Category: Blog

Hello and welcome…

As you can see we have had a snazzy new website created, which we feel better reflects us as a business and showcases some of the work that we do. Those of you who know us well, will also see that we have had a brand refresh too, which we think fits better with our personality – we are less black and white and more simple and straight forward but with an injection of colour. Please do take the time to let us know what you think.

As a small team we often find that we spend so much time doing the job that we don’t take enough time to share some of the fantastic campaigns that we create and work on.

We hope that the new site will give you an insight into the team and the clients that we work with, alongside the results that we achieve. We will be posting regular blogs and would welcome your comments, as well as tweeting about our thoughts, feelings and opinions, with the odd office based moment every now and then!

As other people’s opinions genuinely matter to us, please do take the time to look around the site and feel free to feedback with your thoughts.

We would like to extend a massive thank you to Mark Lucas from Grain Design who has helped us no end in getting the site up and running. His commitment, excellent attention to detail, patience (sorry Mark!) and ability to turn things around quickly has meant that a difficult process has been much, much simpler.

Sealed with a kiss

As if there weren’t enough etiquette issues when dealing with e-mails, text and social media messages, the Open Comms ladies and I were recently discussing the impact of ending a form of communication with an x.

This letter used to be reserved purely for friends and family at the end of a text or e-mail (speaking about recent history and not even considering ye olde letters!) as a sign of affection, yet with more people using social media than ever before, and more businesses capitalising on the different ways they can communicate, this pesky symbol seems to have crept into more messages and is blurring lines of professionalism.

My tendency is to end text messages to good friends, male or female, with a single x.  I might be more generous in e-mails, but to be honest, that’s more to do with the fact that you can just hold down a button on your keyboard and it comes up with multiple letters in seconds (if you ever get a ‘xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx’ from me, I’ve just been a bit lazy with taking my finger off the x key!)

This is fine if you’re just sending one message to a friend you regularly communicate with, but what happens if it’s the first time – are they an ‘x’ person or not? What happens if someone replies with lots of x’s, should you then reply with the same amount, or stick to your initial x, or send even more??

Ending a message with an x for me has really become a way of saying ‘I’ve stopped talking now’; it’s my version of a telegram’s “stop”.  It just feels wrong to send a text that only ends with a full stop.  If I don’t put a kiss at the end, I’ll often put my name at the bottom, just to finish the message off.

More often now though, we’re starting to receive office e-mails which end with a kiss, and although we’re lovely ladies, I think people are genuinely doing it out of a habit rather than because they’re feeling particularly amorous towards us.

Now some of you reading this blog will probably think it sounds bonkers – do people really over think one little letter that much?? The answer is – yes, a lot of people do!  If you’ve never wondered whether it would be appropriate to end a message with an x or not, then chances are that the person receiving your text or e-mail has analysed it for you!

Some people will find receiving a business e-mail ending with an x entirely inappropriate, it might make others smile, and some people won’t think twice about it.  Whether you think it’s a sign of the times and just a natural evolution of the way we communicate, or something that needs to be kept to private messages to loved ones, it’s always best to think carefully about how any part of your message will be received by the recipient.  Do you really want to be saying ‘hiya’ to a potential investor, ‘Lolz!’ to a new client or calling your accountant ‘babes’?!  It’s so easy to quickly fire out an e-mail, especially when you’re busy and your inbox is constantly flashing with new message – but it’s always worth giving your message a second glance before you press that send button.  It might save you a lot of embarrassment later!

xxx

The real power of social media

Although we use social media every day for clients and for Open generally it is becoming more apparent that its use goes beyond the basics of a two way conversation. I can already hear people screaming at this post and giving me a Simpson’s style ‘Doh’ but let me explain…

I have used Twitter for some years now and have over 1,000 followers – lucky me I hear you cry – but it’s only recently I have started to think about it more specifically for work. I enjoy talking, a lot, so Twitter was just an extension of the conversations I would have anyway, intercepted every now and then with some good news about the company and the businesses we work with.

I find Twitter and LinkedIn quite useful for sharing best practice, offering hints and tips but I’ve never truly thought about what I get from it – what it is really doing for our business other than raising profile? Then recently we supported a client with a campaign focusing on an industry topic.

The client, AJ Recruitment, was campaigning for a review of the Agency Workers Directive and using Twitter to its most effective they created the hashtag #SayNOAWR. The campaign was going well and picking up momentum when the BBC sent out a tweet asking for possible interviewees to comment on the topic.

It was like a dream – we followed them, they followed us, we tweeted them, they tweeted back, we went back to basics and spoke on the phone (god forbid) and the next thing we know we are in the studio and the client is giving his first live interview.

