Category: Blog

What does social media really mean to your customers?

Within the marketing industry the term social media is now widely accepted and used on a daily basis. People clump together a series of tools, which in the most basic sense are controlled by the Internet, and we refer to this collective as ‘social media’ or digital.

Some people are well aware of what social media groupings include, in particular tools such as Facebook, twitter, pinterest and possibly even foursquare and google+ but many don’t. There are still people who would prefer not to understand social media and who will remain resolute that the best way to target customers is through traditional methods; advertising, marketing, PR and *gasp* face-to-face meetings.

There is no right or wrong approach to social media as far as I’m concerned. I think there are a lot of agencies who make social media sound more complicated than it actually is in order to bump up their prices and charge a fortune for a relatively simple schedule of activity, which could be implemented by the client. There are others who do amazing things and rightly deliver on what they promise.

I also see the opinions of business owners in relation to social media. There are a number of businesses who could really benefit from having a greater understanding of the basic techniques that can be used to help drive the communications of a company online but are still very sceptical.

The most important question isn’t do I understand social media but what do my customers and most importantly prospects think about the tools that are available to them and which are they actively using?

Is it likely that even a small proportion of your target audience will be searching for information about your products and services online? If the answer is yes, then you have to question your approach to social media. You also need to find out if people are discussing your brand and business and what they are saying about the service that you are delivering.

If you are still resolute that there is no chance that your customers will be online or using these tools then your time is  better spent elsewhere – perhaps with a get together, colourful piece of direct marketing or promotion, which will drive footfall to your store or business.

One thing to consider however is while you are ignoring social media and what it could do for you, it’s likely that your competitors are making the most of it and you need to question whether you are happy with that.

Sometimes to say nothing at all makes most impact

The French edition of Closer magazine has decided to print pictures of the Duchess of Cambridge topless while on a holiday. My first point has to be does anyone really care – I have no burning desire to see her breasts and can’t imagine for one second why anyone else would want to either.

My second point is that Closer magazine (and it’s important to get across that this is the French edition not the UK based publication) will sell out on all newsstands if not for the fact that they have these ridiculous images but because the British media are making such a fuss about it.

If the truth be told the very best way to handle this would have been to keep quiet and say nothing. The publishers will be rubbing their hands together in glee and doubling the print run to meet with demand and all because people are talking about something, which for all intense and purpose, has no news value what-so-ever.

Closer in France couldn’t have paid for this profile or the exposure that they get. Right or wrong there is definitely some truth in the fact that all publicity is good publicity.

Even Jeremy Vine has got in on the act, asking if a Princess should go topless at someone else’s house on his prime time afternoon show – I go back to my original point, who cares? She is a beautiful married woman who was on holiday. If she wants to sunbath topless at a private resort then it is her right to do so.

I’m not one to bang on about human rights and I do agree that when someone becomes a public figure they have certain expectations placed on them but there has to be a line drawn and this photographer, in my mind, have crossed it.

The best thing we could all do now is never mention the sorry incident again. Rather than giving the ‘story’ more kudos, we should simply ignore it and rise above it. No more statements, no more comments issued and certainly no more mention of the rag in question. I just hope that those who are responsible don’t earn enough money to retire as a result of a few tasteless pictures.

Have you had your desk-fast?

There was a fascinating piece in the Yorkshire Post Life and Style section today regarding eating at your desk. This particular piece referenced breakfast (deskfast), known to be the most important meal of the day, but I think the message within the piece stands true to all meals.

We are one of the worst offices for eating at our desk. A lot of the time we are too busy to go out for a lunch break and so sit and munch while reading emails or creating strategies – good habit – no, not all, in fact really, really bad.

I don’t mind admitting that since adopting a desk-to -eat policy I have put on more than a stone. It’s not necessarily what I eat but the fact that I no longer go for a stroll at lunchtime. I am in that awful collective of people who think that if you leave your desk you are also losing time and time is money.

