Tag: Communications

BEHIND THE SCENES AT BUY YORKSHIRE

The Buy Yorkshire Conference

Showing support for the largest business to business event in the North

For the last eight years we have worked with the Yorkshire Mafia (YM) to provide the team that is responsible for an annual schedule of events including the Buy Yorkshire Conference with PR and social media support.

As the largest business to business event in the North, it goes without saying that it’s a busy time for us, not just on the day but in the run up to the exhibition when we spend hours liaising with speakers that will take to the stage on the big day and media that may want to come along.

There are so many reasons why this account is particularly exciting but for me securing broadcast, national and regional media coverage has to come top of the list. Some might think that’s an obvious answer but having worked in the PR industry for more than a decade you would be forgiven for thinking that the leap in my tummy when we secure a great piece of coverage may have waned over time.

Nope. Not a bit. In fact, it’s why I fell in love with PR in the first place.

Getting to know you

Coming a close second on my list of reasons to enjoy working on the Conference has to be the speakers. As the preferred PR partner for the event we are given access to each of the entrepreneurs, brand representatives and campaigners that attend and what an experience that is!

You never know who will be added to the line up next and with candidates such as Helen Pankhurst (great-granddaughter of the leader of the Suffragette movement) and Gerald Ratner (the entrepreneur that lost everything thanks to a glib comment about his products being cr*p) you can see how contrasting they can be and that makes our job all the more interesting.

A change of venue

This year the event took place at the First Direct Arena, a change from the New Dock Hall and Royal Armouries as has been the case in previous years. I have to admit, I wasn’t sure how this would work, but after taking a tour and seeing the event from above in the arena seats it didn’t disappoint.

The exhibitor stands were all in one space, which made for a vibrant and engaging showcase for delegates and it also created a camaraderie between the brands. It was great to walk around and see people having a laugh and engaging with each other as well as delegates at the event.

Never a dull moment

As the team that manage all media relations, we don’t get time to wander around, our remit on the day is to manage the media and support any interview requests, while also drafting blogs during the seminars which will be posted on the website after the Conference.

It may sound easy, but it takes a lot of work and makes for a long (but fun-filled) day.

Having access all areas means that we can pick and choose which seminars and sessions we attend, which is a real coup. Over the years I have listened to and met speakers including Michelle Mone, Ann Widdecombe, Jacqueline Gold, Nigel Farage, Alastair Campbell and more… let’s be honest, there was no way I would have bumped into these people in the street, so once again it all adds to the experience.

Working with a talented team

What astounds me most about the Conference is that the team from the YM always seem so relaxed. Whatever comes their way they just deal with it and move on to the next thing. I can’t even imagine what it is like to manage an event of this scale knowing that it takes a full year to plan, arrange and deliver.

Once again, the team did a fantastic job and this year more than ever I heard lots of positive comments that I duly passed on. The philosophy behind the YM is that we are stronger together and I have to say that working with them adds real credibility to that statement.

Practising what you preach is a big part of what we do here at Open Communications so to have clients that work by the same values makes our job all the more rewarding. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the organisers once again for bringing this fantastic event to the region and also to the individuals, brands and businesses that we worked with to pull the content together.

I’m very pleased to report that we secured coverage across national and regional media in print, online and across broadcast media. Well done team Open Comms, good work!

Now let’s get on with planning for next year’s showcase, which will have to be bigger and better than ever. We better get our thinking caps on.

The significance of saying sorry

head in sandImage source: http://www.quotemaster.org/head+in+the+sand

It’s very rare that you will meet a business owner or entrepreneur that says that life is easy. More likely they will be denouncing their irritation at having people presume that they come into the office at 10am, leave at 4pm, take boozy lunchbreaks and reap all of the benefits.

That is very rarely the case, and in our experience is somewhat far from the truth.

