Tag: values

WHY IT’S SO IMPORTANT TO BELIEVE IN YOUR BUSINESS

Emma Lupton and Lindsey Davies launching Open Communications in 2008.

This isn’t the first time I’ve come across this fact but running a business isn’t easy. In fact, sometimes it can be quite the headache. There is so much to think about. 

When you first start it’s strange because you have what feels like all the time in the world and things are still exciting. All you want at this stage is to be established, to be taken seriously and to run as a ‘real business’.

Conversely, when you are more established with the necessary processes and procedures in place, you crave that time that you had to take a step back and to consider your options. At this stage, not only are you now responsible for what you would hope to be a successful business, but you are likely to have staff, as well as clients, to think about.

The best analogy I can use is that it’s like getting married. When you’re planning your wedding it’s full on but exciting, you then go on honeymoon and it’s all new – you feel nervous but you know that you’ve made the right decision. A few years down the line and the washing on the floor is becoming annoying, the house never seems to be clean and it doesn’t matter how many times you tell them to put the lid on the toothpaste it never seems to happen – yet you still love them. 

And that’s why it’s so important that when you start a business you believe in what you do.

Don’t make it up, make it count

When you start a business, you have to truly and passionately commit to delivering results for your clients. You have to know that the advice that you are giving them is the very best that you can offer and that you will stand accountable if things don’t work out quite how you planned.

No one is perfect but when you run a business you often feel as if you should be. In PR there are so many people that you need to consider; business partners, employees, clients, journalists and the public. 

Increasingly the public are relying on journalists, and therefore by association PRs, to deliver honest news. It’s a challenge – there is no time for editors or sub-editors to fact check everything and news is so instantaneous that it’s no longer about quality but about first to ‘the post’ – literally. Who posts the news online first wins, but do they? 

We all need to work together to make sure that we deliver a service that for us (PRs) meets with the client’s objectives and for journalists delivers a story based on fact that their audience are going to want to read and share. 

Using your passion to share news

This leads me back to my first point, in order to deliver good, quality news you need to create a business that you believe in. 

We are very fortunate as an agency to have clients that have values that are aligned with our own. They are fundamentally to do a good job and to do it well. Here at Open Comms, our mantra tends to be: forget air kissing and going out for lunch, let’s celebrate when we’ve got the results, not before. 

I’ve noticed recently that over the last (almost) ten years we have attracted similar kinds of people and we now have an incredibly strong network of associates, suppliers and clients that we trust. Beyond that, many of them we can now confidently refer to as friends. This isn’t something we take for granted, it’s something that we are immensely proud of. 

The truth is that we couldn’t have done this if we were living a lie. Again, I go back to a marriage. If you were marrying for money or your head was turned by another, yet you still went through with it, before long it would show. People would realise that you were being disingenuous and that what comes out of your mouth is not necessarily reflected in your eyes (my nanna always said to trust the eyes not the mouth – wise woman). 

We always say that passion is infectious (we’ve finished with the marriage analogy now!) and that you can sense the energy when people talk about their product or service and how much it means to them. 

My advice to anyone starting a business would be to believe. Put your heart and soul into the planning and create a list of values that you intend to be governed by. Be honest, both to yourself and to others. 

Having a business isn’t easy but when you truly believe in what you are trying to do and the service that you deliver, then I see no reason why you cannot be the success that you set out to be. This will also resonate in the future when you want to give up – and there will be times – it will be easier to get through and to move on knowing that your business is founded on solid principles that mean something to you and to your customers.

 

Ends

When value and values collide

People often refer to PR as some dark art but that’s not the case. It is true that there is some ambiguity about what it delivers based on the difficulty in measuring the overall impact that you can achieve from a campaign. After all, how do you truly measure word of mouth or a person’s shift in sentiment without putting in place a robust research study?

The challenge is always the same, budgets. Clients invariably want more for less but in some instances, there has to come a point where that simply isn’t possible. The immediate problem with PR is that everyone believes that they can do it. The question remains, can you do it well?

PR is about managing the reputation of a business, arguably your biggest asset. For those that don’t believe in the value of PR just look at the largest brands in the world and explain why they invest in a specialism if it doesn’t deliver.

