Posts Tagged ‘public relations’

Three Days in Ottawa (or Things I Learned at the IABC 2012 Communicators Summit)


Disclosure: I was invited to be part of the planning group for the IABC 2012 Canada Business Communicators Summit by Yasmin Ranade, its Chair and lead organizer. I had the pleasure of working with Yasmin in the Professional Development portfolio for the IABC Toronto chapter in 2010/11. We work well together and I was honoured to be asked to be part of her team. My role involved marketing and social media promotion.

The Summit took place over three days in November, in Ottawa, ON. I registered and attended as an regular conference attendee. Here are my observations.

It used to be that if you wanted to share your organization’s news, you put out a press release and made calls to a few journalists. Now, the arena has grown larger and your potential audiences have not only increased, they’ve changed the way they want to get information. Mobile technology, social media – the opportunities to communicate with your audience have exploded in ways undreamed of twenty years ago.

Working in the communications field requires continuous education if you want to be on top of your game. Whether you’re a seasoned pro or a neophyte (I fall somewhere in the middle of that spectrum) there are always going to be things you don’t know, new tools and emerging trends you haven’t heard of.

This was, more or less, the theme of the IABC 2012 Canada Business Communicators Summit – Trends 2013. Held in Ottawa on November 1 to 3, 2012, the Summit focused on where communication is heading and what we should be prepared for on the horizon – mobile computing, changing demographics and new challenges to privacy, transparency and access.

I’ve been to several conferences in the past few years, and I would see the same names pop up on the speaker roster time and time again. The line-up for the Summit was unique and a great change from the usual. Canadian speakers, discussing Canadian content for Canadian communicators! Any challenges communicators have in Canada may be similar to those in the U.S. or Europe, but we’re playing in a different ballpark, with a different set of rules.  For example, having Jennifer Stoddart, the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, talk to us about privacy laws made more of an impact than having a speaker come in from outside the country to speak on the same topic.

The keynote speakers were not only highly esteemed in their fields, their talks were tailored to the overall theme of the conference.

  • The Honourable Tony Clement on “Politicking in the Age of Social Media”: I follow Mr. Clement on Twitter, and even though I may not agree with his politics, I find his tweets interesting and funny (he makes jokes about zombies!). Having a politician speak about using Twitter as a very public platform was insightful, especially the way to blend the political and the personal (it’s challenging but possible).
  • Jennifer Stoddart on “Privacy and Communications in Changing Times”: A highly informative presentation on privacy laws in Canada, the challenges of following them in an online world and what we, as communicators, should keep front-of-mind when crafting strategies.
  • Dr. Michael Geist on “The Year the Internet Fought Back”: Great background on the Stop Online Privacy Act and how Internet users are mobilizing and speaking out against the encroachment on online privacy, free speech and access to information.
  • Darrell Bricker, CEO, Ipsos Global Public Affairs, on “The Big Shift – Understanding Communications in the New Canada”: A fun and informative way to look at the changing demographics of Canada. (Read some of my tweets for interesting tidbits from this and other moments from the conference.)

The sessions I attended were, for the most part, strong. These are the ones that stood out for me. (Keep in mind that I only attended a few of the many that were offered – go here for the full listing of sessions and speakers.)

  • Donna Papacosta, “Quick and Painless Ways to Add Multimedia to Your Communications”: The best session, by far, in terms of both content and context. Donna went through the latest in social media tools and provided examples of how they can be used. Highly informative, with many examples.
  • Anick Losier, “Communicating During Times of Crisis”: Ms. Losier is the Director of Media Relations for Canada Post. I loved her presentation for its forthrightness, transparency and case studies. She has a wonderful attitude and sense of humour, despite holding what must be one of the most challenging jobs in the field.
  • Peter Vaz (M2 Universal Digital) and Kunal Gupta (Polar Mobile), “The Impact of the Third Screen on Communications”: Interesting presentation on mobile communications from . With almost every person on the  planet carrying a smartphone, every organization will eventually have to include the “third screen” in their marketing and communication plans.
  • Panel, “Content in Context and the Content Marketing Revolution”: This session stood out for me, but not for the reasons I expected. There was too much content, and not enough context (i.e. case studies). And, disappointingly, the session felt like a not-so-subtle pitch for a social media company (which shall remain nameless), which is anathema to me – I came to learn, not to buy.

The Silver Leaf Awards recognize the outstanding achievements of IABC members in communications. The Awards Gala, typically held on an evening during the conference, felt like an inside joke that the rest of us weren’t privy to. What made it more uncomfortable was the technically illegal use of copyrighted material in the video which instead could’ve been used to highlight the winners of the Silver Leaf. As a communicator, I wanted to know: what was it about their entries that raised them above the others? I could do without the Mad Men parody.

