Category: Blog

SOCIAL MEDIA SHOULD NOT EXCUSE RUDENESS

adults-casual-cellphone

Billions of pounds have been spent to allow people to converse and communicate freely with each other, to share ideas and challenge concepts, to share thoughts and to learn, to create hope, generate support and nurture a space where everyone can have a voice.

What an incredibly positive and powerful movement.

Well yes, in theory, however in practice the irony is that it has become a growing beast and is being used for anything other than what it was intended*.

Hiding behind a screen

Social media is now a default position that gives anyone the ‘right’ to hide behind a screen and moan, bitch, shame, stir nastiness and share hatred. It is used to reach the masses with fake news and boastful claims and make others feel inferior at best and suicidal at worst.

Many will argue that this isn’t the case and that there is a lot of good that has come from social media tools. In part, I agree, but when reading the papers over recent weeks the truth is there in black and white.

Two recent headlines from the i newspaper as an example: “Depression and social media risk doubled in girls” and “Black Mirror star quits social media”.

The first refers to a study, which has found that teenage girls are twice as likely to shows signs of depression linked to social media than boys. The University College London has looked at the association between social and depression and the results are far from surprising.

The second headline quotes an actor, Will Poulter, who says: “In light of my recent experience I am choosing to take a step back, of sorts, from Twitter. I accept all criticisms and it’s been a delight to learn that so many of you enjoyed what many people worked very hard to produce. As we all know there is a balance to be struck in our engagements with social media.” He has been referred to as ugly by ‘trolls’ on the platform.

Let’s just take a step back.

Two articles which announce that young people are commonly experiencing signs of depression due to their use (and the misuse by their peers) of social media and a successful actor who can no longer watch in silence as he is torn to pieces by people who have no greater right to comment on this person’s appearance as he does on theirs.

When did this become ok? When was this headline hitting news? And, most importantly, when are we going to start to encourage the use of social media platforms for what they were intended – not to rant and rave in order to have a knowingly negative impact, but to share positive news and to become a platform to communicate for the right reasons.

Bringing it back to business

It would be unfair to ignore the fact that social media channels including Twitter, Facebook and Instagram have provided brands with a platform to promote their products to a global audience and that increasingly intelligent algorithms allow for more specific targeting than has ever been possible.

The questions is the same however, at what cost?

Irrelevant of the budget, thought, creativity and man-hours that go into social campaigns it would appear that increasingly they are coming under the same scrutiny as any social engagement with people feeling that their negative and nasty comments should be shared and somewhat bizarrely responded to.

What many people that work outside of marketing may not appreciate is that it still takes people to respond to social media posts and they, like those complaining or sharing their ‘constructive thoughts’, have feelings.

I have seen some appalling examples of people who think that because they are hidden behind a computer screen can make the most terrible comments and expect a response within minutes.

Firstly, no brand – whatever the size – has a legal obligation to get back to a consumer because they feel they are worthy of that engagement. Secondly, if you are that kind of person, think about how you phrase a complaint and then consider how you would respond given the chance.

I have said this before and I will say it again, if you are posting to a social media channel for whatever reason, if you wouldn’t walk into the street and make those comments out loud then think twice and even three times before posting them.

You do not have the right to be rude

Social media does not give anyone the right to be rude.

For those who go on thinking its ok and that to be outwardly aggressive to the people on the other side of that Twitter, Instagram feed or Facebook account, I urge you to think about how you will feel when your child, partner, friend or family member comes home in tears from school, college or work.

Remember, if your behaviour is reflective of a bully – even when targeted at a brand – you are no better than the people that are directing the same hate filled bilge to your loved ones.  

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*We know that there was a commercial rationale for all of these platforms and they were not based on a philanthropic endeavour to allow freedom of speech or communication across the globe. But for the purpose of this blog, let’s just assume that was the case.

SOCIAL MEDIA VS TRADITIONAL MEDIA: WHAT’S THE STORY?

Social-Media-Marketing-vs-Traditional-Marketing

It’s used by everyone from busy-bodies to businesses, politicians to pet pooches and, as the Guardian recently reported, even GCHQ has gotten in on the act.

The question remains, what is it that makes social media so different to the traditional channels we were once used to, and how can effective management of online communications platforms and apps positively impact upon a company’s bottom line?

For many organisations social media is an essential medium through which to communicate messages, form the level of personality which sets a brand apart from its competitors and provides a way in which relationships are built, and subsequently maintained, with consumers.

Whilst there is, undoubtedly, some crossover between the benefits that social media and traditional channels offer, using a combination of the two approaches will ensure that a brand’s message reaches the widest audience in the most fitting manner.

Round 1: sharing news

In today’s busy world we are surrounded by marketing messages at every turn. Whether it’s a text on a mobile phone, a red light whilst driving or an advertising billboard, each method communicates a message, but in a distinctly different way.

In the same way that these mediums differ, so too does the sharing of news from traditional and social media.

Here are two theoretical examples:

  1. Pet Pooch Apparel secures lucrative contract with leading retailer (alongside an image of the company’s directors outside the business’ headquarters)

vs

  1. It’s been a woofing good day here at Pet Pooch Apparel; with one wag of a fluffy tail we’ve made it rain ‘puppy style’ (insert picture of puppy in raincoat)

Example 1 is the type of headline that you’d see on a typical business news platform. Short, snappy and to the point. This message takes a professional tone, which is in-keeping with the readership of such a site. This type of media coverage raises the profile of a business and its achievements; building credibility by association as a result of appearing on a well-known business platform.

