Author: Lindsey Davies

Supporting the North’s leading business to business event

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When you mention the Yorkshire Mafia (YM), particularly to those outside of the region, it can be met with a surprising variety of responses; some people are shocked that an organisation exists that has such a controversial brand, others want to know more and are intrigued, what many don’t realise is that it has had an economic impact that equates conservatively to £50m.

So, love it or loathe it, the Group has made a real difference to the way that business works in Yorkshire. Geoff Shepherd, founder of the organisation, which started as a LinkedIn network in 2008, didn’t have to put his time and effort into creating a movement that would bring people together to learn, work, meet, share and do business – but he did.

For those who are not involved in the YM the philosophy is simple: Stronger Together. A strap line that has become synonymous with the Group but importantly resonates with those that really have put the theory into practice. As someone who has made some really strong business associates, met many of our preferred suppliers and has also had some of the most memorable nights out in the last eight years, I can certainly recommend the YM and all that it stands for.

When you run a small or medium sized business it can be difficult to create a network that you can trust. ‘Networking’ events can be a challenge and it’s often more about selling to each other than creating meaningful relationships that add any value and that’s where the YM and Buy Yorkshire differ. The values that underpin the Group and the Conference are to encourage like-minded people to come together and to get to know each other. What happens next is then up to you but more often than not, once a trust is formed you start to find ways in which you can help each other, which in turn leads to new business or opportunities.

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The Buy Yorkshire Conference takes place on the 16 and 17 May at the Royal Armouries in Leeds and as the preferred PR agency supporting the event, we know just how much time, effort and commitment go into making it bigger and better each year, which is no mean feat.

Here at Open Comms we have been involved with the YM for a number of years and have supported the Conference since its launch. What has always amazed me is the quality of speakers that the event attracts to the region – there is no other business event that can claim to do the same.

This year is a further example with Deliveroo, LEGO, Channel 4, Just Eat, Uber and Google all headlining. What’s even more exciting is that this isn’t an exhaustive list and delegates – who can register for free – can also expect to see the Billion Pound Panel and Jonathan Pie, the spoof political reporter that has taken social media by storm!

I really enjoy the two-days at the Conference, not least because it is a chance to get out of the office and to meet with some familiar faces while meeting new people too. As you would expect, there is a lot for us to do in the run-up to the event, but what I really champion is the hard work and dedication of the YM team, who are rarely thanked by the thousands of people who attend the show.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank them all. They do a great job to pull out all of the stops to make the Buy Yorkshire Conference an annual event that people talk about for months and look forward to each year.

For those exhibiting at this year’s event, please do make a point of coming to meet with us. There will be representatives from Open Comms available throughout the two days and as well as listening to the speakers and drafting blogs to give those who don’t manage to come along some insight, we would also like to hear from those who are taking stands.

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The diversity of people who come along to the event speaks for itself so we look forward to meeting with the many and varied businesses that champion Yorkshire as a place to meet, learn, share and do business together. For those who want to learn more about how to do business differently in Yorkshire, come along and experience:

  • 2 days
  • 2 exhibition halls
  • 20+ speakers
  • 185 exhibition stands
  • 4,000+ registered delegates
  • A full programme of seminars, panels and workshops

For further details about the Buy Yorkshire Conference, including the speaker line-up and exhibitors please visit www.buyyorkshire.com.

 

The significance of saying sorry

head in sandImage source: http://www.quotemaster.org/head+in+the+sand

It’s very rare that you will meet a business owner or entrepreneur that says that life is easy. More likely they will be denouncing their irritation at having people presume that they come into the office at 10am, leave at 4pm, take boozy lunchbreaks and reap all of the benefits.

That is very rarely the case, and in our experience is somewhat far from the truth.

So when a businessman or woman who has a list of jobs to do as long as their arm comes into work one morning to be faced with a crisis, what should they do? More often than not PANIC and look around for someone who has some idea of the processes that they should already have in place

This is a fair assumption of smaller to medium sized businesses, but in the recent case of United Airlines it would be fair to expect that this globally recognised brand would have known better when faced with a very challenging and controversial situation involving a passenger.