I know that people think that if you spend a short time away from your desk during the day you will be more productive but I’m not convinced that this is actually true. Also as sad as it sounds to leave my desk would mean leaving my clients and what happens if someone needs something urgently?

Ok, so that’s a bit sad but I do enjoy my job and although we are based in the most beautiful parklands at Nostell Priory Estate Yard we don’t get out and about much. May be this should be something we rectify and try to put into practice over the next few months.

There are going to be a number of changes at Open Comms and we have already decided that this is a time for us to sit down and decide how we want to address some things moving forward. May be ‘deskfast’ and lunch at our desks should be added to the list?

BUILDING FUTURE SUCCESS

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has noticed that the tides seem to be turning for developers in the Yorkshire region. Iconic sites such as the Lumiere in Leeds and previously mothballed  master plans, which have been on hold for a number of years, are now getting the attention and funding that they need to move forward.

This is fantastic news for our region. Not only will this turnaround means a greater experience will be had by visitors and shoppers, as well as there being more opportunity for those looking for residential properties in the cities, but it will also create jobs for the many labourers, developers, construction workers and bricklayers who have found recent years particularly difficult.

I have a real passion for development and was very fortunate to have the opportunity to work on two major projects earlier in my career; Bradford, the birth of a new city and Leeds Leads, the marketing of Leeds as a city to those outside of the region.

Working on two major areas within our region and promoting them to other cities throughout the UK, Europe and the World was hugely exciting. I had the chance to work with leading developers, to see sites as they unfolded and to witness and experience the evolution of a brown field site to a masterpiece, a mill building to luxury apartments and a run-down and deprived area to a community hub attracting people of all ages to work, visit and enjoy.

I arranged and managed a number of journalist visits during this time – we refer to them as familiarisation visits – with journalists from national and international papers coming to visit each city in turn. It was interesting to see their imaginations come to life when they were made aware of the projects that were planned.

Double page spreads featured in titles including the Guardian, Independent and Observer. The interest was astonishing, particularly as many of these journalists were based in London and at the time it could be difficult to drag them away from their desks to visit our humble region ‘in the sticks’

Two recent stories that have hit the headlines, which support the shift to greater levels of investment in property and development, are the proposed sale of the Leeds Victoria Quarter for £136million to Hammerson and the multi-million pound scheme to regenerate the neglected Gateway to Wakefield, which is close to the award winning Hepworth Gallery.

Both of these developments will have a huge impact on the areas that they are in. Hammerson are proposing an extension to the Victoria Quarter (let’s get saving ladies!) and the regeneration of the Wakefield Gateway will once again put the city on the map and reiterate that it is a place to work, visit and enjoy. Wakefield suffers from a lack of outside attention, which the Hepworth has certainly addressed, however this must continue.

Building and development to me is about more than bricks and mortar, it’s about more than high rise flats and iconic designs. The regeneration of our area needs constant marketing support and a sustainable communication plan which takes our messages to those who live outside of the region. We need to ensure that we attract the attention of those who will come into our cities to stay and most importantly to spend.

Regeneration needs to meet with objectives – we don’t want a beautiful collection of towns and cities that stand empty. We want a hub of excitement, which delivers shopping, leisure, art, creativity, socialising and what we are famed for – a friendly welcome.

The next few years will be very interesting. Buildings are already going up and with the Leeds Trinity Walk project underway there is already a feeling of anticipation in the city. I hope that I will be joined by others in celebrating the hard hats which are being dusted off and put firmly back on the heads of those who will make these changes happen before our eyes.

It’s this commitment to making our cities more appealing for us and those who come to visit that will keep Yorkshire firmly on the map.

City, coast and country – in just one weekend

I’ve always been a massive advocate of Yorkshire, not least because I was born and raised here. I suppose some people may think I’m dull for never venturing outside of my home county but I would have to disagree.

