Category: Blog

Optimism, now, there’s a good word

The headlines can be depressing at times and although as a PR agency we are often trying to explain to clients that they need to see beyond the doom and gloom, it can be difficult. We try where possible to reinforce that the media promote a balanced account to the news (good and bad) in order to provide the reader with the chance to make up their own mind.

In the most part this it true however where the recession is concerned it can be tricky. How do you write an article about the fact that thousands of people have lost their jobs and keep it light hearted – it’s simply never going to happen and so I find myself feeling a little sorry for the journalists who are tasked with handling these stories, particularly when the announcements are coming through thick and fast.

It’s not often you will find a PR professional saying that they have any sympathy for a journalist but when all is said and done  they just want to get their copy filed and do their job.

I was pleased however to see that Ian Briggs from The Business Desk wrote a genuinely balanced piece last week, which took a look back on the good, the bad and the ugly of 2012. The piece, which was titled ‘Ian Briggs on why his glass if half full for 2013’, did make reference to the recession and also to businesses that had fallen into administration but he also took the time to focus on many excellent pieces of news from around the Yorkshire region.

Ian said: “For me the tide is turning from a ‘we’re never going to get out of this situation’ mentality to one where the attitude is ‘we are where we are so let’s get on with it’.

Here, here, I couldn’t agree more.

As a business at Open Communications we have tried to steer clear of those who harp on about the recession all of the time – you know the ones, those who you get lumbered with at a networking lunch who start the conversation with a long sigh and then proceed to say in a voice that should be saved for funerals ‘How’s business?’.

I’m pleased to say that this year does seem to have marked a step change in attitude with many people rolling their sleeves up, as opposed to putting their heads down and long may it continue. I appreciate we are only in January (and the second week at that!) but we need to pull together, stay strong and carry on.

I’m a great believer in attitude and if you go into a year thinking you will do badly the chances are that will be the case. If however you have a strong product or service, a passion for what you do and a desire to get stuck in, then at the very least you stand a fighting chance.

I know lots of businesses who have reported better than average performance during 2012 and there should be no reason why this shouldn’t continue.  In a further piece, written again by Mr Briggs, he mentions that confidence is rising in Yorkshire as profit expectations increase.

The report that Ian highlights (The Lloyds TSB Commercial Business in Britain survey) uses feedback collated from more than 1,800 businesses. With 98 of these 1,800 based in Yorkshire it made for positive reading to find that optimism is at its strongest since the UK first reported coming out of the recession in 2009.

In addition to these findings a poll from the IoD, which is cited within the piece, has also revealed that 31% of directors expect 2013 to be better than 2012.

This is all good news and should give every business leader, entrepreneur, employee and job seeker the confidence they need to go into 2013 with a positive attitude and the belief that there is a light at the end of the tunnel and whatever a balanced article may say it is not a train coming!

Is good ever good enough?

I don’t mind admitting that when it comes to a weekend my choice of television entertainment leaves a lot to be desired. As a classic example I am already excited by the prospect of the next ‘The Hotel,’ which features on Channel 4 every Sunday evening.

For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of this amazing show, it is a fly on the wall style documentary following the owner of The Grosvenor Hotel in Torquay. It’s all a little Faulty Towers to be honest but that just adds to the general amusement of the show.

The staff are an eclectic mix to say the least and are headed up by Mark, the Owner and Manager, who for all intense and purpose appears to try his very best. The show follows the daily life of those working for the business, while giving a balanced view on the experience had by its clientele.

This week was of particular interest as Mark decided to draught in a consultant who would come into The Grosvenor to highlight areas of the business that could be improved. The consultant suggested that they come into the hotel unannounced and have the experience that a ‘real’ guest would receive before feeding back.

Insert your own car crash noises right about now!

It was both terrible and hilarious in equal measure starting with the check in, whereby the team were too busy arranging their own holidays to care about the needs of their paying customers. Then, once settled in to the room, the guests requested a cup of tea and biscuit from reception, which was met with audible disgrace and mocking comments.

And so it goes on. Needless to say at feedback time the mystery guest was far from amused and provided a series of immediate actions which needed to be put right, starting with the attitude of the staff.

Although the programme was without doubt funny it also brought to light a few serious lessons. Mark, the Manager of the hotel, clearly had no respect from his employees with one openly saying ‘There may be people in here who need help but I’m not one of them. I’m good at my job.’

