Author: Lindsey Davies

STATING A BUSINESS IN A RECESSION: THE LESSONS WE LEARNT

Starting a business in a recession

When we launched Open Communications in 2008, there were lots of people ready and willing to impart their knowledge. Starting a business in a recession was a risk, but it wasn’t without consideration on our part. Although we could see the benefits, it seemed that those most eager to share their thoughts felt otherwise.

What many people didn’t realise is that this wasn’t the first time that Emma and I had worked together. We had in fact been friends for several years and worked for the same agency for around two of those.

Being friends before business partners meant we had shared our achievements and frustrations about work. This gave us a good insight into what each of us expected. With a very similar attitude to clients and a focus on results, it all seemed to slot into place.

Like anyone, we didn’t go into starting a PR agency with our eyes closed. A great deal of time and effort was spent discussing what could go wrong. At the same time, we considered all the benefits of starting a company together, regardless of a recession.

The truth was, for us both, it was now and never. And so, it was now!

Time for a change: a new approach

PR was very much about lunching and ‘shmoozing’ when we launched Open Communications. That wasn’t our way and we decided to do things differently. We set out with a very straight-forward message: what you see is what you get.

We let our clients know that if they wanted air kissing and champagne that we weren’t right. In contrast, if they wanted results, then we were available to sit down and discuss a plan.

This has stood us in good stead over the years. Nothing has changed. We still provide our clients with advice and recommendations that will deliver results. This remains our focus and is what gets us out of bed on a morning.

When we discussed this with our colleagues in the industry all those years ago, they thought we were taking a huge risk. As it happens, it was quite the opposite. Clients seem to really appreciate our honesty and transparency.

Being able to say that we have worked this way since day one gives brands extra confidence. It also sits within our values as an organisation, which is something we feel is very important.

Targeting clients with shared values

The first office we worked in was a ‘plug and play’ rental. It meant we could move in and start straight away. We had two laptops, two phones and a list of businesses that we wanted to target. Nothing more.

We decided we wouldn’t take clients from our previous agencies and set about contacting local brands. Within two weeks we had our first client and within three months we had won our first competitive pitch. The fact it happened to be HARIBO was a further benefit.

It quickly became apparent that as the ‘new kids on the block’ we were doing something right and out approach was resonating with businesses of all sizes.

Being able to research and identify those companies that had similar values and ways of working was refreshing. It meant that we could give our all to every organisation that chose us as their preferred PR partner.

This is still an important factor when we receive briefs through the door today.

Getting excited by results

There is no better feeling than getting excited by the results we achieve for our clients. When we launched, we were very specific about putting campaigns together that would meet with objectives. In our opinion, it’s the best way to showcase how PR can deliver a return on investment.

There were no lunches. No lavish gifts. It was about doing our job and doing it well. The recession meant that budgets were tight. It also gave us an opportunity to show what could be achieved without breaking the bank.

Thankfully, hard work does pay off when you work in our industry. As such, we have delivered some incredible campaigns for our clients. Large or small the brands we work with get the results they deserve.

For us, it isn’t about a stopwatch or how many press releases we send out. It’s about putting together strategies that work. Things change and evolve but fundamentally our attitude to achieving results never has.

Creating a network

I have to admit that when we started Open Comms I wasn’t thinking about our network. We had the support of our friends and family and that was enough for me. Over the years I have realised that extending the number of people you can rely on makes a huge difference.

When the business community hits tough times, it brings out the best and worst in people. Thankfully, it gave us the chance to connect with the individuals and companies that we could trust.

Over the years I would like to think that we have given back just as much as we have taken. Not only do we have suppliers that we recommend to others, we also have friends we can talk to. Equally, there are lots of people who come to us.

It would be unfair to say that everything runs smoothly when you have a business. It doesn’t. This is when these contacts are priceless. Just having the chance to chat openly about your frustrations can make a huge difference.

I am certainly very grateful for those within my network that I can now call friends, as well as business colleagues.

Building a business

Despite the recession, we took on our first employee within two years of opening our doors. It was another risk but one that was considered.

Creating jobs wasn’t something we had in the plan, but nearly twelve years on and we continue to extend our team. As we continue to win clients, we make sure that we have the resource we need. The last thing we would ever want to do is to let anyone down.

We have also given our colleagues the chance to work in an exciting industry where no two days are ever the same. It may not be for everyone, but if people come with the right attitude and ambition, PR can be a great career choice.

Looking back to move forward

Nearly 12 years on and I can’t believe how far we’ve come. I was always confident that Open Comms would be a success, I just didn’t think we would have been on such a rollercoaster ride.

There is no doubt what-so-ever in my mind that the relationship that Emma and I have is integral to what we have achieved. We may be very different in some respects, but when it comes to values, we couldn’t be similar.

Having someone that you can rely on and turn to through thick and thin is so important. Trust is a huge part of having a business and I’m so pleased that I got the chance to take this journey with one of my best friends.

No one knows what the future holds, but as we face another recession, we will do so with a positive attitude. It’s going to be tough; it will take resilience and hard work. That said, we’ve been here before, and we know that we have what it takes.

We will be rolling our sleeves up and making sure we continue to focus on what matters: getting results for the brands we work with.

What we learnt through launching in a recession

Going right back to the beginning of this blog, there are many lessons we have learnt from starting a business in a recession. For those that are thinking of doing the same, here’s a recap of our experiences.

