Tag: buy yorkshire

BEHIND THE SCENES AT BUY YORKSHIRE

The Buy Yorkshire Conference

Showing support for the largest business to business event in the North

For the last eight years we have worked with the Yorkshire Mafia (YM) to provide the team that is responsible for an annual schedule of events including the Buy Yorkshire Conference with PR and social media support.

As the largest business to business event in the North, it goes without saying that it’s a busy time for us, not just on the day but in the run up to the exhibition when we spend hours liaising with speakers that will take to the stage on the big day and media that may want to come along.

There are so many reasons why this account is particularly exciting but for me securing broadcast, national and regional media coverage has to come top of the list. Some might think that’s an obvious answer but having worked in the PR industry for more than a decade you would be forgiven for thinking that the leap in my tummy when we secure a great piece of coverage may have waned over time.

Nope. Not a bit. In fact, it’s why I fell in love with PR in the first place.

Getting to know you

Coming a close second on my list of reasons to enjoy working on the Conference has to be the speakers. As the preferred PR partner for the event we are given access to each of the entrepreneurs, brand representatives and campaigners that attend and what an experience that is!

You never know who will be added to the line up next and with candidates such as Helen Pankhurst (great-granddaughter of the leader of the Suffragette movement) and Gerald Ratner (the entrepreneur that lost everything thanks to a glib comment about his products being cr*p) you can see how contrasting they can be and that makes our job all the more interesting.

A change of venue

This year the event took place at the First Direct Arena, a change from the New Dock Hall and Royal Armouries as has been the case in previous years. I have to admit, I wasn’t sure how this would work, but after taking a tour and seeing the event from above in the arena seats it didn’t disappoint.

The exhibitor stands were all in one space, which made for a vibrant and engaging showcase for delegates and it also created a camaraderie between the brands. It was great to walk around and see people having a laugh and engaging with each other as well as delegates at the event.

Never a dull moment

As the team that manage all media relations, we don’t get time to wander around, our remit on the day is to manage the media and support any interview requests, while also drafting blogs during the seminars which will be posted on the website after the Conference.

It may sound easy, but it takes a lot of work and makes for a long (but fun-filled) day.

Having access all areas means that we can pick and choose which seminars and sessions we attend, which is a real coup. Over the years I have listened to and met speakers including Michelle Mone, Ann Widdecombe, Jacqueline Gold, Nigel Farage, Alastair Campbell and more… let’s be honest, there was no way I would have bumped into these people in the street, so once again it all adds to the experience.

Working with a talented team

What astounds me most about the Conference is that the team from the YM always seem so relaxed. Whatever comes their way they just deal with it and move on to the next thing. I can’t even imagine what it is like to manage an event of this scale knowing that it takes a full year to plan, arrange and deliver.

Once again, the team did a fantastic job and this year more than ever I heard lots of positive comments that I duly passed on. The philosophy behind the YM is that we are stronger together and I have to say that working with them adds real credibility to that statement.

Practising what you preach is a big part of what we do here at Open Communications so to have clients that work by the same values makes our job all the more rewarding. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the organisers once again for bringing this fantastic event to the region and also to the individuals, brands and businesses that we worked with to pull the content together.

I’m very pleased to report that we secured coverage across national and regional media in print, online and across broadcast media. Well done team Open Comms, good work!

Now let’s get on with planning for next year’s showcase, which will have to be bigger and better than ever. We better get our thinking caps on.

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! 

Empowerment of women leads to an unlikely enterprise

During the Buy Yorkshire Conference on the 28 and 29 April, it was with great interest that delegates welcomed Jacqueline Gold to the stage. Not knowing what to expect from one of the most successful women in the country, who has reinvented a business that has changed the lives of women (and men) up and down the country, it was hard to determine what she would share. Her story was not only compelling but inspirational. For more details about an entrepreneur who she never be underestimated read below.  

As a naïve and shy 19 year old, Jacqueline Gold had no idea what path her career would take. Sitting in a smoke filled room at 21 in a council house in South East London drawing pictures of her boyfriends ‘meat and two veg’ on her head wasn’t quite what she had planned!

And so, Ann Summers was born, well, reinvented at least.

Admitting that Ann Summer was multi-channel way before it’s time, she explains that the business was set up by Kim Waterfield and that the brand was actually meant to represent an image of an English Rose.

With no real direction the business went into liquidation within a year and in stepped Jacqueline to purchase two stores and the brand name for just £10,000; one of the best deals she says she’s ever made.

