Category: Blog

Taking the time to make a difference

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We try to make a difference wherever and whenever we can here at Open Comms but like many busy businesses, it’s finding the time that’s the trouble! It’s often the case that we have the best intentions but don’t have the hours in the day to contribute or commit to the good causes that we would otherwise support.

I’m not talking about putting some pennies in a pot, it’s more about the wider impact that we can have as a result of sharing our knowledge and adding some value where it matters most. Many charities are desperate for resources that go beyond financial donations and that’s where we are able to offer our support.

It’s not always about the pounds and pence

Just one great example of an organisation that understands the challenges that are faced by smaller businesses that still want to contribute is Ahead Partnership. The organisation works as a facilitator between schools and organisations to bridge the gap between learning and earning.

Working up and down the country, Ahead Partnership provides businesses with the opportunity to give something back. Not only does this benefit the local community, which is often a big tick for corporate organisations, but it also has a direct impact on the talent of the future – win, win.

What’s even better is that their programmes and activities are flexible, giving smaller businesses the chance to do their bit and get involved.

Back to the classroom

So, on Tuesday when I was invited to an interview practice session at Wakefield College I was really interested. The problem was that I simply couldn’t allocate a whole day to the activity. Ahead Partnership was great and gave me a half day slot so that I could contribute.

Walking into the College was quite nerve-wracking, as someone who didn’t do particularly well at school, I still expect to end up stood outside the head master’s office. Thankfully, there was no need for my heart to be hammering and I was instantly put at ease by the team.

I was given a pass and shown to a table to await the first student. We were equipped with an overview of the activity, which had been sent a number of days in advance, including a list of questions that we could use as a guide.

Remember your p’s and q’s

I believe very strongly that you should use your own experiences to positively influence others and one of the first real lessons I learnt as a young adult was to remember your p’s and q’s. This wasn’t about manners as such, but more about realising that your personality is just as important as your qualifications.

I truly believe that people buy people and that this is also true of interviews. As such, when the first candidate came into the room, I was immediately aware of the one thing I always notice… the handshake.

Interestingly, during the whole day, there was only one student who came across and put their hand out. It’s not necessarily a criticism (although I did mention it to each person who came along) but was simply an observation.

All of the students that I had the pleasure to meet with were articulate, ambitious and most surprisingly had a clear plan of action in terms of their next steps and where they wanted to be. They approached the session with gusto and were very gracious of any constructive criticism they received. Clearly, this was always followed up with the positive points too – I’m not a tyrant!

A lesson learnt

I must have met with around 8-10 students during the time that I was involved in the activity and I have to say I’m not sure who learnt the most.

The stories that the students had to share, particularly in relation to their motivations and influences, was simply remarkable. No two students were even remotely similar and they ALL had something very special to offer.

What was really refreshing was the variety of roles that the students were hoping to secure when they left school or graduated. Everything from a special needs teacher, business manager, digital developer, coding expert, hotel manager and everything in between! On top of that, they all had a real belief that they could achieve whatever they put their minds to. And so they should.

Encouragingly, most of the students I met had either volunteered or had part-time jobs. This is something that I hold in huge regard and think it is essential if you want to build experience and skills that will last a lifetime. I was also really pleased to hear that this is something that is very much endorsed by Wakefield College.

Final thoughts

What a great experience.

Although I was struggling to allocate the time in my diary, I am so pleased I took out just four hours of my day to do something different and to give something back. However insignificant you may think it is, I hope that just one of those students walks into a room and shakes the hand of the person in front of them.

But most of all, I wish each and every one of those students the very best and encourage them to continue to follow their dreams, wherever they may lead.

This Girl Can – and the campaign does

I sweat, I pant, I run - I don't look good but it makes me feel great.

I sweat, I pant, I run – I don’t look good but it makes me feel great.

Keeping it simple

I’ve followed the Sport England, This Girl Can, campaign since it launched and have been impressed by its simplicity from the start. The first thing they did right was to recognise that branding has a place but not all over everything.

Living in a world where we are constantly targeted by marketing messages people have become increasingly cynical, and when something is overtly branded we know to be aware that we are being ‘sold at’.

Unfortunately, this can be a difficult lesson to learn and many companies feel that they are missing a trick if they don’t have their brand on show, all of the time. The truth is that more often than not, less is more.

Don’t ask too much

Consumers have never been more intrinsically linked to the tricks of the trade and they are aware of the power that they have to influence a brand by advocacy or to crucify it through controversy.