Social media, as is typically the case, gave a global audience all of the information they felt that they needed – backed up by reports from local and national media – to make their own deliberations and come to their own conclusions. Needless to say, a resounding majority of them were far from positive, with one man calling BBC Radio 2 to confirm he had cancelled a flight and would never use the airline again.

The brand was in a really difficult position. Do they go against the authorities and their ‘heavy handed’ removal of the passenger or do they hold their hands up and make it clear that this will not be tolerated and that it was not endorsed by their brand or business, reiterating that a full investigation will follow?

Neither it would appear. Instead, a statement was hurriedly issued that didn’t really say a great deal of anything. This was followed by 24-48 hours of criticism from the world’s media before the Chief Executive decided it was time to do a piece to camera and to apologise and to share a relatively detailed and apologetic update.

Unfortunately, this was too little, too late for many and the time it took to conclude that this should have been the approach all along meant that there was a certain lack of sincerity to the piece.

Needless to say, losing a billion dollars from your share price overnight is going to make you feel sorry for yourself but what about your passengers, who along with your crew, should be your first priority?

As an agency that handles crisis for some of the leading brands in the country, we appreciate how significant the passing of time is in a challenging situation. It is absolutely essential that any situation considered a priority becomes an IMMEDIATE priority.

That doesn’t mean if you work in manufacturing that you pull the plugs on all machines and sit on your hands. It means that senior management should cancel ALL meetings however important and come together to discuss the issues and to carefully and quickly plan the next steps.

Brands must be prepared, irrelevant of their size. This means having a team in place that knows that if something happens they will be required. It’s simply not good enough to issue a statement to say that your managing director is on holiday and unable to comment. Unfortunately, having a business means that people expect that you are available any time of the day or night and if it is impossible for that to be the case then who is responsible in your absence.

These are all of the things that should be decided and the processes that should be agreed and in place before anything happens, not during the first major disaster a brand is faced with.

We see it all too often. When we mention crisis to a prospective client the answer is invariably the same: “There is very little that can happen and we don’t foresee anything in the future”. Well, of course, you don’t – otherwise you would be walking around expecting the worst – BUT that doesn’t mean it isn’t going to happen.

Scenario planning is a great way to get people involved and to make them appreciate the need and urgency of a crisis. Bringing people together to role play is another way that a crisis can feel more real without you having to go through the processes in ‘real life’ for the first time.

Saying sorry can be difficult for a brand, particularly when there are often many factors and variables that are rarely shared in full with the media but that doesn’t mean that you don’t have a duty of care to your customers and those who may choose to use your products or services in the future.

Here’s a really simple five step guide to dealing with a crisis*:

  1. Bring the senior management team together (and ideally a representative from your appointed PR agency)
  2. Share the facts – ALL OF THEM. This is absolutely essential so that everyone knows what you are dealing with and the possible fall-out as a result.
  3. Draft a response for the media including a holding statement. Depending on the nature of the crisis starting with an apology is often a good idea.
  4. Handle all media calls and schedule interviews throughout the day – these should be managed as the situation unfolds, not afterwards. This is likely to be your only chance to respond to media requests. At this point you will also need to identify a spokesperson.
  5. Evaluate. Review the processes you have in place, learn lessons and make crisis a priority for the future. However crisis-proof you feel your business, life has a challenging way of proving us otherwise.

*Every crisis is different and have a PR agency in place that has experience of working across a number of sectors will give you the advice you need to tweak these five tips to ensure that you are approaching any given situation with the sensitivity and professionalism it deserves.

Why it pays to use PR

Making PR pay

It can be difficult for businesses to know where best to allocate their budgets – after all, you want to do everything but at the same time every penny counts. PR is often a forgotten relative when it comes to finding and assigning the necessary resource to manage PR in house.

The problem arises when ‘managing PR in house’ actually means putting it on the bottom of a list that you never get around to. This is a common problem and something that we come across a lot.

PR isn’t about drafting a press release and sending it to a journalist, it is about managing the reputation of a business, arguably the biggest asset of any company. When you say that sentence out loud you start to appreciate just how significant PR is as a specialism.

