Category: Blog

Tis the season to be jolly, fa, la, la…

It’s that time of year again, when we all pretend that we are jumping for joy at the impending festivities but actually we need at least another week to get everything on our extensive ‘to do’ lists done and three more pairs of hands to help out!

That is of course before we even start to contemplate shopping for gifts and arranging that Christmas get together you have promised friends and family for the past twelve months after letting them down last year because ‘it just crept up on you’.

I won’t lie, we are all exactly the same at Open Comms. Yes, we are trying to get into the spirit and we’ve even gone so far as to get a tree – but it’s still in the box at the end of my desk. Like so many things Christmas just seems to appear from nowhere and despite my best intentions it leaves me panicking every single year.

Rather than enjoying the run up to Christmas, I always end up stressing about one thing or another and that’s why this year I have decided that rather than dash from one shop to another on Christmas Eve trying to find something, anything that my friends may like, I have promised them some time.

It sounds very clichéd and even odd to some people but as I get so little time with my friends we have all decided to get our diaries together and allocate just one day in the next few months where we will go for a walk, have some lunch and catch up.

Like so many I often think that my life is a bit of a hamster wheel, with so much to do and so little time – but actually what I should do is just stop. Stop and take the time to meet with those who matter to me most.

So that’s what I’m going to do and its starts this Saturday when I will be going to the Grand Theatre in Leeds to watch Oliver with my family as a surprise for my Dad. I already know that it will mean far more to him than the socks and winter jumper he would otherwise have got.

It would be interesting to know how many people have decided to give something other than gifts this Christmas. Please do leave your comments and of course have a wonderful and relaxing run up to the festive season. Ho, ho, ho…

When in doubt, just keep it simple

More often than not when companies call us to draft copy for websites, corporate brochures, flyers and marketing materials we find that they have had already made a start – or have documents that they have used previously.

These documents come in useful for one thing, to provide some basic background about the business. Nine times out of ten what they do not do is give us any indication of the personality of that company, how it differs to others in the market and on occasion an idea of what they actually offer. This is because most businesses make two mistakes:

  1. Presume that marketing materials are easy to draft, after all it’s just words on a page.
  2. Make the copy too complicated in a view to impress the reader.

What actually happens is that drafting copy, which starts out as an exciting task, becomes a chore. There is usually a lengthy approval process with lots of people involved, who have lots of different opinions about how a document should be written. The reality is that the basic principles of copy writing apply to any organisation, in any sector.

Here are a few tips to drafting copy that will deliver results:

  1. Have a clear audience in mind before you start writing.
  2. Choose a tone of voice appropriate to the recipient.
  3. Keep it simple, don’t include jargon or big words – it doesn’t impress, in fact it distracts.
  4. Draft the copy in detail before going back through and taking out the sentences that aren’t required.
  5. Ask someone else to go through the copy and take out the sentences that they feel aren’t necessary.
  6. Take the ‘what we do’ test: ask someone who doesn’t work with you or in your industry to tell you from the copy alone exactly what product or service you offer. If they can’t tell you the copy is not going to work for you.

This should provide you with the first steps to having copy that will deliver results. If after all this you are still at a loss and pulling your hair out – as opposed to getting excited by what you are writing – then call a professional.

Marketing communications, which includes copy writing, is a specialism and although it requires an investment it will be far less costly then drafting and redrafting copy time and time again or worse still sending a document to print which is incorrect or unlikely to deliver the results you are expecting.

We hope that this advice is helpful and inspires businesses to review their marketing materials. Most importantly we want companies to get excited by producing good quality, copy which impacts on the bottom line.

Happy writing.

Advertisements causing controversy at Christmas

I have been surprised over recent weeks to hear about the controversy surrounding some retailer adverts and in particular ASDA’s Christmas creative, which places Mum at the heart of the organisation during the festive period. Interestingly they don’t seem to be the only retail chain who have done this but they are the one taking most of the brunt for it.

