Category: Blog

What you really achieve during a 16-hour working day

IMG_3960

It seems to have become a bit of a trend over recent years, where people make a point of letting you know just how many hours they have worked. It’s no longer considered acceptable to get into the office at 9am and work to 5.30pm, if you don’t work until your mind is whirring and your eyes are burning you simply aren’t committed.

I have to admit that before the Christmas break I had got into the habit of coming into the office at 7.30am and working through to around 6pm every day, thinking that this was reflective of my desire to do a good job for my clients. WRONG!

Most of my clients were still in bed, and although I do still get into the office earlier than my contracted 9am start, it is for the right reasons – usually to read the news and to prioritise my tasks for the day ahead.

While reading the i today I came across a really interesting article written by Katie Law, which further reinforced my fear that working longer hours doesn’t necessarily make you more productive. In fact, quite the opposite.

The piece, titled ‘How to do a full day’s work in only four hours’ (no surprises for why it caught my attention) places the emphasis on efficiency as opposed to the hours that we spend doing stuff. The main message, which was taken from Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, a 52-year old former Silicon Valley consultant and lifestyle expert, was that most people can only focus for four hours each day.

If that’ the case, why are we trying to drag this out to eight or more and commending people for it? Basically, we are rewarding inefficiency or at least giving someone who should be recruiting the kudos to believe they are super-human.

In order to be as effective as you can be, the idea is that you work to your limits and that we try to change the mindset that we have all created; longer and longer hours translates to commitment and results.

What started as a desire to do well suddenly manifests itself as a route to ill-health, tiredness, inefficiency and resentment.

But, here’s the good news, there are ways to change. The tips from the article are as follows:

1.       Four hours focus

Focus on tasks and don’t be distracted by emails, voicemails or unnecessary meetings.  Interestingly, it suggests Smartphones should be turned off at least two-nights a week.

2.       Curse of the open-plan office

We have an open plan office, and whereas it definitely has its benefits, the article makes a good point – it’s a honey pot of distractions. The recommendation is to use headphones to cancel out the noise and chatter or go back to individual offices *gasp*.

3.       Break-out areas are bad

Although breaks are confirmed as being a good thing, the idea of having a break-out area doesn’t serve its purpose. Rather than giving people the time to refocus, the article says that all they do is keep people in the office for longer.

4.       Keep meetings short

Pang says that meetings should never be longer than 40 minutes and any devices should be banned! I could marry this man. One thing that irks me above all others is people taking phones or laptops into meetings. It’s rude. As far as I’m concerned, we should go into a meeting, get to the point, create a plan, assign actions and get on with it. Perfect.

5.       Routine is critical

Probably my favourite of them all, and not easily achieved in PR, but routine keeps the mind focused and allows someone to be more organised. Needless to say, this means that you also use your time more wisely.

6.       Take a nap

I love this idea but it’s totally impractical. Apparently, companies including Google have nap pods and encourage employees to take 20-minute shut-eye every six hours. Bonkers, but hey, you can’t fault a multi-million corporation for trying something different. I’m all for a bit of disruption – in fact, I might go for a lie down. Zzzzzzz…

7.       Stop working mid-sentence

Finally, neuroscientists have found that when people stop working on something knowing that they will go back to it, their subconscious keeps processing it. As such, the idea is to embrace this and ‘zone out’. Let your mind do the work for you.

Although I don’t agree with all of the points made by Pang, I am going to try and put more routine into the way I work and to stop believing that working 16-hour days makes me a better and more productive person.

The truth is that no one will thank me, least of all the husband that I never see.

The subjective terror of humour in advertising

Humour is a tricky business when you work in marketing, not only is it very subjective but it is often easier to offend than it is to raise a smile. The challenge is that humour sells, but whether your particular preference is innuendo or something a little more subtle, you have to strike the right balance for your preferred target audience.

A recent example of a brand that I think have got it spot on is Maltesers with their ‘Look on the light side’ campaign. Not the obvious brand to push boundaries but what they have done is two-fold; use humour to encourage word of mouth and also champion disability, to celebrate inclusiveness and challenge perception.

Not something that you expect, but the way in which this series of TV adverts – and most recently the first ever braille only billboard – is nothing but superb. The subject of disability is handled sensitively and without the usual patronising undertones.

The TV adverts feature a series of people with a range of disabilities who share their unfortunate stories with friends. Everything from spasms to driving a wheelchair over the foot of a bride! What is really impressive is that rather than leaving you cringing, as you may have expected, they somehow bridge a gap and have you laughing out loud (I just can’t bring myself to write LOL).