We appreciate that businesses and in particular SMEs find it a challenge to allocate the resource and that they are so caught up in meeting with client demands that PR is the least of their worries but just think about the difference that having an agency could make.

Yes, there is an investment, but that is exactly how you should perceive any budgets you attribute to PR and marketing communications. You are investing in the reputation of your business. You are sharing good news and positive updates with those that matter most – your current and prospective customers and your stakeholders.

It simply isn’t good enough in a world where we can self-publish that businesses don’t allocate the time necessary to keep people informed. PR is one of the most valuable tools that you can use to generate new business and yet it is an oversight. That doesn’t make any sense.

We work as an extension of our clients’ teams, meaning that we take every opportunity to showcase how hard PR can work and the results that can be achieved.

For those who don’t believe in PR or think that it is a waste of money, I always ask them why the largest brands in the world invest? Surely these people have the money, the skills and the knowledge to know better. They are surrounded by ‘advisors’ who would tell them to put their money elsewhere.

The truth is that they don’t invest elsewhere, they appreciate the value or PR because they recognise that it is an essential tool for business.

Companies that invest in PR will see a difference; they will notice people talking about them, they will secure credibility by association, they will educate a marketplace about the goods and services that they have to offer and they will become a bigger and better business as a result.

Bold statement – not really. We’ve been working with our clients for years and this is exactly the results that we have achieved for them.

Of course, as a PR agency, we are bound to say all this. We are going to champion PR and we are going to recommend that every business allocates a suitable budget to ensure that they can manage their reputation. But think about it. What is the alternative?

We all pay insurance because it is a legal requirement to do so and often we feel it is unfair that contingencies have to be put in place but when something goes wrong the relief is overwhelming. The same can be said for PR. Don’t leave your reputation to chance, it’s far too valuable.

Social media is not a sales tool

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With the continuing popularity of Facebook and the increasing appreciation of Twitter and LinkedIn as tools for business, people could be excused for thinking that these platforms should sit within the sales function of a business. After all, it’s a great way to ‘target’ an audience and to ‘push out’ information about a product or service.

However this is where many brands and businesses go wrong.

No one, and I mean no one, likes to be sold at. The world is full of marketing messages; just walking down the street and you will be greeted with a plethora of information, all carefully displayed on posters, banners, billboards and digital signage.

The truth is that we live in an era of over-abundance. The best campaigns will attract attention, not necessarily because of the copy that they use or even the imagery that they display, but often because they are simple and they are integrated; they are shared across several mediums, giving a consumer numerous opportunities to engage.

But what about those businesses that don’t have multi-million-pound budgets and those that have to make the most of every single penny? Many turn to social media as a quick fix and again, this is a mistake.

There are three mistakes that people make when they consider social media as a springboard to sales:

–          Social media is free

–          There are millions of people waiting to be sold at

–          Once people like my page or follow me they will buy my product

As a PR agency we try to explain to people that if you treat social media platforms as a sales channel you will immediately turn your prospective customers off. It goes back to the age-old adage, ask not what people can do for you…

The idea of social media was to share insightful and interesting information with people, not to sell at them. There are ways that you can add value through a Facebook page, which may seem like selling, such as offering money off and promotional codes, but the truth is that you are giving something back.

With the rules that are in place with Facebook, which will limit your audience reach unless you put a budget behind paid for advertising, it can be difficult to reach the volume of people you may need to make a real difference to your business.

This doesn’t mean that Facebook should be dismissed when it comes to sharing news updates about products but it does mean that it becomes a very expensive medium if all you are going to do is to pay to share a picture.

There is a balance, and that is why when we work with clients we explain that putting a plan in place that is carefully thought out and considered, that follows themes that will keep people interested and that will encourage them to come back time and time again is a better approach than sending out the same advert or trying to be quirky and falling short of the mark.

People are increasingly time poor and with so much information on the internet they don’t want to spend time clicking to links, accessing other web pages or viewing long and meaningless video. They want content that is helpful, informative and if at all possible, funny. This is what makes is shareable.

