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three things

James Hoggan is the owner and founder of Hoggan & Associates, an award-winning Vancouver-based public relations and corporate communications agency. Known for his work and expertise on sustainability and the environment, Mr. Hoggan serves as chair of the David Suzuki Foundation and as chair of the Canadian chapter of Al Gore's organization, the Climate Project.

How is 2010 shaping up?

It was a bit slow in Vancouver right around the time of the Olympics, just because of the type of business we do. But after that ended, business has been growing steadily, so it's a good year. We're happily further into the black than last year.

We work with so many different industries, from retail to food to heavy industry to oil sands companies to government to hydro – the list goes on. So the public relations industry is not always subject to the same kinds of downturns that other industries are because of our broad base. When industries have problems, that's when we're busier.

Have you used technology in a new way for your business this year?

We started to blog on our website, which is something we hadn't done before. I've written a number of books on PR, so we use the blog to provide our clients with helpful information, research and tips. It allows us to share things we learn with our clients, and they really like it. The blog also helps in recruiting by attracting good people as potential employees because it shows how we think about communications issues.

What advice do you have for business on communications?

Business needs to get used to speaking with a human voice rather than a corporate voice. Part of that is an important business need to actually connect with the people you do business with, whether it's your customers, employees, potential employees or the public. Genuineness is a rare thing today. If people see that you're genuine, that gives you a business advantage. I know that sounds simple and very common sense, but it's simple in explanation, rare in practice. People need to stop the PR and start to speak like human beings, even if they're the CEO of a big company.

Part of that is learning how to host the more difficult conversations. A good example of not being able to do that is the CAPP (Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers) campaign right now on the oil sands. Here you seem to have a point of view from the industry that this is really a misunderstanding – that we need to get out there to explain this to people. I think that's an underestimation of people's intelligence and understanding of these issues. A lot of Canadians know that the oil sands do have a big environmental impact. Industry would be much better advised to spend its resources on hosting the more difficult conversations around our future rather trying to defend the status quo.

In my own industry, becoming very, very good at what you do, knowing what you stand for and being good at writing are critical. I think so few of us really know how to write. Work hard at learning the basics, developing those skills which will help in your job such as being able to pick up a file and understand the issues from top to bottom. Ultimately, your success will also be determined by what you stand for – what you will and won't do in the name of corporate public relations.

There are a number of us in our industry who will just do communications for whomever, on whatever. In this day and age, that's not a very good idea. You need to be asking yourself some tough questions about the right and wrong of various types of businesses and the things that they do. Ask yourself who you actually want to work for; what are the things you'd like to do. People communicate much better on things that feel strongly about and are committed to. That's the root of good communication.