The Knowledge Tree Grows


Source: Sylvie van Hulle

My Public Relations Fundamentals class has come to an end today. It culminated with a strategic plan presentation to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. Our class was divided into 5 “agencies” that had to pitch their ideas to representatives of the Museum. It was an exciting opportunity within the class framework to present a real life scenario to an organization; that doesn’t happen very often. It was even more exciting to see all the creative ideas generated from the groups. Inspiring.

Working on this project and being in this class has taught me some very important lessons that I will carry forward into my professional career.

Hit the pavement

When researching, the internet and libraries are typically important, reliable, and let’s face it, somewhat easy resources of information. What happens if the information you find is several years old? It may no longer be relevant to your situation. It’s crucial that you find other ways to get the information you are looking for. That may mean getting out on the streets, talking to people to learn about public opinion that is current. Surveys, if you ask the proper questions, can provide a wealth of information quickly. When working on our project, I was surprised to see how many people were willing to help us out in our research. Don’t be afraid to get out there and ASK.

Let go of the ego

Working in groups on a project, brainstorming together to come up with, what you hope will be, the BEST IDEA EVER, can be challenging. Not all your ideas will be considered viable and that’s ok – the end goal is to come up with what’s best for the situation. Think it ends there? Not necessarily. Just when you think your group has come up with the perfect plan, you might get feedback from your client or your boss (in our case, instructor) that it’s not suitable. It doesn’t have the right tone, the right fit, the right message, the right whatever – it’s just not quite right.  So, it’s back to the drawing board. Don’t get discouraged, don’t take it personally. It may hurt for a moment, but it can spur you on to achieving something even greater.

Details, Details, Details

Developing a strategic plan is not just about having a great tactic or a great key message or using the right media platforms. It’s about making sure all the elements in your plan fit tightly together. It’s like putting together a puzzle. You might have all the pieces you need: research analysis, objectives, a target audience, a strategy, key messages, tactics, a budget, a timetable, and evaluation metrics. BUT… Do they fit together? Do they make sense? Is your key message suitable for your audience? Does your budget reflect your plan? Will your tactics help you achieve your strategy? Will your evaluation metrics measure the success of your objectives? And so on. Just like putting together a puzzle, sometimes when you are too close or focused too much on one part,  it’s hard to see the whole picture. It’s important to take a step back and look at the overall work. Ask someone else to review it with fresh eyes if you want a second opinion. It’s always good to do a final edit (or two) to ensure you’ve considered all the details that will make your plan cohesive

Play nicely with others

My final key takeaway from this class is the importance of being a team player. We were taught this at a young age when our parents told us to play nicely with others, and yet as adults, it doesn’t always happen when working in groups. It never fails to surprise me. Thankfully, I was working with a great group of women who were very supportive. We didn’t always agree on ideas, but we were always respectful. Other groups didn’t fare so well. In life, we can’t always work alone, in fact that rarely happens. We need other people to get stuff done. In order to work well with others, RESPECT is required. Be respectful of people’s feelings, ideas, working styles, communication styles, time, and deadlines. Appreciate your differences. Everyone brings a different skill set to the table and it’s important to recognize and harness it. Those differences make your team richer.

One last thought. LAUGH. Always try to have fun.


Have a crazy idea? Go for it!

photo courtesy of The Forks

photo courtesy of The Forks

Have you ever had an idea for a public relations campaign where everyone around you was saying: “You’re nuts, it won’t work”? Well, your crazy idea might just turn out to be a pivotal moment for your company, product, or brand.

Recently over coffee, I had the pleasure of speaking with my friend Clare MacKay, Vice President of Communications and Marketing for The Forks North Portage, who shared with me her crazy idea for a public relations campaign that, as she says, “changed people’s perception of winter in Winnipeg”.

Many people consider The Forks to be a great summer destination because of  the riverwalk, shops, restaurants, and attractions. How do you make this hip summer place the hot spot to visit in the dead cold of winter? Even more challenging, how do you do it on a shoestring budget?

Answer: Get listed in the Guinness Book of World Records.

photo courtesy of The Forks

photo courtesy of The Forks

One day, it dawned on Clare that they could apply to have The Forks river skating trail declared the longest ice skating trail in the world. She recognized that this would be an effective PR tool to “maximize exposure of the trail while spending very little money”. In fact, the total cost to get the trail assessed and approved was $6000.

Normally, the Guinness World Record process, from start to finish, can take several months to a year. With hard work, Clare and her team were able to fast track it so they could have a media event surrounding the measurement of the trail and then three weeks later hold a press conference surrounding the certification of the record in early 2008.

The city of Ottawa, a long-time rival claiming to have the largest ice skating trail, soon got wind of this certification resulting in national exposure by many media outlets. In addition to local media, the campaign has been featured in the Ottawa Citizen, the Toronto Sun, Maclean’s, Canadian Living, Air Canada’s EnRoute, and WestJet’s Up!.

Every winter since 2008, The Forks continues to get media attention due to the rivalry with Ottawa’s Rideau Canal. The total earned media from all this is estimated at $1.1 million. The Forks is now a cool place to go in the winter, with many people taking pride in being able to say they skated the whole 8.54 km trail. In 2012, 45,000 pairs of skates were rented at The Forks.

Not bad for a crazy idea and a small budget.

As a soon-to-graduate PR student, I asked Clare for her top tips in approaching campaigns. These are her recommendations:

  1. Try everything once.
  2. Plan, but be flexible and adaptable to changes.
  3. Learn how to pitch to the sponsors who can help provide funding.
  4. Use PR every step of the way during a campaign. Don’t wait until the end to celebrate and promote what you achieve.
  5. The idea doesn’t have to be big to be good.

After listening to her story, I have one of my own to add: Don’t be afraid to think outside the box.

Thanks for sharing your knowledge and inspiring me, Clare.