Tag: Communications

YOU SAY IT BEST WHEN YOU SAY NOTHING AT ALL

It might be a great lyric for a song but when it comes to effectively managing the reputation of a brand saying nothing at all really can do more damage than good.

Don’t let your brand become your best kept secret

There are few feelings that beat getting excited by the achievements of a business, and eleven years on that hasn’t changed for us.

It’s not just about sharing our success as we expand and welcome new members to the team or celebrate our recent relocation back to Wakefield city centre, it’s also the updates we get to write and distribute for our clients too.

Sharing stories, building the profile of a brand, creating copy and content that captures the culture and personality of a business all deliver positive results, but it’s essential that messaging is aligned with behaviour.

Saying one thing and doing another will lead to mistrust and fake news.

Using PR and marketing communications to share the right messages, at the right time and in the right place gives an audience the information they need to make an informed decision. It’s no longer good enough to rely on the products and services that you sell, it’s about the approach you take and reinforcing values.

The conversation is happening without you

When you don’t share any news or insights as a business it doesn’t mean that the conversation isn’t going on without you. The truth is that whether you are engaged or not, people will talk. Social media and online forums give global audiences a platform to share their thoughts every minute of every day – literally.

Monitoring these conversations to make sure the comments made about your brand and business are correct and factual is as important as watching your cashflow. Ignoring references that are made online does not mean they will go away, often it can lead to the opposite.

No one is saying that you have to review every social media channel all of the time but checking what is being said is good practice and will keep you abreast of customer comments and complaints.

Building an employer brand

Some companies believe that informing the market that you have the best talent will lead to them being contacted by competitors. Firstly, someone can only be poached if they want to be and secondly, try harder to keep them.

Create a culture that attracts candidates and makes them want to work for you and to stay longer-term. Reinforcing how good your workforce is and giving employees credit where it is due is no bad thing and creates a positive atmosphere.

As LinkedIn becomes increasingly popular, remember that your employees can and will use this platform to share their success and achievements. Being an employer that embraces this, liking or reposting these comments, will set an example for others.

In the same way that employees share their success and achievements online, it is important that you remember that others will see this too. Attracting talent is just as important as nurturing those that already work for you, so do both.

Keeping tight-lipped

I’ve never been one to conform to the belief that if you keep quiet then you can be confident that your closely guarded secrets will remain a mystery. Let’s be honest, in most industries people move within the sector and with that comes the harsh reality that some things simply won’t remain under wraps forever.

As such, it’s worth identifying those things that really are secret and should remain that way and others that don’t really require a trip to the legal team for an NDA!

Make the most from your story

We live in a society whereby we are constantly inundated with marketing messages and it’s often the case that the only differentiation between brands is the story that sits behind why a business was launched and how it got to where it is today.

Use your story to appeal to a wider audience and to attract the right customers. Some businesses get this wrong, but many get it right and their success, in part, is as a result of their carefully curated content and images that reflect their brand.

Put some time into deciding how you want to come across to others and invest in the resource you need to make it happen. Even if you aren’t sure, the benefit of PR is that you can test and measure, but give it time, Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither way a globally recognised brand.

SOCIAL MEDIA SHOULD NOT EXCUSE RUDENESS

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Billions of pounds have been spent to allow people to converse and communicate freely with each other, to share ideas and challenge concepts, to share thoughts and to learn, to create hope, generate support and nurture a space where everyone can have a voice.

What an incredibly positive and powerful movement.

Well yes, in theory, however in practice the irony is that it has become a growing beast and is being used for anything other than what it was intended*.

Hiding behind a screen

Social media is now a default position that gives anyone the ‘right’ to hide behind a screen and moan, bitch, shame, stir nastiness and share hatred. It is used to reach the masses with fake news and boastful claims and make others feel inferior at best and suicidal at worst.

Many will argue that this isn’t the case and that there is a lot of good that has come from social media tools. In part, I agree, but when reading the papers over recent weeks the truth is there in black and white.

Two recent headlines from the i newspaper as an example: “Depression and social media risk doubled in girls” and “Black Mirror star quits social media”.

The first refers to a study, which has found that teenage girls are twice as likely to shows signs of depression linked to social media than boys. The University College London has looked at the association between social and depression and the results are far from surprising.