So when a businessman or woman who has a list of jobs to do as long as their arm comes into work one morning to be faced with a crisis, what should they do? More often than not PANIC and look around for someone who has some idea of the processes that they should already have in place

This is a fair assumption of smaller to medium sized businesses, but in the recent case of United Airlines it would be fair to expect that this globally recognised brand would have known better when faced with a very challenging and controversial situation involving a passenger.

Social media, as is typically the case, gave a global audience all of the information they felt that they needed – backed up by reports from local and national media – to make their own deliberations and come to their own conclusions. Needless to say, a resounding majority of them were far from positive, with one man calling BBC Radio 2 to confirm he had cancelled a flight and would never use the airline again.

The brand was in a really difficult position. Do they go against the authorities and their ‘heavy handed’ removal of the passenger or do they hold their hands up and make it clear that this will not be tolerated and that it was not endorsed by their brand or business, reiterating that a full investigation will follow?

Neither it would appear. Instead, a statement was hurriedly issued that didn’t really say a great deal of anything. This was followed by 24-48 hours of criticism from the world’s media before the Chief Executive decided it was time to do a piece to camera and to apologise and to share a relatively detailed and apologetic update.

Unfortunately, this was too little, too late for many and the time it took to conclude that this should have been the approach all along meant that there was a certain lack of sincerity to the piece.

Needless to say, losing a billion dollars from your share price overnight is going to make you feel sorry for yourself but what about your passengers, who along with your crew, should be your first priority?

As an agency that handles crisis for some of the leading brands in the country, we appreciate how significant the passing of time is in a challenging situation. It is absolutely essential that any situation considered a priority becomes an IMMEDIATE priority.

That doesn’t mean if you work in manufacturing that you pull the plugs on all machines and sit on your hands. It means that senior management should cancel ALL meetings however important and come together to discuss the issues and to carefully and quickly plan the next steps.

Brands must be prepared, irrelevant of their size. This means having a team in place that knows that if something happens they will be required. It’s simply not good enough to issue a statement to say that your managing director is on holiday and unable to comment. Unfortunately, having a business means that people expect that you are available any time of the day or night and if it is impossible for that to be the case then who is responsible in your absence.

These are all of the things that should be decided and the processes that should be agreed and in place before anything happens, not during the first major disaster a brand is faced with.

We see it all too often. When we mention crisis to a prospective client the answer is invariably the same: “There is very little that can happen and we don’t foresee anything in the future”. Well, of course, you don’t – otherwise you would be walking around expecting the worst – BUT that doesn’t mean it isn’t going to happen.

Scenario planning is a great way to get people involved and to make them appreciate the need and urgency of a crisis. Bringing people together to role play is another way that a crisis can feel more real without you having to go through the processes in ‘real life’ for the first time.

Saying sorry can be difficult for a brand, particularly when there are often many factors and variables that are rarely shared in full with the media but that doesn’t mean that you don’t have a duty of care to your customers and those who may choose to use your products or services in the future.

Here’s a really simple five step guide to dealing with a crisis*:

  1. Bring the senior management team together (and ideally a representative from your appointed PR agency)
  2. Share the facts – ALL OF THEM. This is absolutely essential so that everyone knows what you are dealing with and the possible fall-out as a result.
  3. Draft a response for the media including a holding statement. Depending on the nature of the crisis starting with an apology is often a good idea.
  4. Handle all media calls and schedule interviews throughout the day – these should be managed as the situation unfolds, not afterwards. This is likely to be your only chance to respond to media requests. At this point you will also need to identify a spokesperson.
  5. Evaluate. Review the processes you have in place, learn lessons and make crisis a priority for the future. However crisis-proof you feel your business, life has a challenging way of proving us otherwise.

*Every crisis is different and have a PR agency in place that has experience of working across a number of sectors will give you the advice you need to tweak these five tips to ensure that you are approaching any given situation with the sensitivity and professionalism it deserves.

If you want lasting love, don’t fake it!