I was quite startled by this comment as I’ve always been a great believer in taking ‘good at your job’ and making it ‘great at your job’. I don’t think that anyone can ever stop learning and if you are given the opportunity to take lessons from an industry expert then why not? I thought this person’s attitude was immediately defensive, which would alert me to the fact that they obviously had something to hide.

Also Mark didn’t take any of the criticism constructively. He didn’t even want to hear what the consultant had to say, so I would question why he wasted their time. If you are asking someone to review your business warts and all, then expect that this is what they will give you. Rather than thank the consultant for being honest and doing his job, he discarded his comments and discredited the entire process in front of his workforce – although I think this was more to appease them and be ‘on their side’ than anything else.

Finally many of the problems that The Grosvenor was facing (it has since been sold on to new owners – although I believe Mark is still involved) were as a result of poor communication. Had Mark taken control and managed his team, as was his role, then he may have seen more success.

The sad fact is that all the gimmicks and quirky games in the world are only going to keep people amused for so long they are not going to communicate the values of the business to a wider audience and appeal to those who may want to visit the hotel in the future.

Although I will continue to watch The Hotel, it is with sadness that Mark lost his business. Perhaps the lesson for him to learn would be to surround yourself with similar, hardworking, supportive and willing team members – only then will you move forward and take a business and those you employ from good to great.

The Hotel is on Channel 4 from 8pm on Sunday evening.

New Year Traditions

Just a week in to the New Year and I’m ready and focused for the year ahead thanks to my personal resolutions, which I’m hoping will last beyond January!!

It’s a time when I really enjoy hearing about the business goals that people are setting and also the resolutions from friends and family intent on being thinner, fatter, kinder, happier, stronger…. the list goes on.

Alongside resolutions, what always makes me smile is seeing and hearing about the wacky and often extreme activities that people get involved in to mark the start of the New Year. My favourite is the Soap Box Derby a local event in Sharlston, a village next door to where I live and work. It’s a bit like the wacky races where you race in a home-made kart and outlandish costumes. It’s lots of fun and always brings in the crowds.

Looking through the local papers it seems that some people adopted a more extreme tactic, with some chilly results!

In Scarborough, South Bay, swimmers braved the North Sea to raise money for charity in the New Year’s Day Dip. In Otley, the River Wharfe tempted swimmers and the Mappleton Boat Race and Bridge Jump in Derbyshire helped people to make a splash for charity…..brrrrrrrr.

So whilst resolutions give us long term gain and a clear focus, I’m sure that bringing in the New Year in a fun way gets you fired up for the months ahead. I’ve already set my sight (or should I say a resolution) on welcoming 2014 through a fun and wacky New Year tradition – but which one?

Finally, PR takes it seat at the boardroom table

I’ve just finished reading an excellent article in Management Today magazine. The piece focuses on the changing face of PR – and I don’t mean one shade of designer lipstick to another – no, finally it would appear that the industry is getting the recognition that it deserves and is taking a seat around the boardroom table.

Having worked in the PR industry for more than a decade and with a BA (Hons) degree in the specialism, I have long been an advocate of the merits of PR when it is practiced correctly and professionally.

As I see it there are problems with the PR industry in the same way that there are problems with any other; you have the good and you have the bad and it can be difficult to decide which is which. One will wine and dine you in fancy restaurants, while the other tells you the harsh truth and what to do about it – far less appealing than a good lunch but undoubtedly more beneficial in the long run.

The truth of the matter is that PR has always been about reputation – that has never changed and be it online or in print, what is said in the street or down the pub, it all goes back to the same thing; if you don’t know what people are saying about you, there is nothing you can do about it.

Businesses are thankfully coming around to the understanding that during any situation, good or bad, the first point of call is to make sure that you are communicating effectively with your audiences. In order to do this an organisation requires an advisor, a specialist, someone to rely on with their plans, aspirations and concerns.

The piece in Management Today very much focuses on the changes to PR based on the use of social media but I think there is more to it than that.

Tim Bell comments: “If you want to live in a transparent world then someone has to give the information about you. If you don’t want someone else to, you have to do it yourself. That’s what PR people do.”

Sure, social media and a desire by the consumer to share their thoughts and opinions with the world – plus having the ability to do so quickly and easily across a multitude of platforms – has meant that PR professionals have more to do but that is simply good practice and the evolution of an industry which spans hundreds of years.

The real change I think has come in a shift of mind set. People working in PR have thankfully taken a long, hard look at the industry and realised that as a discipline we were losing out. We weren’t taken seriously in our tottering high heels and we needed to toughen up and take our seat around the boardroom table.

