Although this sudden need for a conscience had to come at the worst of times, i.e. this global recession we’ve found ourselves in, it’s good to see how people are becoming more accountable for waste and excess.

The Globe and Mail published two articles today to this effect. One discussed the efforts of the wealthy to cut back on luxury item spending, or even go so far as to hide it from the general public for want of showing good form at a time like this. The other discussed the decision for Environics Communications, a Toronto-based public relations agency, to be “the first North American public relations agency to become carbon neutral,” according to its president and CEO, Bruce MacLellan.

On both accounts it is clear to see that people are becoming more aware of the changing environment around them and are doing their part to conserve where possible. It is messages in the media like these that are encouraging, and will communicate to it’s readers how each little bit counts.

Sometimes some news is good news!

It’s a shame that I should be ranting during such a festive and happy time of year, but the recent events have got my blood boiling and it seems that the only way I can defuse my frustration is to write. I’ve chosen to make this writing public because I feel everyone should be made aware of this trend. It may have happened to you. Perhaps we can make enough noise together to put a stop to it.  I’d also like to present this as a case study of just how poor a company’s public relations can be. 

I’m talking about Air Canada with its shockingly inadequate customer relations and poor, if not down right despicable, service. The people at Zoom can also be accused of having had this same issue, but their bad deeds caught up with them last summer when they filed for bankruptcy (and, based on my prior experience with them, I can’t say I feel bad about that). 

My lost-luggage experience with Zoom came back to haunt me when Air Canada did the same, only this time it was on a direct, domestic, three-hour flight. I’m not quite sure how luggage can go missing on a flight involving no transfers no international dealings, and a relatively short time span, but Air Canada found a way to do it. Of course, the missing bag was the cherry on top. Well before that final blow, I endured their poor organization, lack of services, and sub-standard customer care. 

Let’s start with the check-in process. I took the time to check in online the night before to avoid lining up and contributing to congestion. I arrived early the next morning and found that there was no special web check-in line, so I had to line up with everyone else for the next 40 minutes. No problem, it’s just 40 minutes, I thought, and knowing what it’s like to work in customer service, I took that into consideration. I got to the counter and submitted my information to the check-in person. I put my name and number on the small flimsy paper baggage tag they provided and dutifully attached it to the handle of my luggage. I could only hope that the check-in person attached the right baggage ticket, if at all.

I arrived at my destination, and lo and behold, my luggage failed to do the same. What’s worse is that apparently the Air Canada “system” was down, so I was sent away after writing my information on a scrap piece of paper and being told that I would be contacted once the luggage came in. None of this was reassuring, but I maintained positivity, trying not to ruin my first moments of a family visit.

That was three days ago. Initially, I had the opportunity to speak to two different call centre representatives from a seemingly remote call centre. They responded to all of my concerns and questions with despondent, rehearsed and unsympathetic statements that offered no real direction, showed no initiative, and provided no resolution. Something along the lines of “there’s nothing we can do.” That was the last time I spoke to an actual person.

Over the next two days, I called that same number several times. I could get no further than an automated message that said “We’re transferring your call,” and then the phone disconnected. Eventually, the automated message devolved into a busy signal, as if the phone had been left off the hook. I tried the main Air Canada number–a constant busy signal yet again. There were no alternate numbers to call(Those were the only two numbers provided). The airport information desk didn’t even have phone numbers. Eventually, I did get a call from the Air Canada baggage handling desk at the airport, which lifted my spirits, only to have them crushed when the caller provided no useful information, insisting on what was, essentially, a “Don’t call us, we’ll call you” policy. 

At that point I tried to decide what was worse: the missing luggage (and this was the second time–the first time, I never did get it back from Zoom) or the fact that I couldn’t speak to anyone to find out ANYTHING. There was no one to tell me whether my luggage was delayed, lost, arrived, or never sent. No one tell me whether the system was back up or not. No one to tell me how long this ordeal would take. No one to tell me what I should do in the meantime. And to top it off, no compensation offered for this inconvenience. 

