Author: Lindsey Davies

USING LINKEDIN TO BENEFIT BUSINESS

Using LinkedIn to benefit business

I have been a fan of LinkedIn for some time now and use it to benefit our business. I like that it is for business and that this target audience has remained consistent. There is no ambiguity or trying to be all things to all people, it is a platform to communicate with professionals. 

It’s fair to say that the functionality hasn’t always been the best. Some of the updates have been infuriating at best and damn right irritating at worst. However, it has remained a space to share, discuss and debate.

As a business owner, I find LinkedIn is a community of people that I can trust. Given that you have to accept a request to connect, I can take ownership of those I want to converse with. As each person has a profile with a biog, I can have further confidence they are the right contacts for me.

Using LinkedIn to benefit business

I was once in a meeting with a client and suggested they update their LinkedIn profile. They were a little hesitant at first, but after explaining that they could connect with people they wanted to reach more easily, they agreed.

After a few updates, an appropriate picture and some keywords we were done. It took around half an hour. Before the end of the meeting, the client had six new contacts and a meeting in the diary.

LinkedIn isn’t difficult to use. It takes time and that is where most people lose interest. They don’t see the value in spending hours scrolling through content or uploading posts.

The truth is, you don’t have to.

Set aside half an hour each day to review the content your contacts have shared and when it’s appropriate to do so, share your own updates. It may be a link to an article you found interesting or some good news about your business.

Keeping it simple

As with most social platforms, keeping it simple will give others the time to read and digest your updates. It’s then up to them whether they then share, like or scroll on from that post.

Adding imagery will always attract more interest, so a good picture is certainly worthwhile.

We often come across companies that don’t feel they have the right content to share on LinkedIn. In this instance, I always suggest looking at the personalities in the business. There are often characters that have a story to share in an organisation, but too often they remain behind closed doors.

LinkedIn is a perfect platform to provide an insight into those that keep the operation going; whether it be the cleaner, driver, machine operator, finance director or MD. Everyone has something to offer.

Shared interests  

One of the easiest ways to find people with shared interests is to look in groups. These are sub-communities that have been set up. You can scroll through and find those that are most relevant.

In my case, it is often those specific to PR or to communications. I am also involved with the Yorkshire Mafia too. A group that was set up by a client some years ago and now has more than 23,000 members.

With groups you know that the people you are engaging with, and the topics they are likely to discuss, will be of interest. If they aren’t, simply leave the group and find another that you feel is better equipped with content that you can read and share.

Creating credible copy

One of the functions of LinkedIn is the ability to share articles from a personal account. As a writer, I find this really valuable. For me, this is an opportunity to share my knowledge and experience. It gives people the confidence to know that I have delivered results for my clients and I know what I’m talking about.

The beauty of articles is also that you can see how many people have engaged with that piece of content. This then allows you to extend your audience reach. If someone shares an article or tags another contact into it, then it will be seen by their contacts too.

I once wrote an article about being a business in Wakefield. It took me around half an hour to write and reached hundreds of people. It also gave my connections an insight into the reasons we chose the city as the location for our company and by association, any local companies were reminded we were there.

Attracting talent

Company pages on LinkedIn are a great way to attract talent. This is one of the reasons that recruiters spend so much money with the platform. It is a great way to identify those that are at the top of their game.

Professionals that use LinkedIn well are also those that will attract attention from companies. As a business, we use LinkedIn to identify potential candidates for roles that we have. It makes sense. Irrelevant of how long you have been in the industry, keeping your online CV up to date is essential.

When I worked for other agencies, I was approached on numerous occasions thanks to my LinkedIn profile. Now it’s more about extending my community online, but the same theory applies. Keeping my experience and content up to date means people know more about me before sending an invite to connect.

Don’t be dismissive

Creating a LinkedIn profile is just the start. Keeping it up to date is what matters most. Don’t create an account for it to become dormant. It will do you more harm than good.

Set aside some time that is dedicated to your communications. It’s easier said than done I know, but it is important. Friday afternoons are often an opportunity for people to review their online profile and to share an update.

However, or whenever you choose to review and update the important point is that you do it. No excuses and no assumption that it doesn’t really matter. Communications are business critical. This is a chance to showcase your skills and experience to the world. That isn’t something to be dismissive about.

Relevance

Remember, LinkedIn is for business. There are the odd occasions that this line is blurred, however best practice is to keep personal off this platform.

To make updates more manageable, have LinkedIn at the back of your mind. As well as sharing links to news updates, think differently about the stories you hear in the office. If it is relevant and appropriate, then spend five minutes putting together a short post to share with a picture.

You will be surprised at the engagement you get from office-based posts. These are often the updates that receive most likes or shares. The reason being that they provide an insight behind closed doors and they add personality.

People are intrigued by business. They probably know what products you sell, and they could go to the website for further info’, but who is involved is a different matter. Some of our clients do this very well and have huge success from sharing short stories from staff.

Test and measure

As I said at the start of this post, I am a huge advocate of LinkedIn. I always recommend to my clients that they update their profile and that they use company pages where it is appropriate and will add value.

If you are hesitant, then test and measure. The benefits of social channels are that they are cost effective. There is no cash investment required to set up a basic LinkedIn page – professional or company.

As such, it is worth setting up a profile and seeing who you can connect with. I think you might be pleasantly surprised.

