Tag: Business

Nurture new talent with the Youth Association

Here is the second in our series of blogs from the Buy Yorkshire Conference.

I have to claim a particular interest in the Youth Association, which is the next business we will focus on. I was introduced to the charity by our client the Coalfields Regeneration Trust who have invested in the organisation and its Young Upstarts programme, which Andy Clow has since evolved.

The Youth Association were an exhibitor at this year’s event and have what I believe to be a unique proposition for businesses in the Yorkshire region.
Read on for more information about the amazing work they are doing and please do take the time to watch the video, it really does bring to life the impact that they make on young people.

If there is one thing that the Buy Yorkshire Conference cannot be accused of it’s having 180 exhibitors within the same sector. You know the kind of event where there’s a bank or a legal team round every corner, a stand-off between two shell schemes that go back to back but just happen to be competitors – well, you don’t get that here.

The variety of exhibitors is one of the reasons that the show is so popular and attracts the 4,000 delegates that it does from Yorkshire and beyond.

Today, during the second day of the show, we came across the Youth Association, an organisation which runs a programme called Young Upstarts which professes to ‘turn day dreams into day jobs’. We caught up with Andy Clow to hear more about the organisation and exactly what it has to offer.

So what makes the Young Upstarts programme different?

Recently as an organisation we have launched a youth programme, which gives businesses the chance to ‘choose’ a young person who they would like to support financially to achieve their dreams. These young people have come to us with a viable business idea, we have given them our support, practical advice and encouragement and now they need the funding to make it happen.

Why would businesses choose to do this?

As well as sitting within the CSR policy of many companies, we found that businesses actually wanted to invest in something they could follow and be a part of. It’s not about writing a cheque, it’s about knowing that your money will make a real and lasting impact on a young person’s life.

Why wouldn’t they just go to a bank?

Young Upstarts gives these people an alternative. Many of the young people we work with are from hard to reach backgrounds, they may have dropped out of school with no qualifications or had a difficult time but want to make steps to change that. They need a chance and whereas the banks are in most instances unlikely to help them we have launched a programme that will.

It’s also about an investment rather than a loan. Many young people can be put off by the thought of interest payments and having a loan before they even start – with our programme and corporate support they can put their efforts into launching a business that they are genuinely passionate about.

Is there anything else like this out there?

Not that we are aware of. The ironic thing is that you can pay to ‘adopt’ or support almost anything but one thing that we seem to forget is that young people, the talent of tomorrow, are ready and waiting to start their own businesses and their barrier to doing so is having someone believe in them enough to want to offer some financial start-up capital.

It all sounds great but must be expensive

It’s not expensive at all. You can invest as much or as little as you want. We are hoping to develop almost a crowd funding model that will mean that each young person has several backers, all of whom can follow their journey.

There must be some risks involved

The risks are like any business – that it doesn’t work. The one thing to remember is that without this funding these young people wouldn’t have the opportunities to proceed with their ideas – or it would be significantly more difficult. You also have to remember that some of these organisations and entrepreneurs will be a success and that those have invested will always be a part of their journey.

So how many people have you actually engaged with

In the last three years, since we launched the programme, we have captured the attention and imagination of 5,000 young people. In the last 12 months along 2,500 have attended our enterprise workshops and 84 aspiring entrepreneurs have completed the Young Upstarts course, which in turn secures them a qualification that they can use and be proud of.

Can’t young people just go to College or take a vocational course?

From our research we have found that 60% of 18-30 year olds would like to start a business but only 8% are actually becoming start-ups. 67% of people say that the fear of failure stops them becoming entrepreneurs while just 28% of young people think they know where to go for information about start-ups. With figures like these we know that there is a gap in the market for something different, which meets with the diverse and sometimes challenging needs of young people. We are committed to giving them the support and guidance that THEY need. This programme is flexible enough to allow us to do that, unlike many others out there.

