Brendan Hodgson » Client-related At the intersection of yesterday & tomorrow Wed, 14 Oct 2009 12:08:41 +0000 en hourly 1 David Jones talks Digital PR and H&K’s Approach Tue, 16 Sep 2008 15:53:00 +0000 Brendan Hodgson My colleague David Jones is in Vancouver this week on behalf of his client Molson. He also made time to speak at the traditionally any-day-but-Tuesday Third Tuesday social media gathering (lovingly organized by Tanya, the Netchick herself, and Monica).

Gathering from what I’ve been reading from some of the bloggers in attendance – thanks in particular to Rebecca and Tris for their insightful summaries - he appears to have given a good showing, and articulated a number of important points with respect to how H&K approaches the social media space on behalf of our clients such as Motorola, Intel, Molson, and others, including:

  • the importance of continuous learning within H&K itself,
  • the challenge of communicating in an environment where every employee is now a potential communicator, whether they know it or not,
  • the fact that social media is rarely, if ever, a ”quick fix” or a campaign that can just be turned on and turned off (and we ensure our clients understand as such), and
  • that listening to and making sense of the conversation is more about hard work versus relying too heavily on the myriad shiny new tools that might only do half the job…

Ultimately, it’s about getting past the hype, and focusing on what’s real, achievable, and makes sense to our client’s business or issue… and it’s something that Collin, David, and myself attempt to evangelize every day.

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Employees, Social media and Reputation… A Month of Discussions Fri, 13 Jun 2008 12:40:00 +0000 Brendan Hodgson June was never going to be an easy month, yet we’re nearly half-way through and I’m starting to breathe a little easier. Two conference presentations down, and two more to go – although the latter two will be more internally and client-focused which tends to make life a bit easier (he says, knocking wood).

Over this past week, Amanda Brewer, H&K Canada’s director of internal and change communications, and I have spoken at two events: the first being the 2008 CPRS National Conference in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and the second being to the Council of Human Resource Executives in beautiful Quebec City (currently celebrating its 400th anniversary – I suggest you go. I hadn’t been to QC in years, and it’s as stunning as ever).

Although slightly different in their focus, the general theme of the presentations were the same: that social media and Web 2.0 is transforming the role of the employee as “brand guardian”. And while this transformation is creating opportunities to drive greater transparency and bring employees closer to those upon whom the company relies – customers, communities, partners, potential employees etc., it is also highlighting a number of potential risks and challenges with respect to employee behaviour online and the consequences that could follow, intentional or no. In the presentations we highlighted examples of companies who have done it right, and we explored examples of what happens when employees take it upon themselves to communicate on behalf of the organization through social media, to both positive and negative effect.

At CPRS, we dived deeper into how organized labour has adopted social media in their efforts to communicate their stories and messages beyond traditional media filters and mobilize their membership and supporters, and considered how corporations are (or should be) responding. In Quebec City, we explored how organizations could (and should) help to guide employees in their use of social media – realizing that the workforce of tomorrow will have grown-up using these tools as part of their daily lives. Both are areas of increasing innovation in public and private sector workspaces, and judging by the level of discussion that ensued, it’s an area of increasing concern to those who practice in these areas.

Interestingly, I also see these discussions as an opportunity for organizations to further bridge the silos separating HR and internal and external communications departments given the increasing visibility of employees as brand advocates. And, as always, when we talk about “tomorrow’s employees”, I started off by showing this video – in my view, a creative and powerful perspective of the changes taking place in our society and mindset. (kudos to Dr. Michael Wesch at Kansas State University)

Next week, I will be in the U.K participating in an internal conference on crisis and digital, and working with our network of senior crisis practitioners to ensure our counsel and strategies reflect the digital dynamic and the potential for digital tools to support organizational communications when the stakes are highest – much as we’ve seen during the California Wildfires, and recent campus shooting. Interestingly, the area of crisis is another where the potential for employees to both support or, unfortunately, harm an organization’s communications efforts is becoming increasingly important.

The week following, my colleague Boyd Neil and I will be in Vancouver (I get to spend a whole 16 hours in Ottawa in between, yay!!) where I hope we’ll be able to take some of the learnings from the UK and apply them to a joint presentation to a global corporation (and client) on reputation, issues management and the impact of digital and social media.

Then Canada Day… and then a long rest.

If you’re in London and are able to get together on the night of the 20th or 21st, do get in touch.

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Social Media and the City – Spending a day with City of Calgary Communicators Thu, 15 Nov 2007 13:04:00 +0000 Brendan Hodgson A month or so ago, the good people at the City of Calgary invited me to participate in a day-long session on the impact of social media and local government.