Those who were serious about a career started to showcase their skills in the situations that deliver harsh recognition; a crisis without a communications professional who is experienced, able and capable of dealing with it can bring a business literally crashing to its knees.

In Management Today Jeremy Hazlehurst comments:

“PR the profession has changed beyond recognition in the past decade. Although media relations activities have burgeoned, involving the paper press, online publications, television and bloggers, it is only a small part of the job now. Press offices have been swallowed up by communications departments that deal with investor relations, analysts, shareholders, regulators and government. All are the guardians of the most precious and difficult to measure of assets – corporate reputation.”

I’ve never been ‘typically PR’ and have always felt that the discipline should be considered a necessity as opposed as a nice to have, not just because I work in the industry but because I see every day the benefits that it delivers, which are often measured less by coverage and more by ‘real life’ results and the situations which are in some cases avoided.

It’s no secret that I almost left the PR industry altogether before launching Open Communications with my business partner Emma because of the way in which some agencies work. I didn’t want to go to lunch or out to parties, I didn’t want to charge by the hour working on campaigns I knew were over-priced and wouldn’t deliver and I didn’t want to feel like I was doing the clients I was working with a disservice by not going that extra mile.

What I did want was to work with journalists so that my clients would hit the headlines, I wanted to use communication to generate business, really get to the heart of the companies I was working for and be a part of their success. I wanted to advise them in the best way possible and explain in no uncertain terms that as a direct result of my actions their business was stronger and that was down to reputation, which was driven by PR and communications.

Thankfully I can now do all of these things. I have always been a champion of ‘real PR’ but I am pleased that others are now recognising the merits to working with agencies and practitioners.

Cynical or otherwise when you look at the organisations that have failed over recent years in many instances arguably the banks have been at fault but it is also interesting to note that many of them were lacking in direction, their customers and prospects weren’t aware of exactly what they offered and this was down to poor communication. As a result they weren’t selling and in turn ceased to exist.

I hope that this new attitude to PR continues and that businesses recognise the value of the services that practitioners and agencies offer.  The truth of the matter is that PR should be at the heart of any business model and in order to get it right you need to rely on a professional.


Never mind a gym membership – is your business in shape?

It’s that time of year again when all we hear about is detoxing, joining a gym and getting back in shape after eating and drinking far too much over the festive period. While we all take the time to consider our personal health during January, how many of us actually stop to ask if our business is fighting fit so that we are ready to take on whatever 2013 has to offer?

There’s no doubt that 2012 brought with it some challenges and that the news headlines were once again littered with announcements of companies falling into administration but that’s no reason to pull the covers over our heads and close the doors. If anything after a festive break and rest we should be ready and raring to go with great ideas and creative plans for the forthcoming year.

Whether it’s new opportunities, expansion and growth or more of the same we need to put all of our energies into getting excited about our plans and sharing them with our employees, customers and prospects. If we can pass on our enthusiasm and passion we can encourage others to do the same and this helps to keep our businesses, products and services front of mind.

Here at Open Communications, we are suggesting that businesses put together a list of their New Year’s resolutions for 2013 – but that first they focus on the company rather than themselves as an individual. These resolutions could be anything from improving internal communications to increase productivity, right through to generating new business through effective PR, marketing materials and use of relevant social media tools.

The easiest way to manage this process and get some real value out of the exercise is to write down your resolutions in one column and then put simple steps to achieving them in another. Although it sounds almost too straight forward, approaching challenges in this way means that you are more likely to work hard to achieve them.

It’s also a great excuse to ‘regroup’ and get your whole business involved and working together. Hold a meeting and find out what employees want to see from the company over the next twelve months.  Ask what drives them on and what they think makes the organisation different and exciting from others in the market? Encourage them to get behind the business and to want to be a part of its success during the year ahead.

The most important thing is to use the New Year to get motivated, organised and ready to learn something completely new that will add value to your company.

We would guess that many of the resolutions that people make will focus on a business communicating more effectively with an audience; this may be current customers, prospects or employees. Remember that in order to communicate you have to consider setting aside the time to do this and do it well. Reputation comes from the impression that you give and you need these to reflect your values and vision.

If you would like to start the New Year as you mean to go on and you want to get excited about the year ahead and all the benefits that it has to offer then think about what impression you want people to have of your company. What do you have to give (product or service), how does it differ from others and most importantly how are you going to let people know about it?