  1. New approach: take this time as an opportunity to do things differently. There is no real value in the thought that ‘if it isn’t broken don’t fix it’. We would all be driving cars with square wheels if that were the case!
  2. Targeting clients: when you launch your own business, you have more autonomy to choose who you work with. Take the opportunity to be picky and to give your professional advice to those that will value it.  
  3. Getting excited by results: remember to celebrate success and to get excited by results. There are times when things will be tough, so make the most of the positives.
  4. Creating a network: having a network of trusted colleagues around you will make life so much easier. Being able to chat and to share the highs and the lows is invaluable when you work in a small business.
  5. Building a business: even if you plan to remain small, consider what would happen if you become more successful than you first thought. It’s a great position to be in but it comes with new choices. These can be hard and need consideration. Building a business isn’t easy. Think about all of the options before you open the doors.
  6. Looking back to move forwards: learning from your mistakes isn’t easy. Recognising you made them in the first place is a start! When you can look back to move forwards, you will be in a better and more resilient position for the future.

For more information about Open Comms and the founding directors, Emma Lupton and Lindsey Davies, please visit.

HOW PR FITS WITHIN THE PESO MODEL

How does PR fit into the PESO model

Many agencies will use the term PESO when describing the toolkit of tactics they use. This is similar in principle to the four P’s. Rather than product, price, promotion and place, PESO is paid, earned, social and owned. In this blog we want to look at how PR fits within the PESO model.

Far from being more jargon to add to a dictionary full of anacronyms, this breakdown is actually a great starting point for brands when planning campaigns.

Taking each tactic at a time and considering it in detail will give businesses the opportunity to look at where their priorities lie. Aligning this with objectives will give the foundations to a strategic plan that can be put into practice.

As a PR agency we are able to deliver everything within the PESO model. That said, there are certain tactics that rely more on our expertise than others. In the following chapters we will explain when PR can provide best value and return.

Paid for space 

Paid for coverage is advertising. This is typically not a tactic used by PR agencies. Although we do book advertising space for our clients and make recommendations about placements in general, it is not our specialism.

Media buying agencies are better placed to make recommendations and to provide the best costs. Paid for advertising is a push marketing principle. It is pushed to the audience and shares a carefully curated message that has been designed and delivered by the brand.

The most significant difference between paid for and editorial is that a third party has to agree to use the content you share. When there is no commercial transaction involved there is no guarantee.

Earned media coverage

For PR practitioners this is our bread and butter. Earned media is editorial coverage. It is both credible and delivers great value for brands. Securing consistent space within the right media will impact positively on any business.

It isn’t quite as simple as it sounds to secure coverage. Not only does a PR need to identify a story, they also need to curate that copy and make it compelling. Furthermore, they have to think about the reader, journalist and brand before distributing.

As mentioned, there is no guarantee with earned media. This is where third party, independent and unbiased verification comes into play. Given that a journalist has the authority to run a story or not, it is the job of the PR to make sure a story is relevant. The headline should be eye catching and the copy should have a strong news angle.

There are many tactics that PR’s use but providing good quality copy should always remain top of the list.

Social media 

Since sharing content online has become part of our daily routines, it has also become an obvious platform for brands to engage with audiences. Understanding each platform and its primary uses and targets is essential.

This is where PR comes in.

As an agency we manage messages, tone of voice, frequency of posts and monitoring of responses. Again, this takes time. It is not a simple case of logging on and posting a comment each day. Although this is possible, it will not deliver the results that a business would expect.

Social media has given everyone a voice and an opinion. Understanding that people have the right to express that and to manage responses carefully so as not to offend is crucial.

Although there are elements of paid within social media, it is used mostly by individuals who want to become part of a community. They want to engage with others that have similar interests. Sharing relevant content in the right places can be invaluable exposure for brands. In the same breath, infiltrating where you are not wanted will deliver the exact opposite.  

Owned content 

Blogs are common practice in today’s world. They haven’t been around forever, and the truth is that many sit dormant. This sends the wrong message to clients and prospective customers.

Owned content is the copy that you will share across a website or social channels. It belongs to a business and has been written with purpose. It may be to share the launch of a new product, to provide an update about a company or to simply impart knowledge and expertise.

Whatever the reason, as this sits within editorial, it fits within the job description of a PR professional.

Well curated copy that is credible and compelling will attract visitors to a site. It will also provide an opportunity to position individuals as thought leaders about a subject.

Forgetting to assign the time and commitment to owned content is a mistake. Brands don’t always see the value in sharing this insight as a business, but those that do will reap the rewards. Creating communities is the strongest response from owned content. This requires that regular and relevant copy is drafted and shared.

Having a balance of earned and owned content will give any company the profile that they deserve and a genuine return on investment.

Summary

On reflection, when we look at the PESO model, we can see that of the four topics just one would typically sit outside of the PR function. This is paid for advertising.

Using PESO as a tool to plan will give any organisation a good platform from which to create a strategy that meets with objectives. If you would like to work with a team that can deliver and will support you with this process, then please call a member of the team from Open Comms.

WHICH BUSINESSES GET BEST VALUE FROM PR

Get best value from PR

When asked which businesses get best value from PR, the simple answer is those that believe in the benefits of communication. Every organisation, whatever its size, needs to communicate with its audiences. These could be employees, stakeholders, customers or all the above.