Recognising that women wanted to buy sexy underwear but didn’t want the embarrassment of going into a sex shop, Jacqueline came up with the concept of house parties. Taking the suggestion to the board she was met with some resistance and a comment that still resonates today: “Women aren’t even interested in sex!”

Pushing forward with her idea, Jacqueline advertised in the London Standard for party hosts and was met with 25 candidates. Not all were suitable but the concept quickly grew and in just a single year the business was growing so rapidly a decision was made to stop advertising altogether.

Creating something that sat outside of the typical and traditional ‘raincoat brigade’ Ann Summers was on to a winner and the mantra to unleash sexual confidence in women was born.

Shops quickly followed, which would become a portfolio of 140 that now amount to 60% of the business, but this didn’t spell the death of the party. More than 5,000 parties still take place every year attracting tens of thousands of women.

Results show a performance that in the first year reported £83,000 and now boasts a staggering £35m. Now that’s a lot of fun and very happy couples.

When asked what makes Ann Summers different Jacqueline explains:

–          We have a female friendly focus

–          The business is controversial

–          The company stocks a range of innovative products

–          The customer experience and engagement are fundamental

Today the company sells 2m vibrators every year, which amounts to 5,000 every day and 7 sex toys every waking minute.

Despite this success there are some concerns at the business and in particular with the perception of quality. However this is being address and as Jacqueline explains, ‘We use the same manufacturers as Stella McCartney’.

In order to be successful Jacqueline says you have to have a point of difference to set you apart, innovate not imitate and rely on feedback from customers who will be your greatest advocates and your biggest critics.

The company continues to grow at a rate of 20% every year and the parties are still a big part of the package offered with this being the first experience that most people have when they embrace the Ann Summers brand.

As an advocate of PR, marketing and in particular social media, the business has used some situations to its advantage creating great opportunities to generate sales such as the launch of the Seven Shades of Grey novel. During the launch phase of the book many Ann Summers stores sold out of handcuffs and blindfolds.

So, what is around the corner for this international phenomenon? Well, the future development of the brand perception is high on the agenda, along with in store technology and further international expansion.

Giving further advice to those considering starting a business Jacqueline says:

–          Create a story and brand identity

–          Have a clear proposition

–          Embrace technology

–          Have an international strategy

–          Put in place a seamless omni-channel infrastructure

As a huge advocate of empowering women Jacqueline leaves the audience she has so obviously captivated with one final thought “If a shy and naïve 21 year old can walk into a room of grey suited men just because I had the will and the courage to do so, then so can you!”

Billion Pound Panel puts industry greats in the hot seat

Happy Friday to you all. It’s certainly been a busy week at Open Comms. Now on to our next blog from the Buy Yorkshire Conference. This time focusing on the Billion Pound Panel, a Question Time style session which invites the great and good from industry to engage with the audience and discuss topics that are most prevalent to them. We hope you enjoy it.

The hustle and bustle to get into the room set a precedent for how popular the Billion Pound Panel has become since its launch four years ago. Arguably there is still no session in any business event that can rival what has become a must see and this year was no exception.

As we all took to our seats, the panel was introduced; Chairman of LNT Group, Lawrence Tomlinson; Managing Director of HARIBO UK, Herwig Vennekens; CEO of AESSEAL, Chris Rea; Chairman of York, North Yorkshire and East Rising Enterprise Partnership, Barry Dodd and the chair of the event, Associate Dean of Leeds Becket University, Simon Jones.

It was almost immediately apparent that the discussion was going to be an interesting one with a mix of people from a range of backgrounds – just what you want when you are sitting in a room waiting for a question time style discussion. There’s no point if everyone has the same opinion on everything!

The discussion started with a gentle question that focused around what benefits Leeds becoming a Capital of Culture 2028 would achieve with differing views. Barry Dodd was particularly vocal with his thoughts around ‘Why?’. His main points were why would you do this when the city and region has a strong reputation that it could build on and why ask for an award when you could give it to yourself.

In contrast Herwig Vennekens explained that when he introduces people to the HARIBO business they often find it difficult to understand where Pontefract is and he spends much of his time explaining that it is ‘near Leeds’ with mixed outcomes even then.

The discussion then moved on to motivating staff and how you can ‘sweeten the deal’ to the humoured groans of the audience.

Interestingly Chris Rea explained that through not being greedy you can build a team that you can trust and that you can rely on when delegating tasks. You certainly got a sense that he has a strong team in place who support him, with reference made to his PA on a number of occasions.

