Tag: pr

Grass isn’t always greener – in fact it could be Astroturf

What do you do when you want to improve your ranking across search engines such as Google, Yahoo and Bing, encouraging your prospects and customers to find you when they search for the products and services you offer?

Some companies choose to work with professionals; PR agencies, digital companies and SEO (search engine optimisation) consultants.  Although this seems like a reasonable suggestion there is a definite need for businesses to choose who they work with wisely.

As social media tools become a viable source of information for those who want a review or recommendation, more companies are recognising the value of this for businesses and in particular those working in industries such as hospitality, leisure and of course food.

With the simple click of a button, an opinion can be formed based on the feedback given relating to the experience of a single individual. We all have bad days and sometimes things go wrong and this is where posts and comments can have a real impact on the success of a company.

As an invaluable platform for some people with sites such as Trip Advisor being considered the fountain of all knowledge when it comes to holidays, these are no longer sites that brands are able to avoid. If there is a bad comment then the first thing we suggest is that a response is given from the brand and if necessary a meeting is arranged or an explanation is given.

With social media the simple fact of the matter is that ignorance is certainly not bliss!

But it’s not all about the comments that people post, which provide a genuine insight into the experience that they have had.  Things are much, much worse than that. You see not all agencies or consultants are quite what they seem.  Although the grass can look very green when a company is securing permanently positive references and five star ratings, what you are actually looking at is Astroturf.

This isn’t the stuff that bloody knees are made of – oh no. Astroturf is another term for ‘fake reviews’. As many of these tools rely on ‘grass routes’ feedback, the term Astroturf is used for false recommendations or criticism. Basically those who claim to be ‘experts’ are actually paying freelancers or individuals that they know to post reviews without necessarily having ever experienced the brand or purchased products from the business.

Not only does this give a distorted view of a particular company but it is very dangerous. An example of how this can go horribly wrong featured recently on the BBC website. The Local Attorney General’s Office created a completely fictitious yogurt shop.

They then asked a selection of companies offering SEO services to support the brand. As a result 19 companies have now been fined £218,470 after creating false profiles and posting inaccurate and libellous comments about the yogurt shop, which didn’t exist.

What’s even worse is that the individuals that were encouraged to post their reviews of the shop, in some instances, didn’t even live in the same country!

Like anything else, SEO companies should have credentials that they can share to prove that they know what they are doing. If you really want to pay someone to support you with SEO services then make sure you have done your checks and that the content that is being created is delivering a return on investment and adding value to your brand and business.

Unfortunately as the internet is so vast and collates information from so many different sources, SEO is absolutely essential for some businesses. All we would recommend as an agency is that if a brand is considering working with a consultant or team that offers SEO’s services, is that they ensure that all content is real, which in turn makes it credible. To do anything else won’t just be creating an inaccurate picture but it could just come back to give you a nasty shock that will hurt far more than a couple of bloody knees!

Are you giving your business the right tweetment?

When we are putting together a PR strategy for a client or discussing how a brand can communicate with its many different audiences, we always consider social media; after all it’s a platform and growing point of reference for consumers of all ages and demographics.

I have never really understood agencies that focus purely on social media, as although I feel it is a mistake to ignore online tools, in my opinion they should form part of a wider strategy. The internet has created new ways of communicating but the process is the same; you need to create a plan that supports a year round campaign and then a series of messaging that allows a company to share its stories, which in turn will raise its profile and understanding of the product and services it offers.

Needless to say PR always sounds far simpler than it actually is but essentially the fundamental purpose has never changed, our main objective is always to manage the reputation of the brands we work with. We want to share stories that lead others to talk about a company. In doing this we generate word of mouth, which is still the most valuable medium for creating credibility, recommendation and in turn sales.

I attended a networking session last night which focused specifically on twitter. In celebration of Leeds Business Week, Leeds Tweet Meet brought together a panel of communications professionals to discuss how to effectively use twitter for the purpose of business.

It was an interesting session but the main theme throughout was to have a plan and keep it simple. What was a very valuable suggestion was to recognise that twitter is now used as a real time resource by the consumer. No longer is twitter all about engagement or two way communication, there is a large audience using it to search for up-to-date news, views, comments and opinions.

For the first time twitter is actually competing with search engines, due to the speed in which information can be shared.

We always advise that clients take the time to review twitter and analyse what competitors are doing before they consider social media channels as a route to market. We believe that it is important to understand how people within a given industry are engaging with their audiences, as this can change significantly from one sector to another. It is also essential that legalities are considered, as there are some instances where information cannot be shared on an ‘open platform’.

