Author: Lindsey Davies

The pen to paper challenge

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I guess that I’m a little strange when you consider today’s preference for computer screens, as I love to write and can often be seen with a fountain pen in hand. It’s just a quirk that I have had for many years now and was probably established when I was younger and had to do writing practice over the summer holidays.

My mum was very insistent when it came to the way that we write and spoke, she said that a lot could be interpreted from a person’s handwriting and the language they use. Fast forward a couple of decades and I have to agree and that’s why I was saddened to read that some schools are choosing to swap writing practice for typing classes.

I touch type and so can certainly see the benefit in both skills but I think that’s the point. People recognise that if you can type fast then you can be more efficient at work, whereas if you have neat hand writing… well, good for you.

It doesn’t attract the same praise and really it should. There is nothing worse than getting a prescription from the doctor that you can’t read or having a note left through the door and looking blankly at the scrawl in front of you hoping you can decipher a few letters to give you a fighting chance.

I’ve even been in a situation whereby I handed a note from a hospital to a doctor who refused to action the request based on the consultant’s hand writing. Seriously. It took me half an hour of begging (and a few tears) to get what I needed, all because she couldn’t be bothered to give the letter the attention it deserved. Grrr.

Berol Pens carried out a survey recently (great PR as a result) which found that a quarter of children cannot join their handwriting, 19% can’t write in a straight line, 17% can’t write a full sentence and 36% of teachers admit that standards are continuing to fall.

How worrying. What has the world come to where we don’t appreciate a basic skill? I appreciate there are modern technologies and that children will actually swipe a tablet before they pick up a pen but that doesn’t mean they will never have to.

I read a further article which focused on the emoji and that people rely increasingly on images and abbreviations to communicate rather than words. Not only is this lazy and in my opinion can often give the impression that you can’t be bothered with someone or be wildly misinterpreted.

Classic example, and this may be an urban myth, but there was a story circulating that a young boy had received a text from his mother which said: “Your great aunt just passed away. LOL”. Clearly the boy was baffled and asked what was funny about the passing of his relative. His mother, equally baffled, said nothing to which the boy had to explain that LOL is laugh out loud and NOT lots of love. #awkward.

This is just one of the reasons that I try wherever possible not to use abbreviations. That, and the confession that it’s like another language much of the time, and not one I speak!

I am a huge champion of the written word and one way I relax is to write poems. I have a small book that I grab when I’m feeling down or angry and I write. I typically churn out rhymes for no other purpose than it allows me to express my feelings and to share my thoughts with… well, me actually, but that isn’t the point.

Research has shown that writing allows people to be more expressive and creative and it actually develops skills that we would otherwise struggle with, such as cognitive processing of information and creating ideas to support projects.

I’ve never been very academic and find it very difficult to read something and take it in. I have to read it again and again before I really digest it and so I learnt to write things down and the process of copying it onto paper meant that I processed it far quicker.

I’m sure some people may think that this is silly but I would urge anyone struggling to try it. It’s simple and it works. Another example, my step-son was finding it almost impossible to learn his French. His teacher had told the class to listen to her words on a podcast and then repeat them. He was doing this over and over and he still couldn’t remember them – they weren’t going in.

He was upset and frustrated, so I suggested the writing down technique. He initially looked at me as if I had two heads (he was 15 at the time!) before finally coming to the end of his tether and giving it a go. And, guess what? It worked. He’s now at university and uses the same technique today when he struggles with something.

I am always surprised by how appalling some people’s hand writing is. I can’t claim that mine is much better if I’m honest but when given the time I do try. I think it’s something that we should all think about more and take some pride in.

I’ve decided that in my bid to champion the handwritten word – and to encourage others to possibly do the same – I am going to write a letter to one of my friends each month. In doing so I hope that two things will happen; it makes them smile to receive a letter through the post and secondly that they consider writing one back.

There are few things more exciting than receiving a letter through the post and I always really appreciate the effort that someone has gone to. It certainly beats an email or an update on messenger.

So, who’s with me? Why not take on the challenge? I’m going to call it the ‘Pen to paper’ project – a reminder that the time it takes to write and send a letter is worth the effort to make someone smile and to reinforce how much you care.