Over the course of the event, which happened last week and was co-organized by the City’s Corprate Marketing and Communications (CMC) division and its Customer Service and Communications Communication Partners Services (CPS) Division, I presented twice: first, to a group of 70+ city managers on the implications of social media as it related to such areas as trust, transparency, and the role of emerging technologies in transforming the relationships between the City, its citizens, and its employees. In the afternoon, I presented a second time to a similarly-sized group of communicators and marketers on social media and reputation management… with a focus on crisis.

From the perspective of this participant, it was an impressive exercise in mass education and immersion into the new communications dynamic, and one that I have rarely seen undertaken within a public sector organization at any level previously (although that’s not to say these events are not happening elsewhere. I just haven’t heard about them).

And it makes sense, particularly as it relates to municipal government. In the same way we tend to ignore local politics despite the fact that it often impacts our daily lives more so than any other level of government, the current emphasis on social media and PR tends to skew toward the more sexy interactions between consumers and brands at the expense of government-citizen engagement, which is perhaps where the potential for social media is even greater. When you look at tragic events such as this (recognizing that this was captured within the confines of Vancouver Airport, although it involved federal law enforcement, but hopefully you get my point), or this, or this, the implications of citizen journalism and social media to impose transparency on the behaviours of government – at any level – are only further reinforced. 

The next day, I joined a smaller group of 20 or so communicators, web team members and others to brainstorm ideas on where the City might focus some of its efforts in the areas of social media – from both internal and external perspectives, including a discussion on the role of social media in times of crisis (which is a discussion that I seem to be having increasingly often). And while obstacles clearly existed, the will to find ways to overcome these obstacles – political or otherwise – was also evident, and refreshing to see.

I figure that my role in this exercise was perhaps the easiest – to put it bluntly, instill fear and motivate people to action. And I think that was accomplished. The hard part, in my view – and the role of City communicators – will be to drive this forward, and to help Managers better understand these tools, develop meaningful strategies that integrate old and new while remaining relevant to and focused on their respective business lines, and (most importantly, in my view) to manage expectations as it relates to how these tools will impact what the City does now. Likewise, they will also need to educate elected officials on the benefits of these tools and the need to embrace a more open and transparent approach to communications and engagement, and work with legal teams to determine how best to accelerate approvals and turnaround times and provide clear direction on what should and should not be done as it relates to social media, particularly in times of crisis.

No small undertaking. But based on the collective enthusiasm I witnessed last week, I wouldn’t bet against this team being able to pull it off.

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When was the last time you did something truly different? Tue, 30 Oct 2007 01:55:00 +0000 Brendan Hodgson When I look at the business of PR today, I often ask both myself and my colleagues, ”when was the last time you did something truly different?”

It’s an important question because clients are looking for increasing levels of creativity in the plans and strategies we’re asked to provide. Granted, they may not act on them. But they want to know that we can think out of the box, and do so in a fashion that makes sense to their business.

Moreover, it allows consultants (particularly those new to the profession) the ability to look beyond the basics and the more traditionally-focused tactics (read ‘media’) that they learned in PR school. And when they know that they are able to expand their horizons, and do so within the context of what we’re being asked to do (meaning, with senior strategic oversight), exciting opportunities can be created.

Obviously, the best-case scenario is when our clients act on those ideas. Case in point: we’ve been privileged in recent months to work with Intel Canada on their gaming business. At the core of the strategy is Gamefaces, and driving the campaign is a focus on creating original content that we hope will resonate with gamers. And that speaks to the question I asked at the beginning of this post.  We’ve been incredibly fortunate to work with a client that get’s it – that understands the importance of “content” as table stakes. It means we now have the ability to capture and share the stuff that traditional media might not touch, but which our audiences might find both entertaining and useful, and ultimately help to re-shape perceptions. It means being able to engage real gamers in ways that might previously have never been considered in a PR context – and using the social media tools available in order to reach gamers where they go to get information.

Equally interesting, this campaign is already moving beyond Canada’s borders and – with the current Extreme Gamefaces Zero G promotion – providing the foundation for reaching audiences across North America and, potentially, globally.  

So when was the last time you did something truly different? If you haven’t, start now. Clients are asking for it.

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Don’t know who you’re talking to? Game over Thu, 30 Aug 2007 13:56:00 +0000 Brendan Hodgson Work took me to Toronto this past weekend for the World Series of Video Gaming. It was a wild event, and introduced me to a culture and community I had not been exposed to previously. The intensity and passion of gamers both amateur and professional was clearly evident. Of the event itself, there was nothing amateur about it. Professional gaming in Canada has certainly come of age – although nothing (yet) like their counterparts in South Korea or Japan.

