Tag: Business

Has ‘STOP PRESS’ taken on a totally new meaning?

Having worked in the PR industry for more than a decade I have been some significant changes, not least the move to more online mediums and methods of communication. There was once a time when you would draft, approve and print a press release before spending hours at a fax machine – not any more.

Digital technology and new ways of working mean you can have a press release drafted and out of the door in a matter of hours. It isn’t just ways of working that have changed however with more newspapers featuring online content that can be viewed and then shared with millions of people around the globe at the touch of a button.

Despite how easy it is to go online I can’t help but feel a little sad that we are losing the tangible benefit to having a paper and more importantly, in my opinion, the experience that print media delivers; getting a cup of coffee, opening a paper, looking at the supplements, smelling the print, turning the pages, cutting pieces out for reference. It all adds to the whole experience of buying and reading the news.

There will be many people in the PR and marketing industry who will be shouting that I’m in the dark ages and to get with the times, after all you can bookmark or share articles in the same way you could cut out clippings and its simple and easy to turn on an iPad or even access the media through a smart phone while having a coffee but that’s not my point.

We still find that when given the choice a client would rather see a full page printed piece in a regional or national newspaper, rather than a URL to a piece online. This may well change over time as people become more receptive to online news, who knows?

One piece which caught my eye recently featured in The Drum, a trade publication for the marketing industry. The headline read ‘The Guardian moves to deny ‘absurd’ rumours that it will go online only next year.’ Despite moves by the paper to contradict this suggestion, it would seem to me there is no smoke without fire and that perhaps their plan was to implement their five year strategy sooner.

It’s a shame that the print industry is in decline. Not only because of the process that I feel is so heart-warming when you buy a newspaper but also because there is a whole industry reliant on that income – beyond the sale of the papers themselves.

If we consider printers who have spent years in the same role, machinists who are professionals and passionate about their work, maintenance technicians who know the presses inside and out, designers who set the copy and imagery and then let’s not forget the paper boys / girls it paints a very gloomy picture to consider that all of these people will be without work.

I don’t personally want to see printed papers become a memory of times gone by and I hope that others feel the same way. The problem is that being a time poor society, trying to make ends meet during difficult economic conditions, for many of us the choice is made – free online publications at your fingertips in seconds, or a paid for printed version, which requires you to go to the shops or take out a subscription.

Long live print is what I say! However I get the impression that ‘stop press’ is going to take on a very new meaning over the next few years.

The Dragon’s Den Effect

Dragon’s Den is one of few business ‘reality’ television programmes that I have continued to enjoy watching. It is informative and although I often feel some of the comments are unfair and a little insensitive it does give the viewer an insight into how it is to own a business – people don’t walk around on egg shells and they don’t give you ‘owt for nowt’.

I quite like the mix of Dragon’s in the Den now and I really admire and respect most of them, particularly as they have come from nothing. What always gets me is that the people who choose to feature on the show know what it is all about and they understand their product or service inside out.

They have real passion, energy and excitement by what they are doing, selling or making. Then they stand in front of these entrepreneurs – who have a wealth of knowledge that you could tap into – and ask for a hand out. Now here’s the bit… how many times have you heard people ask for money to support marketing?

It is almost always the case. If it isn’t suggested as the reason that the whole sum is required, it is in there somewhere. So why do people struggle with marketing budgets so much? What makes them think that marketing is so expensive in the first place? And why go to a leading entrepreneur so that they can pass you on to their preferred PR or marketing agency?

There is no doubt that marketing and effective communication are an essential element to a business strategy and the two should be absolutely aligned with objectives, but why do these entrepreneurs find it so difficult? I have decided to call it the ‘Dragon’s Den Effect’.

It’s a nasty heritage of stories which include bad advice and burnt fingers.

Business ‘A’ goes to big agency ‘B’, they are blown away with pretty pictures, they receive a catchy ‘logo’ and perhaps a quirky strap line, they then receive a big bill and that’s that. Job done. No questions asked. No further forward with a strategy – but you have a nice logo!

Now I genuinely think that times have changed, particularly since the last recession. It almost seems that it is becoming the trend to rely on smaller agencies that are genuinely doing great things. Not only are they often more cost effective but they also (in my experience) care more about their clients – irrelevant of size or budget.

