Tag: effective communication

Never mind a gym membership – is your business in shape?

It’s that time of year again when all we hear about is detoxing, joining a gym and getting back in shape after eating and drinking far too much over the festive period. While we all take the time to consider our personal health during January, how many of us actually stop to ask if our business is fighting fit so that we are ready to take on whatever 2013 has to offer?

There’s no doubt that 2012 brought with it some challenges and that the news headlines were once again littered with announcements of companies falling into administration but that’s no reason to pull the covers over our heads and close the doors. If anything after a festive break and rest we should be ready and raring to go with great ideas and creative plans for the forthcoming year.

Whether it’s new opportunities, expansion and growth or more of the same we need to put all of our energies into getting excited about our plans and sharing them with our employees, customers and prospects. If we can pass on our enthusiasm and passion we can encourage others to do the same and this helps to keep our businesses, products and services front of mind.

Here at Open Communications, we are suggesting that businesses put together a list of their New Year’s resolutions for 2013 – but that first they focus on the company rather than themselves as an individual. These resolutions could be anything from improving internal communications to increase productivity, right through to generating new business through effective PR, marketing materials and use of relevant social media tools.

The easiest way to manage this process and get some real value out of the exercise is to write down your resolutions in one column and then put simple steps to achieving them in another. Although it sounds almost too straight forward, approaching challenges in this way means that you are more likely to work hard to achieve them.

It’s also a great excuse to ‘regroup’ and get your whole business involved and working together. Hold a meeting and find out what employees want to see from the company over the next twelve months.  Ask what drives them on and what they think makes the organisation different and exciting from others in the market? Encourage them to get behind the business and to want to be a part of its success during the year ahead.

The most important thing is to use the New Year to get motivated, organised and ready to learn something completely new that will add value to your company.

We would guess that many of the resolutions that people make will focus on a business communicating more effectively with an audience; this may be current customers, prospects or employees. Remember that in order to communicate you have to consider setting aside the time to do this and do it well. Reputation comes from the impression that you give and you need these to reflect your values and vision.

If you would like to start the New Year as you mean to go on and you want to get excited about the year ahead and all the benefits that it has to offer then think about what impression you want people to have of your company. What do you have to give (product or service), how does it differ from others and most importantly how are you going to let people know about it?

We are sure that 2013 is going to be a very exciting and productive year and we are looking forward to working with both current and prospective clients large and small. We hope that you will join us in making resolutions that we will work towards, keep and evolve throughout the year.

Here’s to a great 2013 and the many opportunities that it will bring.

A hoax too far

The recent news about the untimely death of a hospital worker who had unwittingly answered and transferred a hoax call from an Australian radio station sent a chill down my spine. Not only do I think, like many others, that this was a tragic waste of a life but that it will also go on to affect many others including the presenters involved, who we can presume are soon to be unemployed.

When the news first broke about the transfer of the call from reception through to the nurses who were responsible for the care of the Duchess of Cambridge I have to be honest, I was beyond shocked. My first reaction was to wonder why appropriate measures weren’t in place to ensure that this couldn’t and wouldn’t happen?

The hospital is used to dealing with high profile patients and should be accustomed to taking calls that may be obscure or even unsolicited. It strikes me as strange that even at 5.30am there was no process in place to manage this.

I would have expected that all calls would have been managed in a similar way to how a PR agency would manage a crisis. When we work with clients we put a simple but effective procedure in place to ensure that all calls are handled professionally and efficiently. It works and it means that we are able to respond in a timely fashion – but at the same time it also takes the onus off the receptionist or internal team, leaving them to get on with their day to day roles.

In this case it would seem that this was not possible, leading to the most devastating of outcomes.

The more serious side to this ‘prank’ was that it should never have been discussed never mind considered to be a good idea. I’ve laughed at prank phone calls before, you know the ones:

Caller: Can I speak to Ivor please?

Person on the line: Ivor who?

Caller: Ivor Biggan

Person on the line: Ivor Biggan, does anyone know Ivor Biggan…

I would be lying if I didn’t think these calls made me giggle but at the same time they are by all intense and purpose completely harmless. The difference with a call to a hospital is that for one you are calling an establishment knowing that people are there for a reason – because they are ill. That can never be funny.

By the time the call was made the world was aware that the Duchess was pregnant but also that she had been admitted to hospital with a potentially serious illness, which has been known in cases to lead to the loss of a child. Now, call me overly sensitive, but that can never be funny!

In my opinion the call was inappropriate in the first instance but the presenters took it one stage too far when asking after the health of the Duchess. What if something terrible had happened? What if she had suffered a miscarriage and as a result of this misguided joke these presenters were the first to find out? I fail to see the humour in that outcome, which at any time during this situation was a very real possibility.

