Tag: reputation

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!

Keeping it lean

Managing the PR for a number of business to business clients, across a range of sectors, we hear a lot about lean manufacturing. Lean manufacturing isn’t a new concept but it is certainly an interesting one and can deliver huge benefits to business, not least the money that can be saved as a result of applying simple changes, which make a big difference.

When speaking with clients I started to wonder if actually the principles of lean manufacturing can be applied to communications. It may be a crude suggestion, not knowing the more intricate aspects of the role of a professional who would implement lean concepts within a manufacturing setting, but I think it is worthy of further investigation.

As a starting point, communication forms the foundations of a business whatever its size. When creating a marketing strategy a company is taking the steps necessary to manage its reputation, which is arguably its biggest asset.

In doing this a business needs to focus on some key aspects of their company, these include:

–          Current position

–          Objectives

–          Target audience(s)

–          Tools that are used to communicate with audiences

When it comes to a communications strategy every business is different – we always explain to our clients at Open Communications that no size fits all when it comes to putting together a plan that will meet with specific objectives.

Whether a company is considering a communications strategy for the first time or reviewing what they already have in place and how effective it has been, what is imperative is that they set the foundations from which to build and evolve.

This is where I believe that lean principles can come into practice. If as a business you already have a marketing and communications strategy in place, when was the last time you thought to review the processes that you use?

In considering whether it is worthwhile to even consider a review of an organisation’s marketing strategy, I would challenge a company to pose the following questions to their senior team:

  1. What are the objectives of our marketing communications strategy
  2. What measures do we have in place to determine the results of our marketing campaigns
  3. How do we measure real impact
  4. What communications tools do we use
  5. Who is responsible for implementing the marketing strategy
  6. What resource are we committing to building the profile of our business

If the answer to any of these questions is ‘I don’t know’ then it is certainly time to consider a review of the processes that are – or are not – used.

Marketing communications should be discussed at boardroom level within every business, irrelevant of size. The way that you communicate with employees, suppliers, customers and prospects is absolutely fundamental to the future success of your organisation.

When working with clients, we often find that communications is dismissed because a company is too busy ‘doing the doing’. Although we can appreciate this, after all we are all busy and clients must come first, you have to stop and think:

If I am making no effort to tell people about my product and service or to shout about the success of my business, who is?

Time and resource are often the biggest concerns for companies that would like to build a strategy for marketing and communications but simply don’t have time. Again, going back to the principles of lean manufacturing, this would be a great opportunity to review what is in place and what could be implemented to show the quickest return for the least resource.

As mentioned earlier, a communications plan should evolve over time, meaning that you don’t have to do everything now. With that in mind, it may be worth a meeting with your team to determine what is in place and what needs to be considered for the future. You can then build a plan around the ‘now’, with a focus on what can be achieved moving forward.

As an agency we always suggest putting achievable targets in place that can build over time, rather than trying to do everything all at once.  Some considerations when building a plan should be:

–          How do we communicate internally

–          How should we communicate to our clients

–          What do we do to appeal to prospects

–          Do our target audiences communicate in the same way

–        What media do they read and by what medium

We are often considered as consultants by our clients and at Open Communications we host strategy sessions, which are the closest thing to applying lean principles as I have come across within the industry. We work with clients to set the foundations; to review the current ways of working and to create a strategy that will deliver the best return on investment based on resource and results.

As an agency we have hosted these sessions for over two years now and I have to say that without exception they have proven to be a huge success. Perhaps if more organisations placed the same emphasis on the significance of effective communications, as they do on manufacturing, they would gain greater value from the efforts and budgets they commit to marketing.

What we all need to remember is that the way a business chooses to communicate reflects the personality of that organisation – and knowing that people buy people this in turn reinforces the significance of having a robust plan in place, which meets with and supports the objectives and future aspirations of a company.

Next time you have a board meeting consider putting a review of marketing and communications on the agenda. I can say without hesitation or reservation that doing so will give you the opportunity to empower your workforce, raise the profile of your company and support your objectives to become the success that you hope to be.

 

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.

What is PR?

We get asked this question all of the time and the answer is relatively simple; PR is the principle of managing the reputation of a brand or business through the implementation of an effective communications strategy, whether that be online, in print or broadcast.

The very nature of PR means that this top line explanation is woolly at best. It doesn’t really tell you much about what it is that we do – it’s just a sentence that you might find in a book. I’m not a huge fan of jargon or textbook speak so to give you a peek into the life of a PR agency here’s a round-up of what I have been getting up to this week.

