Tag: Business

Confusing messaging leads to confused customers

I’ve never been a big fan of advertising which relies on fear, shock or scare tactics. I don’t think it works. I also wrote my dissertation about this very subject which determined that the only people who are in fear, shock or scared as a result of these adverts are those who are receptive to a brands message in the first place – not those you want to change the behaviour of.

Let me explain, if I was a smoker, the minute I saw an advert with a young girl crying because her Dad was dying of lung cancer I would turn the channel over or go and make a cup of tea. I would not sit and watch the advert, taking in the terrible statistics and details that the advert is trying to get across and then apply them to myself and as a result stop smoking.

Equally if I was a speeding driver, I wouldn’t watch an advert about a young child being killed in the road because a car was travelling at 40 miles an hour when they should have been doing 30. To be honest by the time I was back behind the wheel it would be the last thing I would be thinking about – but I can almost guarantee half of the Mum’s watching the advert would reiterate the statistics verbatim.

At least these two examples, although relying on fear and shock, have a point. They are charity adverts working hard to get a message across – even if, in my opinion, it may not quite hit the target. What frustrates me more than these adverts, which as I said at least serve a purpose to raise brand awareness to the masses, are brands which confuse their messaging.

I have never been a huge fan of Benetton. When they brought out their ‘unusual’ adverts in the 1990’s it put me off their clothing for life. I don’t think I have ever bought a Benetton piece of clothing and have no intention of doing so. I just didn’t get it and nor did I want to.

In fairness I wasn’t their core target consumer back then but I would think I’m pretty much there now. I’m no fashion guru but I’m about the right demographic give or take. To find out today that Benetton have now launched a new advert which focused on the thousands of unemployed young people in the country is just baffling.

I have no problem with brands raising topical and serious issues but it’s the way that they do it which strikes me as nothing short of odd. Benetton has seen a downward slide in sales and therefore needs to sell clothes, so it launches an advert about youth unemployment which will predominantly communicate with a market that couldn’t possibly afford their clothing anyway!

Call me naïve but I just don’t get it.

Another retailer, which I love and do buy from regularly, Lush, made what I consider to be a similar mistake recently when they created what I believe was the first ever live testing on a human. The purpose was to raise awareness of the horrors of animal testing.

This case is slightly different to that of Benetton because I can see an obvious link between the cause and the brand but still the messaging was distorted. Lush have excellent customer service and spend lots of time creating a bubbly and fun atmosphere in their stores – they are almost the Willy Wonka of the cosmetics world – to then start showing people being forced to have things put in their eyes and electrodes put on their heads just doesn’t sit quite right with me.

It was a great campaign and achieved some great exposure but the brands values and customer experience in my opinion were misaligned and although I agree in principle with their thoughts on animals testing I would be no more likely to buy their products as a result of this activity.

There has to have been another way that they could lobby for support against animal testing as opposed to making it a total feature of their marketing strategy.

As a PR and marketing communications agency here at Open Comms we work with our clients to develop creative campaigns which attract attention and hit the headlines. How I believe we differ from the examples shown above is that our objectives align with the strategy of the business, which often directly correlates with the bottom line.  We make sure that all activity is integrated and that no one message goes so off topic that it leaves our clients customers confused.

I personally think these brands need to take a step back and think about how their customers are interpreting their creative. They may find that they are spending a massive amount of money to raise a topical subject but the reality is that this approach is unlikely to sell products.

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.

 

Because the client says so

People think that working with so many clients in such a diverse range of sectors would be difficult but it isn’t as long as you understand their business, communications strategy and wider brand plan. It’s important to get to know their business inside and out in order to put together recommendations that will deliver on objectives.

In my opinion too many PR agencies get caught up in trying to pull the next big stunt without looking at the bigger picture. How will that campaign have any longevity and what will happen once you have secured the column inches. How could it work as a theme that could be delivered in phases so that you get more than one opportunity to speak to the media and greater retention of message?

