Author: Lindsey Davies

THE LATEST DETOX ISN’T A DIET

The amazing scenery looking over St Aiden’s RSPB reserve

Working in PR means that you have to keep abreast of the social media tools that are available and provide a platform for people to communicate. Stands to reason really, given that we are responsible for sharing information and managing the reputation of brands both online and in print.

Being of a particular age (38 for those that are too polite to ask) I haven’t exactly grown up surrounded by tech but it has been in the background for probably as long as I can remember. We certainly didn’t have smart phones when I was at school, college or university, but we had the first handheld games systems and some functionality to communicate online.

It was only really when I left university that digital communications started to become ‘a thing’ and many a PR – myself included – took great pleasure in demoting the fax machine to the back of a cupboard to collect dust as we opted instead to use email.

The real changes though occurred when I had been in work for a number of years and platforms such as Facebook started to make their mark. Some came and went, while others became integral to our lives – not a statement that I think even the founders really considered in terms of scale and global dominance. Let’s not get started about governance and regulatory controls, I’ll save that for another blog.

The very real threat of social media – and it’s not the trolls

Over recent weeks I’ve noticed that there has been a shift in tone when it comes to the use of social media. There was a time when there seemed to be a certain expectation that people would have regular access to as many apps as they could manage. The more the merrier was the general consensus and if you didn’t have the latest you were considered ‘so last season’.

Facebook, SnapChat, WhatApp, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn to name a few became more of a reflection of our lives and social dalliances than actually going out. Showing someone your dinner was top of the list, quickly followed by a pouty selfie that may or may not have had a filter!

In the most part, I’m pleased to say I dodged this desire to share everything online, but I did find that I was becoming increasingly reliant on the social channels to fill downtime. No longer was I reaching for a book or chatting to my husband and friends, I would reach for my phone and see who had updated their status on Facebook.

It was at the same time that Chris Evans was commenting on having a detox from tech and the benefits that he felt from moving away from a world that was powered by the internet. At first I wondered what he was making such a fuss about, but the more he explained the more it started to resonate.

Then earlier this week, I opened the Yorkshire Post to see a comment piece from Business Editor, Mark Casci, with the headline ‘Use summer to wean yourself off the smartphone’. So much of what he had written made perfect sense to me.

Within his article he writes: ‘After travelling back in time through my history as a phone consumer (aided naturally with a few web searches on my phone to establish chronology) I came to the uncomfortable realisation that it had been well over more than a decade since I truly “switched off”’

It was at this moment I realised this was the case for me too.

Admitting you have a problem is the first step to recovery

There seems to be so much talk about people turning tech off and trying their hardest to get some balance back in their lives. We are all, it would seem, slaves to the smartphone and I’m no exception. I may not pout for selfies at every opportunity but I certainly stare into a screen far more than is healthy or necessary.

One of the ways I rationalise my ‘habit’ is by telling myself it’s for work, that someone might need me and that if a client emails, texts or sends a WhatsApp message at 10pm at night it is my obligation and responsibility to get back to them.

When I read that sentence I can see how unreasonable it is, but when you have a business it can be difficult to judge yourself by the parameters you would set for your own colleagues or suppliers.

As an example, if I happened to be working late and sent a supplier an email, I wouldn’t expect a response until the next day. Furthermore, if I got one I would feel guilty that I had encroached on their free time as opposed to being pleased that they had stopped everything to get back to me.

Mark sums it up really well in his piece when he writes: ‘Perhaps the worst aspect of realising how much I used my phone was coming to terms with the arrogance it entails, the idea that I must check my messages or the world will end.’

A truer word has rarely been said. This is me all over. I am constantly checking my phone for emails and then wonder why I feel anxious. There really is no need.

It’s time for things to change  

I’m not usually a follower of trends and I certainly could never be accursed of being a dedicated follower of fashion – in any capacity – but this is a bandwagon I’m well and truly jumping on the back of.

We recently welcomed Duke, a Cocker Spaniel puppy into our household (that’s another story and worthy of another blog) and as well as getting us up at 5.30am every morning he has also brought about a change.

I don’t know why, but during our walks I decided not to take my phone. At the time it seemed like a bold and brave step but, like Mark, I quickly realised the world wasn’t going to end.

In fact, thanks to our walks I have the chance to chat to my husband about the day ahead and what’s going on at work or with family and friends. It’s very cathartic as we glance out across the beautiful landscape at St Aiden’s RSPB reserve each morning and evening.

Although it’s only 2 hours of my day, I think it’s a good start and it does give me the head space to think about things more rationally. One of the biggest challenges with social media is that it is so immediate and whereas receiving news in this way can be beneficial, responding in the same manner rarely is.