All I have to do now is find 12 friends!

Once upon a time, not too long ago…

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We love a good story here at Open Comms, there’s nothing like adding a bit of imagination to something that might appear at first to be bland and boring but end up being super exciting! As a gaggle of girls that write for a living, National Storytelling Week is always a hot topic in the office. 

After much discussion we decided we couldn’t let this annual occasion pass us by without at least trying to add our own little contribution – however insignificant. At Open Comms we like to get involved, so I thought we would share a short story…

Once upon a time, not so long ago, there were two friends. After years and years and years of working in big grey office blocks for other people, they decided that they wanted to do things differently and to turn the wacky world of PR on its head!

No more air kissing, no more lunches, no more fizzy pop – more exciting campaign ideas, working with clients rather than for them, getting excited by results, sharing success, getting the job done and doing it well… Oh, and most importantly, being open and honest.

Could it ever work? It was a new approach, people were used to doing things the same old way. It was a risk.

Talking to the exciting businesses based in Yorkshire it appeared that there were some companies that wanted to try out this new way of working. They didn’t really like the lunches or the regular increase in fees that they weren’t expecting. Who knew? 

Both ladies liked to write stories and to come up with super exciting and creative ways of sharing news, and so they launched Open Communications.

With just two small desks, two phone lines and a jar of coffee, they started to ring companies that had similar values and within no time at all they were working with some fantastic brands and businesses.

Fast forward just a few years, and then a few more, and with lots and lots of amazing results and too many fun-filled campaigns to fit into one short story, the two ladies are now five and they all enjoy the same things – working with great brands and businesses in Yorkshire.

The ladies are massive champions of the Wakefield district and they still like to do things exactly the same way they did way back when. They like to be honest and open, to be straight talking and to create relationships that last a long time – after all, no one likes falling out!

And so, the story is far from over. Open Comms continues to come up with campaigns that include anything from a giant Halloween door to a family picnic activation zone or the launch of a business that produces the most rail tickets in the country to a car headlamp that is the whitest on the market.

Every day is a new adventure at Open and that is what makes it so exciting. So, if you’re looking for an agency that doesn’t take itself too seriously and you want to be a part of the next chapter in this ongoing story, then give us a shout. The kettle is always on and when you work with Open its always story time.   

Bringing business together to talk ‘Leeds’

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Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending a mass brainstorm session which was hosted by Grant Thornton at the Royal Armouries in Leeds. The focus for the day was to bring people from the Yorkshire business community together to debate ‘How can we make Leeds a home where all sectors connect to create inclusive growth?’.

My first challenge when accepting this invitation was that we are a Wakefield based PR agency and we champion the district at every opportunity we get. What we have experienced over the years, on many occasions, is that Wakefield has a huge amount to offer but remains the forgotten relative to Leeds.

With a brief that focused so heavily on Leeds I had to question what value I could add and if I would become more of a hindrance than a help. In fact, I needn’t have worried. What was immediately enlightening on taking my seat in a room full of more than 300 people was that many of us felt the same.

The day was run to a tight schedule – with a countdown clock that actually turned red when your time was up. Despite being a little daunting, it kept us all focused and meant that we completed our tasks in the allocation we had been given.

Split into three sections we first had to use a process called Appreciative Inquiry (AI), which was first developed by David Cooperrider in the late 80’s at Case Western University.

The process is quite simple (which suits me!) it splits a task into four sections; appreciate, understand things worth valuing; the whole system, bringing a diverse group of people together to work on a challenge; task focused, be clear about what the objective is and assign individuals with the right strengths to the right part of the task accordingly and self-management, which gives people the chance to use dialogue and inquiry to reach an outcome.

In the first instance, we had to share stories about each other and what one thing we had done in the past that we were most proud of. This gave us a chance to get to know one another better but also to get animated about things that we wanted to share with a group of strangers.

It was an interesting way of finding out what really made people tick.

It became apparent that everyone around the table had different backgrounds, skills and experiences to share, which was really encouraging. We got to work, pipe-cleaners, pens and paints in hand.