On the other hand, example 2 could feature on ‘Pet Pooch Apparel’s’ social media channels and, as such, takes a far more colloquial tone which communicates the personality of the brand. Featured alongside a link, which allows the reader to go directly to a page that features the product, this version of the same news is likely to attract a different reader and, therefore, should be posted in a way that will appeal to them.

Whilst the focus of a business story is primarily building the credibility of a business, the objective of social media channels is to build a relationship with the people who actually buy the products.

Whilst being on the radar of every large organisation within the region has its benefits, most companies will have competitors just around the corner and this makes the importance of creating a brand which appeals to buyers increasingly important.

The truth is that having a strong brand, personality and tone of voice is often the one thing that sets a business apart during a customer’s decision-making process.

In these examples it’s clear to see how each version of news has a distinct purpose. By shifting the focus of the story from a purely business mindset, to a form more likely to be considered engaging to the everyday social media user, the reach of the story can be broadened to appeal to a much wider audience.

Round 2: engaging with the customer

In what I’d envisage to be a fun and trendy business like ‘Pet Pooch Apparel’, magazines and consumer-focused publications are likely to be a part of any PR strategy.

Achieving coverage in this type of media would be the best way to raise the profile of the business amongst potential customers, whilst building the familiarity and trust necessary to achieve repeat sales and encourage loyalty.

However, though companies can submit a press release which is full of personality and is reflective of the brand’s values, this messaging is often significantly diluted when it finally finds its way into a publication.

As a result, relying entirely on media coverage from magazines to communicate with your customers and build your brand is a steady process which does not happen overnight. Instead, through a long-term strategy which targets the relevant magazines at the most appropriate times it will deliver results.

Yet, combine this approach with a stream of interesting, insightful blogs and quirky social media posts, and the whole process becomes much less sporadic and a lot more likely to yield quicker results.

Increasing the comments, likes and excitement surrounding your latest post, is a sure-fire way to gain fans and, with new followers, comes a wider audience with which to share your new products, services and offers.

On the other hand, we must consider that with a busy social media channel comes a certain amount of maintenance. With the ‘always on’ appeal of online apps, comes the potential for a large number of comments which shoppers increasingly expect will be replied to. This gives additional opportunity to stay ‘on brand’ by responding in a light-hearted manner but also takes a great deal of time and effort.

For example:

Question – Which accessories would you recommend for a Yorkshire terrier?

Possible response – Trendy or traditional, we’re sure that your terrier would appreciate this tweed flat cap! With his Yorkshire roots, we know he’ll feel right at home. Don’t forget to let us know what he thinks 😉

Round 3: the thrill of the chase

There’s no denying that coverage in the newspaper, a magazine or on a prestigious online platform feels infinitely more rewarding than simply posting on a company blog or social media channel.

Moreover, the uncertainty that accompanies the process of pitching a story to a publication and then waiting to see whether it appears, enhances the feeling of excitement when you do secure that much awaited coverage.

Once you’ve secured a story that even your mum would be proud of, you’ll most likely want to shout it from the rooftops! Well, once again, this is where social comes in and can be used as a platform to maximise your message and audience reach.

Round 4: consistency is key

It’s not always possible to rely on editorial coverage, for example your story may get bumped by a huge national crisis, and that is why a business should use its own channels to post the message to its audience and upload the news that they have to share.

Though it won’t happen overnight, regular posts and insights, consistent messaging and well managed, interesting content is the key to increasing brand awareness and, if your social media channels become a hit with customers, the chances are that your products will too.

In summary, working in PR and content marketing it is clear that both traditional media and social channels are complementary and can be used to create brand trust and loyalty for a business. If you’d like advice on how to maximise your own social media channels, would like assistance creating original content, or would like to speak to us regarding a PR strategy, please contact a member of our team on 01924 862477.

WHERE DID GIRL POWER REALLY COME FROM?

girl power

I tell you what I want, what I really, really want, I would like people to stop right now, thank you very much… and think for a moment.

Think about the young women with their lives ahead of them who joined the Army, RAF or Navy to show their support during the World Wars and whom fought just as ferociously to save lives and give us our freedom.

Think of the female machine operators that worked in an ammunition factory and were caught up in an explosion that killed their colleagues and wounded many more, yet they returned to work the same day (this happened in East Leeds and the ladies are referred to as the Barnbow Lasses).

Think of the nurses that over the years have helped the wounded, identified and developed some of the life-changing medical principles, techniques and drugs that we still administer today.

Think of the Suffragettes and the movement that they made happen – some losing their lives in the process – that would allow women to vote, which in turn would change attitudes and lives all over the world, forever.

 

https://youtu.be/gTMuh6AF3A0

Source: To Those Changing Human Health, Johnson & Johnson
 

Then, stop and think, was Girl Power really the brainchild of the management team behind a 90’s all-female girl pop band? I’m not convinced.