I think that’s where some of the problems with social channels come from; act first and think later which in turn causes lasting damage either to yourself or someone else.

I’m not saying for one minute that I am going to close my social accounts, I don’t see the point given that this is how I stay in touch with an extensive family that are dotted around the world and my business relies on these channels, but I am going to limit my use.

I’m hoping that like Chris and Mark I can report back on the positive difference that this makes, and I fully intend to go home tonight and reach for a book rather than my phone.

If you are thinking about a tech detox or have given up altogether, how has it gone and what experiences can you share? All comments are welcome.

WHY IT’S SO IMPORTANT TO BELIEVE IN YOUR BUSINESS

Emma Lupton and Lindsey Davies launching Open Communications in 2008.

This isn’t the first time I’ve come across this fact but running a business isn’t easy. In fact, sometimes it can be quite the headache. There is so much to think about. 

When you first start it’s strange because you have what feels like all the time in the world and things are still exciting. All you want at this stage is to be established, to be taken seriously and to run as a ‘real business’.

Conversely, when you are more established with the necessary processes and procedures in place, you crave that time that you had to take a step back and to consider your options. At this stage, not only are you now responsible for what you would hope to be a successful business, but you are likely to have staff, as well as clients, to think about.

The best analogy I can use is that it’s like getting married. When you’re planning your wedding it’s full on but exciting, you then go on honeymoon and it’s all new – you feel nervous but you know that you’ve made the right decision. A few years down the line and the washing on the floor is becoming annoying, the house never seems to be clean and it doesn’t matter how many times you tell them to put the lid on the toothpaste it never seems to happen – yet you still love them. 

And that’s why it’s so important that when you start a business you believe in what you do.

Don’t make it up, make it count

When you start a business, you have to truly and passionately commit to delivering results for your clients. You have to know that the advice that you are giving them is the very best that you can offer and that you will stand accountable if things don’t work out quite how you planned.

No one is perfect but when you run a business you often feel as if you should be. In PR there are so many people that you need to consider; business partners, employees, clients, journalists and the public. 

Increasingly the public are relying on journalists, and therefore by association PRs, to deliver honest news. It’s a challenge – there is no time for editors or sub-editors to fact check everything and news is so instantaneous that it’s no longer about quality but about first to ‘the post’ – literally. Who posts the news online first wins, but do they? 

We all need to work together to make sure that we deliver a service that for us (PRs) meets with the client’s objectives and for journalists delivers a story based on fact that their audience are going to want to read and share. 

Using your passion to share news

This leads me back to my first point, in order to deliver good, quality news you need to create a business that you believe in. 

We are very fortunate as an agency to have clients that have values that are aligned with our own. They are fundamentally to do a good job and to do it well. Here at Open Comms, our mantra tends to be: forget air kissing and going out for lunch, let’s celebrate when we’ve got the results, not before. 

I’ve noticed recently that over the last (almost) ten years we have attracted similar kinds of people and we now have an incredibly strong network of associates, suppliers and clients that we trust. Beyond that, many of them we can now confidently refer to as friends. This isn’t something we take for granted, it’s something that we are immensely proud of. 

The truth is that we couldn’t have done this if we were living a lie. Again, I go back to a marriage. If you were marrying for money or your head was turned by another, yet you still went through with it, before long it would show. People would realise that you were being disingenuous and that what comes out of your mouth is not necessarily reflected in your eyes (my nanna always said to trust the eyes not the mouth – wise woman). 

We always say that passion is infectious (we’ve finished with the marriage analogy now!) and that you can sense the energy when people talk about their product or service and how much it means to them. 

My advice to anyone starting a business would be to believe. Put your heart and soul into the planning and create a list of values that you intend to be governed by. Be honest, both to yourself and to others. 

Having a business isn’t easy but when you truly believe in what you are trying to do and the service that you deliver, then I see no reason why you cannot be the success that you set out to be. This will also resonate in the future when you want to give up – and there will be times – it will be easier to get through and to move on knowing that your business is founded on solid principles that mean something to you and to your customers.

 

Ends

THE POWER OF PERSONALITY

Long has it been said that people buy people but actually the same can be said for brands. What I mean is that increasingly consumers are looking for brands that align with their values and their personalities and therefore the more a business can create a product, campaign or company with character the better.

Starting with marketing materials

The way that marketing literate is designed impacts on whether someone will pick up the piece in the first place and the way it is written will determine if someone will read it. The tone of voice will then either appeal to someone and make them receptive to the message or not.

