Author: Lindsey Davies

Why agencies matter

Why agencies matter

Last week I read an interesting article in the Drum. As part of its Agencies4Growth festival, the publication was looking at why agencies matter. This piece was an interview with Janelle Orozco, Diageo’s chief procurement officer, to find out why the brand values its agency relationships.

The focus was on why businesses would invest in agencies when they could simply appoint the talent they need inhouse. This isn’t a new topic of conversation, nor is it one that has a simple answer. There are arguments for and against.

What was interesting was that Janelle was able to see the benefits to both. In particular, the added value that comes from having the right agencies that can work as an extension of a brand team.

She commented: “The best agencies can be truth tellers, helping you see what you are missing. Brands and companies can benefit from an external perspective to hold up a mirror or shine a light on something that can be missed when you are too close to the problem or too wedded to how things have always been done. Great agencies have a breadth of perspective from working with clients across sectors, and, often, around the world.”

Building strong relationships

It may seem obvious, but building strong relationships is so important when you are working with an agency. It is likely you will be providing them with access to confidential information that could be business critical.

It is crucial that you can share your real thoughts and feelings on some challenging subjects. PR isn’t always straight forward and having honest conversations will result in meaningful outputs. It will also allow the agency to deliver recommendations that have a positive impact.

There are times when agencies and clients disagree. That is fine. Like anything, some topics will be up for discussion. Campaigns will need reviewing and ideas refining. Again, having the relationships in place that allow you to do this productively will deliver stronger results.

When times are hard and relationships are tested, it should become obvious why agencies matter. If not, then there may be some changes that need to be made.

Transparency leads to trust

When we launched in 2008, one of the values of our business was to be transparent with our clients. Nothing has changed. What we have seen over the years is that clients appreciate how we choose to operate.

Hiding costs, increasing budgets and making huge margin on bought in items just isn’t our way. It has never sat comfortably with us, and never will.

Clients know that when they appoint us as their preferred PR partner, they will get honest advice. Furthermore, the ideas and campaigns that we put forward will be realistic. We always work towards meeting with objectives so that our results have a meaningful impact.

We never take our clients for granted and being truthful with them means they can trust us. Working in this way allows our relationships to evolve from third party supplier to trusted confident very quickly. It also provides our clients with the results and experience that gives them evidence of why agencies matter.

Accessing skills

In the piece from the Drum, Janelle comments: “Then, of course, there is the magic of the work agencies co-create alongside marketing teams”.

This really resonated with me, as it is exactly how we approach campaigns for clients. Rather than assume we have all the answers, we pool our resources and ideas. It may be a brainstorm or a briefing session, but we make sure we access all the talent that is available to us.

It is important to remember that clients, just like agency employees, have mixed experiences. This could be from previous roles and may even be agency side. As such, the strongest campaigns are often those that have been shaped by the whole team.

We know that we have the skills as an agency to build and deliver campaigns from scratch, however working collaboratively means our clients get the best of both worlds. We often find that the brand managers we work with want to be involved. As such, working together allows them to do that. It also means we can all share and celebrate success.

Far from de-valuing what an agency can bring to the table, it just means that the campaigns will be influenced by everyone involved.

Added value  

The reason that most businesses invest in agencies is to add value. There should be no dispute that the companies you choose to work with are delivering a return on investment. If they aren’t, then it may be time to review those relationships.

Although we are a PR and content management agency, our clients know that they can come to us with any questions that they have. They also know that we will give them our honest opinion on any subject. It may not be what they want to hear but it goes back to transparency and trust. It also means we are giving them the added value they are looking for.

I remember a meeting we had with a client. We had gone off topic several times and ended up talking about some challenges this client was facing. It had nothing to do with PR, but that was the point. As they left, they turned around and said: “I love our meetings. It’s like a counselling session and a monthly catch up all in one.”

If there was ever a statement that proves why agencies matter, then this has to be it. For us, that’s exactly how it should be. We don’t just meet with objectives or deliver results. We add value where it has greatest impact.

Working with an agency

A critical factor to the way that we work with our clients is exactly that. We work with our clients. We do not work for them. The difference this one small word makes is quite astonishing.

When you start a relationship with the attitude that a supplier works for you, it creates barriers. Changing the way that you look at this will allow you to move from having suppliers to partners. It also helps people to feel valued and that they are part of a wider team. Furthermore, it delivers a stronger return on investment. After all, agencies will work harder for those that value their time and expertise.

In the article from the Drum, Janelle concludes: “In summary, agencies continue to be vital to brands and can be a source of competitive advantage when they fit culturally, commercially and strategically.”

We couldn’t agree more, and when you do find an agency with that fit, it leads to lasting relationships that will benefit your business. It will also give you all the evidence you need to truly understand why agencies matter.

For further details about Open Comms, who we work with and what we do, please visit: www.opencomms.co.uk or call: 01924 86244.

SUPPORTING BUSINESSES DURING TIMES OF CRISIS

Open Communications supporting businesses through times of crisis

As a Yorkshire based PR agency that works as an extension of our clients’ teams, we are often required to access confidential information. In particular, when supporting businesses during times of crisis, we need as much detail as possible.

It is only when we have this level of insight that we can provide recommendations that will benefit a business. This might be uncomfortable for brands to share, but it is essential if we are to deliver the service and results that our clients have come to expect.

Don’t hide behind closed doors

Hiding behind closed doors and ‘keeping your head down’ during a crisis might seem like a good idea, but it isn’t. In our experience, there is rarely a benefit to giving a no comment to journalists. In fact, being as transparent and honest as possible is crucial.

That doesn’t mean that you share everything with everyone, just that you manage the process very carefully. Working with experts means that you can navigate the situation and ensure as little damage to your brand as possible.

