in social media. For many of my friends, we've found that keeping up to track on what we've been doing is a challenge. For the personal side of my life, I've opened up a facebook account. If you're inclined to becoming a ''friend'', come check out my profile.


    4 Great Tips To Spotting & Hiring a Marcomm Consultant

    I came across a great article recently and wanted to present an excerpt. It talks about some of the crucial qualities marketing communications consultants should have:

    Passion. If you have a burning passion for the advertising industry, that is a major plus. The consultant is going to need every ounce of that passion to get through the down days. When nothing seems to go right, when every client seems to be an ogre in disguise, when the simplest words become potential libel suits; that is when you dig deep. If there was no passion, this is the time the AE will look at you and say, “Boss, thank you, but no thank you.”, and proceeds to open his own “char kway teow” stall (a local culinary delight from Singapore).

    Hunger. That is the drive needed to go for each and every project. Couple this with the passion and you have one incredible, committed consultant.

    Is passion and hunger enough? I am passionately hungry for a piece of home-made pecan pie. You know, the crusty crust, the gooey pecan; just like mother used to make? Well, I have the passion for sure; and the hunger, you wouldn’t believe it. But no pecan pie for me. I have no idea how to make one!

    Knowledge. A good consultant must have at least a rudimentary knowledge of marketing and marketing communications. This can be learnt - must be learnt. The role of the consultant is the liaison between the marketing/advertising agencies creative brains and the client’s needs. Without a basic understanding of marketing and marketing communications, there is no way that he/she is going to be able to understand the marketing brief. Worse, this is the person who is supposed to interpret it and then work with the creative team to execute it. Will you let a 10-year old bake your wedding cake? Why not let him coordinate your entire wedding?

    The brains, the passion, the drive and the knowledge form the basics. But there is another element which is important:

    People Skill
    . Sounds harmless? Imagine managing demanding clients with egoistic “creative” minds and at the same time, trying to meet deadlines, budgets and a hundred other deliverables. The consultant has to be the consumate statesman, able to deal with various personalities and be comfortable in both friendly and hostile situations.

    Many people do not realise that a consultant is also a project manager. Sure, the larger agencies have a “traffic” department, they have coordinators and so on. But in the end, the entire campaign, the client’s success and failure, depends on the consultant being able to ensure that all elements fall into place. Beware the consultant who thinks his job is finished when a clients signs the agreement, or the advertising agency recieves the purchase order. Nothing ever goes as planned, and it is the consultant who needs to be on top of it all to ensure that value is delivered to the client, and the bottom line of the agency is protected.

    Finally, the one sure way to spot a good consultant is his great personality. He needs to be able to face the ups and downs, maintaining his positive outlook at all times. He is the bastion of calm when the agency panics. He steps up to the plate and deals with difficult clients. He goes to bat for the client and deal with internal red-tape to get a project completed.

    This article was written by Vivienne Quek.
    . I found it very enlightening and to be frank, resembling of how I operate my practice, if I do say so myself! Please let me know your thoughts, I am curious to know.
    Mark Buzan is Principal and Chief Magnifier in Action Strategies, a full service Marketing Communications, Public Relations and Public Affairs Consultantcy. Make sure to contact him for advise on reaching audiences you may or may not have yet considered in your marketing communications and PR campaigns. Drop him a line if you are looking for help in developing an internet media relations campaign. You can view his website at www.actionstrategies.ca.

    Monday, April 16, 2007

    New podcast & updates to Action Strategies' website!

    Hey all! For regular readers of this blog, you know that Action Strategies produces a regular blog...well, almost regular! Admittedly, I've been in remiss in terms of producing new content. That's changed! Check my new podcast on my website. The subject is my favorite in PR: Communications Plans and the Essential Elements.

    Also, check out the news section of the website. New developments have been added as well.


    Sunday, April 15, 2007

    Huge opportunities for lobbying

    Since my last communication with you, many things have unfolded. Quebec has a minority government for the first time in 130 years and a federal budget has produced a number of opportunities and challenges for organizations looking to sell to government or simply influence it.

    For organizations looking to sell to government, my advise to them would be to
    move NOW in their initiatives if the services they provide fit into an environmental
    initiative or in the field of Defence. The environment continues to be a hot initiative.

    Support for nuclear energy from the federal government seems to be on the rise. Those who believe they can offer intelligent research or alternatives need to kick up
    their efforts. The Prime Minister knows he needs to look as ''green'' as possible to
    turn his minority government into a majority. On the Defence front, Canada's Afghanistan mission means that contractors have an opportunity to press the advantage of their products to DND (Department of National Defence) procurement. The Minister of Defence's recent purchase of 100 new tanks could signal the chance for suppliers to see a new niche.

    Provincially, Action Strategies is monitoring Ontario as it prepares for an election in October. The parties are preparing their platforms and associations would be wise to to begin promoting their cause to the platform developers. In Quebec, Mario
    Dumont's ADQ has opened the door for new constitutional talks at the federal level and the environment is also front and centre provincially. Action Strategies may be
    taking the lead in assisting a number of organizations in lobbying the provincial
    Energy Efficiency Agency in public consultations scheduled this Spring.

    All of these points lead to the need to timing. Now is the time to start your GR
    efforts. In this edition, I will point out the conditions to watch that make a campaign most likely to succeed. Email me now for a free assessment of the opportunities available to your organization.

    Monday, April 09, 2007

    Is there a right or wrong time to launch a GR campaign?