This is then often followed up by a call, an email or a meeting, all providing a further insight into the personality of a business. This is where people come in and why it’s important that those you employ believe in your product or service in the same way that you do.

As a PR agency working with many different brands across a range of sectors, we always make it clear to our clients that we have to understand and buy into whatever it is they are offering in the same way that they do.

We are essentially an extension of our clients’ marketing and sales functions and there is nothing worse than listening to someone drone on knowing that they are either reading from a script or don’t really care about the company they represent. 

Then there is social media to consider in this mix and that can be a whole new headache. Sharing the same content across all platforms is a classic way to fall at the first hurdle. Think about it, each channel has been created to differ from each other and even if they target the same audience, the functionality they offer can bring a range of benefits to a business, if they are used correctly.

The harsh reality is that some channels don’t work for business. It doesn’t matter how long you spend on them or what budget you assign, they just won’t engage with the people you want to communicate with, so don’t use them. Simple. Put your efforts into something that will deliver a return on investment.

The truth is that marketing isn’t brain surgery. Fundamentally, any marketing campaign, whatever channel you use is about creating an affinity between product and person. It’s a complex tapestry of ‘touch points’ and many have their part to play but there are only so many hours in a day. 

A planned launch

The reality in business is that when a company launches they often have the luxury of time. They are able to take a step back and to think carefully about their marketing which includes design, message and preferred channel. Then, when they become more established, all that goes out of the window.

They no longer have time for the ‘fun stuff’ it’s all about keeping machines running, staying on top of suppliers, invoicing at the end of the month, managing staff and of course nurturing and growing the customers base – but the relationship no longer becomes a focus.

What a huge mistake! 

It’s like making friends with someone and taking the time and effort to become BFF before then turning your back and walking away – because you’re just too busy – but then expecting them to be there when you need them.

They may be. But when it comes to loyalty and brands, you have to remember, for the benefit of this analogy, there is a pub full of friends just waiting to take your place and that’s why it’s so important for businesses to put marketing – in all its forms – firmly on the agenda.

It has always baffled me that when times are tough – or as has appeared to be the case over the last 18 months turbulent – the first budgets that people pull are those that have been allocated to marketing.

I appreciate that factories need to keep running, staff need to be paid and that keeping the metaphorical plates spinning is a priority, but that doesn’t mean you should stop communicating and take your eye off what is arguably the biggest asset a business has: its reputation.

There are few things more exciting than seeing the launch programmes from a new start-up, particularly those that come from former entrepreneurs that have made the mistakes only to come out of the other end stronger and more determined than ever.

Putting marketing front and centre

What is most interesting is that many – or I’d even go as far as to say most – of these businesses put marketing front and centre. Yes, they may be clever with their budgets, but communication and a strong launch campaign with sustainable messaging and a longer term plan is never far from their boardroom table.

For all those businesses out there that are looking for the winning formula – those that are looking for the one thing that they feel is missing – I can almost guarantee it goes back to personality because a company with no character is like a shop window with no display.

In a time when high streets have never struggled so much, yet start-ups that are eager to please are on the rise, it’s imperative that businesses think carefully about their budgets, where they are putting their cash and what they are getting in return.

Marketing will deliver if managed well and whether you choose to appoint in-house or to work with an agency, a good solid campaign that you can get excited about and that delivers against objectives will make all of the difference.

Create your character, underpin it with the values of your business, inject some personality and start to engage with people. You’ll be surprised at what can be achieved when you think like a start-up and go back to basics.

 

AWARDS: WORTH THE WAIT OR A WASTE OF TIME

awards

It’s awards season and that means finding out if all of the hard work earlier in the year was worthwhile or if you have to sit tight and wait until next year to submit again.  It also means finding a different dress for each event but I’ll save that fiasco for another blog. FYI: Quiz at Junction 32 is my ‘go to’ for all the ladies out there that are struggling – you’re welcome, always happy to help! 

Anyhow, back to the blog in hand, it can be a nerve-wracking time, not least because as well as our own time – which has to be allocated to the research, copy writing and submissions process – we require input from the client and often their wider teams. 

The awards process, depending on which you choose and usually if they are regional or national – isn’t always straight forward. As well as 1,000 words you can also be required to provide supplementary evidence to support your entry, along with the obligatory photographs and biog about the business or individual you are nominating. 

What is great about putting submissions together is that you learn so much about the companies that you work with. Being responsible for the reputation of a business often means that you have access to information that others may not, but when it comes to awards you get a real insight into the great and good. 