Social media is a fantastic communication tool, we have never been able to share messages so quickly or with such a vast audience, but with it comes some pitfalls too.

The hurdles often become apparent when agencies try to be too clever. They expect too much from the consumer and in a culture where we click to purchase or swipe to like there is simply no way that the volume of people required to impress a client will engage.

What This Girl Can have done is simply ask that people share their image – if they want to. And that is the point. They aren’t suggesting you will get anything in return, they aren’t selling anything to you, per se, but they are changing behaviour and asking that if you want to you can get involved.

Keeping it real

There’s absolutely nothing new in creating campaigns that focus on real people. It’s been done before and it will be done again, it’s a good idea and it works. However, with this campaign, it takes keeping it real to a whole new level.

The idea that people would share their pictures when they know they don’t look their best and in many instances far from it would never be an objective that you would choose when developing a marketing campaign, but it’s worked.

There is something almost akin to a ‘sisterhood’ which has gained momentum through this campaign and what has made it stand out for me is that it hasn’t felt forced. It’s been very organic in the way it has picked up pace.

The tone of voice and messages have been perfect too. It hasn’t, like many sports-related campaigns, being about pushing yourself to the limit, setting goals or even encouraging you to try the latest exercise or equipment – it has been about being you; doing what you do; being proud of your efforts and knowing that if you don’t want to, you don’t have to. It makes it hard for you not to endorse it.

Being all things to all people

Many brands want to target a mass market, it’s a numbers game. They want to communicate with everyone and to use one message to do that. If you work in marketing you will know that getting this right is like finding a goose that lays golden eggs – it’s rare!

Not only does mass market require mass budgets (and admittedly you could argue £8m is a pretty good start) but it also needs to be so effective that everyone sees it, gets it, acts on it and shares it. This Girl Can does exactly that. It cleverly features a variety of women that most people can relate to. Some people may say that it ticks boxes – and perhaps that is true – but it’s worked.

The most recent TV advert has extended the audience from 14 – 40 to 14 – 60 year olds. Very few agencies would ever take a brief that suggested you target 14-60 year old women, cross demographic and geography, with a single campaign.

Keeping momentum

The typical problem with sports-related marketing is keeping the momentum. Something may work but once it’s done you can’t really repeat it without it becoming… well, repetitive, which in turn makes it boring.

The scheduling and roll out of This Girl Can has captured attention time and time again. The subtle shift in focus from advertising to activism was inspired. The process was so simple; use advertising and PR (along with an £8m budget) to capture the hearts and minds of women throughout the country, ask them to join in, give them the tools to get involved, create a community, leave them to it. Clearly, I’ve over simplified that, but it’s not far from what’s happened.

Don’t over commercialise

This goes back to selling at people. It’s not only consumers that don’t like this approach, when something is too commercial it makes it almost impossible to share with the media. That’s what advertising is for.

All you have to do is search the news pages online to see just how much coverage has been achieved with This Girl Can across national, regional and broadcast media along with more blogs than I care to mention – this one included!

Any agency would be popping corks if they could do the same and replicate these results every time they worked with a client – we’d also be retiring and moving to the Bahamas.

The tools

I mention above about giving people the tools to get involved and the This Girl Can app is so simple it takes around a minute to create your own poster, which you can then conveniently share across all of your social channels. Et voila you’re part of the community and before you know it you’re sharing their message and endorsing the brand.

It’s very, very rare that I get sucked into any marketing tactics but I’ve got to hold my hands up – I’m in. I have my own poster and I’m secretly quite proud of the fact that I can share it. I feel like I’m doing my bit. I’m part of a community of women who are content with getting active in their own way, at their own pace and in their own time.

What makes this message even more compelling is that it speaks to me; I can genuinely agree and associate directly with the philosophy of this campaign. I’ve just start to run (jog would probably be more fitting) and although I’m never going to be any kind of athlete, nor do I want to be, I’m enjoying it because I’m doing it my way.

My only suggestion and something that I found quite frustrating is that the headlines you can use are all formatted – so although there are a few to choose from they aren’t ‘yours’. I would have liked to have been given the option to add my own, but that’s just me.

Campaign of the decade

Working in marketing can be and often is tough. PR is just one facet of this but you have so many people to keep happy and it’s a balancing act. We often associate it to spinning plates. Not everything always goes as you want it to. It can be about test and measure.

When the consumer says no, and people simply refuse to engage with a campaign, we have to review the tactics we’ve used and take a long hard look at what went wrong. In doing this it also gives us the opportunity to review other brand activities – those that we feel have got it right.

