Author: Nick Hill

PR CONTINUES TO BE UNDERVALUED AROUND THE BOARDROOM TABLE

PR can often be an outcast and certainly underrepresented around the boardroom table. An unnecessary investment that cuts deep into company budgets. Granted, it can be difficult to measure the true success of a PR campaign but, without developing and maintaining a positive reputation, a company’s image can be put at risk.

The public’s perception has never been so vital to a business’ success and longevity. And as technological advancements continue to merge with our daily lives, the heat of the spotlight is only set to increase even more.

So, what does this mean?

There is very little room for mistakes. Whether it’s a lack of engagement on social media, a refusal to evolve services or an inability to attract new business, garnering a negative perception can often be led to the downfall of any organisation.

But there is hope! This can all be successfully and robustly manged using an effective PR campaign.

The purpose of PR

First of all, companies must determine what they want to achieve from a PR campaign. Versatile by nature, PR campaigns can be as bespoke as needed depending on the specific objectives an organisation intends to meet.

This can be anything from launching a new product, introducing an enhanced service, promoting a special event or the desire to increase the company’s profile and build brand awareness. Gone are the days when a humble press release was the most effective way to communicate with the public. Now a strategic and proactive approach must be implemented in order for a PR campaign to be successful.

Below is a list of things to consider when putting together a public relations plan:

  • Identify target audience
  • Target trade media and journalists that are dedicated to your specialism
  • Engage with target audience through regular social media posts
  • Position yourself as an expert through thought leadership pieces
  • React and comment on topical issues within your field or area
  • Pursue industry-specific award submissions
  • Create more personal and engaging blog posts
  • Pursue interview opportunities with press
  • Create NEWSWORTHY content about your business

Compiling these points into a step-by-step process, which are then scheduled and executed accordingly, will undoubtedly help a company build towards achieving its initial objective.

It is important to remember, however, that the difference between a poor campaign and a successful campaign is the ability to tell a consistent and compelling story.

This is how companies set themselves apart from direct competitors and stay relevant in the public’s perception.

Telling the story

The foundation of a strong PR campaign will be built on a company’s key message. This needs to be constantly seen and reiterated in any content that is produced. The message can be determined by simply asking why? Why is a company rebranding; expanding the workforce; releasing a new product; investing in IT infrastructure; moving offices; and so on.

Although the newsworthy angle will be to focus on what is currently happening within that company, the underlying messaging is often the reason behind it.

For example, a fashion house may announce the launch of a new store opening that will create 25 new jobs. Although this appears to be strong, albeit relatively straight forward news story, the underlying message may be that the store opening is part of a wider expansion strategy to help the fashion house hit the £5m turnover mark in the next 12 months.

For the duration of the PR campaign, the messaging should constantly echo that the fashion house is set to grow to a £5m business. As this is shared via journalists in the press, through social media, in blogs and other available platforms, the public perception will begin to view this fashion house as a growing and ambitious brand.

Communicating the story of the business can often lead to establishing stronger relationships between customers, members of the media and stakeholders, which in turn will help build brand awareness and customer loyalty. Once a brand establishes a strong following and reputation, the longevity of success will significantly increase.

Back to the boardroom

Taking all of this into account, it could be considered foolish for those with their hands on the budgets to deny a business the opportunity to protect and build its reputation.

The truth is that when PR is embraced and used to meet with the wider objectives of a company it can have a profound impact, not only on the brand profile but also the bottom line.

For more information about how Open Communications works with businesses and brands of all sizes please call a member of the team or email info@opencomms.co.uk.

THREE KEY TIPS TO START 2020 AS A YEAR OF PROGRESS

2019 is over. Let that sink in.

The older I get the more I find myself asking the same question every time 1st December appears on the calendar. No, it’s not whether I will finally make it to Santa’s nice list but more where has the year gone?

If this sounds familiar, and you find yourself in a constant state of confusion trying to figure out how another 12 months have come and gone in a flash, then I’d recommend taking some time over the Christmas holidays to have a period of deep, self-reflection.

Whether it’s looking at the good and bad both professionally and personally, having a cathartic release at the end of the year can be an extremely powerful tool for moving forward, but only if you are truly honest with yourself.

Celebrate the successes!

If you’ve achieved new client wins, contract extensions, new hires or overall business growth, you must recognise the triumphs that your hard work has delivered. With that being said, it is equally as important to evaluate the failures. I believe that taking stock of these combined experiences allows us to learn, progress and ultimately reach our full potential.

So, before 2020 begins and we think about what we will be thinking when we sit down one year from now scratching our heads as to where another twelve months has gone, I have put together a list of my three top tips to help immerse yourself in the here and now.

