Tag: Business

Where have all the gurus gone?

There was a time when PR was almost a dirty word and when prefixed with traditional was tantamount to commercial suicide – well, as far as the ‘cool’ agencies that were offering digital innovations from the world’s leading social media gurus were concerned.

Web rankings, algorithms and search engine optimisation – or SEO as it was more commonly known (nothing like a good acronym) – were all phrases that were banded around like sweets at a children’s birthday party – but many clients were left baffled and those that were blown away needed to see results, measurable results that went beyond a Facebook breakdown.

Changing times

Over recent years, and with some tough times faced by most, this trend has thankfully started to change. I don’t mean that digital campaigns are any the less impressive but that clients want to see a real return for their investment and ideas that will add value to the customer experience, while delivering to the bottom line.

As brands see the value in developing a consistent strategy throughout the year that supports and manages their reputation – which is arguably their biggest asset – public relations has once again stepped up to be counted.

We have certainly seen a shift in the number of new business enquiries which have come as a result of client recommendation (a huge compliment and not something we ever take for granted) and the campaigns that we have worked on. This is great news for our business but also for the industry as it shows that people are seeing the value that PR and marketing communications can deliver.

What about the sexy stuff  

Just because you work with a PR agency that doesn’t mean that they don’t do the sexy stuff and before I’m completely misquoted, what I mean is that PR should not be considered the boring relative at the marketing family get together. As has been the case with other marketing disciplines PR has had to change and move with the times too.

We work with businesses to make sure that when we put together a PR strategy we consider how we can secure coverage in printed media, online and across broadcast channels as we have always done but we also focus on user generated content and how our plans can fit into those that are either managed in-house or by other agency partners.

Working together

Experience has shown us that agencies have a reputation for not working well together however we don’t agree. We have worked with many design, planning, media buying and production agencies over the years and in most cases have delivered campaign ideas that have been much stronger as a result.

What we do is take an idea or theme and see how each specialism can contribute to the success of that overall campaign. When this approach is taken, there is no doubt that the results are far stronger than if each discipline works independently and tries to shoehorn their idea – which of course is the best of the bunch in their eyes – into a plan.

In summary

PR is an exciting and creative industry and I think that people have lost sight of that over recent years, primarily due to the huge increase in the number of ‘social media gurus’ who were going to change the world!

Needless to say, time has shown that social media needs to form part of a wider strategy rather than being handled in isolation. The first hurdle for agencies is getting clients to understand what certain tools can be used for and what likely return they are going to receive. The other consideration is what market the client works in and what social media platforms are relevant or otherwise.

This year is certainly going to make for some interesting reading as far as marketing campaigns are concerned and I for one am really looking forward to seeing how brands use an integrated approach to come up with something that will be fresh, simple and successful.

Only time will tell if the next big headline or #WIN is going to come from a self-proclaimed social media guru, but I’m guessing not.

An award that REALLY means something

12.20.13 AwardOn Tuesday evening we had the pleasure of attending an event with our client KP Snacks. Like many events, we got suited and booted – dresses out and heels on, even a touch of lippy! – and looked forward to spending a relaxing evening with good food, a glass or two of wine and great company.

What we didn’t expect at this event was to be presented with an award!

What our client had failed to inform us is that they had chosen Open Communications as their Agency Partner of the Year for 2013 following the on-going PR and social media support we provide for POM-BEAR, the fun shaped snack brand.

We have to be honest now – POM-BEAR is an excellent brand to work with and as we have some fantastic credentials within the family brands market (if we do say so ourselves) there are lots of recommendations that we can make in order to raise the profile of the business, while reiterating core messages around the product range. Better still, we also get to have some fun!

Now, we have never really chased awards, we have entered a few but it’s fair to say that we could do more in relation to putting ourselves forward to be ‘judged’ by our peers. It’s not that we are averse to them, just that there’s always something going on that is more important.

We’ve won awards in the past, but I have to admit that this was something else. It’s great to be recognised for the work that you do and the effort that you put in to campaigns BUT most importantly to be chosen by your clients and held in such strong regard that they invite you to collect an award in front of their colleagues – well, what more can we say?