There may be two sides to every story, however coming across as defensive or aggressive will not give the right impression. If we are honest, this will just lead people to make negative assumptions that could have a lasting impact on a company.

Scenario planning

We always say that a business never expects a crisis, until it has a crisis!

Very few organisations want to think too deeply about what could go wrong. That said, scenario planning can be a great way to test and measure the robustness of the planning and processes you have in place.

Look at the obvious challenges that you could face as an organisation. Think about how you would respond should a journalist call, or a customer share negative feedback across social media. Are you prepared? Do you have the necessary processes in place? If not, you can expect to be caught like a rabbit in headlights.

Hitting the headlines for the right reasons

We are big believers at Open Comms in hitting the headlines for the right reasons. This gives our clients some balance, even when they do have a crisis. It’s never something that we want to see happen, but if we can counter negative press with positive then we are doing our job.

It may be that through good governance and careful planning we can avoid any negative PR at all, however in instances where that isn’t the case, we have the foresight to plan ahead. Having a strong schedule of positive stories means we have more good news in the market than bad.

On the occasions where we simply cannot avoid negative comment, we work hard to counteract this and to give a true opinion of the brands we deliver PR and content management strategies for. This is just one of the reasons that supporting businesses through times of crisis is so important.

Stakeholder relations

As well as the media, it is important to consider how you will communicate about a crisis internally. This means letting any relevant stakeholders and staff know, ideally ahead of them reading it in the newspaper or online.

Being honest and letting people know so that they can ask any questions will reinforce confidence. No one likes to be left in the dark, and so putting in place the infrastructure to share updates with everyone will support staff morale, even when you are sharing bad news.

Most companies have an intranet, noticeboards or regular staff meetings. Make sure that these are used when you are dealing with a crisis. Being consistent and considered is further advice during difficult times.

Being held accountable

Those that are accountable for their mistakes are also most likely to learn from them. It’s not about holding your hands up and admitting liability for everything. It is about taking an honest look at what has happened and why.

Saying sorry may not be the position that most companies want to find themselves in, however it will make a difference to how people see the brand in the short and longer term. It could even be that you could turn a negative into a positive with how a situation is managed.

This is just further evidence of why supporting businesses through crisis is more than just an investment. It could be business critical.

People pay careful attention to the reactions from organisations and their senior managers during hard times. Managing a crisis effectively, sensitively and appropriately could encourage prospective customers or employees to take a closer look at your company.

Working with experts

As an agency, we have years of experience when it comes to supporting businesses through times of crisis. We also know how nerve wracking it can be but that most situations are manageable. Rather than flapping around and panicking, it is important that brands work with the experts.

There is an investment in crisis management, however it will deliver a return like few others. Having the reassurance that the processes in place are robust and sufficient will make any crisis easier to navigate and to manage.

Supporting businesses through crisis is just one of the tactics that we deliver for the brands we work with. For further information about our approach and how we can add value to your business through our full suite of services, please visit: www.opencomms.co.uk or call a member of the team on tel. 01924 862477.

PR SUPPORTS BRANDS THAT ARE OPEN FOR BUSINESS

PR supports brands that are open for business

Despite the challenges that many companies are facing, I’ve been buoyed by the resilience that our clients have shown. If anything, they recognise now more than ever that PR supports brands that are open for business.

It’s the right approach to take. After all, what’s the alternative? It would perhaps be easier to close the doors, ignore the facts and shut off from the world. The reality is that this doesn’t give the right impression to customers or prospects.

A focus on the future

It was enlightening for me to find that the organisations we work alongside are looking to the future. There is a real energy and positivity about what is around the corner. Rather than focus on the negative, we are putting in place plans that will help to achieve business objectives.

We have schedules of good news stories, content ready to be posted, shared and liked and social channels that are frequently updated attracting attention from relevant audiences. It’s great to be so busy and to see how organisations are more aware that PR supports brands that are open for business.

Redirecting budgets   

During hard times it is quite typical for brands to cut marketing spend. It’s almost a default position, but we haven’t found that this time round. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Progressive businesses are redirecting budgets and showing how resilient they can be.

Many companies are recognising that now is the time to shine to stand out from competitors.

Using PR to explain that brands are open for business goes back to the basic principles of what we do. Launching products and services, making sure that people are aware of good news and that they can share it. All tactics that have proven their worth, and those that we still rely on today.

We manage the reputation of brands and businesses. That isn’t something we take lightly. It is however what we do, and we do it well. It’s great to see our clients retaining focus and pushing hard when it matters.

Attracting the right attention  

There have been some great campaigns and initiatives that have been shared by brands in recent months. Marketing teams have been pushed to their limits. Being creative is one thing but resonating during difficult times is another.

It’s important to remain sensitive and to attract the right attention. This doesn’t mean everything needs to be shrouded in negativity, just carefully thought through.

There have been some quirky examples of brands pushing boundaries, while using the right tone. People do still want to laugh, it’s just that they want to laugh with each other, not at each other. That’s where PR can play a real role.

Storytelling adds personality, background and fun. It’s just another way that PR supports brands that are open for business.

New business enquiries

We’ve had some really interesting new business enquiries in recent weeks. As well as showing that we are still very much open for business, this is also a reflection on the wider community. It’s great to hear from companies that have big ambition!

As well as new business calls, we have also heard from those in our network. Although we are unable to share our usual cheeky drink with colleagues and associates, we are maintaining contact and showing our support.

It’s important at times like this that we all remember to come together and to share good news. It doesn’t matter if you work for a big brand or a start-up, the philosophy remains the same: PR supports brands that are open for business.

Those companies that take advantage and put the right PR and content strategy in place will also be those that see a positive impact on their bottom line.

