Author: Lindsey Davies

On Your Doorstep

I’m a big music fan – always have been and always will be.  The first artist I went to go see was Bryan Adams, when I was still in junior school, and since then the acts have ranged from Sugababes, right through to Slipknot.  I’ve always been happy to travel to gigs and festivals (or at least persuaded my mum to drive me all the way to Scotland so I could go to T in the Park) but it never fails to amaze me how many great local bands and venues there are.

Putting aside Leeds festival, which attracts tens of thousands of people across the UK, there are other great smaller events within Yorkshire.  In particular, The Crown of Lights festival is a two day event (one in July, the other in September) held in a small green in the middle of Heckmondwike.  The festivals are free and family friendly, and are always a great laugh.  Alongside these summer events, monthly acoustic nights and band nights are held at the Comrades club, where again they aim to showcase the best of local talent for free.  The Crown Of Lights festivals and band/acoustic nights are run by two of the most dedicated music lovers I know, who campaign tirelessly to get great local acts to perform at accessible music events which people can attend for free.

Leeds hosts some great music venues for smaller bands, such as the Brudnell Social Club, as well as managing to attract some larger names at the 02 Academy, The Cockpit and The Refectory.  With the intended opening of Leeds Arena in 2012, this should hopefully put West Yorkshire even more on the map for great music.

As well as seeing bigger artists, I love supporting unsigned bands.  Sunday night for me was spent watching Further From The Truth, my favourite local band (admittedly, those who know me might view that as a slightly biased opinion…) supporting American rock act Taking Dawn at The Cockpit.  There are few things in life that make me happier than seeing a relatively unknown band being able to warm up a crowd and start to get a dedicated following.

It’s the same with businesses in Yorkshire.  There are so many great companies out there, achieving great things.  Open Comms work with local suppliers and enjoy networking with Yorkshire’s finest business men and women.  It’s brilliant to see companies go from strength to strength and develop in such a fantastic region.

So, whether you’re looking for an agency to work with for your business, or simply want to go see an amazing band out of office hours, my point remains the same.  Before getting the train to London, or saving your pennies for Glastonbury, look on your doorstep – Yorkshire has a lot to offer.

The art of crime – a fine (but clean) line

I came across a story in the Yorkshire Evening Post recently, which reported that Leeds County Council has decided to launch a full investigation into a previous agreement to allow a reverse graffiti campaign to take place in the city throughout 2011.

Not only was the agreement basically allowing a company to clean the streets for the Council but also to share in any revenues generated as a result – nice you may think but oh no. Apparently the agreement wasn’t discussed with the environmental officer at the council – erm, is it just me?

Reverse graffiti, despite the name (which should really have been thought about), is the art of cleaning pavements or walls to create an image, message or advert. How can that be negative? As long as the messaging or image is agreed beforehand it seems to make perfect sense.

So in a nut shell rather than spraying or painting something on to the walls, the artist cleans from them. It’s only temporary (until the pavements or walls become grubby again) and the council’s gripe is the environmental association – surely it can’t be faulted.

Personally I think we should be giving out branded water bottles to the ‘youths of today’ and a scrubbing brush – let’s see what they can come up with. I’d much rather see artistic flair and talents than grubby walls.

The devil wears… Primarni

Now unlike most people I didn’t enjoy the film The Devil Wears Prada, but then after more than a decade in the PR industry I think I can be forgiven as, let’s face it, sometimes a storyline can be a little too close for comfort.

However thinking about it recently I realised just how much the industry has changed. There was a time when, I think it’s fair to say, you were expected to wear ‘this seasons’ fashions and to shop at any one of a number of leading high street retailers – but made sure you chose the top end.

So it came as a pleasant surprise recently when at a marketing industry networking meeting I overheard one woman ask another where her dress was from, only to receive the reply ‘Matalan – and it was a bargain!’ I wasn’t sure what reaction she would receive but again was slightly taken a back to hear a conversation ensue about the benefits to shopping in discount stores.

It would seem that people prefer to watch their wallets now-a-days, irrelevant of the industry they work in, and are opting to pick up what purchases they can from discounters before accessorising with higher end items, and why not? I think it’s a great idea and with the high street stores watching and matching fashion lines so closely it makes perfect sense.

So what about the retailers? Open Communications is responsible for the PR for The Ridings Shopping Centre in Wakefield and there have been lots of comments about what will happen when Trinity Walk opens, which is scheduled in the next few months.

Interestingly Shopping Centre Manager, Barbara Winston, is calm about it and believes that increased footfall to the city will mean better business for all and that actually the two sites complement each other with a Debenhams and Next to go hand in hand with Primark and TK Maxx, plus others. From what I’ve seen and experienced she’s absolutely right.

There must be some truth in the fact that people are migrating from top end stores to the bargain basements or why was the term Primarni ever created? For those who don’t know, when something is purchased from Primark it is often now referred to as Primarni in a bid to make it sounds a little more impressive.

We have also seamlessly integrated a random selection of names into our everyday lives without even realising – George, Florence and Fred are certainly a common reference within the Davies household.

It’s no secret that I have never really fit in to the expected mould that is a ‘PR girl’ but if this is the future then count me in. This season you will find me in the aisles of Primark, Matalan and TK Maxx bagging some bargains.

Two gaffs in two visits for the Obama’s – DOH

Finding President Obama in the headlines is no surprise but when his wife makes national news for ‘touching’ the Queen it leads you to question what is going on? The fuss started during a visit in April 2009 when Michelle Obama seemingly half hugged the Queen.

So we have been waiting with bated breath for this forthcoming visit to see if Mrs Obama ‘did it again’ or if greater guidance in relation to royal etiquette has been passed on to spare her blushes.