  1. Journal writing

Start the new year by dedicating yourself to writing a journal or diary entry. Whether its daily, weekly or even monthly, putting pen to paper can often prompt reflection and force you to remember key experiences and moments that would have otherwise been forgotten.

Not only does this allow you to keep on track of your ongoing activity, meetings and workload, but it also can be used as a prompt to generate new ideas and strategies. Furthermore, it could act as a blueprint, outlining what has and hasn’t worked in the past which can be used to help form new decisions for the future.

  1. Monthly comparisons

Measuring progress can be done in many different forms, depending on what area of the workplace you are looking to assess. Whether it’s an analytical approach, goal oriented or from an economic perspective, comparing and contrasting your progress can indicate which areas need reviewing and which areas you are performing most strongly in.

Identifying what worked, but more importantly what didn’t work, is a practical way of assessing how you’ve either been successful or fallen short in many critical aspects of the workplace.

Becoming aware of your shortcomings, no matter how big or small, will not only help you eliminate the fear of making the same mistakes, but it will also highlight your strengths and how you’ve been able to use these to achieve success.

Once the month is over, repeated the process.

  1. Self-imposed breaks

Whether you are completing long or short  projects, reaching deadlines or simply trying to manage an increasing workload, taking a break in a busy period can often feel detrimental to your work, especially when you feel as if you are performing at a high level.

Realistically, however, you have to ask yourself how long this can be maintained before hitting the proverbial brick wall. Operating at a rapid pace will eventually leave you feeling overwhelmed, unfocused and frustrated, all of which combined will lead to a drop in overall productivity. To avoid such a scenario, we must allow ourselves to step back and take a much-needed break.

Whether its twenty minutes, an hour, a day, week, month or longer; the ability to step back, refocus and revaluate what you are trying to achieve can be such a valuable skill to have. Implementing this practise into the workplace will not only encourage you to stay mindful of your ambitions, but it will also help you understand when you are at full capacity and unable to deliver your desired end goals.

Practise what I preach

The purpose of each of all three tips is to ensure we become self-aware of our strengths and weaknesses, which then allows us to identify and address critical areas of improvement. We strive to be better today than we were yesterday, therefore we must show significant signs of growth year on year.

As we expect to get even busier in 2020 at Open Comms, I will be making sure to implement all three tips as soon as we return in January. Whether its crafting a press release, rolling out a social media campaign or securing media coverage for our growing list of clients, it is critical that I constantly work towards building on the success already achieved and improving the less developed aspects of my skillset.

‘WORKING’ IN A WINTER WONDERLAND

It’s not quite how the Christmas classic is remembered, however here at Open Comms we are less walking and more working in a Winter Wonderland!

Unique workspaces

Companies up and down the country seem obsessed with trying to come up with the latest innovative ideas to create the most unique workspaces.

Whether it’s a ping pong table, bean bags, themed break-out areas or the brightest and boldest colour schemes; the latest office trends are certainly a far cry from the more traditional desk, chair and computer.

But is designing a weird and wacky office space, which can often be unnecessary and costly, really the best way to create a positive company culture?

Productivity through place

No matter the layout or features, an office is still an office with one main function; a place where we come to work every day.

Also, could it be argued that these ‘unique’ workspaces are a distraction to employees and only likely to get in the way of their daily tasks? Can companies guarantee productivity will improve or at least remain the same?

There has never been such emphasis on the health and wellbeing of the workforce, irrelevant of the company or sector you work in, so it is understandable that these trends will start to top the to-do list for business owners.

With many organisations having undergone such drastic and expensive changes in recent years, it begs the question – are there much simpler ways to create a positive company culture that encourages people to have fun whilst also working?

Deck the halls!

This is something Open Communications does very well!

I walked into the office on Tuesday morning and was starting the day with a smile on my face. Our headquarters in Wakefield had been transformed into a festive winter wonderland.

The impact was immediate as we all embraced the Christmas spirit, gazing at the tinsel, baubles and trees that had brought the office to life and added some festive sparkle and a touch of magic in each room.

With a client list operating across a wide range of industries, daily life at Open Comms can often be fast paced and no two days are the same, so it is fair to say we are a busy bunch. But ever since our office has been immersed by Christmas decorations, there has been a renewed sense of unity and excitement among the team as we are set to finish what has been an extremely productive year.

I really do believe that celebrating occasions such as this can prove to be hugely benefit, not only to individual employees, but also to a company as a whole.

Keeping a good morale among the workplace will mean people enjoy coming to the office every morning and it adds even more anticipation to the Christmas holidays! The happier the employee, the more productive they’ll be.