At Open Communications we work with our clients to create campaigns that grab attention, while also meeting with expectations and delivering on objectives. Anyone can make unrealistic suggestions or over promise on ideas that simply won’t deliver but we choose not to be like that.

One principle that we have employed from day one is to be honest and open. We don’t do something because the clients says so and we are more than willing to challenge an idea if we think it is to the benefit of the client and their brand and business.

As a small agency our reputation is literally our business and we are not prepared to go along with something for the sake of banking some cash. We are however more than prepared to work with our clients to come up with ideas that can improve their brand awareness, engage with their consumers and impact on their bottom line.

I think this is why I enjoy working at Open, not least because I was part of the partnership that set the company up and am therefore completely biased, but more so because we work WITH our clients and not for them. This approach, as simple as it sounds, has led to us sharing long term relationships with the brands we work with and becoming an extension of their teams.

When launching the business we decided that if someone was going to employ us as the experts we are then they deserve the benefit of our experience, recommendations and knowledge. There is no point in nodding politely and then when it comes to reviewing an activity having the embarrassment of saying that you knew it wouldn’t work in the first place but just couldn’t say anything.

I wrote a blog recently about being from Yorkshire and calling a spade a shovel and once again I think this lesson has served me well. If you are honest with people and you work with them to come up with ideas and plans that work you can all share in the results. Otherwise you are just another agency, nodding politely at another client, who will be looking to replace you once your latest stunt is complete.

Yorkshire born and bred

For those of you who don’t know it was Yorkshire Day yesterday. There were a few stories in the news to celebrate the occasion with a sprinkling of brands investing in PR stunts, allowing them to briefly claim a few column inches here and there.

It’s fair to say more is usually made of this momentous day in the Yorkshire calendar but with the ‘O’ word going on (we have to be careful what we write at the moment for fear of the powers that be knocking on the door!) the headlines are mostly dominated with jumping, swimming and cycling.

That aside, I have to admit that I did take a moment yesterday to think about what makes me so proud to be from Yorkshire and to be passionate about the county that I was born, raised, educated and finally, despite other offers, chose to reside in.

Although I have to hold my hands up and admit to skipping the border, going from North to West Yorkshire (mainly for education and work commitments), both areas have similarly impressive things to offer; wonderful scenery, fantastic food, great ales, a warm welcome and I think most importantly a brutal honesty.

This is one of the things I most admire about Yorkshire and the people that I know who live in the area. As I have mentioned on the blog before, my parents run a fish and chip van in the Yorkshire Dales and have done for the last 32 years. During that time the most common reason for people coming back time and time again was for the banter and sometimes brutal honesty that they receive – along with a good meal.

As my parents are a little like a comedy duo – a mix between something from Open All Hours and Keeping Up Appearances! – they never fail to amuse their customers while also providing them with a service that they will never forget. I don’t know anywhere else in the country where you find people who would behave in the same way and in some instances get away with it!

My admiration does not stop at my parents, there are many, many business people in Yorkshire that I could name who have for one reason or another caught my attention and made me sit up and listen – better still there are even more that I have learnt a great deal from and for that I am eternally grateful.

Coming from Yorkshire originally means that of course I am biased but I still think that this is the only place in the world I would want to be. It has everything I need, family, friends, fun and a deep honesty that will always be a big part of me. I once remember someone I worked with saying to me:

“Lindsey you don’t so much call a spade a spade as a spade a shovel”, I think it was meant as an insult at the time but I took it as a great compliment – so much so that I remember it today.

I interpret that to mean that I can be too honest but perhaps that is because I find it difficult to put a spin on things or to ‘manipulate’ the truth both at home and work. If that’s the cross I have to bear then so be it. I’m happy with that.

So, here’s to Yorkshire and all the honesty that it brings – I will be raising a pint (or half at least) to that this weekend.

Cheers!

Business down but PR win for Britvic

Today’s headlines report a profit fall in Q3 for soft drinks manufacturer Britvic leading to a loss of approximately £15 – £23m. Now before we all take a sharp intake of breath, the business reports that this is as a result of the poor weather and more significantly the product recall of the brands Fruit Shoot and Fruit Shoot Hydro bottles, using a new sports cap.