A large and important part of attending a conference is the networking. I met many people and shared many thoughts and ideas.  The conference had great social activities, including a Haunted Walk – which is a fantastic way to see a city and get a taste of its history – and a Dine-Around, where you have dinner with other attendees and a local restaurant. (I opted for Vittoria Trattoria,where the food and atmosphere were wonderful.)

More observations on the conference from other attendees can be found here.

As for Ottawa, I wish I had more time to explore the city, but I did manage to take in a few sights. I don’t think I have enough information to write a comprehensive post. Instead, enjoy my photos.


Kudos to Maple Leaf Foods


Since taking the CC+PR program, I am more aware of the way organizations react when faced with a crisis. After the Sunrise Propane debacle, it’s refreshing to see a company get it right.

Maple Leaf Foods should be patted on the back for practicing great PR after the listeriosis outbreak. If this isn’t a textbook example of good crisis communications, I don’t know what is. They have been open and communicative with their stakeholders – customers, investors, media – from the beginning. They have cooperated with government agencies. They have reached out to their audiences in any way possible: full-page ads in newspapers; news releases; analyst conference calls; their website; and social media (see clip below). As a result, I have yet to come across any negative feedback in the media or the blogosphere.

The recall will cost them approximately $20 million in losses. But maintaining the public’s trust in their brand and reputation will be worth much more in the long run.



Can’t get no sat­is­fac­tion? Try this.


Get Satisfaction bills itself as a “direct connection between people and companies that fosters problem-solving, promotes sharing, and builds up relationships.

Get Satisfaction was created as a place where customers and companies can come together to answer each others’ questions: questions about shipping, pricing, fulfillment, the product itself, and myriad other details. By putting all of these conversations in one place — and holding nothing back — we’ve created a new way to not just handle customer service, but to explore all the things we collectively love and hate about our favorite products and services, and the companies that offer them. [Italics mine]

This hits all the cornerstones of what good public relations are built on – relationships, conversations, connections. Sites like Get Satisfaction facilitate discussion between an organization and its publics. Where brand messaging once flowed top-down, it is now a two-way discussion.

While most corporations are wary of being transparent, it is only a matter of time before transparency is thrust on them (if it hasn’t happened already). We are living in a time where conversations are happening about companies – doesn’t it make practical business sense for them to listen, join in and learn from their customers?

Some already do; it is not surprising that the first ones on the bandwagon are organizations operating in the social media space. Twitter, along with PBWiki and Seesmic, is just one of the companies who “get it.” Twitter has 10 official representatives (including their chief operating officer) and four employees “listening and participating.” Their profiles also include other ways to reach them: their blogs, Twitter or personal websites.

Questions and problems appear to be answered reasonably quickly. If they aren’t, the void is filled in by other users. So, not only are sites like Get Satisfaction fostering discussion between companies and their customers, communities of users are being formed as well. Got a problem? Chances are good that someone will help you. If this doesn’t make you feel included, I don’t know what would.

(Side note: There have been heated discussions on Get Satisfaction and other sites about a problem posted by Ariel Waldman (“Twitter refuses to uphold Terms of Service”). Twitter’s reps were engaged with Waldman from the beginning. Whether their decision was right is debatable and the subject of another forum.)

The other company I am following is Dell. Not that there’s much to follow. The company has no official representatives. This is ironic since Dell has worked very hard to repair the damage their customer service suffered a few years back (anybody remember DellHell?).

That isn’t to say they aren’t responsive; a problem posted earlier this month was commented on by a Dell community liaison for laptops:

My name is Bill Bivin, and I work at Dell. I am the Community Liaison for laptops. Has anyone at Dell yet resolved this for you?

Why isn’t Bivin an official representative? Why hasn’t Dell “sponsored, endorsed, or joined the conversation yet[?]”

Overall, the site is easy to navigate. Not only was I able to sign up within minutes, I have even posted a few replies. (I dare anybody not to throw their two cents in on the Waldman issue after reading all the posts.)  Get Satisfaction also has potential for other uses. For example, Twitter uses the site to update its users on shutdowns or other technical difficulties. How about opening it up to not-for-profits, professional associations or government organizations? Can you imagine posting a problem about your garbage pickup or property taxes and having a city counsellor respond?

Get Satisfaction represents a new kind of customer service – interactive and dynamic – that gives a powerful voice to consumers.

The people have spoken. And they expect to be listened to.