We will be working hard as ever but enjoying the run up to the Christmas and New Year break surrounded by our decorations and perhaps just a glass of mulled wine and a mince pie or two!

Merry Christmas from all at Open Communications

HELP JOURNALISTS HELP YOU! A STRUCTURED GUIDE TO FORMATTING PRESS RELEASES

At Open Communications we thrive on delivering result for our clients. The impact of the PR and content marketing campaigns we produce for different brands and businesses can be measured in many ways, but none more so effectively than securing press coverage.

This is the bread and butter of PR!

There is no better way of enhancing an organisations reputation than going straight to the media. And the modest press release still remains an essential tool to make this happen!

The process behind the press release

Although press releases may appear to be straightforward documents, creating a finished article can require a lot of time and work, whether it’s producing a snappy headline; writing the perfect quote for a CEO or seeking final approval from all parties involved. It’s not as easy as it looks.

But once this is all complete, the exciting part begins.

There is no better feeling in PR than sending out a press release to the media, waiting in anticipation to see your hard work shared across multiple news outlets. Conversely, there is no worse feeling than when it doesn’t get any coverage at all.

Creating compelling content   

As journalists are inundated with dozens of press releases every day, you must give them a reason to open your email and then actually read the content inside.

Before you begin writing the press release, you must identify what the most ‘newsworthy’ angle is. This will help you form the headline and introduction to the story and, most importantly, it is what will help the journalist when deciding whether to publish the article or not.

In order to create a news ‘hook’, you need to determine why people would want to read the press release in the first place and then try to make it relevant to as many people as possible. It’s important to remember that you are not just trying to appeal to journalists, but to those who read the publication that they work for.

Newsworthy or not newsworthy that is the question

If a client was completing a significant investment into their business, we’d identify what would appeal to people and encourage them to take time out of their day to click on the article whilst also fulfilling the client’s brief.

Although it may seem obvious to lead with the value of an investment, the impact that this will have on the business may also create an appealing angle and so should not be dismissed.

Hitting the headlines

For instance, a business will want to have a press release written regarding a six-figure investment programme over a 12-month period. Instead of going with a generic investment-led press release, it is worth digging a bit deeper to ask further questions; what are they investing in? How much will the investment be? Will this lead to new job creation?

After initially starting with a story focusing on ‘business announces major investment’, the finished article will have a more enhanced angle, such as ‘x number of IT jobs created following £200,000 investment’.

When a journalist is sent the final email, they will know the story is about job creation in a growing sector following a £200,000 investment. These three aspects will have greater appeal to more media titles than before.

The regional media will be interested in covering it due to the impact the new jobs will have on the local economy; trade media will be attracted to the IT element of the story and the business media will also be pulled in the direction of the investment.

So, not only is more detail revealed about the story just in the headline, but the number of media publications interesting in publishing it will have significantly increased. Ultimately, the final piece should leave you with a newsworthy article that meets with the objectives of all concerned; agency, client and journalist.

Final thoughts

When you manage a press office for a client you can be working on multiple releases at any given time. It’s not just about the content, but as mentioned above, it’s the audience too. Writing with the reader in mind will make all the difference.

A simple tip would be to remember the basics; who, what, when, where and why? If you answer these questions within your first two paragraphs, you should be providing all the information that a journalist needs.

Putting the headline in the subject of the email and making the angle clear will signpost the journalist to exactly what you have to offer. And finally, whenever possible, send an image! The less correspondence a journalist needs to have with you the better your chances are of securing coverage.

CLICK HERE TO FIND OUT HOW OPEN COMMUNICATIONS APPROACHES MEDIA RELATIONS

DOES FLEXIBLE WORKING HELP OR HINDER CAREER PROGRESSION?

While new technological advancements continue to change the way we live our lives, the expectations we have on society constantly evolve, none more so than the way we work.

We are in the midst of a digital transformation and as result the social and economic landscape is continually changing. As part of this workplace evolution, we’ve seen the rapid growth of the gig economy; a surge in the opening of major co-working spaces; the number of start-ups reaching record levels and an increased desire for remote or flexible employment.

In addition to these innovations, our mental health and well-being has never been so valued and as a result, I believe the quest to find the perfect balance between a career and personal life is being sought after more than ever.

Organisations are already taking notice of these changes and we are seeing an increasing number of companies adapt new strategies to help meet the demands of their employees. For instance, Microsoft recently unveiled that it tested out a four-day work week in its offices in Japan for the entire month of August, without decreasing pay.