How do you keep in touch

We have just launched a new website www.startwithyes.org with all information included. As organisations invest we will make sure that they have regular updates with regards to each young person and their business. In addition, it may be that companies become mentors, taking even more of a role in the individuals they choose to work with.

Do you have any real life examples or success stories to share

We have just had a podcast commissioned which showcases just two of the many young people we have supported. It not only shows that we make a real and lasting difference to these people but also the variety of ideas that they come to us with.

For more information about the Youth Association and Young Upstarts programme and the fantastic work that they do please visit www.startwithyes.org or call Andy on tel. 01924 333400.

 

Straight talking entrepreneur takes to the stage

We had the privilege once again this year of being the preferred PR partner for the Buy Yorkshire Conference, which took place on the 28 and 29 April.

A lot has happened since then, as I’m sure you can imagine, so apologies for the delay in sharing our experiences. Over the next few days I will upload a series of blogs that we drafted to support the event with the intention of extending the experience to those who were unable to come along, we do hope you enjoy them.

Please do, as ever, feel free to comment on ask any questions that you may have.

And so, on to the first…  

Jonathan Straight is a long term supporter of the Buy Yorkshire Conference and we were delighted to welcome him back for a further year. As a businessman who has worked for 21 years to build a recycling company that he then floated on the stock exchange before selling it many years later, he certainly knows his stuff.

Speaking about his departure from Straight Plc, Jonathan laid bare an honest account of the decisions, challenges and humorous occurrences that can only come from such a roller coaster journey.

Having spoken for several years as the CEO of Straight this was one of the first occasions that Jonathan was taking to the stage as a former member of the company.  Taking us right back to the beginning he references his departure from school in 1965 with an A Level in Business to his name.

He comments: “Being an entrepreneur was never a real option back in those days. The idea was that you went to university and you got yourself a proper job. I had seen my Grandfather run his own business but he left nothing behind, no legacy or real social impact. I didn’t want to be like that.”

Jonathan had a number of jobs before taking the plunge and choosing to launch Straight. The journey was far from a depiction of the businessman’s surname and came with many a battle not least the fact that recycling was a relatively new concept.

He adds: “It was after reading a book one day which included the sentence ‘We pay to buy our waste and put it in a hole in the ground and yet this material we bury has a value and so we pay for it twice’ It was a real lightbulb moment for me. How could we possibly go on buying something twice and why hadn’t anyone done anything about it?”

Fuelled by the enthusiasm and passion that Jonathan had for both his business idea and the need to recycle, Straight soon became a £1m turnover business with 4 employees and that is when he decided that in order to be taken seriously he would have to get a listed on the London Stock Exchange.

Never one to give up, Jonathan got his listing in 2003 but was aware that the challenge had only just begun as he now had to ‘deliver for the shareholders’. Times still weren’t easy for the business and the next challenge was to purchase his main competitor Blackwell, which he did in 2004.

Taking risks doesn’t seem to effect Jonathan in the same way it would others but the next steps in his story were clearly a worrying time as he explains his share price went from more than £3 to just 18.5p thanks to a drought.

Still this didn’t stop him and once again he rolled his sleeves up and built the business back to its former glory – not thanks he explains to the faceless bast*rd banks.

The tale doesn’t end there however as despite its ongoing success Jonathan left the company in 2014 for an 8 figure sum. It wasn’t about the money though, he explains, it was the right thing to do and at the right time.

So, has Jonathan hung up his glasses and combed out his much-loved moustache – of course not! As a true entrepreneur he is working on a number of projects and there is no doubt that he will be back, in time, with another exciting business that he can call his own and make a success all over again.

Leaving the audience with 10 missions (which are actually 11) he says:

  1. Know where you’re going
  2. Communicate effectively
  3. Tell the truth
  4. Never give up
  5. Be memorable
  6. Dare to be different
  7. Know your competition
  8. Keep reinventing
  9. Help others
  10. Lead by example
  11. Plan the exit first

We wish Jonathan every success with his future ventures and look forward to him sharing his next exciting journey with us next year.