What surprised me was that when the adverts were first launched – brilliantly timed to coincide with the Paralympics – people wanted to laugh but were unsure if it was ‘correct to do so’. The first advert shows a young woman explaining her most recent sexual experience with her new boyfriend and the fact that he benefits from her unfortunately timed spasm. Brilliant!

The way that the advert brings together human interest and humour makes for fantastic storytelling.

Hats off to Maltesers. I think the Paralympics this year really did showcase some exceptional talent and the Games were just as exciting as the Olympics. I also think The Last Leg is one of the most hilarious shows on TV and what these small steps continue to do is allow us all think differently and to celebrate each other for what we can do, as opposed to what we can’t.

My final thoughts, #Isitok to use humour and disability as the foundations to a marketing campaign – yes, when it’s done well.

Make sure spending a penny doesn’t make you an ar*e

Whilst browsing a local news site yesterday evening I came across a story which caught my attention. It was about the owner of a book store in Hawes, who has found himself in hot water – and headline news – for being a little less than friendly to his customers.

Wracking up an almost impressive 20 complaints in the last four years about his rudeness – in one instance referring to a customer as a ‘pain in the arse’ – Steve Bloom has got more than he bargained for. Not only is he considered rude but he brings new meaning to the phrase ‘spend a penny’ as he asks for a 50p donation for people to browse his store.

His excuse for being rude is that ‘he’s not really a people person’, but it does beg the question why he chooses to have a customer facing business. The donation on the other hand is apparently to make sure that his shoppers are ‘serious’. Book reading has suddenly become an extreme sport!

He resides in an area known for its attraction to hundreds of thousands of visitors a year, which are absolutely essential to the economic sustainability of the region, so again, to not be wholeheartedly welcoming is somewhat missing the point.

However… there’s always a but… and I feel quite sorry for this fella and I’ll explain why. For those who don’t know Hawes, it is a beautiful town in the North Yorkshire Dales and as well as being famed for its views, it is also the home to businesses such as The Wensleydale Creamery.

Coming from the Dales I am hugely biased and find it difficult to hear negative stories, however deserved, about the area and particularly the people and businesses based there. What did make me smile was that living in this area is like no other. People are ‘real’ and they say it as it is. There are no ‘airs and graces’ and everyone is on a level playing field, usually up to their knees in sheep muck.

There was many a time when we first arrived back in the Dales and I was astounded at how abrupt people were, only to realise that actually it’s just the way it is and you either like it or quite frankly leave.

People don’t always mean offence, they are just unwilling to change their ways to suit yours.

There has to be a little give and take. Clearly, not everyone is the same, and I suspect this man has made a bit of a nuisance of himself with the local parish council but is it the end of the world and should it be attracting national headlines?

The people in the Dales are honest, hardworking and typically friendly. They would do you a good turn before a bad and I am guessing some neighbours have been round to make sure that Mr Bloom, with his lovely flowery name, is doing ok following his rocket to fame.

We discussed this in the office and weren’t absolutely sure if this story wasn’t a PR stunt – albeit a good one. There must be an opportunity to find the grumpiest – yet most loved – shop owner in the country as a result. Someone that would make Mr Bloom smell like a sweet bouquet of fresh cut roses.

The outcome of the article in many media was a statement from Hawes Parish Council Chairman, John Blackie who said: “He is doing a disservice to the other traders, to the reputation of the town, which is very much a friendly town. We welcome people to come and visit us.”

The irony is that I would put 50p on the fact that this particularly book store owner is going to become somewhat of a local celebrity and tourists will be flocking to hand over their hard-earned coinage to take a serious nosy around his shop.

Not only will this benefit his business but also those around it. As they say, there is no such thing as bad publicity and I have to admit, I’ve considered suggesting a ride out on Saturday myself.

Editorial and advertising: perfect bedfellows or simply getting too close for comfort?

Pondering the world of PR and all that it encompasses.

Pondering the world of PR and all that it encompasses.

Obligatory start to all communications this week, Happy New Year to one and all! We hope that you had a well-deserved break and have come back refreshed, albeit a little on the plump side. I certainly have

So, as we embark on another year ahead what are the challenges that you will face? Have you even considered what is around the corner? Or are you still debating whether it’s appropriate to eat those left-over mince pies and to wash them down with sherry or a last glass of fizz?

Anyway, enough about my overindulgence, it’s irrelevant – we are back to it now and so my ponderings for 2017 begin.

Before Christmas, I noticed a shift in the way that an online regional title was reporting news.

Rather than simply sharing updates, as they had done for several years, they instead offered the chance for people to upload their own content for a fee. This is nothing new, it has been done before and as a PR agency we would consider it advertorial.