When I first watched the advert I didn’t think that it was sexist, as has been mentioned in the media, I just thought it was putting into context the amount of work that most Mum’s do in the run up to Christmas. The advert doesn’t say ‘men don’t do anything at Christmas’ it just places an emphasis – in this instance – on Mum.

The messaging for the advert is that the retailer supports Mum during Christmas and as most women take responsibility for the weekly shop, again, I don’t see this as a bad thing – just a reference to a fact.

I thought the advert was quite heart-warming and when I spoke to my Mum about the critical comments that had been made she felt the same as me; that some people may be being just a little bit over sensitive or perhaps jumping on a band wagon.

I was brought up in a very traditional farming family where my Mum would do most of the cooking at Christmas time and she would also buy all of the presents for our extensive family. In addition Mum would make sure that we got to parties on time and had something new to wear.

When it did finally come round to Christmas Day, which seemed to take a lifetime when we were little, we would all meet at my Nanna’s house (around 60 of us) and the men would go to the pub, while the women set the table and got the dinner ready. This never struck me as odd or sexist in any way – it was just how things had always been.

Things have changed a little over the years but Mum still does most of the cooking on Christmas Day – although Dad helps with the preparation and me and my brother set the table. We all seem to help with the washing up and then Mum and I will make a buffet dinner later in the evening.

I really don’t see what’s wrong with the way we do things and although I can see how our life does mimic the ASDA advert, I really don’t think any of us would have it any other way – even Mum.

So maybe we should take some of these adverts with a pinch of salt. If we start to think of everything as sexist or bigoted then where does it stop? Do we have to create adverts that have a ‘character’ from every possible walk of life just to make sure we tick a box so that we don’t offend anyone? Bah humbug.

I will be watching the adverts with a smile this year because I know that as far as my family is concerned there is a truth to them and it’s just one of the many, many reasons I love my Mum and will appreciate her all the more this Christmas.

An innocent drink with a banker adds value to PR

On occasion there will be a conference or networking session which catches my eye and yesterday I found myself surrounded by bankers (insert your own pun here!) at an event in Bradford.

The Ignite Business Growth seminar was hosted by Barclays and was pitched as an opportunity to hear key note speaker, Adam Balon, one of the founding entrepreneurs behind Innocent Drinks, speak about his business journey and the challenges faced by the brand.

I never like to pass up the opportunity to hear it from those who have ‘been there and done that’ and so went along. Getting the negative out of the way early on in this blog, I was extremely disappointed to find that although Adam was in fact a key note speaker we were watching him through a screen.

It became quickly apparent that the seminar was a collective of smaller events around the country all tuned in to the same station, so to speak. I would have found this quite impressive, particularly as the use of social media and twitter (using a dedicated hashtag #BarcT2M) at the event was a great example of how to use these tools for effective networking, but the fact that this was almost hidden from delegates was not my idea of best practice.

Anyway, on with the show. We were first introduced to Luke Hodson, the brains behind promotional merchandise company Awesome Merchandise. Luke explained how he had taken an idea, which started in the bedroom of a student house he shared with 10 others, to become a successful enterprise turning over more than £2 million a year.

Explaining how he had turned to simple marketing techniques, such as sending out his own products as free samples, to encourage engagement with prospects and build the business was refreshing. It may not set the world alight but ideas like this work.

Luke even mentioned a really simple, yet effective, campaign he had launched using a mug, which had an image of an arrow on it saying ‘I’m awesome’. He sent the mugs out and asked that people have their picture taken with them and send it back. The response was overwhelming with people taking the trouble to have their ‘mug shot’ taken in a whole host of weird and wonderful places, including America.

It was really pleasing to see a local business doing good and to listen to someone who clearly has their head screwed on and the drive, passion and dedication that is needed to make it work.

Next it was over to Barclays to do a not so hard sell before Adam took to the stage.

