Tag: effective communication

MY FIRST PR CAMPAIGN

First PR Campaign

September marked a memorable milestone in my career; I was given the opportunity to work on my very first PR campaign.

Entrusted with the responsibility of bringing a client’s vision to life was undoubtedly a daunting one, however seeing my plans put into action was a truly rewarding experience. My contribution to the campaign not only improved my knowledge on how the process works but also public relations overall.

Here is what I learnt –

Research is the unsung hero of PR

Press releases, content writing and social media maybe pillars of Public Relations, but it is research that lays the foundation for everything we do.

From initial planning stages to execution, every effective PR campaign must have research at the forefront of all decision making. Overlooking the importance of it can lead to unwanted repercussions and essentially damage a brands reputation.

In contrast, when done correctly, research provides countless benefits. It is not only a vital tool for targeting the right audiences, influencers and journalists, research also helps to prepare for all eventualities that may or may not occur.

Every decision in PR is accompanied with better and worse options. Research is what helps to determine which approach is most appropriate.

Ideas are always welcome

Regardless of how big or small a campaign may be, new and creative ideas are always appreciated.

Although expressing ideas as a PR newbie was slightly intimidating, I soon recognised that the team at Open Comms encouraged original thoughts and valued all suggestions. The philosophy here is that no idea is a bad idea.

PR requires out of the box thinking and notions that gain attraction. Ideas can be expanded, reduced and inspire other ideas. So, simply because a suggestion may see farfetched or perhaps not big enough, are not reasons as to why it should not be expressed.

Expect the unexpected and prepare for the worst

While no one wants to fixate on all the things that could go wrong, an effective campaign is one that evaluates all negative possibilities and is equipped to respond accordingly.

Operating in an especially unpredictable world, it is essential to prepare for the what ifs. Without correct preparation and planning in place, a campaign cannot cope or adapt to challenging situations. Whereas covering every outcome (with a HEAP of creativity) has the potential to minimise any negative impact on a client.

I have always known that a client’s reputation is the number one priority in PR but now I also understand that for this to be true, risk management and robust scenario planning are key.

Have you got the power?

It doesn’t matter whether you are the very best widget seller in the world, or that you can make 100 cold calls an hour, if you haven’t got the power then your business simply won’t work. So what is the power? Well, in simple terms it is your reputation.

 

When you think about it PR and marketing aren’t rocket science but what they are is powerful tools that can take your business from good to great. We often speak to businesses who say that they haven’t got the time to manage their communications because they are too busy doing the day job.

 

Thankfully our clients are able to rely on us to make sure that people know all about them and the products and services they offer but what about the others?

 

If you take a step back and think about the purpose of effective business communications – whether digital, written or spoken – the idea is that you give people the information that they need to form an impression. What you need to make sure is that this is the right impression and that you appeal to prospects. In order to do that the fundamental requirement is to be liked.

 

Having a great service is just the start when you work in any organisation what’s more important is that you get on with your clients and you take the time to communicate with them and share your innovations, ideas and successes. Pass them the power.

 

People don’t come knocking on your door just because – they need that push to do so. PR allows a business to manage its reputation, which is questionably the most important asset of any company of any size.

 

As an example if you are scared of flying, as I am, then you wouldn’t be comfortable booking a flight with an airline you had never heard of but if you have seen and even engaged with a brand that you have chosen to soar through the skies at 37,000 feet with you feel more comfortable. The truth is that these businesses invest in PR and marketing, which in turn leads to credibility and trust that means people are more likely to book with them as opposed to an alternative.

 

This principle can be applied to any business of any size.   

 

Take Open Communications, we are not the biggest PR agency but we have a portfolio of fantastic businesses that we work with and this is because when we launched in 2008 we were adamant that we would manage our own PR. Although it sounds strange you would be surprised at how many agencies can’t find the time to communicate with their clients and prospects.

 

As a result of the PR that we do for Open, and the relationships that we have with our clients, 80% of our new business comes from recommendation. We know that through effective communication, which includes the blog, press releases, sponsorship and relationships we are giving our own business the power.