As an agency, it is our job to meet with our clients and to recommend tactics that will help them to speak to each audience in a way that will resonate. The message will almost certainly remain the same, but the tone of voice and medium will differ.

PR is about earned and owned content. That is, coverage in newspapers and online, along with content that has been specifically created for that business and posted to a website or across social channels.

Both have benefits and that is why creating a PR strategy gives clarity and focus. When I first started in the industry, I was told it was like spinning plates. I much prefer now to think of it as a kaleidoscope. It’s a sequence of colours that when pulled together in the right way creates a picture that attracts and holds attention.

Believing PR will deliver a return on investment

Before appointing an agency or employing someone inhouse to deliver PR, a business must believe in its value. There are no guarantees when it comes to earned coverage. Copy will be drafted and sent to a publication and it is then up to the editorial team to decide if it will secure space or not.

Even if a journalist decides that content isn’t right for them on this occasion, the copy can be repurposed and posted onto a website or shared as a LinkedIn article. This then becomes owned coverage. It belongs to the organisation and has been shared as a news piece for this purpose.

If you are considering investing in PR for your business but you don’t really believe it will deliver, don’t bother. Any agency or professional can rationalise how and why PR works, however if you are already coming up with an argument to the opposite, it’s a waste of time.

PR does take time and commitment. It isn’t as easy as most people believe, and it requires a team approach. The businesses that get best value from PR are those that work with their agency and consider them an extension of the marketing function. It is not those that have a ‘we told you so’ attitude when things don’t go quite as well as we would have liked.

Making an investment to deliver a return

Like any other specialism, PR requires investment. It is a toolkit of tactics that continues to evolve as the way we communicate changes. Maintaining an understanding of this, while also remembering the value of traditional methods, is our job.

There is a lot to learn when you work in this industry and it is not for the faint hearted.

What we need from our clients is the willingness to invest consistently. This is what delivers the strongest results. A rolling programme of activity that can shift and change depending on what is happening in the sector and within the client’s business too.

PR is very adaptable and that is what makes it such an exciting industry to work in. It is also what gives us greater opportunity to achieve results and to enjoy long-term partnerships with the brands we support.

Practicing what you preach

When we work with a client to create a PR strategy, it always starts with objectives. We then build up a programme of activity around what the brand wants to achieve and identify some key performance indicators.

This means we have a plan and a set of measures in place to work against. At Open Comms we recommend six monthly reviews which give us the chance to come together and to review the performance of the strategy we have in place. This also allows us to share further recommendations to shift the focus if necessary.

What is important is that our clients’ practice what they preach. As such, we are very specific about setting realistic objectives and honest messaging. The last thing we want to do is to create a false impression of an organisation. It doesn’t help them or us. What we do want to see is an improved profile, increased share of voice for all the right reasons and a positive uplift in sales.

If we have a story to share, we make sure the facts are checked and the organisation is creating a personality that is authentic and that can resonate with the right audiences, in the right place and at the right time.

Building a brand

This comes with time. You achieve this overnight. It takes resource, investment, commitment and willingness to learn, adapt and change.

Having a PR programme in place will directly impact on how quickly a business is able to build a brand. The more you communicate with your audiences, the more they will know about you and the quicker they will decide whether to purchase your products and services or not. Engagement in the right places will give them numerous opportunities to hear about and from your business.

PR is about influence and that comes with education. Honestly, transparency and openness are all key ingredients to a successful programme that will deliver a return on investment. Starting out with the assumption that it can be used to manipulate, unfairly coerce or misguide is setting the brand up to fail.

There is an integrity that comes with PR and a responsibility of agencies and inhouse teams to meet with a code of conduct. Being aware of this from the outset is advisable.

Delivering an experience

Once a PR programme is in place and is delivering consistent results, it will be complemented by a customer experience. This gives a two phased approach to brand engagement. The customer will read about the business and its products and services. They will then make the decision to purchase. This is then complemented – or otherwise – by the shopper experience they have. If one doesn’t fit the other there is a problem.

This is why PR, marketing and sales teams work together. It ensures that a business gets best value from PR and what it can achieve. Aligning the products with the needs of the customer, based on feedback achieved through PR, is just one example.

Embarking on a journey  

We are often heard explaining that PR is a journey and not a destination. The goal remains to secure consistent results, but the end game is like finding a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. The goalposts are forever moving with PR and this must be appreciated if businesses want to get the best value from their investment.

Communicating in the right way with audiences will change an organisation for the better. The benefits will be apparent, and they will become more visible over time. Far from being a magic wand, PR relies on the use of tactics over a period of time. It requires a senior team or board to commit, believe and then achieve.

Those companies that are willing to give their all to a programme of activity are also the businesses that will get best value from PR.

Summary

Going right back to the start, when asked what businesses get best value from PR, it is those that:

  1. Believe in PR as a necessary specialism for business
  2. Are willing to invest in consistent brand communication
  3. Practice what they preach and create content that can be trusted
  4. Have a focus on building a brand over time
  5. Deliver an experience for staff, stakeholders and customers alike
  6. Are willing to embark on a journey that will evolve over time

For further information about how Open Comms approaches PR for its clients, please contact a member of the team. 

