Tag: Communications strategy

An audience that is seen but not heard

It’s always surprising to find that when it comes to strategic communication businesses completely discard an audience that should be made up of its most loyal followers; it’s employees.

It is very rare that we receive a PR brief which makes specific reference to internal communications, unless it includes a newsletter or the updating of an intranet service. So, why is it that brands which invest thousands of pounds into managing their most precious asset – their reputation – don’t consider their biggest advocates as a key audience?

Well, it’s simple really. Employees are, in some businesses at least, seen and not heard. In times where offices are busier, customers want more and time is ever of the essence, it is fair to suggest that the easiest audience to ‘ignore’ or push to one side would be those who are closest.

It’s like anything, when you have a task to do that is for your own brand or business you leave it until ‘later’ but later, like tomorrow, never seems to come.

We work with companies of all sizes to explain the importance of internal communications, and to explain why investing in this audience should become part of an organisations wider business strategy if they want to really succeed. Employees make a business, and they add to the personality of a brand, which is the one thing that competitors cannot replicate.

When you think about some brands and the experience that you have had, it won’t be the owner of that company that has given you that impression – good or bad – but the person that you deal with when you come into contact with that business. In most instances, when you think about leading global brands you will have no idea what the owner even looks like; what you are likely refer to is people you know who work for that company, or the attitude of the person who last called you from that particular business.

The simple truth is if you don’t invest in your team, whether they are customer facing or not, you can’t expect them to then share the positive values of your business with others.  What will they be saying when they are down the pub with their mates or updating their latest Facebook post? What are they tweeting about and if it references your business, is it likely to be positive? It’s certainly worth considering in an age of ‘sharing’ content and expressing opinion.

Employees are an essential asset to any business, not just bums on seats. Perhaps it’s time that we all took a step back, considered those who should matter most and enthused them to want to share the good things about the company that they have chosen to work for.

Putting together an internal communications campaign, which educates and engages your staff, could give you the best return on investment of any marketing activity you have planned for 2014.

It’s all in the timing

Social media, content marketing, engagement, push, viral, digital… need I go on? These are all words that are used frequently in the world of marketing, PR and communications and they all lead back to one thing – attracting attention and sharing a message.

What I’ve noticed is that brands who have got it right, in my opinion, are those that are able to turn things around quickly. Take Bodyform as a classic, or Specsavers as another, then there’s Richard Branson and his stunt announcing the BA couldn’t get it up and Paddy Power’s ambush of the Ryder Cup.

The way that these brands have been in a position to turn around their campaigns so quickly, never mind come up with them in the first place, is fantastic. Not only are they creative and quirky they capture attention and get their message across. At the end of the day, most brands use PR and marketing in the first instance to raise the profile of their business and in these cases they do exactly that.

The problem of course is that it is often impossible to get approval to turn something around in such limited timescales however the more that brands become aware of the benefits to ‘almost real time’ engagement the better.

It seems to me that the future is all about the timing and that means reacting within hours as opposed to days. Let’s hope that more brands see the benefit in putting PR at the top of their list of priorities because this is simply the best way to shout about your brand which subsequently puts your products in front of the consumer.

Finally, PR takes it seat at the boardroom table

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Management Today Jeremy Hazlehurst comments:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Never mind a gym membership – is your business in shape?

It’s that time of year again when all we hear about is detoxing, joining a gym and getting back in shape after eating and drinking far too much over the festive period. While we all take the time to consider our personal health during January, how many of us actually stop to ask if our business is fighting fit so that we are ready to take on whatever 2013 has to offer?

There’s no doubt that 2012 brought with it some challenges and that the news headlines were once again littered with announcements of companies falling into administration but that’s no reason to pull the covers over our heads and close the doors. If anything after a festive break and rest we should be ready and raring to go with great ideas and creative plans for the forthcoming year.

Whether it’s new opportunities, expansion and growth or more of the same we need to put all of our energies into getting excited about our plans and sharing them with our employees, customers and prospects. If we can pass on our enthusiasm and passion we can encourage others to do the same and this helps to keep our businesses, products and services front of mind.

Here at Open Communications, we are suggesting that businesses put together a list of their New Year’s resolutions for 2013 – but that first they focus on the company rather than themselves as an individual. These resolutions could be anything from improving internal communications to increase productivity, right through to generating new business through effective PR, marketing materials and use of relevant social media tools.

The easiest way to manage this process and get some real value out of the exercise is to write down your resolutions in one column and then put simple steps to achieving them in another. Although it sounds almost too straight forward, approaching challenges in this way means that you are more likely to work hard to achieve them.