The trial project, called Work-Life Choice Challenge Summer 2019, was unsurprisingly met with an overwhelming positive response by the workers. What is particularly interesting is that productivity among the 2,300 employees rose by 40%.

What we can take away from this project is that happier employees became more efficient, and the company as a whole benefited. However, despite the large number of participants, it is important to remember that this took place over just one month and in one company. The long-term impacts of a four-day week are still relatively unknown and until further companies take that leap of faith, it is uncertain if this strategy will become a permanent fixture in the workplace.

A major trend emerging in recent years is the desire to work remotely or have the ability to work via a flexible schedule, choosing when, where and how to work on any particular day.

Although this concept was initially restricted to specific roles and industries, companies from a wide range of sectors are now more accepting, allowing employees to enjoy more freedom than ever before.

According to recent research compiled by Instant Office, flexible workspace now amounts to more than 85 million square feet of the UK office market.

With an increasing number of people opting to work from home or shared co-working spaces, there is a lot more pressure being put on the employer to introduce flexible working within their business model.

But at what cost?

As well as all the advantages that comes with digitalisation, there is unfortunately an element of risk. Cyber-attacks and data breeches are on the rise, and the exposure of companies only widens when assets are scattered in different locations.

The security measures implemented within an office will be much more robust than those at home or on a public wi-fi network. As a result, remote or flexible workers are not only more likely to become victims of cyber-attacks, but the companies they are working for are also in danger.

I believe this is where trust becomes such an integral part of this process. Not only trusting the employee to carry out day-to-day activities at an efficient rate, but to also have the confidence to know that they will protect themselves and the employer from any potential threats.

This can be achieved through a thorough communication strategy that keeps both parties constantly up-to-date and aware of any critical changes. With that being said, we have to question if the responsibility still falls on the employer to ensure staff have the correct security systems in place to help them work remotely.

Although the changing trends of the way we work show no signs of slowing down, I believe it will be sometime before we see the workplace become completely flexible. There are too many variables to determine why or when companies should implement flexible working into their model.

Does the size of the company play a role? Does it depend on the nature of the work or industry they are in? Does flexible work offer the solution for a perfect work-life balance?

Digitalisation is changing the workplace, but to what extent is still unknown.

MEDIA RELATIONS: WHEN PRESS AND PR PROFESSIONALS COLLIDE

Now that I have completed six months of agency life, I feel fairly confident in saying that I am much more settled into my PR role following a rather steep learning curve. The transition from journalism to PR is without a doubt a challenging one to undertake!

The varied nature of working in PR can be extremely rewarding, exciting and educational, but consequently it is also a demanding job that constantly pushes me on a daily basis. It may be no surprise, however, that the biggest adjustment I’ve had to make is learning how to navigate the delicate intricacies of media relations.

With the emergence of ‘Fake News’, the instant ability to share information across social media and a gradual decrease in the number of working journalist, it could be argued that the art of ‘selling’ a press release or news story to the media is no longer a necessity. However, as someone who has experienced this process from both sides of the tracks, I can’t emphasise enough that it can still be extremely valuable.

Like many industries across the globe, journalism has been forced to evolve and adapt due to the ongoing digital transformation. As a result, however, a lot less journalists are working but a lot more content is being created. So, journalists are busy to say the least. I still vividly remember the dreaded feeling of opening up my inbox on a morning to discover that 300+ emails have found their way inside, and only to scour my way through to discover that less than half are of any relevance at all. It is just time wasted.

On the other side of the conversation, I’ve also experienced the hard work that goes into the process of getting a press release across to the journalist. As a PR professional, I write the copy, send over to the client and wait for feedback, make further amendments, get final approval and then find a photograph. But once again, this could all be time wasted if I just send across an email, hoping that the journalist will choose to open it amid all the unwanted spam they receive throughout the day!

The easiest remedy to for this painful process consists of two very simple steps.

First of all, never send a press release early in the morning; journalists are far too preoccupied with checking stock market listings; checking any overnight breaking news announcements; collating stories they covered the day prior and sending out the daily email newsletter to their list of loyal subscribers.

This is a critical time for a journalist, and unfortunately, if the press release being sent across doesn’t solve Brexit, then it isn’t going to get a look in. Following this is their time to annihilate the inbox, where journalists will be red faced and at risk of suffering with a repetitive finger injury from clicking delete repeatedly.

So, I always try to send a press release either late in the morning or early afternoon, as this can often be their calmest part of the day.

Secondly, which I believe is the single-most important element of this entire process, is picking up the phone and speaking with a journalist either before or after the press release is sent over.