Whereas most people will be looking at this story and wondering how the brand will recoup the losses, I read it very differently. Within the story, which I read first on The Business Desk, the journalist chooses to use the words ‘well-publicised product recall’.

As a communications agency that commends great work and is not too proud to take our hats off to those who do it well – I would personally like to say congratulations to the team responsible for managing the communication for the recall.

Before you think I’ve finally lost my marbles let me explain.

Ok, so it wasn’t the best story that Britvic will ever have to deal with, no one wants to come into work and have to fend off questions about safety issues, particularly not for food and drink products and let’s be honest it shouldn’t have happened in the first place – but it did, so as a press team you have to get on with it.

Overall I think the situation was well managed, handled appropriately and did the job. Everyone was aware of the product fault and why the brand was recalling the items. The statement was clear and the call to action made sense – you weren’t left wondering if the bottles had been tampered with or if little Jonny’s pack up was more of a danger than a snack at lunchtime.

It can be a difficult call when you have to make decisions like this, but Britvic seem to have made their mind up quickly and as a result they deserve the respect of their consumers. The money that went into advertising the recall, as well as relying on the support of a PR team, won’t have come cheap, so when you add that to the loss of a potential £23m it is enough to make your eyes water but before you go dashing for the hankies turn the situation on its head.

A well-managed crisis situation can do a brand the world of good and not only does it get consumers taking about you, it also puts you in the spot light when it matters most. Today’s press are full of interviews, comments and quotes from Britvic, reiterating their concern and commitment to the consumers. They play down the recall as something that happens to all brands, yet do not dismiss the seriousness of the situation.

This is exactly why it is imperative for brands to have a committed and experienced PR team to deal with crisis situations. It isn’t a game when you get a call to recall a product it is make or break and I am pleased to see some businesses getting it right.

So, once again, well done Britvic. It’s hit you hard this quarter but it won’t stop me from purchasing your products and I’m sure others will feel the same

 

 

Supporting local initiatives because ‘Wakefield Works’

As a Yorkshire PR agency and Wakefield based business, we were asked recently to attend a meeting with like-minded  companies in the area, who would support a local initiative to provide unemployed people in the district with advice and guidance, in the hope that they may secure temporary or permanent roles as a result.

The initiative, Wakefield Works, was the brain child of local entrepreneurs Andy Turner from First Choice Recruitment and Marcello Moccia from Room:97 hairdressers. The concept is relatively simple – each business who agrees to get involved will open their doors on Thursday 4 October and will commit to meeting with local unemployed people who choose to visit their business.

Giving around 15 – 20 minutes to each candidate, businesses are asked to provide advice and guidance to each person, while also answering any questions that they have. In addition the company will provide one person from those who visit the organisation with a week’s work placement.

What a great idea! So simple, yet potentially very effective.

Needless to say here at Open Communications we are getting behind this project 100% and hope to meet with some very interesting and inspiring people as a result. I think it’s important to highlight that the people who are looking for work in the region can be any age and any level of experience and that is what makes this approach all the more interesting.

If as a result of this activity just one person finds temporary or full time work then it has been a success – ideally more will follow and we will find that as a result of this activity the companies who choose to get involved will also help to reduce local unemployment levels.

So come on – here’s a shout out to all those businesses within the Wakefield district who aren’t involved in this great initiative yet. Get in touch with Andy Turner at andy@first-choice.co.uk and find out more about how you can help to make our area a better place. You never know, you could just find the new recruit of your dreams. Stranger things have happened!

 

 

Can you weather proof your marketing?

You can’t really say that we’ve had a summer time yet, despite it being mid-July, in fact it feels more like some balmy extended winter. The only glimpse of sun we have had in the UK has been a random day here and there or if we really push it maybe a week.

The problem isn’t just flooding to houses and roads, burst river banks and floating cars, it goes far beyond that.  We work with a range of clients who rely on us to put together PR strategies and plans which meet with their briefs and deliver results, while achieving objectives. Not always as simple as it sounds.