Far be it from me to discard the impact that the Spice Girls had on young women in the 90’s, after all, I will hold my hands up and say that I was one of them. I loved singing to their music and knowing that I could relate to the lyrics, but I have to be honest, I never felt that it was life changing.

As a result of the Spice Girls I never felt that I could achieve more or become more. I didn’t have the urge after listening to Spice Up Your Life to travel the world or following a dance around the kitchen to Who Do You Think You Are to start a business, it just didn’t impact on me in that way.

The point is that the Spice Girls are a manufactured group that were purposely created to resonate with an audience; young women.

While the concept was new, creating five ‘characters’ that provided an appeal that was more personal than had ever been explored previously, behind the ‘marketing’ (and multi-million-pound budget) they were simply a group of girls who were forced to live and work together after taking part in a reality TV show.  

While there is no doubt that Scary, Sporty, Baby, Ginger and Posh did their bit for Girl Power and continue to hit the headlines across the globe, I feel it is hugely important that we don’t forget to look back and recognise those that made it possible for this pop phenomenon to become what they are today – multimillionaire business women.

I’m not one to take to the soap box about women in business and I don’t feel the need to now. I was taught from a very young age that if you work hard and put your mind to it, you can become anything you want to. Alternatively, if you don’t, you won’t.

I now realise of course that this isn’t possible for everyone (although it should be) and that it was a simple way to look at things, but the principle remains the same.  

I’d like to see young women want to join the forces, want to become nurses, want to create a movement that will evoke world-wide change for the better and simply be the best they can be. With a recent survey suggesting that 75% of young people aspire to be YouTubers, perhaps it’s time we took greater influence from the Girl Power that delivered real results and that keep on giving today!

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PETS IN THE OFFICE: A DOGGY DO (OH DEAR) OR A DOGGY DON’T?

dogs-at-work

This is a subject that has been debated in the office at Open Comms for many years. Should we allow pets into the office or is it that one step too far, especially when you take into account that we host client meetings at Nostell and not everyone is a lover of our four-legged friends.

There have been many arguments both for and against but I’m somewhat ashamed to say that I’ve always been the one that put my foot down and said no! Absolutely not.

In all fairness, I couldn’t get past the thought of dog slobber on a client’s designer suit or the smell of wet fur and Febreeze. There was just something that always made it a black and white decision for me – and it wasn’t in favour of the canine kind.

A new arrival

Then something happened. It was life changing. I hadn’t expected it and I wasn’t prepared for it. We got a dog. A puppy. A cocker spaniel to be precise, full of life and a bundle of bouncing energy.

I won’t lie, this new development took some getting used to. It was in my house, it was chewing things and padding through the kitchen with mucky feet! It even tried to eat my shoes and made a valiant attempt at destroying the garden – eating the heads off my favourite flowers one by one with a smirk across his cheeky chops.

But, oh, those eyes!

I never thought it would happen, but Duke Davies, the loveable pooch that happily howls his heart out at 5.30am each morning to remind us that it’s time for walkies has made his mark. There’s no going back and that is when I realised that I would have to face my first real personal battle about this bundle of (exhausting) joy.

Decision time

As holiday season approached there would be one week where there was no one to look after Duke during the day. There was only one real option. I would have to bring him to work. The horror as I realised that I had been the one for years – six years to be precise – that had always put a stop to office pets and now I was going to have to go, tail between my legs, and hope that my colleagues wouldn’t be as defensive about the doggy as I had been.

Thankfully they all welcomed him with open arms. In all honesty, he didn’t do much beyond sitting in the corner and sleeping, he is a pup after all. The occasional passing stroke and the trundles we had around Nostell Priory Estate Yard, meeting with other walkers that were enjoying the sunshine, kept him suitably amused.

The benefits of doing things differently

Beyond the practical though, having Duke in the office taught me a real lesson. Not least to stop being such a miserable cow but also to consider the benefits to doing things differently. I’d never given the office pet thing any real thought, but now I could see how five minutes with a distraction can be such a positive.

Going out for twenty minutes and leaving my desk to walk Duke twice a day gave me the shocking clarity I needed that it’s not a weakness to stand up and move away from my desk during the day and no one will criticise my work ethic for taking some time to clear my head.

Far from being the distraction I expected, Duke was a calming presence. I’d look down and he’d look up, big brown eyes and fluffy ears. What was there not to love, and as for the smell, I don’t think anyone really noticed – unless I’ve gone nose blind?  

A change of position

I can now see the benefits to having a pet in the office and that includes the giggles when they have a mad minute. I never thought that watching a dog run around as fast as his little legs could carry him or the cheeky bark he gave the postman (he nearly jumped out of his skin!) would have me chuckling behind my computer screen, but it did.

For those of you that are contemplating getting a pet for the office then there are a few things that you need to think about; who’s going to do the cleaning up, who takes ultimate responsibility and what are you going to do when clients visit. There’s also allergies to consider, you don’t want someone coming out in a rash! But…

It is worth considering the benefits too. There’s lots of research that suggests that having a pet in the office is therapeutic and can encourage a calmer working atmosphere and environment, while also improving productivity. Who knew?

Duke hasn’t become a permanent fixture in our office and he never will, I still have some reservations about a full-time position for him, but I would bring him again for a day or two, we just need to work on his telephone manner.