The second headline quotes an actor, Will Poulter, who says: “In light of my recent experience I am choosing to take a step back, of sorts, from Twitter. I accept all criticisms and it’s been a delight to learn that so many of you enjoyed what many people worked very hard to produce. As we all know there is a balance to be struck in our engagements with social media.” He has been referred to as ugly by ‘trolls’ on the platform.

Let’s just take a step back.

Two articles which announce that young people are commonly experiencing signs of depression due to their use (and the misuse by their peers) of social media and a successful actor who can no longer watch in silence as he is torn to pieces by people who have no greater right to comment on this person’s appearance as he does on theirs.

When did this become ok? When was this headline hitting news? And, most importantly, when are we going to start to encourage the use of social media platforms for what they were intended – not to rant and rave in order to have a knowingly negative impact, but to share positive news and to become a platform to communicate for the right reasons.

Bringing it back to business

It would be unfair to ignore the fact that social media channels including Twitter, Facebook and Instagram have provided brands with a platform to promote their products to a global audience and that increasingly intelligent algorithms allow for more specific targeting than has ever been possible.

The questions is the same however, at what cost?

Irrelevant of the budget, thought, creativity and man-hours that go into social campaigns it would appear that increasingly they are coming under the same scrutiny as any social engagement with people feeling that their negative and nasty comments should be shared and somewhat bizarrely responded to.

What many people that work outside of marketing may not appreciate is that it still takes people to respond to social media posts and they, like those complaining or sharing their ‘constructive thoughts’, have feelings.

I have seen some appalling examples of people who think that because they are hidden behind a computer screen can make the most terrible comments and expect a response within minutes.

Firstly, no brand – whatever the size – has a legal obligation to get back to a consumer because they feel they are worthy of that engagement. Secondly, if you are that kind of person, think about how you phrase a complaint and then consider how you would respond given the chance.

I have said this before and I will say it again, if you are posting to a social media channel for whatever reason, if you wouldn’t walk into the street and make those comments out loud then think twice and even three times before posting them.

You do not have the right to be rude

Social media does not give anyone the right to be rude.

For those who go on thinking its ok and that to be outwardly aggressive to the people on the other side of that Twitter, Instagram feed or Facebook account, I urge you to think about how you will feel when your child, partner, friend or family member comes home in tears from school, college or work.

Remember, if your behaviour is reflective of a bully – even when targeted at a brand – you are no better than the people that are directing the same hate filled bilge to your loved ones.  

Ends

*We know that there was a commercial rationale for all of these platforms and they were not based on a philanthropic endeavour to allow freedom of speech or communication across the globe. But for the purpose of this blog, let’s just assume that was the case.

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.

The significance of saying sorry

head in sandImage source: http://www.quotemaster.org/head+in+the+sand

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If you want lasting love, don’t fake it!

It’s been a difficult month for journalists and PR’s alike as the news agenda was indefensibly challenged as the sharing of fake news hit the headlines.  

Far be it that this was a one-off incident that could be swept under the carpet with the abrupt resignation of a non-descript recruit from some back office, this was serious. It was creating conversation and debate, and of any profession that should recognise the significance of that, it’s PR.

PR has long had a reputation for manipulating, ‘spinning’ and even inventing news stories in order to secure coverage and encourage positive responses from consumers, so we have to question what has changed and why are people so concerned?

The truth is that people want to trust the news sources that they have long believed to be credible. They want to know that a journalist – or PR – has done their research and has pulled together a balanced article that will allow them to form their own opinions based on fact – not fiction.

The struggle is that we live in a culture whereby people want breaking news. Invariably with this mistakes will happen – but fake news isn’t just about mistakes, it is absolutely about the sharing of content that the journalist, PR or brand knows is false.

It’s lying and often in a bid to manipulate a given response which may have further implications to a wider campaign.

What I have found most troubling is that the term ‘fake news’ is now widely used, referenced and understood. This is really worrying. When we work with clients the first rule is don’t lie, which is swiftly followed by the second and third; don’t suggest that we lie and don’t manipulate the truth.

If you can’t find an angle to a story then the likelihood is that you don’t have one to share.

People are undoubtedly going to become increasingly cynical of news and you can’t really blame them. They are going to question what they should believe and with such an array of sources to collate information from – positive, negative, neutral and all that is in between – it does become mind boggling. 