PUTTING CAUSE RELATED MARKETING INTO PRACTICE

Cause related marketing

Whether you believe that charity begins at home or that we should all be more mindful of the bigger picture, when it comes to giving, we all have an opinion.

Over the years it has become expected that brands will contribute to good causes. This could be a local charity or a very specific fund that has personal ramifications for those involved. At the same time, it has meant that businesses need to be more mindful of cause related marketing.

Since the launch of Open Comms back in 2008, we have supported many different organisations for the simple purpose of giving back.

Most of these are based within the Yorkshire region and we have chosen them as they are relevant to the business and our wider team. At the same time, we have also supported our clients to do the same. In some instances, this has meant setting a strategy which allows these companies to put cause related marketing into practice.

Finding a cause

How a business chooses a cause is the first step. It may be that there is a shortlist of initiatives and organisations that employees can choose from. The benefit to this being that a company gets the support of its colleagues.

Alternatively, there may be someone with a very personal reason for proposing an initiative and the company agrees for this to become the charity of the year.

Many organisations have a specific schedule in place when it comes to charitable donations. This means they can raise donations and offer support over a given timeframe. As well as creating focus, this provides a chance to review the partnerships.

Some third sector organisations have very structured programmes in place, whereas others are less formal. The best approach for all depends on what each brand wants to achieve as a result of the association.

What contribution to make

There are organisations that will donate a percentage of takings or associated resource from staff to their chosen cause.

We’ve noticed a shift over the years. Once upon a time, companies would give employees the chance to offer their services for free. Now, more than ever, a financial contribution or help with a specific project have become more beneficial.

Like many things in business, it goes back to setting objectives. Although giving to charity can create a warm buzz, it also needs to deliver a result. Working with the right charities means organisations can have a longer-lasting impact for that cause.

Communication surrounding cause related marketing

There is no doubt that when it is right, a partnership between a private company and charity should be communicated. Where this becomes a problem is when the shift is clearly more about promotion than genuine philanthropy.

Any organisation that wants to get involved in cause related marketing needs to do so for the right reasons. If making a real difference to the charity is what the activity is about then the PR will follow. Genuine and honest communication always delivers greater results than forced associations and stories.

Not only do journalists see through giving for the wrong reasons, but consumers do too. The last thing a business needs is to give to a charity and lose customers as a consequence.

This is why planning is so important, starting with choosing the right cause for all involved. The biggest mistake we see from brands is jumping on the band wagon. It is dangerous and often a knee-jerk reaction to something that has already run its course.

Being mindful of these pitfalls is a must when putting cause related marketing into practice.

Getting the messaging right

During the planning stages being specific about the messaging for each audience will help. This gives people a clear understanding of why a business is getting involved in cause related marketing. It will set out the rationale, objectives and what the company hopes to achieve at each stage. Also, whether the partnership is longer term or a one-off.

Providing a context for internal colleagues, stakeholders and customers will create focus for each.

It is likely the messaging will change slightly for each audience, but the objectives should remain the same. The tone will also need some consideration as it will change from more general comms that are shared. Often we find the tone is lighter when it comes to charitable giving and community based work.

Leveraging PR around cause related marketing

When we work with our clients, we create a strand of activity that focuses on community work and charitable giving. This sits very squarely within cause related marketing. It means that when the brands we work with are involved in a charitable activity, we ensure everyone involved gets the profile they deserve.

A number of years ago I met with a charity that explained they were struggling because businesses were scared to promote their associations. The feeling being that if they were to secure coverage then customers would think this was the only purpose behind their partnership.

We supported the charity with a document which they shared with all corporate partners. It made the point that many third sector companies struggle to put the resource in place that will generate regular PR. As such, they rely on associated coverage from partners.

Far from PR being a negative when it comes to charitable giving, it was a positive for all involved.

What goes around comes around

We’ve always felt that giving was the right thing to do. This will continue at Open Comms as it is one of the values of our business. As just two examples, we are a corporate partner of the Theatre Royal Wakefield and we donate to St Catherine’s in Wakefield each Christmas. We have even been known to take to the fields and to roll in mud for a good cause (picture attached from an event a number of years ago).

As well as knowing that we are doing our part, we make it our mission to encourage others to do the same.

If you are a business and you want to think about how you can give back, then give us a call. We can discuss what causes align with your brand and how you can leverage this to the benefit of all involved.

WRITING COPY WITH AUDIENCES IN MIND

Writing copy for an audience

For PR professionals, writing copy with audiences in mind is second nature. It is an everyday task and is a tactic that we use to work towards meeting with client objectives. However, when this becomes the responsibility of a business owner it can be a challenge too far.

When you launch a company, it is up to you to create a brand, develop a product and test a service. This level of control can make it difficult to change your mindset back to thinking about others and their needs first.

Understanding the audience

Writing copy isn’t just about updating a website or creating a newsletter. There needs to be a purpose and call to action. Knowing your audience will give helpful insight that can be used to shape content.

Prospective customers may want to better understand how to use a product. There are often hacks which share multiple uses of an item. This is common in the household cleaning market. For example, it may be a disinfectant which can be rubbed over radiators to become a subtle air freshener.

Thinking slightly differently about content and how useful it will be for the reader will provide focus. Mapping what you want to write and what you hope the audience will get out of it will also help. Consider three things that you want them to take away and set out sub-headings. This will provide structure and purpose.