We are so pleased and as you would expect very proud of the work that we have done for POM-BEAR in the last 18 months and we are really looking forward to working with the team from KP Snacks again in 2014. Now that we know that this award exists, we are even more eager to fight to retain our title!

It’s been a very positive month for Open Communications; Top 100 Agency outside of London and now Agency Partner of the Year for KP Snacks. Here’s to ending the year on a high and to many more celebrations in the twelve months ahead.

Who owns social media? Let’s discuss!

Last week I had the privilege of being invited to a thought leadership roundtable event in Leeds. Held at Aspire, Think Yorkshire, which is organised and supported by the Yorkshire Mafia and in this instance sponsored by Salesforce, was a roundtable event with a twist.

As a Director of Open Communications I was asked to attend as a representative for the marketing roundtable. The subject and question that we would be discussing was ‘Who owns social media?’

Great topic and a subject that was likely to generate a great deal of debate. I arrived at the venue, which is a former penny bank – and for those who haven’t had the chance to visit yet it’s beautiful and very ornate – and took my seat.

The table I was directed to was chaired by Rob Wilmot, the former CTO of Freeserve and internet entrepreneur. I have met with Rob before but have never had the chance to really discuss social media with him. Knowing his background and credibility as an advisor for all things social to some of the largest companies in the UK, I was keen to listen to what he had to say.

Along with others from a range of differing sectors, we gathered around and started the debate. Interestingly we ‘fell’ at the first hurdle. Almost all of us had interpreted the question differently. I had presumed that the question was asking whether social media is a digital or PR driven discipline, whereas others were looking at department responsibility and ownership based on brand or employee.

As a result of the question (and I still don’t know if it was simply luck or great judgement) and our differing interpretations the debate quickly gathered momentum and built over the course of the next hour and a half with comments and opinion exchanged and advice offered for those seeking the answers to ‘real life’ concerns or problems.  It was great!

Having worked with the team from Buy Yorkshire and The Yorkshire Mafia for some years, I was aware that events that they host are always well worth attending however I have to say that this was really something else.

I have been invited to round table discussions before; you sit, you talk, you drink coffee and you leave. At these sessions you may get some feedback and learn a trick or two but it’s more a sharing of common themes and beliefs than knowledge and strong opinion.  Also, with many of these events you are a mere observer, rather than a participant.

This was completely different and what made it even more impressive was the wider format of the event. You see, I was just one representative of two marketing roundtables that were taking place simultaneously – along with a further series of tables that were discussing other topics.

So, rather than hosting a roundtable event about a given topic, Think Yorkshire chose to bring together best in class professionals to discuss and debate subjects that they specialise in before the event culminated with a three course dinner. The finale of the dinner was a stroke of genius, as people were allocated to tables that would give everyone the chance to meet someone new and to share the outcomes of the discussions they had – therefore never being short of conversation.

What a fantastic idea.

I’m sure that lots of organisations will now follow this format and so they should but it will take some work to get the balance of business with relaxed discussion absolutely right. This is the first event I have been to in a long time where I genuinely felt that everyone was there to share their knowledge and get to know each other – not a single person asked for my card and better still I wasn’t told that ‘our businesses have synergy’ or the dreaded phrase ‘I notice you work with…’

A truly excellent event and something that I hope will be repeated very soon.

Well done to the Yorkshire Mafia, once again, job done.

Has social media made brands more honest?

This was one of the questions that was asked this morning at the Yorkshire Business Insider, Digital Economy Breakfast, which was hosted at Leeds Metropolitan University.

Using the hashtag #insideryorksdigital a collective of communication, brand, marketing and digital practitioners came together in a panel led discussion, which asked for questions from the audience that were then answered by four respective experts.

This question in particular really caught my attention as I don’t believe that it has made brands more honest, and in contrast to the feedback given by both panel and the audience, I feel that social media has forced business to be more responsive – not necessarily honest.