Update: Dell now has a representative up on Get Satisfaction. (It’s a start.) Did I have anything to do with it? I’d like to think I played a small part.


My first week of school, or How I learned to stop wor­ry­ing and love the blog


It is the end of the first week of school and I have survived. No wedgies, no Uggs, no sea of laptops in class.

The fears I laid out in my first post were all for naught. The benefit of a post-grad winter program is the variety of people enrolled in it. There are a few students fresh out of their undergrad term at university but the majority, like me, came from the workforce. We all bring different perspectives to the table and there has already been a good exchange of ideas and opinions. The size of our class (31) also allows for a feeling of closeness and solidarity – we even started our own Facebook group!

The funny thing is, we take the same classes together. Coupled with the fact that our campus served as Degrassi High, at times it feels like I’m back in high school. (I think my locker is near Joey Jeremiah’s but I haven’t been able to confirm it.) And like high school, the cafeteria food leaves a lot to be desired. Thankfully, the Danforth is just a 10-minute walk away.

I have an advantage over most of my fellow students when it comes to corporate communications and P.R. But I’ve discovered there is a lot more I need to learn. Like how to write, for example. As I mentioned in my first post, it has been a long time since I wrote anything beyond a client proposal or an e-mail. Back then, I had a tendency toward the verbose and the thesaurus was my bible. Since there is no demand for 2,000-word news releases, I will strive to learn the seven C’s of good writing: clear, concise, correct, coherent, complete, consistent and creative. The CP Style Guide will become my new bible.

Another tidbit I picked up was how to read newspapers. I mean, REALLY read newspapers. I subscribe to the Toronto Star and read it religiously every morning. But I tend to skim over most of the articles, reading only the first two and last paragraphs to get the gist of the article. But after my first Media Relations class I began to analyze the paper and noticed something: Every journalist has a bias. It tends to be obvious and expected with columnists like Rosie DiManno of the Star and Margaret Wente of The Globe and Mail. But the bias of other reporters tends to creep in “hard” news stories. For example, take this article in last Thursday’s National Post:

’09 Afghan pullout too soon, experts say

It is already too late for Canada to withdraw from combat in southern Afghanistan when the mission expires in 2009, military analysts said yesterday.

The federal Liberal party made a submission this week to the panel studying Canada’s future role in Afghanistan, headed by former finance minister John Manley.

In it, the party insisted Ottawa should formally notify NATO now of Canada’s intention to end its combat mission in Kandahar next year, contending it would be a “travesty” if the mission continued beyond February, 2009.

But experts warned yesterday that there is not enough time to safely replace the 2,500 Canadian troops in the region with soldiers from other NATO countries.

This “news” item is about a submission the federal Liberals made to a panel studying Canada’s role in Afghanistan. The Post reporter chose to focus on the opinion of “experts” who believe it is too soon to withdraw our troops. This jibes with the Conservative government’s view that Canada’s should keep its troops in Afghanistan until progress is made, no matter how long it takes. And we all know how “right” the Post is.

Now take a look at how the Toronto Star reported on the same item:

`Travesty’ to extend combat role: Liberals

Canada should remain committed to Afghanistan but the current combat mission in Kandahar must end in just over a year, federal Liberals say.

Canada should instead look at other roles for the military, such as training the Afghan National Army and police, protecting Afghan civilians or leading reconstruction efforts, the party said in a paper released yesterday.

“We believe Canada and the rest of the world have an obligation to the people of Afghanistan,” the Liberal party says in its submission to the federal panel now studying the future of Canada’s Afghan mission.

And in a news release accompanying the document, Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion said he’s open to “other possible military roles in Afghanistan.”

But the party says it would be a “travesty” to continue the current military role in Kandahar under the guise of a “training mission.”

Instead, the Liberals say, the Conservatives must immediately inform NATO that Canada will end its Kandahar mission in February 2009, adding that as long as allies believe the mission is “open-ended, they will never prepare for our departure.”

The Star focused on the viewpoint of the Liberals, who want an early withdrawl of our troops. This isn’t surprising, given the Star‘s leftist/Liberal leanings. The point I am trying to make is this: there is no real objectivity in the media. While this is hardly new information it has made me think of how obvious it is and how it doesn’t matter anymore. With the technology available to us, we have access to raw information and can arrive at our own conclusions instead of having it spoon-fed to us. We can also draw from a huge pool of opinions regarding the latest issues and decide which ones appeal to us. (For the record, I like mine with a little satire and Jon Stewart’s snarky, sexy grin.)