It’s also a great excuse to ‘regroup’ and get your whole business involved and working together. Hold a meeting and find out what employees want to see from the company over the next twelve months.  Ask what drives them on and what they think makes the organisation different and exciting from others in the market? Encourage them to get behind the business and to want to be a part of its success during the year ahead.

The most important thing is to use the New Year to get motivated, organised and ready to learn something completely new that will add value to your company.

We would guess that many of the resolutions that people make will focus on a business communicating more effectively with an audience; this may be current customers, prospects or employees. Remember that in order to communicate you have to consider setting aside the time to do this and do it well. Reputation comes from the impression that you give and you need these to reflect your values and vision.

If you would like to start the New Year as you mean to go on and you want to get excited about the year ahead and all the benefits that it has to offer then think about what impression you want people to have of your company. What do you have to give (product or service), how does it differ from others and most importantly how are you going to let people know about it?

We are sure that 2013 is going to be a very exciting and productive year and we are looking forward to working with both current and prospective clients large and small. We hope that you will join us in making resolutions that we will work towards, keep and evolve throughout the year.

Here’s to a great 2013 and the many opportunities that it will bring.

An innocent drink with a banker adds value to PR

On occasion there will be a conference or networking session which catches my eye and yesterday I found myself surrounded by bankers (insert your own pun here!) at an event in Bradford.

The Ignite Business Growth seminar was hosted by Barclays and was pitched as an opportunity to hear key note speaker, Adam Balon, one of the founding entrepreneurs behind Innocent Drinks, speak about his business journey and the challenges faced by the brand.

I never like to pass up the opportunity to hear it from those who have ‘been there and done that’ and so went along. Getting the negative out of the way early on in this blog, I was extremely disappointed to find that although Adam was in fact a key note speaker we were watching him through a screen.

It became quickly apparent that the seminar was a collective of smaller events around the country all tuned in to the same station, so to speak. I would have found this quite impressive, particularly as the use of social media and twitter (using a dedicated hashtag #BarcT2M) at the event was a great example of how to use these tools for effective networking, but the fact that this was almost hidden from delegates was not my idea of best practice.

Anyway, on with the show. We were first introduced to Luke Hodson, the brains behind promotional merchandise company Awesome Merchandise. Luke explained how he had taken an idea, which started in the bedroom of a student house he shared with 10 others, to become a successful enterprise turning over more than £2 million a year.

Explaining how he had turned to simple marketing techniques, such as sending out his own products as free samples, to encourage engagement with prospects and build the business was refreshing. It may not set the world alight but ideas like this work.

Luke even mentioned a really simple, yet effective, campaign he had launched using a mug, which had an image of an arrow on it saying ‘I’m awesome’. He sent the mugs out and asked that people have their picture taken with them and send it back. The response was overwhelming with people taking the trouble to have their ‘mug shot’ taken in a whole host of weird and wonderful places, including America.

It was really pleasing to see a local business doing good and to listen to someone who clearly has their head screwed on and the drive, passion and dedication that is needed to make it work.

Next it was over to Barclays to do a not so hard sell before Adam took to the stage.

I don’t know what I was expecting but I have to admit that Adam was a real inspiration. The way he told the story of Innocent Drinks was funny, charming and surprisingly down to earth.  What was most interesting about Adam’s talk was the way that he used experiences alongside tips to make it relevant to the audience.

In some of these events you can find yourself wondering why you are wasting your time listening to some multi-millionaire witter on about how they finally got to the top and that they can confirm that money really can buy you happiness – well, nice work but that isn’t really helpful.

Adam was different. He mentioned that in order to develop a sustainable and successful business you had to have values, vision and purpose. He also mentioned the importance of having a clear tone of voice for the brand, which is used across all communications.

This was music to my ears. We constantly explain to clients and prospects that you need to have an established tone of voice in order to give a brand personality and to provide consistent communications across all platforms.  It makes sense when you think about it but many businesses carry on regardless, leaving customers and prospects wondering why in one sense the company is personable and friendly and in another professional and aggressive.

It was apparent from Adam’s talk that the team from Innocent had done a fantastic job on their PR. They had used the media to secure a listing with Harvey Nichols and from then on went from strength to strength. TV, radio and print media were eager to cover the story of the three boys from London who had launched a fruit juice business from a back bedroom and they made the most of it.

Adam was eager to point out the value of PR and of course I couldn’t agree more. I had no idea that PR would be such a strong topic during this session but I really do hope that people in the room were paying attention and recognising just how important clear, strategic and managed communications and messaging are to a business and its long term success.