What people sometimes forget is that twitter is a global and immediate channel to market. Once a tweet is out there it can be difficult to amend or delete. In order for any social media tool to work as well as it should, a client needs to be comfortable and confident before sharing their stories with the masses and that doesn’t just relate to using the tool but also to the content that a company proposes to share.

Some of the most spectacular #fails have come about as a result of brands jumping in or not taking the time to think before updating a status. Although it takes seconds to put up a post, it can take months to manage the damage that this could cause. We always ask if a person would shout their tweet in a street – if the answer is no, then it may be worth considering if the content is necessary and appropriate.

Although content is more important than ever before, it is worth asking what value your updates will give the recipient. If the content that you share is of no use to those that follow you, then consider how you can change it so that people can join in a conversation with you or use your content to their benefit.

As an example rather than telling people you are taking your dog for a walk, make recommendations on how consumers can get best value from your product or how your service differs from competitors. Twitter is also a great tool for sharing recommendations and testimonials, you can re-tweet positive comments and thank those that make them, which only strengthens those relationships, while sharing your success with a mass audience.

A suggestion from Leeds Tweet Meet was for businesses to develop a social media code of conduct, which in many organisations would provide guidelines for employees about what can and cannot be shared on business specific social media channels.

As a starting point for any business our top ten tips for twitter are as follows:

  1. Decide what your objective is – what do you aim to achieve through twitter
  2. Identify key individuals in the business who will manage the account
  3. Research what others within the market are doing (in particular competitors)
  4. Ask your customers if they would like to engage with you on twitter
  5. Create a code of conduct for employees to follow
  6. Do some scenario planning – what’s the worst that could happen
  7. Put together a simple schedule of tweets; build up a bank of topics / themes to consider
  8. Register an account with a relevant design
  9. Search for people that you would like to follow
  10. Build social media into your communications strategy

Twitter is certainly a good tool for business and has a growing number of followers. For those who ‘have better things to do with their time’ I would question what your customers and more importantly prospects would think.

As an immediate medium twitter can be invaluable to business and gives a brand a voice and personality. As a measure of success all you need to do is search for your favourite brands – the majority of which will now have an active twitter feed.

For those who are still in two minds then speak to a PR agency, they should be able to give you the guidance that you need to build twitter and other social tools into your wider communications strategy.

Your customers should always come first in a crisis

There was a collective intake of breath throughout the PR industry this week when news reports declared that a Thai Airways plane had skidded off a Bangkok runway on Sunday injuring 14 passengers on board.

It wasn’t the incident that had caused a stir with PR agencies however it was the fact that in their misguided wisdom, Thai Airways had taken the unusual approach of ‘blacking out’ their logo so that any media reports would  not display the company’s branding.

There are many, many reasons why this was a very misguided act on behalf of the airline, not least based on the fact that all reports would still reference the brand within their stories, name checking the company as they did so, and also that blacking out the logo simply created a reason for the business to continue to hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons!

The first rule of any crisis, for any brand, of any size is to stand up and take responsibility. If there has been a problem that you are aware of and you are responsible then hold your hands up. It is far better to say sorry than it is to offer a no comment or attempt to portion blame elsewhere.

Crisis can be difficult, particularly when the press are involved but the simple truth of the matter is that in order to maintain a level of dignity and credibility throughout these situations, companies have to address the matter professionally.

Thai Airlines should have been making a statement in response to an incident, which lets remember had left 14 passengers injured, as opposed to putting their brand first. A simple two minute comment which started with: We would like to take this opportunity to apologise to our passengers… and then ended with: We are in the process of carrying out a full investigation into this matter…

The un-written statement from the brand based on their actions reads more like: We have better things to do than consider our customers at this difficult time. Instead we are going to take poor advice and cover up our logo. We will be back shortly – does anyone have any black paint?

As a result of their actions the business haven’t so much blacked their logo as their name.

Having managed crisis for some of the UK’s leading businesses, here at Open Communications we are no stranger to difficult situations. Our advice to clients is always to be honest. In any event we work from our clients offices to ensure that we are on hand to offer the advice and guidance that they need.

It would be silly to suggest that crisis are simple, they are particularly uncomfortable and potentially damaging. Irrelevant of how disastrous a situation appears it can be handled correctly and professionally, ensuring that whatever the outcome the directors of a business can maintain their integrity and where possible the reputation of the brand.

