Tag: Business

Celebrating the great and good of Wakefield

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Last Thursday, 22 June, we had the pleasure of attending the Wakefield Express, Wakefield District Business Awards. We were invited as guests by our client, HARIBO, who also sponsored the New Business of the Year award.

It has been said many times before that Wakefield can suffer from not shouting loud enough about its achievements and the many opportunities that the District presents for businesses of all sizes. Thankfully, this was one event that would champion companies and individuals from across a range of sectors who have made a difference and reported some excellent results.

After a delicious three-course meal it was up to host, Jon Hammond, to make the introductions and to welcome all of the sponsors and shortlisted businesses in the room. It certainly wasn’t a quiet affair and there was lots of whooping and drumming on the tables as the finalists were each announced.

 

The results were as follows:

–          Business of the year, OE Electrics

–          New business of the year, Heart Medical

–          Small to medium sized business of the year, Mint Support

–          Business person of the year, David Owens

–          Start-up business, Pop-up North

–          Customer service award, Room 97

–          Employee of the year, Pat Coffey

–          Independent retailer of the year, Bier Huis

–          National retailer of the year, Debenhams

–          International business of the year, Planet Platforms

–          Independent evening retailer of the year, Qubana

–          People’s Choice Award, Airedale Computers

–          Lifetime Achievement Award, Richard Donner

 

It goes without saying that all of the winners were very deserving of their accolades and for me, the event really showcased the diversity of the companies that call the District their home. It was really enlightening to hear from some new businesses too and to hear more about what products and services they offer.

As a Wakefield based PR agency, we have seen some significant changes over recent years and that is what makes the District such an interesting place. Unlike other Yorkshire cities, Wakefield is on a journey and the regeneration of the area is a testament to those who see the potential that it has.

This was just one occasion where the great and good came together to share the success of others and I’m very pleased that we had the chance to be a part of it. We would like to extend our congratulations to all those who were shortlisted and of course the winners on the evening.
We look forward to meeting with many of you over the coming months.

Supporting the North’s leading business to business event

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When you mention the Yorkshire Mafia (YM), particularly to those outside of the region, it can be met with a surprising variety of responses; some people are shocked that an organisation exists that has such a controversial brand, others want to know more and are intrigued, what many don’t realise is that it has had an economic impact that equates conservatively to £50m.

So, love it or loathe it, the Group has made a real difference to the way that business works in Yorkshire. Geoff Shepherd, founder of the organisation, which started as a LinkedIn network in 2008, didn’t have to put his time and effort into creating a movement that would bring people together to learn, work, meet, share and do business – but he did.

For those who are not involved in the YM the philosophy is simple: Stronger Together. A strap line that has become synonymous with the Group but importantly resonates with those that really have put the theory into practice. As someone who has made some really strong business associates, met many of our preferred suppliers and has also had some of the most memorable nights out in the last eight years, I can certainly recommend the YM and all that it stands for.

When you run a small or medium sized business it can be difficult to create a network that you can trust. ‘Networking’ events can be a challenge and it’s often more about selling to each other than creating meaningful relationships that add any value and that’s where the YM and Buy Yorkshire differ. The values that underpin the Group and the Conference are to encourage like-minded people to come together and to get to know each other. What happens next is then up to you but more often than not, once a trust is formed you start to find ways in which you can help each other, which in turn leads to new business or opportunities.

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The Buy Yorkshire Conference takes place on the 16 and 17 May at the Royal Armouries in Leeds and as the preferred PR agency supporting the event, we know just how much time, effort and commitment go into making it bigger and better each year, which is no mean feat.

Here at Open Comms we have been involved with the YM for a number of years and have supported the Conference since its launch. What has always amazed me is the quality of speakers that the event attracts to the region – there is no other business event that can claim to do the same.

This year is a further example with Deliveroo, LEGO, Channel 4, Just Eat, Uber and Google all headlining. What’s even more exciting is that this isn’t an exhaustive list and delegates – who can register for free – can also expect to see the Billion Pound Panel and Jonathan Pie, the spoof political reporter that has taken social media by storm!

I really enjoy the two-days at the Conference, not least because it is a chance to get out of the office and to meet with some familiar faces while meeting new people too. As you would expect, there is a lot for us to do in the run-up to the event, but what I really champion is the hard work and dedication of the YM team, who are rarely thanked by the thousands of people who attend the show.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank them all. They do a great job to pull out all of the stops to make the Buy Yorkshire Conference an annual event that people talk about for months and look forward to each year.

For those exhibiting at this year’s event, please do make a point of coming to meet with us. There will be representatives from Open Comms available throughout the two days and as well as listening to the speakers and drafting blogs to give those who don’t manage to come along some insight, we would also like to hear from those who are taking stands.

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The diversity of people who come along to the event speaks for itself so we look forward to meeting with the many and varied businesses that champion Yorkshire as a place to meet, learn, share and do business together. For those who want to learn more about how to do business differently in Yorkshire, come along and experience:

  • 2 days
  • 2 exhibition halls
  • 20+ speakers
  • 185 exhibition stands
  • 4,000+ registered delegates
  • A full programme of seminars, panels and workshops

For further details about the Buy Yorkshire Conference, including the speaker line-up and exhibitors please visit www.buyyorkshire.com.