THE LATEST DETOX ISN’T A DIET

The amazing scenery looking over St Aiden’s RSPB reserve

Working in PR means that you have to keep abreast of the social media tools that are available and provide a platform for people to communicate. Stands to reason really, given that we are responsible for sharing information and managing the reputation of brands both online and in print.

Being of a particular age (38 for those that are too polite to ask) I haven’t exactly grown up surrounded by tech but it has been in the background for probably as long as I can remember. We certainly didn’t have smart phones when I was at school, college or university, but we had the first handheld games systems and some functionality to communicate online.

It was only really when I left university that digital communications started to become ‘a thing’ and many a PR – myself included – took great pleasure in demoting the fax machine to the back of a cupboard to collect dust as we opted instead to use email.

The real changes though occurred when I had been in work for a number of years and platforms such as Facebook started to make their mark. Some came and went, while others became integral to our lives – not a statement that I think even the founders really considered in terms of scale and global dominance. Let’s not get started about governance and regulatory controls, I’ll save that for another blog.

The very real threat of social media – and it’s not the trolls

Over recent weeks I’ve noticed that there has been a shift in tone when it comes to the use of social media. There was a time when there seemed to be a certain expectation that people would have regular access to as many apps as they could manage. The more the merrier was the general consensus and if you didn’t have the latest you were considered ‘so last season’.

Facebook, SnapChat, WhatApp, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn to name a few became more of a reflection of our lives and social dalliances than actually going out. Showing someone your dinner was top of the list, quickly followed by a pouty selfie that may or may not have had a filter!

In the most part, I’m pleased to say I dodged this desire to share everything online, but I did find that I was becoming increasingly reliant on the social channels to fill downtime. No longer was I reaching for a book or chatting to my husband and friends, I would reach for my phone and see who had updated their status on Facebook.

It was at the same time that Chris Evans was commenting on having a detox from tech and the benefits that he felt from moving away from a world that was powered by the internet. At first I wondered what he was making such a fuss about, but the more he explained the more it started to resonate.

Then earlier this week, I opened the Yorkshire Post to see a comment piece from Business Editor, Mark Casci, with the headline ‘Use summer to wean yourself off the smartphone’. So much of what he had written made perfect sense to me.

Within his article he writes: ‘After travelling back in time through my history as a phone consumer (aided naturally with a few web searches on my phone to establish chronology) I came to the uncomfortable realisation that it had been well over more than a decade since I truly “switched off”’

It was at this moment I realised this was the case for me too.

Admitting you have a problem is the first step to recovery

There seems to be so much talk about people turning tech off and trying their hardest to get some balance back in their lives. We are all, it would seem, slaves to the smartphone and I’m no exception. I may not pout for selfies at every opportunity but I certainly stare into a screen far more than is healthy or necessary.

One of the ways I rationalise my ‘habit’ is by telling myself it’s for work, that someone might need me and that if a client emails, texts or sends a WhatsApp message at 10pm at night it is my obligation and responsibility to get back to them.

When I read that sentence I can see how unreasonable it is, but when you have a business it can be difficult to judge yourself by the parameters you would set for your own colleagues or suppliers.

As an example, if I happened to be working late and sent a supplier an email, I wouldn’t expect a response until the next day. Furthermore, if I got one I would feel guilty that I had encroached on their free time as opposed to being pleased that they had stopped everything to get back to me.

Mark sums it up really well in his piece when he writes: ‘Perhaps the worst aspect of realising how much I used my phone was coming to terms with the arrogance it entails, the idea that I must check my messages or the world will end.’

A truer word has rarely been said. This is me all over. I am constantly checking my phone for emails and then wonder why I feel anxious. There really is no need.

It’s time for things to change  

I’m not usually a follower of trends and I certainly could never be accursed of being a dedicated follower of fashion – in any capacity – but this is a bandwagon I’m well and truly jumping on the back of.

We recently welcomed Duke, a Cocker Spaniel puppy into our household (that’s another story and worthy of another blog) and as well as getting us up at 5.30am every morning he has also brought about a change.

I don’t know why, but during our walks I decided not to take my phone. At the time it seemed like a bold and brave step but, like Mark, I quickly realised the world wasn’t going to end.

In fact, thanks to our walks I have the chance to chat to my husband about the day ahead and what’s going on at work or with family and friends. It’s very cathartic as we glance out across the beautiful landscape at St Aiden’s RSPB reserve each morning and evening.

Although it’s only 2 hours of my day, I think it’s a good start and it does give me the head space to think about things more rationally. One of the biggest challenges with social media is that it is so immediate and whereas receiving news in this way can be beneficial, responding in the same manner rarely is.

I think that’s where some of the problems with social channels come from; act first and think later which in turn causes lasting damage either to yourself or someone else.

I’m not saying for one minute that I am going to close my social accounts, I don’t see the point given that this is how I stay in touch with an extensive family that are dotted around the world and my business relies on these channels, but I am going to limit my use.

I’m hoping that like Chris and Mark I can report back on the positive difference that this makes, and I fully intend to go home tonight and reach for a book rather than my phone.

If you are thinking about a tech detox or have given up altogether, how has it gone and what experiences can you share? All comments are welcome.