It’s been a difficult month for journalists and PR’s alike as the news agenda was indefensibly challenged as the sharing of fake news hit the headlines.  

Far be it that this was a one-off incident that could be swept under the carpet with the abrupt resignation of a non-descript recruit from some back office, this was serious. It was creating conversation and debate, and of any profession that should recognise the significance of that, it’s PR.

PR has long had a reputation for manipulating, ‘spinning’ and even inventing news stories in order to secure coverage and encourage positive responses from consumers, so we have to question what has changed and why are people so concerned?

The truth is that people want to trust the news sources that they have long believed to be credible. They want to know that a journalist – or PR – has done their research and has pulled together a balanced article that will allow them to form their own opinions based on fact – not fiction.

The struggle is that we live in a culture whereby people want breaking news. Invariably with this mistakes will happen – but fake news isn’t just about mistakes, it is absolutely about the sharing of content that the journalist, PR or brand knows is false.

It’s lying and often in a bid to manipulate a given response which may have further implications to a wider campaign.

What I have found most troubling is that the term ‘fake news’ is now widely used, referenced and understood. This is really worrying. When we work with clients the first rule is don’t lie, which is swiftly followed by the second and third; don’t suggest that we lie and don’t manipulate the truth.

If you can’t find an angle to a story then the likelihood is that you don’t have one to share.

People are undoubtedly going to become increasingly cynical of news and you can’t really blame them. They are going to question what they should believe and with such an array of sources to collate information from – positive, negative, neutral and all that is in between – it does become mind boggling. 

What we as an industry have to do is to continue to champion good practice. Spin is not a positive term as far as I’m concerned and I have an ongoing joke with a client who uses the insinuation purely to wind me up!

If PR is to be considered a specialism and the profession I certainly believe it to be, then it is our job to showcase why that is the case. We manage the reputations of brands and businesses, so we must be able to change the perception of an industry that without too much trouble is going to get pulled into the gutter.

There are agencies that will do anything for coverage – let’s be honest, we all know that’s the case – but we need to take a stand and to work harder to create good quality stories that people will read and feel informed, enlightened and engaged by.

All we can do is take the facts that our clients give us, but that’s another thing. Work with brands that you trust. It’s just as important that we can be sure of the facts that we are then sharing with a journalist, as it is that the journalist takes that story and prints it or posts it online to thousands of readers with the knowledge it was sent in good faith.

Choosing where you share news is of course another thing. If a PR is going to work with publications or sites that have been consistently discredited, then you can’t expect that they will share the content that you have given them without adding their own inflection to the piece. 

We are surrounded by content at every turn; from our TV or radios when we get up, to newspapers and our phones or iPads and that’s even before we get to work. What we should do as individuals is to remember that despite some misguided beliefs, not everything you read in the news is the truth.

Most brands are aspiring for the holy grail of results – brand loyalty and you simply will not get that if you lie. It’s a pretty simple concept really, if you want lasting love, don’t fake it!

The pen to paper challenge

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I guess that I’m a little strange when you consider today’s preference for computer screens, as I love to write and can often be seen with a fountain pen in hand. It’s just a quirk that I have had for many years now and was probably established when I was younger and had to do writing practice over the summer holidays.

My mum was very insistent when it came to the way that we write and spoke, she said that a lot could be interpreted from a person’s handwriting and the language they use. Fast forward a couple of decades and I have to agree and that’s why I was saddened to read that some schools are choosing to swap writing practice for typing classes.

I touch type and so can certainly see the benefit in both skills but I think that’s the point. People recognise that if you can type fast then you can be more efficient at work, whereas if you have neat hand writing… well, good for you.

It doesn’t attract the same praise and really it should. There is nothing worse than getting a prescription from the doctor that you can’t read or having a note left through the door and looking blankly at the scrawl in front of you hoping you can decipher a few letters to give you a fighting chance.