The reason for this is that those submitting news can write – within reason – whatever they like and share it on the platform as long as they pay to do so. So far, so good. However, what made this approach rather ‘unique’, and I believe added some intrigue, was that the platform made it clear that they would choose the best three articles to feature on their daily bulletin.

The reason I find this so fascinating is that it really does blur the lines between what constitutes advertising and editorial. In the first instance it is advertorial, as the person has paid for the piece to feature as they have written it, but in the second it becomes editorial, as a journalist has shared it with a wider audience alongside content that has not been paid for. Now to clarify, you can quite easily see the bylined author of each article so can still see which have been paid for but it’s a fine line.

I have conflicting thoughts about this; commercially I have to admit that it is a step forward and I also think there are many online titles that will follow, but what is unnerving is that people already find the relationship between advertising and editorial a challenge and I fear this will make it worse.

People will believe that to work in PR you write copy and upload it for a fee, which isn’t the case. What we do here at Open Communications is to draft good quality copy that is then sent to a journalist for them to decide whether to share it with their audience or otherwise.

I’ve been a follower of this particular news feed for a number of years now and am certainly keen to see if this approach evolves – or doesn’t, depending presumably on its popularity and ability to become an additional income stream.

I’m always interested to see how publications change the way that they work while maintaining the integrity of the editorial they share, so again, this will be one to watch.
Another shift in the wonderful world of PR and communications – there’s never a dull day.

Wishing you all the very best for 2017. We will be sharing our thoughts and opinions about subjects that are relevant to PR, marketing, communications and life in general. Remember to come back for updates and of course, feel free to add your own thoughts too.

AWARDS; GLORY HUNTING OR THE RECOGNITION YOU DESERVE

Whatever industry you work in there will be an awards ceremony that celebrates the success of the great and good in your sector. The same can be said for PR and I am really pleased to announce that Open Communications has been shortlisted for the Not For Profit category at the Yorkshire and Lincolnshire PRide Awards.

The awards take place tomorrow (Thursday 17 November) evening at The Queen’s Hotel in Leeds and will bring together hundreds of people from businesses and agencies throughout the two regions.

It has taken us eight years to enter the awards, not because we didn’t feel that our work was of a standard to be recognised but because, if we’re honest, we’ve spent more time submitting and winning awards for our clients.

It was only during a meeting earlier in the year that a client asked why we don’t practice what we preach, and I realised that actually awards for our own work should be as important as those of the brands that we work with.

So, what was stopping us?

Well, to be honest, we’ve never really felt that we needed awards to prove that we could do a good job – the evidence is in the results that we achieve. Then there was the fact that some awards make you feel like you’re simply glory hunting and again this isn’t really our style.

But, when it comes down to it awards do give a credibility by association and you have to be in them to win them! So, is it glory hunting or are you simply getting the recognition you deserve for the results you work so hard to achieve.

It wasn’t difficult to come up with a conclusive answer and so, we put pen to paper.

The challenge then was what to submit? We are very proud of the work that we produce and the results that we get for our clients so it was a difficult choice. We decided that we would focus on the Coalfields Regeneration Trust, the only organisation dedicated to former mining towns and villages throughout the country.

We have worked alongside the team at the Coalfields Regeneration Trust for more than 2 years now and have secured hundreds of pieces of coverage, which in turn has communicated with millions of people throughout the UK.

The results are consistently strong and as a result of our work communications is very much an agenda point around the board room table. We’ve even been invited to share our work with the trustees – which is a real achievement.

We have worked with the team to develop a tone of voice, aligned their messaging and revised their three-year strategy. We have also shaped their brand and vision for the future and changed the way that they communicate with different audiences to make sure they get the return on investment both from us and their own efforts.

Although we are confident with the results we have achieved, leading the organisation most recently to secure a Yorkshire Post Excellence in Business Award (2016), we know that it can go either way.

We have everything crossed and know that even if we don’t win, we have done a fantastic job and will continue to deliver for the Coalfields Regeneration Trust, evolving the way that they communicate to make sure as many people as possible understand what they are trying to achieve.

That said, we’ve cleared a space on our shelf (just in case) and hope to be updating the blog with pictures of Open Communications as we pick up our very first PRide award.

Wish us luck!

AN EXPERIENCE I WILL NEVER FORGET

Kevin card front Kevin card

It was just like any other day, nothing untoward, an early start and I was on the train down to London for a meeting. There was nothing particularly unusual about it and as I sat looking at my laptop and wondering where to start with my to do list I decided that first and foremost I needed a coffee.