For further information about our approach to PR and how we can add value to your business, please visit: www.opencomms.co.uk or call a member of the team on tel. 01924 862477.

THE VALUE OF EARNED MEDIA AND WHAT IT MEANS TO BUSINESS

The value of earned media

Within marketing industry media there has been much discussion about the value of earned media. This is the return on investment that companies receive from featuring in editorial coverage.

For as long as I can remember, the focus for a PR professional has been on securing good, quality coverage in relevant publications. This then extended to digital titles and has since moved to third party platforms.

Earned media in its truest sense relates to stories that hold credibility by association. The reason being they have been verified and shared by a journalist. The argument could be that working with influencers does the same. They choose what content to share, but for the purpose of this blog we will keep it simple.

Earned and owned

So, earned content typically features in newspapers and on websites owned by these publications. It may be that the media is digital and doesn’t have a print version, but the same theory applies. Owned content is the copy that is written by a brand and shared online and across social channels.

This is not editorial. It is dictated by a brand for an audience. That doesn’t mean it holds no value. It just means that there is no third-party providing governance over its credibility.

Securing earned media

This is the bread and butter of traditional agencies. Securing earned media is often the key objective of a client that has in place a press office function. It is out job to identify a schedule of stories, to research, draft and distribute to the right media.

Sounds simple. The reality is that the copy needs to be compelling, newsworthy and relevant to the audience. You also need to write for the publication, the audience and the client.

Collating a value to earned media

There have been countless discussions about the measurement of PR. It is a constant battle to determine the impact that regular earned coverage will have on a business. The reality is that people don’t always associate their decision to purchase with the profile of a brand.

We can assume that the more you hear about a brand the more likely you are to purchase a product or service but confirming this is difficult.

From years of working in PR, clients do receive feedback from associates and colleagues who will comment positively on press and broadcast appearances. I’ve yet to come across an organisation that has been disappointed to feature regularly within relevant media.

There are also ways in which measures can be set such as audience reach. Publications have ABC ratings or MOZ scores for websites. This gives an indication of the authority of that title, either by purchase or visits.

Using these metrics gives a clear indication of the value of earned media and what it will deliver for a brand.

The benefits of earned media for business

The simple fact of the matter is that when people read about a business, they learn about it too. There is always a key message within a story. Something the brand wants you to know and to take away. It could be the announcement of a new product or service, appointments to the team or industry insight. Whatever the angle, there is reason for that press release to be shared.

Having a strategic approach to PR means that earned coverage can support the objectives of a business. Stories can be planned and scheduled to ‘hit’ at just the right time. This then gives further value to earned coverage as a business-critical tactic.

Getting best return on investment from PR

PR is about more than earned coverage. Content is everywhere and managing the messaging for a brand has never been more complicated. That said, we are in exciting times and PR has had the chance to stand up and to be counted in recent years.

There are many tactics to creating a PR campaign that will deliver results and we ensure that our clients have access to them all. With a balance of earned, owned and social coverage we are able to make sure the brands we work with are in the right place at the right time.

For further information about our approach to PR and how we can add value to your business, please visit: www.opencomms.co.uk or call a member of the team on tel. 01924 862477.

USING THE SEASONS TO INSPIRE CREATIVITY

Using the seasons to inspire creativity

It doesn’t feel quite right somehow; the fact that we are waking up to Autumn. Speaking to friends and family over recent weeks, it is apparent many of us are not ready for this change of season. But what if we were to flip our attitude, and rather than focus on the negative, use the seasons to inspire creativity.

Rather than worry about dark mornings, early evenings and colder weather, let’s think about crisp, bright days that let us clear our heads and focus our thoughts.

Getting out and about

It’s not always possible to get up from your desk and to go for a walk. We are all busy and trying to keep those plates spinning in the air. I have always found it difficult to detach and to believe that to be more productive I should step away from the office.

It has taken me years to put the theory into practice. I now realise that rather than staring at a blank screen, if I step away from my desk and get some fresh air, it can reset my mind. I have also found that using the seasons to inspire creativity has had a positive impact on my work.

Taking influence from nature

Each season brings with it different colours, scents and scenes. A landscape can change dramatically throughout the year. Taking influence from this, we can use all the sights, sounds and settings to inspire ideas.

Just taking the time to stop, to sit and to take in your surroundings can completely redirect your attention. If you are stuck with one idea that you know isn’t quite right, this approach can be transformational.

It doesn’t have to be through the working day. I know lots of people who start or end the day with a brisk walk. Often, they will explain that it allows them to get set for the week ahead or to download from the day.

However you prefer to work, using the seasons to inspire creativity can deliver positives for our mental health as well as our results.

Easter in Autumn

When you work in PR, what is going on outside your window is unlikely to resonate with the plans you are putting in place. Particularly with consumer campaigns, many brands are working six months in advance.

The media also work well ahead of schedule. This means that if a PR wants to secure copy in the right magazines, at the most appropriate time, they need to have copy and images drafted and ready.

Although it sounds like a simple thing to do, getting your head around Easter in Autumn isn’t always easy. At Open Comms we do all we can to get into that zone. We use lots of different tools and triggers to stimulate our thinking and to take us to that place.

Using the seasons to inspire creativity, we share our experiences, thoughts and plans for that time of the year. Listening to the habits of other households can be really enlightening and can trigger some great ideas that resonate with audiences and add value for brands.

Mapping the seasons

There is one thing that is certain; the seasons will come around every year. We have spring, summer, autumn and winter. The weather may be changeable but the fact that these times of year will come up is a given.

Knowing this, it is prudent for brands to be in control and to get their campaigns planned well in advance. It’s not to say that things won’t change but having some outline ideas is a good start.