I’ve even been in a situation whereby I handed a note from a hospital to a doctor who refused to action the request based on the consultant’s hand writing. Seriously. It took me half an hour of begging (and a few tears) to get what I needed, all because she couldn’t be bothered to give the letter the attention it deserved. Grrr.

Berol Pens carried out a survey recently (great PR as a result) which found that a quarter of children cannot join their handwriting, 19% can’t write in a straight line, 17% can’t write a full sentence and 36% of teachers admit that standards are continuing to fall.

How worrying. What has the world come to where we don’t appreciate a basic skill? I appreciate there are modern technologies and that children will actually swipe a tablet before they pick up a pen but that doesn’t mean they will never have to.

I read a further article which focused on the emoji and that people rely increasingly on images and abbreviations to communicate rather than words. Not only is this lazy and in my opinion can often give the impression that you can’t be bothered with someone or be wildly misinterpreted.

Classic example, and this may be an urban myth, but there was a story circulating that a young boy had received a text from his mother which said: “Your great aunt just passed away. LOL”. Clearly the boy was baffled and asked what was funny about the passing of his relative. His mother, equally baffled, said nothing to which the boy had to explain that LOL is laugh out loud and NOT lots of love. #awkward.

This is just one of the reasons that I try wherever possible not to use abbreviations. That, and the confession that it’s like another language much of the time, and not one I speak!

I am a huge champion of the written word and one way I relax is to write poems. I have a small book that I grab when I’m feeling down or angry and I write. I typically churn out rhymes for no other purpose than it allows me to express my feelings and to share my thoughts with… well, me actually, but that isn’t the point.

Research has shown that writing allows people to be more expressive and creative and it actually develops skills that we would otherwise struggle with, such as cognitive processing of information and creating ideas to support projects.

I’ve never been very academic and find it very difficult to read something and take it in. I have to read it again and again before I really digest it and so I learnt to write things down and the process of copying it onto paper meant that I processed it far quicker.

I’m sure some people may think that this is silly but I would urge anyone struggling to try it. It’s simple and it works. Another example, my step-son was finding it almost impossible to learn his French. His teacher had told the class to listen to her words on a podcast and then repeat them. He was doing this over and over and he still couldn’t remember them – they weren’t going in.

He was upset and frustrated, so I suggested the writing down technique. He initially looked at me as if I had two heads (he was 15 at the time!) before finally coming to the end of his tether and giving it a go. And, guess what? It worked. He’s now at university and uses the same technique today when he struggles with something.

I am always surprised by how appalling some people’s hand writing is. I can’t claim that mine is much better if I’m honest but when given the time I do try. I think it’s something that we should all think about more and take some pride in.

I’ve decided that in my bid to champion the handwritten word – and to encourage others to possibly do the same – I am going to write a letter to one of my friends each month. In doing so I hope that two things will happen; it makes them smile to receive a letter through the post and secondly that they consider writing one back.

There are few things more exciting than receiving a letter through the post and I always really appreciate the effort that someone has gone to. It certainly beats an email or an update on messenger.

So, who’s with me? Why not take on the challenge? I’m going to call it the ‘Pen to paper’ project – a reminder that the time it takes to write and send a letter is worth the effort to make someone smile and to reinforce how much you care.

All I have to do now is find 12 friends!

AWARDS; GLORY HUNTING OR THE RECOGNITION YOU DESERVE

Whatever industry you work in there will be an awards ceremony that celebrates the success of the great and good in your sector. The same can be said for PR and I am really pleased to announce that Open Communications has been shortlisted for the Not For Profit category at the Yorkshire and Lincolnshire PRide Awards.

The awards take place tomorrow (Thursday 17 November) evening at The Queen’s Hotel in Leeds and will bring together hundreds of people from businesses and agencies throughout the two regions.

It has taken us eight years to enter the awards, not because we didn’t feel that our work was of a standard to be recognised but because, if we’re honest, we’ve spent more time submitting and winning awards for our clients.