Just recently I was putting together some copy for a client and it was a real reminder of what a difference this individual had made. When we were looking at the facts and figures, it was quite astounding and thankfully the judges thought so too as Geoff Shepherd, the founding director of iSource Group and the Yorkshire Mafia, won the Judges Special Award at the Institute of Directors Awards last month. 

Natasha accepting the Judges Special Award at the IoD event on behalf of Geoff Shepherd.

Natasha accepting the Judges Special Award at the IoD event on behalf of Geoff Shepherd.

Why bother when you’ve got a business to run

Interestingly, there are three types of client; those that want to enter as many awards as they can, those that prefer to be more selective and those that don’t want anything to do with them. 

I never really understand the latter and I’ll explain why. 

Awards take time and if you want to put together the strongest entry possible then they can be hard work but the rewards, in my opinion, outweigh this time and time again. Not only are the events a great way to bring together a team – and in particular those that may not work together day to day – but they also deliver credibility by association. 

It’s not all about dressing up and having too many glasses of fizz, the impact of awards is evident long after the event is over. 

As an agency we never do anything without it having a purpose and meeting with an objective and when it comes to awards it’s about building profile and also an employer brand. Awards are often an indication that a business is doing well, and that attracts talent. 

People want to work for a business that is trusted and respected in the market and awards are often a great way of showcasing the quality of the products and services that a company delivers. Furthermore, most nominations are independently judged, making it all the more exciting when your submission is successful. 

Coalfields Regeneration Trust winning the Community category at the Yorkshire Post Excellence in Business

Coalfields Regeneration Trust winning the Community category at the Yorkshire Post Excellence in Business

Celebrating success

I’m very pleased at this point to say that we have an excellent success rate when it comes to awards and you would probably hope that this was the case given that it’s part of our day job but not every entry makes it to the stage and that can be crushing, especially when you know the team is deserving of the recognition. 

What always surprises me is that way that people respond. It differs from business to business, but I have to admit those that really embrace the moment and show their excitement without compromise are those I enjoy most. 

We are often asked to attend the awards with clients – which is a lovely gesture and not something we take for granted – but one occasion that stands out to me was when Paragon ID won the Yorkshire Post Excellence in Business Awards in the Turnaround category. 

The team just didn’t see it coming and their collective reaction was simply joyous. It was a pleasure to be with them, although the headache the next day wasn’t quite so welcomed. 

Haydn - looking a little bit like James Bond - accepting his Top 30 under 30 accolade.

Haydn – looking a little bit like James Bond – accepting his Top 30 under 30 accolade.

What awards to enter

You can enter any awards that you want but we always question what the objective is. 

Some people enter everything and for me that devalues the return you will get. If you will go to the opening of an envelope, or as I’ve experienced recently, if someone says you’ve won an award and all you need to do is pay for the ‘silverware’ then it’s probably not going to add any value. 

I had a client say that anything could be on a piece of glass – even an award for getting out of bed on a morning – and people never check so assume it’s for something impressive, but my argument was why would you need to do that if you believe in the products and services that you are offering. 

When choosing awards you should follow five simple steps:

  1. Review the categories and see if there is one that would fit your business
  2. Take the time to look over past winners, this will give you an indication of those that have been successful in the past, their size and scale
  3. Consider if you have the time and resource required to submit a winning entry
  4. Think carefully about who will be in the room; clients, prospects or competitors
  5. Put objectives in place so that awards serve a purpose. It could be simply to build profile in a given location, to give your brand a national platform, to commend performance or to attract talent. 

It’s also worth noting that some awards come at a cost – not just the events but the actual submissions – so this should be a further consideration. Without being negative, you need to decide if you can afford to lose that budget if you are not shortlisted. 

Henry from Ring accepting the Made in Yorkshire Award.

Henry from Ring accepting the Made in Yorkshire Award.

You’re a winner, shout about it

It’s really frustrating when you put the effort into a great award submission, your client is successful and then you hear nothing more about it. Companies don’t enter awards to keep their success a secret – they do it to gain the recognition they feel they deserve, so when you win shout about it. 

Make sure that you make the most of the opportunity. There are a number of ways you can do this including:

  1. Draft a press release to announce that you have been named ‘great business of the year’ and share it with your local and trade media. Remember that many awards are hosted by media and they consider other publications to be competitors so won’t cover a story about a rival medium.
  2. Share an update on your website and extend this across social media.
  3. Create some owned content and ‘interview’ someone that attended and capture their thoughts and feelings. This can add personality and also give someone who doesn’t often get the chance an opportunity to share their thoughts.
  4. Put a footer on your emails to make people aware that you were shortlisted or that you won. This is a really subtle way of capturing attention and a constant reminder to everyone you engage with that you have been commended and recognised for your work. 
Open Communications accepting the highly commended award for best new business.