Breaking news or ketchup on your face?

I can’t help but think that as the ‘breaking news’ is announced that Jezza (Jeremy Clarkson) has been dropped from the BBC *please insert sarcastic shocked face here* causing Twitter to go into meltdown and every media group in the country to fight for the front page scoop, the world is missing the bigger picture. 

You see, at the same time as this announcement was made it was also released that two of the world’s largest and most iconic brands will combine. Heinz and Kraft are coming together to create a portfolio that few pantries in the country can live without.

I have to admit that I like Jeremy, I think he is funny but intelligent, aloof but aware – however he has gone more than one step too far over recent years and enough is enough. I’m sure this isn’t the end so why the drama?

On the other hand two massive companies have come together to create a powerhouse that will inevitably have an impact not by country but on a global scale. Think about the possibilities; chocolate ketchup (Philadelphia got there first but it seemed to be a winner), Kraft slices on beans and salad cream with your Lunchables – and that’s just the start!

The business talks of ‘integrating these two companies’, which may sound simple but with hundreds of products to consider, along with two huge global teams, will be no mean feat.  The results however are almost certain to lead to one of the world’s largest food production and distribution companies and I cannot believe that this is not breaking news.

After a quick google search Jeremy is everywhere, hitting every headline, appearing already on many a blog (ahem, yes, this one included) but the news about Kraft and Heinz is relatively low key, featuring on a few trade titles but interspersed with general news from each company.

Now don’t get me wrong, I work in PR, so understand the principles of having to make an announcement but doing it in such a way that you actually avoid wide scale headlines – but the news is out there now, it’s ready for sharing.

The media should be all over this not least as it ticks all the boxes; business, consumer, trade and fun. Imagine the fun you could have with this story and the images you could create with taste tests of combined products from each range. It is perfect for print and broadcast, a dream for daytime and headline.

My biggest worry is that the way the news today has been reported is actually a true and accurate reflection of society; no focus on business or real interest for future strategies in relation to the global economy but a bun fight over the first pictures of a man that makes headlines through singing nursery rhymes!

And this is why I ask us all to take a step back and to think this through – again, a man who has behaved badly (according to media reports) is rightly punished for his actions OR a global business is launched? I know what headlines I want to read about and in this instance Jezza you’re just not my top gear.

A new genre of photography, Nigel Tooby pushes the boundaries once more

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I have had the pleasure of working with contemporary artistic photographer, Nigel Tooby, before when he launched an exhibition, Eye Spy, in support of homeless charity, Simon on the Streets. His works and installations for the exhibition were creative, engaging, uncomfortable and moving.

Fast forward to January and I find myself once again working alongside Nigel to share the story behind his most recent exhibition, ‘Of our times: the price of money’, which takes place from 17 January to 1March at the Ropewalk in Barton upon Humber.

Creating a series of images taken from a photobook, which resulted in him receiving a Contemporary Fellowship from the Royal Photographic Society, Nigel uses his own unique and controversial style to share the story of a businessman in pursuit of money, power and fame.

Taking some influence from his own autobiographical experiences as a top executive, the series of works, which are to be shown in sequence, take a step-by-step exploration of the uncomfortable and increasingly challenging world of a high flying business man. This person is expected to be permanently available, while being surrounded by colleagues who will do whatever it takes to reach the top.

What I found most compelling and worrying about this exhibition is that I could relate to the images. It actually made me question the priorities I place on work and what impact this could be having on my relationships and my home life. Finding a balance is often difficult but the question does remain do we live to work or work to live?

Whilst talking me through each image in turn, Nigel was approached by two visitors who had come to the preview. The overwhelmingly positive responses that he received for the thought and honesty that had gone into his works were nothing short of remarkable. There was no holding back as the audience gushed their applause for ‘one of the most thought provoking exhibitions of recent times’.

It’s sometimes difficult to be balanced when you are working so closely with a client and in particular when you know how much time, effort and energy has gone into a project. I know what this exhibition means to Nigel and his family and to hear people go out of their way to endorse his works was fantastic.