Using an example from the real world to put this into context, how would you feel if you walked into a coffee shop and you met someone for the first time and they started the conversation by asking you what insurance you have or whether you wanted an ISA?

For most of us this would make us feel uneasy and it would be more than probable that the next time you bumped into this person you would try to avoid them.

The same can be said for a brand. If you start to ‘shout’ your messages at people then they are less likely to want to engage with you. As an alternative, try to ask their opinion; what are they looking for, what would make the customer experience better for them, what do they want to see from you in the future?

Building brand loyalty isn’t easy, in fact, it is a long-term strategy of most businesses but a starting point is remembering that it is about building relationships. Customers want to feel valued and special. They want to know that you care and that you have them in mind, not your sales targets.

The automotive sector is a good example of an industry that has evolved with the times. Many dealerships have recognised that people research online before they visit a showroom and so they offer as much information as they can online.

You will find videos and podcasts, images and testimonials from customers. At this point you will also find a button which will allow you to visit your nearest dealership for a test drive. What they have done is to give you all of the information you need – that you are searching for. They have then provided you with the option to book a test drive.

The process is driven by you (no pun intended) – not them, which makes it feel less forced. What happens when you get into the dealership is up to the sales team but rather than jump on you and offer a knock-down price, as was once the case, you increasingly find that showrooms look like coffee shops that could rival leading high street brands with their skinny lattes and chocolate topped mochas.

The point is that to use social media effectively it isn’t about selling, it’s about communicating. It’s about building profile. Once you have a strong brand presence you can then start to turn engagement into loyalty. The process is not simple, it is not quick but over time it often works.

If your marketing is planned, sustainable and does not rely on the misguided belief that if you put thousands of pounds behind a Facebook post that it will make you a millionaire, a social strategy could become a useful facet to your wider marketing activity.

Celebrating Children of Achievement in Wakefield

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It’s no secret that as a Wakefield based PR agency we support local charitable initiatives and events when we can. Not only do we feel that it is the right thing to do as a business – to give something back – but it also means that as individuals we can contribute our time and skills to make a positive difference.

Most recently, I have joined the board of WACCL (Wakefield Annual Charity Christmas Lunch) and have been working with a great group of people to arrange the Children of Achievement Awards. This will be the only event of its kind to take place in the Wakefield District that will be dedicated to children and will celebrate their talents and bravery.

Like most people, I feel it is important that we take the time to reward young people, to encourage them and to give other children – and adults for that matter – the opportunity to learn by example.

At present we are working furiously behind the scenes to pull together the finer details and to make sure that this is an event that the nine winning children will never forget. It is shaping up to be a real show stopper with lots of surprises!  

This is where you just might be able to lend a hand.

We are looking for companies that would like to become sponsors and businesses that would like to attend the event, which will take place on Friday 9 June at Cedar Court Hotel in Wakefield.

Sponsorship is just £1,000 and for this you will get a table for ten, plus your branding and messaging across all marketing materials including digital media displays and videos that will be shown throughout the evening. In addition, you will also have your time to shine as we ask that you take to the stage to hand over your category award.  

Tables of ten are only £500 and you can expect a champagne reception, a three-course meal and a fun-filled evening with family, friends and colleagues.

Finally, we are looking for nominations, after all this event is all about the young people from our district who have gone above and beyond, so we want to make sure that we are showcasing the amazing individuals who are most deserving of each award. Please be sure to send across the details of anyone you feel could be worthy.

We really do hope that you will take the time to come along, to show your support, to join us and to put forward your nominations. We know that with your help we can make this event a HUGE success and that it will become an annual celebration to reward Wakefield’s Children of Achievement.

For more details or to book a table please email info@waccl.co.uk.

Celebrating our clients’ successes

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As an agency, there is one thing that we can definitely be accused of – we get just as excited over the successes that our client’s share as we do our own achievements. We know that this is because we genuinely become an extension of their teams, but it also makes our hard work all the more rewarding.

And that is why we are looking forward to TheBusinessDesk.com Yorkshire Business Masters Awards, which take place in Leeds on Thursday evening. Not only do we have two clients that have been shortlisted across three awards but we have also been invited to attend and to join in with the celebrations.