Lawrence gave a glimpse into the culture of the company that he has created, explaining that as someone who only sleeps for 5 hours per night he has to keep connected with the whole of the business. As a result he has given every one of his employees an iPhone, which is a perk but also allows him to communicate with them – in this example sending a podcast from his most recent 24 hour racing event.

A great example of how technology can be used in a simple way to communicate and connect a workforce that otherwise may not engage.

 Barry then sat forward to make one of the strongest comments of the session when he said: “What we all need to remember is that no one works for you, they work with you. Once you remember this your attitude will change and you will take on a culture that you can build.”

There were lots of nods from both the panel and the audience at this point.

The discussion then moved on to local community. The most consistent response came from this question with every member of the panel agreeing that it was important to show your commitment to your local area if the reasons for doing so were valid.

Once again Lawrence was able to showcase how LNT Group have implemented an internal charity called the LNT Foundation, which allows employees of the business to decide how the company invests its money to the benefit of the local community. Another good idea and something that perhaps companies could learn from when they are in the position to do so and to genuinely give something back.

Herwig reiterated that CSR needed to be honest and to meet a genuine need, otherwise why bother. He also explained that it cannot be about a marketing exercise but about meeting with a specific need that a community or local area had.

Next on the agenda was start-up businesses and what top tips the panel had. Chris set the scene explaining that you should never do what a competent person can. And always get people to hire their replacements.

Herwig then added that it was about priorities and the need to identify the difference between something that is a real urgency and something that hits your inbox but can wait. “It’s about being rigorous about what is a priority and what is not. Not doing this absorbs a lot of time. Put a ream around you that you can trust 100 per cent and that are capable also be careful not to employ people who do the same as you. It makes more sense to complement your skills rather than duplicate them.”

Further reiterating this point was Barry who said: “Surround yourself with good people or change them. Don’t end up keeping them and doing their job.” He then went on to pass on a tip that many of the audience seemed to scribble down which was: “Give an accurate time for a meeting such as 10.10am so that people know when they are expected. If you say 10am then people can have a tendency to be late or to feel they can give or take 10 minutes.”

What makes the Billion Pound Panel so interesting is the diversity of the questions and the next one which focused on a possible European Referendum raised a number of eye brows and some genuine discussion.

The panel appeared split with some feeling it is easier to work with Europe if you are part of the EU and others believing that uncertainty and instability was almost forcing decisions that otherwise may not have been made.

Whatever way you choose to agree or disagree there was no doubt that these businessmen were well aware of the possibilities and challenges that may or may not lie ahead.

And then came the last question, which asked what each panellists would do with £1bn to improve the region. An interesting one but the strongest and most consistent response was that the panel were aligned to thinking that education is something that needs addressing.

Finding ways in which education and skills gaps can be aligned was discussed and how this could then create a talent pool that would lead to stronger opportunities. Once again there were many murmurs of support from the audience as people recognised from their own companies the challenges that can be faced with recruitment and how a strong talent pool would make things simpler.

With that the applause went up and the curtain metaphorically came down but overall what a session. The panel was diverse, the room was packed and the questions were coming thick and fast. There is little doubt that the Billion Pound Panel format works and that many people could have stayed in that room for a further hour or two but it’s here that we will leave it until the next time.

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.

What a day!


Today was one of those days that really get your blood churning – they make you feel alive, they spark your passion and they remind you of why you chose the career that you are in – today was the Buy Yorkshire Conference!

As the preferred PR partner for the event, we work for several months behind the scenes to draft press releases, engage with the media and draft stories for inclusion in the dedicated supplement, which was handed out during the event.

On the day however is where it gets really exciting. We had two rooms full of exhibitors, a hotel packed with high profile speakers and more than 4,000 delegates coming through the doors, the Financial Times, the Business Desk, The Yorkshire Post, Yorkshire Business Insider, BBC News Channel and Look North and the Times – now if that isn’t enough to make you wide eyed when you work in PR then I don’t know what is.

We spent all day running around, arranging interviews, making sure speakers and journalists came together, convincing local businesses to comment on national TV (in some cases live) and managing an exciting and challenging press event.

I’m still buzzing from the atmosphere. It was a truly fantastic two day event and everyone I have spoken to felt the same. Whatever company or sector the delegates and exhibitors worked in they were all amazed with the organisation and the unnerved attitude and professionalism of the Buy Yorkshire team.

Hats off guys – keeping it simple, you nailed it!

At Open Communications we are proud to support the Buy Yorkshire Conference and to be a part of something that is quite frankly epic. A massive #WIN from us. We are already looking forward to next year.