The presenters in this case are likely to regret their actions for the rest of their lives and their hoax call will certainly go down in history – but for all the wrong reasons. This story just goes to show how powerful the media can be and the obligation that broadcasters have to consider the outcome of any fun they choose to have before going ahead.

There must be a producer involved in this case somewhere, although they appear to be keeping their heads down. This is a sad case of bad judgement which has led to the Christmas of at least three families being ruined. Let’s hope other ‘pranksters’ will take note and think twice before acting on an impulse.

The print press, PR and that election

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is how I like communicate like really important like?

Each morning I try to catch up on the news before setting off for work and today was no exception.  There is always one story or another which catches my eye and today it was for all the wrong reasons.

Before I start this rant, I will try and set the scene: There was a young girl (16 / 17 years old) being interviewed, she was smartly dressed, well presented and informed, there was no doubt she was intelligent and educated but she was making a huge and repetitive mistake throughout the piece – every other word was ‘like’.

Part of her argument for being on the programme was to express the maturity of young people and so I found it baffling that she would use sentences littered with ‘like’. Despite her points being well structured the ultimate presentation of her answers to questions was terrible. As a result all I heard was ‘like’ this and ‘like’ that, rather than concentrating on what she wanted me to hear.

All I could think was that due to the way she was unable to articulate herself in an appropriate manner for her audience, she had disproved her point that people of her age should be considered as adults.

As the Step-Mum of a 15 year old, I know how difficult it can be to get more than ‘fine’, ‘ok’, or a dismissive shrug out of a teenager and I have to admit that when it comes to basic communication I worry about the way that young people interact but I also know that the rules in our house mean that my Step-Son can hold an adult conversation without using adolescent words or phrases when needed.

When I was growing up we were told time and time again that you communicate with your friends in one way and with adults another.  We may not have liked it but using slang simply wasn’t tolerated when we were in adult company and looking back I can absolutely understand why my parents made such a point of enforcing this rule.

And that is why the problem isn’t exclusive to young people – I think it’s important that individuals, brands and businesses use the same approach and tailor the way they communicate to their audience. Without this thought and consideration the message – ultimately what you want people to understand – is lost.

I’m not suggesting that people start to speak in the Queen’s English, I for one would struggle, but it is about being eloquent.  In the same way that I find it hugely offensive when people swear on twitter, I also find it rude when people use slag or jargon when trying to engage me in conversation about a topic they think I will find interesting.

I don’t believe that the problem is technology, despite many people believing that an increase in text and email, rather than face-to-face conversation, causes poor use of language, I actually believe that much of it is habit and the rest simple laziness.

The reality is that this isn’t something to dismiss, it’s not a situation I am ranting about because I work in communication, it is a serious problem that could lead an individual to be misinterpreted and in some cases for them to lose out on things which matter such as university places, an employment opportunity or a customer.

It’s time that we all recognised that bad use of language is not about one person’s interpretation of your intellect but a reflection of attitude and ability to behave and communicate as a professional adult whatever your age.

So, is how I like communicate really like important like? Well, yes, actually – it really like is.

Don’t reinvent your business

Since we launched Open Communications in 2008, we have learnt a lot – not least the difference between a P9, P11 and P45!  We have also done a great deal of networking and now have a number of suppliers who we regularly rely on to provide us with the products and services we need.

What has always worried me is that there are lots of people we meet who say that in order to ‘stay ahead of the game’ you have to constantly reinvent your business. I don’t agree with this at all. I often come across people who claim to do this and then that and then the other and the harsh reality is that they don’t do any one thing well.

We are a PR agency and we also provide clients with marketing communications – in simple terms we are all about the words. If you want to communicate with someone and you want to bring a campaign to life then we will support you to do it.

We work with businesses of all sizes and there have been times when I have to admit that I can understand why some agencies profess to be ‘full service’ when the truth is that they just outsource to freelancers.

There are two things that are wrong with this approach; you are not being honest with clients and it’s likely to come back and bit you on the backside and any company managing an account in this way is going to take on the hassle of justifying someone else’s work when / if it goes wrong, even worse the client will believe it’s down to you!

Rather than reinventing your business, why not add products or services which complement your current offering. As an example we launched Open for New Business, which allows us to work with smaller companies who cannot afford a retained agency.

The benefits are that a smaller business gets access to our knowledge and time, while we extend our offering to a wider customer base.  Since launching this service in 2010 we have had some excellent feedback and as we have been open and honest with clients about why we are doing this and what exactly we offer it works.

Open for New Business doesn’t mean that we can’t work with bigger business, it just means that we can also work with smaller companies who are in the position of wanting to know more without having the budgets to invest in a month on month service.