Effective use of resource

The importance of writing copy with an audience in mind is important, particularly when you consider the lack of resource that most businesses have. Rather than doing something quickly, and therefore badly, time should be allocated to better communicating with audiences.

PR and marketing content should be a priority for every organisation, but this isn’t the case. Communications is mistakenly considered a ‘nice to have’.

Allocating the resource needed to write effective copy will mean the content shared is of a quality representative to the brand. No director would tell someone to put 50 per cent effort into anything and creating content is no different.

Giving people the right amount of time and the opportunity to produce work that they can be proud of will have a far more positive impact on a business.

Using the tools available

Some companies have an impressive website with well curated copy that is uploaded to a blog. They may also have white papers or resources available to download too. Although this content has real value to that business, they fail to share it beyond the site.

What this organisation could do is to share links across relevant social media channels. The copy could also be repurposed as an article for LinkedIn or as small snippets for Twitter and Instagram. Leaving it exclusively on the blog simply reduces the results that could be achieved.

Again, allocating time is essential if a business wants to use social media tools effectively. It is no good to post a link and consider that job done. It is important that these are then monitored and that any comments are captured and responded to.

What this additional effort will do is further showcase what can be achieved when PR becomes a priority.

Accepting things may need to change

Being flexible when it comes to PR is a must. Communications is often about test and measure and that may mean moving the goal posts or going back to the drawing board. It may be that the medium isn’t right or that the social media platform chosen isn’t working as well as expected.

The beauty with PR is that this can be done quickly and easily. Changing direction is not uncommon and can lead to far stronger results. In order for this to happen, those responsible need to accept that things change.

The best return on investment will come from a PR plan and content strategy that evolves over time.

Again, considering the needs of the audience at every stage is key. People mature and so too do brands. Amending the way that you communicate with audiences, and adapting to fit their needs, will encourage greater loyalty over a longer timeframe.

Sharing the results

As a forgotten relative, the results that are achieved through PR should be shared at the highest level. Including figures, audience reach, feedback and measures of success in board papers is just the start.

The metrics to any content strategy will develop over time. This will become apparent from what impact communications have on audiences. Being specific about objectives and campaign KPIs will help with this.

Going back to a call to action, it will become apparent whether people have changed behaviours or purchasing decisions as a result of the way a brand communicates. The results will allow that company to continue with the campaign or adapt to better meet with the objectives set.

Creating communities with purpose

Ultimately, the main reason we write copy for an audience is to encourage an action. We want those reading the content to do something with it. This may be changing opinion, educating them about a company or encouraging someone to purchase.

There are many reasons that directors can use PR to benefit their business. It all depends on the company, its strategy and what it hopes to achieve.

Those brands that get most from PR will be those that focus on creating communities with purpose. This delivers audiences that are far more than figures on a page. They become brand advocates, loyal purchasers and trusted shoppers.

Once a brand has a community in place, this can be used to collate feedback, measure success, trial new products and bolster the bottom line. I don’t know any business that would turn their back on that.

WHAT IS OPEN COMMUNICATIONS?

What is Open Communications

Open Communications is a PR agency based in Wakefield. The company was founded almost 12 years ago and was intended to fill a gap in the market. Back then, PR was very much about long lunches and up-selling. We wanted to provide clients with another option; an agency that would focus on results.

Values

Even before we officially launched, we knew that values would play a big part at Open Communications.

We sat down and thought long and hard about what really mattered to us. Thankfully, both founding directors have very similar ideas on what is important when running a business.

The principles of Open Communications were set in stone; to use passion and integrity to deliver outstanding results for our clients. Nothing has changed.

Transparency

As the name would suggest, we wanted to make it clear that we are honest and open. We don’t hide costs or make it our mission to increase budgets for the sake of it. We do our job and we do it well. Providing advice that will deliver results for our clients is what really matters to us.

If we don’t think an idea or concept is right, we will tell our clients. It’s not always comfortable but it’s the right thing to do.

It may be that we are a Yorkshire based PR agency and with that comes the ‘straight-talking’ part of what we do. Alternatively, it may just be that we feel this is how we would like to be treated and so put our own expectations into practice.

Relationships

We have worked with some of our clients for more than a decade. With that honour comes huge responsibility. Our clients share confidential information with us, and we don’t take that lightly or for granted.

Over the years we have shared the good times and the bad with the brands we work alongside. Like any company, we prefer it when things are positive, but that simply can’t be the case all the time. There are always going to be ups and downs and we are pleased that we are a trusted partner whatever the situation.

From the get-go, we made it clear we work with and not for our clients. Again, this principle remains today. It has meant we can offer genuine support to the companies that trust us as their preferred PR agency.

Growth

It was 2008 when we launched and the start of a recession. Regardless, we felt that what we had to offer would be of interest. We started with nothing more than a small office, two phones, two laptops and a list of local businesses.

Within a week we had our first client and within the first six months we had secured our first globally recognised brand. Since then we have added numerous companies to the list.

We decided from the outset that we wouldn’t work with competing businesses. Despite criticism, with people believing it would reduce our opportunities, this was a sound decision. It means that we can focus our attentions on meeting with the objectives of one client without any conflict of interest.