We are sure that 2013 is going to be a very exciting and productive year and we are looking forward to working with both current and prospective clients large and small. We hope that you will join us in making resolutions that we will work towards, keep and evolve throughout the year.

Here’s to a great 2013 and the many opportunities that it will bring.

A very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Another year and what a twelve months it has been!

We would like to take this opportunity to wish all of our clients, suppliers, contacts, friends and family the very best wishes for a wonderful and relaxing Christmas break and New Year.

We very much look forward to working with you all again in 2013.

Open Communications will be closed from today (Friday 21 December) to Tuesday 1 January inclusive.

We will all be back at our desks bright and early on Wednesday 2 January.

If you do need to contact us however we will be available on our mobiles.

Please feel free to call Emma or Lindsey on tel. 077919 88282.

Has anyone seen the Christmas card?

Ok, ok I know I’m always grumbling on about one thing or another but I just wanted to know if anyone has seen the humble Christmas card wandering around the streets looking aimless, bereft, alone and unwanted this year?

Christmas cards are two fold for me, I really like receiving them and I like the thought of sending them but I’m always – and I mean always – rushing around at the last minute making sure I get them in the post on time. Irrelevant of how organised I try to be it’s always the last thing on my list.

What I especially like about cards is when people put the time and effort into making them or adding something extra… but this year has been beyond depressing with most of our contacts choosing to send e-cards.

Now don’t get me wrong, some of them have been exceptionally good – Simon Carter and the Intersnack team take a bow – but I have been really surprised at how many we have received. Some people have chosen to make contributions to charity and again I understand this entirely but does this signal the end of the good old printed card? Will this be the last year we get to open an actual card that has been written by hand and sent in the post?

I think in all honesty that we’ve all become so time poor that sending an emailer to a database of contacts is just a simpler solution all round – let’s be honest it saves in stamps, no one has to lick the envelopes and it’s undoubtedly ‘greener’ plus you can add dancing elves, flashing lights and other quirky animations.

But and this is a big list of BUTS digital cards don’t stand on your desk proudly for all to see. They don’t adorn your walls with splendour and colour. They don’t cover your house unexpectedly in glitter and give small children something to pull off the sides and chew the corners off. And they don’t signal to all others how popular you are – oh come on, you all feel smug when you have more cards on display than others in the office.

I don’t mind admitting that I’m a little sad to see the humble card reduced to the recycling bin and am pleased that as a business we decided to stick to the traditional rather than the digital. Although I appreciate the need and benefit to social engagement I will leave that to twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn updates and with stamped foot (and envelope) will stick up for the printed version of the Christmas card.

We chose this year to send a ‘singing’ card to our clients and a branded card to our suppliers and contacts. We hope that they bring some colour and song to your offices and that you will rejoice in knowing that for some time yet you will always have at least one printed card for your desk.

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy and prosperous New Year.

Food for thought this Christmas

There was one headline in the news today which really caught my attention. The story suggests that children who sit around a table with their family during mealtimes are more likely to eat their recommended five fruit and vegetables a day.

Although I agree completely with this statement I also think that there are even greater benefits to sitting around a table together at mealtimes. As a family we try to do this as often as we can – it doesn’t always work out like that with one or both of us coming in late and the other playing out with friends – but we try when possible to make the effort.

The reason I’m so conscious of it is that with a teenager in the house it can be difficult to have the chance to catch up. Plus when we get in from work we fall into bad habits and turn on our laptops or iPads meaning we pretty much ignore each other all evening other than the odd grunt or murmur of agreement here and there. Mealtimes are the perfect opportunity to communicate and to natter, laugh and generally engage with each other.

Although our worlds are very much consumed by social media and technology (I’m texting my husband about what we should do for dinner as I write this blog and sending a Facebook message to my step son to let him know what time it will be ready!) I still feel that there should be importance placed on quality time together.

I don’t want to sound too ‘fluffy’ and I’m certainly not expecting any awards from Super Nanny anytime soon but I know that mealtimes in our house are our time and that after thinking about it this is one of the reasons that I enjoy Christmas so much.

We all get together and have a huge lunch, where we all spend hours catching up. We don’t count our vegetable intake and there’s rarely a piece of fruit insight – unless you count sugar coated or dipped in chocolate – but all of the food is freshly prepared and delicious. Better still once we’ve finished our meals we have a nap and it starts all over again!