This weekend we started out in Leeds with a lovely meal in a steak restaurant that has quickly become a favourite of ours. The sounds, smells and sights were what you would expect of a city centre on a Friday evening with lots of laughter, merriment and in our case a drink or three.

Then on Saturday we decided to go and stay in Scarborough for the evening, another beautiful Yorkshire town. As it was such good weather the beach was packed with children playing and couples strolling. The sun was beating down and there were sandcastles, water sports and donkey rides – needless to say we had a great time.

Sunday finally came and I have to admit that they can be a little depressing – only because the weekends are over so quickly and I’m often left thinking about all the things I promised I would do but haven’t got round to. This Sunday however we decided that we would visit my Mum and Dad in the Yorkshire Dales.

They are fortunate enough to live in a stunning location surrounded by fields and close enough to my extended family for an impromptu visit to be a likely occurrence of a weekend. So, we sat back, chatted with great friends and relaxed before coming back to Leeds to think about how lucky we are to live in such a wonderful county.

Where else can you get city, coast and country packed into a single weekend?

Next time someone asks why I haven’t left Yorkshire I will explain that it isn’t that the opportunities haven’t been there, just that I didn’t want to take them – it was a choice not to go touring the world on a student budget because quite simply I’m happy where I am.

A competition that is truly out of this world

It’s no secret that I HATE flying. I don’t just dislike it a little bit, I truly break out into cold sweats just thinking about it – which makes holidays very interesting in our house. If I am expected to sit for longer than 4 hours, in a tin can, in the sky – which is thousands of feet above the ground – then it’s a no!

On that basis you can imagine my horror when I saw a competition which has been launched by Virgin America that is literally out of this world. They are offering their most loyal passenger the chance to fly into space on the Virgin Galactic for free.

I’m guessing that someone who purchases Virgin flights as often as the most loyal customer would have to in order to claim the prize probably doesn’t share my fears but still – seriously, a flight into space? Isn’t it dangerous? What about… well, breathing? Surely you have to be trained to be an astronaut?

I have to admit that if I was going on a long haul flight then Virgin are the company I would choose to go with – I have flown Virgin a number of times when I was younger – but I wouldn’t want to go into space.

One thing is for sure the PR that should be generated as a result of this competition will far outweigh any cost associated to the activity and the fact that the brand is the host of the competition and the prize is genius. It’s a great idea and one of few that is truly unique. Love it or loath it, you are going to talk about it.

My thoughts are with the poor beggar that wins it!

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Do you know your QR from your AR?

It can be a challenge when you work within the media industry, not least because things are changing so quickly – online and in print, digital and viral, integrated messaging and social media platforms – it’s all to take into account when you are coming up with brand plans for clients and that’s even before you decide who is responsible for doing what.

Although we don’t profess to be all things to all people, we are a creative agency and we will make recommendations knowing that it isn’t our team who will bring them to life – or bill at the end of the month. The reason we do this is because if we genuinely feel an idea will meet with the brands objectives we will suggest it – and we all know that no idea is a bad idea!

Another reason we try to go beyond the boundaries of being a traditional PR agency is that we are consumers ourselves and we understand that we, as others, expect brands to want to engage with us, to offer us things for free or deliver great promotions that save us time and money.

The more that a brand invests in effectively communicating with its customers the more they are seen to care and with that greater loyalty and brand awareness is achieved – or that’s the general idea. Of course, it doesn’t always work like that and some brands get it spectacularly wrong, while others can seem to do no wrong.

When reading some trade publications recently in the office, Hannah pointed out some relatively new technology which would allow a brand to bring an advert or promotion to life at the touch of a button. Basically you download an app called Blippar or Aurasma Lite and then that technology allows you to view adverts and promotions using AR codes – or image recognition as it is also termed.