You don’t have to work in a ‘full service’ agency to get the best – just choose them. You get to handpick the very best designers, copy writers, PR people and brand managers. Some agencies will tell you this takes time and is difficult to manage but I disagree – better to have a collective of the best, who can work together, than the internal politics that come from a big agency; who gets what budgets, who is first point of contact for the client and who takes the glory when it goes well or handles the fall out when things go wrong?

So next time you come across a business who is going through the ‘Dragon’s Den Effect’ just ask them what they are doing about it. If the answer is keeping their head down and hoping for the best then I’m afraid to say that ‘I’m out’.

However if they want to chat about how to get excited by their business and put in place some excellent PR and communication campaigns, which meet with objectives and manage reputation – well, that’s a different story altogether. I’m not just in, I’m here and waiting in the den.

Football fever kicks off

I am not a fan of the football. I don’t care that I don’t know the offside rule (irrelevant of the number of times it’s been explained to me – once using a 50p coin!) and my life is no less meaningful because I absolutely do not – and never would want to be – a W.A.G, nor will I ever follow their latest fashion choices even if I was a size zero and had the budgets to do so.

What I do admit to having is a secret love of the camaraderie that comes with the Euros and the World Cup. I like that people get together and spend 90 minutes cheering and chatting, cursing and collectively deciding that when things don’t go to plan the team could be better managed by a pack of rabid wolves.

I also enjoy the way that brands and businesses get behind the teams that they support. Suddenly there is a realisation that everyone in the workplace isn’t necessarily supporting England (shock horror and gasps from each corner of the office) and so the fun begins. Some businesses allow their employees to take the time off to watch the game, while others put it on the TV and radio.

Shouts and calls, boos and hisses are suddenly heard from departments you didn’t even know existed and even though some people don’t want anything to do with whatever match is on, it’s difficult not to ask when the final whistle goes – just so you feel a part of it.

For the next few weeks brands will be announcing quirky ways that they have used some tenuous association to the sporting fun to push their latest red, white and blue products to the masses, and despite many of these seemingly being hair sprays, shower gels and razors it does get you in the spirit.

What did make me smile was to see in the Metro that following the supposed psychic powers of Paul the Octopus, there has been a definite increase in the number of animals which can apparently predict the outcomes of each match including a cow, a pig and a seal – I kid you not. There are even a few elephants and the now deceased Heidi the Opossum with the same claim to fame.

What we want to know is why aren’t the people of Wakefield all over this? We should be supporting the Euro’s and getting this great city on the map and what better way than jumping on the bandwagon?

We have our very own famous, talking sheep literally on the doorstep. Come on people, Curly could predict which teams will or won’t win.  We can’t believe a local brand isn’t all over this. We wait with anticipation – there has to be someone who will use this gift of a PR stunt and simply ask Curly  – ‘who do ewe think will win the Euros?’.

GIVE HANNAH A HAND

There was lots of clapping and whooping going on this morning at the Open Comms offices – and for once it wasn’t because we had landed coverage for a client or nailed a major campaign. This time it was all about us!

Well, it wasn’t actually, it was all about Hannah, who has been shortlisted for the Employee of the Year Award in the Wakefield District Business Awards.  After just 18 months in her role at Open Communications Hannah has gone from  office administrator to Senior Account Executive.

This is no simple task. In fact it takes hard work, commitment, patience and often a very thick skin. With no prior experience of working within the ‘dark world’ of PR, Hannah has always got on with our clients, suppliers and friends extremely well and that is why we are asking for YOU to get involved in our ‘Give Hannah a Hand’ campaign.

All you have to do is buy a copy of this week’s Wakefield Express or Pontefract and Castleford Express and send the entry slip shown in the Business Awards coverage to the following address:

Employee of the Year, Editorial, Express House, Southgate, Wakefield WF1 1TE.

We know that everyone is busy and that it will take a little effort but we also know that you will support Hannah to get the recognition that she deserves. So come on people – take a five minute break, have a walk to your local newsagents, put your hand in your pocket and pay the 68p that will make our day.

We will of course update with the success of our campaign later in the month and with any luck we will be giving Hannah another hand, only this time it will be a huge cheer!

The dark art of social media – influencers or informers?

I was reading the Sunday Times recently and came across an article which I found quite baffling. As a PR agency we work with brands to raise their profile across social media platforms including blogs, facebook and twitter through engagement and interaction. As a result, I know only too well that this process is not a simple one, nor is it a ‘quick win’.