I don’t know what I was expecting but I have to admit that Adam was a real inspiration. The way he told the story of Innocent Drinks was funny, charming and surprisingly down to earth.  What was most interesting about Adam’s talk was the way that he used experiences alongside tips to make it relevant to the audience.

In some of these events you can find yourself wondering why you are wasting your time listening to some multi-millionaire witter on about how they finally got to the top and that they can confirm that money really can buy you happiness – well, nice work but that isn’t really helpful.

Adam was different. He mentioned that in order to develop a sustainable and successful business you had to have values, vision and purpose. He also mentioned the importance of having a clear tone of voice for the brand, which is used across all communications.

This was music to my ears. We constantly explain to clients and prospects that you need to have an established tone of voice in order to give a brand personality and to provide consistent communications across all platforms.  It makes sense when you think about it but many businesses carry on regardless, leaving customers and prospects wondering why in one sense the company is personable and friendly and in another professional and aggressive.

It was apparent from Adam’s talk that the team from Innocent had done a fantastic job on their PR. They had used the media to secure a listing with Harvey Nichols and from then on went from strength to strength. TV, radio and print media were eager to cover the story of the three boys from London who had launched a fruit juice business from a back bedroom and they made the most of it.

Adam was eager to point out the value of PR and of course I couldn’t agree more. I had no idea that PR would be such a strong topic during this session but I really do hope that people in the room were paying attention and recognising just how important clear, strategic and managed communications and messaging are to a business and its long term success.

The session wasn’t just about the successes of Innocent, although mention was made to the fact that in just three years it went stratospheric making the three owners multi-millionaires and allowing them to employ a full team to support their enterprise, there was also talk of the things that went wrong including dressing as Nuns and trying to ‘pull’ at London fashion week – but I’ll leave those little nuggets under wraps just in case you have a chance to see the Innocent team speak in the future!

Overall the session was inspiring, engaging and useful and certainly made me step back and think about Open Communications and what we do well and perhaps not so well. I strongly believe that you need that reality check sometimes and am sure that other businesses in the room felt the same.

So, well done Barclays, I still think you should have been more honest about the way the session was being run but overall a really good event, which was well worth attending.

Does celebrity endorsement really add value to a brand?

Having worked in PR for more years than I care to remember, I have had the chance to work with a number of celebrities who have supported clients with the launch of new products and services – I think my claim to fame has to be having the mobile number for Mr Motivator at one point!

Now there is no doubt that with celebrities come press coverage but when does the battle to land column inches or secure air time discredit a brand rather than adding value?

It was when watching the TV last week that I noticed Myleene Klass is now working for Littlewoods… erm, I thought she was one of the many celebrity faces of M&S? It is examples like this that make me question the value of celebrity associations.

In contrast, you could argue that Gary Lineker is synonymous with Walkers and that the brand gets great value from the long running relationship but perhaps that’s the key; when choosing a celebrity you have to know that they are going to be a genuine brand ambassador and not just show up, smile and leave never to mention your product again.

As far as I am concerned you have to choose very wisely when you are considering which celebrities to work with. You don’t have to look far to find some horror stories about sponsorships and endorsements that have led to brands pulling the plug and quickly disassociating themselves because one celebrity or another has been caught doing or saying something they shouldn’t.

Then there are the celebrities who will go to the opening of an envelope. They mean well and support several brands with the launch of anything from baby products to trainers, food supplements to charities. I can never really see the point in using someone who has no affinity with the brand that you are trying to promote, so this is something that I think needs a great deal of thought. It isn’t good enough to simply look for the latest King / Queen of the Jungle (groan!) or someone who will sit within the limited budgets that you have.

Perhaps times have changed but I think the value of a celebrity needs to be considered longer term. What will the benefit be to the brand once the photocall is over and how will that association build over time?

The strongest associations are those which develop organically but you cannot always rely on the fact that a celebrity will tweet about a product because they genuinely love it. Unfortunately when well-known faces are being paid to tweet about products it becomes all the more difficult to identify what is real and what is forced.