WHAT I LOVE MOST ABOUT WORKING IN PR

What I love most about working in PR

Since earlier this year, I have had a lot of time to think about what I love most about working in PR. I’m not entering a mid-life crisis, although I am quickly approaching 40. My husband and I have adopted a baby.

This life-changing moment in our lives has given us both the chance to look back, as well as forward. During these last few months, I’ve been reassessing my priorities. Although family have always come first, I really appreciate the importance of work to me now too.

I thought it might be useful to share more about what I love most after more than two decades in the industry.

 

Variety

The first thing I love about PR is that no two days are ever the same. I’m not the kind of person that manages well with monotony or jobs that come with rigorous and defined process. What I enjoy is the variety of clients, objectives and tactics that we get to work with every day.

It could be a campaign to launch a new snack or a crisis that has the potential to bring a business to its knees. PR is a specialism with many benefits and that means we need to be on our toes. It’s not a job that you can plan for and know what’s going to happen each day.

There is always a list of things that you know will need completing, but there’s also the unexpected tasks that invariably impact on our working week too.

We have the pleasure of managing accounts for a huge array of clients and that supports variety. They all need something different and that makes PR really exciting.

 

Challenge

I wouldn’t say that PR is for the faint-hearted. It never stops. Never sleeps. Cannot be ignored. Putting you head in the sand when you work in PR is not an option.

Managing the press office for a number of clients is a challenge in itself. After all, how many people can say they are trusted with a brands reputation? It is arguably the biggest asset an organisation has.

Add campaigns, crisis, marketing materials and social media posts to the mix and you have a complex balance to manage every week. An old director of mine once said PR is like spinning plates, and I agree. Making sure they don’t fall certainly keeps the blood pumping.

 

Meeting people

It helps to be sociable when you work in PR. It isn’t a prerequisite; however, it does make life easier.

With colleagues, clients and journalists to work with, you need to be able to get on with others. That’s even before you consider influencers, partners, suppliers and brand buddies.

The positive to this is that you get to meet some really interesting people. As well as famous celebrities, I’ve met individuals that have had a profound impact on my life. Those that have taught me life lessons I will never forget. In addition, I’ve made some life-long friends.

I don’t think that is something that you should discard or take for granted. A career in PR will create experiences like few others and that’s another reason I love it.

 

A sense of achievement

In my opinion, it’s time to look for a new job when you stop getting excited by the results you can achieve in PR. Securing coverage, attracting an audience, featuring on broadcast, creating campaigns that get people talking. It’s all part of the mix.

I love that feeling of butterflies when you know something has gone well and you get the chance to share your achievements with clients and colleagues.

It’s not about showing off. It is about being proud of what you have achieved and knowing that you’ve done a good job. There are few better feelings.

 

Shared success

At Open Comms we have clients that have trusted us for years. As such, we have shared in their success. The reward that comes from this can be quite overwhelming. Whether it’s a charity that has changed beyond recognition or a brand that launched and is now a multi-million-pound business. Each client we work with gets our full attention.

Knowing that your efforts and hard graft has delivered for a business is genuinely fulfilling. PR is a specialism that can change opinion. It can influence decision. Grab attention. Provide a brand with purpose.

All of these things make it an incredibly powerful tool and that is a further example of what I love most about working in PR.

WHAT KIND OF BUSINESSES BENEFIT FROM PR?

What businesses benefit from PR

When we ask the question ‘what kind of businesses benefit from PR?’, we are making certain assumptions that organisations fit neatly into boxes.

It is presumed that those most likely to benefit will sell products direct to consumers or have huge budgets to invest. The good news is that neither of these are strictly true.

Companies or all sizes and sectors can benefit from PR. They could be business to consumer, business to business or third sector. The trick is to make sure that the strategy behind the schedule of activity and tactics chosen will deliver against objectives.

Setting objectives

We’ve said it before, and we will say it again; businesses must set clear objectives if they are to secure the return on investment they expect from PR. Without targets in place, agencies have nothing to compare results against. There is no benchmark of good or bad, success or failure.

Any organisation that is going to spend the time and money required to implement an effective PR strategy should start with what they want to achieve. Irrelevant of sector or target audience, there needs to be some clarity when it comes to what constitutes an outcome to be celebrated.

Sector specific

It is true that some sectors have embraced PR with open arms, seeing the benefits that it delivers. Take FMCG (fast moving consumer goods). Many brands within this marketplace will implement a PR strategy from launch. They will also benefit from the results that this delivers long beyond.

The argument is that these businesses have a captive audience and often a mass market to communicate with. Perhaps this is the case, however they have also recognised the benefits that can be achieved through PR. This is the first step to setting strong foundations for any brand.

In contrast, consider manufacturing. This is huge and varied industry. Whatever the company is making, in my experience too many businesses are missing out by believing that PR will add no value.

Far too frequently, I hear people say that their audience wouldn’t be interested or that their products are too niche.

This is where PR is underestimated. As a specialism that is used to communicate, it can also be used to target many different audiences. This may be internal colleagues, stakeholders, investors, board members or future talent.

Remembering to communicate effectively with those that matter to a business most should never be over-looked.

When it doesn’t work

We work across a range of sectors from retail to print, confectionery to third sector. We have always said that if we couldn’t deliver for a business, we would let them know. There is no point in taking on a brief that isn’t going to work. Worst still, taking someone’s money knowing you will deliver no results.