The session wasn’t just about the successes of Innocent, although mention was made to the fact that in just three years it went stratospheric making the three owners multi-millionaires and allowing them to employ a full team to support their enterprise, there was also talk of the things that went wrong including dressing as Nuns and trying to ‘pull’ at London fashion week – but I’ll leave those little nuggets under wraps just in case you have a chance to see the Innocent team speak in the future!

Overall the session was inspiring, engaging and useful and certainly made me step back and think about Open Communications and what we do well and perhaps not so well. I strongly believe that you need that reality check sometimes and am sure that other businesses in the room felt the same.

So, well done Barclays, I still think you should have been more honest about the way the session was being run but overall a really good event, which was well worth attending.

The print press, PR and that election

It’s been a roller coaster few weeks in the USA with the constant evaluation of who is in the lead, which candidate won which head-to-head debate and who came across as well informed, stronger and most suitable to become President, taking on the responsibility to run one of the largest countries in the World.

I’m not a politically driven person per se but you couldn’t miss this show with billions of dollars reportedly spent on each campaign.  The elections even went so far as to appear on the Simpsons, reiterating the significance and absolute inability to avoid this historical ‘battle’.

No day went by without an evaluation and critique of each candidate and this is what I found most interesting. Clearly the overall success of the elections was due to the vote however each party had to convince the public that they were the best candidate for the job – they were managing their reputation to engage with the public and encourage them to make a mark against their name, not dissimilar to the way that businesses encourage the sale of products or services.

The elections were very much a demonstration of the principles of PR. Each campaign started with a launch before moving on to a drip feed of stories. Then came the crisis management with debates and public appearances scrutinised in finite detail. After this was the consistency of messaging and the reiteration of values and personality. Finally, defeat and success, both of which were handled with dignity and grace, once again using techniques that can be closely aligned to those used during a crisis situation. And let’s not forget the use of social media throughout the election and the now famous tweet ‘Four more years’, taking the message from local to global in seconds.

The headlines however failed to meet with expectations with Chris Evans announcing Wednesday 7 November as the death of the print press – a little unfair but his comments related to the fact that due to timings it was simply impossible for the print media within the UK to report the final outcome of the elections in time for the morning papers.

Perhaps times have changed and behaviours with it – I could be alone but I read the newspapers to find out what is going on generally before relying on broadcast or online to get the up to the minute news. I don’t believe that people will think the elections are still taking place because the newspapers were unable to report the results.

May be we need to think about the objectives of the papers and then give them credit where it’s due – there will be many bleary eyed journalists this morning who are now updating the digital versions of the news to ensure we are all up to date with the latest developments from the other side of the world.

With the elections now over there is little doubt that the PR machine will be in overdrive for Barack Obama with interviews to arrange, announcements to be made and a campaign that now needs to fight to keep momentum. There will be no popping of champagne corks for him or his team. Despite his announcement that he has the best campaign team in the World they now have an immense job to do but when you analyse their efforts so far you have to hand it to them – a job well done. #PRwin!

A changing legal landscape

Reviewing the media this morning I noticed an increasing number of announcements about the merger of legal firms within the Yorkshire region.  No fewer than three mergers hit the headlines today with stories released from Ware & Kay and P J Lawrence, Switalskis Solicitors and Parker Bird Gardner and Petherbridge Bassra and Brimble & Co.

I’m sure that most people working within the legal sector will know that there are likely to be many more announcements before the market settles into a new shape – which will see fewer firms but larger overall practices offering their services.

Having worked within the sector I found the concept of ‘Tesco law’ very interesting, noting that due to a change in legislation any business could offer legal services, if they had the right people with the right qualifications to do so. This change was quickly termed Tesco law as it would mean that supermarkets could offer legal services if they felt it would be a lucrative market.

Needless to say a company like Tesco would also be likely to offer legal support at cut down prices, providing an appealing opportunity for consumers and businesses alike.  This in turn would create a crisis situation for most legal teams who would have to review their offering and potentially change the way they work to maintain market share and customer loyalty.

Although it is not surprising to see that in order to counter the Tesco law effect local firms are coming together to create larger and presumably stronger practices, as a PR professional I hope that these organisations have a strategy in place to manage internal and external communications during the changes and beyond.

Legal firms are notorious for believing that marketing and communications are fluffy and a ‘nice to have’ as opposed to an essential tool for supporting business practice and enhancing reputation, which in turn generates sales.

It will be interesting to see which firms have considered their messaging and tone of voice following a merger and which have a strategy in place to effectively manage the change. It is certainly a period of immense change both for the practices which are coming together and the market as a whole.

 

Why do big businesses fail?