I have to admit that I was never a big fan of QR (quick response) codes, which I felt were basically a mechanic to link to websites and more often than not promotions pages, so this was never going to immediately appeal. What I find myself asking is if anyone will actually be bothered enough to go to the trouble of downloading this technology in the first place, never mind then going to the further trouble of scanning the AR codes to see what brands are doing to engage with them beyond the printed promotion.

BUT on reading through further articles about the technology it has certainly made us think. Imagine if you could encourage people to engage with your brand through an online tool and if you could really bring that brand to life – suddenly an integrated campaign could take shape in front of your very eyes. It could literally jump off the shelf. How exciting would that be!

We aren’t a digital agency but we do work with social media content and with other likeminded agencies to create campaigns that leave a lasting impression and I have to admit that we have spoken to a few brands already about AR and its possible benefits and pitfalls. As an evolution from QR codes it’s fair to say that they are likely to become redundant but if there is something all the more impressive, bigger and better to take its place then I’m sat up and listening.

I would be really interested to hear what others think about it? Is it a fad or something that will change the way that brands interact with their customers forever? Is this a turning point that will see us all understanding our Blippar from our Aurasma and our QR from our AR?

It’s certainly one to watch and I can’t wait to see which brands really embrace the technology to create rich content that can be shared and genuinely meet with expectations, while more importantly achieving brand objectives.

Why do big businesses fail?

I have long pondered this question and have come to the conclusion that it is far too simple to blame everything on the banks and the government. I’m not saying they are blameless, after many a revelation over the past couple of years that would be silly, but there has to be more to it than this.

Then I got thinking about the businesses that I was surprised to see go into administration; Woolworths, Barratts, GAME and La Senza to name a small handful. The sad part about this list is that you could go on all day and it isn’t exclusive to big brands, but to businesses of all sizes across all sectors.

It’s no longer shocking to hear that a business has called in the administrators, it’s almost considered to be ‘a sign of the times’ but I think we all need to give ourselves a bit of a shake. The basic principles of running a business haven’t changed – you need to supply a product or service that people want to buy and can pay for.

The problem is that even this isn’t enough and I think that this is where brands are getting it wrong. They concentrate so hard on securing the funding for a business that they forget to even consider how they are going to position their brand and how they plan to approach communicating and engaging with prospects and customers.

Rather than building a brand they build a funding model, which lacks substance. If people don’t understand what you are offering and what products you can supply them with then you have no business at all.

People are time poor and they are not going to ask the question or come looking for you as they perhaps once would. You have to take the information to them and package it so that it is easy to understand, while injecting some personality to create a point of difference from your competitors.

Big brands don’t engage with agencies for fun – they want to make sure that their communications reach the largest and most relevant audience possible and at the most basic level this goes back to getting your message right in the first place and then bringing it to life.

Perhaps this is why Woolworths was one of the first to go – other than Pick and Mix and Ladybird clothing they more of less just sold ‘stuff’ and it was hit and miss if what you wanted would be in there – it was often quicker and easier to go to Argos.

As another example, Barratts did nothing to change the consumer perception of them being a brand for old people and so failed to attract a younger audience, who after all would in time become their customers of the future.

A brand that I think has worked hard and has started to see the benefits of an effective communications strategy is Burberry. Needless to say they haven’t always benefited from the associations that have been made between their clothing and the type of person who is expected to wear them – however that has changed over recent years and they have developed a strategy to build brand loyalty and maintain their business as a leading fashion brand with credibility.

So, let’s just watch this space. It will be interesting to see if there is an obvious and direct correlation between businesses that have no communications strategy in place and those that go into administration by the end of the year.

If I were a gambling women I would guess that the odds for continued success would be stacked in favour of those who have a clear route to market, a defined target audience, creative ideas that will engage with consumers, and depending on what type of business they have, encourage trial before purchase.

If you have a business then why not put it to the test – ask five of your family, friends or even customers to explain what your company does, why you differ from others and if relevant what your last marketing campaign / promotion was. If they don’t know then is it likely anyone else will?