In eleven years, I can count on one hand the number of times we have had to have this conversation. It isn’t because PR wouldn’t work, but because the approach or tactics the client wanted to use didn’t fit with our recommendations.

There are so many different tactics you can choose when you work in PR. As well as being a blessing this can be a challenge. It is our job to use those that will deliver a consistent return but there are occasions when a brand will want to do things their way.

All we can do is offer honest advice and that’s what we do.

Getting the tactics right

With a toolkit of tactics, we are in a very fortunate position to be able to curate a campaign that is specific to each client. There is no one-size-fits-all in PR. We have to think long and hard about what we can do to make the brands we work with stand out from the crowd.

Thanks to experience, we are able to do this. We work with our clients to make sure they get the very best value – and consistent results – from the campaigns and year-round programmes we deliver.

It may be a press office, which ensures these brands are featured regularly in the news. It could be shared content that reiterates expertise and builds trust. It might be social media posts that engage with a specific audience and build a community. Or, all of the above and more!

Relying on experts will make life easier and results quicker. There is always an element of test and measure with PR. Knowing you can change approach at any time limits risk, which is a further benefit to PR.

Making the most of what you have

PR is one of the most cost-effective marketing tools there is. That isn’t to say it is ‘cheap’ or easy. The truth is that it takes time, and time is money. However, when you get it right the results will have a positive impact on your business and its bottom line.

Building profile, securing coverage, increasing online presence, managing a crisis, preparing for a product launch, consistently communicating with customers – these all fit under the umbrella of PR.

As a business, when I look at where we will invest, I consider the impact that product or service will deliver. Should other companies do the same when it comes to PR, I am sure that many more brands would be benefitting. Whatever sector, I am confident that most organisations would benefit from PR.

It is a specialism that should be taken as seriously as finance. PR is still about managing the reputation of a brand and business. Arguably, the most valuable asset of any organisation. If ever there was a more significant reason to consider PR, this has to be it.

For further information about how we work with businesses of all sizes to deliver against their objectives please contact Open Communications on tel. 01924 862477.

WHAT A BRAND CAN EXPECT FROM PR

What a brand can expect from PR

The most common question we get asked, is what a brand can expect from PR? It isn’t quite that simple to answer, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some obvious returns. As long as the brief is specific, the objective clear and the budgets available, then you should expect results.

PR isn’t simply about drafting copy and getting it in the paper. It is one tactic, yet not the sum of the whole. When you invest in a PR practitioner or an agency you should set specific objectives. You need to be absolutely clear about what you want to achieve.

Far too often, a company will say that they need PR with no explanation as to why? Knowing what you want as an outcome gives those working on a project or year-round strategy some focus and direction.

Consistent message

PR allows you to share a consistent message, with multiple audiences, across a range of platforms. Depending on how your targets are most likely to find information, a PR will ensure your products feature in that space.

It may be drafting regular press releases that are shared with the media. It may be uploading content to a blog. Sharing engaging updates across social media channels. Providing access to a monthly podcast. Whatever the tactic that is chosen, the focus should always be on sharing a consistent message.

As well as becoming synonymous with a brand, it will mean that this information can be used to educate your audience. They will better understand your products and over time, your business too.

Tone of voice

Deciding on a tone of voice can be a challenge for brands. It can be difficult for someone to think about their business as they would a person. What would it sound like? If you met your product in the pub, what language would it use? How would it choose to interact with others?

Some will think this is a silly ‘game’ and not worth the effort. The reality is that when you see the results from brands that have got it right, it suddenly becomes very worthwhile.

Thinking about the words that you would and would not use. The technical terms and jargon. The approach of being friendly or factual. Considering how a business will come across should not be underestimated.

The best part about getting the tone right, is that once it is there, it will become second nature. It will also appeal to an audience that can resonate with your message. This is incredibly powerful.

Recognition

Again, this is just one tactic, however awards can bring great credibility. They are also an opportunity to celebrate and to claim the recognition you deserve. Too often, companies think of awards as ‘blowing their own trumpet.

In contrast, they are an opportunity for team building and extending thanks to colleagues. I have never in my career had a client be disappointed at winning an award. Not winning, of course. The truth being that if you don’t enter the outcome is only going one way!

The trick is to find the awards that will raise your profile in the right places. They should be delivered by reputable organisations and come with some credibility. Many of these awards have been running for years and are hosted by media companies. They have a phased process of entry, shortlist and event. These are the types of awards we consider for our clients.

If you get a call from an organisation to say you have won something, yet you didn’t enter, think long and hard before you accept. Chances are you will have to pay, and I would question whether the outcome is worth the investment.

Personality

PR gives a business the chance to add some personality. Again, this can be overlooked. People don’t want to buy from faceless brands. They want to better understand those behind the business and what makes them tick.

Adding a back story is always a good idea. It allows an audience to feel that they are more than a purchaser. Overtime, the objective should be to build a community of like-minded followers. Once this is the case, you then have a captive audience to engage with.

It isn’t about sell, sell, sell. Adding some personality to an organisation is a great way to detract from this. We were responsible for some personal posts for Myers Group and they really got to the heart of the business.

The stories that each individual had to share – including the MD’s – were honest and funny! A great combination when this content was shared on the website and across social posts. Not only did they attract attention, but also encouraged engagement.

An audience

Without an audience there will be no sales. Without sales, there is no business!