Here are five top tips for managing the communications in any crisis situation:

  1. If required issue an internal announcement to all employees giving brief details of the situation and also guidance on who to direct any media enquiries through to
  2. Arrange a meeting with all board directors and senior managers within the business
  3. Discuss in detail what has happened and most importantly why
  4. Draft a statement to all media
  5. Manage all media enquiries and DO NOT under any circumstances issue a no comment

As you would expect, we would always advise that in these instances the first thing that you is contact your PR agency. If you don’t have a PR agency then we would strongly advise that you find one with the experience and credentials needed to support you during what could be one of the most difficult times of your career.

In the same way that people rely on legal practices when things go wrong, organisations should trust and rely on communications experts when it matters most.

And remember, no business ever has a crisis, until it has a crisis!

The value of values

Open Communications is a straight talking PR agency – we get the job done and most importantly we do it well. We don’t ‘do’ air kissing but we do meet with clients objectives and as a result we have long-term relationships with the brands we work with.

You may read that and think – so what? Why do I care that you are straight talking, or that you do what you say you will, but actually these are very important points for us. You see the paragraph above is an outline of our values.

Some people think that values are like a mission statement – it’s a paragraph that you make up, you put it in a business plan and then never set sight of it again, or at least not until you are asked for it and then you blow the dust off and push it across the desk.

We wanted to be different at Open Comms. We didn’t want wishy, washy statements that use long words that sound like they would be better placed in an academic text book. We wanted our values to mean something to us and therefore to our employees, colleagues, clients and suppliers.

Although I didn’t realise it at the time, values are a great reference point when you need to regroup.

We have been involved in some very exciting scenarios recently and some very nerve-wracking situations and although there can be the temptation to become something that you are not, we have always followed the same approach; what you see is what you get. If you want results then great, if you want air kissing and posh lunches, we aren’t the right agency for you. Bold perhaps and perhaps some may say a little too honest, but true.

It’s this knowledge of who we are and what we can deliver, which gives us the confidence to sit in front of brands and businesses of any size and confidently present our thoughts and ideas. Our values are the foundations which have allowed us to grow the agency and to build our client base, which is now a portfolio of brands that we are extremely proud to work with.

All businesses should consider their values. Ask yourself, what makes you different, what makes you tick and how could this translate into the products and service that you deliver for your customers? A brand with true values immediately has a stronger proposition than a competitor without – take The Body Shop as an example.

It is irrelevant whether you like their products or share their values, the message is simple; they are a brand that places environmental issues at the heart of everything they do. This translates across design, advertising, communication and even the way that the products are displayed in the shops.

Often the worry with brands is that they choose values and these change, but this is ok. A company’s values can change over time as the business evolves, all you need to make sure is that you are comfortable with this being the case and that you are making changes for the right reasons. Again, take the example of Innocent Drinks – who are now in the most part owned by Coca Cola. Does this fit well with the brands values? Six months ago, perhaps not but since Coke has changed its approach and moved towards more ‘healthy’ options the decision starts to make sense. The decision as I see it wasn’t for Innocent to change their values in order to become part of the huge corporate machine that is Coke but more for Coke to learn how to change the positioning of its values and use the experience of Innocent to make this transition in the mind of the consumers – and it’s working.

If you are confident about communicating new values – or an evolution of your current values – to your stakeholders, employees and customers then you can’t go far wrong. The most important point is that you believe – truly believe – in your values and that they are shared by those who matter most to you. Trying to be something you are not is like wearing the wrong sized clothes – we may all try it from time to time but it will never work!

As far as I’m concerned if you have no values, you have no personality and as per my recent blog  this is one of the most significant and ‘valuable’ assets a business has. So if you can’t see the value in your values perhaps you need to look from the outside in – what is the perception that you are giving your customers and are you confident that this is a true representation of your brand and business.

Educating Yorkshire, a good move or a PR disaster?

Education is a strange sector, not least because the launch of Academies has seen schools and colleges run more like businesses than the traditional classrooms that many of us remember. This in turn has seen many establishments get the numbers right but miss a fundamental point – if they are to run like a business then they need to communicate and as such need a strategy in place to do so effectively with all stakeholders.

As a business model, schools and colleges have a wealth of people that it is imperative that they communicate with, yet many still rely on the ‘letter home’ or email to parents in order to ‘tick a box’. Many have struggled since the introduction of Freedom of Information requests (FOI), which mean that journalists can gain access to data and develop stories that once would have been unfathomable.

The problem with those who work in education is that they don’t see the value in PR. They believe that they can carry on regardless as long as the league tables and Ofsted announcements give them glowing recommendations, the problem is that this, in my opinion, draws these organisations into a false sense of security.