What we as an industry have to do is to continue to champion good practice. Spin is not a positive term as far as I’m concerned and I have an ongoing joke with a client who uses the insinuation purely to wind me up!

If PR is to be considered a specialism and the profession I certainly believe it to be, then it is our job to showcase why that is the case. We manage the reputations of brands and businesses, so we must be able to change the perception of an industry that without too much trouble is going to get pulled into the gutter.

There are agencies that will do anything for coverage – let’s be honest, we all know that’s the case – but we need to take a stand and to work harder to create good quality stories that people will read and feel informed, enlightened and engaged by.

All we can do is take the facts that our clients give us, but that’s another thing. Work with brands that you trust. It’s just as important that we can be sure of the facts that we are then sharing with a journalist, as it is that the journalist takes that story and prints it or posts it online to thousands of readers with the knowledge it was sent in good faith.

Choosing where you share news is of course another thing. If a PR is going to work with publications or sites that have been consistently discredited, then you can’t expect that they will share the content that you have given them without adding their own inflection to the piece. 

We are surrounded by content at every turn; from our TV or radios when we get up, to newspapers and our phones or iPads and that’s even before we get to work. What we should do as individuals is to remember that despite some misguided beliefs, not everything you read in the news is the truth.

Most brands are aspiring for the holy grail of results – brand loyalty and you simply will not get that if you lie. It’s a pretty simple concept really, if you want lasting love, don’t fake it!

The pen to paper challenge

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I guess that I’m a little strange when you consider today’s preference for computer screens, as I love to write and can often be seen with a fountain pen in hand. It’s just a quirk that I have had for many years now and was probably established when I was younger and had to do writing practice over the summer holidays.

My mum was very insistent when it came to the way that we write and spoke, she said that a lot could be interpreted from a person’s handwriting and the language they use. Fast forward a couple of decades and I have to agree and that’s why I was saddened to read that some schools are choosing to swap writing practice for typing classes.

I touch type and so can certainly see the benefit in both skills but I think that’s the point. People recognise that if you can type fast then you can be more efficient at work, whereas if you have neat hand writing… well, good for you.

It doesn’t attract the same praise and really it should. There is nothing worse than getting a prescription from the doctor that you can’t read or having a note left through the door and looking blankly at the scrawl in front of you hoping you can decipher a few letters to give you a fighting chance.

I’ve even been in a situation whereby I handed a note from a hospital to a doctor who refused to action the request based on the consultant’s hand writing. Seriously. It took me half an hour of begging (and a few tears) to get what I needed, all because she couldn’t be bothered to give the letter the attention it deserved. Grrr.

Berol Pens carried out a survey recently (great PR as a result) which found that a quarter of children cannot join their handwriting, 19% can’t write in a straight line, 17% can’t write a full sentence and 36% of teachers admit that standards are continuing to fall.

How worrying. What has the world come to where we don’t appreciate a basic skill? I appreciate there are modern technologies and that children will actually swipe a tablet before they pick up a pen but that doesn’t mean they will never have to.

I read a further article which focused on the emoji and that people rely increasingly on images and abbreviations to communicate rather than words. Not only is this lazy and in my opinion can often give the impression that you can’t be bothered with someone or be wildly misinterpreted.

Classic example, and this may be an urban myth, but there was a story circulating that a young boy had received a text from his mother which said: “Your great aunt just passed away. LOL”. Clearly the boy was baffled and asked what was funny about the passing of his relative. His mother, equally baffled, said nothing to which the boy had to explain that LOL is laugh out loud and NOT lots of love. #awkward.

This is just one of the reasons that I try wherever possible not to use abbreviations. That, and the confession that it’s like another language much of the time, and not one I speak!

I am a huge champion of the written word and one way I relax is to write poems. I have a small book that I grab when I’m feeling down or angry and I write. I typically churn out rhymes for no other purpose than it allows me to express my feelings and to share my thoughts with… well, me actually, but that isn’t the point.

Research has shown that writing allows people to be more expressive and creative and it actually develops skills that we would otherwise struggle with, such as cognitive processing of information and creating ideas to support projects.

I’ve never been very academic and find it very difficult to read something and take it in. I have to read it again and again before I really digest it and so I learnt to write things down and the process of copying it onto paper meant that I processed it far quicker.