It was only during a meeting earlier in the year that a client asked why we don’t practice what we preach, and I realised that actually awards for our own work should be as important as those of the brands that we work with.

So, what was stopping us?

Well, to be honest, we’ve never really felt that we needed awards to prove that we could do a good job – the evidence is in the results that we achieve. Then there was the fact that some awards make you feel like you’re simply glory hunting and again this isn’t really our style.

But, when it comes down to it awards do give a credibility by association and you have to be in them to win them! So, is it glory hunting or are you simply getting the recognition you deserve for the results you work so hard to achieve.

It wasn’t difficult to come up with a conclusive answer and so, we put pen to paper.

The challenge then was what to submit? We are very proud of the work that we produce and the results that we get for our clients so it was a difficult choice. We decided that we would focus on the Coalfields Regeneration Trust, the only organisation dedicated to former mining towns and villages throughout the country.

We have worked alongside the team at the Coalfields Regeneration Trust for more than 2 years now and have secured hundreds of pieces of coverage, which in turn has communicated with millions of people throughout the UK.

The results are consistently strong and as a result of our work communications is very much an agenda point around the board room table. We’ve even been invited to share our work with the trustees – which is a real achievement.

We have worked with the team to develop a tone of voice, aligned their messaging and revised their three-year strategy. We have also shaped their brand and vision for the future and changed the way that they communicate with different audiences to make sure they get the return on investment both from us and their own efforts.

Although we are confident with the results we have achieved, leading the organisation most recently to secure a Yorkshire Post Excellence in Business Award (2016), we know that it can go either way.

We have everything crossed and know that even if we don’t win, we have done a fantastic job and will continue to deliver for the Coalfields Regeneration Trust, evolving the way that they communicate to make sure as many people as possible understand what they are trying to achieve.

That said, we’ve cleared a space on our shelf (just in case) and hope to be updating the blog with pictures of Open Communications as we pick up our very first PRide award.

Wish us luck!

Being the centre of attention

I’ve never really bothered about being the centre of attention, in fact, in the right scenario, I quite enjoy it. I think part of that is coming from a large family; when we were younger if you did manage to get someone to pay any notice of you then you made the most of it.

On Friday I was asked to present during an event hosted by the Wakefield Bondholders at Hatfeild Hall. It wasn’t an unusual topic, I would be providing people with advice and some hints and tips on how they could use PR to benefit their business.

Now, if I couldn’t get that right then there was something really wrong!

Coincidentally, during a recent team meeting here at Open Communications, we were discussing nerves and how you can overcome them when presenting. I’ve always felt that being nervous is a challenge that has to be overcome and as such have always done my best to step up to the mark when I get butterflies. If I’m honest, I like the feeling of pushing myself and being in a position that may be slightly uncomfortable but knowing that it’s up to me to turn it around.

During the meeting I was asked by a colleague why I never get nervous and how I always appear so confident. The truth is that I do get nervous and the confidence comes from playing a game with myself – it’s how I react to that situation and that feeling.  Some might call it bravado but to me it’s just a natural reaction.

Friday morning was a classic example. I don’t see getting nervous as a weakness, far from it, I actually think that the day you go to present in front of a room of 80 people and you don’t feel nervous you have crossed the line to arrogant or worst still, dismissive. Well, it was clear to me at least, that I certainly wasn’t at that stage – I was very much a bag of nerves.

Hiding it well behind several coffees and some idle chit chat I counted down the minutes until it was my turn to face the room. I was fortunate enough to have some friendly faces that I could call upon from the front and so I began.

I was handed a microphone – which made my knees shake even more than usual – but there was no turning back, it was now or never.

The funny thing is that even with the microphone once I’d started I was fine. I could stand up there all day but the first five minutes was the most challenging. I have the same questions as everyone else does when I stand in front of a room of people; will they like me, will they understand what I’m trying to explain, have I pitched the level right, will anyone take anything from it, what will they learn, will they question me and most worrying, will they consider me to be good at what I do.

