Monday, September 08, 2008

So there's a Federal Election...Which MPs will not be Running this time?

Reading the Ottawa Metro news this morning, I came across a very interesting article that association executives would be wise to heed. Anytime an election is held, it's crucial to monitor who the likely star candidates are and above all, which one's have declared they won't be returning.

In the paper, an important listing of MPs declared as not running was publsihed. Among them:


Dave Batters (Palliser, Manitoba)
Norm Doyle (St. John's East, Newfoundland)
David Emerson (Vancouver Kingsway)
Loyola Hearn (St. John's South, Newfoundland)
Monte Solberg - Minister of Human Resources (Medicine Hat, Alberta)
Myron Thompson - Long term Reform then turned Conservative MP (Wildrose, Alberta)

Roy Cullen (Etobicoke North, Ontario)
John Godfrey (Don Valley West, Ontario)
Paul Martin, Former Prime Minister (Lasalle-Emard, Quebec)
Paul Steckle (Huron-Bruce, Ontario)
Belinda Stronach (Newmarket, Ontario)

New Democrats
Bill Blaikie (Elmwood-Transcona, Manitoba)
Alexa McDonough (Halifax, Nova Scotia)

These were by far some heavy hitters in the last Parliament and in many instances, from several parliaments going back. Many of these parliamentarians had their own "pet" projects or interests that fall in line with the interests non-profits and associations espouse. Savvy Government Relations calls upon association execs to do a serious audit of where their issues will stand given the coming changes in the make up of the Parliament to come.

Where will your association stand up - better or worse? I'd be interested in knowing your thoughts on how this will affect your GR efforts.
Mark Buzan is Principal of Action Strategies, a GR Consultancy for non-profits. Subscribe now to his Lobbying tips newsletter at www.actionstrategies.ca/Action_Strategies/Newsletter.html

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Myth vs. PR: Where does Public Relations deliver value for non-profits?

How does an executive know if a communications strategy is needed and how do they know what public relations can reasonably deliver?

PR cannot fix it all but it is an important part of an association's outreach efforts in ensuring that the its messages are received and understood by those needed to advance an organization's cause. Communications practitioners work closely with other administrators and managers who all have an important part in the strategic direction of an organization. This includes attending formal meetings, all the way down the line to the way crafting strategies for how your volunteers interact with the community. If there is a problem in a certain area, PR acts a repair and reputation manager in a crisis situation.

Public relations can promote activities and developments surrounding your organization, and make the public aware of what your organization is and what it does. It can sustain a mutually beneficial relationship between your organization and your audience. PR professionals provide you with solid ties to media outlets, and can pitch articles on behalf of your organization. Most importantly, PR complements an organization's marketing and advertising efforts. If your association is undertaking a new membership benefits package, good PR counsel will identify the tactics and strategies that will build a thorough understanding of the package and boost the value of word-of-mouth efforts.

Where an Executive Should Exercise Caution

Although it can accomplish many things, misconceptions are abound that public relations can sugar coat any sticky situation by withholding and spinning information. This simply is not true. Attempting to fool the public is never a good strategy nor is it very effective. Nothing works better than telling the truth. Most people are media savvy and can see right through propaganda. More importantly, you run the serious risk of a damaging reputation with members and potential members. Public relations strategies should be used to disseminate the truth. Lying will only hurt your organization in the end, and create mistrust between you and your publics.

Finally, PR practitioners cannot guarantee media coverage. The success of your association's media relations need to be based on solid relationships that foster a two way exchange with the media. Although most practitioners have close ties with gatekeepers, the media cannot be told what to publicize. Likewise, practitioners cannot get reporters to only write “good stories”. Although errors within an organization occasionally occur and such stories appear in the press, a professional PR practitioner will maintain a good relationship with the media so that they report on the successes as well as the errors.

Ethics in Public Relations

Most practitioners subscribe to a code of ethics committed to honesty. Members of the Canadian Public Relations Society (CPRS) subscribe to their own ethics called codes of professional standards. If seeking the counsel of a public relations professional, ask them the tough questions about what they feel can be honestly delivered from a PR campaign. If the claims sound too good to be true, it usually is the case. Membership in an organization such as CPRS and/ or accreditation from CPRS is usually a good standard from which to start in assuring that you are presented with the whole and true picture.

Mark Buzan is Principal and Chief Magnifier in Action Strategies, a full service Strategic Communications, Public Relations and Public Affairs Consultancy for non-profits and associations. 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, September 01, 2008

A new direction for Action Strategies

Well, it has been a while since I've published an entry in this blog but there has been a reason. I've taken this time to seriously evaluate how I as a Public Relations and Lobbying consultant can make a difference in advancing the profession. With that, I have given serious thoughts to where in my mind, the value of Action Strategies' services lie in public relations and government relations. I came to an important conclusion.

Reviewing our case studies and the comments we have received from those clients who have been our biggest fans, it became clear that there is a definite need for a combined communications and government relations agency that specializes in the association and non-profit sector. As a sector that arguably calls upon GR and PR strategies more than any other sector (government or private sector), I was amazed to learn of the challenges they face. Interestingly enough, there seem to be few who specialize in non-profits or truly understand the complexities they face.

In fact, in my estimation I do not believe there are any Canadian firms (although I welcome being corrected on this!) that serve exclusively the non-profit and association market. There are undoubtedly many who service them. However, in all instances, they approach the situation as a PR or Government Relations generalist - serving all sectors with a sprinkle of non-profits to fill in the mix.

My feeling however is that non-profits and associations have indeed particular aspects that do require a specialist as opposed to a generalist. While private sector PR serves the valuable role of maintaining a corporate image and assisting marketing efforts, non-profit directors and executives face a series of challenges:

-With the pressing demands of running an organization, how does an Executive Director keep their organization's members and supporters engaged and informed of the good work that's happening? If they are unsuccessful in communicating this, how long will it be before they run the risk of a disconnect?

-In terms of lobbying, associations face the challenge of building consensus and ensuring their message is inline with their members' concerns all the while ensuring that government understands that their association is indeed the voice of a given industry.

-Many non-profits run fundraising initiatives. How effective though can a fundraising campaign be if the community is unaware of the organization or of the problem the non-profit is aiming to resolve?

-Unlike the private sector, most non-profit and association executives must contend with a Board of Directors (most often from across the country and/ or from varying backgrounds and diverging interests). These board members are volunteers and as such, need to be communicated with in a means that will motivate and engage. Not to mention, many associations face the challenge of recruiting board members.

While these are just a sampling of the issues at hand, they were enough to inspire me to demonstrate how effective and specialized GR and PR for non-profits are so required in Canada. With the experience I've gained with organizations such as the Canadian Hydropower Association, the Canadian Construction Association, the Canadian paralympic Committee and many others, I believe there are some clear solutions that can be provided to the non-profit sector. The nuances each of these have faced along with the many other associations I have helped have in my mind made it very clear that the non-profit world is different than other sectors.

What are your thoughts?
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.