As a PR and marketing communications agency, we do not profess to be all things to all people but we are a creative team and we come up with a range of ideas that the client can then choose from. Sometimes these ideas go beyond PR and include sampling, experiential and even, on occasion, suggestions for advertising campaigns or retailer engagement.

Working in this way allows us to put recommendations forward that we feel will work for the client and better still deliver a return on investment. We know that one theme can create an integrated approach, which can then be used in a number of different ways to achieve results. We also know that the ideas we propose have longevity, which can build over time, and ultimately create retention of key messages throughout the campaign period.

It would be unfair of us to suggest that we always come up with the ideas, as we work with a range of agencies and benefit from their insight and experience.  In order to make this approach work as well as it can, we hold agency days where all agencies come together and share their thoughts in order to agree the best ideas and creative routes, which are able to translate across disciplines.

So what has all this got to do with the weather?

This ‘summer’ has proven that an integrated approach to marketing and PR is absolutely essential. We have heard about the number of events that have been cancelled or rescheduled, which has impacted on sampling opportunities, sponsorship and outdoor activities.

There is nothing you can do about the rain, so in order to weather proof your marketing, by having a multi discipline approach, when one recommendation cannot be implemented as expected another can come into play, meaning a brand can have a contingency in place that will still deliver a return and build on the campaign theme.

As an example, if an activity cannot go ahead, PR activity can continue with features and press releases distributed to the media, sampling activity can take place in doors and advertising on cinema screens can reach an audience that are trying their best to get away from the wet weather.

I’m sure we are all praying for some more sunshine – and I don’t want to be the one to dismiss the fact that we may just get a summer – but on the basis that we do get more wet weather, we would advise that brands consider how they can work smarter to ensure they have a contingency in place.

The first step is to choose an agency that doesn’t simply look at quirky ideas that hit the headlines one minute and are lost the next or those who feel that winning an industry award makes for best practice – but an agency that delivers consistent results with the brand and business objectives in mind, while taking into account their disciplines and those of others.

Ready at the starting blocks – but not for sport

We were asked recently to deliver a presentation during an event in Castleford run by Wakefield Enterprise Partnership. The purpose of the event was to provide advice and guidance to people who were considering starting up a business. As a result we were asked, as a Wakefield based PR agency, to discuss communications and how you could go about setting the foundations before you reach the starting blocks and launch a company to the market.

We really enjoy events like this, not least because you get to meet so many new people with a real passion for the products or services that they have to offer. What was most striking from the event was the variety of businesses that people were hoping to start from web based companies right through to a consultant offering health and well-being in the workplace.

It was encouraging to see that the room was full of people with ambition and a genuine desire to do well. Some of them had been made redundant, whereas others just felt it was the right time to take the plunge.

Events like this always take me back to when we launched Open Communications in September 2008. It feels like a lifetime ago now but we had a clear plan and a definite determination to make it work. We were entering an unknown territory having never owned or run a business before and I think this is what people forget when they consider starting a company.

We were both professional PR consultants with experience and a portfolio of excellent results – what we didn’t have was any idea about a P11d, corporation tax, VAT bills or employer and employee PAYE payments. It’s a real minefield.

Thankfully we were surrounded by people who were only too willing to help and this support was gratefully received. For those out there considering starting a business I would think hard about putting the foundations into place first before offering a product or service to the market.

It sounds like common sense to plan before you launch but the simplest things are those that people overlook, such as getting your messaging right, knowing your market and communicating with your customers and not your competitors.

I hope that those who attended the presentation got the advice that they were looking for and that our talk was of genuine benefit to them. We certainly received some very positive responses.  I will be looking out for some of those people over the coming months and expecting to see them in the pages of their local papers as a result of launching the businesses that they were so passionate about.

One thing is for sure, I’m a great believer in people buying people and those who attended that session were doing so to make sure they had everything in place – if you put the effort in, you will get the reward. All that remains for us to say is good luck to them all.