 

The values of our business are relatively simple; what you see is what you get, we are straight talking and we do the job and do it well. All of our clients understand how we work and because we manage our own reputation, as well as that of our customers, we have been able to grow and develop over the last five years.

 

Building relationships is essential to the success of any organisation and that starts with word of mouth, so make sure that when people talk about your business they are conveying your key messages and that you are giving them the power that they need to become your next best advocate.

What impression do you make?

 

We work with lots of local businesses across a range of sectors – not just those who are looking for PR but also suppliers who can provide us with products and services as and when we need them. Where possible we try to work locally as it makes sense to us – why go anywhere else when what you really need is on your doorstep.

And this is how we came across a very good friend and business colleague, Keith Williams. Many of the people reading this blog will already know who Keith is. As a very well networked individual and character, Keith is not shy and imparts his knowledge whenever we meet.

I was therefore intrigued when I received an email from Keith providing the following insights:

“As animals we are programmed to use all our four senses to gain a first impression. This is known to take around 10 seconds. On the telephone you rely on just one sense, hearing, to form an impression so if you take the 10 seconds and divide it by the 4 senses this gives the caller 2.5 seconds to form a favourable impression.

Once the impression has been made, research tells us, it will take a further 7 meetings or conversations before that impression is altered. If you need to form a relationship with a stranger, by telephone, you have 2.5 seconds to establish the basis for a favourable relationship.  If you fail; that contact has been lost to you.”

Now I don’t know about anyone else but I can think of a number of conversations where I have known this to be the case – not just with people I have called but those who have called me. The conversations where I close down usually involve the words ‘synergy’ and ‘can you give me the contact for’.  

So why would I be passing this information on? Well, Keith has a business called the Yes Project and he works with companies of all sizes to build relationships and put processes in place which deliver results. I guess for all intents and purpose this blog is a bit of a plug but with some good theory to back it up.

Keith is currently working with people who want to make a better first impression on the telephone. So, the question is do you believe that your telephone effectiveness is worth more than £35 to you?

 Yes?  Then email Keith at keith@keith-williams.co.uk and arrange to be part of the 60 minute workshop on securing favourable first impressions by telephone.

And if you don’t think it’s worth bothering with, just spend one day considering how many people could have secured your business, or worse how many prospects you could be working with if you took the time to consider what impression you were making EVERY time you used the phone.

PR stands for Press Release

When you work in PR (public relations) there are some days when you wonder what your job description may look like if you were to write down everything you were asked to do. This is no bad thing you understand, as the huge variety of tasks certainly helps to keep things interesting, while raising a few exciting challenges along the way.

This is perhaps why I find it so frustrating when people tell me that they can ‘do PR’ because they have written a press release or had something printed in a newspaper. The purpose of appointing a PR agency shouldn’t be to just write copy – that’s what copy writers are there for and the clue is in the title.

A PR agency is there to manage a brands reputation, to identify opportunities that will extend the messaging of a campaign to take it to a totally new level, or to come up with creative recommendations that will deliver a stunt that will capture the attention of the media, while also educating consumers about what that particular product or brand has to offer.

There’s also the corporate side of things, when an agency may be appointed to manage a stakeholder or internal communications campaign, ensuring that a message is clear and concise, using the right tone of voice and being disseminated in the right way, to the right audience.

Sponsorship often falls under the remit of a PR agency, along with third party associations and event management. Although you may find that copy is required to support these activities, it isn’t the sum of the process and everything from launching to making sure the brand gets the most from an association – which often includes sampling – can be included along the way.

Really the job of a PR has no defined start or finish, as long as you are managing and supporting the reputation of a brand and business, focusing on how it chooses to communicate and engage with its target audiences, then it kind of falls in to our remit.

As we have said in the past there is no point in trying to be all things to all people and that isn’t what I’m suggesting – there are times when we work with other specialist agencies to deliver integrated briefs and this is when you can take one concept or theme and really push it to make as much noise across as many mediums as possible.

At the moment we are working on so many different things that when Friday comes around I feel like my head is spinning with ideas and variations on the campaigns and proposals that we are working on for clients both in business to business and consumer markets.