In the second part of the session we had to dream… yes, dream.

Eyes closed – and feeling about as comfortable as a person with their eyes closed in a room full of 300 strangers – we got thinking. The swoony tones from our host made us think about what we would bring to Leeds to make it a better place to live, work and play.

Eyes open (thankfully) and we started to share our thoughts. There was a real positivity to the exercise, which somewhat surprised me as you usually get the odd moaner and groaner at these events, but our table was focused and ready to get to work.

The first decision we made was to change the Leeds to Yorkshire. We all agreed that as a collective, each part of Yorkshire had something different and exciting to offer that when accepted as a sum of the parts would create a region that simply couldn’t be bettered.

We considered each area in turn; Bradford, Wakefield, Halifax, Huddersfield, Kirklees, Doncaster, Calderdale… and so on. It was really encouraging to share the positives and to celebrate the many successes that already exist in the region, while then focusing on the next 10 years.

We were asked to present our ideas back and our table was chosen as just one to share our thoughts. Here’s the picture we created:

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The final session of the day asked us to share as many post-it notes as we could which would provide ideas of how we could meet with our objective, to make Leeds a home where all sectors can connect to create inclusive growth.

Some tables managed to come up with over 100 ideas! Our table was less productive but in fairness we were very much about quality as opposed to quantity. It was then up to us to decide which idea we wanted to share with the room.

Not easy when you’re challenging people’s ideas and contributions to the session but we got there in the end.

We had just one minute to stand on stage and let the world (ok, just the room but it felt like the world from up there!) know what we were proposing.

Throughout the day we kept coming back to one theme that is already synonymous with Yorkshire and its success, sport. And so, our big idea, our dream, our plan and our vision was *drum roll* to become a host city for the Olympics.

Before you snigger or scoff, this was about dreaming – not putting needless hurdles in place of ideas that were calling upon our creative juices to get everyone in the room excited over what could be. Plus, we had a fall-back option, we decided that to host the Commonwealth Games wouldn’t be a bad target should we not get the big one over the line.

I have to admit that the day was long and tough but definitely worthwhile. I met lots of new people and was surprised at how many I didn’t know. It was great to hear the suggestions and ideas of others and to play with smiley faces and coloured pens.

Well done to Grant Thornton for hosting an event that captured the hearts and minds of more than 300 people, it’s no easy task. It certainly got me thinking more about the little things that we can do to make a big difference in the region.  

Most importantly, I just can’t wait for the Olympics to come to Yorkshire.  

Open drives business forward with Ring appointment

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We are really pleased to announce that we are driving the business forward *pun intended* with our appointment as preferred PR partner for Ring, the leading lighting and vehicle accessories specialist to the aftermarket.

Following a competitive pitch, we secured the account to deliver year-round support for the business with the remit covering corporate, consumer and trade PR. In addition, we will work with the team at Ring to develop strategic campaigns to reinforce the profile of the company’s growing product portfolio.

Director of Open Comms, Lindsey Davies said: “The brief from Ring was something we quickly got to grips with. Having met the team, we recognised that they needed an agency that would be an extension to their team. Not only did we address the brief but also provided some creative recommendations that would push the boundaries beyond the more traditional approach taken by many in the market. Securing this account gives us a great start to the year.”

Marketing Manager for Ring, Henry Bisson said: “It was apparent from the first meeting that we were going to get along with Open and that was really important to us. The automotive sector can be more complex than people recognise and it can take some time to get used to the nuances involved but the agency is already making an impression and journalists we have worked with for years are accepting them as our PR division.”

We are really looking forward to getting to grips with a business that sits outside of the sectors that we already support including FMCG, food and drink, third sector, manufacturing and retail. We launched in 2008 and you can find us in Wakefield, West Yorkshire.

 

When 4-inches IS more than big enough!

There has been a bit of a ‘wobble’ within the media over recent days, with the findings of a report from the Women and Equalities Committee and the Petitions Committee announcing that women are regularly told to abide by discriminatory dress codes for work.  