Like many people in our industry, I call upon a few campaigns that over the years have got it right and I can say without any hesitation that This Girl Can will be going to the top of that list. I genuinely believe that it is the best campaign we have seen in the last decade and coming from someone who is typically difficult to please that’s saying something.

This campaign can and it has!

If you want lasting love, don’t fake it!

It’s been a difficult month for journalists and PR’s alike as the news agenda was indefensibly challenged as the sharing of fake news hit the headlines.  

Far be it that this was a one-off incident that could be swept under the carpet with the abrupt resignation of a non-descript recruit from some back office, this was serious. It was creating conversation and debate, and of any profession that should recognise the significance of that, it’s PR.

PR has long had a reputation for manipulating, ‘spinning’ and even inventing news stories in order to secure coverage and encourage positive responses from consumers, so we have to question what has changed and why are people so concerned?

The truth is that people want to trust the news sources that they have long believed to be credible. They want to know that a journalist – or PR – has done their research and has pulled together a balanced article that will allow them to form their own opinions based on fact – not fiction.

The struggle is that we live in a culture whereby people want breaking news. Invariably with this mistakes will happen – but fake news isn’t just about mistakes, it is absolutely about the sharing of content that the journalist, PR or brand knows is false.

It’s lying and often in a bid to manipulate a given response which may have further implications to a wider campaign.

What I have found most troubling is that the term ‘fake news’ is now widely used, referenced and understood. This is really worrying. When we work with clients the first rule is don’t lie, which is swiftly followed by the second and third; don’t suggest that we lie and don’t manipulate the truth.

If you can’t find an angle to a story then the likelihood is that you don’t have one to share.

People are undoubtedly going to become increasingly cynical of news and you can’t really blame them. They are going to question what they should believe and with such an array of sources to collate information from – positive, negative, neutral and all that is in between – it does become mind boggling. 

What we as an industry have to do is to continue to champion good practice. Spin is not a positive term as far as I’m concerned and I have an ongoing joke with a client who uses the insinuation purely to wind me up!

If PR is to be considered a specialism and the profession I certainly believe it to be, then it is our job to showcase why that is the case. We manage the reputations of brands and businesses, so we must be able to change the perception of an industry that without too much trouble is going to get pulled into the gutter.

There are agencies that will do anything for coverage – let’s be honest, we all know that’s the case – but we need to take a stand and to work harder to create good quality stories that people will read and feel informed, enlightened and engaged by.

All we can do is take the facts that our clients give us, but that’s another thing. Work with brands that you trust. It’s just as important that we can be sure of the facts that we are then sharing with a journalist, as it is that the journalist takes that story and prints it or posts it online to thousands of readers with the knowledge it was sent in good faith.

Choosing where you share news is of course another thing. If a PR is going to work with publications or sites that have been consistently discredited, then you can’t expect that they will share the content that you have given them without adding their own inflection to the piece. 

We are surrounded by content at every turn; from our TV or radios when we get up, to newspapers and our phones or iPads and that’s even before we get to work. What we should do as individuals is to remember that despite some misguided beliefs, not everything you read in the news is the truth.

Most brands are aspiring for the holy grail of results – brand loyalty and you simply will not get that if you lie. It’s a pretty simple concept really, if you want lasting love, don’t fake it!

The pen to paper challenge

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I guess that I’m a little strange when you consider today’s preference for computer screens, as I love to write and can often be seen with a fountain pen in hand. It’s just a quirk that I have had for many years now and was probably established when I was younger and had to do writing practice over the summer holidays.

My mum was very insistent when it came to the way that we write and spoke, she said that a lot could be interpreted from a person’s handwriting and the language they use. Fast forward a couple of decades and I have to agree and that’s why I was saddened to read that some schools are choosing to swap writing practice for typing classes.

I touch type and so can certainly see the benefit in both skills but I think that’s the point. People recognise that if you can type fast then you can be more efficient at work, whereas if you have neat hand writing… well, good for you.

It doesn’t attract the same praise and really it should. There is nothing worse than getting a prescription from the doctor that you can’t read or having a note left through the door and looking blankly at the scrawl in front of you hoping you can decipher a few letters to give you a fighting chance.

I’ve even been in a situation whereby I handed a note from a hospital to a doctor who refused to action the request based on the consultant’s hand writing. Seriously. It took me half an hour of begging (and a few tears) to get what I needed, all because she couldn’t be bothered to give the letter the attention it deserved. Grrr.