 

The significance of saying sorry

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It’s very rare that you will meet a business owner or entrepreneur that says that life is easy. More likely they will be denouncing their irritation at having people presume that they come into the office at 10am, leave at 4pm, take boozy lunchbreaks and reap all of the benefits.

That is very rarely the case, and in our experience is somewhat far from the truth.

So when a businessman or woman who has a list of jobs to do as long as their arm comes into work one morning to be faced with a crisis, what should they do? More often than not PANIC and look around for someone who has some idea of the processes that they should already have in place

This is a fair assumption of smaller to medium sized businesses, but in the recent case of United Airlines it would be fair to expect that this globally recognised brand would have known better when faced with a very challenging and controversial situation involving a passenger.

Social media, as is typically the case, gave a global audience all of the information they felt that they needed – backed up by reports from local and national media – to make their own deliberations and come to their own conclusions. Needless to say, a resounding majority of them were far from positive, with one man calling BBC Radio 2 to confirm he had cancelled a flight and would never use the airline again.

The brand was in a really difficult position. Do they go against the authorities and their ‘heavy handed’ removal of the passenger or do they hold their hands up and make it clear that this will not be tolerated and that it was not endorsed by their brand or business, reiterating that a full investigation will follow?

Neither it would appear. Instead, a statement was hurriedly issued that didn’t really say a great deal of anything. This was followed by 24-48 hours of criticism from the world’s media before the Chief Executive decided it was time to do a piece to camera and to apologise and to share a relatively detailed and apologetic update.

Unfortunately, this was too little, too late for many and the time it took to conclude that this should have been the approach all along meant that there was a certain lack of sincerity to the piece.

Needless to say, losing a billion dollars from your share price overnight is going to make you feel sorry for yourself but what about your passengers, who along with your crew, should be your first priority?

As an agency that handles crisis for some of the leading brands in the country, we appreciate how significant the passing of time is in a challenging situation. It is absolutely essential that any situation considered a priority becomes an IMMEDIATE priority.

That doesn’t mean if you work in manufacturing that you pull the plugs on all machines and sit on your hands. It means that senior management should cancel ALL meetings however important and come together to discuss the issues and to carefully and quickly plan the next steps.

Brands must be prepared, irrelevant of their size. This means having a team in place that knows that if something happens they will be required. It’s simply not good enough to issue a statement to say that your managing director is on holiday and unable to comment. Unfortunately, having a business means that people expect that you are available any time of the day or night and if it is impossible for that to be the case then who is responsible in your absence.

These are all of the things that should be decided and the processes that should be agreed and in place before anything happens, not during the first major disaster a brand is faced with.

We see it all too often. When we mention crisis to a prospective client the answer is invariably the same: “There is very little that can happen and we don’t foresee anything in the future”. Well, of course, you don’t – otherwise you would be walking around expecting the worst – BUT that doesn’t mean it isn’t going to happen.

Scenario planning is a great way to get people involved and to make them appreciate the need and urgency of a crisis. Bringing people together to role play is another way that a crisis can feel more real without you having to go through the processes in ‘real life’ for the first time.

Saying sorry can be difficult for a brand, particularly when there are often many factors and variables that are rarely shared in full with the media but that doesn’t mean that you don’t have a duty of care to your customers and those who may choose to use your products or services in the future.

Here’s a really simple five step guide to dealing with a crisis*:

  1. Bring the senior management team together (and ideally a representative from your appointed PR agency)
  2. Share the facts – ALL OF THEM. This is absolutely essential so that everyone knows what you are dealing with and the possible fall-out as a result.
  3. Draft a response for the media including a holding statement. Depending on the nature of the crisis starting with an apology is often a good idea.
  4. Handle all media calls and schedule interviews throughout the day – these should be managed as the situation unfolds, not afterwards. This is likely to be your only chance to respond to media requests. At this point you will also need to identify a spokesperson.
  5. Evaluate. Review the processes you have in place, learn lessons and make crisis a priority for the future. However crisis-proof you feel your business, life has a challenging way of proving us otherwise.

*Every crisis is different and have a PR agency in place that has experience of working across a number of sectors will give you the advice you need to tweak these five tips to ensure that you are approaching any given situation with the sensitivity and professionalism it deserves.

Social media is not a sales tool

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With the continuing popularity of Facebook and the increasing appreciation of Twitter and LinkedIn as tools for business, people could be excused for thinking that these platforms should sit within the sales function of a business. After all, it’s a great way to ‘target’ an audience and to ‘push out’ information about a product or service.

However this is where many brands and businesses go wrong.

No one, and I mean no one, likes to be sold at. The world is full of marketing messages; just walking down the street and you will be greeted with a plethora of information, all carefully displayed on posters, banners, billboards and digital signage.

The truth is that we live in an era of over-abundance. The best campaigns will attract attention, not necessarily because of the copy that they use or even the imagery that they display, but often because they are simple and they are integrated; they are shared across several mediums, giving a consumer numerous opportunities to engage.