Open Communications accepting the highly commended award for best new business.

Don’t take them too seriously

Awards are great, but people can take them too seriously. It’s important to practice your ‘game face’ when you attend awards and not take it too personally if you don’t get the result that you were hoping for. There is always next year, and it can take a couple of attempts to finally get your hands on that trophy. 

If you do find that you have been pipped to the post, it’s always a good idea to congratulate the winner. You never know, in some instances they could be a prospective customer and thanks to the award submission you now have something in common.

My First Week at Work (by Ellie aged 15)

From the very start, here at Open Communications, we have made it our mission to give people a chance. Not everyone in the agency has come from a PR background but when people approach us, we take the time to think about the transferable skills that they have and how they could benefit our clients and the campaigns that we deliver.

It’s not all about degrees and qualifications!  

When it comes to young people, when possible, we like to give them the chance to experience the variety and wonderful world of PR through short placements. This isn’t just an exercise in CSR, it’s an opportunity to encourage, to nurture and to build the confidence of students that just may decide PR is the career choice for them.

And so, here is just one example of how we have done just that. Ellie (aged 15) is a secondary school student that lives in the same village as me. She was finding it hard to find a placement – and given that we live in a very remote part of the Yorkshire Dales, it’s hardly surprising!

Ellie approached me one weekend and asked if it would be possible to work at Open Comms. In the following blog (in her own words) she describes the week that she had with us and how in just five days she was able to draft a press release, write a blog, attend a client meeting and learn more about PR, an industry that before this experience she hadn’t heard of never mind considered as a career choice for the future.

 

My First Week at Work.

Finding a Placement.

A couple of weeks before work experience was due to begin, I found that it was more difficult than I had expected to find a placement, so I was going to stay at school for a week, which is really frustrating, because I was eager to get out and to learn outside of the classroom.

So, I decided to use my initiative to look for a placement outside of the local area. I was speaking to some family friends who have their own business and that is when Lindsey started to tell me about PR and what she does for a living.

It sounded really interested and I got really excited by the conversation. I had never heard of PR before, so this was completely new to me. I wasn’t sure if it would be possible, but I asked if she would be willing to offer me a place with her for my work experience. I felt so relieved when I knew I had a different place to go rather than school, nobody wants to stay in a classroom when they can experience something new and exciting!

Leaving home for a week.

Because the agency is in Leeds I have had to stay away for a week. I don’t normally stay away from home for so long, but I have done it on occasion before so I know what it’s like. Because I have never worked in an office before, just the local pub in my village, I had no idea what to wear and no Idea what I needed to bring with me.

Rather than stress too much about it, me and mum just threw some of my nicest clothes in a bag and hoped that I would have an outfit each day that would be suitable. I had to bring some of my dresses, which I very rarely wear, and it felt weird walking into an office with clothes on that I felt would be more suited to a night out. Needless to say, it was quite out of my comfort zone.

First day.

For a start, getting up at 7am every morning was the first hurdle! I normally get up at 8am for school, so it was a bit of a challenge getting up and ready to leave the house so early.

Once I was ready – and I had managed to get everything in my bag for the day ahead – me and Lindsey went to Tesco’s to get some lunch before setting off on the 30-minute drive to the offices.

The estate the office is in (Nostell Priory Estate Yard) is lovely and the sun was shining so it looked even better. Once we are all parked up and got our bags out of the car, we came into the office and I had a little desk set up for me with a laptop, sticky notes and pens.

I sat down and got out my note pad out ready to get started. Just then, Ed walked through the door and came straight up to me to shake my hand. I wasn’t really sure what to do, people don’t usually greet me like this and it freaked me out a little. I literally never shake anyone’s hand and I don’t know why but it scared me to death! (I have been laughing about it all week).

The first task of the day was for me to watch Anna go through the social media accounts for HARIBO. When she goes through all the social media she has to reply to any messages on Facebook and Twitter. It was great to feel useful, as I helped her to choose what to put in the replies to each of them.

Some of the comments can be quite interesting, while others are quite funny and made me laugh, it just goes to show what a varied mix of fans the brand has.  

When we had finished that, Lindsey sat me down to talk about a press release; what it is and what it is used for.

I had no idea where to start and although I could have asked for help, I could see everyone was really busy, so I used my judgement and watched a number of podcasts on how to structure a press release.

I noted it all down and put it together like a facts sheet off the internet. I then put some time aside to do some research about the charity that I was writing the release for.