I’m sure some people may think that this is silly but I would urge anyone struggling to try it. It’s simple and it works. Another example, my step-son was finding it almost impossible to learn his French. His teacher had told the class to listen to her words on a podcast and then repeat them. He was doing this over and over and he still couldn’t remember them – they weren’t going in.

He was upset and frustrated, so I suggested the writing down technique. He initially looked at me as if I had two heads (he was 15 at the time!) before finally coming to the end of his tether and giving it a go. And, guess what? It worked. He’s now at university and uses the same technique today when he struggles with something.

I am always surprised by how appalling some people’s hand writing is. I can’t claim that mine is much better if I’m honest but when given the time I do try. I think it’s something that we should all think about more and take some pride in.

I’ve decided that in my bid to champion the handwritten word – and to encourage others to possibly do the same – I am going to write a letter to one of my friends each month. In doing so I hope that two things will happen; it makes them smile to receive a letter through the post and secondly that they consider writing one back.

There are few things more exciting than receiving a letter through the post and I always really appreciate the effort that someone has gone to. It certainly beats an email or an update on messenger.

So, who’s with me? Why not take on the challenge? I’m going to call it the ‘Pen to paper’ project – a reminder that the time it takes to write and send a letter is worth the effort to make someone smile and to reinforce how much you care.

All I have to do now is find 12 friends!

AWARDS; GLORY HUNTING OR THE RECOGNITION YOU DESERVE

Whatever industry you work in there will be an awards ceremony that celebrates the success of the great and good in your sector. The same can be said for PR and I am really pleased to announce that Open Communications has been shortlisted for the Not For Profit category at the Yorkshire and Lincolnshire PRide Awards.

The awards take place tomorrow (Thursday 17 November) evening at The Queen’s Hotel in Leeds and will bring together hundreds of people from businesses and agencies throughout the two regions.

It has taken us eight years to enter the awards, not because we didn’t feel that our work was of a standard to be recognised but because, if we’re honest, we’ve spent more time submitting and winning awards for our clients.

It was only during a meeting earlier in the year that a client asked why we don’t practice what we preach, and I realised that actually awards for our own work should be as important as those of the brands that we work with.

So, what was stopping us?

Well, to be honest, we’ve never really felt that we needed awards to prove that we could do a good job – the evidence is in the results that we achieve. Then there was the fact that some awards make you feel like you’re simply glory hunting and again this isn’t really our style.

But, when it comes down to it awards do give a credibility by association and you have to be in them to win them! So, is it glory hunting or are you simply getting the recognition you deserve for the results you work so hard to achieve.

It wasn’t difficult to come up with a conclusive answer and so, we put pen to paper.

The challenge then was what to submit? We are very proud of the work that we produce and the results that we get for our clients so it was a difficult choice. We decided that we would focus on the Coalfields Regeneration Trust, the only organisation dedicated to former mining towns and villages throughout the country.

We have worked alongside the team at the Coalfields Regeneration Trust for more than 2 years now and have secured hundreds of pieces of coverage, which in turn has communicated with millions of people throughout the UK.

The results are consistently strong and as a result of our work communications is very much an agenda point around the board room table. We’ve even been invited to share our work with the trustees – which is a real achievement.

We have worked with the team to develop a tone of voice, aligned their messaging and revised their three-year strategy. We have also shaped their brand and vision for the future and changed the way that they communicate with different audiences to make sure they get the return on investment both from us and their own efforts.

Although we are confident with the results we have achieved, leading the organisation most recently to secure a Yorkshire Post Excellence in Business Award (2016), we know that it can go either way.

We have everything crossed and know that even if we don’t win, we have done a fantastic job and will continue to deliver for the Coalfields Regeneration Trust, evolving the way that they communicate to make sure as many people as possible understand what they are trying to achieve.

That said, we’ve cleared a space on our shelf (just in case) and hope to be updating the blog with pictures of Open Communications as we pick up our very first PRide award.

Wish us luck!

Being the centre of attention

I’ve never really bothered about being the centre of attention, in fact, in the right scenario, I quite enjoy it. I think part of that is coming from a large family; when we were younger if you did manage to get someone to pay any notice of you then you made the most of it.

On Friday I was asked to present during an event hosted by the Wakefield Bondholders at Hatfeild Hall. It wasn’t an unusual topic, I would be providing people with advice and some hints and tips on how they could use PR to benefit their business.

