Tag: agencies

White-label – more like white flag!

I was talking to a fellow PR practitioner recently (it does happen!) and they mentioned that they’d been approached by a ‘full service’ agency asking them to white-label their offering – for anyone who doesn’t know what this means; it is doing the work for the agency, as if you were them, as opposed to working directly with the client.

I know many agencies who work like this and my feeling on the matter has never changed. As an agency your ‘job’ and objective for your client is to build a brand, if that means working with a series of other agency specialists then so be it – but the idea is that you get people talking and you share messages about that business.

How on earth can you expect to do this for them, if you can’t and don’t do it for your own business? Ok, so I appreciate that some agencies get most of their work through white-labelling but there are two points that I find fundamentally wrong with this;

  1. You should be proud of your work and want to share your ideas with the client direct – knowing that they have been presented correctly
  2. Nine times out of ten the ‘host’ agency claims to be full service and isn’t, hence why they come to you in the first place – so already your relationship with your / their client is on difficult ground

To use a ‘daddism’ ‘Oh what a tangled web we weave’.

You may as well wave a white flag if you are white-labelling because as far as I can tell you must be desperate for work if you are potentially willing to have your values compromised to work for others – who are not willing to give you the credit.

Now, before I get a barrage of people calling me crazy, white labelling is not working with other agencies or even working as a team with a lead agency – it is allowing an agency to share your work with a client as their own. I should also mention here that there are a number of genuine full service agencies who do a fantastic job and good on them but that’s not what my ‘rant’ is about.

We have been approached by many agencies in the past to be a white-label supplier and the answer is always the same – NO. We are proud of our agency, of our values and of the ideas and recommendations that we produce, so why would we pass all of that on to someone to share as their own?

This leads me to my next point – don’t profess to be full service if you aren’t. We tell all of our clients that we are a PR agency, we specialise in PR, copywriting, social media and sponsorship. There are many other facets to what we do but principally it all falls neatly under the banner of PR.

Now here’s the clever bit *puts on sarcastic face*, we are honest with our clients and tell them that if they do need other skills that we are unable to offer, we can work with trusted partners or – now wait for it – pass them the details direct.

BOOM! And there you have it folks, it really is that simple.

If you don’t do something in house then let your clients know and send them the details of trusted partners – unless of course you are out to fleece not only the client but your partner and then ignore my advice because your objective will be to ‘coin in’ mark-up fees from both sides.

Interestingly I have noticed that a higher number of agencies are choosing to specialise rather than claim to be full service and I’m pleased to see it. I’m a huge advocate for doing what you do, and doing it well.

One of my favourite phrases is: “If you want to be all things to all people, you end up being nothing to nobody.”

Our clients have always thanked us for being honest and we’ve never found that a brand chooses to work with someone else because they are full service. In fact, we were recently in a review with one of our largest clients who mentioned that being a specialist PR agency is a huge benefit.

For those of you who are thinking about white-labelling then please reconsider. I have seen some agencies create and produce some fantastic work and never get the credit that they deserve – make sure you’re not one of them.

Local agencies work together for smart launch

Open Communications and Our Agency, both based at Nostell Priory Estate Yard outside of Wakefield, recently worked together to launch the new smart card brand MCard, which will make travel throughout West Yorkshire easier.

 

The launch, which took place at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, brought together all travel operators from across the region, alongside Metro, to announce plans that will roll out a strategy that will ultimately allow passengers to use a single ticket to access all bus and rail networks using touch based smart enabled technology.

 

The design agency worked with the PR team to create an event that would announce the plans and unveil the MCard brand to key stakeholders, transport operators and media. In addition branded cupcakes and goody bags including umbrellas, nail files, coffee cups and USB sticks were also handed out to mark the occasion.

 

WY TICCO Executive Officer, Richard Harris, said: “The launch of the MCard marks a substantial milestone in our journey and we were really pleased with the outcomes, which were as a result of a genuine team effort. Our Agency and Open Comms worked effectively together to bring about a positive result.”