What we have to consider is whether factual means honest. I don’t believe that this is always the case and as such businesses are managing their communications better and being more considerate of what they say and where. Again, we need to note that considerate does not mean overtly sensitive, a better description may be controlled.

In a world that is full of people with opinions and comments that they are only too ready to share with the masses, particularly when something goes wrong, it is absolutely essential that brands are ready and willing to converse with their audience, providing feedback and assistance if the matter calls for it.

This sounds far simpler than it is. The nature of the beast means that the larger, and presumably more successful, a company becomes the more resource and budget it has to give to communicating with its ever growing audience.

In a world that has typically cut marketing and PR budgets during difficult times, as opposed to recognising the skills and asset that a communications team brings to a business, we can quickly identify where and why some brands have come a cropper over recent years.

With the good always comes the bad but in order to nurture brand ambassadors, while also assisting those with complaints, the landscape has changed and thankfully larger businesses have had to recognise the true value of PR and marketing communications.

Many of the errors that have been made when it comes to social media and the #epic #fails we all share are down to poor delegation. A junior member of the team is tasked with managing social media because no one else really understands it or has the time; after all they are too busy with the serious stuff.

The problem here is that the serious stuff is presumably the reputation of the company, which is directly driven by the way in which an organisation interacts, engages and communicates with its audiences.

Is it just me or are we stating to see a direct correlation here? Put simply, social = serious.

So, interestingly from this one question we can determine that perhaps social media hasn’t made brands more honest – after all, as organisations become more socially aware, they are also becoming more strategic with the way they engage – they are however more responsive and many of them now realise that you can’t ignore a medium that rightly or wrongly is used by an ever increasing number of consumers and businesses both as a platform for communication and search.

Grass isn’t always greener – in fact it could be Astroturf

What do you do when you want to improve your ranking across search engines such as Google, Yahoo and Bing, encouraging your prospects and customers to find you when they search for the products and services you offer?

Some companies choose to work with professionals; PR agencies, digital companies and SEO (search engine optimisation) consultants.  Although this seems like a reasonable suggestion there is a definite need for businesses to choose who they work with wisely.

As social media tools become a viable source of information for those who want a review or recommendation, more companies are recognising the value of this for businesses and in particular those working in industries such as hospitality, leisure and of course food.

With the simple click of a button, an opinion can be formed based on the feedback given relating to the experience of a single individual. We all have bad days and sometimes things go wrong and this is where posts and comments can have a real impact on the success of a company.

As an invaluable platform for some people with sites such as Trip Advisor being considered the fountain of all knowledge when it comes to holidays, these are no longer sites that brands are able to avoid. If there is a bad comment then the first thing we suggest is that a response is given from the brand and if necessary a meeting is arranged or an explanation is given.

With social media the simple fact of the matter is that ignorance is certainly not bliss!

But it’s not all about the comments that people post, which provide a genuine insight into the experience that they have had.  Things are much, much worse than that. You see not all agencies or consultants are quite what they seem.  Although the grass can look very green when a company is securing permanently positive references and five star ratings, what you are actually looking at is Astroturf.

This isn’t the stuff that bloody knees are made of – oh no. Astroturf is another term for ‘fake reviews’. As many of these tools rely on ‘grass routes’ feedback, the term Astroturf is used for false recommendations or criticism. Basically those who claim to be ‘experts’ are actually paying freelancers or individuals that they know to post reviews without necessarily having ever experienced the brand or purchased products from the business.

Not only does this give a distorted view of a particular company but it is very dangerous. An example of how this can go horribly wrong featured recently on the BBC website. The Local Attorney General’s Office created a completely fictitious yogurt shop.

They then asked a selection of companies offering SEO services to support the brand. As a result 19 companies have now been fined £218,470 after creating false profiles and posting inaccurate and libellous comments about the yogurt shop, which didn’t exist.

What’s even worse is that the individuals that were encouraged to post their reviews of the shop, in some instances, didn’t even live in the same country!

Like anything else, SEO companies should have credentials that they can share to prove that they know what they are doing. If you really want to pay someone to support you with SEO services then make sure you have done your checks and that the content that is being created is delivering a return on investment and adding value to your brand and business.