In the early term of George W. Bush’s presidency, the traditional media was shameless in their unwavering, hyperpatriotic support of the war in Iraq (“Bush Lies, Media Swallows“, Eric Alterman, The Nation). The dearth of coverage on any opposing viewpoints and the growing savvy of the public (or more so the left-leaning intelligentsia) has led to the rise of citizen journalism (or “new media” as some call it).

It would negligent for me as a future communicator to ignore this. If the role of public relations is to “…establish and maintain mutually beneficial relationships between an organization and the various publics on whom its success or failure depend” (Center and Broom, Effective Public Relations), then giving little credence to the “new media” would be inviting disaster. There are numerous examples of how the “little guy” brought down “the man” (or anchorman, in Dan Rather’s case) and it’s not going to end, folks. All of which leads me to believe that when Time named their 2006 Person of the Year as you, they confirmed what we all know: opinions are like a–holes – everyone’s got one. And they will blog about it. And the world will notice.

Jon Stewart


Welcome to my blog.


bon mot [bon moh; Fr. bawn moh] a witty remark or comment; clever saying; witticism.

Why, hello there. Thanks for dropping by. This is my first foray into the exciting world of social media. Oooh, my extremities are already tingling. You must have many questions for me, such as “What do you have to say that is so important?” or “What do you have to say that isn’t being said by millions of other bloggers?” or “What are you wearing?” Good questions. My answer? Probably not much. (Har har.) But since I am advancing my career in the communications and p.r. industry it is on good advice from experts that I start a blog as a form of personal advertisement. Thus, I will blog.

A little about me: click on the About tab. It’s pretty much all there.

So, what can I add? Well, my mother certainly thinks I’m brilliant (smart woman, she is) and my friends tell me I’m funny (leaning heavily on the “ha ha” sort rather than the “weird” so that’s a good sign) so I’m hoping to bring a different perspective on life and its perversities. But I think my “angle” will focus on the fact that I am returning to school. What’s the big deal about that? Well, let me tell you why it’s a big deal:

  • I’m in my late thirties and just gave up a full-time job with four weeks vacation, an expense account and health benefits.
  • The last time I composed an essay it was done on a typewriter. An electric one, mind you, but there is no Spellcheck on typewriters. Actually, that is not true – I did compose an essay on a computer. In Word Perfect, DOS version.
  • I have a fear I may become Jerri Blank from Strangers with Candy, trying to fit into a world she long escaped from. Will my low-rise jeans be low enough? Should I buy the pink or baby blue Uggs? Is my crush on Zac Efron so, like, over (yes, I know he is half my age and probably gay, so shut up) or should I be pinning magazine clippings of the Gossip Girl cast to my locker?

I’m kidding, of course (well, mostly kidding). But you get my drift – I am in for a completely different experience than the one I have been living for the past 15 years in the workforce. It will be a fun and exciting time for me and I hope to regale you with tales from the (school) front. But mostly I would like to share my perspective on communications and public relations from someone who has been in the industry for the past nine years on the other (darker) side. Coming from CNW (the nation’s leader in- oops! Sorry, I sometimes forget I don’t work there anymore) I have been exposed to the needs of the communicator and the media. Will this give me a head start? Here’s hoping.

Which leads me to another reason to blog: social media is new media and acquiring membership in the web and blog community puts you far ahead of the rest. For those naysayers (and there are some in the industry, believe me) here’s a cool fact: There are now one million users on Facebook from Toronto alone (The Toronto Star, Jan. 2/08); we are the first North American city to achieve this goal.

I have several friends who post news and information on their profile – in other words, there Facebook profile is their blog. There are others who get their news and information from the web. (When is the last time you used a map instead of Google Maps, Mapquest or GPS? I thought so.) The 2008 presidential election will be run pretty much through YouTube and candidate blogs. (Of course, I prefer getting my news on U.S. politics with a side of cynicism (I miss you, The Daily Show) but I digress. Today’s journalists are not only writing for the print and electronic versions of their papers but are producing video content as well. Information is becoming more accessible than it was before. This means there are new ways to communicate outside of the standard news release and press conference and the web is the new place to look.

The web is also the new soapbox. Bloggers are people who have something to say and a powerful tool with which to shout it from the mountaintops. Case in point: Dell Hell (Jeff Jarvis vs. Dell: Blogger’s Complaint Becomes Viral Nightmare”, Online Media Daily, August 2005) and other p.r. horror stories. As a future communicator, I would be doing a disservice to myself and my future employers by not being aware of social media.

I can go on and on but my point is this: the web is not going away; it is getting stronger and more influential; and those who have embraced it will reap the rewards. Kind of like composing an essay on a laptop versus a typewriter.

Stay tuned for more…

Jerri Blank