WHY IT’S SO IMPORTANT TO BELIEVE IN YOUR BUSINESS

Emma Lupton and Lindsey Davies launching Open Communications in 2008.

This isn’t the first time I’ve come across this fact but running a business isn’t easy. In fact, sometimes it can be quite the headache. There is so much to think about. 

When you first start it’s strange because you have what feels like all the time in the world and things are still exciting. All you want at this stage is to be established, to be taken seriously and to run as a ‘real business’.

Conversely, when you are more established with the necessary processes and procedures in place, you crave that time that you had to take a step back and to consider your options. At this stage, not only are you now responsible for what you would hope to be a successful business, but you are likely to have staff, as well as clients, to think about.

The best analogy I can use is that it’s like getting married. When you’re planning your wedding it’s full on but exciting, you then go on honeymoon and it’s all new – you feel nervous but you know that you’ve made the right decision. A few years down the line and the washing on the floor is becoming annoying, the house never seems to be clean and it doesn’t matter how many times you tell them to put the lid on the toothpaste it never seems to happen – yet you still love them. 

And that’s why it’s so important that when you start a business you believe in what you do.

Don’t make it up, make it count

When you start a business, you have to truly and passionately commit to delivering results for your clients. You have to know that the advice that you are giving them is the very best that you can offer and that you will stand accountable if things don’t work out quite how you planned.

No one is perfect but when you run a business you often feel as if you should be. In PR there are so many people that you need to consider; business partners, employees, clients, journalists and the public. 

Increasingly the public are relying on journalists, and therefore by association PRs, to deliver honest news. It’s a challenge – there is no time for editors or sub-editors to fact check everything and news is so instantaneous that it’s no longer about quality but about first to ‘the post’ – literally. Who posts the news online first wins, but do they? 

We all need to work together to make sure that we deliver a service that for us (PRs) meets with the client’s objectives and for journalists delivers a story based on fact that their audience are going to want to read and share. 

Using your passion to share news

This leads me back to my first point, in order to deliver good, quality news you need to create a business that you believe in. 

We are very fortunate as an agency to have clients that have values that are aligned with our own. They are fundamentally to do a good job and to do it well. Here at Open Comms, our mantra tends to be: forget air kissing and going out for lunch, let’s celebrate when we’ve got the results, not before. 

I’ve noticed recently that over the last (almost) ten years we have attracted similar kinds of people and we now have an incredibly strong network of associates, suppliers and clients that we trust. Beyond that, many of them we can now confidently refer to as friends. This isn’t something we take for granted, it’s something that we are immensely proud of. 

The truth is that we couldn’t have done this if we were living a lie. Again, I go back to a marriage. If you were marrying for money or your head was turned by another, yet you still went through with it, before long it would show. People would realise that you were being disingenuous and that what comes out of your mouth is not necessarily reflected in your eyes (my nanna always said to trust the eyes not the mouth – wise woman). 

We always say that passion is infectious (we’ve finished with the marriage analogy now!) and that you can sense the energy when people talk about their product or service and how much it means to them. 

My advice to anyone starting a business would be to believe. Put your heart and soul into the planning and create a list of values that you intend to be governed by. Be honest, both to yourself and to others. 

Having a business isn’t easy but when you truly believe in what you are trying to do and the service that you deliver, then I see no reason why you cannot be the success that you set out to be. This will also resonate in the future when you want to give up – and there will be times – it will be easier to get through and to move on knowing that your business is founded on solid principles that mean something to you and to your customers.

 

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THE POWER OF PERSONALITY

Long has it been said that people buy people but actually the same can be said for brands. What I mean is that increasingly consumers are looking for brands that align with their values and their personalities and therefore the more a business can create a product, campaign or company with character the better.

Starting with marketing materials

The way that marketing literate is designed impacts on whether someone will pick up the piece in the first place and the way it is written will determine if someone will read it. The tone of voice will then either appeal to someone and make them receptive to the message or not.

This is then often followed up by a call, an email or a meeting, all providing a further insight into the personality of a business. This is where people come in and why it’s important that those you employ believe in your product or service in the same way that you do.

As a PR agency working with many different brands across a range of sectors, we always make it clear to our clients that we have to understand and buy into whatever it is they are offering in the same way that they do.

We are essentially an extension of our clients’ marketing and sales functions and there is nothing worse than listening to someone drone on knowing that they are either reading from a script or don’t really care about the company they represent. 

Then there is social media to consider in this mix and that can be a whole new headache. Sharing the same content across all platforms is a classic way to fall at the first hurdle. Think about it, each channel has been created to differ from each other and even if they target the same audience, the functionality they offer can bring a range of benefits to a business, if they are used correctly.

The harsh reality is that some channels don’t work for business. It doesn’t matter how long you spend on them or what budget you assign, they just won’t engage with the people you want to communicate with, so don’t use them. Simple. Put your efforts into something that will deliver a return on investment.

The truth is that marketing isn’t brain surgery. Fundamentally, any marketing campaign, whatever channel you use is about creating an affinity between product and person. It’s a complex tapestry of ‘touch points’ and many have their part to play but there are only so many hours in a day. 

A planned launch

The reality in business is that when a company launches they often have the luxury of time. They are able to take a step back and to think carefully about their marketing which includes design, message and preferred channel. Then, when they become more established, all that goes out of the window.