FMCG brands are those that are most likely to have seasonal launches. This makes planning each time of year even more important.

As a PR agency that works within the FMCG market, it is not unheard of for us to be discussing summer in winter and Valentine’s Day well ahead of Bonfire Night. It might be confusing, but it makes sense to be prepared and to use the seasons to encourage creativity.

Working from a year-round schedule of activity can really help with this. Just looking at what is coming up in six months can be a real wake up call. Time stands still for no one, so taking the time to plan can have a positive impact on results.

Recreating scents, sights and scenes

When we are sharing our creative thoughts as an agency, we will work hard to set the scene. This means thinking very carefully about what experience and feeling each season brings. Harnessing the excitement from each time of year means that our campaigns are more compelling and relevant to the audience.

Using the seasons to encourage creativity means that we can go to that place and get excited about what this year might bring.

There are the obvious times of year; Christmas and Easter for example, but it is just as important that we put the time and effort into other times of year too. For some clients Valentine’s Day or Halloween could be the focus. Whatever the time of year, hopping to that moment in time is essential to get ideas that will have impact.

Creating a space that is themed is a good way to get people to think about that time of year. Surrounding the team with visuals is always a good starting point. These prompts will focus attention and ensure that the recommendations are relevant and right.

Consumer experience

Each season brings with it a different consumer experience. As such, it is important that as an agency we consider what will resonate with each audience. It may not always be the most obvious things, but those that give a person a feeling or trigger a memory.

Finding the experiences that are important to the audience, while also relevant to a brand, will deliver results. Working with companies that want to appeal to families as an example may mean that we create a campaign that harnesses the feeling of time together.

It could be Christmas Eve and festive movies, Halloween and trick or treating or Valentine’s Day and making cards for Mum or Dad. Whatever the season, we will bring together our shared experience to build campaigns that appeal to the widest and most relevant audience for the brand.

Using the seasons to encourage creativity

Going back to the start of this blog, I want people to think about how using the seasons to encourage creativity can lead to positive results. Far too often we look outside and moan about the weather. We are quick to focus on the negative rather than what is good about this time of year.

Take today, it’s cold. Autumn is well and truly in full swing. It’s also one of my favourite times of year because we start to make delicious stews and comfort foods. We sit around the fire and enjoy a glass of wine. We snuggle up and shut the curtains, making our homes warm and cozy.

It would be easier to think about the fact that Christmas is just around the corner and I haven’t done any shopping yet. That the mornings are dark and cold and the nights are gloomy and wet. That we are fast approaching the end of another year where not a single resolution was met!

None of these thoughts are going to give me the inspiration or encouragement to put forward my best ideas for clients, so I’ve changed my attitude. I am going to think about the good things and make sure that moving forward I am using the seasons to my advantage.

MAKING WEB CONTENT WORK FOR YOUR BUSINESS

Making web content work for your business

Most companies have a website, but far less recognise the value of making web content work for your business.  

The simplest description to give a website would be an online brochure. However, as times have changed and buyer behaviours have evolved, so too has functionality. This makes websites a far more valuable business asset 

So, why then do companies put so much time and effort into creating a website only to leave it sat dormant? 

We explore how you could implement some changes to ensure you’re making web content work for your business.  

Planning a platform for business  

Websites are used to describe a business, product or service and also to provide customers with access to purchase. That may be through signposting to a retail outlet or direct to order online.  

Having a site and signposting to it should be part of the marketing strategy. However, before this happens, a great deal of time and effort should go into thinking about what you are sharing and why. 

Questions need to be asked: 

  1. Has the site been designed to be visually representative of the business? 
  2. Does it use a tone of voice and language that would be recognised by staff and customers? 
  3. Will the content be useful and engaging for prospective customers and those that purchase regularly?  
  4. Is the site easy to navigate both to pages and back? 
  5. Was the website worth the investment?  
  6. Would the website be a more valuable asset if greater time and attention was given to it?  
  7. Does it have a strong call to action? 
  8. What measures are in place to monitor the website performance? 

Whether you are updating a current website or starting from scratch, answering these questions will help. Like any business-critical activity that requires investment of time and money, it should start with an objective.  

Setting this out clearly will provide focus and purpose.  

Creating a site map  

Plotting a simple site map will give clarity on the pages that are required and what will be shared on each. One of the most common pitfalls is that companies create websites that share the same information on all pages.  

Repetition is sometimes unavoidable, but this should be discussed at the outset. It will save time and effort later.  

Better understanding the journey a visitor will go on, will also be a useful exercise. Remembering that people will be directed to any number of pages and using this to plot how they get from A to B and back again will be an exercise that pays dividends.  

Compelling copy with a clear call to action  

The copy that is shared on a website may be the first impression a prospective customer ever gets of your business. Getting it right is a must 

Once you have mapped what goes onto each page and what you want that visitor to learn, you will have the basis for your copy. Keeping the language you use simple, and the sentence structures short, is also important.  

As with all marketing, people can misjudge the time and effort that goes into curating good copy and perhaps even fail to recognise its value. When you take a step back and think about the last time you visited a poor website and how it made you feel, perhaps that attitude will change.  

I‘ve heard a website described as an online shop window, and this is probably a good interpretation. Certainly, in recent times, consumers have had to turn to websites, so making sure that the information shared is relevant and will resonate has never been more important.  

Having a clear call to action means a visitor can take away a recommendation. Whether they choose to put that into practice is up to them. However, websites that provide direction are always going to deliver a stronger return than those that don’t.  

Use social signposting to increase traffic  

Once the website is live for all to see, it is prudent to signpost an audience from social media platforms. As an example, if you have a new product to share, make sure to post a link to the relevant webpage across LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and Insta.  