An early start on Monday with an email from our international client asking for an update on activity completed. It’s not impossible to work with clients from abroad when you manage a PR agency (even when they are at the other side of the world), as ‘new’ technologies allow you to speak face-to-face making it simpler to communicate as and when required. Unfortunately you can’t change time zones and therefore you have to be awake pretty early to pick up these calls but a little planning solves any potential problems.

The week’s planned activity then starts with the launch of the Bondholder, the Diamond Scheme, an initiative supported by public and private sector organisations in Wakefield, which are hoping to generate a fund that will be used to implement a marketing and communications campaign that will promote the district to local, regional and national audiences.

As we are a trade as well as consumer PR agency, it was then on to some feature writing for a client working within the print sector. They have invested in machinery and therefore we are putting some press materials together that will be sent to trade journalists. Raising the clients profile in trade media means that they are able to shout about their successes and let customers and prospective employees know that they are still a major player within their market.

It’s then down to some social media planning. Like many agencies we manage the social media platforms for some of our clients and this means updating schedules, creating new and exciting ideas and being as creative as we can be with imagery. As imagery is a big driver of social engagement it’s no longer just about the words so we get our heads together and come up with some quirky recipe ideas that will support this particular client during a key seasonal activity we have planned.

Updating the social feeds on twitter and Facebook is a daily task for us and so we manage these accounts, check to make sure all responses have been sent and that the feeds are updated. If necessary we will like, share, retweet or favourite comments and take down any posts which are inappropriate and offensive – thankfully we don’t get too much of this.

We then have a visitor to the office, following the recommendation of another client at Open Communications we have a new business meeting. We are always very humbled (and of course chuffed to bits!) when our clients  recommend us to their contacts. We chat for a good hour and explain how PR works and how it could add value to this particular business. As one size does not fit all in PR some thought has to go in to the audience, media and messaging. We agree to put a proposal together, which will give the contact all of the detail that they need, before we arrange a follow up meeting.

Now, on to something completely different.

We have a full schedule of activity for Pom-Bear, the potato based snack brand, this year and as the consumer PR agency are working hard to make sure the business gets best value from the recommendations we have made in relation to events and sponsorships.

As the brand has just launched a new Zoo themed snack we are touring the country to sample more than 50,000 bags at Wildlife Centres and animal attractions including Dudley Zoo, Marwell Park and Noah’s Ark Zoo Farm.

Lots of planning has gone into each event and we have a programme of activities which run back-to-back. As the lead on this account it’s up to me to manage each event and ensure that everything is running as it should be. As an agency that takes huge pride it the clients that we work with, we prefer to be at the events that we plan. There is nothing worse than leaving things to chance and that simply isn’t the way that we work at Open Communications.

So, it’s off to Dudley. The weather has held off and our gazebo, banners, flags and signs are attracting the crowds in the hundreds. Pom-Bear is on great form and has the children dancing, singing and of course sampling his snacks.

As the events on Wednesday and Thursday are during the morning to early afternoon this means that I have chance to catch up on emails and draft some more copy for a series of clients before starting some research on a project we are looking in to.

Regular calls to the office mean that I don’t miss the team too much, although I’m sure they would prefer that I only call if there’s an emergency – I must work on that!

Media relations is the focus for now. We are managing a press event and launch in a couple of weeks so we need to know how many journalists to expect. I will be calling each to find out if they are available and updating the team accordingly. This is a business based story so means that regional, national, print and broadcast journalists are all invited – it’s a big list!

It will then be a follow up on the recent launch of a new product, which should have consumer journalists munching on some tasty samples from Penn State, the classic American snack brand. I will follow up and find out what they think before updating the team and sending further samples to those that have ‘got lost in the post’.

It will then be on to the next Pom-Bear event, which takes place from 6pm – 10.30pm. It’s more Pom-Bear fun, with competitions, dancing, games and more tasty samples.  Unlike some jobs it’s unlikely when you work in PR that you will have a 9am – 5pm role and I’m no different.

On Saturday it’s off to Gillwell Park for a Beaver Scouts Fun Day. It should be a great event and with more than 6,000 eager young members of the Scouting Association in attendance I’m expecting it’s going to be a busy one.  As sponsor of the Adventure Activity Badge for the Scouts, Pom-Bear will make an appearance and will also host a special trail with prizes to be won.

It’s a varied life when you work in PR and that’s why I enjoy my job so much. Whether we are managing the launch of a business, drafting copy for emailers and website, managing the trade and consumer PR activity for leading brands or engaging with journalists and bloggers no two days are ever the same.

I’m very fortunate to have a supportive (and calming) business partner at Open Comms and for those of you who know Emma you will understand what I mean. Someone once said to me that PR was like spinning plates and at the time I didn’t know what they mean. More than 10 years later I couldn’t agree more but when there are two of you working together it makes life so much easier.