Berol Pens carried out a survey recently (great PR as a result) which found that a quarter of children cannot join their handwriting, 19% can’t write in a straight line, 17% can’t write a full sentence and 36% of teachers admit that standards are continuing to fall.

How worrying. What has the world come to where we don’t appreciate a basic skill? I appreciate there are modern technologies and that children will actually swipe a tablet before they pick up a pen but that doesn’t mean they will never have to.

I read a further article which focused on the emoji and that people rely increasingly on images and abbreviations to communicate rather than words. Not only is this lazy and in my opinion can often give the impression that you can’t be bothered with someone or be wildly misinterpreted.

Classic example, and this may be an urban myth, but there was a story circulating that a young boy had received a text from his mother which said: “Your great aunt just passed away. LOL”. Clearly the boy was baffled and asked what was funny about the passing of his relative. His mother, equally baffled, said nothing to which the boy had to explain that LOL is laugh out loud and NOT lots of love. #awkward.

This is just one of the reasons that I try wherever possible not to use abbreviations. That, and the confession that it’s like another language much of the time, and not one I speak!

I am a huge champion of the written word and one way I relax is to write poems. I have a small book that I grab when I’m feeling down or angry and I write. I typically churn out rhymes for no other purpose than it allows me to express my feelings and to share my thoughts with… well, me actually, but that isn’t the point.

Research has shown that writing allows people to be more expressive and creative and it actually develops skills that we would otherwise struggle with, such as cognitive processing of information and creating ideas to support projects.

I’ve never been very academic and find it very difficult to read something and take it in. I have to read it again and again before I really digest it and so I learnt to write things down and the process of copying it onto paper meant that I processed it far quicker.

I’m sure some people may think that this is silly but I would urge anyone struggling to try it. It’s simple and it works. Another example, my step-son was finding it almost impossible to learn his French. His teacher had told the class to listen to her words on a podcast and then repeat them. He was doing this over and over and he still couldn’t remember them – they weren’t going in.

He was upset and frustrated, so I suggested the writing down technique. He initially looked at me as if I had two heads (he was 15 at the time!) before finally coming to the end of his tether and giving it a go. And, guess what? It worked. He’s now at university and uses the same technique today when he struggles with something.

I am always surprised by how appalling some people’s hand writing is. I can’t claim that mine is much better if I’m honest but when given the time I do try. I think it’s something that we should all think about more and take some pride in.

I’ve decided that in my bid to champion the handwritten word – and to encourage others to possibly do the same – I am going to write a letter to one of my friends each month. In doing so I hope that two things will happen; it makes them smile to receive a letter through the post and secondly that they consider writing one back.

There are few things more exciting than receiving a letter through the post and I always really appreciate the effort that someone has gone to. It certainly beats an email or an update on messenger.

So, who’s with me? Why not take on the challenge? I’m going to call it the ‘Pen to paper’ project – a reminder that the time it takes to write and send a letter is worth the effort to make someone smile and to reinforce how much you care.

All I have to do now is find 12 friends!

Once upon a time, not too long ago…

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We love a good story here at Open Comms, there’s nothing like adding a bit of imagination to something that might appear at first to be bland and boring but end up being super exciting! As a gaggle of girls that write for a living, National Storytelling Week is always a hot topic in the office. 

After much discussion we decided we couldn’t let this annual occasion pass us by without at least trying to add our own little contribution – however insignificant. At Open Comms we like to get involved, so I thought we would share a short story…

Once upon a time, not so long ago, there were two friends. After years and years and years of working in big grey office blocks for other people, they decided that they wanted to do things differently and to turn the wacky world of PR on its head!

No more air kissing, no more lunches, no more fizzy pop – more exciting campaign ideas, working with clients rather than for them, getting excited by results, sharing success, getting the job done and doing it well… Oh, and most importantly, being open and honest.

Could it ever work? It was a new approach, people were used to doing things the same old way. It was a risk.

Talking to the exciting businesses based in Yorkshire it appeared that there were some companies that wanted to try out this new way of working. They didn’t really like the lunches or the regular increase in fees that they weren’t expecting. Who knew? 

Both ladies liked to write stories and to come up with super exciting and creative ways of sharing news, and so they launched Open Communications.

With just two small desks, two phone lines and a jar of coffee, they started to ring companies that had similar values and within no time at all they were working with some fantastic brands and businesses.

Fast forward just a few years, and then a few more, and with lots and lots of amazing results and too many fun-filled campaigns to fit into one short story, the two ladies are now five and they all enjoy the same things – working with great brands and businesses in Yorkshire.