Social platforms are often used in this way and it does increase traffic to a website. The trick here is to make sure that the information posted is informative and helpful. If you sell at someone they are likely to ignore you. Give them something that they may want or need and you are far more likely to attract a click in the right direction. 

The principles of a website are the same as any marketing tool. Think about the needs of the audience first, not the business. That way you know the content you are creating will add value rather than create noise.   

It’s not always about starting from scratch  

One mistake that companies make is to forget about all of the historic content that has been created. Just because it is dated, it doesn’t mean that it is useless. In fact, there are probably some real treasures hidden in the archives.  

This content may need updating, repurposing or redrafting in places, but it should not be assigned to the recycle bin. 

Taking the time to go through and find the copy that is relevant may save huge amounts of effort in the long-term. It is also about being consistent with the message. Just because you have a new website, that doesn’t mean the story about the business has to change.  

In some cases, reading the content from when a business was launched will unearth some incredible insights that add personality and really resonate with staff and customers alike. Make sure to pull these pieces out so that you can make your web content work for your business.  

Optimising content to attract customers   

Most websites will have a plugin or tool that can be used to measure the search engine optimisation of the copy that is shared. These are really useful and very simple to use. As well as providing a red, amber or green reference, they will also provide recommendations on how to enhance copy. 

Don’t ignore these tips. They can turn a good piece of copy into a well written, informative and optimised piece of content. The truth is that when you follow the guidelines, the copy that you share is more likely to attract visitors and for them to read it. 

Adding keywords, creating subheadings, using simple language and keeping sentence structures simple are all ways of better engaging through web copy. This will also go some way to making web content work for your business.  

Allocating the time and effort needed   

Updating a website is not a five-minute task. It isn’t a simple job that can be added to a list to be completed on a Friday afternoon before home time. A website is a valuable business tool and should be considered as such.  

The investment that is often made into a website should be some indication of what time and effort is needed to make it work as hard as it can once the build is complete. No online platform is static anymore, so don’t leave your site to become dormant through lack of effort.  

Having a clear plan which focuses on making web content work for your business will deliver a greater return. Only then will you see the true value and what an asset an online platform can be.  

For support with your website content or to discuss how to put a structure plan in place for your PR, social and marketing requirements, please call a member of the team at Open Comms here 

WHY THE BBC HAS MORE TO WORRY ABOUT THAN FREE LICENSES

The BBC has more to worry about than free license fees

Not for the first time this year, the BBC has hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons. The decision to stop providing free licenses to over 75’s being just one controversial move. Now, payments for employees have been shared with some netting more than £1m a year. Not bad.

While it would be easy to jump on the bandwagon, when you consider what the BBC is trying to do, the waters get murky. It’s no longer black and white. You see, the corporation needs to remain competitive without being commercial.

Held accountable to the general public, it is not always as easy as you may think to run an organisation that has to have total transparency. Every decision is scrutinised. The truth is, you can’t please all of the people all of the time.

Attracting the best talent

Like any organisation, the BBC wants to attract the best presenters. I was watching the news on the BBC this morning and Dame Esther Louise Rantzen DBE made, what appeared to be, a very good suggestion.

She said, cap the pay of all BBC employees to that of the Prime Minister. At £150k a year this would be a significant pay cut for many of the leading figures at the corporation. That said, most of us would be more than content to agree this as our annual salary.

On the surface this idea worked. Make significant savings in wages and pass it back to those over 75 who have historically benefitted from a free license.

However, when you delve a little deeper you must remember that the BBC has more to worry about than free licenses. It needs to attract the very best talent in order to remain competitive. It is, along with programming, arguably its biggest asset.

Consider you are a presenter and you have worked your way up to a primetime position. You have achieved what you set out to do. You are a celebrity in your own right, and you earn the big bucks. Then someone comes along and tells you to give the majority of your ‘hard earned cash’ back for the greater good.

It is fair to suggest, in this scenario, many of the presenters would leave and work for an alternative commercial station. Not ideal for a company that needs to retain and grow audience figures.

Then there is the fact that BBC presenters can’t top up their salaries with work outside of the ‘establishment’. Take Nagga Muchetty as an example, who was recently criticised for appearing in adverts for Natwest while working for the BBC.

It’s easy to see why presenters may find the suggestion of a capped salary hard to swallow, whatever they earn.

The balance of maintaining and attracting audiences

While the BBC may have a loyal following, it also needs to become more appealing to a younger audience. This means creating relevant and compelling content that resonates.

The challenge is that it needs to invest in digital programming to attract a younger demographic, while retaining those viewers that have followed the corporation for years. Not an easy task.

It’s just not as simple as to create programmes that will be watched by everyone. Times have changed and so too have viewing habits. The harsh reality is that the BBC needs to decide which audience will support its growth and future sustainability.

Changing viewing habits

Digital media has changed viewer habits. We don’t sit down as a family to watch programmes at a given time anymore. Programmes are available as and when we want to watch them. We can stream live or catch up at a time that better suits our needs.

The power has passed from programmer to the public.

Those channels that don’t keep up with these expectations are never going to attract a younger audience. They have access to content 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They aren’t going to wait around to watch something or be dictated by schedules.

The announcement that the BBC may remove the news at 6pm and 10pm within a decade was a further indication of this. The theory being that younger people don’t want to watch ‘linear broadcasting’.

The argument again goes back to the older audience. They have become creatures of habit and like to catch up with what is going on in the world. They know when and where they are able to do this. Take this away and many of them will become even more isolated than they already are.

Pushing boundaries

It would be unfair to suggest that the programming on the BBC is in any way poor. It’s just that, as an audience that’s been brought up with access to it, we take it for granted. Other channels are competing hard for audience figures. It’s become a daily struggle.