Unfortunately as the internet is so vast and collates information from so many different sources, SEO is absolutely essential for some businesses. All we would recommend as an agency is that if a brand is considering working with a consultant or team that offers SEO’s services, is that they ensure that all content is real, which in turn makes it credible. To do anything else won’t just be creating an inaccurate picture but it could just come back to give you a nasty shock that will hurt far more than a couple of bloody knees!

Are you giving your business the right tweetment?

When we are putting together a PR strategy for a client or discussing how a brand can communicate with its many different audiences, we always consider social media; after all it’s a platform and growing point of reference for consumers of all ages and demographics.

I have never really understood agencies that focus purely on social media, as although I feel it is a mistake to ignore online tools, in my opinion they should form part of a wider strategy. The internet has created new ways of communicating but the process is the same; you need to create a plan that supports a year round campaign and then a series of messaging that allows a company to share its stories, which in turn will raise its profile and understanding of the product and services it offers.

Needless to say PR always sounds far simpler than it actually is but essentially the fundamental purpose has never changed, our main objective is always to manage the reputation of the brands we work with. We want to share stories that lead others to talk about a company. In doing this we generate word of mouth, which is still the most valuable medium for creating credibility, recommendation and in turn sales.

I attended a networking session last night which focused specifically on twitter. In celebration of Leeds Business Week, Leeds Tweet Meet brought together a panel of communications professionals to discuss how to effectively use twitter for the purpose of business.

It was an interesting session but the main theme throughout was to have a plan and keep it simple. What was a very valuable suggestion was to recognise that twitter is now used as a real time resource by the consumer. No longer is twitter all about engagement or two way communication, there is a large audience using it to search for up-to-date news, views, comments and opinions.

For the first time twitter is actually competing with search engines, due to the speed in which information can be shared.

We always advise that clients take the time to review twitter and analyse what competitors are doing before they consider social media channels as a route to market. We believe that it is important to understand how people within a given industry are engaging with their audiences, as this can change significantly from one sector to another. It is also essential that legalities are considered, as there are some instances where information cannot be shared on an ‘open platform’.

What people sometimes forget is that twitter is a global and immediate channel to market. Once a tweet is out there it can be difficult to amend or delete. In order for any social media tool to work as well as it should, a client needs to be comfortable and confident before sharing their stories with the masses and that doesn’t just relate to using the tool but also to the content that a company proposes to share.

Some of the most spectacular #fails have come about as a result of brands jumping in or not taking the time to think before updating a status. Although it takes seconds to put up a post, it can take months to manage the damage that this could cause. We always ask if a person would shout their tweet in a street – if the answer is no, then it may be worth considering if the content is necessary and appropriate.

Although content is more important than ever before, it is worth asking what value your updates will give the recipient. If the content that you share is of no use to those that follow you, then consider how you can change it so that people can join in a conversation with you or use your content to their benefit.

As an example rather than telling people you are taking your dog for a walk, make recommendations on how consumers can get best value from your product or how your service differs from competitors. Twitter is also a great tool for sharing recommendations and testimonials, you can re-tweet positive comments and thank those that make them, which only strengthens those relationships, while sharing your success with a mass audience.

A suggestion from Leeds Tweet Meet was for businesses to develop a social media code of conduct, which in many organisations would provide guidelines for employees about what can and cannot be shared on business specific social media channels.

As a starting point for any business our top ten tips for twitter are as follows:

  1. Decide what your objective is – what do you aim to achieve through twitter
  2. Identify key individuals in the business who will manage the account
  3. Research what others within the market are doing (in particular competitors)
  4. Ask your customers if they would like to engage with you on twitter
  5. Create a code of conduct for employees to follow
  6. Do some scenario planning – what’s the worst that could happen
  7. Put together a simple schedule of tweets; build up a bank of topics / themes to consider
  8. Register an account with a relevant design
  9. Search for people that you would like to follow
  10. Build social media into your communications strategy

Twitter is certainly a good tool for business and has a growing number of followers. For those who ‘have better things to do with their time’ I would question what your customers and more importantly prospects would think.