Identifying targets can be tricky. It isn’t always as simple as to suggest one size that fits all. This is why a mapping exercise will help.

Once you do have your audiences, you can start to communicate with them using PR in a way that will be most receptive.

This is where the beauty of PR really does come out in all its glory. Like many marketing disciplines, PR uses an element of trial and error. This is why we have a toolkit of tactics to choose from. It’s a blessing rather than a curse.

The way we work is to put in place a strategy that will evolve over time. What we ask of our clients is that they are willing to be flexible and to attempt new things. Even those that may make them feel a little uncomfortable. We wouldn’t make recommendations if we didn’t feel they would work.

Results

If you are working with the right practitioner or agency, then you will start to see results. The profile of your business will increase. People will start to chat to you about the latest news they have read. Business associates will comment, like and share your content. Associates will start to follow your social media channels. You will have the chance to celebrate awards with colleagues.

What a brand can expect from PR, depends entirely on its objectives. The greatest benefit being that PR can be so many different things, to so many different people. There is however one thing for certain, a return on investment should be a given!

WHY WOULD YOU WANT TO WORK IN PR?

Why would you want to work in PR

It’s a fair question. PR is challenging. You never get chance to switch off. As part of the day job, you must manage multiple relationships. It’s about working to other people’s deadlines. There is a constant feeling of being accountable for your own actions, and sometimes those of others. So, why would you want to work in PR?

We work in an industry that is constantly changing and that makes it exciting and unpredictable. It also means that we need to keep abreast of any new tactics that could benefit our clients. This puts us in a position where we are constantly learning.

For those that like to push themselves, PR is a perfect career path. It isn’t for the faint-hearted. Unless you have worked in the industry, it’s somewhat of an enigma. The assumption is you write copy and send it to a journalist, but the reality couldn’t be more different.

The traits of a PR professional

Becoming an exceptional PR professional takes time and experience. I don’t believe you can ever stop learning and so, as a practitioner and business owner, I make it my mission to read, listen and digest.

Working in PR for more than two decades has changed me. I have had to adapt my style, consider my approach and ‘give my head a shake’ on many an occasion. Although I was as eager as the next graduate when I started my career, I can now see I was naïve and inexperienced.

I now appreciate that taking a step back, however urgent a deadline, will almost always benefit the outcome. Attention to detail is essential and sloppiness unforgiveable. Having the ability to communicate with a person as they prefer is a skill. Listening is as important as sharing your thoughts.

When we look for PR professionals to join Open Comms we don’t have a carbon copy that we replicate. There is no one size here. We know that to provide our clients with the best results, we need a team that has a variety of personalities and experiences.

The common denominator for us is that people work hard and that they have shared values; to do a job and to do it well.

Where the PR industry is heading

The future is an interesting path. It’s not one that we can predict with any certainty. This year of all others has shown us that. We hear a lot that digital communications will continue to dominate our lives and that this will be how consumers access information.

The way that I see it, rather than predict how an industry will change, we focus too much on a single medium. When we look at the reality, PR is more about the message, it’s content and timings. The medium is the vehicle, the PR is whatever it is you need to deliver.

The future for PR, as I predict it, will continue to focus more on the story, whatever the medium.

Storytelling is becoming increasingly important as people want to learn about the personalities behind the brands they purchase from. Being better equipped to make informed choices is an expectation, not an exception.

With the more mindful shopper comes the need to share. The challenge arrives when businesses are expected to put pen to paper. Messages need to be concise,  copy compelling and sharing consistent. The tone needs to be reflective of the brand and the approach honest. Furthermore, at every step, the communication that is being shared needs to resonate with the audience.

It’s not always as simple as it seems.

Appreciating the complexities

PR isn’t a game. It isn’t ‘fannying around with press releases’ or drinking fizz at events. Nor is it freebies, new outfits, fast cars and lunches. And, it isn’t easy.

The landscape changes every day; mediums change, trends change, tactics that will work for clients change. Every. Single. Day.

Our specialism is one that fits within the wider marketing mix. It is a skill and requires professionals to deliver if they want to achieve results for clients. Anyone coming into the industry thinking it will be an easy ride is in for a rude awakening.

Working across sectors and with business to business, business to consumer and third sector organisations keeps us busy. At Open Comms we appreciate that every single brief, from every single client, is different.

This means we have to deliver our very best all of the time. We can’t take one model and apply it to the next company. It doesn’t work like that.

The benefits are that we get to create year-round plans and campaigns that have real impact. We work to objectives and then share the results. This means we can share in the success of each brand we work with.

That feeling is invaluable.

Consistent, compelling content will deliver results

There is so much more to PR than meets the eye. We cover so many different skills from event planning to activation, creative development to crisis management. No two days are ever the same.

The one consistent in our industry comes back to copy. If we want to deliver results for our clients’ we need to use copy to meet with objectives. Creating consistent, compelling content that can be shared across platforms needs to be our bread and butter. The thing that we deliver better than all others.

The message should build, the creative support and the overall outcome be excellent results.

Storytelling, finding angles and articulating the message in the right way, using the right medium, at the right time is PR.

It is exciting, quick-paced and fun.

Getting to the heart of a story and sharing it with passion and enthusiasm is a skill. Seeing copy in print, whether online or in print, is a real achievement. Watching campaigns gain momentum is exciting. Sharing this journey and the subsequent success it brings to business is what makes our industry so appealing and a great career option.