Take Virgin Radio as an example. Attracting Chris Evans to the breakfast show, using the same format and even the same team. The advertising to migrate the audience was intriguing and certainly got people talking. Many, as a result, will have tried out the station.

While this was great for Virgin, the BBC had to sit back and watch. The corporation can’t advertise. It had to wait and to do its best to retain figures, keep talent and continue to be innovative. That’s not easy for any business.

The BBC can’t push boundaries like other commercial channels can. Again, it goes back to governance and accountability. This is a hindrance but one that the corporation must address if it is to appeal to a mass audience once more. A further example of why the BBC has more to worry about than free licenses.

A world without the BBC

As someone who has watched the BBC for years and works with journalists and reporters from the corporation, I have to show it my support.

Like any business, it has its challenges, but when we consider a world without the BBC, it would be a darker place. It is a valuable and trusted new source, as well as being company for millions of viewers and listeners worldwide.

The BBC has been a staple for many of us, but it must change and evolve. Adapting to new audiences is just one of hurdles it will face if it is to have a sustainable future.

Going back to the very start of this blog, the BBC has more to worry about than free licenses. However, this also needs to be addressed. There must be a way that an organisation with such exceptional talent, experience and reach can meet the needs of a both young and old.

It remains to be seen. For now at least, I will continue to enjoy the news, along with other family viewing offered by the BBC. As a household of three generations, we all have our favourite programmes and we will share in the success of an institution that perhaps, in some instances, is easier to criticise than to celebrate.

For more information about Open Comms and how we get our clients into the headlines for all the right reasons, please click here.

 

HAPPY BIRTHDAY OPEN COMMUNICATIONS

Open Communications

It’s with such a sense of achievement that we say ‘Happy Birthday Open Communications’. To think that it was over a decade ago we launched the business is hugely rewarding but also scary in equal measure.

Some days it feels like a lifetime ago and then others it could have been yesterday. So much has happened in the last 12 years. We have grown, both as an organisation and as individuals. It has been a rollercoaster but one that I would get on and ride all over again.

There have been a few things that have helped us along the way. Knowing that times are tough for others, I thought it may be useful to recap and to pass on what I have learnt.

Network has to equal net gain

When we launched, like many small start-ups, we went along to every networking event available. This was the right thing to do. What we should have realised, perhaps sooner than we did, was that some just aren’t the right fit.

There doesn’t have to be a specific reason, it might just be the format. For us, we found those that did work, and we realised that when you want to help each other you get a better return all round. In our experience being forced to attend or to pass on referrals was counterproductive.

Thankfully, the business community we are now a part of is hugely supportive. We have a close group that we can rely on and that suits us. In order to attract new opportunities, we let our results do the talking.

Location, location, location

We were criticised when we started for choosing to be based in Wakefield. A lot has changed over the years and this was one of the best decisions we made. The District may not have been a vibrant hotspot at the time, but it is becoming increasingly popular now.

Not only has there been huge investment in Wakefield over the years, it has also attracted some globally recognised brands and ambitious entrepreneurs.

Rather than become a small fish in a large pond, we felt that we could grow with Wakefield and that is exactly what has happened. In 2008 we had a box room at the bottom of the city. Today, we have a three-storey office in the heart of the legal and financial centre.

Thinking about location is so important. It gives us a point of difference and it has allowed us to make our mark for all the right reasons.

Building a reputation

As a business that manages the reputation for others, it goes without saying that we focus on our own too. This has always been imperative for us. We practice what we preach, and we make sure that clients have a lasting and positive impression, however long we work with them.

Only a week ago I took a call from a former client asking if I had time for a chat.  The answer is always yes, and they explained they may be looking for PR services. I thanked them for thinking of us and the response was, “Why would I consider anyone else?”.

We never take feedback like this for granted. Quite the opposite. We make sure that we say thank you and that we treat people as we would like to be treated. It’s the little things that go a long way. For client’s to come back to us time and again is a real compliment. It’s also just one reason why we are here today saying Happy Birthday Open Communications.

Don’t look back in anger

A great song and a great lesson to learn. As a business owner it is incredibly difficult not to take things personally. After all, everything is personal when the company is founded on your own values. That said, I have learnt over the years to try not to take things to heart.

It’s not easy and I still struggle, however I know that in some instances it’s best not to sweat the small stuff.

Everyone makes mistakes, it’s what makes us human, the important thing is learning from them. I’ve lost count of the number of nights I have lost sleep over something trivial. A former colleague once said, “It’s PR not ER” and I think they were right.

It’s not about how much you care; it’s caring for the right reasons.

Celebrate success

As an organisation, we find this really hard and it’s something we are working on. As a business we have so much to be proud of and to celebrate yet we get caught up in lists and tasks, prioritising everything over ourselves.

It is important for companies to celebrate success, however small. We know this and we will be making more of an effort. We do raise a glass at key moments throughout the year, however we need to be better at doing so more often.

Sometimes giving yourself a pat on the back is the hardest thing you can do. It’s far easier to beat yourself up. The real challenge is recognising that no one will thank you for giving yourself a kicking. Having a more positive mindset can be passed to others and that is a lasting impression that will make a lasting difference.

Never stop learning

PR is an evolving industry. It never stops and neither do we. Learning new skills keeps us all interested and gives us so much to think about when we plan every campaign for our clients.

Whatever sector our clients work in, the tactics we have access to are changing. This means we can share new ways of working that could deliver stronger results. We are honest and open with the brands we manage, and many of them are willing to try new things. We could just keep our approach exactly the same, but where is the fun in that?

What never fails to amaze me, is that more than two decades on and I’m still as excited by PR and what the industry has to offer as I ever was. I think once I stop getting butterflies in my tummy, it’s time to call it a day.