What I most like about Nigel’s work is that you don’t have to be a serious art lover or culture vulture to enjoy the stories that he tells through his photography. His subjects are hard hitting and gritty, leaving you in no doubt of the message that he is giving. The works invariably lead to discussion as the audience provides their take on the subject, encouraging each individual to think more deeply about what each piece means to them.

What Nigel has done is to create a new genre of photography, bringing together a collection of images which when pieced together become the sum of a story. Although each image can be viewed independently it would be like taking the page from a book and reading it in isolation – it may be good but not as impressive as the whole story, which takes the audience on a progressive journey.

The show has already attracted the attention of leading photographer, Professor Paul Hill MBE, and Nigel is hoping that further interest will be received as the story of the exhibition is shared both online and in print.

That leaves me to wish Nigel every success. His passion for photography and the art he loves is the only thing that leaves no room for debate. I really enjoyed learning more about each piece and know that this is just the start for someone with such an amazing talent.

Nigel, thank you for sharing it with us and for letting us become a part of your incredible story.

For more information about ‘Of our time: the price of money’ please visit www.nigeltooby.co.uk

Celebrating success before it all kicked off!

As a non-executive board director for the Theatre Royal in Wakefield, I was really privileged to support the organisation when they were shortlisted in the community category of the Yorkshire Business Excellence Awards.

The celebration took place in Leeds on 30 October with a range of companies large and small coming together to share their achievements and successes. What was most impressive – and I am biased – was that guests were serenaded by the Theatre’s Performance Academy as they entered the champagne reception.

It was a glitzy affair with initial pre-dinner address from Work and Pensions Secretary, Ian Duncan Smith followed by a delicious four course meal. It was then time to announce the winners and you could feel the tension as heart rates hit new heights.

It was the fourth announcement of the evening and we were all sat wide eyed waiting for the final decision to be shared… and the winner is *insert drum roll*, ‘the Theatre Royal Wakefield’. Acknowledged in particular for striving to operate a best in class destination that gives access to the arts and entertainment despite significant cuts, it was unanimous.

I genuinely believe that the Theatre Royal has a great deal to offer the local community and that people should take the time to visit and to experience the amazing programme of performances that take place in this historic gem of a building.

The venue is celebrating an amazing 120 years and I often wonder what stories it would tell if only it were possible to do so but at least one thing is for sure, the Yorkshire Post Business Excellence Award would be one of them! Please click here for more details of the winners from the night and video coverage supplied by the Yorkshire Post.

Moving on to the next day (no rest for the wicked!), it was a crisp Friday morning and by contrast you couldn’t get much different. Wrapped up warm I headed up to Scotland with the Coalfields Regeneration Trust for a weekend of football.

As previously shared, we have supported Game On, an initiative which brings young people together from some of the most disadvantaged coalfield communities throughout the country to play football. The programme goes beyond the simple principles of sport and engages young people to learn about interaction with third party organisations and peers, as well as teamwork and social skills.

Having cheered on all of the teams during the Inter-regional Finals in Derby as they fought hard for their places in the Home International Tournament, it was time for Wigan A and B to do their country proud.

Thankfully the weather was mild and there were even a few breaks in the clouds as the sun attempted to shine. The winning players from Scotland, Wales and England all took to the pitch and after an official opening to a marching band of pipers, it was kick off.

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There is no doubt that each team gave it their all, with some amazing tackles, defending and goals and then it was down to just two; England and Wales. The match was like-for-like and finished with a goalless draw so it was penalties and sudden death.

I’m not a huge fan of football but I have to admit that after watching the lads put their all into the games I was routing for them to win – it even got so bad that I did some cheering and even added my very own unique take on a team talk *cringe*.

Over the course of just 2 days we had got to know the team a little better and there were some real characters in the group who certainly helped to raise a few smiles with their quips and ‘humour’.