BemroseBooth Paragon, the specialist ticketing supplier and provider of smart enabled applications, has been shortlisted for two awards; Innovation and International Business, whilst iSource Group, the national IT and procurement recruitment specialist, is hoping to top the tables as Business Master in Contributing to the Community.

Now, we have to be clear, there is no doubt that we are biased, but both of these organisations would be very worthy winners. Not only are they progressive businesses that push boundaries, they are also great to work with.

The competition is undoubtedly fierce but we think that they are both in with a really good chance of bringing home a super shiny trophy to take pride of place in the display cabinet!

So, now all we need to do is decide what to wear – easier said than done – and keep our fingers crossed. We will certainly update with the results and hope to be finishing the week off on an award-winning high.

We’ll keep you posted.

PR is no dark art but a top hat can help

Top hat 2Agencies are well-versed in the dark arts of baffling people with science. Whether its metrics that determine an audience reach or a targeted consumer from the right demographic reading a social post, it can be nothing short of a headache when you can’t decipher the fluff from the facts.

PR has changed irrevocably over recent years and this has been a good and a bad thing. Positively, there are online platforms and channels to engage with and extend audience reach, plus opportunities to self-publish, which in turn negates the need for third party copy approval, but there are downsides too.

Agencies get giddy about analytics, and rightly so. We can use online measures to track engagement and to give clients real time feedback. We can also map how this can impact on shopper behaviour and purchasing occasions. What overcomplicates this process is the burning desire for agencies to then reposition ‘clicking the analytics button at the top of the page’ into something far more elaborate.

STOP! Hold it right there. Quit it.

We noticed this some time ago and sat through many-a-meeting where eye rolling became an involuntary twitch rather than a planned reaction. What’s so wrong with providing a client with the facts, keeping them simple and sharing results that you can all get excited about?

As a straight-talking PR agency, we don’t do ‘baffling with science’, we try at all costs to keep things simple so that we can prove to our clients that PR works and that it has a positive influence on their business. We strongly believe that comms and marketing should have a seat around every boardroom table and as such have to practice what we preach and that is why we used simple PR techniques to turn a Gala Dinner into a brand building exercise.

We don’t consider our industry to be a joke, far from it, but we do like to have fun where we can and that is why during the Gala Dinner and Variety Performance at the Theatre Royal Wakefield, we decided to add a little creative flair of our own.

As a sponsor, we were asked if there was anything we would like to do, such as offer a raffle prize. Following a chance encounter with the most impressive balloon expert I’ve ever met, we had a plan and 36 top hats!

Deciding to take this opportunity to explain to everyone in the room that PR is NOT a dark art and that you DON’T need magic wands to create campaigns that work, we had a simple postcard made. This explained that PR is still about managing reputation, arguably a brands biggest asset, and that it takes hard work but you will see results.

As an agency that develops monthly campaigns for clients, we know that a postcard isn’t going to have people jumping out of their seats in eager anticipation of what is written on the full-colour, 180gsm stock, matt coated flyer. We had to do something else to attract attention.

That’s where a top hat, a balloon and a raffle ticket came into play.

Building on our theme ‘Ta-da!’ we put a top hat on each table as a centre piece. We then arranged for a balloon shaped rabbit to sit in the hat. This wasn’t any old rabbit. Inside each tummy was a raffle ticket. All each table had to do was pop the tummy to get their ticket and claim their prize.

Bunnies

Suddenly our message that PR isn’t a dark art and nor is it magic was being shared by the whole room. It was great to see the engagement that we achieved as a result – and no, there were no fancy metrics, no analytical breakdown of the data, just lots of people wearing top hats and a crowd surfing balloon bunny! Job done.

The point to this article is two-fold; firstly, don’t believe everything you hear. PR is not a dark art, nor does it involve magic tricks but it can deliver results that will impact on your business. Secondly, if you’re going to do something, add some imagination. Tops hats and bunnies might not sound like the obvious tactics for a PR agency to use, but they worked for us.