They no longer have time for the ‘fun stuff’ it’s all about keeping machines running, staying on top of suppliers, invoicing at the end of the month, managing staff and of course nurturing and growing the customers base – but the relationship no longer becomes a focus.

What a huge mistake! 

It’s like making friends with someone and taking the time and effort to become BFF before then turning your back and walking away – because you’re just too busy – but then expecting them to be there when you need them.

They may be. But when it comes to loyalty and brands, you have to remember, for the benefit of this analogy, there is a pub full of friends just waiting to take your place and that’s why it’s so important for businesses to put marketing – in all its forms – firmly on the agenda.

It has always baffled me that when times are tough – or as has appeared to be the case over the last 18 months turbulent – the first budgets that people pull are those that have been allocated to marketing.

I appreciate that factories need to keep running, staff need to be paid and that keeping the metaphorical plates spinning is a priority, but that doesn’t mean you should stop communicating and take your eye off what is arguably the biggest asset a business has: its reputation.

There are few things more exciting than seeing the launch programmes from a new start-up, particularly those that come from former entrepreneurs that have made the mistakes only to come out of the other end stronger and more determined than ever.

Putting marketing front and centre

What is most interesting is that many – or I’d even go as far as to say most – of these businesses put marketing front and centre. Yes, they may be clever with their budgets, but communication and a strong launch campaign with sustainable messaging and a longer term plan is never far from their boardroom table.

For all those businesses out there that are looking for the winning formula – those that are looking for the one thing that they feel is missing – I can almost guarantee it goes back to personality because a company with no character is like a shop window with no display.

In a time when high streets have never struggled so much, yet start-ups that are eager to please are on the rise, it’s imperative that businesses think carefully about their budgets, where they are putting their cash and what they are getting in return.

Marketing will deliver if managed well and whether you choose to appoint in-house or to work with an agency, a good solid campaign that you can get excited about and that delivers against objectives will make all of the difference.

Create your character, underpin it with the values of your business, inject some personality and start to engage with people. You’ll be surprised at what can be achieved when you think like a start-up and go back to basics.

 

AWARDS: WORTH THE WAIT OR A WASTE OF TIME

awards

It’s awards season and that means finding out if all of the hard work earlier in the year was worthwhile or if you have to sit tight and wait until next year to submit again.  It also means finding a different dress for each event but I’ll save that fiasco for another blog. FYI: Quiz at Junction 32 is my ‘go to’ for all the ladies out there that are struggling – you’re welcome, always happy to help! 

Anyhow, back to the blog in hand, it can be a nerve-wracking time, not least because as well as our own time – which has to be allocated to the research, copy writing and submissions process – we require input from the client and often their wider teams. 

The awards process, depending on which you choose and usually if they are regional or national – isn’t always straight forward. As well as 1,000 words you can also be required to provide supplementary evidence to support your entry, along with the obligatory photographs and biog about the business or individual you are nominating. 

What is great about putting submissions together is that you learn so much about the companies that you work with. Being responsible for the reputation of a business often means that you have access to information that others may not, but when it comes to awards you get a real insight into the great and good. 

Just recently I was putting together some copy for a client and it was a real reminder of what a difference this individual had made. When we were looking at the facts and figures, it was quite astounding and thankfully the judges thought so too as Geoff Shepherd, the founding director of iSource Group and the Yorkshire Mafia, won the Judges Special Award at the Institute of Directors Awards last month. 

Natasha accepting the Judges Special Award at the IoD event on behalf of Geoff Shepherd.

Natasha accepting the Judges Special Award at the IoD event on behalf of Geoff Shepherd.

Why bother when you’ve got a business to run

Interestingly, there are three types of client; those that want to enter as many awards as they can, those that prefer to be more selective and those that don’t want anything to do with them. 

I never really understand the latter and I’ll explain why. 

Awards take time and if you want to put together the strongest entry possible then they can be hard work but the rewards, in my opinion, outweigh this time and time again. Not only are the events a great way to bring together a team – and in particular those that may not work together day to day – but they also deliver credibility by association. 

It’s not all about dressing up and having too many glasses of fizz, the impact of awards is evident long after the event is over. 

As an agency we never do anything without it having a purpose and meeting with an objective and when it comes to awards it’s about building profile and also an employer brand. Awards are often an indication that a business is doing well, and that attracts talent. 

People want to work for a business that is trusted and respected in the market and awards are often a great way of showcasing the quality of the products and services that a company delivers. Furthermore, most nominations are independently judged, making it all the more exciting when your submission is successful. 

Coalfields Regeneration Trust winning the Community category at the Yorkshire Post Excellence in Business

Coalfields Regeneration Trust winning the Community category at the Yorkshire Post Excellence in Business

Celebrating success

I’m very pleased at this point to say that we have an excellent success rate when it comes to awards and you would probably hope that this was the case given that it’s part of our day job but not every entry makes it to the stage and that can be crushing, especially when you know the team is deserving of the recognition. 

What always surprises me is that way that people respond. It differs from business to business, but I have to admit those that really embrace the moment and show their excitement without compromise are those I enjoy most. 