11.04.14 Game On National Home Final

No sooner had the whistle blown than it was over – Wales had won the Tournament on penalties. Needless to say there were some glum faces from the England lads but they did us proud and that’s all that anyone can ask for.

What was most impressive was their manners, general attitude to the game and most importantly their passion for the sport and the wider team. You would never guess that these young lads were from coalfield communities and I’m not absolutely sure that they would feel it necessary to tell you but what they probably don’t realise is that if nothing else their determination and sheer grit could be considered a lasting legacy from times gone by.

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And so I’m on to another week and although there won’t be any glitz and glamour or pitch side banter and penalty shoot outs this week, there are certainly proposals to be planned, news to be drafted, events to be arranged and announcements to be managed that will keep me busy – after all, there’s never a dull moment when you work in PR.

Doing better business in Yorkshire

Today I had the absolute pleasure of going to a lunchtime event hosted by the Yorkshire Mafia for Leeds Business Week. Unlike other ‘networking’ meetings that I have attended, I always find anything that is arranged in association with the Group to be ‘different’ and often on a larger scale than anyone would expect.

I have seen the massive amount of work, attention to detail and general organisation that goes into anything that the Yorkshire Mafia arrange and this event was no exception.

The lunchtime meeting was held at Bibis Italian Restaurant in Leeds, a central location with the capacity to host a leading business event, which in this instance was attended by more than 200 people.

As Leeds Metropolitan University alumni, I was pleased to see that the event was supported by the recently rebranded Leeds Beckett. Not only is the University a success story for the city and wider region in its own right but I was pleased to see that the Associate Dean, Simon Jones, took to the stage to explain that a massive £500m contribution is made as a result of students choosing courses in Leeds each year.

I have to be honest, when attending some events as the first speaker takes to the stage you can feel yourself glaze over. I’m never one for rags to riches and ‘how clever was I to think up this idea’ or ‘well done me’ type talks. Don’t get me wrong, I am always interested in hearing about the obstacles that people have faced and how they have overcome them – that’s interesting – but the fact that someone has a posh car and a yacht doesn’t really appeal.

And so, Larry Gould of The Big Word took to the stage. He started the business along with a partner in 1980. With 2 people, a phone and big ambition they launched a fledgling company – suddenly this story was starting to sound very familiar!

Recognising that companies miss out on a shocking £48bn in revenue as a result of language barriers there is little doubt that a business focusing on helping you to communicate with your prospects and export clients is going to have a bright future.

Fast forward to 2014 and Gould has just reported the best quarter the business has ever had (which was celebrated in typical Yorkshire fashion, quietly) with the statistics about the company making for interesting reading:

–          International head office based in Leeds

–          400 people employed in Leeds from 39 countries

–          12,000 linguists in 37 countries

–          12th largest business in its sector

–          Aspirations to be top five

Impressive figures but what struck me most was how personable and funny – yes funny – Gould was. He broke down barriers immediately with his quick wit and refusal to drop a story because his time was up. And as for his success, he refers to a comment his father made: “Perhaps you’re getting above yourself lad”.

I can’t quite see that happening but needless to say his short time on stage was met with a huge round of applause and lots of smiles.

The starter was then served and was quickly followed by the second speaker, Adam Cope, former CEO of Zenith Provecta and current Executive Chairman of FMG who had a tough act to follow.

Andrew chose not to talk about the business but instead to focus on a vision for the North. He referenced the fact that our aspirations for Leeds and surrounding cities needs to be bigger and that taking a Northern approach, as opposed to concentrating on individual regional agendas, would allow us to develop a culture and lifestyle to appeal to those considering their future.

His next comment was particularly refreshing; he said that in order to attract the best talent from local universities we need to make the North a compelling option for those making the transition from student to professional. The two things they are interested in are sex and money; as students don’t have any problem with getting excited by sex we need to motivate them with money.

I’m not sure whether I completely agree with this, but it certainly got me thinking. We do need to look at the North and consider how we can package the benefits of all cities within a given geography before marketing it to the country and internationally.

