Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Deciphering the Speech from the Throne. What does it mean for your Association?

Today marked the Conservative government's Speech from the Throne, the direction Prime Minister Harper will be taking Canada over the course of the next few years. Unsurprisingly, the diminishing economy has changed the the Conservatives' policy course and the Speech from the Throne reflected this direction. From a 16 page speech, the Governor General delivered 10 of those pages on subjects related directly to the economy. For association professionals with an interest in financial and international affairs, the following are indicators of where there will be opportunities:

  • Reforming global finance to re-examine and renew the rules that underpin the global financial system.

  • Avoiding structural deficits by putting all federal expenditures under the microscope of responsible spending.

  • Focusing on job skills development especially through the skilled trades and providing further support to the automotive and aerospace industries.

  • Expand investment and trade by modernizing investment, competition and copyright laws while working with the United States to address shared challenges and pursuing trade agreements in Europe, Asia and the Americas.

  • Reducing red tape, fixing procurement, improving program and service delivery, and improving the management of federal agencies, boards, commissions and Crown corporations. In this regard, it's likely the Conservatives will be looking for means to tighten the belt. If your association will be looking to expand departmental or program support budgets, you may wish to seek the counsel of a professional as this will be a tough (but not impossible) time to start such an endeavor.

While the economy is the primary focus, do not despair if your association's mandate falls outside this arena. The Throne Speech identified six other items:

  • Securing Canada's Energy Future - Are you involved in Energy issues? Now is the time to take note....BTW, Action Strategies has worked in the energy sector.

  • Tackling Climate Change and Preserving Canada’s Environment

  • Extending a number of social support measures such as the homelessness agenda, improving Universal Child Care, as well as building support for those caring for the disabled

  • Tackling Crime

  • Continuing the Afghanistan mission

  • Important democratic reforms that will give British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario more seats in the House of Commons. Moreover, Senators may face term limits.

The bottom line is this: If you wish to understand where your association's policy agenda is likely to stand (or stand a chance), the time is now to conduct an legislative and political audit. Leveraging the Speech from the Throne by identifying the priorities, gives an indication of how lobbying success can be revealed. Conducting the audit now as 2008 comes to an end means you will be ahead of the curve and save your organization countless dollars and time.

Does this strike a cord? Drop me a line or leave your thoughts.
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, November 18, 2008

Understanding Parliament to Maximize your Association's Objectives

Now that parliament has reconvened and we Canadians are before another Speech from the Throne, the relavance of situating one's organization into Ottawa's policy arena is more important than ever. Through becoming more acquainted with the parliamentary process and its daily and yearly workings, you’ll be much better positioned to maximize your business’ objectives and goals.

The legislative process can be an intimidating one to stay on top of, especially if you fill your days and mind with the constant needs of a running a nonprofit business. In order to ensure you understand the Parliamentary process on a more personal level, you have to have not only a working knowledge of what goes on there, and what policies are being introduced and put into law; but also, have your eyes, ears, and hands in the political arena. It is a full time job, and many organizations do not have the time or in-house manpower to stay on top.

Many-if not most-nonprofit entities do seek the aid of a government relations firm or specialist to bridge this gap between their non-profit’s needs and Parliament’s protocol. These specialists bring years of experience in the Canadian political arena, contacts, troubleshooting savvy, and the like to help you learn and approach your government in the most convenient and effective manner. Here’s a look at the actual specifics that these specialists provide-or conversely you will need to enact-in maintaining a constant and lucid conversation with Parliament:

  • Draw from already established political networks and contacts for aid.

  • Keep abreast of past, present, and future legislative action and policy.

  • Prepare necessary legislative documents for presentation in legislative proceedings (briefs, speeches, etc).

  • Gather support for your nonprofit issues by rallying new coalitions and campaigns.

  • Provide constant research on supporting legislative regulations and policies.

  • Keep a constant presence for influence in the House of Commons Caucus committees.

  • Maintain contact and communication with non-partisan lobbying groups.