This all follows a previous story about a young woman who was employed as a temp at a large professional services firm. On arriving at the job, she was told to change her smart black flats for 2-4 inch heels.

Ms Thorpe refused and was asked to leave the company unpaid. She subsequently launched a petition (they didn’t see that coming!) which encouraged over 150,000 signatures and achieved national headlines throughout the country in both print and across broadcast.

There are a few things I want to make clear here before we start:

1.       It is not ok to ask people to unbutton their shirts – ever

2.       It is not ok to ask people to wear shorter skirts – again, ever!

3.       If you have a dress code you must make it common knowledge before offering someone a position – it is not right to dismiss them afterwards

I have heard stories of PR agencies making people unbutton shirts before pitches and have seen pictures whereby teams (all women coincidentally) have been made to wear tight skirts and shirts in ‘corporate colours’, which by the way looked ridiculous!

The problem lies in the fact that these examples are extreme.

The issue here goes far beyond 4-inch heels or the press coverage that this story has generated. As is often the case, the truth behind the problem is dictated by the decisions that we make and the industries we choose to work in.

A doctor as an example has to wear scrubs. I’m sure that they don’t feel attractive in them and many would prefer to work in jeans and a t-shirt or perhaps even a dress and flats but that isn’t possible because it is permitted that they follow the rules of their employment for hygiene reasons.

You could – and I’m guessing you will – argue that an office is not a fair comparison and I agree BUT when you work in a professional environment there are certain expectations about dress code.

I would never put in place a dress code at Open Comms, it would go against everything we believe in, but I do expect that everyone in the team is a true representation of our brand and business – which isn’t ripped jeans and a t-shirt.

We don’t all dress in suits every day and on occasion we will come in wearing trousers and a top. There is absolutely no ‘rule’ in terms of footwear but again I wouldn’t expect anyone to turn up in trainers or wellington boots – the team use their judgement and know that they are representing Open when they are at work.

Within a half-page piece in the i newspaper, it said that the report findings had found “They heard repeatedly from women who said their feet would bleed and that they were in so much pain they were unable to walk properly or lead a normal life.”

Now, come on. I don’t know anyone at all that this has EVER happened to. I wear heels most days and I don’t suffer from feet that bleed or pain when I walk because I wear shoes that fit me properly, and I really don’t believe a 2-inch heel for most people would cause too many problems.  

I think the main point of the piece, which is eluded to but not spelt out, is that people want to wear what they choose – they don’t want to conform. I don’t agree at all with the extreme cases that are shared across the papers and to unbutton shirts and roll up skirts turns my stomach but there has to be some degree of making better judgements when you decide where to work.

As many of the jobs that are referenced are within the professional services you would expect that these people do in fact have choices and it is the responsibility of the employer to share any dress code during the recruitment process. It is then up to the candidate to decide if they abide by that or not.

We need to be really careful in these instances that we don’t get caught up in believing that looking smart and making an effort is to be criticised. I enjoy wearing dresses and heels to work, I like to feel smart and professional. When I wear jeans I’m usually at home and my mindset is completely different.

For me, putting on a dress, skirt or trouser suit takes me from Lin to Lindsey from Open Comms. I don’t think I’m alone in this thought and I hope that some common sense prevails over the coming weeks because quite frankly I don’t want to have to wear flats for fear of being demonised for choosing to wear 4-inch heels to work.

The extreme cases need to be dealt with but one size does not fit all. The impact that this report has on certain industries could be very damaging – and not for those wearing the heels!

How to make friends and influence business

I have always really enjoyed networking. Even though some people go cold at the very thought, the chance to meet new people always has me intrigued. It could be because I’m inherently nosy or that I’m simply sociable – perhaps a mix of the two – but either way it’s something I like to do.

Over the years we have been involved in a number of groups from the more formal that make you do business and pass leads, to those that encourage meeting people in order to build long-term relationships. Each of them has its benefits, depending on what you do, but the latter is very much my preference.

Formal Networking

What I find strange about formal networking is how forced it can be. You sit in a room, you deliver your ‘elevator speech’ and you listen intently while others tell you week in and week out what they do. Not only is it dull but it has people shaking in their high heels or flats*

It always surprised me that people didn’t grasp the basic concept; don’t be clever, keep it simple, say what you do, add an example and repeat… it’s not a test.