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Taking the time to make a difference

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We try to make a difference wherever and whenever we can here at Open Comms but like many busy businesses, it’s finding the time that’s the trouble! It’s often the case that we have the best intentions but don’t have the hours in the day to contribute or commit to the good causes that we would otherwise support.

I’m not talking about putting some pennies in a pot, it’s more about the wider impact that we can have as a result of sharing our knowledge and adding some value where it matters most. Many charities are desperate for resources that go beyond financial donations and that’s where we are able to offer our support.

It’s not always about the pounds and pence

Just one great example of an organisation that understands the challenges that are faced by smaller businesses that still want to contribute is Ahead Partnership. The organisation works as a facilitator between schools and organisations to bridge the gap between learning and earning.

Working up and down the country, Ahead Partnership provides businesses with the opportunity to give something back. Not only does this benefit the local community, which is often a big tick for corporate organisations, but it also has a direct impact on the talent of the future – win, win.

What’s even better is that their programmes and activities are flexible, giving smaller businesses the chance to do their bit and get involved.

Back to the classroom

So, on Tuesday when I was invited to an interview practice session at Wakefield College I was really interested. The problem was that I simply couldn’t allocate a whole day to the activity. Ahead Partnership was great and gave me a half day slot so that I could contribute.

Walking into the College was quite nerve-wracking, as someone who didn’t do particularly well at school, I still expect to end up stood outside the head master’s office. Thankfully, there was no need for my heart to be hammering and I was instantly put at ease by the team.

I was given a pass and shown to a table to await the first student. We were equipped with an overview of the activity, which had been sent a number of days in advance, including a list of questions that we could use as a guide.

Remember your p’s and q’s

I believe very strongly that you should use your own experiences to positively influence others and one of the first real lessons I learnt as a young adult was to remember your p’s and q’s. This wasn’t about manners as such, but more about realising that your personality is just as important as your qualifications.

I truly believe that people buy people and that this is also true of interviews. As such, when the first candidate came into the room, I was immediately aware of the one thing I always notice… the handshake.

Interestingly, during the whole day, there was only one student who came across and put their hand out. It’s not necessarily a criticism (although I did mention it to each person who came along) but was simply an observation.

All of the students that I had the pleasure to meet with were articulate, ambitious and most surprisingly had a clear plan of action in terms of their next steps and where they wanted to be. They approached the session with gusto and were very gracious of any constructive criticism they received. Clearly, this was always followed up with the positive points too – I’m not a tyrant!

A lesson learnt

I must have met with around 8-10 students during the time that I was involved in the activity and I have to say I’m not sure who learnt the most.

The stories that the students had to share, particularly in relation to their motivations and influences, was simply remarkable. No two students were even remotely similar and they ALL had something very special to offer.

What was really refreshing was the variety of roles that the students were hoping to secure when they left school or graduated. Everything from a special needs teacher, business manager, digital developer, coding expert, hotel manager and everything in between! On top of that, they all had a real belief that they could achieve whatever they put their minds to. And so they should.

Encouragingly, most of the students I met had either volunteered or had part-time jobs. This is something that I hold in huge regard and think it is essential if you want to build experience and skills that will last a lifetime. I was also really pleased to hear that this is something that is very much endorsed by Wakefield College.

Final thoughts

What a great experience.

Although I was struggling to allocate the time in my diary, I am so pleased I took out just four hours of my day to do something different and to give something back. However insignificant you may think it is, I hope that just one of those students walks into a room and shakes the hand of the person in front of them.

But most of all, I wish each and every one of those students the very best and encourage them to continue to follow their dreams, wherever they may lead.

This Girl Can – and the campaign does

I sweat, I pant, I run - I don't look good but it makes me feel great.

I sweat, I pant, I run – I don’t look good but it makes me feel great.

Keeping it simple

I’ve followed the Sport England, This Girl Can, campaign since it launched and have been impressed by its simplicity from the start. The first thing they did right was to recognise that branding has a place but not all over everything.

Living in a world where we are constantly targeted by marketing messages people have become increasingly cynical, and when something is overtly branded we know to be aware that we are being ‘sold at’.