Certainly food for thought.

An unusual approach to news

PR isn’t the simplest of industries to understand, especially when you don’t work within the media or creative sectors. I have often had to explain time and time again what it is that I do for a living and people (my closest family and friends included) still get it wrong.

My Dad spent the first 6 years of my career telling people I was a PA and my friends just leave it as you work with the media. Of course there is a lot more to my job than that – in fact a staggering amount when I take the time to think about it – but in a nut shell it will do as a top line explanation.

Things are changing so quickly within the media, with many titles choosing to go online and in some cases media launching with no print versions. Take the Business Desk as an example, launched by David Parkin formerly Business Editor of the Yorkshire Post. Great idea. Worked well. You can’t fault them for wanting to do something that at the time was a little different.

BDaily is another title which took a very similar approach. Based in the North East this news website, for want of a simple term, provides an update on what is going on in the business world in the North East. The concept is simple and it works well.

What BDaily have done which is completely unique to my understanding is that they have named the people who write the stories under the headline. So if they receive a story from a PR agency, they actually attribute the article to that company.

This is often why people find it so difficult to understand what we do. You see, we will draft a press release for a client and then send it on to the media. Often the copy can be literally pasted with an image as a completed article but rather than saying that it was written by us, the article is attributed to the journalist who places it.

This is very common practice and is what we have become used to but when I noticed what BDaily were doing it made me think. Is this the future? Will more online publications start to attribute copy to PR agencies and will the line become less blurred between what we do and don’t do?

I’m interested to see what other people think. I have no real desire to be labelled as the author of anything and I always take it as a compliment if articles appear unchanged but I wonder what the PR industry at large think of this?

Any comments, thoughts or opinions please do share them.

Social media, editorial or advertising – where’s the line?

Ok, I don’t mind saying that I am confused. There was a recent story in The Drum which reported that an Australian court had ruled that comments posted on a facebook advertisements should themselves be considered advertisements – are you keeping up? That means that the advertiser, in this case Smirnoff, would be held responsible for the comments of others.

So basically a person’s comment is no longer considered editorial, despite the fact that it is opinion led and is not necessarily promoted or endorsed by a given brand in any way. It is now, as per Australian law, advertising – although not paid for! Confused? Yes, me too.

This is where the lines with social media start to blur and real confusion creates misunderstanding and concern over whether brands should even consider using online tools for promotion. Many business owners I come across consider it to be too much like hard work and they literally close a door on it altogether.

We work with a number of brands who have active social media profiles from MAOAM who have more than 600,000 likes on their Facebook page and more than 1,000 followers on twitter to Pom-Bear who have 30,000 likes on Facebook. We monitor the pages and update with posts that are relevant to each brand and their audience.

Some people argue that the brand should manage this internally but as we work so closely with our clients it becomes almost irrelevant. We work with them to engage with consumers and to ensure that when questions are asked they are answered appropriately using the correct tone of voice and approach – every client is different so it is essential that we get this right.

Obviously we are unable to monitor a brand page all day, everyday and so on occasion (although very rarely) someone will put up a post which we would deem to be unreasonable. We always remove these posts – more to ensure that others are not offended than anything else but sometimes it may be a couple of hours before we get to them.

With this new ‘law’ the brands we work for would be held accountable for the comments of others and would be liable for any action that was taken as a result of them. Thankfully a further story was issued by the Drum to say that the ASA were not considering reviewing the policy in relation to brand social media comments in the UK but it does beg the question how long will it be before this is considered.

Personally I think this is balmy. The whole idea of social media is to encourage comments and opinion from a mass audience and admittedly some people abuse that but then some people aren’t particularly nice when you meet them in the street, it doesn’t mean they are doing something which will be liable.

What does everyone else think? Should a brand be held liable for the comments of others whether promotional or otherwise? And if this is the case then should social media become another advertising medium, which does not accept editorial, and be done with it.