 

Our Agency Owner, Ian Winterbottom said: “The MCard launch is the culmination of almost a year’s work. We have been keeping the brand under wraps until now, being unable to disclose any details of the project. When it came to collaborating with a PR agency, Open Communications was the perfect partnership. We’ve worked on projects together in the past and being neighbours on the Nostell Estate meant we could ensure confidentiality. The team at Open Comms share our Yorkshire sense of humour and work ethic and we knew we could count on them to deliver the event.”

 

Director at Open Communications, Lindsey Davies said: “This project was an ideal opportunity to show how two teams really can come together to meet with the clients objectives. As we are both based at Nostell Priory it makes perfect sense for us to come together and share our complementary services. We will certainly be working with Our Agency again in the future.”

 

Our Agency pitched against four other creative agencies in 2012 to win the creative project and has been working towards the launch for some 6 months. Founded in 2007, Our Agency has a number of local clients including Sugden’s, one of Wakefield’s most established companies. And it’s not only Yorkshire based organisations who find Our Agency a great team to work with, they have also recently completed projects in Turkey, Azerbaijhan and The Ukrane, proving that a local business can hold its own internationally.

 

Open Communications, the straight talking PR agency, was founded in 2008 by Emma Lupton and Lindsey Davies. The business has grown over recent years with the team working with companies of all sizes from Abdul’s takeaway and diners and Spectrum Community Health through to HARIBO and Pom-Bear.

 

For more details about Our Agency please visit www.our-agency.co.uk and for information about Open Communications please visit www.opencomms.co.uk.

Are we stifling creativity with processes?

We were recently invited to a Mi Networking event in Leeds and decided that as the focus was about innovations in technology we would go along and see what it was all about. Honestly expecting to hear about the advancements in social media (again) and how it’s imperative to ‘engage’ and ‘share’ with your audience, we were pleasantly surprised to be confronted by Dave Birss.

In order to give you some background, Dave is a creative but that doesn’t really do him justice. He has worked for some of the world’s largest agencies and has written books and created websites and apps more or less in some instances because he could. They are funny, quirky, interesting and in most cases useful – well other than ‘are you an asshat’.

What made him different was his enthusiasm for genuine creativity – not pretty pictures or the latest App that delivers very little but you can watch in 3D! – but real life examples of pushing the boundaries beyond brand.

During the session Dave focused on taking education and creating inspiration. He explained that creativity is stifled with process and I’m inclined to agree. We all get so caught up in systems, processes and procedures that we think in a linear way, without even recognising that we are doing it. This was lesson one for me!

He then went on to explain that if your creative idea doesn’t make a real difference you need to change the way that you are thinking – which is exactly what he did. He shocked me a little by announcing that not every brand needs social media. I thought I was pretty alone with this school of thought but apparently not. He, like me, feels that it’s more important to identify with the consumer behaviours of a product or service before jumping on a bandwagon and that traditional mediums can still deliver excellent results and jaw dropping impact.

Dave kept coming back to the same thing time and time again with the examples that he was showing – ideas, ideas and more ideas. He shared some websites, which some of you may be familiar with but I certainly wasn’t – Kickstarter as an example. This is a site which allows you to showcase an idea in a bid to generate funding. Those who like the idea will purchase the product in order to allow you to invest further in its development. What an amazing concept.

Then there was his thoughts on how in order to create truly integrated campaigns all of the technologies need to work together. Now, this is where it gets interesting. Dave wasn’t suggesting you make a design work across platforms or look pretty on an iPhone but that one concept, creative or theme was used across platforms and performed in a different way to add value to the user. So you could have one campaign with multi-purpose depending on what platform the consumer chose to use. Brilliant!

A lot of what Dave said made perfect sense, although it became frighteningly apparent that his passion for technology goes well beyond that of most people when he started to show individuals who are linking their nervous systems to computers and implanting chips in their bodies to create additional senses – hmmm, I’ll leave that one for now thanks.

As a result of the session we were buzzing and although a lot of what Dave said would fit into the ‘oh, of course’ category, it was a real pleasure to watch and learn about technology from the perspective of a true creative.