  • Provide troubleshooting advice, analysis, and reaction as needed.

The Canadian Parliament is a very specialized and established system set up to provide the best regulation, policy, and laws for all Canadian citizens. Keeping informed and involved with the House of Commons and the Senate is vital to having your needs and wants as a citizen and business professional heard and shaped into history. Whether you opt for the assistance of a government specialist or choose instead to gets your hands into the mix, knowing everything you can about past, present, and future Canadian Parliament and how to best specifically address it-as noted above-is the only way that you can help enact change and positive movement in your life and your business’.

What is your opinion on Parliament and its relation to your business or movement? Personally, I am finding more NGOs and their board members seeking outside help to counsel them on where their cause fits into the government's agenda. In response, we're gaining some important insight and success. Drop me a line or a comment if I can be of help. Also, please share your personal experience here.
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, November 04, 2008

Pitch Your Stories By Phone

To get a story in the media, you can’t rely solely on the written word; you can’t merely send a fax or a press release. You also must "pitch" your stories through phone calls to selected editors and reporters. As difficult as it may seem, "pitching" your stories in this way is necessary to getting media coverage. Phone calls humanize and personalize your stories, so if you have a newsworthy story you believe in, get on the phone and tell the media about it. Set aside time right after you have sent off your media alerts or press releases to make phone calls to those journalists you really must reach. Making "cold" calls to people you don’t know can be difficult, but most reporters and editors don’t and shouldn't mind getting them; they depend on and encourage citizens to phone in story tips. Here are some tips to make this task easier.

1. Call at the right time. If possible, call a week before your story will break to give reporters time to prepare for it and inform their editors. Call when the reporter is not likely to be "on deadline," usually early in the day the first few hours of their work day. Even then, always ask journalists if they have time to hear about your story. Don't ask if they got your release; even if they did they may have forgotten or misplaced it. Assume they know nothing about your story and say something like this:

"Hello I’m Joe Blow from the Citizens Energy Campaign, and I have a good story for you about our campaign to cut energy costs. Is this a good time to talk?"

2. Be Prepared: Know Whom You're Calling and Know Your Story Don't make anonymous calls to the media and try to explain your story to receptionists and desk clerks. Call directly or ask by name for the reporter or editor who should have your story. Then, be able to present it in 30 seconds. Tell the story the way the media might tell it to their audience. If necessary, write a script that quickly gets into the heart of the story. Emphasize the newsworthy elements--the conflict, the unprecedented angle ("It’s the first..."), the significance of the story to the writer’s readers and its connection to other issues in the headlines or news peg. You might say:

"Our group is fed up with the recent increase in utility costs granted by the state commerce commission. So we are starting a petition campaign to get lower costs. But this is not just another petition drive; this time we’re starting at shopping mall in the communities of the utility commissioners. We want them to feel the heat from their own neighbors. We kick of the campaign Saturday at Ridgewood, near the home of commission chairman I. M. Connected."

3. Make Your Calls Near a Fax Machine. Even if you already mailed or faxed media alerts or press releases to reporters and editors, be prepared to fax additional copies after your pitch call. Journalists often lose or misplace your releases in the newsroom clutter, and it’s easier to send a fresh copy when the story is on their minds.

4. Be Ready With Specifics. Have detailed examples, statistics, and stories to back up your pitch, and be prepared to give out numbers of people who can be interviewed to tell these stories. Know your issue so well that you can answer most questions then and there.

5. Be Persistent But Don’t Be A Pest. Most journalists can not promise to do your story at the time of your call. When they say they will "look into it and do what they can," that’s about all the commitment you can get. If you push further, you can alienate the journalists and drive them away from you and your stories.

6. Offer To Do More To Make Their Job Easier. Journalists often have too much to do in too little time; they are more likely to do stories that are easy for them to research and report; offer to do whatever you can to make this job easier.

7. Be Pleasant And Upbeat--Not Frantic , Moralistic, Or Nagging. Your story may have serious ramifications and be emotionally stirring, but don‘t let that infect your pitch. Journalists like enthusiasm, but they do not like sermons with their story ideas.
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.