London has long taken the glory and it is about time that we started to redress the balance. I remember very vividly being told when I was at university that to have a career in PR you had to go to London. I would like to think that I have challenged that and proved the theory wrong however we need to ensure that others have a choice and that lessons have been learnt and shared since my time in the lecture theatres at Becketts.

Cope finished with a strong closing statement: “We can do it, we will do it and it would be so much better if we had more money to enjoy it.”

Applause and then the final speaker of the day was invited to take the stage. Helen Beachell, General Manager from Simon on the Streets, is a real inspiration but far too modest to ever take that kind of compliment.

Helen as ever was poised, professional and didn’t stumble, mumble or flounder over a single word. You wouldn’t have known that she was addressing a room of more than 200 people as she recalled a recent story of a homeless man, Dave*, who approached a diner sitting outside of a local restaurant.

The man clearly wanted to be left alone but Dave was hungry and desperate for money to buy food. He asked for any loose change and the response was nothing short of a torrent of abuse. Helen rightly acknowledged that it can be difficult when you are approached by those sleeping rough as you are never sure what they are going to spend the money on or how genuine they are in their hour of need.

In this instance what was out of the ordinary was that the man in the restaurant continued to scream at Dave even when he had walked away. Shouting comments such as ‘Get to the job centre’ and ‘You’re nothing but a waste of space’.

These stories aren’t unusual for Helen, or her colleagues at Simon on the Streets, but that doesn’t make them right and my heart turns over every time I hear what they have been faced with.  We worked on a recent campaign which I think puts this attitude – that of those who are suited and booted and their reaction to the homeless – in to real context, read more here.

Next up was lunch, a delicious plate of slow cooked beef with a creamy mash. Needless to say it went down very well but the thought of those on the streets wasn’t far from anyone’s minds and I’m sure, like me, some people would rather have offered a hot meal to those who really needed it.

Then it was time to chat with some familiar faces and also an opportunity to meet with some new. I couldn’t quite believe that so much had been packed into a two and a half hour lunch but then as I said in the introduction to this blog, nothing the Mafia ever do is half-hearted.

What an excellent and insightful event; great speakers, great company and great food but most of all another event that championed the fantastic entrepreneurship of the region by those living and working within it.

There are business led activities and networking sessions taking place throughout the remainder of the week in celebration of Leeds Business Week so don’t miss out, for more information simply visit: http://leedsbizweek.com/

Why guidelines can be a lifeline

It never fails to amuse me when people say that they have all of their marketing under control and whip out a document with ‘BRAND GUIDELINES’ proudly displayed across the front. What people don’t seem to appreciate is that even though having brand guidelines is a good starting point, it does not always take into account the bigger picture.

As an example, if someone picks up your brand guidelines document it is likely to explain how your logo or strap line should be displayed. It is not however as likely to go into the detail about the tone of voice you should use when communicating about your brand or the factors you should take into account when using social media.

You see, brand guidelines are one thing but communications guidelines are quite another. The two do and should work hand-in-hand but very rarely are they proudly displayed together.

I recently hosted a strategy session with a local artistic contemporary photographer – Nigel Tooby – who is building his brand. In addition to understanding the importance and significance of how he projects his image, he was also more than aware of the need to develop his communications strategy.

I was pleased that as a creative, Nigel had taken the time to consider how he communicates effectively with his audiences. Many companies and even big businesses and corporations focus on their branding but not on their marketing communications.

A communications strategy should support the business objectives, making it a fundamental part of a company’s growth potential. Taking the time to consider the personality of your business, the tone of voice you use, a positioning statement and longer term aspirations and goals can be the difference between success and so, so.

I’m not sure whether this business has gone through a communications strategy session or if they have specific guidelines for their engagement but Yorkshire Tea do a great job of reinforcing their personality in all that they do. As well as being consistent across mediums, they are also friendly and funny (which is not easy!).