Thankfully the flutter is still there!

Be thankful

Having a business is difficult. There are no two ways about it. Times can be really hard and it can be stressful. In contrast, things can be great and you grin from ear-to-ear. The reality is that there is no consistency. That’s why it’s like a rollercoaster ride.   

Being thankful for what you have is really important. It’s so easy to let things get on top of you. Taking a moment to stop and to look at how far you have come will make a big difference. For me, having a business with one of my closest friends – and still being friends – is an achievement in itself. It is so easy to fall out, however we recognise our skills and both see the value in each other. We don’t always agree, but we don’t have to. I’m thankful the values that matter are those that we share.

A huge pitfall for companies is to spend too much time watching competitors. The truth is, if your clients want to work with someone else, they will. I would rather spend the time focusing on my business and making the changes I need to keep my clients happy than obsessing about what others are doing.

Happy Birthday Open Communications

And so, with that, I want to take this opportunity to say, Happy Birthday Open Communications. It’s been an adventure and the journey is far from over. We have some exciting plans and we look forward to what the next decade has to offer.

For all of our colleagues, clients, friends and family – thank you. Without you all we wouldn’t be what we are today. We hope you will join us in raising and glass. Cheers!

If you would like to speak to us about your PR needs or how we could add value to your business, please call a member of the team. 

MORE THAN JUST A PR AGENCY BASED IN YORKSHIRE

More than just a PR agency based in Yorkshire

Open Communications is a straight-talking PR agency based in Yorkshire. That was how we positioned the business when we launched, and in the most part it still stands true today.

With offices in Wakefield city centre, we manage the PR and content strategies for brands of all sizes, all over the country.  However, as the years have gone by, we have realised that we are so much more than just a PR agency based in Yorkshire.

Preferred PR partner  

When companies choose Open Communications as their preferred PR partner, they get access to a team of professionals with years of experience. Believing our clients will get the best from a diverse mix of people, we all have very different backgrounds.

We have journalists, academics, customer experience professionals and PR practitioners all working together to deliver the best return on investment for every business that chooses us.

As an agency, we decided that we would not specialise in a sector. Instead, we would become experts in each client, their brand and business. This gives them exclusivity and the commitment they deserve.

As time has gone by, we have seen that this gives our clients the confidence to know we are absolutely focused on delivering results for them.

With more than 90 per cent of new business coming from client referral, this approach has worked for them and for us. It has made us the trusted PR partner we wanted to be but also generated introductions.

Trusted advisors

As PR professionals we have access to some highly confidential information. It is absolutely imperative that our clients can trust us. And they do.

It may not be a crisis it could just be information that is not for public consumption. As such, we make it clear that all insight will be handled with care. It is the very least that our clients can expect when we are managing the reputation of their brand and business.

On a lighter note, we are also close enough to many of our clients for them to share their thoughts outside of their own environments. We once had a client say that they felt ‘lighter’ when leaving each monthly meeting as they could have a good moan knowing it would go no further.

Sometimes, all we need is to get the opinions of others or to share a grievance. Having a second opinion from a trusted advisor can be priceless and we are pleased that we can offer that. This is just one of the reasons that I believe we are more than just a PR agency based in Yorkshire.

Skilled PR practitioners

There is still a misguided belief that if an agency is based in London, they will have better contacts than those in the North. I don’t agree with this at all.

We have really strong relationships with journalists up and down the country, as well as those that are based in Yorkshire. It would be untrue to say we know every contact we work with personally, but then we don’t have to.

The objective for Open Comms is to make sure that we provide relevant content that has been well written. In doing so, we can supply the journalists with what they need, knowing that in the future they will have greater trust in what we supply.

There is no point in sending across copy that is irrelevant or badly written. It would not send the right impression of us or our clients.

One thing that we are very good at, is engaging with broadcast and encouraging correspondents to come to us with any needs they may have. This has worked really well in recent years and has meant that we can work collaboratively so that the news teams get what they need and we increase the positive exposure for our clients. This is what should be expected of skilled practitioners and it is what our clients deserve.

Professionals within a wider business community

This doesn’t really have anything to do with PR at all, but it does support our reputation as a business.

Since we launched, we have worked with hundreds of companies. This has strengthened our network but also provided contacts with an agency they can call upon for advice.

Becoming a known and recognised member of the community has certainly paid dividends. Not only have we gained access to professionals we trust and would refer, we have also made friends and learnt a huge amount along the way.

It was important to us as a small business to have access to those with a range of different experiences. In turn, we have also found that we have contacts that will go out of their way to be supportive.

Recognising the value of a strong network has certainly given us confidence and strength during our most challenging times and that is invaluable.

A supportive workplace

Open Communications is a supportive workplace. Although we remain a small agency, we know that our team are close and that they get on.

Not everyone who works in our team has come from a PR background. In fact, most haven’t. What they bring to the agency is relevant experience, the right attitude and a willingness to get results for our clients.

In turn, they receive a supportive workplace with an open and relaxed culture. There are no hidden secrets to doing well at Open Comms. Work hard and you will be rewarded. It’s that’s simple and as a result many of our staff stay with us for years.

An agency that means business

As a straight-talking agency, what you see is what you get with Open Communications. We are a Yorkshire based PR agency that uses its experiences to support an increasing list of clients.

We have never shied away from hard work and we aren’t about to start now. With clients across the country, we make sure that every strategy we put in place is going to meet with objectives. This in turn means that our clients can see the value in PR and what it can deliver. It isn’t about coverage, it is about business success and supporting the bottom line.

When we founded Open Communications back in 2008, we had a choice about where we wanted to be based. It could have been anywhere, and we chose Yorkshire. It suited us and it has worked for our clients.