    Recent discussions I held with a client of mine helped me put this question into perspective. As for many association executives, resources are limited and any effort put forward needs to be assured a reasonable chance of success. As a result, I began thinking of the five criteria an executive should consider as indicators of true opportunities for change in government policy:

    1. The most obvious to identify is where a sitting government has established its priorities. For example, what has the most recent budget or Speech from the Throne stated? Listing through the government priorities provides an organization the chance to do some very positive introspection.

    2. Where does public opinion stand? When the tories came to power last year, few expected the environment to be as hot a subject as it is now. Their platform addressed the subject but it was clear that they had other priorities. Now that the environment has become a bigger priority for Canadians, government funding initiatives for the environment have taken a much bigger priority. In turn, the issues and concerns of the environmental lobby have also been heeded.

    3.Honestly, are your expectations reasonable? Given what you know of your issue and the possible complexities involved, it's important to understand whether your position will fit with the government or carry any weight with complementary stake holders. For example, in an age where subsidies to public advocacy groups are on the decline, is it reasonable to set your benchmarks of success at $1 million of funding when the likelihood of receiving several thousand dollars will be challenging enough?

    4. Who currently has the ear of policy makers? This is where the importance of a government relations audit is so crucial. Have opposing pressures or groups made gains ahead of yours, producing a situation wherein they are better positioned to have the ear of parliamentarians, legislators, and bureaucrats? If they have, are there alternative routes your organization can take? If not, when will the next best opportunity come?

    5. Timing, timing, timing! Many factors can play into the success of a government relations campaign. Few however, have such a prominent role as timing. Examples of knowing when to launch a campaign include:
    -The announcement of a coming commission or consultation process
    -In advance of any budget, provincial or federal, committee hearings take place. Make sure to pay attention and participate. In last month's entry, I touched on the how-to's of presenting to committees.
    -Opinion polls and media attention. If trends seem to be taking a direction different from the current government's, offering your solution to bridge the gap dramatically increases your chances.

    Take these points to heart. They provide a unique opportunity for you to audit your government relations chances. Investing in an audit with an experienced GR consultant can save your organization time, effort and money down the road. Let me know if I can help,

    Mark Buzan is the owner of Action Strategies, a public affairs & marketing communications consultancy. You can subscribe now to his monthly public affairs newsletter by visiting www.actionstrategies.ca and dropping down the newsletter menu.

    Saturday, March 24, 2007

    Writing press releases specifically for the web

    The mark of a good professional is one that keeps up on new trends in their industry, reads and follows the examples of others who have integrated new ideas into their craft. In my following other PR blogs, I came across what I think will truly revolutionize media relations.

    In proposals made to our client, the EQAO, we've been pushing consideration of reaching out into the blogosphere and towards the growing number of opportunities to spread news virally. What do I mean by virally? By getting bloggers and reader-driven news sites like Newsvine to carry a story, there are enormous opportunities for the same story to be covered elsewhere on the net. Press releases tagged with markers for Digg, De.li.cious, and other social book markers mean that a communiqué's place on the net can help boost search engine rankings and give coverage where traditional media may not. What's another benefit of social bookmarked news? In the case of Digg, after you submit content, other people read your submission and Digg what they like best. If your story rocks and receives enough Diggs, it is promoted to the front page for the millions of visitors to see. Digg bookmarks placed on your release will lead over to the Digg site and as you can imagine, increase your story popularity. Every person can digg (help promote), bury (help remove spam), and comment on stories.

    Here come's the problem: The average attention span of an internet reader or a journalist researching a story on the net is very short. You have even less time to convey a message than you would in a traditional release. Online types want the ability to quickly get a sense of the story. They want to be able to leave comments on the spot and if possible, access relevant video and audio clips as well.

    In comes the new template for social media press releases.

    As you can see from the example here provided by Shift Communications (click the image to see an enlarged version), the new template takes a very different look.

    Starting with your headline (as in traditional releases), you need to have a message that quickly grabs the reader's attention. From there, lay out your essential points of why your story is newsworthy. Preferably, this should be laid out in bullet form. This is where the internet communiqué differs from its traditional cousin. In traditional releases, you need to convey a story. On the internet, you need to make your release sound like an ad: punchy, to the point, and eye-grabbing.

    Your next step is integrating De.li.cio.us, Digg, and RSS news feeds over to your site. I've discussed why Digg and De.li.cio.us tags are needed, but why RSS feeds? Here's the beauty! Wouldn't it be great if bloggers and the media knew about your next release the moment it came out WITHOUT you having to call or email them? That's what an RSS feed can do.

    After your tags, the internet press release allows you to include video clippings, b-rolls, or the specific photos you would like highlighted. No need for a would be journalist to contact you for photos! They can simply download the photos you provide. Other multimedia items or ''downloadables'' can be included as well.

    Finally, and what I find as the most interesting is that the new template only then encourages quotes from a client and other statements relating to the story (explanations). In traditional releases, these are placed throughout.

    Varying versions of the social media press release are out there. At EQAO, video b-rolls are integrated into the press release in a number of instances- changing the format of releases themselves (click here for an example EQAO release). The results have spoken for themself. Through effective monitoring, Action Strategies found that TV stations throughout the province of Ontario used the pre-developed video clips of the agency. This meant that EQAO's message went out exactly as desired with visuals wanted as well.

    With the help of Action Strategies, EQAO is demonstrating the power of news releases and the internet.

    Mark Buzan is Principal and Chief Magnifier in Action Strategies, a full service Marketing Communications, Public Relations and Public Affairs Consultantcy. Make sure to contact him for advise on reaching audiences you may or may not have yet considered in your marketing communications and PR campaigns. Drop him a line if you are looking for help in developing an internet media relations campaign. You can view his website at www.actionstrategies.ca.