In the end I am left helpless and there’s nothing I can do. I am at the mercy of the Air Canada gods who hold the fate of my luggage in their hands. I feel helpless because I’m not getting any answers or information. Air Canada doesn’t seem to care about effective communication with their customers. 

What kind of company causes (repeatedly) such a disruption by leaving thousands of their customers inconvenienced, and then avoids the repercussions completely by disconnecting their customer service outlets? Is this how they deal with crisis? Is this the kind of message they want to relay to the public? “We’ll put you out, and then ignore you.” How can Air Canada expect to maintain any kind of reputable image to the public if they consistently let their customers down with poor service, mishandling of customers’ personal belongings, and non-existent customer support?

Air Canada is notorious for bad service and they remain silent, indeed absent, when the mob raises its fist in outrage. Perhaps they do this simply because they can? They are, after all, one of only two airlines operating across Canada. This speaks to the way they handle their public and their communications, or lack thereof. Should a company care what image they portray to their public if they are virtually a monopoly? Does the crap ever hit the proverbial fan for companies in this position?

We’ll have to wait and see (and I’ll keep hoping that my luggage arrives in the meantime).

By: Alana DaSilva

Posted by: amdasilva | November 13, 2008

Social media is thriving

Last night, my college put on an event, notably dubbed an “un-conference,” called Talk is Cheap. I had volunteered to host one of the discussion rooms, and I was fortunate enough to have the segment “Digital Snippets” in that room.

Lead by Kevin DeKock, it was a discussion about social media press releases. Just a few weeks prior I was at CNW, and there I learned what a social media release was, so luckily I had a bit of background knowledge going in. Kevin, who works at Social Media Group (SMG), used Ford (one of their clients) as an example to demonstrate the capabilities of a social media release, and it was all very impressive.

What I found most impressive is how easy it is to maneuver through the different features and get the necessary information, that in turn effectively delivers the intended messages to their audience. Had I not asked the question sooner, at CNW, as to why press releases don’t just come in this form, I would have inquired. But the truth is, as Parker Mason, Web Content Specialist at CNW, pointed out, the traditional press release is still very much a necessity for some journalists.

What I also found interesting is that such applications, that I always considered to be for leisurely purposes only, like Flickr and YouTube, are commonly used in today’s business as forms of disseminating information to the media, their audiences, clients, etc.

My, how the world has evolved.  

By: Alana DaSilva

Posted by: amdasilva | February 16, 2008

best to start with what’s dear to my heart

Okay, so it’ s been a while since my last entry (geez I sound like I’m in the confession booth). I used to think I was pretty internet savvy until I started the Online PR class. It turns out I am like an aged dinosaur wavering on the periphery of cyberdom. So, needless to say my enthusiasm to delve into the unknown has left me feeling a little reluctant like those trips your parents tell you’re going on to convince you into the car, and then you realize you’ve just arrived at the dentist. I know I know it can’t be that bad. After all my initial blog states that I found it quite painless. Yeah, well that was my first entry.

A motivator perhaps would be to talk about things which I hold dear to my heart. Unfortunately, none are PR related and that’s the name of the game with this blog. The Catch: Getting exposure into social media is great, and I have my PR course to thank for that, however my assignment to set up and maintain this blog involves some relevance. And rightly so. It would be nice to talk about anything I like, but who would care?

Therefore, I thought an appropriate segway would be to talk about modes of communication, or lack there of,  in PR. Social media, as I learned in class, is the new wave of communication in the PR industry. To me, this seems like a natural progression for communication specialists. In fact, I would expect for such an industry to be at the very helm of such technological breakthroughs especially since even a nine year old can manoevre such media as the YouTubes, Facebooks, and MySpaces of the world with remarkable ease.