If we started to offer design, web development, sampling and event management then that would be a different thing entirely and I’m sure our clients first question would be to see examples of previous campaign and proven results – oops, we don’t have any doesn’t sound too good!

So next time you hear someone suggesting that you reinvent your business, think twice. What will your customers think if you suddenly start offering a host of new services – and be honest, would you have the time to do all of these things to the standards that your customers expect? If the answer is no, then it’s worth going back to the one thing you’re good at and building a reputation for doing it really well.

A changing legal landscape

Reviewing the media this morning I noticed an increasing number of announcements about the merger of legal firms within the Yorkshire region.  No fewer than three mergers hit the headlines today with stories released from Ware & Kay and P J Lawrence, Switalskis Solicitors and Parker Bird Gardner and Petherbridge Bassra and Brimble & Co.

I’m sure that most people working within the legal sector will know that there are likely to be many more announcements before the market settles into a new shape – which will see fewer firms but larger overall practices offering their services.

Having worked within the sector I found the concept of ‘Tesco law’ very interesting, noting that due to a change in legislation any business could offer legal services, if they had the right people with the right qualifications to do so. This change was quickly termed Tesco law as it would mean that supermarkets could offer legal services if they felt it would be a lucrative market.

Needless to say a company like Tesco would also be likely to offer legal support at cut down prices, providing an appealing opportunity for consumers and businesses alike.  This in turn would create a crisis situation for most legal teams who would have to review their offering and potentially change the way they work to maintain market share and customer loyalty.

Although it is not surprising to see that in order to counter the Tesco law effect local firms are coming together to create larger and presumably stronger practices, as a PR professional I hope that these organisations have a strategy in place to manage internal and external communications during the changes and beyond.

Legal firms are notorious for believing that marketing and communications are fluffy and a ‘nice to have’ as opposed to an essential tool for supporting business practice and enhancing reputation, which in turn generates sales.

It will be interesting to see which firms have considered their messaging and tone of voice following a merger and which have a strategy in place to effectively manage the change. It is certainly a period of immense change both for the practices which are coming together and the market as a whole.

 

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.

Do you know your QR from your AR?

It can be a challenge when you work within the media industry, not least because things are changing so quickly – online and in print, digital and viral, integrated messaging and social media platforms – it’s all to take into account when you are coming up with brand plans for clients and that’s even before you decide who is responsible for doing what.

Although we don’t profess to be all things to all people, we are a creative agency and we will make recommendations knowing that it isn’t our team who will bring them to life – or bill at the end of the month. The reason we do this is because if we genuinely feel an idea will meet with the brands objectives we will suggest it – and we all know that no idea is a bad idea!

Another reason we try to go beyond the boundaries of being a traditional PR agency is that we are consumers ourselves and we understand that we, as others, expect brands to want to engage with us, to offer us things for free or deliver great promotions that save us time and money.

The more that a brand invests in effectively communicating with its customers the more they are seen to care and with that greater loyalty and brand awareness is achieved – or that’s the general idea. Of course, it doesn’t always work like that and some brands get it spectacularly wrong, while others can seem to do no wrong.

When reading some trade publications recently in the office, Hannah pointed out some relatively new technology which would allow a brand to bring an advert or promotion to life at the touch of a button. Basically you download an app called Blippar or Aurasma Lite and then that technology allows you to view adverts and promotions using AR codes – or image recognition as it is also termed.

I have to admit that I was never a big fan of QR (quick response) codes, which I felt were basically a mechanic to link to websites and more often than not promotions pages, so this was never going to immediately appeal. What I find myself asking is if anyone will actually be bothered enough to go to the trouble of downloading this technology in the first place, never mind then going to the further trouble of scanning the AR codes to see what brands are doing to engage with them beyond the printed promotion.

BUT on reading through further articles about the technology it has certainly made us think. Imagine if you could encourage people to engage with your brand through an online tool and if you could really bring that brand to life – suddenly an integrated campaign could take shape in front of your very eyes. It could literally jump off the shelf. How exciting would that be!

We aren’t a digital agency but we do work with social media content and with other likeminded agencies to create campaigns that leave a lasting impression and I have to admit that we have spoken to a few brands already about AR and its possible benefits and pitfalls. As an evolution from QR codes it’s fair to say that they are likely to become redundant but if there is something all the more impressive, bigger and better to take its place then I’m sat up and listening.

I would be really interested to hear what others think about it? Is it a fad or something that will change the way that brands interact with their customers forever? Is this a turning point that will see us all understanding our Blippar from our Aurasma and our QR from our AR?

It’s certainly one to watch and I can’t wait to see which brands really embrace the technology to create rich content that can be shared and genuinely meet with expectations, while more importantly achieving brand objectives.

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.

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.