I have long pondered this question and have come to the conclusion that it is far too simple to blame everything on the banks and the government. I’m not saying they are blameless, after many a revelation over the past couple of years that would be silly, but there has to be more to it than this.

Then I got thinking about the businesses that I was surprised to see go into administration; Woolworths, Barratts, GAME and La Senza to name a small handful. The sad part about this list is that you could go on all day and it isn’t exclusive to big brands, but to businesses of all sizes across all sectors.

It’s no longer shocking to hear that a business has called in the administrators, it’s almost considered to be ‘a sign of the times’ but I think we all need to give ourselves a bit of a shake. The basic principles of running a business haven’t changed – you need to supply a product or service that people want to buy and can pay for.

The problem is that even this isn’t enough and I think that this is where brands are getting it wrong. They concentrate so hard on securing the funding for a business that they forget to even consider how they are going to position their brand and how they plan to approach communicating and engaging with prospects and customers.

Rather than building a brand they build a funding model, which lacks substance. If people don’t understand what you are offering and what products you can supply them with then you have no business at all.

People are time poor and they are not going to ask the question or come looking for you as they perhaps once would. You have to take the information to them and package it so that it is easy to understand, while injecting some personality to create a point of difference from your competitors.

Big brands don’t engage with agencies for fun – they want to make sure that their communications reach the largest and most relevant audience possible and at the most basic level this goes back to getting your message right in the first place and then bringing it to life.

Perhaps this is why Woolworths was one of the first to go – other than Pick and Mix and Ladybird clothing they more of less just sold ‘stuff’ and it was hit and miss if what you wanted would be in there – it was often quicker and easier to go to Argos.

As another example, Barratts did nothing to change the consumer perception of them being a brand for old people and so failed to attract a younger audience, who after all would in time become their customers of the future.

A brand that I think has worked hard and has started to see the benefits of an effective communications strategy is Burberry. Needless to say they haven’t always benefited from the associations that have been made between their clothing and the type of person who is expected to wear them – however that has changed over recent years and they have developed a strategy to build brand loyalty and maintain their business as a leading fashion brand with credibility.

So, let’s just watch this space. It will be interesting to see if there is an obvious and direct correlation between businesses that have no communications strategy in place and those that go into administration by the end of the year.

If I were a gambling women I would guess that the odds for continued success would be stacked in favour of those who have a clear route to market, a defined target audience, creative ideas that will engage with consumers, and depending on what type of business they have, encourage trial before purchase.

If you have a business then why not put it to the test – ask five of your family, friends or even customers to explain what your company does, why you differ from others and if relevant what your last marketing campaign / promotion was. If they don’t know then is it likely anyone else will?

Certainly food for thought.

Because the client says so

People think that working with so many clients in such a diverse range of sectors would be difficult but it isn’t as long as you understand their business, communications strategy and wider brand plan. It’s important to get to know their business inside and out in order to put together recommendations that will deliver on objectives.

In my opinion too many PR agencies get caught up in trying to pull the next big stunt without looking at the bigger picture. How will that campaign have any longevity and what will happen once you have secured the column inches. How could it work as a theme that could be delivered in phases so that you get more than one opportunity to speak to the media and greater retention of message?

At Open Communications we work with our clients to create campaigns that grab attention, while also meeting with expectations and delivering on objectives. Anyone can make unrealistic suggestions or over promise on ideas that simply won’t deliver but we choose not to be like that.

One principle that we have employed from day one is to be honest and open. We don’t do something because the clients says so and we are more than willing to challenge an idea if we think it is to the benefit of the client and their brand and business.

As a small agency our reputation is literally our business and we are not prepared to go along with something for the sake of banking some cash. We are however more than prepared to work with our clients to come up with ideas that can improve their brand awareness, engage with their consumers and impact on their bottom line.

I think this is why I enjoy working at Open, not least because I was part of the partnership that set the company up and am therefore completely biased, but more so because we work WITH our clients and not for them. This approach, as simple as it sounds, has led to us sharing long term relationships with the brands we work with and becoming an extension of their teams.

When launching the business we decided that if someone was going to employ us as the experts we are then they deserve the benefit of our experience, recommendations and knowledge. There is no point in nodding politely and then when it comes to reviewing an activity having the embarrassment of saying that you knew it wouldn’t work in the first place but just couldn’t say anything.

I wrote a blog recently about being from Yorkshire and calling a spade a shovel and once again I think this lesson has served me well. If you are honest with people and you work with them to come up with ideas and plans that work you can all share in the results. Otherwise you are just another agency, nodding politely at another client, who will be looking to replace you once your latest stunt is complete.