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 :)