So, to conclude, for all those brands who are considering celebrity endorsement, I would advise that you think beyond the photocall or the product launch and think more about how longer term you will get continued value from the association. The most important question is to decide if you want a genuine brand ambassador or just ‘hired help’ for the half day you’ve budgeted into your campaign.

Where there’s a Skill Will there’s a way

It’s that time of year again… comfy sofa, glass of wine in hand, fire on, the family sat around wide eyed ready for the evening’s entertainment, wondering if this year ‘they’ will beat the target of last year, watching as people do a host of ridiculous stunts to try and raise just that little bit more for a worthwhile cause, giggles, smiles and then… it gets to 9pm and you find yourself sat, cheque book in one hand, phone in the other explaining to the family that presents are off this Christmas because we all have more than enough and should recognise the fact, our problems are nothing like those of others and for one year we can all just go without – it will do us some good. We then fall collectively (the women mostly) into a sniffling heap, promising the world to be a better person, to love our family more and to appreciate our children and step children even when they do all the things that make our blood boil every morning – yes folks, it’s Children In Need time!

I have to admit that despite my often hard exterior, I am one of those people. I will be sat sniffling in the corner, explaining to my long suffering husband that it’s just not fair and can’t we do a bit more and just live in a smaller house and do without wine – while he tops up my glass.

We both give to charities that are close to us on a regular basis (me Cancer Research UK and my hubby Barnardos) and we aren’t averse to helping out and volunteering when needed, in fact far from it, so I don’t harbour any guilt towards our philanthropic efforts – geez I even gave more than the usual £1 for a poppy this year, deciding that actually folding money would probably do more good.

However I often wonder, like most people, where the money really goes. Does it actually get to the people who matter? After working for a charity I completely understand the need to run these organisations like a business, otherwise they just don’t work, but it would be good to know how much of the donated pound we give, gets to those who matter.

More importantly I have found myself wondering more and more if there are other ways that people can do their bit without having to dig deep – especially when during difficult times every penny counts. Just because people don’t have a huge disposable income it doesn’t mean that they don’t want to help and that they have nothing to offer.

I notice that recent reports on the news have announced that there has been an increase in the number of local organisations offering food parcels to those who need them most, which I think is a great idea. If those who are able can add an item or two to the weekly grocery shop to donate to a food bank then we know that we are doing our bit. It may not change the world but it will give someone a meal for the evening.  What I like all the more is that you know that your donation will help someone locally.

I do think that supermarkets are missing a trick though. Why hasn’t one of the top four created a charity or worked with an existing organisation to simply ask that if people want to donate a tin or a jar of something that they pass it to the customer service counter. Would this be so difficult to administer? It seems like a wasted opportunity. Part of the reason people won’t donate to a food bank is that they won’t have the time to visit, so make it easier for them. You are also communicating with those who can donate at the point of purchase, what could be better?

Supermarkets may ask what they will get out of it but let’s be honest, they could do nothing and have a fantastic PR story that would support the food bank, raise the profile of the retailer and ensure that someone who needs it most is fed and watered.  All good.

And so, now on to business.

Yes, my thoughts about charitable giving didn’t stop at individual giving but also at business. As a member of the Yorkshire Mafia, a local networking group with more than 12,000 approved members, I was aware of a concept called Skill Will. At first I wasn’t so sure what it was all about but the idea is really simple; rather than giving money you give time.

As a small business there are lots of things that we would like to do for charity but the problem is who do you give to, where will your pound make most difference and how can you decide just how much is enough?  Also, unlike large corporate businesses we don’t have the big budgets to donate but what we do have is our skill.

Skill Will asks that businesses and charities come together to spend time providing advice and guidance to those who can benefit from it. Going back to my earlier point, charities have better things to do with their budgets than pay for PR, marketing, finance and legal costs, so if there are organisations who can offer these services for free everyone is happy.