There are lots of other brands who get it right but many that seem to neglect their marketing communications in favour of ‘bigger things’ that command significantly higher budgets. I find it endlessly infuriating that the foundations of a company are discarded due to cost – we can all put our prices up but as specialists we also deliver a professional service and this should be recognised.

My advice would be to start with the basics. Get your positioning and messaging right and then everything else will follow – don’t skip to the branding because you think it’s more exciting; all that happens is that your audience will see a disconnect between the image your project and the personality you portray and that certainly won’t give you the return on investment you’re looking for.

Why PR is about more than ‘fannying around with the press releases’

The Devil Wear’s Prada and Bridget Jones’ Diary didn’t really do a great deal to raise the profile of the PR industry but I have to admit that the stereotype that comes with this job isn’t entirely unwarranted, so I would just like to set the record straight.

Not all PR people giggle in high pitched tones and understand this seasons fashion, we don’t all totter on high heels and we don’t all wear perfume that is too strong and lingers after we have left bright stains of lippy or your cheek – post air kiss ‘darling’.

There are some of us who work in PR because we want to plan campaigns with interesting and exciting brands that ‘nail it’ and attract media attention, which in turn raises the profile of the business and encourages consumers to buy their products and services.

Yes people, this is exactly what floats my boat. Since day one securing good quality coverage has made me go all warm and fuzzy inside. Knowing that a campaign you are working on will be shared nationally and possibly even internationally sets butterflies a-fluttering – it’s what we do and it’s what we love.

PR isn’t just about writing or media relations it’s also about understanding the brands and businesses you work with and that is why every morning we read the papers. We’re not taking time out or having a leisurely start to the day, we’re working. It’s important that we know what’s going on so that we can work with the media agenda and react accordingly, whether that is by statement, comment or by building on a strategy.

We live in a very different world to when I started in PR and in some instances it’s easier – you can find out what is going on using RSS feeds, google alerts, twitter or web searches, you don’t have to run to the shops to buy the nationals – just log on!

Some of the best coverage I have secured has come about as the result of piggybacking on the media agenda, using it to the advantage of the brands and businesses we work with. It’s not difficult but it does take time and also understanding – you have to know what you are looking for.

PR as a specialism has evolved so much over recent years it’s difficult not to get excited by it. Content is one of the most valuable tools available to a brand and that’s what we do – we create content that can be distributed to the media, shared online or used as a policy, comment piece, brochure, blog, website, leaflet… content is valuable, it’s strong and it delivers.

Just some of the services we offer as an agency at Open Communications are as follows:

–          Press office

–          Blogger engagement

–          Content management (social media)

–          Copy writing

–          Campaign planning

–          Communications strategy sessions

–          Crisis management

The list goes on but it gives you the general idea.

It’s all about reputation when you work in PR and that means your own, as well as your clients. It’s important to be personable and approachable – that doesn’t mean air kissing clients at every opportunity, it means working with them and being knowledgeable about their business so that you can give them recommendations they know will deliver results. We are PR experts and it’s our expertise that sets us apart, it’s what our clients pay for.

I am very proud of Open Communications and of the campaigns that we deliver for the many brands we work with. I don’t always agree with the PR industry and the image it portrays but I hope that through this blog, you get a little insight into what it really means to work in PR and that there are some of us who simply want to do a job and do it well.

Now, where did I put that press release!

Where have all the gurus gone?

There was a time when PR was almost a dirty word and when prefixed with traditional was tantamount to commercial suicide – well, as far as the ‘cool’ agencies that were offering digital innovations from the world’s leading social media gurus were concerned.

Web rankings, algorithms and search engine optimisation – or SEO as it was more commonly known (nothing like a good acronym) – were all phrases that were banded around like sweets at a children’s birthday party – but many clients were left baffled and those that were blown away needed to see results, measurable results that went beyond a Facebook breakdown.