Taking this approach has resulted in more than 80 per cent of our new business coming directly from client referral to other businesses. This is a fact we are incredibly proud of.

Experience

Unfortunately, over the years, we have come across far too many businesses that have had a bad experience with PR. It’s not always possible to change people’s minds, but we try.

We would like to think that the organisations that have worked with us have seen what hard work can deliver. There is no guarantee with PR and that can be a hard pill to swallow. That said, if you work with an honest agency, it is often the case that over time you will get a return on investment.

The results we have secured have been impressive and we can hold our head up high with what we have achieved over the years. In fact, we never tire of sharing our results. It’s something we endorse both internally and with our clients.

Tactics

The PR industry has changed since 2008. Social media and digital communications have been a driving force behind this. As well as creating some challenge, this has given us the opportunity to extend our skills.

As well as traditional PR and earned coverage, we also work with owned media and social media channels. Creating compelling content has always been at the heart of what we do, we just have more mediums to choose from.

PR offers an exciting career opportunity for those who have the ambition and determination to achieve. It’s not easy but it’s also certainly not boring!

Future

No one has a crystal ball. Predicting the future is always fraught with danger. However, looking at what has been achieved over the years and the many incredible brands the agency has worked with, the team at Open Communications have a lot to be proud of.

With every new business win also comes new experiences. Each client requires a slightly different approach and the agency will push boundaries and use new and exciting ways to engage with audiences to meet with objectives.

Knowing that, as well as the brands we work with, there are so many companies that we have yet to meet is exciting. Whatever the future holds, we know that it will add to the roller coaster ride that we have enjoyed for more than a decade.

So, going back to the beginning; what is Open Communications? Put simply, what you see is what you get. We use passion, integrity and determination to achieve results that deliver against the objectives set by our clients.

If you would like further information, please call a member of the team www.opencomms.co.uk/

WHY PR BELONGS AROUND THE BOARDROOM TABLE

PR deserves a place around the boardroom table

When I first started my career, it was almost unheard of that PR would be represented around the boardroom table. Over the years I’m pleased that in the most part this has been addressed. In this blog, we explore why PR belongs around the boardroom table.

Reputation is the most important asset a company has at its disposal. It can be used to the advantage of an organisation or ignored to the detriment of that brand. The choice lies firmly with the business.

PR is the specialism that ties firmly into the management of that asset.

Establish

When a company launches, it is now common practice for a business to invest in PR. It may be for a one-off project or for a more sustained period. The latter will always deliver stronger results, but it isn’t always possible for every organisation to recognise this from the outset.

The idea behind establishing a brand is to communicate with an audience that will become receptive to its message. How a company chooses to do this is up to them. The approach can be different every time, but the objective remains the same; to educate prospective customers about a product or service.

When we think about how important this one piece of work is, we start to appreciate why these decisions need to be made by senior managers. We are relying on a team of experts to communicate effectively with the chosen audience and in turn evoke a response.

Customers are essential for business. You wouldn’t leave that level of responsibility with just anyone. There is a huge emphasis on trust. As such, the person leading this team needs a seat around the boardroom table.

Maintain

Once a brand has been established, it needs to be maintained. We cannot expect that communicating once with an audience will ever be good enough. In a world where there are marketing messages surrounding us all, we need to gain cut through.

Consistency is fundamental at this stage of the process. Having a clear plan that will give a brand the opportunity to share updates, news and further launches will keep an audience interested. As well as attracting new prospective customers, it’s also about building affinity and resonance with those that have purchased.

The journey with PR never ends. It may take slightly different directions however the idea is to take your customers with you. Brands that create real loyalty are those that do this the best. They are also the ones that recognise the value of PR and its role around the boardroom table.

Build

Brand building comes in many forms. It could be about retaining a fresh image and using current language in all communications. In this example, we are referring to PR and the use of a sustainable plan to build a brand over time.

Having a schedule of activity will allow any company to test an idea, measure the results and review. The beauty of PR is that it evolves over time. Any plan can change at the drop of a hat, so flexibility and being agile is key.

The hardest brands to work with are those that don’t really understand PR or what it is used for. It’s those that consider it to be a ‘nice to have’. Anything that is a nice to have is never going to be a priority and PR should be.

For businesses of all sizes, to manage your communications should be an objective. As well as using media relations and content to educate an audience, PR can also be used during a crisis. This is when companies see the immediate value. It shouldn’t come to that.

Establishing, maintaining and building a reputation 

Establishing, maintaining and building a reputation are all skills that will allow a business to become a success it deserves to be. Having the person or team responsible for that around the boardroom table makes perfect sense.

PR should be considered as important as finance. A company would never function without some knowledge of where the budgets are going. The same can be said for communications. If you are unaware of who is saying what about your business and to whom, perhaps you only have yourself to blame.

Give PR the place it deserves in your business and see how it benefits your bottom line.

THE REAL VALUE OF EARNED MEDIA

Earned media

When we ask what the real value of earned media is, we first need to clarify what it is. Keeping it simple, earned media is press coverage. This can be in the paper, on the radio or TV. It can be in print or online. Fundamentally, it is content that has been shared by a brand and used by a journalist.

This process is nothing new. In fact, it is often referred to as traditional PR. At Open Comms it is one of the tactics we use as part of the press office function we deliver for clients. We collate all necessary information, find an angle, draft a story and distribute.