By the time the presentation ended, I was shaking like a leaf, but I have to admit that I really enjoyed it. I hope that people learnt something from it but mostly I hope that those I work with realise that everyone gets nervous and that it’s ok, it’s how you handle it and how you challenge yourself to overcome it that’s important.

I had some lovely comments following the event and people did say that they had learnt something, which is what it was all about, but most surprisingly I had three separate emails from people complimenting me on my presentation style and confidence.

I always think it’s a huge achievement when people take the time to thank you and to tell you that they think you did a good job and so last week I closed Friday with a big smile on my face.

My hands have finally stopped shaking and I’m ready for the next time I’m asked to present to a room – may be next time I can push myself that little bit harder and even look forward to it.

Empowerment of women leads to an unlikely enterprise

During the Buy Yorkshire Conference on the 28 and 29 April, it was with great interest that delegates welcomed Jacqueline Gold to the stage. Not knowing what to expect from one of the most successful women in the country, who has reinvented a business that has changed the lives of women (and men) up and down the country, it was hard to determine what she would share. Her story was not only compelling but inspirational. For more details about an entrepreneur who she never be underestimated read below.  

As a naïve and shy 19 year old, Jacqueline Gold had no idea what path her career would take. Sitting in a smoke filled room at 21 in a council house in South East London drawing pictures of her boyfriends ‘meat and two veg’ on her head wasn’t quite what she had planned!

And so, Ann Summers was born, well, reinvented at least.

Admitting that Ann Summer was multi-channel way before it’s time, she explains that the business was set up by Kim Waterfield and that the brand was actually meant to represent an image of an English Rose.

With no real direction the business went into liquidation within a year and in stepped Jacqueline to purchase two stores and the brand name for just £10,000; one of the best deals she says she’s ever made.

Recognising that women wanted to buy sexy underwear but didn’t want the embarrassment of going into a sex shop, Jacqueline came up with the concept of house parties. Taking the suggestion to the board she was met with some resistance and a comment that still resonates today: “Women aren’t even interested in sex!”

Pushing forward with her idea, Jacqueline advertised in the London Standard for party hosts and was met with 25 candidates. Not all were suitable but the concept quickly grew and in just a single year the business was growing so rapidly a decision was made to stop advertising altogether.

Creating something that sat outside of the typical and traditional ‘raincoat brigade’ Ann Summers was on to a winner and the mantra to unleash sexual confidence in women was born.

Shops quickly followed, which would become a portfolio of 140 that now amount to 60% of the business, but this didn’t spell the death of the party. More than 5,000 parties still take place every year attracting tens of thousands of women.

Results show a performance that in the first year reported £83,000 and now boasts a staggering £35m. Now that’s a lot of fun and very happy couples.

When asked what makes Ann Summers different Jacqueline explains:

–          We have a female friendly focus

–          The business is controversial

–          The company stocks a range of innovative products

–          The customer experience and engagement are fundamental

Today the company sells 2m vibrators every year, which amounts to 5,000 every day and 7 sex toys every waking minute.

Despite this success there are some concerns at the business and in particular with the perception of quality. However this is being address and as Jacqueline explains, ‘We use the same manufacturers as Stella McCartney’.

In order to be successful Jacqueline says you have to have a point of difference to set you apart, innovate not imitate and rely on feedback from customers who will be your greatest advocates and your biggest critics.

The company continues to grow at a rate of 20% every year and the parties are still a big part of the package offered with this being the first experience that most people have when they embrace the Ann Summers brand.

As an advocate of PR, marketing and in particular social media, the business has used some situations to its advantage creating great opportunities to generate sales such as the launch of the Seven Shades of Grey novel. During the launch phase of the book many Ann Summers stores sold out of handcuffs and blindfolds.

So, what is around the corner for this international phenomenon? Well, the future development of the brand perception is high on the agenda, along with in store technology and further international expansion.