Having more fun  

I’m still not sure of the value of repetitive explanations to the same group of people when you could use that time to arrange a coffee with someone you are genuinely interested in. Better still, if you do your research you actually spend your time listening to music that you enjoy while meeting with others over a beer or a glass of wine.

Honestly, it’s not a joke, there is an event called Suits and Vinyl that is really picking up pace. It’s a fairly recent addition to the ‘corporate’ calendar but for businesses based in or around Wakefield it’s a real must. For more details visit:  https://www.linkedin.com/groups/4581132/profile

Working in Yorkshire

Yorkshire has so many interesting businesses doing some great things. All you need to do is pick up a copy of the Yorkshire Post, there are always an array of stories about the companies, large and small, that reside in the county.

From multi-million pound corporations to smaller businesses, each has a unique story to tell and their own network to share. You see, this is one thing that I did get from the more formal networking; when you meet people, you should see beyond that person and think more about their wider connections.

Now, I need to make it clear here, I do not meet people for who they may know, but there have been occasions where genuinely enjoying the company of people in a network has subsequently led to me meeting others of a similar mindset.

A group that means business  

Take the Yorkshire Mafia as an example. We have been involved with the organisation from the start and what it has produced has been staggering; Buy Yorkshire, the largest business-to-business conference in the North; Leeds Business Week, a week-long celebration of business in Leeds and regular drinks events to bring people together throughout the county.

If that wasn’t enough, there are further plans for the future but one thing is for sure, the Yorkshire Mafia has changed the way that people meet, learn and share in the region.

Whether you agree or otherwise with the Yorkshire Mafia brand – I personally think it was a great idea – what they have achieved is to champion Yorkshire as a region for getting things done and that’s what I really like about those that are involved.

I’ve made some connections and some good friends through the YM and I think this is what’s important when you network. It takes time, effort and, on occasion, you simply won’t be in the mood. It’s far easier to go to an event with people who are on your wave-length than those that sap you of all energy – we’ve all been there!

At YM events I like the fact I can walk in and there will be a friendly face. It’s really that simple. I like working with these people. They are well connected, many of them have been through similar achievements and challenges and they are all willing to give honest advice and even take time out of their day to help you if you ask.

This to me is real ‘networking’.

Making friends

When we think more literally about it, networking is just making friends for grown-ups. When you were little you didn’t care where someone came from, what their mum or dad did for a living or what they aspired to be when they were older but what naturally happens is you attract similar people. You typically become friends with people like you.

Meeting people in business is the same. I find that the groups that work best for me are those that have similar characters in them; work hard but remember to laugh. It’s so easy to walk into an event and be accosted by someone who has checked you out beforehand, seen your client list and made a point of introducing themselves.

The conversation usually starts like this “Hello, my name is (insert name), I’ve heard about you. I think we should get together for coffee, there is definitely some synergy between our businesses”. What that person actually means is, I have seen your client list and want their details. *Groan*

My mission moving forward

After too many years of visiting group sessions, I have decided to make it my mission to meet more often with those people that I have real respect for and who I enjoy spending time with. I’m still going to attend events that will give me the chance to meet with new people – it would be silly not to – but for the most part, I’m going to concentrate on the connections I already have and being more involved with the groups that I trust.

I think that others could benefit from doing the same. Rather than attending 4 breakfast meetings a month, 5 lunches and an evening meal, why not pick fewer events you want to go to because they might be fun? I’m guessing that you will be more relaxed, find it easier to be yourself and as such make stronger immediate connections than you will ever achieve from your elevator pitch.

I am going to put my theory to practice and will update with the results. Taking your own advice can difficult but I think 2017 is a year for making small changes that will have a big impact. I’ll keep you posted.

*subtle reference to today’s headlines about workwear for those who missed it – pfft, don’t know why I bother! 

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.