Sounds simple but there’s a little more to it than that.  

Interestingly, over recent years, the value of earned content has been a topic for much discussion. There are many benefits to securing coverage and brands are recognising the positive impact this has on business.

Earned media is Editorial

It is important to make it clear, earned media is not advertising.

Earned media is editorial and that means that there is no cost to the journalist or brand to use the article you have supplied. When it comes to advertising a brand will pay for space. With earned media, it is up to the journalist to choose whether to use what has been supplied or not.

As such, with earned media, there is no guarantee of coverage.

Creating Credibility

With coverage comes a perceived credibility. The papers, outlets and platforms that we target are all of a quality that our clients would expect. We don’t send content to anyone and everyone. It’s about being more specific and finding the outlets that an audience will access.

Given that a journalist has to verify the copy and choose to use it, this adds further governance and value to the results.

Real Influence

I was reading 2019 Global Comms Report: ‘the Path to Progress’ by PRWeek and Cision. Within the findings was that 60 per cent of respondents to a survey globally felt that journalists have the most powerful voice of any influencer.

That’s big figures and big news for brands.

When you think about it, it makes perfect sense. Much of the information we form our opinions on is first shared by the media. This gives huge power and responsibility to news outlets. It also means that the headlines shared are capturing the attention of the readers and viewers every day.

There is no doubt that the media is a tool to be respected but also accessed. In turn, it isn’t difficult to see the real value in earned media.

Capitalising on Audience Reach

Although the circulations of newspapers may be declining that doesn’t necessarily mean they hold less value. Almost all titles will have a digital version and just like print, they share earned content too.

In fact, when a story is shared in print and online, the reach can be particularly impressive. In some instances, it can reach millions of readers.

Conversely, when you want to communicate with a niche audience, it’s better to speak to a thousand relevant readers than a million that are disengaged. In this instance, we would target a specialist trade media.

The opportunity being that earned media gives you the choice to engage with the most relevant outlets for your audiences.

Harnessing the Value of Earned Media

Many PR’s, ourselves included, would say that earned media is our bread and butter. That isn’t to underestimate its worth. As mentioned above, the results can have a massive impact on the performance of a business.

Just some of the benefits to earned media are as follows:

  • Raising the profile of a business
  • Launching a product
  • Securing share of voice where it matters most
  • Positioning a person or business as an industry expert
  • Gaining credibility as subject matter experts
  • Managing communications throughout a crisis

These are just a handful of the benefits to having a plan in place that will allow you to secure earned media coverage.

Gaining Access to Earned Media

In order to access earned media, and the benefits it will deliver, the first thing to do is to recognise the value in PR. It is, after all, the specialism that is most responsible for earned media. As such, a business should either hire an expert inhouse or work with an agency.

What you need is a plan which outlines the stories that you have to share. They must be relevant and right for each publication. Far too often, journalists will receive content that isn’t relevant or that has no news angle. Not only does this make their job harder, but ours too!

PR has a bad reputation for sharing irrelevant content that has one purpose; to promote a business. While this is often an objective, there as to be a real reason someone wants to read what a client has to say.

Go back to the beginning and question the relevance of each story you have to share. It’s then a case of identifying your target media, drafting the content, securing a good quality picture and distributing.  

As is often the case with PR, it all sounds very straight forward. The challenge comes when you realise there are thousands of brands doing the same. The quality of your content has to compete and secure space, which is often limited.

Calling on the Professionals

With decades of experience between us, we manage earned media for all of our clients. There isn’t a single brand we work with where this isn’t an objective. It is what we do.

If you would like to speak to us about how we would approach this for your business, please do give us a call.

MAKING BRAND MESSAGING ACCESSIBLE

Making brand messaging accessible

Open Communications is a PR agency based in Wakefield, West Yorkshire. Working with a range of businesses across a variety of sectors, it is our job to make their brand messaging accessible. This in turn ensures that we secure the results they deserve.

Every brief is different and therefore every approach requires our undivided attention.

The basic principles of PR are to increase the profile of a business and manage its reputation. Easier said than done. We work with a toolkit of tactics to deliver against the objectives that we are set.

Fundamentally, we make sure that our clients’ messaging is accessible to their audiences so they can secure sales and growth.

Where and when

When we receive a brief, we breakdown the objectives so that we can see where we need to communicate and when. This requires us to look at all of the different options that are available to us. This means we can make brand messaging as accessible as possible.

As mentioned, one-size-does-not-fit-all. That is why we handle each client exclusively. We don’t work with brands in competing sectors, so it isn’t as if we have models that can be rolled out. That being said, we do have nearly twelve years of proven results to call upon.

If we are to get the best return on investment for our clients, we need to think about where their audiences are accessing information. This could be a combination of outlets and news sources.

Online or in print

In a world where we are bombarded with content, it would no longer make sense to assume that any audience relies on one medium. Most people find that they have preferred sources and then those that are supplementary.

Some people like to read a newspaper while others rely on radio, TV or social media. This gives them the updates on what is going on in the world where it suits them best.

It is up to us to create a PR strategy that will allow our clients to share their messages across a range of outlets.

Achieving reach

The reason that we consider multiple communications channels is that this gives us the chance to reach the largest audience possible. This doesn’t mean that we expect every client to be mass market. It just means that we can share content and repurpose it so that it can be seen numerous times.