As a business this idea works perfectly for us. We give our time out of hours, so that our commitment doesn’t impact on clients, and away we go. Not only can we offer professional advice but we can know that we are doing something that will add value and help.

So in the spirit of charitable giving and knowing that for today at least charity is at the forefront of people’s minds, can I please ask that all those businesses who feel that they have a skill to offer speak to the Yorkshire Mafia about how they can help? It would be fantastic if we could use this opportunity to make Yorkshire a shining example of how working together can make a genuine and very real difference.

Ok, so that’s my thoughts. Now for one final word and this time it’s advice, get your hankies at the ready folks, Pudsey the bear may look cuddly but he’s going to make you cry!

Open Comms makes a move and secures two new clients

“Open Communications, the PR and marketing communications agency based at Nostell Priory Estate Yard near Wakefield, is celebrating four years in business with two new account wins and a move to larger premises.”

How exciting, we are finally in a position to announce our office move (it was three months in the planning!). After achieving four years of growth we have moved to purpose built offices at Nostell Priory Estate Yard. It’s exciting times and not least because we now have our very own meeting room and a store cupboard for all of the products we manage for our clients – Hannah still looks gleeful everytime she comes in and doesn’t have to move a pile of boxes to get to her desk.

In addition to the office move we can also confirm that we have been appointment as preferred PR supplier to Al-Murad Tiles, the largest independent tiles re-seller in the UK and Abduls takeaway and diner with sites in Pontefract and Wakefield.

We will be managing the PR and promotions for both businesses and will work with the teams to generate campaigns that run throughout the year increasing footfall and improving brand awareness.

It has been an interesting and eventful four years to say the least. We set out to create a straight talking PR agency that would care less about air kissing and more about achieving results and that’s exactly what we have done. As a result, we now have new premises and a list of clients that we are incredibly proud of.

As well as securing retained clients, over the years we have also developed a range of services including Open for New Business, an offering which makes PR accessible to smaller businesses and Open 27/7, crisis management for companies who require support during their most challenging times.

Since we launched in 2008 Open Communications has developed as an agency and we now work with some of the UK’s leading businesses including snack manufacturer, Intersnack and confectionery brand HARIBO. We have also been proud to work with smaller businesses who we continue to support as they develop and grow.

All in all we are a very proud and passionate team and would like to take this opportunity to thank our clients, our suppliers, colleagues and those we network with. Here’s to four years and many more to come!

The print press, PR and that election

It’s been a roller coaster few weeks in the USA with the constant evaluation of who is in the lead, which candidate won which head-to-head debate and who came across as well informed, stronger and most suitable to become President, taking on the responsibility to run one of the largest countries in the World.

I’m not a politically driven person per se but you couldn’t miss this show with billions of dollars reportedly spent on each campaign.  The elections even went so far as to appear on the Simpsons, reiterating the significance and absolute inability to avoid this historical ‘battle’.

No day went by without an evaluation and critique of each candidate and this is what I found most interesting. Clearly the overall success of the elections was due to the vote however each party had to convince the public that they were the best candidate for the job – they were managing their reputation to engage with the public and encourage them to make a mark against their name, not dissimilar to the way that businesses encourage the sale of products or services.

The elections were very much a demonstration of the principles of PR. Each campaign started with a launch before moving on to a drip feed of stories. Then came the crisis management with debates and public appearances scrutinised in finite detail. After this was the consistency of messaging and the reiteration of values and personality. Finally, defeat and success, both of which were handled with dignity and grace, once again using techniques that can be closely aligned to those used during a crisis situation. And let’s not forget the use of social media throughout the election and the now famous tweet ‘Four more years’, taking the message from local to global in seconds.

The headlines however failed to meet with expectations with Chris Evans announcing Wednesday 7 November as the death of the print press – a little unfair but his comments related to the fact that due to timings it was simply impossible for the print media within the UK to report the final outcome of the elections in time for the morning papers.