Some of the industry’s strongest ambassadors are Richard Branson and the founders of Innocent Drinks. It’s perhaps a cliché to use these as examples, but you can’t deny that the way that they defined their audience, shaped their message and then used PR to attract attention worked. 

As an agency, we have very strong values, we always have and it was one of our founding principles. It was 2008 and we were just about to feel the full force of the most challenging period of our careers, the recession.

Launching a business perhaps wasn’t the most obvious thing to do, but we had a plan. We would become the straight-talking PR agency that would deliver results. Our objective was simple; do the job and do it well. We were bold with our messaging too: what you see is what you get.

That still holds true today and some eight years on we have an enviable client list and a strong and capable team. We work together with our clients, we develop creative campaigns that meet with objectives, we deliver results and we repeat – it’s quite simple, well, on paper anyway.

Based on the return on investment you can generate from PR, I find it staggering that people don’t place more value on it. Obviously, I am biased, but if I had a marketing budget I would be making sure a good proportion was set aside to invest in my reputation.

All we hear about is the value of well written copy, a great piece which featured in the paper or on the radio or television, an article online that was shared hundreds of times. Where do people think this content comes from? It isn’t coincidence, it’s planned and timed to align with a wider campaign.  

PR isn’t a dark art but finding an agency that will add real value can be a challenge. One of the things we explain when we meet people is that we won’t ‘do air kissing’ – although a good Yorkshire hug is absolutely fine – and we will never take a client for lunch or dinner and charge it back – surely, that’s just rude?

But, there’s a balance.

We were attending a pitch in London recently and one of the only criticisms during feedback was that our budgets were significantly underestimated. Actually, they weren’t. The costs were based on actual quotes as opposed to approximates. We realised very quickly that our values had meant we had inadvertently undersold what we could deliver.

So, what was the answer? Should we increase our fees to a level that the client would find significantly eye watering or should we stand true to our values and hope that in time the client would come back – after all, they did mention that we were a team they would like to work with? 

When we launched we spent a long time deliberating over what we would be called. We found it really difficult to make it clear that we were genuinely different. We were going to use our business to tackle and challenge some of the perceptions that come with the industry head-on.

After many hours we looked at all of the words that we had used to describe what we wanted to be, what we felt and what was truly representative and Open jumped out at us. That is exactly what we are, open.

And there is the answer. We can’t change the way we work. We won’t be tripling the fees to appear suitably expensive. We will continue to do a great job and to be honest with our clients. Values are a huge part of our business, perhaps it’s our Yorkshire roots.

I am very proud of Open Communications and what it stands for. I’m not sure there are many people who can say that and really mean it. We will continue to pitch great creative ideas and campaigns that will add value and meet with objectives, we will continue to do this with integrity, we will not work with competing businesses, we will get excited by our results and we will have fun in the process.

If you want to join us on that journey, then please do give us a call. The kettle is always on.

White-label – more like white flag!

I was talking to a fellow PR practitioner recently (it does happen!) and they mentioned that they’d been approached by a ‘full service’ agency asking them to white-label their offering – for anyone who doesn’t know what this means; it is doing the work for the agency, as if you were them, as opposed to working directly with the client.

I know many agencies who work like this and my feeling on the matter has never changed. As an agency your ‘job’ and objective for your client is to build a brand, if that means working with a series of other agency specialists then so be it – but the idea is that you get people talking and you share messages about that business.

How on earth can you expect to do this for them, if you can’t and don’t do it for your own business? Ok, so I appreciate that some agencies get most of their work through white-labelling but there are two points that I find fundamentally wrong with this;

  1. You should be proud of your work and want to share your ideas with the client direct – knowing that they have been presented correctly
  2. Nine times out of ten the ‘host’ agency claims to be full service and isn’t, hence why they come to you in the first place – so already your relationship with your / their client is on difficult ground

To use a ‘daddism’ ‘Oh what a tangled web we weave’.

You may as well wave a white flag if you are white-labelling because as far as I can tell you must be desperate for work if you are potentially willing to have your values compromised to work for others – who are not willing to give you the credit.

Now, before I get a barrage of people calling me crazy, white labelling is not working with other agencies or even working as a team with a lead agency – it is allowing an agency to share your work with a client as their own. I should also mention here that there are a number of genuine full service agencies who do a fantastic job and good on them but that’s not what my ‘rant’ is about.