What you really achieve during a 16-hour working day

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It seems to have become a bit of a trend over recent years, where people make a point of letting you know just how many hours they have worked. It’s no longer considered acceptable to get into the office at 9am and work to 5.30pm, if you don’t work until your mind is whirring and your eyes are burning you simply aren’t committed.

I have to admit that before the Christmas break I had got into the habit of coming into the office at 7.30am and working through to around 6pm every day, thinking that this was reflective of my desire to do a good job for my clients. WRONG!

Most of my clients were still in bed, and although I do still get into the office earlier than my contracted 9am start, it is for the right reasons – usually to read the news and to prioritise my tasks for the day ahead.

While reading the i today I came across a really interesting article written by Katie Law, which further reinforced my fear that working longer hours doesn’t necessarily make you more productive. In fact, quite the opposite.

The piece, titled ‘How to do a full day’s work in only four hours’ (no surprises for why it caught my attention) places the emphasis on efficiency as opposed to the hours that we spend doing stuff. The main message, which was taken from Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, a 52-year old former Silicon Valley consultant and lifestyle expert, was that most people can only focus for four hours each day.

If that’ the case, why are we trying to drag this out to eight or more and commending people for it? Basically, we are rewarding inefficiency or at least giving someone who should be recruiting the kudos to believe they are super-human.

In order to be as effective as you can be, the idea is that you work to your limits and that we try to change the mindset that we have all created; longer and longer hours translates to commitment and results.

What started as a desire to do well suddenly manifests itself as a route to ill-health, tiredness, inefficiency and resentment.

But, here’s the good news, there are ways to change. The tips from the article are as follows:

1.       Four hours focus

Focus on tasks and don’t be distracted by emails, voicemails or unnecessary meetings.  Interestingly, it suggests Smartphones should be turned off at least two-nights a week.

2.       Curse of the open-plan office

We have an open plan office, and whereas it definitely has its benefits, the article makes a good point – it’s a honey pot of distractions. The recommendation is to use headphones to cancel out the noise and chatter or go back to individual offices *gasp*.

3.       Break-out areas are bad

Although breaks are confirmed as being a good thing, the idea of having a break-out area doesn’t serve its purpose. Rather than giving people the time to refocus, the article says that all they do is keep people in the office for longer.

4.       Keep meetings short

Pang says that meetings should never be longer than 40 minutes and any devices should be banned! I could marry this man. One thing that irks me above all others is people taking phones or laptops into meetings. It’s rude. As far as I’m concerned, we should go into a meeting, get to the point, create a plan, assign actions and get on with it. Perfect.

5.       Routine is critical

Probably my favourite of them all, and not easily achieved in PR, but routine keeps the mind focused and allows someone to be more organised. Needless to say, this means that you also use your time more wisely.

6.       Take a nap

I love this idea but it’s totally impractical. Apparently, companies including Google have nap pods and encourage employees to take 20-minute shut-eye every six hours. Bonkers, but hey, you can’t fault a multi-million corporation for trying something different. I’m all for a bit of disruption – in fact, I might go for a lie down. Zzzzzzz…

7.       Stop working mid-sentence

Finally, neuroscientists have found that when people stop working on something knowing that they will go back to it, their subconscious keeps processing it. As such, the idea is to embrace this and ‘zone out’. Let your mind do the work for you.

Although I don’t agree with all of the points made by Pang, I am going to try and put more routine into the way I work and to stop believing that working 16-hour days makes me a better and more productive person.

The truth is that no one will thank me, least of all the husband that I never see.

The subjective terror of humour in advertising

Humour is a tricky business when you work in marketing, not only is it very subjective but it is often easier to offend than it is to raise a smile. The challenge is that humour sells, but whether your particular preference is innuendo or something a little more subtle, you have to strike the right balance for your preferred target audience.

A recent example of a brand that I think have got it spot on is Maltesers with their ‘Look on the light side’ campaign. Not the obvious brand to push boundaries but what they have done is two-fold; use humour to encourage word of mouth and also champion disability, to celebrate inclusiveness and challenge perception.

Not something that you expect, but the way in which this series of TV adverts – and most recently the first ever braille only billboard – is nothing but superb. The subject of disability is handled sensitively and without the usual patronising undertones.