Giving further advice to those considering starting a business Jacqueline says:

–          Create a story and brand identity

–          Have a clear proposition

–          Embrace technology

–          Have an international strategy

–          Put in place a seamless omni-channel infrastructure

As a huge advocate of empowering women Jacqueline leaves the audience she has so obviously captivated with one final thought “If a shy and naïve 21 year old can walk into a room of grey suited men just because I had the will and the courage to do so, then so can you!”

OPEN CLEAN UP WITH ASTONISH(ING) WIN

11.10.14 Astonish 2

Ok, we know the headline is a little cheesy but you can’t blame us with such exciting news to share. Believe me, corks would be popping if we were your typical champagne quaffing agency… but then we’d get nothing done, so we’ll keep it to a blog and a few cheeky team drinks.

So, back to business, we are really excited to announce that here at Open Communications we have added a further client to our extensive portfolio following our appointment as preferred lead PR and marketing communications agency for Astonish, the UK top ten cleaning brand.

We will be working with another local team, Statement, to devise and implement an annual communications and social media plan for the business focusing on engagement, reach and penetration into households throughout the country. Creative is well underway for a series of campaigns that will uplift activity throughout the next twelve months with the objective to raise the profile of the brand and reinforce its strong heritage and cruelty free credentials, along with its value for money and quality proposition.

We are always keen to share our news – it would be strange for a PR agency not to – and more so the feedback from our clients.

Head of Marketing for Astonish Cleaning Products, Katy Clark said: “We have big plans for Astonish over the next twelve months and beyond; as a result we wanted to work with agencies that would share our passion for our product range. We have some great news and exciting plans to share and we know that Open Comms and Statement will assist us in doing just that.”

Astonish is a successful, ambitious and growing brand. As a British manufacturer with a rich heritage we are very excited to be working with the team to meet with their objectives. Astonish is a great addition to our growing portfolio of clients that require a full PR programme of activity to cover consumer, trade, corporate and social media support. It’s great to see that once again our straight talking, realistic approach to the brief meant that we could hit the ground running and get to work.

Plans are underway for the launch of the first creative campaign for the brand, which will focus on its success to date and will rely on social media, managed content, corporate, consumer and trade PR activity. Watch this space, there is lots of exciting news to share from Astonish and we hope to do a sparkling job for them! Sorry, couldn’t resist.

Celebrating success before it all kicked off!

As a non-executive board director for the Theatre Royal in Wakefield, I was really privileged to support the organisation when they were shortlisted in the community category of the Yorkshire Business Excellence Awards.

The celebration took place in Leeds on 30 October with a range of companies large and small coming together to share their achievements and successes. What was most impressive – and I am biased – was that guests were serenaded by the Theatre’s Performance Academy as they entered the champagne reception.

It was a glitzy affair with initial pre-dinner address from Work and Pensions Secretary, Ian Duncan Smith followed by a delicious four course meal. It was then time to announce the winners and you could feel the tension as heart rates hit new heights.

It was the fourth announcement of the evening and we were all sat wide eyed waiting for the final decision to be shared… and the winner is *insert drum roll*, ‘the Theatre Royal Wakefield’. Acknowledged in particular for striving to operate a best in class destination that gives access to the arts and entertainment despite significant cuts, it was unanimous.

I genuinely believe that the Theatre Royal has a great deal to offer the local community and that people should take the time to visit and to experience the amazing programme of performances that take place in this historic gem of a building.

The venue is celebrating an amazing 120 years and I often wonder what stories it would tell if only it were possible to do so but at least one thing is for sure, the Yorkshire Post Business Excellence Award would be one of them! Please click here for more details of the winners from the night and video coverage supplied by the Yorkshire Post.

Moving on to the next day (no rest for the wicked!), it was a crisp Friday morning and by contrast you couldn’t get much different. Wrapped up warm I headed up to Scotland with the Coalfields Regeneration Trust for a weekend of football.