Unfortunately, this can be a difficult lesson to learn and many companies feel that they are missing a trick if they don’t have their brand on show, all of the time. The truth is that more often than not, less is more.

Don’t ask too much

Consumers have never been more intrinsically linked to the tricks of the trade and they are aware of the power that they have to influence a brand by advocacy or to crucify it through controversy.

Social media is a fantastic communication tool, we have never been able to share messages so quickly or with such a vast audience, but with it comes some pitfalls too.

The hurdles often become apparent when agencies try to be too clever. They expect too much from the consumer and in a culture where we click to purchase or swipe to like there is simply no way that the volume of people required to impress a client will engage.

What This Girl Can have done is simply ask that people share their image – if they want to. And that is the point. They aren’t suggesting you will get anything in return, they aren’t selling anything to you, per se, but they are changing behaviour and asking that if you want to you can get involved.

Keeping it real

There’s absolutely nothing new in creating campaigns that focus on real people. It’s been done before and it will be done again, it’s a good idea and it works. However, with this campaign, it takes keeping it real to a whole new level.

The idea that people would share their pictures when they know they don’t look their best and in many instances far from it would never be an objective that you would choose when developing a marketing campaign, but it’s worked.

There is something almost akin to a ‘sisterhood’ which has gained momentum through this campaign and what has made it stand out for me is that it hasn’t felt forced. It’s been very organic in the way it has picked up pace.

The tone of voice and messages have been perfect too. It hasn’t, like many sports-related campaigns, being about pushing yourself to the limit, setting goals or even encouraging you to try the latest exercise or equipment – it has been about being you; doing what you do; being proud of your efforts and knowing that if you don’t want to, you don’t have to. It makes it hard for you not to endorse it.

Being all things to all people

Many brands want to target a mass market, it’s a numbers game. They want to communicate with everyone and to use one message to do that. If you work in marketing you will know that getting this right is like finding a goose that lays golden eggs – it’s rare!

Not only does mass market require mass budgets (and admittedly you could argue £8m is a pretty good start) but it also needs to be so effective that everyone sees it, gets it, acts on it and shares it. This Girl Can does exactly that. It cleverly features a variety of women that most people can relate to. Some people may say that it ticks boxes – and perhaps that is true – but it’s worked.

The most recent TV advert has extended the audience from 14 – 40 to 14 – 60 year olds. Very few agencies would ever take a brief that suggested you target 14-60 year old women, cross demographic and geography, with a single campaign.

Keeping momentum

The typical problem with sports-related marketing is keeping the momentum. Something may work but once it’s done you can’t really repeat it without it becoming… well, repetitive, which in turn makes it boring.

The scheduling and roll out of This Girl Can has captured attention time and time again. The subtle shift in focus from advertising to activism was inspired. The process was so simple; use advertising and PR (along with an £8m budget) to capture the hearts and minds of women throughout the country, ask them to join in, give them the tools to get involved, create a community, leave them to it. Clearly, I’ve over simplified that, but it’s not far from what’s happened.

Don’t over commercialise

This goes back to selling at people. It’s not only consumers that don’t like this approach, when something is too commercial it makes it almost impossible to share with the media. That’s what advertising is for.

All you have to do is search the news pages online to see just how much coverage has been achieved with This Girl Can across national, regional and broadcast media along with more blogs than I care to mention – this one included!

Any agency would be popping corks if they could do the same and replicate these results every time they worked with a client – we’d also be retiring and moving to the Bahamas.

The tools

I mention above about giving people the tools to get involved and the This Girl Can app is so simple it takes around a minute to create your own poster, which you can then conveniently share across all of your social channels. Et voila you’re part of the community and before you know it you’re sharing their message and endorsing the brand.

It’s very, very rare that I get sucked into any marketing tactics but I’ve got to hold my hands up – I’m in. I have my own poster and I’m secretly quite proud of the fact that I can share it. I feel like I’m doing my bit. I’m part of a community of women who are content with getting active in their own way, at their own pace and in their own time.