For more details about Dave Birss visit:   http://userguidetothecreativemind.com/davebirss/index.html

So thank you Mi Network for inviting us to this event. It was a great opportunity to take some time out and get back to what we are good at; getting excited over ideas, proposals and the brands we work with.

Why careful doesn’t mean boring

I’ve worked with lots of creative people throughout my career, many of whom I totally respect for the fantastic work and ideas they have developed, but I can’t help feeling that fairly conclusively there has always been a belief that when you work with large marketing and PR agencies careful has to mean boring.

I disagree. I think in some instances careful should be changed to ‘managed by professionals’.

If I was the owner of a brand and I had hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of pounds to spend I wouldn’t want to let that budget loose on a team that would come up with stunts and ‘creative’ ideas that could be to the detriment of my business longer term.

Here’s the thing – pretty pictures can be very appealing and they can even make what in the cold light of day would be a ludicrous idea seem like a brainwave. I’ve seen it happen many times before and it usually lands on the door of the PR agency to sort it out once the ‘big idea’ hits the media and is found to be the emperor’s new clothes, or worse.

At Open Communications we have always maintained that we would work within a client’s budget to come up with campaigns that first and foremost meet with objectives. I can hear some agencies groan just reading this but it’s true. What’s the point of even employing an agency otherwise?

We could come up with yet another stunt that put yet another over-sized object in Trafalgar Square, we could consider a one off activity that would mean we claimed much of the budget in management and had little to do for the rest of the year and we could chase industry awards with our big ideas but the reality is that we just don’t work like that.

We try to create long term strategies that we can implement over time to ensure that our clients engage across all channels and with all audiences. We use online, in print, digital, outdoor and sponsorship. We don’t profess to be all things to all people but one of the things that I am most proud of is that we are good at what we do – and that’s PR, traditional and online.

So for all those who think that careful is boring just consider how you would manage your project or brief if you were playing with your own money.

 

A proud Northerner

There have been a number of comment pieces recently requesting that brands and businesses consider suppliers outside of London. I wasn’t aware that there was a need to put out this call to action but apparently some companies feel that in order to get the best you have to go down South.

You won’t be surprised to hear that I’m not a believer of this philosophy, not because I’m from the North and proud of it but because I fail to see how geography can make you the best at what you do. I can only presume that you get to Kings Cross and by some miracle become a guru in your given sector.

It’s laughable that businesses still feel the need to ‘fake’ an office in London in some bizarre effort to 1. Look bigger than they are and 2. Attract bigger business.  Would it not be more productive and indicative of long term relationships to be honest?

With transport links being what they are today you can get to London, should you wish to, from Wakefield in around 2 hours. Knowing a number of people who live and work in London they find it difficult to cross the city in this time.

Not only do I know that there is an immense amount of talent in the North but also that we have leading organisations based here and also the events to support business and encourage growth.

Take for example two events that are coming up in the next couple of months – and I do have to take this opportunity to confess that Open Communications manage the PR for both – Wakefield Business Week and the Buy Yorkshire Conference.

Wakefield Business Week is a celebration of the success of the district. The week-long showcase is an open source event, which means that it is fully inclusive and allows for any business, group or individual to get involved and promote an event they are hosting from 18 – 22 March.

Right in the middle of the week is Wakefield Business Conference which will bring together more than 500 delegates, 50 exhibitors and a selection of headline speakers who will come together to network, connect and share their experiences. What a great way to meet potential suppliers and clients.

Then there is the Buy Yorkshire Conference, the largest business to business event in the North. This event, formerly the Yorkshire Mafia Conference, is off the scale. Attracting a massive 3,500 delegates, 170 exhibitors and a list of speakers that you simply couldn’t pay to see it is a must for any serious business.

We will be exhibiting at both of these conferences and I am looking forward to both. Not because we may generate business as a result, although that is obviously part of the reason we will be there, but to meet with new faces and contacts.