The ladies are massive champions of the Wakefield district and they still like to do things exactly the same way they did way back when. They like to be honest and open, to be straight talking and to create relationships that last a long time – after all, no one likes falling out!

And so, the story is far from over. Open Comms continues to come up with campaigns that include anything from a giant Halloween door to a family picnic activation zone or the launch of a business that produces the most rail tickets in the country to a car headlamp that is the whitest on the market.

Every day is a new adventure at Open and that is what makes it so exciting. So, if you’re looking for an agency that doesn’t take itself too seriously and you want to be a part of the next chapter in this ongoing story, then give us a shout. The kettle is always on and when you work with Open its always story time.   

Bringing business together to talk ‘Leeds’

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Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending a mass brainstorm session which was hosted by Grant Thornton at the Royal Armouries in Leeds. The focus for the day was to bring people from the Yorkshire business community together to debate ‘How can we make Leeds a home where all sectors connect to create inclusive growth?’.

My first challenge when accepting this invitation was that we are a Wakefield based PR agency and we champion the district at every opportunity we get. What we have experienced over the years, on many occasions, is that Wakefield has a huge amount to offer but remains the forgotten relative to Leeds.

With a brief that focused so heavily on Leeds I had to question what value I could add and if I would become more of a hindrance than a help. In fact, I needn’t have worried. What was immediately enlightening on taking my seat in a room full of more than 300 people was that many of us felt the same.

The day was run to a tight schedule – with a countdown clock that actually turned red when your time was up. Despite being a little daunting, it kept us all focused and meant that we completed our tasks in the allocation we had been given.

Split into three sections we first had to use a process called Appreciative Inquiry (AI), which was first developed by David Cooperrider in the late 80’s at Case Western University.

The process is quite simple (which suits me!) it splits a task into four sections; appreciate, understand things worth valuing; the whole system, bringing a diverse group of people together to work on a challenge; task focused, be clear about what the objective is and assign individuals with the right strengths to the right part of the task accordingly and self-management, which gives people the chance to use dialogue and inquiry to reach an outcome.

In the first instance, we had to share stories about each other and what one thing we had done in the past that we were most proud of. This gave us a chance to get to know one another better but also to get animated about things that we wanted to share with a group of strangers.

It was an interesting way of finding out what really made people tick.

It became apparent that everyone around the table had different backgrounds, skills and experiences to share, which was really encouraging. We got to work, pipe-cleaners, pens and paints in hand.

In the second part of the session we had to dream… yes, dream.

Eyes closed – and feeling about as comfortable as a person with their eyes closed in a room full of 300 strangers – we got thinking. The swoony tones from our host made us think about what we would bring to Leeds to make it a better place to live, work and play.

Eyes open (thankfully) and we started to share our thoughts. There was a real positivity to the exercise, which somewhat surprised me as you usually get the odd moaner and groaner at these events, but our table was focused and ready to get to work.

The first decision we made was to change the Leeds to Yorkshire. We all agreed that as a collective, each part of Yorkshire had something different and exciting to offer that when accepted as a sum of the parts would create a region that simply couldn’t be bettered.

We considered each area in turn; Bradford, Wakefield, Halifax, Huddersfield, Kirklees, Doncaster, Calderdale… and so on. It was really encouraging to share the positives and to celebrate the many successes that already exist in the region, while then focusing on the next 10 years.

We were asked to present our ideas back and our table was chosen as just one to share our thoughts. Here’s the picture we created:

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The final session of the day asked us to share as many post-it notes as we could which would provide ideas of how we could meet with our objective, to make Leeds a home where all sectors can connect to create inclusive growth.

Some tables managed to come up with over 100 ideas! Our table was less productive but in fairness we were very much about quality as opposed to quantity. It was then up to us to decide which idea we wanted to share with the room.

Not easy when you’re challenging people’s ideas and contributions to the session but we got there in the end.

We had just one minute to stand on stage and let the world (ok, just the room but it felt like the world from up there!) know what we were proposing.

Throughout the day we kept coming back to one theme that is already synonymous with Yorkshire and its success, sport. And so, our big idea, our dream, our plan and our vision was *drum roll* to become a host city for the Olympics.

Before you snigger or scoff, this was about dreaming – not putting needless hurdles in place of ideas that were calling upon our creative juices to get everyone in the room excited over what could be. Plus, we had a fall-back option, we decided that to host the Commonwealth Games wouldn’t be a bad target should we not get the big one over the line.