As previously shared, we have supported Game On, an initiative which brings young people together from some of the most disadvantaged coalfield communities throughout the country to play football. The programme goes beyond the simple principles of sport and engages young people to learn about interaction with third party organisations and peers, as well as teamwork and social skills.

Having cheered on all of the teams during the Inter-regional Finals in Derby as they fought hard for their places in the Home International Tournament, it was time for Wigan A and B to do their country proud.

Thankfully the weather was mild and there were even a few breaks in the clouds as the sun attempted to shine. The winning players from Scotland, Wales and England all took to the pitch and after an official opening to a marching band of pipers, it was kick off.

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There is no doubt that each team gave it their all, with some amazing tackles, defending and goals and then it was down to just two; England and Wales. The match was like-for-like and finished with a goalless draw so it was penalties and sudden death.

I’m not a huge fan of football but I have to admit that after watching the lads put their all into the games I was routing for them to win – it even got so bad that I did some cheering and even added my very own unique take on a team talk *cringe*.

Over the course of just 2 days we had got to know the team a little better and there were some real characters in the group who certainly helped to raise a few smiles with their quips and ‘humour’.

11.04.14 Game On National Home Final

No sooner had the whistle blown than it was over – Wales had won the Tournament on penalties. Needless to say there were some glum faces from the England lads but they did us proud and that’s all that anyone can ask for.

What was most impressive was their manners, general attitude to the game and most importantly their passion for the sport and the wider team. You would never guess that these young lads were from coalfield communities and I’m not absolutely sure that they would feel it necessary to tell you but what they probably don’t realise is that if nothing else their determination and sheer grit could be considered a lasting legacy from times gone by.

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And so I’m on to another week and although there won’t be any glitz and glamour or pitch side banter and penalty shoot outs this week, there are certainly proposals to be planned, news to be drafted, events to be arranged and announcements to be managed that will keep me busy – after all, there’s never a dull moment when you work in PR.

Why guidelines can be a lifeline

It never fails to amuse me when people say that they have all of their marketing under control and whip out a document with ‘BRAND GUIDELINES’ proudly displayed across the front. What people don’t seem to appreciate is that even though having brand guidelines is a good starting point, it does not always take into account the bigger picture.

As an example, if someone picks up your brand guidelines document it is likely to explain how your logo or strap line should be displayed. It is not however as likely to go into the detail about the tone of voice you should use when communicating about your brand or the factors you should take into account when using social media.

You see, brand guidelines are one thing but communications guidelines are quite another. The two do and should work hand-in-hand but very rarely are they proudly displayed together.

I recently hosted a strategy session with a local artistic contemporary photographer – Nigel Tooby – who is building his brand. In addition to understanding the importance and significance of how he projects his image, he was also more than aware of the need to develop his communications strategy.

I was pleased that as a creative, Nigel had taken the time to consider how he communicates effectively with his audiences. Many companies and even big businesses and corporations focus on their branding but not on their marketing communications.

A communications strategy should support the business objectives, making it a fundamental part of a company’s growth potential. Taking the time to consider the personality of your business, the tone of voice you use, a positioning statement and longer term aspirations and goals can be the difference between success and so, so.

I’m not sure whether this business has gone through a communications strategy session or if they have specific guidelines for their engagement but Yorkshire Tea do a great job of reinforcing their personality in all that they do. As well as being consistent across mediums, they are also friendly and funny (which is not easy!).

There are lots of other brands who get it right but many that seem to neglect their marketing communications in favour of ‘bigger things’ that command significantly higher budgets. I find it endlessly infuriating that the foundations of a company are discarded due to cost – we can all put our prices up but as specialists we also deliver a professional service and this should be recognised.

My advice would be to start with the basics. Get your positioning and messaging right and then everything else will follow – don’t skip to the branding because you think it’s more exciting; all that happens is that your audience will see a disconnect between the image your project and the personality you portray and that certainly won’t give you the return on investment you’re looking for.