Before long I was ready to put it all together; my first press release done, and in wasn’t that difficult although it did take me a while.

So, my first day done and I have to say, my first impressions of the team where that they’re really nice people and so welcoming. They’re also talkative which I really liked.

Day two.

On my second day I finished off the press release. I was very proud of the completed piece and I went through it with Lindsey. Although she made some amends, I was still really pleased to see that much of the content I had drafted was used.  

We then sent the press release to the organisation that it was about for their approval. Within the hour the company had come back to us and agreed it was a really good piece.

It felt really good to have it approved because it’s my first ever press release that I have ever done and they liked it, so when they came back with such positive comments it was great.

The next step was to send it off to a selection of local journalists. We did this using a platform called Vuelio. It is a website that has all of the contact details for all of the journalists in the country on so you know who the best person will be to send a release on to and which publications are relevant.

Day three.

On my third day I came into the office and Lindsey suggested that I draft a blog about my experience. I think blogs are important because they give people a little glimpse into your personality and what you’re interested in. They also draws people’s attention to the website that you are posting them on and can be shared on other channels like YouTube or across social media pages.

By this stage in the week, I feel quite settled in the office now, I’ve had a chance to get to know everyone a little bit better and they are all so lovely and friendly. I love the fact that they all watch Love Island (even Ed!) and it’s the topic of most of the convocations we all have together! 

On my lunch break I went for a walk around the park and it was gorgeous, its’s quite different than at home because all the fields and land is filled with cows and sheep (and their muck) but here it’s so well looked after and it’s such a big area to just walk around and take some time to relax. 

When I got back I was asked by Emma to pack some boxes for a campaign that the agency are planning. I didn’t really understand why I was doing it at first, but then Emma explained that it is a way of sending products to journalists and that it gives them chance to experience and eat the products that we distribute.

On this occasion we were working on an updated product for HARIBO which is still top secret!

Day four.

On the third day me and Lindsey went to see a client. It felt weird going into another office and discussing future plans with them about their company and on this occasion their new website.

The office looked quite modern and everyone that I met was very friendly, which was nice. Lots of people where smiling at me and I felt really welcomed.

We went into a large meeting room on the top floor, which was quite daunting, but we were soon discussing plans for the website and I felt confident enough to share my thoughts and suggestions. The client seemed quite pleased that I was interested and that I had some views to share.

It was quite a long meeting and we didn’t get back to the office until gone 3pm. I continued to write my blog and to record all of the things that I had done and learnt.

Day five.

Well, it’s Friday, and my last day of work experience. It’s been great; being a PR for a week is completely different to what my normal life is like. I like working in an office because the atmosphere is calm and the environment is quiet – until Anna and Mish start chatting about Love Island!

There are always lots of different things going on in PR and different ways in which you can approach things. It has been weird being away from home, but like I said, I have done it before and it’s not like I’m staying with strangers!

I’m pleased that I have learnt what happens in a PR agency and what the team is tasked to deliver for clients. The biggest achievement of the week has to be that I was able to draft a press release and understand more about the stages that it goes through to get to where it needs to be.

Lindsey has promised to keep me updated with the coverage and to share it with me when it comes through. I can’t wait to add it to my portfolio.

Over all it’s been a great experience and who knows, PR just might be the career choice for me in the future but for now it’s back to the classroom.

BEHIND THE SCENES AT BUY YORKSHIRE

The Buy Yorkshire Conference

Showing support for the largest business to business event in the North

For the last eight years we have worked with the Yorkshire Mafia (YM) to provide the team that is responsible for an annual schedule of events including the Buy Yorkshire Conference with PR and social media support.

As the largest business to business event in the North, it goes without saying that it’s a busy time for us, not just on the day but in the run up to the exhibition when we spend hours liaising with speakers that will take to the stage on the big day and media that may want to come along.

There are so many reasons why this account is particularly exciting but for me securing broadcast, national and regional media coverage has to come top of the list. Some might think that’s an obvious answer but having worked in the PR industry for more than a decade you would be forgiven for thinking that the leap in my tummy when we secure a great piece of coverage may have waned over time.

Nope. Not a bit. In fact, it’s why I fell in love with PR in the first place.

Getting to know you

Coming a close second on my list of reasons to enjoy working on the Conference has to be the speakers. As the preferred PR partner for the event we are given access to each of the entrepreneurs, brand representatives and campaigners that attend and what an experience that is!