The TV adverts feature a series of people with a range of disabilities who share their unfortunate stories with friends. Everything from spasms to driving a wheelchair over the foot of a bride! What is really impressive is that rather than leaving you cringing, as you may have expected, they somehow bridge a gap and have you laughing out loud (I just can’t bring myself to write LOL).

What surprised me was that when the adverts were first launched – brilliantly timed to coincide with the Paralympics – people wanted to laugh but were unsure if it was ‘correct to do so’. The first advert shows a young woman explaining her most recent sexual experience with her new boyfriend and the fact that he benefits from her unfortunately timed spasm. Brilliant!

The way that the advert brings together human interest and humour makes for fantastic storytelling.

Hats off to Maltesers. I think the Paralympics this year really did showcase some exceptional talent and the Games were just as exciting as the Olympics. I also think The Last Leg is one of the most hilarious shows on TV and what these small steps continue to do is allow us all think differently and to celebrate each other for what we can do, as opposed to what we can’t.

My final thoughts, #Isitok to use humour and disability as the foundations to a marketing campaign – yes, when it’s done well.

Make sure spending a penny doesn’t make you an ar*e

Whilst browsing a local news site yesterday evening I came across a story which caught my attention. It was about the owner of a book store in Hawes, who has found himself in hot water – and headline news – for being a little less than friendly to his customers.

Wracking up an almost impressive 20 complaints in the last four years about his rudeness – in one instance referring to a customer as a ‘pain in the arse’ – Steve Bloom has got more than he bargained for. Not only is he considered rude but he brings new meaning to the phrase ‘spend a penny’ as he asks for a 50p donation for people to browse his store.

His excuse for being rude is that ‘he’s not really a people person’, but it does beg the question why he chooses to have a customer facing business. The donation on the other hand is apparently to make sure that his shoppers are ‘serious’. Book reading has suddenly become an extreme sport!

He resides in an area known for its attraction to hundreds of thousands of visitors a year, which are absolutely essential to the economic sustainability of the region, so again, to not be wholeheartedly welcoming is somewhat missing the point.

However… there’s always a but… and I feel quite sorry for this fella and I’ll explain why. For those who don’t know Hawes, it is a beautiful town in the North Yorkshire Dales and as well as being famed for its views, it is also the home to businesses such as The Wensleydale Creamery.

Coming from the Dales I am hugely biased and find it difficult to hear negative stories, however deserved, about the area and particularly the people and businesses based there. What did make me smile was that living in this area is like no other. People are ‘real’ and they say it as it is. There are no ‘airs and graces’ and everyone is on a level playing field, usually up to their knees in sheep muck.

There was many a time when we first arrived back in the Dales and I was astounded at how abrupt people were, only to realise that actually it’s just the way it is and you either like it or quite frankly leave.

People don’t always mean offence, they are just unwilling to change their ways to suit yours.

There has to be a little give and take. Clearly, not everyone is the same, and I suspect this man has made a bit of a nuisance of himself with the local parish council but is it the end of the world and should it be attracting national headlines?

The people in the Dales are honest, hardworking and typically friendly. They would do you a good turn before a bad and I am guessing some neighbours have been round to make sure that Mr Bloom, with his lovely flowery name, is doing ok following his rocket to fame.

We discussed this in the office and weren’t absolutely sure if this story wasn’t a PR stunt – albeit a good one. There must be an opportunity to find the grumpiest – yet most loved – shop owner in the country as a result. Someone that would make Mr Bloom smell like a sweet bouquet of fresh cut roses.

The outcome of the article in many media was a statement from Hawes Parish Council Chairman, John Blackie who said: “He is doing a disservice to the other traders, to the reputation of the town, which is very much a friendly town. We welcome people to come and visit us.”

The irony is that I would put 50p on the fact that this particularly book store owner is going to become somewhat of a local celebrity and tourists will be flocking to hand over their hard-earned coinage to take a serious nosy around his shop.

Not only will this benefit his business but also those around it. As they say, there is no such thing as bad publicity and I have to admit, I’ve considered suggesting a ride out on Saturday myself.