Now, if I couldn’t get that right then there was something really wrong!

Coincidentally, during a recent team meeting here at Open Communications, we were discussing nerves and how you can overcome them when presenting. I’ve always felt that being nervous is a challenge that has to be overcome and as such have always done my best to step up to the mark when I get butterflies. If I’m honest, I like the feeling of pushing myself and being in a position that may be slightly uncomfortable but knowing that it’s up to me to turn it around.

During the meeting I was asked by a colleague why I never get nervous and how I always appear so confident. The truth is that I do get nervous and the confidence comes from playing a game with myself – it’s how I react to that situation and that feeling.  Some might call it bravado but to me it’s just a natural reaction.

Friday morning was a classic example. I don’t see getting nervous as a weakness, far from it, I actually think that the day you go to present in front of a room of 80 people and you don’t feel nervous you have crossed the line to arrogant or worst still, dismissive. Well, it was clear to me at least, that I certainly wasn’t at that stage – I was very much a bag of nerves.

Hiding it well behind several coffees and some idle chit chat I counted down the minutes until it was my turn to face the room. I was fortunate enough to have some friendly faces that I could call upon from the front and so I began.

I was handed a microphone – which made my knees shake even more than usual – but there was no turning back, it was now or never.

The funny thing is that even with the microphone once I’d started I was fine. I could stand up there all day but the first five minutes was the most challenging. I have the same questions as everyone else does when I stand in front of a room of people; will they like me, will they understand what I’m trying to explain, have I pitched the level right, will anyone take anything from it, what will they learn, will they question me and most worrying, will they consider me to be good at what I do.

By the time the presentation ended, I was shaking like a leaf, but I have to admit that I really enjoyed it. I hope that people learnt something from it but mostly I hope that those I work with realise that everyone gets nervous and that it’s ok, it’s how you handle it and how you challenge yourself to overcome it that’s important.

I had some lovely comments following the event and people did say that they had learnt something, which is what it was all about, but most surprisingly I had three separate emails from people complimenting me on my presentation style and confidence.

I always think it’s a huge achievement when people take the time to thank you and to tell you that they think you did a good job and so last week I closed Friday with a big smile on my face.

My hands have finally stopped shaking and I’m ready for the next time I’m asked to present to a room – may be next time I can push myself that little bit harder and even look forward to it.

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!”

OPEN CLEAN UP WITH ASTONISH(ING) WIN

11.10.14 Astonish 2

Ok, we know the headline is a little cheesy but you can’t blame us with such exciting news to share. Believe me, corks would be popping if we were your typical champagne quaffing agency… but then we’d get nothing done, so we’ll keep it to a blog and a few cheeky team drinks.

So, back to business, we are really excited to announce that here at Open Communications we have added a further client to our extensive portfolio following our appointment as preferred lead PR and marketing communications agency for Astonish, the UK top ten cleaning brand.

We will be working with another local team, Statement, to devise and implement an annual communications and social media plan for the business focusing on engagement, reach and penetration into households throughout the country. Creative is well underway for a series of campaigns that will uplift activity throughout the next twelve months with the objective to raise the profile of the brand and reinforce its strong heritage and cruelty free credentials, along with its value for money and quality proposition.

We are always keen to share our news – it would be strange for a PR agency not to – and more so the feedback from our clients.

Head of Marketing for Astonish Cleaning Products, Katy Clark said: “We have big plans for Astonish over the next twelve months and beyond; as a result we wanted to work with agencies that would share our passion for our product range. We have some great news and exciting plans to share and we know that Open Comms and Statement will assist us in doing just that.”

Astonish is a successful, ambitious and growing brand. As a British manufacturer with a rich heritage we are very excited to be working with the team to meet with their objectives. Astonish is a great addition to our growing portfolio of clients that require a full PR programme of activity to cover consumer, trade, corporate and social media support. It’s great to see that once again our straight talking, realistic approach to the brief meant that we could hit the ground running and get to work.

Plans are underway for the launch of the first creative campaign for the brand, which will focus on its success to date and will rely on social media, managed content, corporate, consumer and trade PR activity. Watch this space, there is lots of exciting news to share from Astonish and we hope to do a sparkling job for them! Sorry, couldn’t resist.