So, this Christmas I’m going to put it out there – I think that everyone should take the time to come together and just think about how much fun it can be to sit together around a table, eat, drink, chat and be merry. Perhaps if we all appreciate the time we have with each other face-to-face we will do it more often.

Merry Christmas everyone!

When naming becomes shaming

When we first launched Open Communications back in 2008 one of the most difficult decisions was what to call the agency. We wanted to choose something that would represent the business – give us an identity that we could build upon and go some way to explaining what sector we work in.

One thing that we never even considered was naming the agency after ourselves. I always find it quite strange when companies use their own names for their business, not least because I think it’s dangerous.

If you have a business that is performing well and has a fantastic reputation then there shouldn’t be a problem but what about those who perhaps for no fault of their own find that they are faced with more challenging scenarios. As an example, an employee hits the headlines for breaking the law and as a result the owner of that business is also referenced because their name is also the company.

There have been examples in the media recently where the Directors of businesses have been arrested and questioned by the police over serious allegations and although this is personal and nothing to do with the company they own because the organisation is named after an individual the reputation is tarnished by association.

The tendency for legal practices and estate agents seems to be to use surnames, which is less risky but still lacks any creative flair. In my opinion a business name gives personality to a brand and entrepreneurs need to make the most of the opportunity to share that with their prospects and clients.

A company that I came across recently was a great example of a simple name that told a story, ‘Awesome Merchandise’ – a merchandise company that claims to offer an awesome experience for customers.  The name is straight to the point and you know what they do without having to ask. It also shows that the team are confident with what they offer.

So, for anyone reading this blog who is considering starting a business, please think carefully about how you name your company. It may seem like a trivial part of the process but it is incredibly important and will form the basis to your biggest asset – your reputation.

A hoax too far

The recent news about the untimely death of a hospital worker who had unwittingly answered and transferred a hoax call from an Australian radio station sent a chill down my spine. Not only do I think, like many others, that this was a tragic waste of a life but that it will also go on to affect many others including the presenters involved, who we can presume are soon to be unemployed.

When the news first broke about the transfer of the call from reception through to the nurses who were responsible for the care of the Duchess of Cambridge I have to be honest, I was beyond shocked. My first reaction was to wonder why appropriate measures weren’t in place to ensure that this couldn’t and wouldn’t happen?

The hospital is used to dealing with high profile patients and should be accustomed to taking calls that may be obscure or even unsolicited. It strikes me as strange that even at 5.30am there was no process in place to manage this.

I would have expected that all calls would have been managed in a similar way to how a PR agency would manage a crisis. When we work with clients we put a simple but effective procedure in place to ensure that all calls are handled professionally and efficiently. It works and it means that we are able to respond in a timely fashion – but at the same time it also takes the onus off the receptionist or internal team, leaving them to get on with their day to day roles.

In this case it would seem that this was not possible, leading to the most devastating of outcomes.

The more serious side to this ‘prank’ was that it should never have been discussed never mind considered to be a good idea. I’ve laughed at prank phone calls before, you know the ones:

Caller: Can I speak to Ivor please?

Person on the line: Ivor who?

Caller: Ivor Biggan

Person on the line: Ivor Biggan, does anyone know Ivor Biggan…

I would be lying if I didn’t think these calls made me giggle but at the same time they are by all intense and purpose completely harmless. The difference with a call to a hospital is that for one you are calling an establishment knowing that people are there for a reason – because they are ill. That can never be funny.

By the time the call was made the world was aware that the Duchess was pregnant but also that she had been admitted to hospital with a potentially serious illness, which has been known in cases to lead to the loss of a child. Now, call me overly sensitive, but that can never be funny!

In my opinion the call was inappropriate in the first instance but the presenters took it one stage too far when asking after the health of the Duchess. What if something terrible had happened? What if she had suffered a miscarriage and as a result of this misguided joke these presenters were the first to find out? I fail to see the humour in that outcome, which at any time during this situation was a very real possibility.

The presenters in this case are likely to regret their actions for the rest of their lives and their hoax call will certainly go down in history – but for all the wrong reasons. This story just goes to show how powerful the media can be and the obligation that broadcasters have to consider the outcome of any fun they choose to have before going ahead.

There must be a producer involved in this case somewhere, although they appear to be keeping their heads down. This is a sad case of bad judgement which has led to the Christmas of at least three families being ruined. Let’s hope other ‘pranksters’ will take note and think twice before acting on an impulse.