We are often asked to attend the awards with clients – which is a lovely gesture and not something we take for granted – but one occasion that stands out to me was when Paragon ID won the Yorkshire Post Excellence in Business Awards in the Turnaround category. 

The team just didn’t see it coming and their collective reaction was simply joyous. It was a pleasure to be with them, although the headache the next day wasn’t quite so welcomed. 

Haydn - looking a little bit like James Bond - accepting his Top 30 under 30 accolade.

Haydn – looking a little bit like James Bond – accepting his Top 30 under 30 accolade.

What awards to enter

You can enter any awards that you want but we always question what the objective is. 

Some people enter everything and for me that devalues the return you will get. If you will go to the opening of an envelope, or as I’ve experienced recently, if someone says you’ve won an award and all you need to do is pay for the ‘silverware’ then it’s probably not going to add any value. 

I had a client say that anything could be on a piece of glass – even an award for getting out of bed on a morning – and people never check so assume it’s for something impressive, but my argument was why would you need to do that if you believe in the products and services that you are offering. 

When choosing awards you should follow five simple steps:

  1. Review the categories and see if there is one that would fit your business
  2. Take the time to look over past winners, this will give you an indication of those that have been successful in the past, their size and scale
  3. Consider if you have the time and resource required to submit a winning entry
  4. Think carefully about who will be in the room; clients, prospects or competitors
  5. Put objectives in place so that awards serve a purpose. It could be simply to build profile in a given location, to give your brand a national platform, to commend performance or to attract talent. 

It’s also worth noting that some awards come at a cost – not just the events but the actual submissions – so this should be a further consideration. Without being negative, you need to decide if you can afford to lose that budget if you are not shortlisted. 

Henry from Ring accepting the Made in Yorkshire Award.

Henry from Ring accepting the Made in Yorkshire Award.

You’re a winner, shout about it

It’s really frustrating when you put the effort into a great award submission, your client is successful and then you hear nothing more about it. Companies don’t enter awards to keep their success a secret – they do it to gain the recognition they feel they deserve, so when you win shout about it. 

Make sure that you make the most of the opportunity. There are a number of ways you can do this including:

  1. Draft a press release to announce that you have been named ‘great business of the year’ and share it with your local and trade media. Remember that many awards are hosted by media and they consider other publications to be competitors so won’t cover a story about a rival medium.
  2. Share an update on your website and extend this across social media.
  3. Create some owned content and ‘interview’ someone that attended and capture their thoughts and feelings. This can add personality and also give someone who doesn’t often get the chance an opportunity to share their thoughts.
  4. Put a footer on your emails to make people aware that you were shortlisted or that you won. This is a really subtle way of capturing attention and a constant reminder to everyone you engage with that you have been commended and recognised for your work. 
Open Communications accepting the highly commended award for best new business.

Open Communications accepting the highly commended award for best new business.

Don’t take them too seriously

Awards are great, but people can take them too seriously. It’s important to practice your ‘game face’ when you attend awards and not take it too personally if you don’t get the result that you were hoping for. There is always next year, and it can take a couple of attempts to finally get your hands on that trophy. 

If you do find that you have been pipped to the post, it’s always a good idea to congratulate the winner. You never know, in some instances they could be a prospective customer and thanks to the award submission you now have something in common.

My First Week at Work (by Ellie aged 15)

From the very start, here at Open Communications, we have made it our mission to give people a chance. Not everyone in the agency has come from a PR background but when people approach us, we take the time to think about the transferable skills that they have and how they could benefit our clients and the campaigns that we deliver.

It’s not all about degrees and qualifications!  

When it comes to young people, when possible, we like to give them the chance to experience the variety and wonderful world of PR through short placements. This isn’t just an exercise in CSR, it’s an opportunity to encourage, to nurture and to build the confidence of students that just may decide PR is the career choice for them.

And so, here is just one example of how we have done just that. Ellie (aged 15) is a secondary school student that lives in the same village as me. She was finding it hard to find a placement – and given that we live in a very remote part of the Yorkshire Dales, it’s hardly surprising!

Ellie approached me one weekend and asked if it would be possible to work at Open Comms. In the following blog (in her own words) she describes the week that she had with us and how in just five days she was able to draft a press release, write a blog, attend a client meeting and learn more about PR, an industry that before this experience she hadn’t heard of never mind considered as a career choice for the future.

 

My First Week at Work.

Finding a Placement.

A couple of weeks before work experience was due to begin, I found that it was more difficult than I had expected to find a placement, so I was going to stay at school for a week, which is really frustrating, because I was eager to get out and to learn outside of the classroom.

So, I decided to use my initiative to look for a placement outside of the local area. I was speaking to some family friends who have their own business and that is when Lindsey started to tell me about PR and what she does for a living.

It sounded really interested and I got really excited by the conversation. I had never heard of PR before, so this was completely new to me. I wasn’t sure if it would be possible, but I asked if she would be willing to offer me a place with her for my work experience. I felt so relieved when I knew I had a different place to go rather than school, nobody wants to stay in a classroom when they can experience something new and exciting!

Leaving home for a week.

Because the agency is in Leeds I have had to stay away for a week. I don’t normally stay away from home for so long, but I have done it on occasion before so I know what it’s like. Because I have never worked in an office before, just the local pub in my village, I had no idea what to wear and no Idea what I needed to bring with me.