Obviously at Open Communications we also have the wider (and growing) team to call upon and this again means that we have the capacity to manage the PR for leading household brands and smaller local businesses – variety is after all the spice of life.

PR is certainly not for the light-hearted but for those of you who didn’t know what it involves I hope you now have some idea of what it is that we do. Now, I’m off to get some work done – there’s no rest for the wicked you know!

I’m not down with the kids but…

 

…I do know the importance of keeping it real! I’ve been in a number of meetings lately and it always surprises me when people commend the fact that what you see is what you get with Open Communications.

We’ve been going for nearly five years now (phew – where did that time go?) and we’ve always done the same. The business has evolved but our values have remained the same – if you want a PR agency that can do the job and do it well then our number is on the contact page, if however you want air kissing and champagne then we’re not for you.

It’s not that we aren’t friendly, far from it. I’d like to think that many of our clients have become friends over the years and that this has meant that we have genuinely long standing relationships, which mean we work as an extension of their teams – as if we were internal. This in turn makes it easier to provide honest advice that will help them to develop creative campaigns that meet with their objectives.

We’ve never been a PR agency that goes along with something we don’t believe in, we don’t say ‘yes’ to a contract because it’s there, we feel that being passionate about what we work on is really important and is another reason we are able to do a good job. Our accountant may not agree but there have been times when we have turned work down because although the contract would have been lucrative it didn’t fit with our values or we simply couldn’t see the campaign meeting with the clients expectations.

There has been a lot of news lately about the reputation that the PR industry has and I’ve always been very honest in that I feel many agencies offer the world and deliver very little. The unfortunate situation here is that brands have a bad experience with one agency and then never commission an agency again – and that’s not just the agency who handled the account badly in the first place, it’s any agency!

So for all those who want to work with an agency that DOES delivery and WILL work hard to achieve the results that have been promised, we are here and the kettle is on.

In all seriousness it shouldn’t be surprising to find a PR agency that is open, honest and willing to offer advice and guidance that makes sense. Until our industry realises that then ‘we’ will go on having a reputation that in some cases is very much undeserved.

 

The true strength of a brand

It can be difficult to sound anything but flowery when you are trying to explain to companies how important it is to build a brand, inject personality into a business and become recognised for your values.

Getting the packaging right, making sure the design stands out on shelf, ensuring the copy is drafted using the right tone of voice and building brand presence with message retention through a consistent and sustainable PR strategy are all the ‘things’ that take a something and make it a household name.

I saw a great example of how brands have got it right this week when I came across an article in Brand Republic announcing that Selfridges have created a ‘no noise’ campaign, which intends to discourage ‘information overload’.
The idea is that brands are displayed without logos or branding. The more interesting thing about this campaign is that consumers are still aware of what the products are meaning in simple terms that they are doing something very right.

It’s fair to say that not all brands can do this and of course it will work best for FMCG goods but it is an interesting concept all the same. When you get to the point where you can take away your brand and people still know who you are and what you have to offer you know that all of your marketing efforts and budgets are paying off.

Needless to say I wouldn’t recommend this become a permanent move but it’s an interesting test all the same. It would be a great ‘geeky’ game for those who work in marketing – can you guess what each item is without the brand?

Who wants to play?

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.

 

When naming becomes shaming

When we first launched Open Communications back in 2008 one of the most difficult decisions was what to call the agency. We wanted to choose something that would represent the business – give us an identity that we could build upon and go some way to explaining what sector we work in.

One thing that we never even considered was naming the agency after ourselves. I always find it quite strange when companies use their own names for their business, not least because I think it’s dangerous.

If you have a business that is performing well and has a fantastic reputation then there shouldn’t be a problem but what about those who perhaps for no fault of their own find that they are faced with more challenging scenarios. As an example, an employee hits the headlines for breaking the law and as a result the owner of that business is also referenced because their name is also the company.

There have been examples in the media recently where the Directors of businesses have been arrested and questioned by the police over serious allegations and although this is personal and nothing to do with the company they own because the organisation is named after an individual the reputation is tarnished by association.

The tendency for legal practices and estate agents seems to be to use surnames, which is less risky but still lacks any creative flair. In my opinion a business name gives personality to a brand and entrepreneurs need to make the most of the opportunity to share that with their prospects and clients.

A company that I came across recently was a great example of a simple name that told a story, ‘Awesome Merchandise’ – a merchandise company that claims to offer an awesome experience for customers.  The name is straight to the point and you know what they do without having to ask. It also shows that the team are confident with what they offer.

So, for anyone reading this blog who is considering starting a business, please think carefully about how you name your company. It may seem like a trivial part of the process but it is incredibly important and will form the basis to your biggest asset – your reputation.