We have been approached by many agencies in the past to be a white-label supplier and the answer is always the same – NO. We are proud of our agency, of our values and of the ideas and recommendations that we produce, so why would we pass all of that on to someone to share as their own?

This leads me to my next point – don’t profess to be full service if you aren’t. We tell all of our clients that we are a PR agency, we specialise in PR, copywriting, social media and sponsorship. There are many other facets to what we do but principally it all falls neatly under the banner of PR.

Now here’s the clever bit *puts on sarcastic face*, we are honest with our clients and tell them that if they do need other skills that we are unable to offer, we can work with trusted partners or – now wait for it – pass them the details direct.

BOOM! And there you have it folks, it really is that simple.

If you don’t do something in house then let your clients know and send them the details of trusted partners – unless of course you are out to fleece not only the client but your partner and then ignore my advice because your objective will be to ‘coin in’ mark-up fees from both sides.

Interestingly I have noticed that a higher number of agencies are choosing to specialise rather than claim to be full service and I’m pleased to see it. I’m a huge advocate for doing what you do, and doing it well.

One of my favourite phrases is: “If you want to be all things to all people, you end up being nothing to nobody.”

Our clients have always thanked us for being honest and we’ve never found that a brand chooses to work with someone else because they are full service. In fact, we were recently in a review with one of our largest clients who mentioned that being a specialist PR agency is a huge benefit.

For those of you who are thinking about white-labelling then please reconsider. I have seen some agencies create and produce some fantastic work and never get the credit that they deserve – make sure you’re not one of them.

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.

When selling your business leaves you sour

I remember reading the story of a husband and wife team from Yorkshire who had taken their love of sausages and turned it into a multi-million pound business.

The success hadn’t come overnight and the couple had battled tirelessly to secure listings until they were bought by a larger company who assisted with their vision to see their sausages on the shelves in all major superstores throughout the country.

This blog should now end with a happy ever after however that is not the case – as I found out today when reading the Yorkshire Business Insider.

The couple in question are Debbie and Andrew Keeble and as Ben Pindar explains in his article they found that as a result of selling their business to a larger corporation they lost control of their values. Ultimately they were left holding an ‘ugly baby’ not the bundle of joy they had nurtured for years and invested their time and money in to.

You see Debbie and Andrew saw an opportunity to grow their business, taking it to the next level but in doing so found that they were working in an environment with people who did not hold their brand as dear to their hearts, nor its values which underpin the product and in particular where the raw materials are sourced from, as closely as they did.

Debbie and Andrew wanted to maintain their messaging of ‘real people, real food’ and ‘British is best’ which was impossible under the instruction of a Dutch owned business. This led to an eventual fall out and irreconcilable differences leaving the Keebles to face the prospect of competing with their own product and a brand they developed.

I have to admit that when I read this story today my heart really did go out to the Keebles – although there is little doubt they have made a significant amount of money from the Debbie and Andrews sausage range – this wouldn’t diminish the loss that would be felt if someone took away the values of your business and something that you truly believed in.

When we launched Open Communications we spent a lot of time defining the values of the business and our messaging to ensure that everything we did was true to our beliefs and allowed us to run the business as we felt it should be.

We are a straight talking PR agency, which develops creative and realistic campaigns that meet with our clients’ objectives.  In a nut shell that is what we do and it hasn’t changed. If someone came in and bought the business, allowing us to continue to run the team as directors but wanting us to change the way we do things, then the answer would have to be no.

We, like Debbie and Andrew, have invested a great deal of time in defining what we are – and are not – in order to offer a professional and unique service, to change that simply wouldn’t work. Not only would our clients lose something that they have bought in to but we would have no underpinning personality that makes our agency different – we would be another PR agency doing the same things the same way.

I hope that Debbie and Andrew find a way to build up their new business and to make it a success which rivals their former product. Perhaps the fact that they are engaging with the media suggests that they have picked themselves up, brushed themselves down and decided to take the bull (or pig in this instance) by the horns.

At the very least they know they can create a successful business and should have the contacts of the buyers they need to speak to in order for them to make it happen a second time around. Hats off to them – they certainly have a true Yorkshire spirit and determination to have another go.  When the time is right I’ll have a fry up to celebrate that!