This is where my day turned from non-descript to a nightmare. I realised with absolute horror that I had left my wallet in my gym bag, which was on the passenger seat of my car… at the train station in Leeds!

Rather than scream and shout I thought about the situation and decided that actually it wasn’t such a big deal. I could do without a coffee and I had no real need to purchase anything else while I was in London so it would be fine.

This was my first major mistake.

I called my husband who said that he would arrange for me to pick up some money from a cash machine. All I had to do was find an RBS, Natwest or Tesco cashpoint.

Sorted. Or so I thought.

At this point a fellow passenger who had overheard my conversation handed me £5. I was really moved that she had gone to the trouble to hand me money, knowing that she would never get it back and also that I was a complete stranger. This small act restored my faith in humans and the kindness that they can show.

I explained to the lady that my husband had arranged for me to get access to some money and handed her the note back.

Second mistake.

Believing that there would be a cashpoint at Kings Cross I carried on regardless, laughing at my utter stupidity and promising that moving forward I would put some money in my bag so that I would never be in this position again.

On arriving into Kings Cross I went on a mission to find a cashpoint. There wasn’t a single branded cashpoint in or around the station. Panic started to set in. What was I going to do? I went across the road to a bank and asked the clerk where the nearest Natwest or RBS was.

His response was nothing short of baffling. Despite explaining that I had no money, he suggested I get a bus. I must have looked a little confused and reiterated that I had no money. He then said ‘Well use what god gave you. You’re a woman, just charm the driver’.

Needless to say, I walked out knowing that this was never going to happen not least because I have some self-respect.

So, angry and becoming increasingly nervous, I realised I needed the toilet. And that’s when it dawned on me. I couldn’t go anywhere – not even the station – without money. I didn’t have 40p and that meant I couldn’t access a toilet.

It was at this point I realised with absolute clarity that I had never really considered what having money, even small amounts, allows you to do. Without it you simply don’t have access to the very basic of facilities.

I then started to think about the homeless. I’ve been involved with charities that support rough sleepers in Leeds and have always considered myself to be relatively well informed but this experience left me shaken.

It took me more than an hour to find a Tesco and to access some cash but what about the homeless. They don’t have a husband to send them a code, which gives them access to money and therefore all of the things that we take for granted.

I often give money to rough sleepers but for the first time I realised that they need more than that. They need help and support. They need to break a cycle and they need to be acknowledged. I see the homeless but I’ve never really seen life through their eyes.

I will never forget the feeling that I got when I realised that because I didn’t have money, I didn’t really exist. People weren’t willing to help me and I didn’t have the necessary funds to help my situation.

This year, as a business, we will be showing our support for Ho, Ho, Homeless, a charity initiative which was started last year by a friend and client, Geoff Shepherd. The idea came to Geoff when he was Christmas shopping with his two young sons.

On walking past a homeless man on a bridge, Geoff’s son asked why the man was sitting there and why he was begging. He then asked if there was anything they could do to make his situation better. Geoff handed the man some money and in response he wrote a Christmas card and passed it to his son.

This simple gesture, and his son’s innocent but relevant questions, was enough for Geoff to realise that he did want to do more and so he called upon the business community to donate cash, clothes and gifts.

We provided 200 body warmers last year and will be doing something similar this year however the difference will be that I will appreciate just how difficult life is for those who don’t just find themselves stranded in London for a day but in a world of ignorance and isolation for the foreseeable future.

That day taught me two lessons. Not only did I learn to check that I have my wallet with me when travelling but also to appreciate just how fortunate I am. I will never take what I have for granted again.

Saved by the bell…or not as it would appear

So, it’s that time of year again when exasperated (and downright exhausted) parents wave their little darlings back off to school for another year.

If your existence is a predominantly child-free one, you may expect to pass through this period relatively unaware of this significant development in little Charlie’s (your second best friend from primary school’s third cousins) life. However, if you are anything like the billions of social media users across the globe, then you are undoubtedly sadly mistaken, because somewhere in social media’s unwritten rule book, it seems that ‘first day back at school pics’ are deemed obligatory. It’s even gone as far as videos of said child’s wave at the gates with audible sniffles and hiccuping from parents that just can’t believe their little darling has grown up so quickly.

Personally, I try to steer clear of what I suspect has become a bugbear for many unwitting social media users. But it does beg the question: where is the line when it comes to sharing our lives and, more importantly, that of our children on the internet, and when does the sharing of our personal lives begin to invade that of our ‘friends’? Of course, you may suggest that the ‘remove friend’ and ‘unfollow’ options are provided for precisely this reason, but in reality, I suspect that these options are a last resort for many, who, instead, will put up with annoying social media antics with nothing more than an eye-roll in protest. Yes- that will really show them!