Educating Yorkshire is surely a great example. There is no doubt that it is going to make great viewing and following the first series, Educating Essex, which made the principal and vice principal local celebrities, it will gain the headlines – however I can’t help thinking that after simply watching the adverts I would rather home school than send my child to this Academy.

So why choose to put your Academy forward for a programme like this? The coverage has to be balanced and with a series like this it is most certainly warts (or shaved eyebrows) and all! What would possess a head master who is clearly very proud of his achievements and the local area that he grew up in, stand up to be metaphorically shot at?

Lack of advice is the first thing. I can’t imagine that any PR agency in the land with half an ounce of common sense would put their client forward for this show. Children are unpredictable, staff are under pressure and the very nature of more than 30 hormone induced teenagers in a room together has disaster written all over it!

I could be proven wrong of course and this Academy could be inundated with people hoping to attend with parents leaping for joy that little Jonny and Susie have featured on the television as a result of a playground scrap or because they haven’t handed their homework in, but I doubt it very much.

I think it’s about time that schools, colleges and Academies started to take the role of communications seriously. As the very nature of the industry they work in becomes more competitive, they need to address the balance and start to promote what they offer and what makes them different.  It’s all very well saying that you run an Academy, college or school like a business but this has to be taken literally in every sense, which includes getting your communications in order.

As an agency that has worked with one of the leading Academy Trusts in the country, we know exactly what these organisations are faced with from parents, governors, the local community and the media and it isn’t an easy task to manage, but it is essential that it is handled with care.

For those who get it right they can expect to see headlines with glowing reports but those that get it wrong need to be prepared. It’s no good ringing a lawyer when things go wrong and the headlines aren’t as glowing as you would expect – you need a PR professional and someone who can put together a strategy that will reassess the balance.

As for Educating Yorkshire, only time will tell but I think this is one decision or ‘claim to fame’ that the headmaster of this particular Academy will regret.

An insight into the team at Open Comms

Right, so we always say that we aren’t your typical PR agency and we also advise that brands consider injecting some personality into their comms – after all it’s the one thing that can’t be replicated by competitors. We therefore felt it would be a good idea to follow our own advice.

We asked our new(ish) recruit Tarina some questions to give you a little insight into what makes her tick. We will update tomorrow with the same questions from Naomi, our most recent team member – so make sure you come back to hear more from the team here at Open.

How would you describe yourself in three words

Ughh, I’ve never been good at answering this question, but going on what I’ve been told by family and friends, I suppose it’d be; mellow, sarcastic and fun-loving

What do you most enjoy about working in PR

So far the best thing about it for me has been the variety of tasks that we all have set each day of the week, we were laughing in the office a couple of days ago about how one minute you’ll be finding a lively venue for a kids event, and the next you could be writing a serious article about Chlamydia. It definitely hasn’t been boring.

What is your favourite book

I personally don’t really like reading, I’ve always preferred to listen to music, and I could sit doing nothing for days if I had music to listen to. I’ve grown up going to gigs and festivals as often as possible, and reading was never “my thing” but just recently I’ve downloaded one of these kindle fandangles and I’m currently reading ‘The Rum Diary’

What did you want to be when you grew up

I have no idea. I have a vague memory of imagining myself getting out of a fancy car with a briefcase and some perfect heels. But I don’t suppose that’s an uncommon dream. At one point I wanted to be an architect, but when I realised maths wasn’t my strong point, that hope went out the window.

The most important goal to me is a promise I made to myself at the age of about 10, to visit every continent at least once before I die. So far I’ve managed about 5%.

…one day.

What do you find most challenging about working in PR

I sometimes find it hard to get through the monotonous parts, the reports and basic bits of research, because I’m constantly eager to get on with the fun bits, but if it wasn’t for the research, the fun parts would pretty much be a massive flop, so you’ve just got to keep yourself motivated with the thoughts of that end product I suppose, and once you get there you’ve totally forgotten about it.

If you could be anything else, what would it be (career wise)

A makeup artist. For the last few years I’ve really loved makeup, I’ve spent hours watching tutorials and playing with new products and I do get told a lot that I’m good at creating looks and suiting styles to different people. Before I started in PR I was aiming towards a professional makeup qualification in the hopes of becoming self employed. I think I’ll still end up doing it at some point in my own time, maybe not to earn any money, just because I enjoy it.

If you had a super power what would it be

I would read peoples minds. I think it’d be possible to do anything if you could read minds (well….except fly……but there’s planes for that), and you’d know who exactly was worth your time.

What is your guilty secret (food / TV programmes)

Jeremy Kyle!  I’m sorry to say I miss it so much now I’m here full time, me and my closest friend Danielle are always getting laughed at because we’ll sit and text eachother about the people on it….while were both watching it, and we’ve applied for tickets to sit in the audience. It’s fairly embarrassing, but hey ho!