Trying it out for size

When I started my training in PR, we were told to find some experience.

We would be expected to give up ‘our time’ to gain experience from agencies. Not only did it give us the opportunity to put the theory to practice, we could see PR in action. This was a real turning point for me and made me realise this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

For others starting out, my advice would be to do the same. Be eager, aware, assertive, willing to approach businesses, to ask for experience and be willing to work. If you have what it takes, I can guarantee that PR will be a career that keeps on giving.

For anyone interested in learning more please do call a member of the team at Open Comms.

COUNTING THE COST OF PR VERSUS THE VALUE IT DELIVERS

Counting the cost of PR

During my career I have often thought about how businesses count the cost of PR without really understanding its value.

While browsing my social media channels last week, I came across a post that had been shared far and wide. It really resonated with me, and those I am connected with too. It reads:

“If I do a job in 30 minutes, it’s because I spent 10 years learning how to do that in 30 minutes. You owe me for the years, not the minutes.”

Having worked in the PR industry for more than 20 years, I appreciate the sentiment behind the words. For me, my training started when I was at college. I then did a four-year degree before securing my first full time position.

So, in total, my academic training was at least six years. That said, you never stop learning in PR, so it would be fair to suggest it is actually upwards of two decades.

PR is an investment

As a professional, it can be a challenge to explain to people that PR is an investment. Of course, any business will consider the cost, but they should also appreciate the value.

PR is about managing the reputation of a brand and business. Arguably, the biggest asset of any company. Without a reputation you have nothing. Putting the right amount of time, effort and budget behind it is essential.

Getting the balance right will ensure that companies get the results they are looking for.

Return on investment

Every organisation wants a return on investment. Having launched Open Communications more than 11 years ago, I understand this whole-heartedly. PR should be no different. Ensuring you choose an agency that is transparent, honest and open is half the battle.

Despite having the endorsement of some of the largest brands in the world, PR is still an unknown for some. In the most part, business owners know that they need it, but they can’t always see the true value.

This leaves PR as a forgotten relative. It becomes a ‘nice to have’ rather than the business-critical specialism it is.

In order to get best value from PR you need to provide a detailed brief. This gives clarity to the agency and gives you the chance to think carefully about the objectives you would like to achieve. These can then become KPIs to measure against.

Being honest about budgets

Providing a budget is really important.

Some people worry that providing a budget means an agency will charge that fee. Perhaps that will be the case, but they will also provide a rationale for the cost. It will allow them to provide realistic recommendations to meet with objectives.

Having no indication of the investment a business is willing to make just wastes time. It leaves an agency second guessing and that rarely works out well. It may mean the costs are too high or that the ideas are too safe. Either way, if a budget is given then everyone knows what they are working with.

We’ve always been very honest with our clients. We go above and beyond, treating our clients’ money as if it was our own. This is a value that has become reflective of Open Comms and synonymous with our approach.

This is one of the main reasons our clients’ work with us for years. They know what to expect and that they never need to challenge our honesty and transparency.

It’s about the years and not the hours

Going back to the main point. When working with an agency it really is about the years and not the hours. The hours are what you pay for. But the experience of a team is where the value lies.

At Open Comms we have a team of experts that have worked with some of the largest brands in the country. We have earnt our stripes and we love what we do. The assumption that PR is easy and that anyone can do it is misguided. The reality is very different.

It may be right that anyone can put pen to paper, however that isn’t PR. The education, training, skills, tactics and constantly evolving landscape means PR professionals are just that. Professionals. They have worked hard and have invested in their careers to be the best they can be.

Trust is integral to success

When you rely on an agency, you are trusting them with your brand. That’s a big commitment. We don’t take it lightly and that is one of the reasons our job is so exciting. Thankfully our clients have very similar traits. They trust us and believe in what we do.

This means we can work as an extension of their teams and to give them advice. Real advice. Honest advice. Uncomfortable advice. Not what they want to hear, but the right advice based on our experience and knowledge.

PR isn’t just about writing press releases or posting compelling content. It is about reputation and managing a brand. It is about avoiding crisis. It is about navigating through hard times and celebrating good.

The beauty of PR is that it doesn’t stand still. There is no one size fits all. Every single client we work with has different objectives. They are specific to their business and require a range of tactics. This keeps us on our toes and is just one of the many reasons we do what we do.

What to consider when choosing an agency

It’s really quite simple.

  1. The first thing to think about when choosing an agency is what you want to achieve. Create a clear brief that shares your objectives and budget.
  2. Next, find an agency that you feel would be a good fit with your business. PR is very much about relationships. You will be sharing information that is sensitive and confidential so you must have an affinity with the people you are working with.
  3. It’s not about them and us. It’s about working as a team to deliver results that meet with the objectives. Treating your agency as you would you colleagues will allow you to get the best from them.
  4. Remember, you are paying for experience. It’s about the years not the hours. Trust your agency to deliver. If you have any doubt, it’s probably time to review the suppliers you are working with.

Getting the balance

The balance between budget and return can be tricky but it’s not impossible. Be honest, be open and set expectations from the outset.

Once these are in place you will start to see the value of PR. When you are celebrating results, you will realise PR really is an investment and not a cost.

USING TALK TRIGGERS TO BENEFIT BUSINESS

Using talk triggers to benefit business

Brand experience has become more of a focus for businesses in recent years. No longer are consumers content with picking up a product and taking it home. A purchase now goes beyond that.