Although I am following a number of journalists and media channels via Twitter I am now going to be more aware of hashtags and what they can mean to our agency. When you think about it logically it’s an obvious place for time strapped journos to look for news and to request interviews. From now on we will be poised… #lookingfornewsanyone? #wantastory?

Depravity to celebrity

The news is filled with stories about the Amanda Knox case this week and perhaps rightly so. Whether the decision shocked, appalled or appeased you the weeks and months to come will no doubt throw up some interesting angles within the media.
Already comments are being made about memoires, secret diaries and the ‘celebrity’ status that Knox will receive on her return to America with million dollar deals on the horizon, but can this ever be considered appropriate?

Although I appreciate that Knox has spent four years in prison for a crime that it is now suggested she did not commit, does this give her a one way ticket to fame and fortune?

Thankfully I think British people are far more reserved in their judgement of these situations and I don’t believe our culture would allow for those convicted and then cleared of murder to become famous as a result. If anything it seems that Brits with less than salubrious backgrounds are given a new identity and the chance to create a new life, ideally out of the lime light.

There are a number of comments in the media deriving to phone calls that Knox is supposed to have made suggesting that she will lead a millionaire lifestyle from now on, some may suggest that this has turned into a lottery ticket for her and that as a result of the media storm around the enquiry, conviction and then appeal she will never have to work again – but it is likely that the reality of any ‘cushy’ lifestyle may be quite different.

At present people are jumping on the bandwagon and making assumptions about the level of celebrity Knox will receive but these are by all accounts the good times. What about those who do not believe her story or those who feel an injustice has been done? It is unlikely that the media and in particular chat show hosts in America are going to be entirely sympathetic – let’s be honest, it simply wouldn’t make a strong story not to have some controversy in there somewhere.

In my opinion it’s a matter of time before people start to ask the more serious questions – ‘if you didn’t do it then who did?’, at the end of the day there is still a murder case to solve and perhaps the media would be better positioned to support that story rather than chasing the rather sick exposure to fame that Amanda Knox and her ex-boyfriend are likely to receive as a result of this very sad and sombre situation.

The lives of Meredith Kercher’s family have undoubtedly been destroyed with further anguish to come – let’s just hope that those who deserve it are brought to justice and that the public remember the serious side to this story.

A picture is worth a thousand words

For those of you who are avid readers of our blog (and apparently there are a few of you out there!) you will have already gathered that music is my main passion, whether it’s playing the flute or criticising others for their music choice (please see earlier blog).  I do have other hobbies however, and one of them is taking photographs.

We always emphasise the importance of photography to clients.  Yes, if a story is really important it will get coverage regardless, but a stunning image helps to capture both the journalist’s and the public’s eye.  The right words are obviously essential (you’d be surprised at how much reordering a sentence can affect the impact of a statement) but a suitable image helps to reinforce the message.

The Ridings Shopping Centre, based in the heart of Wakefield, regularly puts on fun, family events and I’ve been lucky enough to go down on a few occasions and have taken some photos while I’m there.  Admittedly I’m a long way off before I can start entering for photographer of the year awards, and I’d still class myself very much a beginner, but these are the kind of images that can help support a press release.

This photo was taken to promote an event The Ridings Centre put on to celebrate Yorkshire Day.  As we were hoping for coverage before the event happened, as well as after, there wasn’t an existing image so we decided to stage a shot which demonstrated some of the activity, as well as the subject.  The white rose is the epitome of Yorkshire and since there was going to be a facepainter at the event, we thought this shot would work well as a pre-event image.

This photo was taken at the Harry Potter event last Friday.  I must admit, I got quite caught up in the hype and was more than a little bit excited about getting to meet Professor Dumbledore!

The wand making workshop was very successful and there were plenty of muggles who got involved!

(Anti)Social Media

The recent riots across the UK brought to light a concern that many of us have shared since the popularity of social media tools hit what can only be described as gargantuan proportions. 

With everyone from your little brother to your granny accessing the web to view My Space, twitter, YouTube and facebook accounts it was only a matter of time before things started to get out of hand.

I’m all for social media, when it is managed properly. Some people say that you shouldn’t ‘manage’ social media and that it is all about opinion and engagement, which in part I agree with, but as a PR agency it is our job to identify what is being said, monitor conversation and where appropriate contribute.

Where it all starts to fall apart is when people take freedom of speech too literally and start to become abusive and aggressive. Using any communication tools to incite violence and most recently cause mass scale damage to cities throughout the country simply can’t be considered right or appropriate on any level.

It’s a sad state of affairs but we have to think about why people choose to be so destructive and manipulative, is it because there are more ways to communicate now and the ease of doing so to a mass market is both simple and cost effective.