PR is creative, expressive, exciting and demanding and writing is just one element of what we do on a daily basis to manage the reputation of the brands and businesses we work with. So next time you hear someone say that they can ‘do PR’ because they can draft a press release, please pass on my advice, they can’t! If you think that PR is all about writing a press release then it’s time to take a long hard look at your future career in the business because it won’t last long.

 

HORSE BLUNDER IS A ‘DEAD CERT’ FOR FARM SHOPS

As expected the story about horse meat being found in products that are specified as beef continues to run and run… sorry!

Having already commented on our blog about the need for food products to be more clearly labelled, it also got me thinking about who could benefit from the blunder. As ever when a PR crisis hits the press there are winners and losers and without a doubt Findus are currently taking the brunt – mainly due to the way they have chosen to manage a crisis, which relied on effective, honestly and timely communication with customers, stakeholders and the media.

Yet another shining example of why brands should have communication at the heart of everything they do and a PR team around the boardroom table.

Anyway, I digress.

As a former Yorkshire Dales Lass and someone who is an eager supporter of farm shops, I think this situation is a dead cert for those who are willing to use it to their advantage.  I can just picture it now, a big billboard sized poster with the strap line ‘Our horses are here for riding only’ or ‘A farm shop where beef is beef and proud of it’ with a cow looking proudly at the camera.

There are so many quirky and cost effective things you could do with this situation to reinforce the commitment by farm shops to provide fresh produce to customers. This is a real opportunity for those who want to shout about the need to buy fresh and to buy British.

I wonder who will take the bull by the horns and be first past the post with a campaign that will take a negative and use it to their advantage. I’ll have a side bet that it won’t be long before we see one of the local farm shops in the West Yorkshire area putting a few well-placed puns out there.

Has anyone seen any great examples of smaller brands and businesses using this ‘cash cow’ (or should that be horse?) to their advantage? I can’t wait to see them.

A burger made of horse – neigh!

There has been a long running debate within the world of food retail with regards to FMCG (fast moving consumer goods) regarding the labelling of products. Traffic light systems have been adopted by some supermarket chains to show consumers in the simplest way how good or otherwise a particular product is – but this transparency doesn’t extend to the ingredients.

We all know that everything we eat isn’t good for us, we also know that to get your five a day can be more of a challenge than it sounds (I think I’m going to turn into an orange on some days!) but when it comes to the point where a beef burger is actually a horse – well, that’s just plain wrong.

Ok, so there is a slight exaggeration in the above statement but I can’t be the only one to be a little shocked that even the slightest trace of horse has been found in burgers supplied throughout the UK. Surely buyers do know the difference between a horse and a cow? A startling difference being that in Britain we eat cow, we don’t eat horse.

I’ve come up with a check for those who aren’t sure – one goes ‘moo’ and the other ‘neigh’.

I am not a particularly squeamish person when it comes to food and have tried a number of more interesting dishes including kangaroo, snails and shark but the difference with these experiences was that I was very aware of exactly what I was eating.

I’m sure there are people who are not quite as flippant about this discovery as I am and many who may be quite upset and this is why I think it would be simpler all round if labelling was made easier to understand.

Let’s get to the bottom of what is in our food and give the consumer the opportunity to make an informed decision about exactly what they are buying. In a world where content is king and information is power, it seems a little naive to believe that people won’t share their discoveries when they find out what an ‘interesting ingredient’ actually is.

Let’s stop horsing around (sorry!) and make labelling more transparent. Not only will this give consumers the information that they require but it will also instill brand loyalty and credibility which can never be a bad thing.

Big words don’t always make a big impression

As a PR agency we are often asked to draft copy for leaflets, brochures, newsletters and websites. Writing corporate copy isn’t quite as simple as some people may think and it is often a huge mistake to try and draft marketing materials in-house.

We are usually stage two of the process and generally receive a call after someone has attempted the first draft and it hasn’t quite worked out how they had expected. Now that doesn’t mean that it is grammatically incorrect or even that it is wrong but just that it doesn’t quite fit the brief.