Shoppers want to understand the story, to experience it.

For several years’ companies could share how an item was manufactured or sourced but the landscape has changed. This is no longer detail enough. For organisations that want lasting loyalty from customers, they need to do more. They need to use talk triggers.

It’s no longer just about food miles, CSR or green credentials. This is part but not the sum of what is expected. Shoppers want to have an affinity with a brand. They want an experience.

Using talk triggers

I have worked with branding agencies and colleagues to discuss ‘talk triggers’ and know how they can resonate with shoppers. It makes sense when you consider that we live in an increasingly competitive world.

Updating a website with commitments is one step to gaining interest from a particular consumer group but having a consistent ‘gesture’ or approach is a better way of creating a community. Once a business can build this, they are well on the way to gaining a more loyal following of repeat purchasers and willing advocates.

Talk triggers could be something as simple as how a product is packaged or – as is the case with Hilton Double Tree – a warmed cookie on arrival. Whatever sets a business apart, it is important that this ‘trigger’ is used consistently.

What every organisation should be hoping for is that this positive experience becomes synonymous with the brand. It also becomes a trigger to talk and share a positive experience within the community.

Lessons learnt

Since working in PR, I have become more aware of the small yet important gestures that make my shopping experience with brands above average. It may be the  newsletter, email prompts about new products or free gifts that come after placing an order.

It doesn’t have to be an elaborate gesture and that is what makes this approach so interesting to me.

Just a few weeks ago I have signed up to a newsletter from a brand that manufactures baby foods. I have always found their choice of visuals, language, tone and approach appealing and so took the next step in the journey.

As well as receiving a code, which gave me ‘exclusive’ access to recipe ideas, I was also sent a free wall chart with stickers. While this isn’t a huge gesture, it was enough to make me want to explore the product range and gave me a great talk trigger for others.

The next parcel I took receipt of was a gift from a friend. Two pairs of baby leggings. They arrived in a beautiful box. When I opened it, the garments were carefully wrapped with branded tissue paper and sealed with an embossed sticker.

The care and attention that had been taken to make the opening of this product special really was something else. Not only are the garments next in line for an outing, the company is on my list for friends who are awaiting an imminent arrival of their own.

Benefitting business

Both of these examples, and others, have got me thinking about how we take the lessons learnt to benefit business. Although we work across a range of sectors, it doesn’t mean that the same principles used with these talk triggers couldn’t apply.

We already implement some of this without even thinking. As an example, when we package products for our clients, we always make an extra special effort. Not only does it reflect our own values as a business and the quality of our service, but it sends a subtle message to the recipient about the brand we are working for too.

If someone takes extra care and attention then it is more likely to resonate with the customer, perhaps even leading to a repeat purchase or engagement.

I’m sure if we thought slightly differently, we could apply even more ideas and suggestions to benefit our own business, as well as our clients.

Every day is a school day

I’m a big believer in the phrase that every day is a school day. If you are open-minded then you can learn from others; good or bad.

Not every experience we have is going to be positive. However, what we take from that could benefit our own business too.

In the same way that we can make a note of positive talk triggers, we can do the same with those that are less impressive. At least this way we could avoid making the same mistakes.

What I’ve recognised is that my expectations of brand experience are far higher than they used to be. This hasn’t been a conscious decision but is certainly the case. That’s not to say that I complain a lot or am difficult to please, but there are certain levels of service that I expect.

Making a note

I’m a real fan of notebooks. I like to be prepared for meetings, personal and professionals, and am known to write everything down. I’ve decided to take this habit and to use it to the benefit of the business.

At Open Comms we make it our mission to share examples of best practice. Often, the challenge is remembering the things that impressed us most. There is so much going on in our industry that one great example is soon forgotten in place of another.

Taking the time to write down the talk triggers that impress me will make sure I keep them to share. It will also be a positive reminder that there are businesses that are doing things that set them out from the crowd.

Back to basics

As well as being more mindful of what others are doing, I’m also going to go back to basics. I think there are times we can tie ourselves in knots. The truth is that our clients choose to work with us because we deliver a great service and consistent results.

It goes back to our values and the thought we put into the business before we launched. More than 11 years later that hasn’t changed. We get the job done and we do it well.

Moving forward I’m going to make sure that we remember this and take the time to look back on our journey and celebrate our success. Perhaps I will have an example of how a company manages to put this into practice and I can take more lessons learnt to benefit our business.

REDEFINE YOUR AUDIENCE FOR STRONGER RESULTS

Redefine your audience for better results

When you are working on developing a robust PR strategy, one of the first places to start is to redefine your audience. Without this, you aren’t so much creating a plan as drawing up a list of tactics. This approach may work short term but will not deliver sustainable results over time.

With any other business investment, this level of ambiguity wouldn’t be accepted. So, don’t make it the case with communications. Instead set some objectives to work towards and measure against. This should then allow you to see the benefit of your efforts to the bottom line.

Targeting a mass market

The default audience for many companies is ‘mass market’. While it’s fair to suggest that some organisations have less obvious targets, redefining the audience will help to prioritise and direct efforts.

In instances where ‘anyone’ is an audience, it will be helpful to break this down and to think in characters. Before you roll your eyes, this technique can make a real difference when you put the theory into practice.