You never know who will be added to the line up next and with candidates such as Helen Pankhurst (great-granddaughter of the leader of the Suffragette movement) and Gerald Ratner (the entrepreneur that lost everything thanks to a glib comment about his products being cr*p) you can see how contrasting they can be and that makes our job all the more interesting.

A change of venue

This year the event took place at the First Direct Arena, a change from the New Dock Hall and Royal Armouries as has been the case in previous years. I have to admit, I wasn’t sure how this would work, but after taking a tour and seeing the event from above in the arena seats it didn’t disappoint.

The exhibitor stands were all in one space, which made for a vibrant and engaging showcase for delegates and it also created a camaraderie between the brands. It was great to walk around and see people having a laugh and engaging with each other as well as delegates at the event.

Never a dull moment

As the team that manage all media relations, we don’t get time to wander around, our remit on the day is to manage the media and support any interview requests, while also drafting blogs during the seminars which will be posted on the website after the Conference.

It may sound easy, but it takes a lot of work and makes for a long (but fun-filled) day.

Having access all areas means that we can pick and choose which seminars and sessions we attend, which is a real coup. Over the years I have listened to and met speakers including Michelle Mone, Ann Widdecombe, Jacqueline Gold, Nigel Farage, Alastair Campbell and more… let’s be honest, there was no way I would have bumped into these people in the street, so once again it all adds to the experience.

Working with a talented team

What astounds me most about the Conference is that the team from the YM always seem so relaxed. Whatever comes their way they just deal with it and move on to the next thing. I can’t even imagine what it is like to manage an event of this scale knowing that it takes a full year to plan, arrange and deliver.

Once again, the team did a fantastic job and this year more than ever I heard lots of positive comments that I duly passed on. The philosophy behind the YM is that we are stronger together and I have to say that working with them adds real credibility to that statement.

Practising what you preach is a big part of what we do here at Open Communications so to have clients that work by the same values makes our job all the more rewarding. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the organisers once again for bringing this fantastic event to the region and also to the individuals, brands and businesses that we worked with to pull the content together.

I’m very pleased to report that we secured coverage across national and regional media in print, online and across broadcast media. Well done team Open Comms, good work!

Now let’s get on with planning for next year’s showcase, which will have to be bigger and better than ever. We better get our thinking caps on.

GIVING BACK TO BECOME #100STRONG

100strong Ho Ho Homeless

From the very start, here at Open Communications, we have always taken the opportunity to give something back. Not because we want to be seen to be ‘doing our bit’ necessarily but because we believe that it is important that when we can, we help out and have a positive impact on the local community and those less fortunate.

Christmas is always a great example of this and for the last three years we have donated to a very worthy cause Ho, Ho, Homeless, which provides festive packages including clothing, food, sanitary products and treats for rough sleepers throughout Yorkshire.

Taking a step back, the initiative was the brainchild of a friend and client, Geoff Shepherd, who had a chance encounter with a homeless person on a bridge in Leeds. Offering the chap some money, he was surprised to be handed the notes back. After some discussion, he insisted the money was taken and the rough sleeper produced a Christmas card as thanks.

Children should be seen and heard

That could, like many similar interactions that happen every day, have been the end of his encounter but Geoff’s young son asked why there was nothing more that could be done for people that have no home and no one to care about them.

A very interesting comment and a shining festive example of why we should listen to children and consider how their ideas can become a reality.

As a result of this, Geoff created Ho, Ho, Homeless and asked businesses to donate money, clothes, toiletries and any other items that would be of use to a rough sleeper during the winter months. Better still, he asked that treats also be considered, not just everyday items so that the recipient would also realise that they are not forgotten and that it is Christmas, a time for special gestures.

100strong

Ongoing support

We have been privileged to offer body warmers and money over the years but as we embark on our third-year things have changed slightly. This year the campaign message was #100Strong. The idea is simple; 100 businesses donate 100 pounds. This would generate £10,000 which would then support the homeless in Leeds, Bradford, Sheffield and York.

So, as well as contributing as an agency – I believe we were seventh – we also asked others within our network to do the same. Headed up this year by Bob Proctor, we received regular updates of the fantastic work that had been done and the products that helped individuals and service delivery partners throughout Yorkshire.

It is no simple task to engage with rough sleepers, nor to spend time purchasing items, engaging with retailers, packing bags and making the deliveries but the team did an amazing job and it just goes to show that we are ‘stronger together’.

Homelessness isn’t just about Christmas  

Now that we are in the new year, and looking back over the campaign, I can’t be the only person who is astonished by the number of visible rough sleepers in Leeds and let’s not forget, there are always those that we don’t see too! There must be something more we can do than refuse their requests for money?