I am looking forward to introducing people to Open Communications and explaining that there is such a thing as a straight talking PR agency that cares more about results than air kissing! I want people to understand that you don’t have to go to London to find a PR agency that you can trust and most importantly that we are part of a vibrant and growing business community.

Business is still booming in the North and companies that only work with those who are based in the South are quite honestly missing out.

 

Finally, PR takes it seat at the boardroom table

I’ve just finished reading an excellent article in Management Today magazine. The piece focuses on the changing face of PR – and I don’t mean one shade of designer lipstick to another – no, finally it would appear that the industry is getting the recognition that it deserves and is taking a seat around the boardroom table.

Having worked in the PR industry for more than a decade and with a BA (Hons) degree in the specialism, I have long been an advocate of the merits of PR when it is practiced correctly and professionally.

As I see it there are problems with the PR industry in the same way that there are problems with any other; you have the good and you have the bad and it can be difficult to decide which is which. One will wine and dine you in fancy restaurants, while the other tells you the harsh truth and what to do about it – far less appealing than a good lunch but undoubtedly more beneficial in the long run.

The truth of the matter is that PR has always been about reputation – that has never changed and be it online or in print, what is said in the street or down the pub, it all goes back to the same thing; if you don’t know what people are saying about you, there is nothing you can do about it.

Businesses are thankfully coming around to the understanding that during any situation, good or bad, the first point of call is to make sure that you are communicating effectively with your audiences. In order to do this an organisation requires an advisor, a specialist, someone to rely on with their plans, aspirations and concerns.

The piece in Management Today very much focuses on the changes to PR based on the use of social media but I think there is more to it than that.

Tim Bell comments: “If you want to live in a transparent world then someone has to give the information about you. If you don’t want someone else to, you have to do it yourself. That’s what PR people do.”

Sure, social media and a desire by the consumer to share their thoughts and opinions with the world – plus having the ability to do so quickly and easily across a multitude of platforms – has meant that PR professionals have more to do but that is simply good practice and the evolution of an industry which spans hundreds of years.

The real change I think has come in a shift of mind set. People working in PR have thankfully taken a long, hard look at the industry and realised that as a discipline we were losing out. We weren’t taken seriously in our tottering high heels and we needed to toughen up and take our seat around the boardroom table.

Those who were serious about a career started to showcase their skills in the situations that deliver harsh recognition; a crisis without a communications professional who is experienced, able and capable of dealing with it can bring a business literally crashing to its knees.

In Management Today Jeremy Hazlehurst comments:

“PR the profession has changed beyond recognition in the past decade. Although media relations activities have burgeoned, involving the paper press, online publications, television and bloggers, it is only a small part of the job now. Press offices have been swallowed up by communications departments that deal with investor relations, analysts, shareholders, regulators and government. All are the guardians of the most precious and difficult to measure of assets – corporate reputation.”

I’ve never been ‘typically PR’ and have always felt that the discipline should be considered a necessity as opposed as a nice to have, not just because I work in the industry but because I see every day the benefits that it delivers, which are often measured less by coverage and more by ‘real life’ results and the situations which are in some cases avoided.

It’s no secret that I almost left the PR industry altogether before launching Open Communications with my business partner Emma because of the way in which some agencies work. I didn’t want to go to lunch or out to parties, I didn’t want to charge by the hour working on campaigns I knew were over-priced and wouldn’t deliver and I didn’t want to feel like I was doing the clients I was working with a disservice by not going that extra mile.

What I did want was to work with journalists so that my clients would hit the headlines, I wanted to use communication to generate business, really get to the heart of the companies I was working for and be a part of their success. I wanted to advise them in the best way possible and explain in no uncertain terms that as a direct result of my actions their business was stronger and that was down to reputation, which was driven by PR and communications.

Thankfully I can now do all of these things. I have always been a champion of ‘real PR’ but I am pleased that others are now recognising the merits to working with agencies and practitioners.