I have to admit that the day was long and tough but definitely worthwhile. I met lots of new people and was surprised at how many I didn’t know. It was great to hear the suggestions and ideas of others and to play with smiley faces and coloured pens.

Well done to Grant Thornton for hosting an event that captured the hearts and minds of more than 300 people, it’s no easy task. It certainly got me thinking more about the little things that we can do to make a big difference in the region.  

Most importantly, I just can’t wait for the Olympics to come to Yorkshire.  

Open drives business forward with Ring appointment

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We are really pleased to announce that we are driving the business forward *pun intended* with our appointment as preferred PR partner for Ring, the leading lighting and vehicle accessories specialist to the aftermarket.

Following a competitive pitch, we secured the account to deliver year-round support for the business with the remit covering corporate, consumer and trade PR. In addition, we will work with the team at Ring to develop strategic campaigns to reinforce the profile of the company’s growing product portfolio.

Director of Open Comms, Lindsey Davies said: “The brief from Ring was something we quickly got to grips with. Having met the team, we recognised that they needed an agency that would be an extension to their team. Not only did we address the brief but also provided some creative recommendations that would push the boundaries beyond the more traditional approach taken by many in the market. Securing this account gives us a great start to the year.”

Marketing Manager for Ring, Henry Bisson said: “It was apparent from the first meeting that we were going to get along with Open and that was really important to us. The automotive sector can be more complex than people recognise and it can take some time to get used to the nuances involved but the agency is already making an impression and journalists we have worked with for years are accepting them as our PR division.”

We are really looking forward to getting to grips with a business that sits outside of the sectors that we already support including FMCG, food and drink, third sector, manufacturing and retail. We launched in 2008 and you can find us in Wakefield, West Yorkshire.

 

When 4-inches IS more than big enough!

There has been a bit of a ‘wobble’ within the media over recent days, with the findings of a report from the Women and Equalities Committee and the Petitions Committee announcing that women are regularly told to abide by discriminatory dress codes for work.  

This all follows a previous story about a young woman who was employed as a temp at a large professional services firm. On arriving at the job, she was told to change her smart black flats for 2-4 inch heels.

Ms Thorpe refused and was asked to leave the company unpaid. She subsequently launched a petition (they didn’t see that coming!) which encouraged over 150,000 signatures and achieved national headlines throughout the country in both print and across broadcast.

There are a few things I want to make clear here before we start:

1.       It is not ok to ask people to unbutton their shirts – ever

2.       It is not ok to ask people to wear shorter skirts – again, ever!

3.       If you have a dress code you must make it common knowledge before offering someone a position – it is not right to dismiss them afterwards

I have heard stories of PR agencies making people unbutton shirts before pitches and have seen pictures whereby teams (all women coincidentally) have been made to wear tight skirts and shirts in ‘corporate colours’, which by the way looked ridiculous!

The problem lies in the fact that these examples are extreme.

The issue here goes far beyond 4-inch heels or the press coverage that this story has generated. As is often the case, the truth behind the problem is dictated by the decisions that we make and the industries we choose to work in.

A doctor as an example has to wear scrubs. I’m sure that they don’t feel attractive in them and many would prefer to work in jeans and a t-shirt or perhaps even a dress and flats but that isn’t possible because it is permitted that they follow the rules of their employment for hygiene reasons.

You could – and I’m guessing you will – argue that an office is not a fair comparison and I agree BUT when you work in a professional environment there are certain expectations about dress code.

I would never put in place a dress code at Open Comms, it would go against everything we believe in, but I do expect that everyone in the team is a true representation of our brand and business – which isn’t ripped jeans and a t-shirt.

We don’t all dress in suits every day and on occasion we will come in wearing trousers and a top. There is absolutely no ‘rule’ in terms of footwear but again I wouldn’t expect anyone to turn up in trainers or wellington boots – the team use their judgement and know that they are representing Open when they are at work.

Within a half-page piece in the i newspaper, it said that the report findings had found “They heard repeatedly from women who said their feet would bleed and that they were in so much pain they were unable to walk properly or lead a normal life.”

Now, come on. I don’t know anyone at all that this has EVER happened to. I wear heels most days and I don’t suffer from feet that bleed or pain when I walk because I wear shoes that fit me properly, and I really don’t believe a 2-inch heel for most people would cause too many problems.  

I think the main point of the piece, which is eluded to but not spelt out, is that people want to wear what they choose – they don’t want to conform. I don’t agree at all with the extreme cases that are shared across the papers and to unbutton shirts and roll up skirts turns my stomach but there has to be some degree of making better judgements when you decide where to work.