Although I don’t think we should end up like some countries in the world where communications are monitored so closely that freedom of speech is all but abolished and the news agenda is manipulated, there have to be some measures put in place to deter those who simply want to cause trouble.

Despite the fact that many people are saying that the sentencing of rioters and those who were said to be trying to cause further trouble and incite violence was harsh, I think it sends out a very clear message – however you choose to communicate, remember that you are responsible for you own actions and with social media, everything you do can and will be monitored online via a worldwide source.

Questions to ask your prospective PR agency

I get asked by a lot of friends whether I’m enjoying my new job in the PR industry (it’s still new apparently even though I’ve been working for Open Comms for just short of a year) and then they pause and say, “actually, what is PR?”

Lots of people seem to not know much about the Public Relations sector (perhaps we’re all too busy promoting other people’s industries rather than our own?) which is why people can often be quite reluctant to approach an agency when considering what’s the best way to promote a new product or raise their company profile.

In the same way you’d ask lots of different questions before buying a new car or house, any good agency should be happy to answer any questions you may have about what it is they do and the way they work.

Last month I saw an article on Real Business about nine questions to ask your PR company, so I thought I’d answer them from our perspective in the hope that it might clear up any questions you might have.

 

http://realbusiness.co.uk/advice_and_guides/nine-questions-to-ask-your-pr-company

1. What experience do you have in my industry sector? 

We work with a wide variety of clients, from funeral directors to farm shops; legal firms to confectionery brands; shopping centres to document specialists.  Whether you’re or a one man band, or the head of a multi-national corporation, we have plenty of experience in a variety of different sectors and can help build up relations with other businesses, consumers or even internally.

2. Can I see recent press coverage? 

We’re always happy to show off our results.  Despite it being part of our daily activity, all three of us get a buzz each time we achieve coverage for a client (I’m known in particular for breaking out into a little celebratory dance every time I turn the page and see one of our press releases) so it really is no problem to ask to see the kind of results we get. We can demonstrate a wide range of coverage, so whether you want to look at examples of profiling pieces, local news stories, business features, trade stories, web copy or newsletters, we will be able to demonstrate our work to date.

3. Can I speak to some of your current clients? 

Yes, we’re very proud of our relationships with clients, and will be more than happy to put you in touch with someone for a reference.  In fact, when recently applying to be approved by the Recommended Agency Register, our clients positively rated us within 24 hours of being asked!

4. Are you working for any competitors? 

We only work for one client at a time within a particular sector so we’re not competing for time or space.  If you’d like to chat to us about whether we’re already working for a competitor or not, please do feel free to send us an e-mail or speak to any of us on the phone.

5. What kind of outcomes can you realistically deliver? 

As an agency, we pride ourselves on managing expectations.  Although we get as excited as you do about your good news, we never promise the world to a client.  We will always discuss realistic targets and goals, and then go above and beyond to try and achieve this.

6. How quickly can you respond to breaking news? 

We monitor news coverage every single day and always respond to relevant topics as soon as possible.  Open Communications also offer Crisis 24/7 – a service that means we can be contacted any time, day or night, if your company is facing a crisis and needs a statement drafted straight away and someone to direct any journalist enquiries to.

7. What additional services can you add? 

Open Communications offer more than just a press office.  We can provide a variety of services, whether you’re looking for crisis management, marketing solutions, social media activity, a communications audits, or copy for a website or brochure.

8. Who will I deal with? 

We’re a purposefully small team – it means that we all know what’s going on at all times, and even though you may have a specific contact or someone who works on the majority of your account, you can speak to anyone here.  We always bounce ideas off each other and get a second opinion on press releases and suggestions, so you’ll have input from at least one Director, no matter who you’re speaking to.

9. Do I really want to work with an agency? 

Having an external party work on the projects that you care about and the name that you try so hard to protect can be very daunting.  That’s why we always work as an extension to your team rather than a third party.  We have very strong relationships with ours clients and get to know them well.  We’re always hear to offer advice or explain our suggestions, so there’s no need to worry about a lack of communication or understanding.

So, if after reading this you’d like to have a quick chat on the phone, pop round for a cup of tea or have a more formal conversation, please do get in touch with any one from the team  and we’ll be more than happy to oblige!

Some light at the end of the tunnel

At last there is some light at the end of the tunnel or at least that is my interpretation of an article which appeared in The Drum quoting Crown Paints Marketing Director, Liz Hickson.

http://www.thedrum.co.uk/news/2011/08/18/24992-large-scale-marketing-accounts-to-return-to-regions-predicts-crown-paints-marketing-director/

Liz predicts that larger brands will start looking for support from regional marketing agencies, rather than just focusing on London based teams.