Creating characters will require an open mind and some imagination. This isn’t a case of assuming that there are three or four types of people in the world and they all sit neatly into boxes. It is about finding collective attributes which can be used to give a business greater focus when targeting prospective customers.

Customer mapping

When you take a step back and put some thought into your customers and their preferences, you will see that each group will have similarities. It may be frequency of visit, average spend, dwell time online or in store or purchase occasions.

These factors can be used to create characters that are representative of your preferred audiences. Using a simple mapping exercise, you can allocate personalities to each grouping to focus your mind and efforts.

Consider their age, job, family model, what media they will engage with, what they like doing in their spare time and where they may live. Map this onto a piece of paper for each of the groups you have identified.

All of these facts will help you to come up with your ‘characters’. Remember, this is about mapping similarities to refine and direct your marketing and PR efforts. As such, it’s worth being as succinct as you can. Rather than having five or six groups, just focus your efforts on two or three at the most. This will stop the mapping becoming needlessly complicated.

Naming your characters

Once you have identified your characters, give them a name. Make them into a person that you can visualise, better understand and use to transform the way that you communicate as a company.

Take a name that you can relate to and even consider someone you know if it helps. Once you have named each person, put together a day in the life which can be shared with the wider team. This will encourage everyone at the business to talk in the same way and think collectively about what each audience will want.

Test and measure

Like any investment, it is important to test and measure the results. Once you have your characters, think about how you will align each message to meet with their needs – not the other way around.

It is important that everything is tailored to the audience and not to your business. Many companies get this wrong and become overtly self-promotional. Pushing out their message in a way that would appeal to them.

This does not deliver the return or results an organisation would want. In fact, it has the opposite impact, leaving people looking elsewhere for a company that will focus its efforts on their needs as a customer.

Companies should work on creating compelling content, sharing stories that resonate, becoming visible across the right social media channels and reinforcing the values of the business and quality of its products.

This will all help to communicate with those that matter most to your company; the audiences that you have chosen and can now become your focus.

Summary

It’s not always easy for a business to identify its audiences. Companies can spend too much time focusing on the aspirational at the expense of the real targets. In order to get this right, we would advise that you:

  1. Put in place a simple mapping of your audiences
  2. Identify consistencies that create collectives
  3. Pull together no more than three groups
  4. Create a character for each group
  5. Name the character so that they become a personality
  6. Decide how it would be best to communicate with this person
  7. Start to put a plan together that will deliver the results you want
  8. Test, measure, adapt and repeat

A WORLD WITHOUT NEWS

No news

Just take a moment to think what it would be like to live in a world without news. No negative headlines. No worries about the wider world. No gossip columns. No announcements of job losses or business failures. No articles about people that mean nothing to you. No articles. Full stop.

Now take some time and think again.

There would be no national newspapers to keep you up to date with politics and economics. No business pages to provide category insight, trends or innovation. The narrative would be ‘manipulated’. Stories would share the positive but fail to give the bigger picture. We would become reliant on a one-sided view of everything. There would be no accountability, governance or code of practice.

Local news would come from chatter shared around the school gates or water cooler. Gossip would prevail. There would be no time for investigating the facts. Those stories that make us feel all warm and fuzzy inside would be enjoyed by the few, not the many.

Charitable activities, good deeds and communities coming together to clap in the street. Veterans raising millions of pounds through personal challenges. Residents using their skills to sew, knit and cook to selflessly help others.

These things would still happen, but only those involved would know about them. Certainly not the millions of people that rely on their newspaper, radio or TV broadcast every day.

Give journalists a chance

So, perhaps I’m painting an unbalanced picture of the news myself.

Maybe some journalists aren’t as thorough or as professional as we may like. Playing devil’s advocate, couldn’t that be said of all industries? Surely the behaviour of few doesn’t set a precedent for the many.

I have worked with journalists across international, national and regional media, broadcast and print, for more than twenty years. Throughout my career, I can honestly say that I have built up a genuine respect and admiration for what they do.

Some, I would even consider as friends.

A heartfelt plea

Yesterday evening I was scrolling through my twitter feed only to come across a video which had been shared by journalists from the Yorkshire Post. The collective, with no outside encouragement, had come together to give a heartfelt plea to readers.

The message was very simple: buy a paper.

Not only was the content raw, it put a face to the people behind the headlines. It gave a glimpse of those that work so hard to put a paper together every day. Those that allow us to better understand what is going on in our region; good or bad.

It struck a real chord with me.

You may not like the way that some journalists behave, and you may have taken a vow never to buy a particular title for your own reasons, but don’t shoot every messenger. We live in a country where we have a choice of media and medium.

Spoilt for choice

You don’t have to buy one paper, listen to one radio show or rely on one TV station. There is an abundance of media out there. We are fortunate that this is the case, and perhaps too spoilt for choice.

While I know that people will take this as an opportunity to share their opinions about the media; with some that say journalists are ‘missing the mark’, perhaps even that they are not representative of the British public. The simple truth is, this goes beyond a daily press conference.

This is a moment in time, and we would be mindful to think beyond it.

Think about the last story you read which made you smile. Think about the cuttings your mum kept. Think about those you are saving for your own family. Think about that feeling when your company featured in the business pages and someone mentioned it. Think about the ideas, encouragement and motivation you took from a feature.