This gives as many people as possible the chance to read it . It also means those that see it have more opportunity to digest it. Furthermore, when a message is shared consistently, it allows a brand to educate an audience about their products and services.

Being specific

Although the purpose is to reach the largest audience, they still have to be relevant and right. In some cases, choosing a niche outlet with thousands of readers, visitors or followers will be far more useful than an outlet with millions.

The rationale behind this is that to communicate with those that resonate will have a stronger impact. So, the likelihood of a piece of content leading to an action is far more likely.

PR is used to share stories about a brand or business that give consumers the information they need to make informed decisions. Choosing the right combination of relevant outlets will enhance results and return on investment.

Complementary channels

Being specific about the audience, message and channel may be the perfect combination but ensuring these are complementary is also a factor. There is no point in targeting consumer media but then sharing the same messaging on business to business or trade channels.

The point is to make sure that the messages shared are done so in the right way. This requires thought about language and tone of voice. Although you may be sharing the same message, it will be done so differently across consumer and business to business mediums.

PR is like a complicated jigsaw or puzzle. Getting all of the elements right can be a struggle but once you get there the results will follow.

Frequency and consistency

Making messaging accessible isn’t as simple as people may first think. There are a number of elements to take into account. In addition to those shared above, the frequency and consistency of the communications needs to be agreed.

There is a fine balance between providing opportunity for the audience to see and share a message and creating brand fatigue. A PR strategy should take this into account; providing a clear timeline for when and where to communicate in order to reach the relevant audience is a good starting point.

For further help with how you can ensure your brand messages are accessible, call Open Communications on tel. 01924 862477 or email info@opencomms.co.uk

WHAT IS A CONTENT STRATEGY?

Creating a content strategy

As with many phrases that are industry specific, people often ask us what is a content strategy? The simple answer is that it is a plan which supports what information you will share, where and with whom.

There is a misconception that marketing and communication for a business is easy. You simply talk to the right people, at the right time and in the right place. Ok. In principle that is correct. In practice it takes a great deal more thought, time and effort than that.

Audience mapping

The first challenge is to define your audience groups. This can be more difficult than it initially appears. The reality being that once you are honest about who your customers are, the rest will follow.

Knowing who is purchasing your product or service is key. This doesn’t mean that this will be your audience forever. It is possible to have a captive audience, preferred target and aspirational community.

This is where PR can be really beneficial.

You see, nothing is fixed. The idea that you put together a plan and that it never changes would be absurd to anyone working in the specialism. Much of what we do is about test and measure. Even when you get the results you are looking for the strategy will need tweaking to make sure the plan evolves alongside the business.

Getting the messaging right

The next step in preparing a content strategy is getting the message right. Consistency is really important if what you want your communications to resonate with your audience. Keep it simple. Don’t overcomplicate what you are trying to say to sound intelligent.

This is one of the most common pitfalls with companies that want to engage with their prospects. The belief is that using big words and jargon-laden phrases will impress. The truth is that people don’t have the time to digest what you are trying to say.

Getting straight to the point and showcasing expertise in the examples you share will work far better than writing like you have swallowed a thesaurus.

Choosing the medium

We have more opportunity to communicate than ever before. As well as printed marketing materials and company websites, we also have newspapers, broadcast (TV and radio) and social media channels.

The trick is to identify what mediums your audience(s) will be most likely to access on a regular basis.

Putting your message in the right place is what makes PR so powerful. It allows you to speak directly to those that you hope will buy your product.

Going back to mapping, think very carefully about where to put your energies. Businesses can find PR overwhelming because there is so much to do. Breaking this down into bite-sized chunks and being honest about where your customers access information will make life simpler.

Timings  

Timing is critical when it comes to getting the best results from PR. If you have a product that you sell directly to consumers, then you may want to consider how soon you can make announcements about new products.

With some of the clients we work with, we are planning more than six months in advance. It seems inconceivable but in February we are planning for Halloween and Christmas. This is because consumer publications work so far in advance.

With business to business, it’s essential that you keep abreast of the wider media agenda. Even local events that are taking place could command space within a newspaper that may otherwise have been allocated to your story.

Think about what is happening, key dates throughout the year and the local and wider media agenda. Identify the times that would give you the best opportunities to share your message with the right people.

Don’t choose those that will be most popular. All you will do is make your job harder than it needs to be. Think about your angle, the news you want to share and then draft the content for that specific medium with your audience in mind.

Pulling the plan together

Once you have covered the above, it’s time to pull it all together. This is where you start to see a content strategy unfold.

There is no need to purchase expensive software or to find impressive charts. Use an excel document with relevant columns; audience, message, medium and timings throughout the year.

Once you have populated your spreadsheet, you can identify any gaps. This will give you the chance to think carefully about what you want to do in this space. It may be that greater thought needs to be given to this or that it is a longer-term objective.

The devil is in the detail

Content strategies will evolve quickly. You will see what your audience is most receptive to and you can do more of that. Equally, you will see what they choose to ignore, and the time spent on this can be redirected accordingly.

Make sure to review your content strategy regularly, then you know you have a document you can work from that will deliver results.

Alternatively, call an agency and get the professional help and support that you need. PR may not be a dark art, but it is an essential and business critical tool for those that want to succeed and expand.