As an immediate medium twitter can be invaluable to business and gives a brand a voice and personality. As a measure of success all you need to do is search for your favourite brands – the majority of which will now have an active twitter feed.

For those who are still in two minds then speak to a PR agency, they should be able to give you the guidance that you need to build twitter and other social tools into your wider communications strategy.

A changing legal landscape

One of the great things about working in PR is that we get to work across a number of different sectors; no two days are ever the same. With this comes the benefit of gaining a greater insight into diverse marketplaces that you would perhaps otherwise know nothing about.

We have managed projects for a number of businesses working within the legal sector and I have to admit that this is one of the most exciting sectors to be involved with from a communications perspective. Not only have there been irrevocable changes to the sector, which will see a complete overhaul of the legal landscape, but a new breed of business has launched which means that firms can be owned and run by entrepreneurs as opposed to solicitors and practiced legal experts.

The Legal Services Act of 2007, the alternative business structures, changed everything. It liberalised the legal market and allowed those with the right business acumen to see the benefits to doing things differently.

Admittedly, as with any significant change there was some heartache, with the downfall of a number of leading practices – others recognised the benefit to investing in the future and chose to merge, creating new business led models that would give them a more sustainable outlook.

The more exciting side to these changes are the opening of the market to a new way of working – law is becoming accessible and affordable. There are a number of companies that are now offering fixed fee services. This also gives traditional firms the chance to look at their business and shake it up – there’s no point in believing that things will stay the same, after all they have already started to change.

What I would get really giddy about if I worked in the legal sector is the opportunities that this brings for legal experts to provide comment and opinion. The changes won’t happen overnight and everyone will have their thoughts – so why not share them?

Good or bad it is time that legal firms stood up to be counted. If you prefer a traditional model then explain why but if you are all for embracing new ways of working then again, let your customers know why and what you intend to do to stay ahead of the market.

It is also a great time for these companies to start blogging, Vlogging and using social media tools to share their thoughts and ideas. What better time to engage with customers; let them know what is going on and what it will mean to the practice, share good news and ask their opinions.

There is still a very real position for a market leader when it comes to communication in the legal sector; it appears that as no one has challenged the way things have been done in the past, it has been left to chance that people will choose a firm based on reputation that is driven by nothing more than fee income.

With change always comes worry but for those practices that want to plan ahead and take hold of the metaphorical bull by the horns then this is the time to do it. I for one will be very interested to see who leads the pack and which firms are the next to hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons because they didn’t see the value in embracing change.

The value of values

Open Communications is a straight talking PR agency – we get the job done and most importantly we do it well. We don’t ‘do’ air kissing but we do meet with clients objectives and as a result we have long-term relationships with the brands we work with.

You may read that and think – so what? Why do I care that you are straight talking, or that you do what you say you will, but actually these are very important points for us. You see the paragraph above is an outline of our values.

Some people think that values are like a mission statement – it’s a paragraph that you make up, you put it in a business plan and then never set sight of it again, or at least not until you are asked for it and then you blow the dust off and push it across the desk.

We wanted to be different at Open Comms. We didn’t want wishy, washy statements that use long words that sound like they would be better placed in an academic text book. We wanted our values to mean something to us and therefore to our employees, colleagues, clients and suppliers.

Although I didn’t realise it at the time, values are a great reference point when you need to regroup.

We have been involved in some very exciting scenarios recently and some very nerve-wracking situations and although there can be the temptation to become something that you are not, we have always followed the same approach; what you see is what you get. If you want results then great, if you want air kissing and posh lunches, we aren’t the right agency for you. Bold perhaps and perhaps some may say a little too honest, but true.

It’s this knowledge of who we are and what we can deliver, which gives us the confidence to sit in front of brands and businesses of any size and confidently present our thoughts and ideas. Our values are the foundations which have allowed us to grow the agency and to build our client base, which is now a portfolio of brands that we are extremely proud to work with.