We’ve managed the PR and content strategies for companies throughout the UK and across the world. The furthest away was Australia and although that brought with it some challenges, we were able to put the processes in place to make it work. As a small agency with big ambition, we don’t let challenges get in our way. We learn from them and we find a solution to any problem.

If you want to work with a business that is more than a PR agency based in Yorkshire, then call Open Comms and we will arrange a chat.

WHY SUPPORTING COMPETITORS ISN’T AS CRAZY AS YOU THINK

Supporting competitors may not be as crazy as you think

In my experience, the PR industry has always been very competitive. During my time in agency, I have certainly faced my fair share of challenges. Far from letting this deter me, these situations just encouraged me to want to do the best job I could. Fast forward nearly 20 years and as a business owner, one of the greatest lessons I’ve learnt is that supporting competitors isn’t as crazy as you think.

Making friends

In all the agencies I worked at I was lucky enough to make friends. These people aren’t always those that I would tell my deepest and darkest secrets to, but they are colleagues that I value for their professional input.

Over the years, Emma and I weren’t the only people that chose to go it alone. Along the way many of my former team-mates have launched their own businesses. Despite being in direct competition, I quickly realised that supporting competitors isn’t as crazy as you think. In fact, it has very real benefits.

I have seen people who have taken the opposite approach and it never works.

In contrast, we have celebrated the success of others, passed on our best wishes and offered advice when asked. As a result, when these individuals or agencies have received a brief they cannot fulfil, we are often on the list of businesses they feel comfortable passing the information on to.

Influencing people

PR is very much about influence. This goes beyond client activity and can extend into the industry at large. Despite being vast, people in PR talk, a lot!

If, as a professional, you want that ‘chat’ to be positive, then you need to manage that. Providing the right context by behaving correctly is a good start.

I remember coming out of a pitch years ago and we were aware of a competitor that was also involved in the process. Several weeks later I received an email. It was from the same contact saying that they hoped if they didn’t win that we did.

This was a great lesson for me. I realised that in that one simple message I had a renewed respect for this person. They had taken the time to reach out and in doing so had given me greater confidence in our reputation amongst peers. It was further evidence that supporting competitors really does have its benefits.

Attracting the right attention

It is very difficult to hide in PR. Working with colleagues, journalists and brands everyday means that we communicate with a varied network of contacts. Each one of these people will make an assumption about us.

That can be an uncomfortable thought to process, but it doesn’t have to be.

If you want to attract the right attention, treat people the way you want to be treated. Let’s be honest, we all have bad days but managing them gets easier over time.

Recognising when our behaviour is impacting on others is a skill. It’s not easy to master and I’m still working on it, however I know that I have changed for the better over the years.

Taking this back to competitors, I had a meeting with a former colleague recently who has just launched as a freelance. The comment she made on leaving after coffee was that I hadn’t changed at all.

Far from being the case, I realised that what she meant as that I was still honest and willing to give my time to others. The truth is that in the ten years I hadn’t seen her I had changed a lot. I had just focused on addressing the things that held me back.

What I took from this exchange was that this person values my opinion and that means a great deal. Meeting for a coffee and sharing my experiences, warts and all, has helped her out. It was a win, win and further evidence of why supporting competitors isn’t as crazy as you think.

Living your values

We talk about values a lot at Open Comms. They are an important part of the business and the foundations from which we started nearly 12 years ago. A lot has changed in that time, not least the way the industry behaves.

When we started out, we made it clear we would be straight-talking. What you see is what you get, and we work hard for our clients. Delivering results was our focus and doing it the right way was the approach.

It worked and at a time when this was a relatively new concept.

Soon after our competitors started to use the same language. They do say that the biggest compliment is for people to copy or follow what you are doing. Whether this was the case or not, we were doing something right and it put us ahead of the curve.

What it also allowed us to do was to find other agencies that had the same values. Knowing that we were aligned in our approach meant we could confidently work with others. It also meant that we could extend our network and learn from other professionals.

Getting over yourself 

What I really love about Open Comms is that we don’t have a massive ego. We have achieved a great deal, but we don’t go around bragging or needlessly inflating our success. I have worked for agencies where the opposite would be closer to the truth.

When you work for big brands, it is often expected that you will work with other agencies. They may specialise in something different, but you will come together to share ideas. These are often referred to as inter-agency sessions.

We have been in many of these situations and in the most part they work really well. That is because we have learnt that in order to get the best out of groups like this you need to get over yourself. What I mean is that we aren’t scared to learn.

Competitors or otherwise, the people around the table have ideas, suggestions, knowledge and experience that we need. Without it, we wouldn’t be doing our best work for our clients. Coming together encourages thought, creativity, difference of opinion and discussion. In an industry where things change every single day, this can only be a good thing and we really do embrace it.

Leaving a lasting legacy

When we started Open Comms, we wanted to earn a living. It was really that simple. It was about delivering PR in the right way to make a difference for the brands we worked with. What we hadn’t expect was that 12 years on, we would have expanded and would represent some of the largest organisations in the country.

As an agency that generates 90 per cent of its new business through referral, we know that our reputation is one of our biggest assets. Although much of this comes from clients, I am sure that there is also a benefit to knowing other industry professionals.

Open Comms was never a carbon copy. It was unique from the day we launched. Over the years we have learnt a huge amount and if there is one lesson that I will continue to put into practice it is that supporting competitors isn’t as crazy as you think.

In fact, post lockdown, I am going to make contact with a number of former colleagues for no other reason than to have a coffee and a chat. Hopefully, others will do the same and we can create a community of professionals that inspire, encourage and share.

There’s nothing wrong with healthy competition, as long as it’s done in the right way.