Never underestimate real talent

I’m somewhat ashamed to say that following the London Olympics in 2012 I was relieved to turn my TV back to my normal viewing and didn’t give a second thought to the Paralympics. It wasn’t that I didn’t care as such, or that I didn’t think the talents of these athletes needed support, it was just that it didn’t really register with me.

This year, however, is a totally different situation and much of it, I believe, is down to The Last Leg and Claire Balding. I make no secret of the fact that I love The Last Leg, it is one of few programmes that can effectively debate really serious global issues with humour, and Claire Blading is a great example of a presenter that manages to be both professional and personable while having an edge.

I also commend Claire for providing some continuity as she chose to go from presenting the Olympic Games to the Paralympic Games despite the channel change – I’m sure a pay cheque was involved along the way, but it has given further credibility to the coverage none-the-less.

Thanks to the way in which Channel 4 have taken the Paralympics, added some personality and made it a ‘must watch’, for the first time that I can remember people are discussing how many medals we have won and sharing details of the athletes that are competing each day.

Jonny Vegas may not have been an obvious choice where athletics and elite sportsmen and women are concerned but he’s added a comedy to the Games that otherwise wouldn’t have been there. Nominated to get the crowds going, he has shown his stomach painted as a Union Jack, handed out shower caps and screamed with delight throughout each event.

What better way to champion our Paralympic athletes than by celebrating in the only way he knows how – with real gusto! Like a true Brit on tour, he’s had people chanting, singing and dancing and it hasn’t always been in support of England with him cheering on Jamaica despite them turning in a less than medal winning performance.

And perhaps that’s part of the appeal. The Paralympic Games aren’t taking themselves too seriously. It’s not that the athletes don’t deserve the commendation or the support they have received – quite the opposite in fact – but what has become apparent is that these sportsmen and women have personalities and they are ‘real people’ beyond their chosen events.

Like any athletes they have dedicated their lives to training, they are elite, they are the best, they are of a gold winning standard but they are also husbands, wives, sons, daughters, dads, mothers and friends.

I would like to think that what Channel 4 have successfully done is two-fold; they have raised the profile of the Paralympic Games to a mass market, allowing people to feel involved and showcasing how inclusive it can be – something that I feel has previously been notable in its absence – and they have created opportunities for these athletes to secure sponsorship from brands, an essential consideration for their future careers.

For once, I can see Paralympic athletes being just as appealing to brands as Olympians and rightly so. If you work hard to become the best and you dedicate your life to taking part in a tournament that will see you represent your country you deserve something back.

So, which brands will be the first to take to the podium and to give something back to these amazing individuals? Who knows, we might even have a sports personality of the year within the Paralympic Team GB. Let’s be honest, much stranger things have happened.

#Isitok to integrate social and TV

I hadn’t realised just how used we all are to sharing our thoughts about certain TV programmes and documentaries with absolute strangers until we started to talk about it in the office recently.

I’ve never really considered how my consumption of media has changed as a result of social media, but after taking a step back I realise that actually, in some instances, I expect as much from my Twitter feed as a I do the programme that I’m watching.

Take the Last Leg for example. As well as being one of my all time favourite programmes it is a show that openly champions the use of social media to engage with a captive audience and share ‘real time’ opinions that then instigate further debate.

Using #Isitok the presenters integrate the use of Twitter into the show in order to collate responses from viewers. A series of questions will be asked and the hashtag means that people are able to respond and also engage with each other.

Some people aren’t so sure about the need to integrate social into programming and I can understand that view, after all if you’re watching a programme shouldn’t you be giving it your full attention or just sitting back to relax and enjoy?

I think there’s an element of both. I watch certain programmes without even considering social media, but then there are others that have me almost habitually grabbing for my iPhone.

In most instances it seems to be documentaries and programmes that have a human interest or some element of social psychology behind them that I find most interesting. I like to see what other people think and agree or contradict based on my own feelings.

Gogglebox is another great show when it comes to Twitter. There are always insightful comments, which are often about very serious situations, which despite being ‘out of date’ create engagement and debate online.

For me, social media and TV are perfect bedfellows and as someone who doesn’t spend a great deal of time in front of the box, when I do it’s great to know that there is a wider audience who are willing to compare and contrast views about the programme we are all watching.

So, #Isitok? Yes, I think it is. In fact, I’d be lost without it and if you don’t want to engage with people online while watching TV, the answer is simple – turn your phone off.

Ends.