Watching teams battling it out in the World of WarCraft 3v3 arena battle, or observing individual gamers going head-to-head (both virtually and literally) in the the Quake IV and Guitar Hero II competitions, was something else entirely. Teams strategized in the stands as they watched the competition in action. Boisterous audiences cheered on players known only by their handles. Competitions were broadcast on big screens throughout the venue. And, of course, no professional tournament (in any sport) would be complete without it’s share of controversy, be it around illegal game settings, or confusion around the rules in place to ensure a level playing field.

Ultimately, my fascination with the whole event was grounded by the re-affirmation of the importance of knowing your audience – intimately – and of filtering and channeling your messages (be they corporate, tech or otherwise) so that they speak the language your target audiences speak. It’s about understanding what motivates them and the touch points that connect them to your brand. And it’s this which reinforces the value of the web as a mechanism to build that bridge. Part of our campaign was to foster a more meaningful link (online) between our client and the gaming community, one that spoke their language, encouraged engagement on their terms, and provided valuable content. This event (we hope) was only the beginning of what will be a sustained campaign on the part of our client to interact with audiences in ways that naturally extend the traditional relationship between the two.

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Media Relations Rating Points (MRP) in Action… So What Next? Tue, 20 Jun 2006 13:51:00 +0000 Brendan Hodgson H&K Canada’s marketing communications team recently completed a very successful product launch for one of our larger clients. For this program, the team opted to use the much talked-about MRP (Media Relations Rating Points) System by which to measure cost-per-contact and overall tone of coverage.

The results, in a nutshell, are as follows:

  • Total articles/stories: 624
  • Total impressions:  123,461,315
  • Budget: $149,050.00
  • Average Tone: 4.9 out of 5
  • Average Rating: 3.5 out of 5
  • Total Score: 84%
  • Cost-per-Contact:  $0.00121

Some key take-aways:

Our definition of “success”? The client was thrilled by the result, primarily for the reason that the numbers above satisfied the requirements and expectations of the executives to which that person reported. This is important, as it speaks to my earlier comments re. mapping to the expectations of the clients themselves. If this is how they define success, then run with it.

The time and effort to load 624 articles into the system individually was considerable – days – and must be factored into how the measurement function is budgeted.

The 5 rating point criteria used for this client included:

  1. Company/brand mention
  2. Spokesperson Quote
  3. Call-to-action
  4. Key messages / product mention
  5. 50+ words in broadcast segment / print / online

The ability to directly attribute the impact of PR on sales, although highly desired, is likely difficult given that this program was undertaken in partnership with a broader ad and online campaign.

So the next question is “what do we do with this?”… Is this now the benchmark against which future campaigns with this client are measured? One would hope not as this organization launches a wide variety of products annually, some more prominent than others. In such cases, clear expectations must be established at the outset. But, overall, the positive response from the client is a clear indicator of the impact meaningful metrics can have on demonstrating the value (as determined by the client) of PR.

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Navigating the maze of client conflicts and social media… Thu, 08 Jun 2006 13:37:00 +0000 Brendan Hodgson So… try this scenario on for size… you’re a global PR agency and one office or region (let’s call it X) has been hired by a country or region representative of multinational Client A to manage PR for that region (but not others). Another office or region of the same PR agency (Y) has been hired by the country or region representative of Client B, a direct competitor to Client A, to conduct a PR campaign in region Y. In both regions, the PR counsellors advise their clients to reach out to evangelists and influencers who blog about the products that both Client A and B manufacture and sell.

Were this a traditional media outreach campaign, the issue I raise would be moot. The PR offices would conduct outreach to the business, trade and consumer media in their respective regions and life would carry on as it traditionally has.

But when you consider blogs, everything changes (or does it?). If I, in region Y, know that people who may be interested in Client B’s products rely on the insights of bloggers who hail from region X (assuming they speak the same language), then it would make sense for me to target them. But if the same bloggers are also being targeted by colleagues representing Client A… then I would think we have a problem (at least one of perception, if not worse).

If I were a prominent blogger and I received a pitch from the same PR agency for two competing clients, I’d think something was amiss… What would you think?

Is this even an issue? Is the solution, should one even be required, that PR agencies ensure pitches come from clients rather than from the PR agency itself? or Should we try to focus our efforts only on bloggers in the regions we are mandated to cover?

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Taking social media beyond product marketing… Wed, 24 May 2006 14:52:00 +0000 Brendan Hodgson This week we’re pitching/strategizing a social media program for an international client. What’s interesting is that this program does not fall into the traditional product marketing communications sphere that we normally associate such programs with.  

That my colleagues in H&K Canada who are leading this process had the vision to see, and champion, the potential for social media is encouraging and a clear demonstration that we’re collectively starting to ‘get it’ – even those in a non-marketing capacity, as there are several components to this gig that will require initiating a dialog with government and other community advocates.