What are you most proud of

I was just about to say “the fact I haven’t eaten any chocolate today”, until I realised I’ve just finished off a Boost bar.

Which account would you most like to work on if you could choose

There are so many.

As you’ll probably see in one of my other Blogs, I’d love to work with a charity that provides support and developments for developing countries. I have so many ideas for these types of campaigns and I think it would be amazingly rewarding to see I had contributed to changing peoples lives.

Next up would probably be something along the lines of music events, promotions or venues. I was really hoping to get into events management at one stage in my life, and I love that PR gives the opportunity to attend some of the events that you help put together. Being in a venue with a crowd of other people all feeling good vibes from music is just about the best place in the world, and I’d be ever grateful if I had the chance to introduce people to that.

I’d also love to be a part in some makeup campaigns or promotions. My favourite brand is Urban Decay; I love everything about it and have too many times raided my purse to get my hands on products they make. So I suppose they’d be another dream account.

Naomi supports growth at Open Comms

We have some exciting news to share with you all – here at Open Communications, the straight talking PR agency based at Nostell Priory Estate Yard, we have strengthened our growing team with the appointment of Naomi Stafford as PR Account Manager.

With experience as a journalist having written articles, blogs and press features for some of the UK’s leading consumer magazines, as well as managing accounts at a previous agency, Naomi is already proving herself to be an asset to the team.

Taking responsibility for the development of press office schedules, creative plans, campaigns and social media strategies, Naomi will be a key point of contact and will help us to meet with the objectives of our ever expanding client base.

When asked about her appointment Naomi said: “I’m delighted to be a part of a growing agency. Having built up my experience within journalism and PR, I’m now eager to develop my skills even further, working across a broad range of accounts.  Since joining Open Comms I’ve been made to feel like one of the team and I very much look forward to working more closely with an extensive and increasing list of clients in the near future.”

As Naomi has already proven herself to be an asset to the Open team, we know that she will be welcomed by our clients and we are looking forward to sharing her skills, ideas and enthusiasm with the current brands we work with, as well as prospects, over the coming months. Please do say hello if you are passing, tweeting, phoning or just generally getting in touch.

Reputation is our biggest asset, how have we got it so wrong?

 

 

 

There is absolutely no doubt that the PR industry has a less than positive reputation – but the irony is that we are tasked with managing the reputation of the brands that we work with, so how has it come to the point where we are unable to create positive associations for our specialism?

 

Personally I think the problems are deep routed and come from times gone by. Long gone are the days of lazy lunches, wining and dining and partying until dawn to roll into the office, totter on Prada heels and ‘fanny about with the press releases’.

 

PR is a specialism and like a naughty toddler the industry has had to grow up. During difficult times clients are looking at budgets, they are considering their spend and they are evaluating what investments are delivering a return. It’s common knowledge that marketing is always one of the first costs to be cut at times of austerity and we have all had to sit up and defend our position around the boardroom table.

 

There was an article on the BBC Website recently which made for uncomfortable reading but I hate to admit it did have a lot of truth behind it. What I find most interesting is the comments that are below the article which are a startling example of the job that we have to do to give the industry the credibility that I believe it now deserves.

 

When asked what I do for a living I often have to explain the role of PR in business and how the techniques that we use are invaluable to brands. Many people look at me with cynicism at best and repulsion at worst – what they don’t realise is that we don’t sit at a desk drafting articles and lunching. What we do is plan and manage the communications strategy for our clients to ensure that we meet with their objectives and support sales.

 

We work with print press, online media, bloggers, stakeholders, employees and partners – it’s certainly not a case of drafting a story and sending it to a database of journalists who may or may not choose to use it.

 

I would like to think that in the defence of PR things have changed quite considerably over recent years. I’m not suggesting that every agency is ethical, moral or even does the job well but there are those of us who are fighting our corner and showing just what PR can deliver.

 

And if you don’t believe me then take some wisdom from the BBC. Even if this article is somewhat dismissive of the PR stunt many of the leading businesses in the world have used PR techniques to create an impression, perception and reputation that in turn has resulted in a multi-million pound bank balance; Virgin and Innocent Drinks are just two fantastic examples.

 

So before you decide that the last thing you need is ‘Patsy’ tottering around your office and re-charging the costs for lunch at the Ivy, take a look at those who are doing the job and doing it well. You just might find the agency that you are looking for – the one that can add value to your reputation and your bottom line.

 

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.