All businesses should consider their values. Ask yourself, what makes you different, what makes you tick and how could this translate into the products and service that you deliver for your customers? A brand with true values immediately has a stronger proposition than a competitor without – take The Body Shop as an example.

It is irrelevant whether you like their products or share their values, the message is simple; they are a brand that places environmental issues at the heart of everything they do. This translates across design, advertising, communication and even the way that the products are displayed in the shops.

Often the worry with brands is that they choose values and these change, but this is ok. A company’s values can change over time as the business evolves, all you need to make sure is that you are comfortable with this being the case and that you are making changes for the right reasons. Again, take the example of Innocent Drinks – who are now in the most part owned by Coca Cola. Does this fit well with the brands values? Six months ago, perhaps not but since Coke has changed its approach and moved towards more ‘healthy’ options the decision starts to make sense. The decision as I see it wasn’t for Innocent to change their values in order to become part of the huge corporate machine that is Coke but more for Coke to learn how to change the positioning of its values and use the experience of Innocent to make this transition in the mind of the consumers – and it’s working.

If you are confident about communicating new values – or an evolution of your current values – to your stakeholders, employees and customers then you can’t go far wrong. The most important point is that you believe – truly believe – in your values and that they are shared by those who matter most to you. Trying to be something you are not is like wearing the wrong sized clothes – we may all try it from time to time but it will never work!

As far as I’m concerned if you have no values, you have no personality and as per my recent blog  this is one of the most significant and ‘valuable’ assets a business has. So if you can’t see the value in your values perhaps you need to look from the outside in – what is the perception that you are giving your customers and are you confident that this is a true representation of your brand and business.

Every business has ‘the’ secret ingredient

The difference between one brand and another is often down to the simplest of things but in turn this can and has taken a business from being mediocre to massive!

I have been reading lots of articles about brands recently; their campaigns, new advertising creative, plans for the run up to the Christmas period, new seasonal products… and it strikes me that whatever they are launching and whatever new message they are conveying they are all trying to achieve the same objective.

It doesn’t matter which agency you choose to work with, there is little doubt that creativity and relationship is often at the heart of that decision, but the truth is that a brand already has the magic ingredient that is required to encourage a consumer to purchase one product above another.

All an agency really has to do is find that hidden ingredient and bring it to life. They have to develop a campaign that can cross all mediums and reach all touch points – they have to put this gem at the heart of the business, to ensure that it is always a fundamental starting point for any campaign, at any time of the brands life cycle.

This nugget is often the one thing that is overlooked by so many agencies; those that are too busy striving to win the next award to look closely enough at their clients business to really see what is staring them in the face. They truly believe that if they work against this ‘thing’ they can push forward some pretty pictures or quirky concept that will in turn generate greater revenues in a shorter time frame.

What they fail to recognise is that by using the obvious – this thing that is right in front of them – they can build longer term campaigns that will evolve year on year, which in turn will lead to a more successful and profitable business and therefore bigger plans and better budgets for all agencies involved.

It’s often the simplest of things that people miss and this is in everyday life, as well as business. We all strive to own a big house and live a Beckham-esque existence when actually if we were honest, all many of us would like is to be happy with our lot, even if that means a one bedroomed cottage in the Yorkshire Dales (ok that may just be me!).

So what is this one thing, this nugget, the missing piece of the jigsaw – it’s personality. Don’t tut or roll your eyes, think about it. Most successful brands are built upon the personality of the founding member, partnership or team. Their belief in their product and the values that they have attributed to that business (plus the bloody, sweat and tears that often goes into turning an idea into a reality) are what breaths the life into the brand and gives it longevity.

It doesn’t matter what creative campaign, stunt, advertising or PR activity they plan throughout the year, the foundations of that business should always be the same – built on personality, which become the values of that company. The best businesses are those that do this and do it well. Next time you think about a brand, think about the story that goes behind it; where did it come from, who founded it and how did it go from good to great? I bet that in many instances it’s the story, which is based on the personality of the founders or adopters who were able to breath that life into it, that gives you the affinity you have with the business and its products.