The program itself will look to target a variety of blogging demographics within a specific geographic area (sorry Niall, but I do believe listening to – and targeting - bloggers in a specific geographic market does have merit), drive awareness and dialog across a variety of issue-specific themes around culture and community (near and dear to the hearts of many, particularly when large sums of money are at stake), engage people to take specific actions, while also allowing us to create more ‘meat’ for the media based on the dialog this program is seeking to initiate. We’ll also be using a micro-site by which to channel our clients messages and amplify the dialog.

I’m looking forward to seeing how the client responds to our presentation, and will be keeping my fingers crossed.

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Clients & Journalists Agree… Social Media is Important Tue, 25 Apr 2006 15:06:00 +0000 Brendan Hodgson Yeah, yeah… you know it. I know it. And a lot of people in our business are starting to know it. But it’s always nice to hear it direct from the mouths of the people we rely on to pay our bills.

Last week, H&K Canada held its national marketing communications practice meeting in Toronto to discuss trends in our business, identify new opportunities, improve our processes, enhance our creativity and explore new tools and techniques – including social media: the good, bad, and ugly, as presented by yours truly.

Kudos to the conference organizers – Kadi, you know who you are (and all your team) - for including both a client and media panel to discuss – in a frank and open manner - what exactly clients and media expect from us, how we can improve our service to them, and trends that are changing the traditional PR-Media and PR-client relationships. I think everyone in the room – including the panelists themselves – found the exchanges extremely insightful.

And from the perspective of a PR professional with responsibility for helping our clients build relationships with consumers or other audiences via the online channel, I was glad for the opportunity to hear what they had to say about PR and the Internet/social media.

Each of the client panelists — representing the mobile telecoms, beverage and not-for-profit space — emphasized the growing importance of the Web and social media in particular, both as a tool for outreach as well for ‘listening’.

Equally interesting was their acknowledgement that, as the lines of distinction between traditional PR, advertising, and interactive agencies blur in terms of roles and responsibilities, no one department or vendor has a lock on good ideas. Our clients want good, creative, and strategically sound ideas. And they don’t care where they come from. That’s something that we in PR need to consider more so now than ever, as we often find ourselves either cut out from everything but media relations, and rarely at the table when the brainstorming actually happens.

Of the media who attended the next day’s panel and who represented both the national daily print, local daily print, and network television, and when the question of blogging was asked, each of the panelists acknowledged that blogs were, without question, changing the landscape and nature of traditional journalism – both as an outreach vehicle for themselves and as a tool for listening for stories.

These are the kinds of exchanges that we need to do more often.


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The Medium IS the Message Sun, 06 Nov 2005 13:25:00 +0000 Brendan Hodgson So I am currently working with a client, one of Canada’s largest technology companies, to re-design the “company” or “about us” section of their corporate website. This activity is happening as part of an overall reputation and brand-building effort to position this company as a market, business and community leader. It is an interesting exercise, as it is challenging us to re-think how content and messaging should be structured and presented in order to achieve the desired objectives.

Most importantly, what I’ve learned through the discovery phase of this exercise is that few companies are taking full advantage of this vital section of the corporate web site to communicate their corporate messaging (vs product messaging) to stakeholders. Some are on their way — BP being an excellent example. Few are the companies, however, that go beyond putting in place the typical menu of links that collectively do little to reinforce the key drivers of that company’s reputation.

The challenge, as we see it, is not insignificant. The audiences for this section are not only existing and prospective customers. They include employees and prospective employees, media, shareholders, analysts, students, communities in which this company operates, government regulators, and others. And each of these audiences have different information needs. As a result, the focus of what you are trying to communicate can easily become more obtuse.

In addition, your typical “company” section of a corporate web site is often merely a series of links to sections of the corporate site owned by other departments — HR, IR, Legal, Marketing or others. Consequently, one faces a number of limitations in how audiences are channeled through to these various sections: internal politics and a rigid corporate style-guide being only two of the more obvious.

At the same time, however, it is important to note that this exercise was not intended to be a complete overhaul of their existing content — which was for the most part sound and “on message.” On the other hand, what was not yet considered was the implications of how these messages — if presented differently yet more cohesively, in essence as “proof points” to better substantiate and provide context to the overall positioning — might be more effectively articulated. This is where the design and navigation of the site becomes as important as the content itself. And it was in this vein that we focused our efforts.

The result of our thinking was simple, yet profound. In identifying the attributes that contributed positively to the reputation of this company, we then structured the corporate content as “proof points” supporting these over-arching attributes — be they people-driven, business-driven, or values-driven. When I look at the result now — which is still in development – I’m surprised at how obvious this outcome now appears.

Do me a favour, send along any examples you might have of “company” or “about” sections of corporate sites that you think effectively articulate the company’s vision and messages. I’d be interested in knowing what you think. And I’ll keep you posted on how the next phase of this exercise — actual deployment — unfolds.

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