Perhaps times have changed and behaviours with it – I could be alone but I read the newspapers to find out what is going on generally before relying on broadcast or online to get the up to the minute news. I don’t believe that people will think the elections are still taking place because the newspapers were unable to report the results.

May be we need to think about the objectives of the papers and then give them credit where it’s due – there will be many bleary eyed journalists this morning who are now updating the digital versions of the news to ensure we are all up to date with the latest developments from the other side of the world.

With the elections now over there is little doubt that the PR machine will be in overdrive for Barack Obama with interviews to arrange, announcements to be made and a campaign that now needs to fight to keep momentum. There will be no popping of champagne corks for him or his team. Despite his announcement that he has the best campaign team in the World they now have an immense job to do but when you analyse their efforts so far you have to hand it to them – a job well done. #PRwin!

Annual pumpkin competition

So, it’s that time of year again when the ghouls and ghosts come out to play and witches and wizards take to the streets to ask the question that reminds us all of that one task we were supposed to do – go out and buy a box full of sweets to give to the local children when they come trick or treating!

It’s also around this time that Open Communications has its annual pumpkin carving competition; so get your pens, pencils, stencils, knives, spoons and candles at the ready…

For all those that want to take part, all you have to do is submit a picture of your creation tomorrow morning and we will upload to our blog and let the competition commence. The winning entry will be the picture that receives the greatest number of positive comments.

Beware, the competition is usually pretty fierce but all in the spirit of good fun (honest!).

Tears from laughing or a crying shame?

I made the mistake of watching Work Experience, the new reality sitcom, on E4 last night. I was really looking forward to the programme after noticing the adverts and was eager to see what it was all about – expecting, wrongly, that it would be a laugh a minute and something to discuss with friends over a few drinks at the weekend.

I usually enjoy these types of programmes – you know the ones – where people are ‘set up’ Jeremy Beadle sty-lee, in a situation which could be real yet isn’t, and there are hilarious consequences as a result. The first problem with this programme was that it wasn’t funny.

The scene was set at a fashion PR agency in London. The agency named, Grade PR, has the usual stereotypical boss; bitch in high heels, hoping to fall pregnant and being generally rude and abusive to everyone she meets, particularly her PA. Her side kick, who she had naturally slept with, was equally condescending, while also being a complete sleaze.

This cast, which includes a few others who are ridiculously over the top and not worth a more descriptive mention, are supposed to be providing two genuine placement students with work experience – and this is where I get really angry. The students are made to run around like idiots, tanning people, casting models and being shouted at – dealing with the tantrums and traumas of a ‘professional PR agency’ in a bid to win the real prize, which is… you’ve guessed it, an intern at a real agency.

What annoys me most about this programme is that it is a huge insult to the PR industry and I’m appalled that in both cases the placement students clearly expected some level of deva-esque behaviour. There were moments where I was so outraged I was literally shouting at the TV.

As a PR professional I find it insulting that a programme like this should be considered comedy and not because I can’t laugh at the industry I work in, after all I’ve come across my fair share of air kissing, Prada wearing luvvies in my time, but because we feel it’s appropriate to allow this perception to continue and to be fuelled. In my opinion it’s gone beyond comedy and is now a genuine expectation.

Many PR professionals will agree that to do the job you need to be qualified, experienced and able not only to write copy and secure coverage but to manage the most precious asset a business owns – its reputation. So why then do we all sit back and allow these stereotypes to continue, which only seek to ruin the one thing we maintain to know how to manage, the reputation of our industry.

I dread to think what will happen in next week’s episode but I think I’ve had my fill. I will continue to hold my own opinions about the industry and will promote PR as the professional specialism it is, after all if I’m not prepared to try to change these perceptions all I am really agreeing to do is to conform to them, and that simply is not going to happen.

As for placement students, please, please don’t think that even during difficult times you should be treated like this, irrelevant of the industry you are working in – it’s not funny and it’s not right.