In doing a little background research for this entry I came across an online article written a few years back by Rich Ord on “Blogging for PR.” In it he talks a little about why it’s good to blog for PR. A few of the things he mentioned are, it’s a good way to gain exposure, it brings you closer to the client, and it peeks interest of the media (he noted that journalists are reading and writing blogs more and more). One thing he said that stuck out was, “Writing a blog is one way to establish yourself as a “thought leader“. A blog will help you become thought of as an expert in your field.”

This definitely rings true with the few blogs I’ve read by leaders in the industry, like Richard Edelman, President and CEO of Edelman. I often find his blogs to be very insightful, and filled with useful information on the topic at hand. His most recent entry from February 13th discusses how mainstream media is getting tuned up and tuned into blogging more and more. He noted, “Blogging is a key part of the strategy, with nearly 20 of the reporters as regular bloggers.” Edelman’s main focus was that such a “continuum” matters because Generation Y (now set to take over the boomers in lead roles in the corporate world and who are probably the biggest group with buying power) is tapped into the media moreso online then print. Edelman stated, “I learned that on a Sunday morning, Gen Yers are inclined to sit on their beds checking out news on a wireless basis.” This is what makes it key for journalists to be tapped into social media by being “in the blog conversation” and create print media for the web.

What I like most about Richard Edelman’s posts is his ability to discuss relevant and current topics and provide a bigger-picture summary of how PR is related. In this particular entry he concluded, “As accountability media asserts its credibility based on resources, experience and excellence of team, it is important for PR to involve regular people through social media to provide observations that humanize and connect, so that the ‘voice of authority’ is friend and confidante. In this light, PR must facilitate the links to experiences while providing authoritative background material that can improve the conversation.”

 While PR and media industry professionals race to the pinnacle of public awareness and trends there are some aspects of PR that should learn from others. In early February there was an article in the Toronto Star that discussed the Federal governments ‘mis’communications. It was regarding Canada’s involvment in the Afghan mission. There are a series of conference calls amongst senior officials several times a week to discuss the future in Afghanistan for Canadian soldiers. The reporter wrote, “…the phone calls are a key part of Ottawa’s public relations campaign for handling the issues and problems that surround the mission. But as communications campaigns go, this group hasn’t been doing a very good job.” Sandra Buckler, the prime minister’s director of communications, for instance, is an occasional participant in these conversations.

A governement insider is quoted, “While the high-level teleconferences are ostensibly held to improve communications, it often becomes an excercise in keeping a lid on information. It’s not about communications. It’s about keeping the press gallery at bay. The official ended with this statement, “Governement is no longer in the communications business.” How can this be? While one side of the communications spectrum is forging ahead in rapidly evolving public forums, the other is slowly backing away and silencing the slightest murmur. I realize that many political issues are very touchy and it takes the right strategy and skill to communicate the necessary information but to remain silent altogether? I don’t know enough about Governmental PR to say much more on the subject. But, perhaps a little more effort is required. More then Stephen Harper’s pledge to “do better.”

Alana DaSilva

Posted by: amdasilva | January 31, 2008

Hello world!

Although the title is a default I think it’s quite fitting. With the exception of one previous attempt this is officially my first blog.

I was very reluctant at first which is odd for me because I am always open to learning new things and exploring. But the task of setting it up, learning things like HTML coding, and worst of all constant maintenance had me running in the other direction momentarily. However, there’s nothing like the pressure of being assigned this task as a school project that will be graded to get that motivation pumping. Even though I was initially forced into venturing into this new world, now that I’ve started to settle in a bit, like most other things that involve leaving comfort zones and familiarity to try it, it ended up being pretty good—and fun!

The best part of all is in order to get a feel for what a blog should be like I felt inclined to read a few. And reading blogs pretty much springboard you into becoming a blogger. The more you read the more material you have to write about. Not only was I getting tips on what a blog should be like, or not be like, I was getting inspired by topics that I want to explore and write about too!

So, this is how it all started, and now here I am. I look forward to where this will take me and what I will learn from it. (Thanks Gary!). I’ve breached the surface of cyberspace, opened the door to social media, and took a front row seat for the blogging journey. Hello world indeed!

 Alana DaSilva