6 Steps to Free Publicity for Non-Profits

Everyone wants free public relations; how do you find ways to do this? Below, is a list of the best ways to get your name and objectives out there, so that you can start bolstering your company’s funding initiatives.

1. Fundraiser Events: In your nonprofit, everything practically qualifies as a “fundraising event”, but more specifically, plan an event that offers the community something in return for their time and money. Offer an inclusion entry fee as a minimal to make the event more attractive to the public. For example, if you operate an animal rescue agency, offer a walk your dog event, in which people can bring their dogs, pay a nominal fee to support an upcoming worthwhile project, and meanwhile be introduced to all that your agency offers.

2. Free Seminars and Learning Programs: Especially if your nonprofit is new to the area, offer a free in-house seminar or learning program in which you offer a valuable free lesson on one of your company’s missions. Again, for example in the case of a nonprofit animal rescue agency, you could offer a free train your dog weekend. This way, you receive tonnes of valuable contacts and potential financial supporters visiting your agency. Introductions such as this are priceless when it comes to your nonprofit’s short and long term publicity goals.

3. Online Articles and Press Releases: Even if you are relatively new to the world of the internet and internet marketing, creating free articles, taking part in forums, and drafting online press releases could be key to getting your name and mission out there. There are thousands of online article sites in which you can introduce your nonprofit’s expertise and mission and provide a link back to your company website for free. Press release sites come just as varied online. If you have a new program or product you are introducing, do a quick search for online press release sites, and post a quick description about it-highlighting your business name and contact. Create a free blog and link to your company website-outlining on a regular basis industry news, program initiatives, etc. Take part in online forums: again, this is free, and will help you communicate the importance of your company to not only your local community, but also, the world at large.

4. Use the Media as your vehicle: A properly developed story targeted according to that which the public yearns to learn or more of or that which is a burning subject of interest is a great opportunity for your organization to leverage. Have your PR consultant or your staff brainstorm on how your cause fits into the debate and provide comment. Doing this over a consistent period of time will build solid relationships with journalists that will build recognition and awareness. However, beware! Some PR consultants may claim “personal media contacts” are the key to successful PR. Exercising these media contacts may involve them charging meals and drinks to your account. Don’t entertain this notion. Good PR is about developing a sound professional relationship with journalists - that means providing them with the information and opportunities they need to interest their readers. Understand what your editors want. Look at samples of key journals, web sites and other outlets on your target list. What is the mix of commissioned articles, features, releases and advertorials? What is the typical copy length, style, and tone of voice? Aim to match these criteria.

5. Develop an newsletter and reach out to your key targets: Newsletters are tricky things - here are a few tips and thought starters. Go back to the beginning. What is the objective of the newsletter? Define clearly what you want to achieve in developing your newsletter. Be specific so that you can monitor outcomes and fine tune to improve success. Describe the typical reader. Think what interests and information needs they have. Are all readers similar? If not, matching content to their interests could be a problem. How do they prefer to receive information - print or by e-mail? Above all, make certain visitors to your website have a clear means of subscribing to your newsletter vi the first page of your website.

6. Leverage the power of social media site such as YouTube, Facebook, etc.: Online social networks used to be just gathering places for friends and long-lost acquaintances. Then the marketers arrived, followed by politicians and job recruiters, all looking to tap into a growing mass of young people who are spending much of their time on the Web. Now, non-profit organizations are testing ways to raise money through these networks, betting that the Internet's viral nature will open fresh avenues for fundraising and marketing. It's a big change for non-profits as they shift from direct-mail campaigns and relying on the checkbooks of older givers to the unpredictable whims of Web popularity. Though the transition is nascent, charities see potential in recruiting young activists who already use online networks to broadcast their identities and make connections.

Have some other tips or ideas that have helped your nonprofit to grow and succeed. By all means, add your thoughts and experience by leaving your comments.
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.