It has long been a bone of contention with me that people believe you are unable to deliver exceptional results if you are based anywhere but London or don’t have ‘an office’ there. Let’s be honest, many of the agencies professing to have a base in London either go down there once a month and sit in a friends back bedroom or have a phone line, which diverts to wherever they are really located. A little pointless if you ask me.

When I left university we were told in no uncertain terms that for the best jobs you would have to relocate to the South. As a typical Yorkshire lass and not one who will be told to move to build a career I decided otherwise and so far don’t think I’ve done such a bad job of providing that theory misguided if not completely wrong.

It’s great to hear that brands like Crown are looking for regional support from competent agencies and long may it continue. Those based ‘up North’ are just as able to liaise and engage with the media as those based in London and if the truth be known it can take as long to get from one side of the big smoke to the other as it can to jump on a train in Wakefield and be door to door within two hours.

I think it’s time that more companies recognised agencies for their credentials not their postcode. Not only can smaller and regionally based agencies offer better value for money but they have exactly the same skill sets as those in larger London based businesses. Simply put your location does not determine your ability to achieve results and the sooner that this is widely recognised the better.

 

The 24/7 culture

I recently listened to a discussion about how do you control what children are watching on TV when late night, adult themed programmes are available to watch at breakfast time through the use of services such as iPlayer.

Leaving the debate about what’s acceptable and what’s not for children to one side, it did get me thinking about how our concept of time has changed due to the progression of technology and our changing culture.

I remember when we first got a computer and access to the internet at home, and we’d only be able to go on after 6pm when it was a lot cheaper.  Internet time for me was in the evenings, and I’d excitedly rush upstairs at 5.55pm to get the computer ready.  Now, the first thing I do after switching off my alarm clock in the morning is to check my e-mails and various social media accounts.  The internet is so readily available that I’m no longer restricted by time, and will browse the internet whenever I have a minute to spare, whether it’s while I’m waiting for the kettle to boil or if I’m stood in line at the post office.

Time no longer limits me either when it comes to buying products.  After hearing about a new book release on Twitter last night, I instantly downloaded it to my Kindle and started reading it within minutes of deciding I wanted it.  Before, I would have had to wait until the weekend so that I could physically go to a book shop and get it.

Even the shops have changed, with many having late night openings, some even being open 24 hours a day, and Sunday now being considered a shopping day like the others.  The same can be said about bank holidays – most shops are now open when they used to be closed and people would spend time with their families at home or going to the seaside.

Working hours still give structure, with most companies working the typical 9 – 5 day, but for those who wish to continue working into the late hours of the night, it’s very easy to do so.  Skype means you can have conference calls with someone in Australia or Japan at the touch of a button, so even international time differences are no longer too much of a problem.

Although most people would argue these differences have made a positive change, there are some negative factors.  Leaving aside bigger issues such as what’s happened to family time, and if it’s healthy not to have a ‘switch off’ part of the day where you’re no longer working or glued to the internet, I have found that my expectation and patience levels have changed.

The number of times we’ve complained in the office when it takes Google more than three seconds (and that’s no exaggeration) to refresh a page.  We live in a culture now where we want, and expect, things instantly.  Whether that’s a coffee to go, or access to our e-mails, we can’t wait.  So in a society where we’ve become less restricted by designated time slots, and have gadgets that supposedly save us time, we seem to have become more frustrated by not being able to fit more things in to the day rather than more relaxed.

So the next time you finish a task quickly thanks to some clever gadget, perhaps you should use the free time created to put up your feet and read a book.  Go on, you’re allowed.

Best of British

There seems to be a poll for everything now a days but when I read recently that Sweet Eve Strawberries had commissioned a survey to ask members of the public what fifty things they love about Britain I had to smile.

The top five were as follows:

  1. Fish and Chips
  2. A cup of tea
  3. Yorkshire pudding
  4. Strawberries and Cream
  5. Sunday roast

As someone who really enjoys my food – a little too much over recent months perhaps – I had to wonder if Britain really is this obsessed with the culinary delights gracing our tables at lunch and dinner.

It goes without saying that we are very lucky in Yorkshire to be surrounding by manufacturers of the finest local produce including Womersley Vinegars, The Wensleydale Creamery, Ossett Brewery and not forgetting of course Ramsay Fish and Chips (*blatant plug*).

Number 2 on the list of things we love has to raise a smile – a good cup of tea. There is nothing quite like a good cup of tea after a long day, or when things aren’t going so well. It seems to have made it through the years as a classic with any self respecting Brit housing a cupboard full of the stuff.

Perhaps the problem is that having such wonderful food and drink on our doorstep means that there is very little else we think about. Is this a bad thing? Are we spoilt for choice? You have to wonder if we are simply used to the finer things in life without even realising it.

And on that note I wonder what I’m going to have for lunch?