It would seem our attentions should have been on her husband, none other than President Obama. During a formal dinner yesterday evening the President was seen to raise a toast and speak through the National Anthem. Not a good start.

Although I find the press coverage relating to this particular incident a little over the top it does make you think about the way you approach people and the manner in which you address them.

As an example, at Open Communications we wouldn’t greet a client with ‘Alright mate, how’s it going?’ and in the same vain we wouldn’t shower our clients in ‘air kisses’,  it’s just not how we want to work and certainly not how we want to present ourselves as a business.

However similarly to the Obama’s (yet on a far smaller scale) we meet and deal with so many different clients and suppliers who work in a range of industries from shopping to law, retail to training, there are obviously preferred ways of communicating with each and every individual that you have to learn.

More seriously than that, there are things that we need to know when working with international companies, again referring to etiquette. Something very innocent from one nation could be deemed particularly rude by another.

It’s not so much correct protocol but effective communications. If you want to be received well you should take the time to understand a market, know how they prefer to be communicated with and when it is likely to be best received. You don’t just presume that one size fits all and you can use a mass communication to target everyone – it won’t work.

It would seem that despite two strikes in two visits the Queen chose not to respond to the ‘gaff’ yesterday evening and instead managed to hide a smile – perhaps she was just relieved that for once it would be someone other than Prince Philip hitting the headlines for all the wrong reasons during a state visit.

Food glorious food

I was in the unfortunate position to have to spend four days in hospital recently and as I had never been on that side of the bed, having only ever visited sick relatives and friends, I was surprised when a nurse cam e round to ‘take my order for lunch’.

The menu was relatively diverse with around four or five options, including a starter, main and desert. I wasn’t expecting this having heard all the horror stories about food in hospitals and was a little apprehensive when my meal did arrive.

It wasn’t restaurant quality but then I didn’t expect it to be with hundreds of hungry mouths to feed. During my time in St James’ and then Leeds General Infirmary I couldn’t fault the food at all. Some days were better than others but that was down to my personal taste. The tea and biscuits at regular intervals during the day, which were brought round to my bed, also helped.

I notice in the news today that Mark Sparrow, a gentleman who had to spend ten weeks in hospital, has written a blog about the food he was served. As a result, the blog has encouraged a documentary to be produced for Channel 4. I really do hope that this piece is subjective and balanced.

Personally I would much rather that my money was used to ensure that the specialist doctors, nurses and health care staff were available to make me better – not feed me Michelin starred food. Let’s be honest, no one enjoys going to hospital and the idea is to get in, fixed and out in as little time as possible, not to behave like a food critic.

I’m not sure how helpful it is that these reports focus entirely on the negative. The NHS isn’t perfect but then we do far better than a lot of others and after my stint on the inside I take my hat off to those who work so hard to try their best and as far as I’m concerned that’s all that anyone can ask for.

Shakespearian Gnomes

Last week I went to see Gnomeo and Juliet, one of the latest 3D family films, and I loved it. The film is based on Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” and is set in two neighbouring gardens to a soundtrack of Elton John’s greatest hits.

A mad combination I know, but it really worked! There are many reasons to love this film, from the mixture of adult and child humour, to the fantastic cast (including Emily Blunt, Hulk Hogan and Jason Statham) but the reason I wanted to mention it is because it’s a great example of how the craziest of ideas can often lead to a fantastic product.

On paper, mixing Shakespeare, gnomes and Elton John makes no sense at all; it’s a random combination without any obvious target audience. But the end result is a feel-good film that works on different levels and makes the audience laugh. How often do you have an idea but immediately dismiss it because it seems a bit too “out there”? And now think about how many leading entrepreneurs credit their success to thinking about things in a different way to most people.

Now I’m not saying all mad ideas will pay off, and some people are very wary of new combinations (my friends at university never could get their heads around my pea pizzas or chicken soup on baked potato specialities) but when you have that spark of inspiration that fills a gap in the market, it’s worth properly considering it before worrying that your peers will think you’ve finally gone and lost the plot.

Call Me

My mum was talking to me recently about the problem of organising an activity with a large group of friends when they all use different ways of communicating.

When you have one friend who will only use the house phone, another who likes texting but doesn’t check their e-mails, one who loves e-mails but hasn’t got the hang of Facebook yet, do you have to tailor each message to the various ways in which people receive information?

A large majority of us now use smartphones, and will probably have short cuts to e-mail, Twitter and Facebook all on the home page.  It’s great to have so many different communication tools at, literally, the touch of a button, yet it still doesn’t solve the annoying issue of having to use different formats to simply arrange a coffee with some friends.

I thought about how glad I was that it’s simpler in the business world; a good old fashioned phone call and a follow-up e-mail seem to be pretty standard, yet even this is changing.  With LinkedIn created specifically for business networking, and Twitter becoming an increasingly popular way of finding new business opportunities, do people now check these inboxes on a regular basis for updates?

I would guess that some people still believe it is good business etiquette to make a phone call first or a formal e-mail, yet some of us would probably find it perfectly acceptable to receive a Tweet as a business introduction.  Is there a line to be drawn here?  Do we still need a set of certain rules when it comes to communicating with clients and suppliers, or are you considered a Luddite if you don’t embrace the latest development in communications?   Personally, my Facebook page is purely for socialising with friends, whereas my Twitter account is used for both friends and businesses, so although I’d welcome a ‘tweet introduction’, I would be put off by a person trying to talk to me about business through Facebook.

Communication tools change rapidly (we used to giggle in disbelief at school when we’d get a Loveheart pack of sweets that said “Fax me”) and it seems unlikely that we’ll get to a point any time soon where we all use the same way of communicating.  For now then I’ll just have to keep texting/e-mailing/phoning/Facebook-ing (new verb) people about that cup of coffee…