It’s at times like this that I am most proud of Open Communications and all that we stand for. I know lots of businesses and agencies that are similar, so I would ask that rather than just donating at Christmas we all think about the many ways that we can show our support throughout the year.

For updates on the progress of the campaign please follow @MafiaYorkshire or search for the hashtag #100strong.

Ho, Ho, Homelessv2

TROLLING NO LONGER BELONGS UNDER BRIDGES

Despite the fact that social media platforms have been around for a number of years now, with many of us incorporating these communication channels into our everyday lives, there are still people who either don’t understand how to use them or worse still, abuse them.

There is a real difference between the two audiences; one simply can’t get their head around why you would share information online to a potentially global audience, whereas the other takes it upon themselves to misuse the platforms to target, insult and intimidate other users with harmful or hateful comments.

Thankfully, most of us would never dream of sending a comment with the explicit intention of hurting another person’s feelings, but sadly that’s not the case for the minority. As ever with these situations, these people have now been given a name and it has been widely adopted by the social community.

Using social media for all the wrong reasons

Now, in my day, trolls featured in nursery rhymes and books. They typically lived under a bridge or in some other insalubrious environment and they would scare anyone that came near. Unfortunately, young people today now associate ‘trolls’ with individuals that intentionally target others with negative comments online.

Trolling is so prolific that there is even a programme about it. Far from being ashamed about their behaviour, some of these people actually make it a ‘hobby’ to post regular and often unnecessary comments to celebrities and those who have a larger social media following in the hope that they will incite a reaction.

The worst thing that a person can do is respond to a troll, but you can imagine how difficult it must be when your personal account is ‘under attack’ from these people as they spread malicious content online to be reviewed by a worldwide audience. It can’t be easy and it must impact on their lives.

I’ve never ‘got’ trolling and nor do I want to. In order to understand the psychology behind these people’s action would require me either to be a. a psychologist or b. someone who has some affinity or capacity to ‘understand’ the logic behind their actions – I don’t mind admitting, I’m neither.

Tackling the trolls

When I turned the TV on recently there was a programme which immediately caught my attention. Anything to do with social psychology or communication has me gripped, so this was a winner: Celeb Trolls: We’re Coming to Get You. It featured on Channel 4 and the basic idea is to find a celebrity, review their social channels – in this case twitter – and identify those that troll them most frequently.

I consider myself to be pretty thick skinned but some of the comments were aggressive, suggestive, violent and in most instances hateful, all of which was likely to cause at the least psychological distress. What’s interesting however, is these trolls often post as an alias – basically, they hide.

I’ve always said to clients, friends and family, before you post anything on any social media channels ask yourself if you would shout it out loud in a pub or coffee shop – if the answer is no, then question if you should be sharing it at all. It appears that these people could have done with the same advice.

When there’s nowhere left to hide

The producers of the programme made it their mission to find just one of the people that had been trolling the celeb, in this case it was Zahida Allen, who has appeared on a number of reality TV shows. The person that had been trolling her made a series of comments that were unnecessary and offensive – standard practice for a person trying to antagonise and in turn generate a response.

At this point, the search was on, as an investigation team started to piece together the information they could from the troll’s social media accounts. It was no surprise, but all the same a harsh reminder, to see just how easy it is to identify someone and to find out where they lived, worked and what interests they had.

It didn’t take long for the individual to be tracked down and he was sent an email to give him the chance to explain his actions to Zahida in person.   

In all fairness, the individual agreed to meet and was very apologetic. He had no excuse for his behaviour other than he felt that it was common practice and therefore ‘joined in’. Zahida wasn’t the only celeb he had trolled and he freely admitted he never thought it was cause real harm or offence.

Although somewhat ashamed, he didn’t seem as appalled by his own behaviour as he should have been but did mention that his parents had both advised him against featuring on the programme and made it clear he would be finding somewhere else to live if he ever did it again.

Lessons learnt

I really enjoyed this programme and felt that it could and should be used as a real lesson to the younger generation that are using social media channels for all the wrong reasons. It’s so easy to hide behind a screen but sooner or later your behaviour will catch up with you and that’s what people need to realise.

Social media has its benefits and when used correctly can be a very powerful communications tool. Like anything, in the wrong hands it can be dangerous and damaging.

I’d like to see more programmes like this, that provide case studies of the impact that an individual’s actions can have when they abuse the technology that should enhance our experiences and improve our engagement.

For me, I will be passing on details of the programme in the hope that more people learn these lessons and start to implement best practice. Perhaps trolling will take on a different meaning as these people are made to take responsibility for their actions and the comments they make, intended or otherwise.