In my opinion it is quite simply an opportunity for someone who has credibility within their network to talk about your product or service and to provide their personal comments and opinions about it. These are not always positive and that is the risk that you take when working with social media channels – or it is, unless you are McDonalds.

The article I was reading was titled ‘McDonalds recruit blogger to super-size its allure’ and was written by Mark Harris. I immediately thought that would mean that McDonalds were recruiting an internal team, or a social media champion, for each of its geographies. No. McDonalds have ‘recruited’ more than 400 bloggers who are known as the McDonald’s Family Arches Community. This community receive benefits as a result of blogging favourably about the brand.

This isn’t too dissimilar to the approach taken by many brands. I don’t necessarily agree with it but it seems to work and there’s no harm in offering free samples for review, after all you want the person to interact with the brand and to understand the products in order to give an informed view.

The line does however stop at offering stays in hotels, exclusive trips away and benefits based on the number of favourable comments or posts you provide for a brand. That isn’t social media, that’s social advertising. It’s not informed, nor is it factual, it’s biased and unbalanced.

If I was engaging with a blogger and found that they were receiving all-expenses paid trips as a result of posting favourable comments about a company, product or service I wouldn’t consider them credible. In fact, quite the opposite.

The article goes on to state that McDonalds wants ‘its own private network over which it could exert more control’. I think they are massively missing the point here. It’s not about control, it’s about comment and opinion. It’s about believing so strongly in your product that by association you encourage others to love it too. You want people to want to talk about your brand favourable and yes, there are times when that isn’t going to be the case – after all you can’t please everyone – but you manage that process by interacting.

Communication isn’t about telling someone what to say, it’s about a dialogue. Putting words into someone’s mouth will not drive genuine value for the brand, it will discourage people from believing anything the company chooses to say in the future.

A quote which appears in the article states ‘And if they start doing stuff we don’t want, we are going to take action’. It seems to me that McDonalds have got this very wrong. It’s not so much super-size as super silly.

My advice, for what it’s worth, would be for McDonalds to review this strategy and to review it quickly. You cannot buy brand values and if the case is that the business cannot and do not genuinely believe in what they are offering then the seriousness of this situation goes far beyond social communication.

It’s fair to say that the McDonalds business model is used as an example of best practice. When you go into a McDonalds you know where you are, you know what you’re getting and every establishment is run in exactly the same way – you cannot do the same with a social network of communicators.

It will be interesting to see what happens when the Family of Arches is rolled out in Britain. I only hope the bloggers that are chosen see past the benefits and consider what getting involved will do to their credibility and reputation.

Not another Mr Motivator!

I recently attended the Wakefield Business Conference and was intrigued to see Brad Burton was a speaker. Unlike many others I have never met Brad and my opinions of him had been formed almost entirely by his twitter feeds and comments about his book – eloquently titled, Get off your arse.

I don’t consider myself to be prudish but I do find bad language on twitter really offensive. Some people disagree and that’s fine but I don’t think it’s necessary at all. Anyway, I decided to go along to this talk with Brad to see what he was all about.

As a self-professed motivational expert, Brad was talking about his journey and how he went from being in some relatively serious personal debt (£25,000) to launching one of the fastest growing networking groups in the country.  It’s fair to say I was sceptical.

I shouldn’t have been.

The talk was really inspiring and as someone who is known for getting straight to the point I was really pleased to see that Brad did the same. He was open, honest and said it how it is. It was a refreshing story with bits that made you laugh and others that made you want to cry – not easily achievable in 40 minutes.

What I liked most was Brad’s ability to use his personality to his own advantage and in spite of the swearing I found that I really liked him. You felt confident that what he was saying was fact and that he had nothing to hide.

Some of his comments really struck home with me, particularly that nothing prepares you for being self-employed; that people buy people and you should treat everyone the same, irrelevant of whether they are wearing a tailored suit or ripped jeans.

He also made a very useful comment – he said when in business “Don’t have a plan b, because when you do, you aren’t spending enough time focusing on plan a.” Simple comment but clever and very thought provoking. As a result of the session, I have bought the book ‘Get off your arse’ and look forward to reading more of Brad’s insightful views on business in the near future.

So, Brad, if you ever get around to reading this I owe you an apology. I think you’re a genuine, hard-working kind of guy. You left me with some thinking to do and some actions to put into practice, both personally and professionally.  I hate to admit it but your talk was motivational.

Congratulations on a job well done. People may have said that you were mad but as long as you are happy and mad then that’s all that counts in my book.