There are always some common mistakes that businesses make when drafting copy and I would say that the number one has to be using big words where smaller ones will do. The problem that you find is that the person writing the piece will believe that it sounds more impressive if you use ‘big words’ but in reality the recipient will have no idea what it means.

People are very time poor and particularly when it comes to marketing materials it is essential that the key messages, tone of voice and language that are used are aligned to the target audience – not the writer, the recipient.

The biggest mistake seems to be to question why you would use a simple statement when you could sound ‘really impressive’ and use technical terminology and jargon but that isn’t effective communication – in fact it is quite the opposite. Keeping things simple doesn’t mean dumbing down your copy it just means writing with your audience.

When drafting copy we would suggest following three top tips:

  • Keep it simple and to the point
  • Read through and take out the jargon and repetition (there will almost certainly be some)
  • Ask for a second opinion – ask someone who knows nothing about your product or service to read the copy, if they don’t understand it then it’s unlikely your audience will

Sometimes it can be difficult to draft copy which has to include technical specifications or that needs to explain services that are not as straight forward as we may like but the principles are still the same. Big words do not make big impressions.

Is good ever good enough?

I don’t mind admitting that when it comes to a weekend my choice of television entertainment leaves a lot to be desired. As a classic example I am already excited by the prospect of the next ‘The Hotel,’ which features on Channel 4 every Sunday evening.

For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of this amazing show, it is a fly on the wall style documentary following the owner of The Grosvenor Hotel in Torquay. It’s all a little Faulty Towers to be honest but that just adds to the general amusement of the show.

The staff are an eclectic mix to say the least and are headed up by Mark, the Owner and Manager, who for all intense and purpose appears to try his very best. The show follows the daily life of those working for the business, while giving a balanced view on the experience had by its clientele.

This week was of particular interest as Mark decided to draught in a consultant who would come into The Grosvenor to highlight areas of the business that could be improved. The consultant suggested that they come into the hotel unannounced and have the experience that a ‘real’ guest would receive before feeding back.

Insert your own car crash noises right about now!

It was both terrible and hilarious in equal measure starting with the check in, whereby the team were too busy arranging their own holidays to care about the needs of their paying customers. Then, once settled in to the room, the guests requested a cup of tea and biscuit from reception, which was met with audible disgrace and mocking comments.

And so it goes on. Needless to say at feedback time the mystery guest was far from amused and provided a series of immediate actions which needed to be put right, starting with the attitude of the staff.

Although the programme was without doubt funny it also brought to light a few serious lessons. Mark, the Manager of the hotel, clearly had no respect from his employees with one openly saying ‘There may be people in here who need help but I’m not one of them. I’m good at my job.’

I was quite startled by this comment as I’ve always been a great believer in taking ‘good at your job’ and making it ‘great at your job’. I don’t think that anyone can ever stop learning and if you are given the opportunity to take lessons from an industry expert then why not? I thought this person’s attitude was immediately defensive, which would alert me to the fact that they obviously had something to hide.

Also Mark didn’t take any of the criticism constructively. He didn’t even want to hear what the consultant had to say, so I would question why he wasted their time. If you are asking someone to review your business warts and all, then expect that this is what they will give you. Rather than thank the consultant for being honest and doing his job, he discarded his comments and discredited the entire process in front of his workforce – although I think this was more to appease them and be ‘on their side’ than anything else.

Finally many of the problems that The Grosvenor was facing (it has since been sold on to new owners – although I believe Mark is still involved) were as a result of poor communication. Had Mark taken control and managed his team, as was his role, then he may have seen more success.

The sad fact is that all the gimmicks and quirky games in the world are only going to keep people amused for so long they are not going to communicate the values of the business to a wider audience and appeal to those who may want to visit the hotel in the future.

Although I will continue to watch The Hotel, it is with sadness that Mark lost his business. Perhaps the lesson for him to learn would be to surround yourself with similar, hardworking, supportive and willing team members – only then will you move forward and take a business and those you employ from good to great.

The Hotel is on Channel 4 from 8pm on Sunday evening.

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.