Don’t be the reason to ‘stop press’

There are good and bad sides to everything. Nothing is perfect. We are all learning, and we are all adapting. Journalism is a skill. It takes patience, thought, concentration, the ability to find an angle and to get to the heart of a story. It is creative, exciting, interesting and engaging. It keeps us all informed.

This may be an opportunity for us to turn our backs on journalism and to make a stand. Refuse to buy a paper. Turn off the radio. Avoid the press conferences. Choose a box set.

When this is all over and we come out from the darkness and into the light. When we go to pick up our free paper on the daily commute. When we go to grab the local paper to see what’s happening down the road. When we go to the shop on a Saturday morning to enjoy the paper with a strong coffee. When we go to grab the Sunday paper with its many supplements that last us a week.

They won’t be there.

The stand we took. The one we didn’t think enough about. The point we made. It will be the demise of the newspaper. Humble as it may be, it is a lifeline for many. Don’t make a mistake you will live to regret.

Taking the right stand: the news stand

For now, I am backing the Yorkshire Post and the journalists that work for the title and those within the wider JMIMedia Publishing Ltd.

I will continue to buy my local papers. I will learn from the stories, laugh at the stories, cry over the stories, be shocked by the stories and I will encourage others to do the same.

In a time when it has never been more important to come together, let’s back the many and ignore the few. Buy a paper and keep an industry alive that many of us really do rely on.

SHARE YOUR STORY: BUILD YOUR BRAND

PR is about telling stories and building brands

Brand loyalty is not what it used to be. People don’t typically have the same affinity with a company they once did. Perhaps because we now purchase for convenience rather than experience. We access our shopping online or from conglomerates. We have absolutely no idea who served us from one day to the next. That is assuming you didn’t use self checkout.

Times have changed and so have expectations. Consumers want quick, easy and accessible. They want price checks and free returns policies. It’s no longer about relationship building or shared values, it’s about simplicity and functionality.

But what if things were to change?

What’s your story?

Storytelling is an underestimated skill.

Sharing content that is useful, insightful and meaningful has changed the landscape for brands, giving them an opportunity to create a point of difference. In a bid to stand out from the crowd, manufacturers and retailers need to let people know why they should choose one product over another.

This isn’t just about why a business started in the first place, it goes beyond that. In order to give a true impression of a company and what it stands for, an organisation needs to decide what themes will resonate with its audience(s).

It may be the values of a business, the sustainable approach it takes, its corporate social responsibility or the skill, time, effort and experience that goes into making the final product. It may be tone of voice and an honesty that is not typical within a given market or all of the above.

Whatever it happens to be, making a plan for posting content and giving consumers the opportunity to learn more about a company will equip them with the information they need to make more informed choices.

Content that matters

There is a belief that posting a blog every now and then will do the trick and sharing copy across social channels will have people flicking on the kettle and grabbing a cup of tea ready to sit down for a good read.

The truth is that people are just as busy as you are.

It is therefore necessary for brands to consider this and to condense copy so that it can be shared in a way that will appeal to the widest overall audience. It is fine to draft a blog, but break the copy up and then provide a revised version which will share the main points across social channels. If people want to read more they can. Working in this way gives them the choice.

Organisations should map out what the audience needs, wants and what they will enjoy. It may be industry specific topics, thought leadership articles, advice and guidance or something more light-hearted, such as a weekly update from the workforce.

Identifying what is most likely to work will save time and also keep people coming back for more. There is no point in sharing the same content over and over. This is a chance to mix things up and to give a brief glimpse behind closed doors.

Content that changes behaviours

Marketing and PR can be a reoccurring point on agendas which never gets the attention it deserves.

What business owners may fail to realise is that well written copy that is shared regularly can change behaviours. That means that people could switch from purchasing one brand to another based on access to information and strategic storytelling.

Some brands do this very well and use the opportunity to share updates as a way of reiterating the importance of every purchaser to them. Not only does this start to build a community of like minded people, it also gives those involved the confidence they have made the right decision.

When you think about it, would you rather purchase from a faceless, transactional business that will seemingly never give you a second thought or from a brand with personality that thanks you for your custom and directs you to useful content that you can access at your leisure.

Forcing the point

It is absolutely imperative that whatever the size of the business, those responsible for drafting copy understand the difference between selling and sharing. There is a fine line between commercial marketing and editorial PR, which can seem like a mountain to climb when you are faced with a blank sheet and a blog post to draft.

When curating content, it is a good to set out a plan. What is the purpose of the copy, what is the point and why will people read and share it? Without the answers to each of these questions, you may find you are wasting your time.

Forcing a point may come across as a sales pitch, which can do more damage than good. The purpose is rather to educate, inform and give people the detail and background they need to make an informed choice about your product and business.

That is why establishing a tone of voice will give you an edge and will make drafting copy far simpler. It will mean that you are able to inject personality and to build this over time. It doesn’t have to remain exactly the same, it can evolve and those that do become loyal follows will become a part of that journey.

Starting small, thinking big

Drafting content and sharing stories should be a part of any businesses planning and strategy if they want to build a strong and resilient brand.

Rather than make this ‘another thing to do’, the best way to implement change is to start small and think big. One suggestion would be to draft a blog a month, which is supported by social media updates across the most appropriate channels to redirect the audience to that post.

There can then be plans to increase this as the audience increases and customers become more accustomed to the sharing of regular content. Setting clear measures of success should be all the encouragement a business needs to continue. After all, if the right approach is taken, the results will follow.