As many of the jobs that are referenced are within the professional services you would expect that these people do in fact have choices and it is the responsibility of the employer to share any dress code during the recruitment process. It is then up to the candidate to decide if they abide by that or not.

We need to be really careful in these instances that we don’t get caught up in believing that looking smart and making an effort is to be criticised. I enjoy wearing dresses and heels to work, I like to feel smart and professional. When I wear jeans I’m usually at home and my mindset is completely different.

For me, putting on a dress, skirt or trouser suit takes me from Lin to Lindsey from Open Comms. I don’t think I’m alone in this thought and I hope that some common sense prevails over the coming weeks because quite frankly I don’t want to have to wear flats for fear of being demonised for choosing to wear 4-inch heels to work.

The extreme cases need to be dealt with but one size does not fit all. The impact that this report has on certain industries could be very damaging – and not for those wearing the heels!

How to make friends and influence business

I have always really enjoyed networking. Even though some people go cold at the very thought, the chance to meet new people always has me intrigued. It could be because I’m inherently nosy or that I’m simply sociable – perhaps a mix of the two – but either way it’s something I like to do.

Over the years we have been involved in a number of groups from the more formal that make you do business and pass leads, to those that encourage meeting people in order to build long-term relationships. Each of them has its benefits, depending on what you do, but the latter is very much my preference.

Formal Networking

What I find strange about formal networking is how forced it can be. You sit in a room, you deliver your ‘elevator speech’ and you listen intently while others tell you week in and week out what they do. Not only is it dull but it has people shaking in their high heels or flats*

It always surprised me that people didn’t grasp the basic concept; don’t be clever, keep it simple, say what you do, add an example and repeat… it’s not a test.

Having more fun  

I’m still not sure of the value of repetitive explanations to the same group of people when you could use that time to arrange a coffee with someone you are genuinely interested in. Better still, if you do your research you actually spend your time listening to music that you enjoy while meeting with others over a beer or a glass of wine.

Honestly, it’s not a joke, there is an event called Suits and Vinyl that is really picking up pace. It’s a fairly recent addition to the ‘corporate’ calendar but for businesses based in or around Wakefield it’s a real must. For more details visit:  https://www.linkedin.com/groups/4581132/profile

Working in Yorkshire

Yorkshire has so many interesting businesses doing some great things. All you need to do is pick up a copy of the Yorkshire Post, there are always an array of stories about the companies, large and small, that reside in the county.

From multi-million pound corporations to smaller businesses, each has a unique story to tell and their own network to share. You see, this is one thing that I did get from the more formal networking; when you meet people, you should see beyond that person and think more about their wider connections.

Now, I need to make it clear here, I do not meet people for who they may know, but there have been occasions where genuinely enjoying the company of people in a network has subsequently led to me meeting others of a similar mindset.

A group that means business  

Take the Yorkshire Mafia as an example. We have been involved with the organisation from the start and what it has produced has been staggering; Buy Yorkshire, the largest business-to-business conference in the North; Leeds Business Week, a week-long celebration of business in Leeds and regular drinks events to bring people together throughout the county.

If that wasn’t enough, there are further plans for the future but one thing is for sure, the Yorkshire Mafia has changed the way that people meet, learn and share in the region.

Whether you agree or otherwise with the Yorkshire Mafia brand – I personally think it was a great idea – what they have achieved is to champion Yorkshire as a region for getting things done and that’s what I really like about those that are involved.

I’ve made some connections and some good friends through the YM and I think this is what’s important when you network. It takes time, effort and, on occasion, you simply won’t be in the mood. It’s far easier to go to an event with people who are on your wave-length than those that sap you of all energy – we’ve all been there!

At YM events I like the fact I can walk in and there will be a friendly face. It’s really that simple. I like working with these people. They are well connected, many of them have been through similar achievements and challenges and they are all willing to give honest advice and even take time out of their day to help you if you ask.

This to me is real ‘networking’.

Making friends

When we think more literally about it, networking is just making friends for grown-ups. When you were little you didn’t care where someone came from, what their mum or dad did for a living or what they aspired to be when they were older but what naturally happens is you attract similar people. You typically become friends with people like you.

Meeting people in business is the same. I find that the groups that work best for me are those that have similar characters in them; work hard but remember to laugh. It’s so easy to walk into an event and be accosted by someone who has checked you out beforehand, seen your client list and made a point of introducing themselves.