Cynical or otherwise when you look at the organisations that have failed over recent years in many instances arguably the banks have been at fault but it is also interesting to note that many of them were lacking in direction, their customers and prospects weren’t aware of exactly what they offered and this was down to poor communication. As a result they weren’t selling and in turn ceased to exist.

I hope that this new attitude to PR continues and that businesses recognise the value of the services that practitioners and agencies offer.  The truth of the matter is that PR should be at the heart of any business model and in order to get it right you need to rely on a professional.

 

Open Comms makes a move and secures two new clients

“Open Communications, the PR and marketing communications agency based at Nostell Priory Estate Yard near Wakefield, is celebrating four years in business with two new account wins and a move to larger premises.”

How exciting, we are finally in a position to announce our office move (it was three months in the planning!). After achieving four years of growth we have moved to purpose built offices at Nostell Priory Estate Yard. It’s exciting times and not least because we now have our very own meeting room and a store cupboard for all of the products we manage for our clients – Hannah still looks gleeful everytime she comes in and doesn’t have to move a pile of boxes to get to her desk.

In addition to the office move we can also confirm that we have been appointment as preferred PR supplier to Al-Murad Tiles, the largest independent tiles re-seller in the UK and Abduls takeaway and diner with sites in Pontefract and Wakefield.

We will be managing the PR and promotions for both businesses and will work with the teams to generate campaigns that run throughout the year increasing footfall and improving brand awareness.

It has been an interesting and eventful four years to say the least. We set out to create a straight talking PR agency that would care less about air kissing and more about achieving results and that’s exactly what we have done. As a result, we now have new premises and a list of clients that we are incredibly proud of.

As well as securing retained clients, over the years we have also developed a range of services including Open for New Business, an offering which makes PR accessible to smaller businesses and Open 27/7, crisis management for companies who require support during their most challenging times.

Since we launched in 2008 Open Communications has developed as an agency and we now work with some of the UK’s leading businesses including snack manufacturer, Intersnack and confectionery brand HARIBO. We have also been proud to work with smaller businesses who we continue to support as they develop and grow.

All in all we are a very proud and passionate team and would like to take this opportunity to thank our clients, our suppliers, colleagues and those we network with. Here’s to four years and many more to come!

Tears from laughing or a crying shame?

I made the mistake of watching Work Experience, the new reality sitcom, on E4 last night. I was really looking forward to the programme after noticing the adverts and was eager to see what it was all about – expecting, wrongly, that it would be a laugh a minute and something to discuss with friends over a few drinks at the weekend.

I usually enjoy these types of programmes – you know the ones – where people are ‘set up’ Jeremy Beadle sty-lee, in a situation which could be real yet isn’t, and there are hilarious consequences as a result. The first problem with this programme was that it wasn’t funny.

The scene was set at a fashion PR agency in London. The agency named, Grade PR, has the usual stereotypical boss; bitch in high heels, hoping to fall pregnant and being generally rude and abusive to everyone she meets, particularly her PA. Her side kick, who she had naturally slept with, was equally condescending, while also being a complete sleaze.

This cast, which includes a few others who are ridiculously over the top and not worth a more descriptive mention, are supposed to be providing two genuine placement students with work experience – and this is where I get really angry. The students are made to run around like idiots, tanning people, casting models and being shouted at – dealing with the tantrums and traumas of a ‘professional PR agency’ in a bid to win the real prize, which is… you’ve guessed it, an intern at a real agency.

What annoys me most about this programme is that it is a huge insult to the PR industry and I’m appalled that in both cases the placement students clearly expected some level of deva-esque behaviour. There were moments where I was so outraged I was literally shouting at the TV.

As a PR professional I find it insulting that a programme like this should be considered comedy and not because I can’t laugh at the industry I work in, after all I’ve come across my fair share of air kissing, Prada wearing luvvies in my time, but because we feel it’s appropriate to allow this perception to continue and to be fuelled. In my opinion it’s gone beyond comedy and is now a genuine expectation.

Many PR professionals will agree that to do the job you need to be qualified, experienced and able not only to write copy and secure coverage but to manage the most precious asset a business owns – its reputation. So why then do we all sit back and allow these stereotypes to continue, which only seek to ruin the one thing we maintain to know how to manage, the reputation of our industry.