What makes this message even more compelling is that it speaks to me; I can genuinely agree and associate directly with the philosophy of this campaign. I’ve just start to run (jog would probably be more fitting) and although I’m never going to be any kind of athlete, nor do I want to be, I’m enjoying it because I’m doing it my way.

My only suggestion and something that I found quite frustrating is that the headlines you can use are all formatted – so although there are a few to choose from they aren’t ‘yours’. I would have liked to have been given the option to add my own, but that’s just me.

Campaign of the decade

Working in marketing can be and often is tough. PR is just one facet of this but you have so many people to keep happy and it’s a balancing act. We often associate it to spinning plates. Not everything always goes as you want it to. It can be about test and measure.

When the consumer says no, and people simply refuse to engage with a campaign, we have to review the tactics we’ve used and take a long hard look at what went wrong. In doing this it also gives us the opportunity to review other brand activities – those that we feel have got it right.

Like many people in our industry, I call upon a few campaigns that over the years have got it right and I can say without any hesitation that This Girl Can will be going to the top of that list. I genuinely believe that it is the best campaign we have seen in the last decade and coming from someone who is typically difficult to please that’s saying something.

This campaign can and it has!

If you want lasting love, don’t fake it!

It’s been a difficult month for journalists and PR’s alike as the news agenda was indefensibly challenged as the sharing of fake news hit the headlines.  

Far be it that this was a one-off incident that could be swept under the carpet with the abrupt resignation of a non-descript recruit from some back office, this was serious. It was creating conversation and debate, and of any profession that should recognise the significance of that, it’s PR.

PR has long had a reputation for manipulating, ‘spinning’ and even inventing news stories in order to secure coverage and encourage positive responses from consumers, so we have to question what has changed and why are people so concerned?

The truth is that people want to trust the news sources that they have long believed to be credible. They want to know that a journalist – or PR – has done their research and has pulled together a balanced article that will allow them to form their own opinions based on fact – not fiction.

The struggle is that we live in a culture whereby people want breaking news. Invariably with this mistakes will happen – but fake news isn’t just about mistakes, it is absolutely about the sharing of content that the journalist, PR or brand knows is false.

It’s lying and often in a bid to manipulate a given response which may have further implications to a wider campaign.

What I have found most troubling is that the term ‘fake news’ is now widely used, referenced and understood. This is really worrying. When we work with clients the first rule is don’t lie, which is swiftly followed by the second and third; don’t suggest that we lie and don’t manipulate the truth.

If you can’t find an angle to a story then the likelihood is that you don’t have one to share.

People are undoubtedly going to become increasingly cynical of news and you can’t really blame them. They are going to question what they should believe and with such an array of sources to collate information from – positive, negative, neutral and all that is in between – it does become mind boggling. 

What we as an industry have to do is to continue to champion good practice. Spin is not a positive term as far as I’m concerned and I have an ongoing joke with a client who uses the insinuation purely to wind me up!

If PR is to be considered a specialism and the profession I certainly believe it to be, then it is our job to showcase why that is the case. We manage the reputations of brands and businesses, so we must be able to change the perception of an industry that without too much trouble is going to get pulled into the gutter.

There are agencies that will do anything for coverage – let’s be honest, we all know that’s the case – but we need to take a stand and to work harder to create good quality stories that people will read and feel informed, enlightened and engaged by.

All we can do is take the facts that our clients give us, but that’s another thing. Work with brands that you trust. It’s just as important that we can be sure of the facts that we are then sharing with a journalist, as it is that the journalist takes that story and prints it or posts it online to thousands of readers with the knowledge it was sent in good faith.

Choosing where you share news is of course another thing. If a PR is going to work with publications or sites that have been consistently discredited, then you can’t expect that they will share the content that you have given them without adding their own inflection to the piece. 

We are surrounded by content at every turn; from our TV or radios when we get up, to newspapers and our phones or iPads and that’s even before we get to work. What we should do as individuals is to remember that despite some misguided beliefs, not everything you read in the news is the truth.

Most brands are aspiring for the holy grail of results – brand loyalty and you simply will not get that if you lie. It’s a pretty simple concept really, if you want lasting love, don’t fake it!