Despite what journalists may say, I always found this extremely useful as it immediately directed me to an email/press release which I may have otherwise missed. Additionally, this also gives the journalist to ask any specific questions about the story, which could prove to be crucial to getting it published.

If nothing else, speaking on the phone at least gives you chance to develop relationships with members of the press for any future opportunities which may arise. As well as promoting your clients as reliable contacts for the media, you should also work to establish your agency as a reputable and reliable source. So pick up the phone!!!

YORKSHIRE PASSION PACKAGED DIFFERENTLY

I’ve always felt passionate about being from Yorkshire. The distinct accent, rich history, beautiful scenery and, of course, a plentiful choice of pubs are just a few of the many reason why our region really does deserve the moniker ‘God’s Own County’.

As the biggest county in the UK, Yorkshire is home to numerous towns, villages and several major cities, which are all supported by a diverse and growing economy. The region is without question a hotbed for all different kinds of activity.

But one major aspect of Yorkshire that can be overlooked is its vast cultural offering, and the beating heart of this is arguably situated in the district of Wakefield.

Although culture may not be synonymous with this area, this past summer I attended a unique event which is aiming to promote the many different venues, businesses and experiences across Wakefield and the five towns through the impact of providing a positive customer service.

Hosted by the Wakefield Cultural Consortium, the collective of cultural venues and organisations from across the district, the Yorkshire Passion programme comprised two short plays and a film written by globally acclaimed playwright, John Godber.

The first part of the play saw three actors perform a variety of roles in a production that centred around the awful customer service someone experienced during their first visit to Wakefield. After having negative experiences with the district’s taxi drivers, hotel staff, museum tour guides and café owners, the first-time visitor pledged never to visit the area again.

In what was an extremely entertaining and well-acted performance, John Godber and the actors cleverly demonstrated how the people who live and work in the district play a major role in the promotion of the area.

The district currently attracts 8 million visitors that contribute £448 million to the local economy each year, supporting no fewer than 8,000 jobs. These figures are supported through the cultural destinations of Wakefield, which include the The Hepworth Wakefield, Yorkshire Sculpture Park, the National Coal Mining Museum for England, Theatre Royal Wakefield, Xscape Yorkshire and The Art House, to name a few.

The success of these organisations depends on the number of visitors they attract. The programme suggested that if a consistently high level of customer service is provided, this will not only encourage visitors to come back, but also attract new people to the district.

With that being said, the second part of the play saw the three actors play the exact same roles, but this time the first-time visitor experienced extremely positive customer service. The play clearly showed how this visitor was satisfied with his trip to Wakefield and will look to return in the not too distant future.

The message was clear, the people who live and work in Wakefield need to act as ambassadors for their district and show off all that it has to offer.

For someone who has lived in this district all his life, I had no idea that there was such a rich and diverse mix of cultural destinations on offer.

PHYSICAL AND MENTAL HEALTH: HOW I BALANCE BOTH IN THE WORKPLACE

With the final quarter of the year fast approaching I thought it would be an appropriate time for me to conduct a self-assessment over what has been a very busy 2019, not only professionally but also on a personal level too.

As I write this, I’ve almost surpassed the five-month mark since making the switch from journalism into PR, and it is safe to say I have learned an enormous amount in a relatively short but very enjoyable and rewarding time.

There is undoubtedly always going to be an element of the unknown when you begin a new career, but any fears or trepidations were quickly defused after I realised that Open Communications is a very ambitious and aspiring place to work. This was encapsulated after only a few months when we completed a move to a much larger office in Wakefield city centre.

As well as the many opportunities I am being given to maintain and develop my skills, the relocation to the new office also presented me with the chance to maximise something that is very important to me; my health and wellbeing.

Although I have always been a relatively active person, year after year my gym membership becomes less worn, sitting unused in my wallet. The dedication to stick to routine whilst also managing a career, and more recently moving to a new house, has somehow managed to elude me. However, this all changed when we rehoused to our new workspace.

I am now a member of a gym that is literally a couple of minutes-walk away from our offices and at least three times a week I try to complete a full workout within my lunch hour. Despite only keeping to this schedule for a few short months, I didn’t expect to feel such a positive impact so early on!

Not only am I back on track with my own personal fitness goals, but I also feel mentally refreshed and reinvigorated when I return to my desk to begin a full afternoon of work.

I initially joined this city centre gym with the idea that I don’t have to worry about working out before or after work, when I’m often far too tired! But I had no idea my new routine would become such an important and integral part of my daily routine, for both personal and professional reasons.

If anyone can get out in their lunch hour or during a break time, I would highly recommend a trip to the gym. I know it doesn’t sound appealing to all, but my new outlook is just one example of how beneficial it really can be.