But what about those businesses that don’t have multi-million-pound budgets and those that have to make the most of every single penny? Many turn to social media as a quick fix and again, this is a mistake.

There are three mistakes that people make when they consider social media as a springboard to sales:

–          Social media is free

–          There are millions of people waiting to be sold at

–          Once people like my page or follow me they will buy my product

As a PR agency we try to explain to people that if you treat social media platforms as a sales channel you will immediately turn your prospective customers off. It goes back to the age-old adage, ask not what people can do for you…

The idea of social media was to share insightful and interesting information with people, not to sell at them. There are ways that you can add value through a Facebook page, which may seem like selling, such as offering money off and promotional codes, but the truth is that you are giving something back.

With the rules that are in place with Facebook, which will limit your audience reach unless you put a budget behind paid for advertising, it can be difficult to reach the volume of people you may need to make a real difference to your business.

This doesn’t mean that Facebook should be dismissed when it comes to sharing news updates about products but it does mean that it becomes a very expensive medium if all you are going to do is to pay to share a picture.

There is a balance, and that is why when we work with clients we explain that putting a plan in place that is carefully thought out and considered, that follows themes that will keep people interested and that will encourage them to come back time and time again is a better approach than sending out the same advert or trying to be quirky and falling short of the mark.

People are increasingly time poor and with so much information on the internet they don’t want to spend time clicking to links, accessing other web pages or viewing long and meaningless video. They want content that is helpful, informative and if at all possible, funny. This is what makes is shareable.

Using an example from the real world to put this into context, how would you feel if you walked into a coffee shop and you met someone for the first time and they started the conversation by asking you what insurance you have or whether you wanted an ISA?

For most of us this would make us feel uneasy and it would be more than probable that the next time you bumped into this person you would try to avoid them.

The same can be said for a brand. If you start to ‘shout’ your messages at people then they are less likely to want to engage with you. As an alternative, try to ask their opinion; what are they looking for, what would make the customer experience better for them, what do they want to see from you in the future?

Building brand loyalty isn’t easy, in fact, it is a long-term strategy of most businesses but a starting point is remembering that it is about building relationships. Customers want to feel valued and special. They want to know that you care and that you have them in mind, not your sales targets.

The automotive sector is a good example of an industry that has evolved with the times. Many dealerships have recognised that people research online before they visit a showroom and so they offer as much information as they can online.

You will find videos and podcasts, images and testimonials from customers. At this point you will also find a button which will allow you to visit your nearest dealership for a test drive. What they have done is to give you all of the information you need – that you are searching for. They have then provided you with the option to book a test drive.

The process is driven by you (no pun intended) – not them, which makes it feel less forced. What happens when you get into the dealership is up to the sales team but rather than jump on you and offer a knock-down price, as was once the case, you increasingly find that showrooms look like coffee shops that could rival leading high street brands with their skinny lattes and chocolate topped mochas.

The point is that to use social media effectively it isn’t about selling, it’s about communicating. It’s about building profile. Once you have a strong brand presence you can then start to turn engagement into loyalty. The process is not simple, it is not quick but over time it often works.

If your marketing is planned, sustainable and does not rely on the misguided belief that if you put thousands of pounds behind a Facebook post that it will make you a millionaire, a social strategy could become a useful facet to your wider marketing activity.

Celebrating Children of Achievement in Wakefield

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It’s no secret that as a Wakefield based PR agency we support local charitable initiatives and events when we can. Not only do we feel that it is the right thing to do as a business – to give something back – but it also means that as individuals we can contribute our time and skills to make a positive difference.

Most recently, I have joined the board of WACCL (Wakefield Annual Charity Christmas Lunch) and have been working with a great group of people to arrange the Children of Achievement Awards. This will be the only event of its kind to take place in the Wakefield District that will be dedicated to children and will celebrate their talents and bravery.

Like most people, I feel it is important that we take the time to reward young people, to encourage them and to give other children – and adults for that matter – the opportunity to learn by example.

At present we are working furiously behind the scenes to pull together the finer details and to make sure that this is an event that the nine winning children will never forget. It is shaping up to be a real show stopper with lots of surprises!  

This is where you just might be able to lend a hand.

We are looking for companies that would like to become sponsors and businesses that would like to attend the event, which will take place on Friday 9 June at Cedar Court Hotel in Wakefield.

Sponsorship is just £1,000 and for this you will get a table for ten, plus your branding and messaging across all marketing materials including digital media displays and videos that will be shown throughout the evening. In addition, you will also have your time to shine as we ask that you take to the stage to hand over your category award.  

Tables of ten are only £500 and you can expect a champagne reception, a three-course meal and a fun-filled evening with family, friends and colleagues.

Finally, we are looking for nominations, after all this event is all about the young people from our district who have gone above and beyond, so we want to make sure that we are showcasing the amazing individuals who are most deserving of each award. Please be sure to send across the details of anyone you feel could be worthy.

We really do hope that you will take the time to come along, to show your support, to join us and to put forward your nominations. We know that with your help we can make this event a HUGE success and that it will become an annual celebration to reward Wakefield’s Children of Achievement.

For more details or to book a table please email info@waccl.co.uk.

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.  

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!