Changing times

Over recent years, and with some tough times faced by most, this trend has thankfully started to change. I don’t mean that digital campaigns are any the less impressive but that clients want to see a real return for their investment and ideas that will add value to the customer experience, while delivering to the bottom line.

As brands see the value in developing a consistent strategy throughout the year that supports and manages their reputation – which is arguably their biggest asset – public relations has once again stepped up to be counted.

We have certainly seen a shift in the number of new business enquiries which have come as a result of client recommendation (a huge compliment and not something we ever take for granted) and the campaigns that we have worked on. This is great news for our business but also for the industry as it shows that people are seeing the value that PR and marketing communications can deliver.

What about the sexy stuff  

Just because you work with a PR agency that doesn’t mean that they don’t do the sexy stuff and before I’m completely misquoted, what I mean is that PR should not be considered the boring relative at the marketing family get together. As has been the case with other marketing disciplines PR has had to change and move with the times too.

We work with businesses to make sure that when we put together a PR strategy we consider how we can secure coverage in printed media, online and across broadcast channels as we have always done but we also focus on user generated content and how our plans can fit into those that are either managed in-house or by other agency partners.

Working together

Experience has shown us that agencies have a reputation for not working well together however we don’t agree. We have worked with many design, planning, media buying and production agencies over the years and in most cases have delivered campaign ideas that have been much stronger as a result.

What we do is take an idea or theme and see how each specialism can contribute to the success of that overall campaign. When this approach is taken, there is no doubt that the results are far stronger than if each discipline works independently and tries to shoehorn their idea – which of course is the best of the bunch in their eyes – into a plan.

In summary

PR is an exciting and creative industry and I think that people have lost sight of that over recent years, primarily due to the huge increase in the number of ‘social media gurus’ who were going to change the world!

Needless to say, time has shown that social media needs to form part of a wider strategy rather than being handled in isolation. The first hurdle for agencies is getting clients to understand what certain tools can be used for and what likely return they are going to receive. The other consideration is what market the client works in and what social media platforms are relevant or otherwise.

This year is certainly going to make for some interesting reading as far as marketing campaigns are concerned and I for one am really looking forward to seeing how brands use an integrated approach to come up with something that will be fresh, simple and successful.

Only time will tell if the next big headline or #WIN is going to come from a self-proclaimed social media guru, but I’m guessing not.

An award that REALLY means something

12.20.13 AwardOn Tuesday evening we had the pleasure of attending an event with our client KP Snacks. Like many events, we got suited and booted – dresses out and heels on, even a touch of lippy! – and looked forward to spending a relaxing evening with good food, a glass or two of wine and great company.

What we didn’t expect at this event was to be presented with an award!

What our client had failed to inform us is that they had chosen Open Communications as their Agency Partner of the Year for 2013 following the on-going PR and social media support we provide for POM-BEAR, the fun shaped snack brand.

We have to be honest now – POM-BEAR is an excellent brand to work with and as we have some fantastic credentials within the family brands market (if we do say so ourselves) there are lots of recommendations that we can make in order to raise the profile of the business, while reiterating core messages around the product range. Better still, we also get to have some fun!

Now, we have never really chased awards, we have entered a few but it’s fair to say that we could do more in relation to putting ourselves forward to be ‘judged’ by our peers. It’s not that we are averse to them, just that there’s always something going on that is more important.

We’ve won awards in the past, but I have to admit that this was something else. It’s great to be recognised for the work that you do and the effort that you put in to campaigns BUT most importantly to be chosen by your clients and held in such strong regard that they invite you to collect an award in front of their colleagues – well, what more can we say?

We are so pleased and as you would expect very proud of the work that we have done for POM-BEAR in the last 18 months and we are really looking forward to working with the team from KP Snacks again in 2014. Now that we know that this award exists, we are even more eager to fight to retain our title!

It’s been a very positive month for Open Communications; Top 100 Agency outside of London and now Agency Partner of the Year for KP Snacks. Here’s to ending the year on a high and to many more celebrations in the twelve months ahead.