Rather than stress too much about it, me and mum just threw some of my nicest clothes in a bag and hoped that I would have an outfit each day that would be suitable. I had to bring some of my dresses, which I very rarely wear, and it felt weird walking into an office with clothes on that I felt would be more suited to a night out. Needless to say, it was quite out of my comfort zone.

First day.

For a start, getting up at 7am every morning was the first hurdle! I normally get up at 8am for school, so it was a bit of a challenge getting up and ready to leave the house so early.

Once I was ready – and I had managed to get everything in my bag for the day ahead – me and Lindsey went to Tesco’s to get some lunch before setting off on the 30-minute drive to the offices.

The estate the office is in (Nostell Priory Estate Yard) is lovely and the sun was shining so it looked even better. Once we are all parked up and got our bags out of the car, we came into the office and I had a little desk set up for me with a laptop, sticky notes and pens.

I sat down and got out my note pad out ready to get started. Just then, Ed walked through the door and came straight up to me to shake my hand. I wasn’t really sure what to do, people don’t usually greet me like this and it freaked me out a little. I literally never shake anyone’s hand and I don’t know why but it scared me to death! (I have been laughing about it all week).

The first task of the day was for me to watch Anna go through the social media accounts for HARIBO. When she goes through all the social media she has to reply to any messages on Facebook and Twitter. It was great to feel useful, as I helped her to choose what to put in the replies to each of them.

Some of the comments can be quite interesting, while others are quite funny and made me laugh, it just goes to show what a varied mix of fans the brand has.  

When we had finished that, Lindsey sat me down to talk about a press release; what it is and what it is used for.

I had no idea where to start and although I could have asked for help, I could see everyone was really busy, so I used my judgement and watched a number of podcasts on how to structure a press release.

I noted it all down and put it together like a facts sheet off the internet. I then put some time aside to do some research about the charity that I was writing the release for.

Before long I was ready to put it all together; my first press release done, and in wasn’t that difficult although it did take me a while.

So, my first day done and I have to say, my first impressions of the team where that they’re really nice people and so welcoming. They’re also talkative which I really liked.

Day two.

On my second day I finished off the press release. I was very proud of the completed piece and I went through it with Lindsey. Although she made some amends, I was still really pleased to see that much of the content I had drafted was used.  

We then sent the press release to the organisation that it was about for their approval. Within the hour the company had come back to us and agreed it was a really good piece.

It felt really good to have it approved because it’s my first ever press release that I have ever done and they liked it, so when they came back with such positive comments it was great.

The next step was to send it off to a selection of local journalists. We did this using a platform called Vuelio. It is a website that has all of the contact details for all of the journalists in the country on so you know who the best person will be to send a release on to and which publications are relevant.

Day three.

On my third day I came into the office and Lindsey suggested that I draft a blog about my experience. I think blogs are important because they give people a little glimpse into your personality and what you’re interested in. They also draws people’s attention to the website that you are posting them on and can be shared on other channels like YouTube or across social media pages.

By this stage in the week, I feel quite settled in the office now, I’ve had a chance to get to know everyone a little bit better and they are all so lovely and friendly. I love the fact that they all watch Love Island (even Ed!) and it’s the topic of most of the convocations we all have together! 

On my lunch break I went for a walk around the park and it was gorgeous, its’s quite different than at home because all the fields and land is filled with cows and sheep (and their muck) but here it’s so well looked after and it’s such a big area to just walk around and take some time to relax. 

When I got back I was asked by Emma to pack some boxes for a campaign that the agency are planning. I didn’t really understand why I was doing it at first, but then Emma explained that it is a way of sending products to journalists and that it gives them chance to experience and eat the products that we distribute.

On this occasion we were working on an updated product for HARIBO which is still top secret!

Day four.

On the third day me and Lindsey went to see a client. It felt weird going into another office and discussing future plans with them about their company and on this occasion their new website.

The office looked quite modern and everyone that I met was very friendly, which was nice. Lots of people where smiling at me and I felt really welcomed.

We went into a large meeting room on the top floor, which was quite daunting, but we were soon discussing plans for the website and I felt confident enough to share my thoughts and suggestions. The client seemed quite pleased that I was interested and that I had some views to share.

It was quite a long meeting and we didn’t get back to the office until gone 3pm. I continued to write my blog and to record all of the things that I had done and learnt.

Day five.

Well, it’s Friday, and my last day of work experience. It’s been great; being a PR for a week is completely different to what my normal life is like. I like working in an office because the atmosphere is calm and the environment is quiet – until Anna and Mish start chatting about Love Island!

There are always lots of different things going on in PR and different ways in which you can approach things. It has been weird being away from home, but like I said, I have done it before and it’s not like I’m staying with strangers!

I’m pleased that I have learnt what happens in a PR agency and what the team is tasked to deliver for clients. The biggest achievement of the week has to be that I was able to draft a press release and understand more about the stages that it goes through to get to where it needs to be.

Lindsey has promised to keep me updated with the coverage and to share it with me when it comes through. I can’t wait to add it to my portfolio.

Over all it’s been a great experience and who knows, PR just might be the career choice for me in the future but for now it’s back to the classroom.