The conversation usually starts like this “Hello, my name is (insert name), I’ve heard about you. I think we should get together for coffee, there is definitely some synergy between our businesses”. What that person actually means is, I have seen your client list and want their details. *Groan*

My mission moving forward

After too many years of visiting group sessions, I have decided to make it my mission to meet more often with those people that I have real respect for and who I enjoy spending time with. I’m still going to attend events that will give me the chance to meet with new people – it would be silly not to – but for the most part, I’m going to concentrate on the connections I already have and being more involved with the groups that I trust.

I think that others could benefit from doing the same. Rather than attending 4 breakfast meetings a month, 5 lunches and an evening meal, why not pick fewer events you want to go to because they might be fun? I’m guessing that you will be more relaxed, find it easier to be yourself and as such make stronger immediate connections than you will ever achieve from your elevator pitch.

I am going to put my theory to practice and will update with the results. Taking your own advice can difficult but I think 2017 is a year for making small changes that will have a big impact. I’ll keep you posted.

*subtle reference to today’s headlines about workwear for those who missed it – pfft, don’t know why I bother! 

When value and values collide

People often refer to PR as some dark art but that’s not the case. It is true that there is some ambiguity about what it delivers based on the difficulty in measuring the overall impact that you can achieve from a campaign. After all, how do you truly measure word of mouth or a person’s shift in sentiment without putting in place a robust research study?

The challenge is always the same, budgets. Clients invariably want more for less but in some instances, there has to come a point where that simply isn’t possible. The immediate problem with PR is that everyone believes that they can do it. The question remains, can you do it well?

PR is about managing the reputation of a business, arguably your biggest asset. For those that don’t believe in the value of PR just look at the largest brands in the world and explain why they invest in a specialism if it doesn’t deliver.

Some of the industry’s strongest ambassadors are Richard Branson and the founders of Innocent Drinks. It’s perhaps a cliché to use these as examples, but you can’t deny that the way that they defined their audience, shaped their message and then used PR to attract attention worked. 

As an agency, we have very strong values, we always have and it was one of our founding principles. It was 2008 and we were just about to feel the full force of the most challenging period of our careers, the recession.

Launching a business perhaps wasn’t the most obvious thing to do, but we had a plan. We would become the straight-talking PR agency that would deliver results. Our objective was simple; do the job and do it well. We were bold with our messaging too: what you see is what you get.

That still holds true today and some eight years on we have an enviable client list and a strong and capable team. We work together with our clients, we develop creative campaigns that meet with objectives, we deliver results and we repeat – it’s quite simple, well, on paper anyway.

Based on the return on investment you can generate from PR, I find it staggering that people don’t place more value on it. Obviously, I am biased, but if I had a marketing budget I would be making sure a good proportion was set aside to invest in my reputation.

All we hear about is the value of well written copy, a great piece which featured in the paper or on the radio or television, an article online that was shared hundreds of times. Where do people think this content comes from? It isn’t coincidence, it’s planned and timed to align with a wider campaign.  

PR isn’t a dark art but finding an agency that will add real value can be a challenge. One of the things we explain when we meet people is that we won’t ‘do air kissing’ – although a good Yorkshire hug is absolutely fine – and we will never take a client for lunch or dinner and charge it back – surely, that’s just rude?

But, there’s a balance.

We were attending a pitch in London recently and one of the only criticisms during feedback was that our budgets were significantly underestimated. Actually, they weren’t. The costs were based on actual quotes as opposed to approximates. We realised very quickly that our values had meant we had inadvertently undersold what we could deliver.

So, what was the answer? Should we increase our fees to a level that the client would find significantly eye watering or should we stand true to our values and hope that in time the client would come back – after all, they did mention that we were a team they would like to work with? 

When we launched we spent a long time deliberating over what we would be called. We found it really difficult to make it clear that we were genuinely different. We were going to use our business to tackle and challenge some of the perceptions that come with the industry head-on.

After many hours we looked at all of the words that we had used to describe what we wanted to be, what we felt and what was truly representative and Open jumped out at us. That is exactly what we are, open.

And there is the answer. We can’t change the way we work. We won’t be tripling the fees to appear suitably expensive. We will continue to do a great job and to be honest with our clients. Values are a huge part of our business, perhaps it’s our Yorkshire roots.

I am very proud of Open Communications and what it stands for. I’m not sure there are many people who can say that and really mean it. We will continue to pitch great creative ideas and campaigns that will add value and meet with objectives, we will continue to do this with integrity, we will not work with competing businesses, we will get excited by our results and we will have fun in the process.

If you want to join us on that journey, then please do give us a call. The kettle is always on.