I dread to think what will happen in next week’s episode but I think I’ve had my fill. I will continue to hold my own opinions about the industry and will promote PR as the professional specialism it is, after all if I’m not prepared to try to change these perceptions all I am really agreeing to do is to conform to them, and that simply is not going to happen.

As for placement students, please, please don’t think that even during difficult times you should be treated like this, irrelevant of the industry you are working in – it’s not funny and it’s not right.

 

Don’t reinvent your business

Since we launched Open Communications in 2008, we have learnt a lot – not least the difference between a P9, P11 and P45!  We have also done a great deal of networking and now have a number of suppliers who we regularly rely on to provide us with the products and services we need.

What has always worried me is that there are lots of people we meet who say that in order to ‘stay ahead of the game’ you have to constantly reinvent your business. I don’t agree with this at all. I often come across people who claim to do this and then that and then the other and the harsh reality is that they don’t do any one thing well.

We are a PR agency and we also provide clients with marketing communications – in simple terms we are all about the words. If you want to communicate with someone and you want to bring a campaign to life then we will support you to do it.

We work with businesses of all sizes and there have been times when I have to admit that I can understand why some agencies profess to be ‘full service’ when the truth is that they just outsource to freelancers.

There are two things that are wrong with this approach; you are not being honest with clients and it’s likely to come back and bit you on the backside and any company managing an account in this way is going to take on the hassle of justifying someone else’s work when / if it goes wrong, even worse the client will believe it’s down to you!

Rather than reinventing your business, why not add products or services which complement your current offering. As an example we launched Open for New Business, which allows us to work with smaller companies who cannot afford a retained agency.

The benefits are that a smaller business gets access to our knowledge and time, while we extend our offering to a wider customer base.  Since launching this service in 2010 we have had some excellent feedback and as we have been open and honest with clients about why we are doing this and what exactly we offer it works.

Open for New Business doesn’t mean that we can’t work with bigger business, it just means that we can also work with smaller companies who are in the position of wanting to know more without having the budgets to invest in a month on month service.

If we started to offer design, web development, sampling and event management then that would be a different thing entirely and I’m sure our clients first question would be to see examples of previous campaign and proven results – oops, we don’t have any doesn’t sound too good!

So next time you hear someone suggesting that you reinvent your business, think twice. What will your customers think if you suddenly start offering a host of new services – and be honest, would you have the time to do all of these things to the standards that your customers expect? If the answer is no, then it’s worth going back to the one thing you’re good at and building a reputation for doing it really well.

Don’t presume to know that you know it all

This morning I had the opportunity to attend a Yorkshire Mafia event; Business Breakfast, Write Your Own Headlines delivered by Mary Askew, a former news writer and BBC broadcast journalist. 

People may be wondering why a PR professional with more than 15 years of experience would need to know how to write a press release and what to look out for when working with the media. Well, I will explain. It’s because I don’t believe you can ever know enough about the industry you work in and I’m always interested to hear what other professionals have to say and how they deliver to an audience.

As it happens the event was interesting and insightful, better still it was jargon free. I thought Mary did a great job of keeping the audience interested with examples, imagery and anecdotes. Geoff Major, a businessman and charity ambassador that many of you will know, was even interviewed live to camera. The presentation was clear and concise and I found that some of the ideas were an interesting take on what we already do here at Open Comms. It never hurts to try new things and we will be putting some of the lessons learnt into practice.

I also thought that although I didn’t agree with everything that was said – let’s be honest for a PR and journalist to agree on everything would be a little strange – I did understand the points and why they were being presented.

I don’t want to give too much away because I would recommend that people take the time to go to a session with Mary if they get the chance but needless to say if you need the basics, and a little bit more, then it’s worth a couple of hours out of the office.

Once again, a great session offered by the Yorkshire Mafia and an event that genuinely adds value to smaller businesses who want to manage their own PR and generate their own headlines.