Tag: effective communication

Nike – Just do it, unless the ASA says no!

For some time now there has been an on-going debate about who ‘owns’ social media; digital or PR agencies. The problem being that while one can be engaging visually, creating games, competitions and advertising which attract attention, the other provides consistent content, with an appropriate tone of voice to encourage two way communication and increase ‘organic’ engagement with consumers.

The line is blurred to say the least, but as a PR agency we find that sticking to the words means that we are able to offer clients the content, while we leave the digital aspects and design to other third parties that we work with.

We don’t find this to be problematic as when each digital campaign finishes we simply take control of the content and engage with consumers to provide a sustainable level of conversation. There’s nothing worse than brands that push out big campaigns and then have nothing in place to support the aftermath.  The outcome being you engage with thousands of people who become brand ambassadors, are willing to listen to the messages being pushed to them, only for the brand to turn their back on them once their budgets run dry – not good.

Another interesting dilemma to come out of social engagement has been the line between advertising and editorial. As social media is often positioned as a direct interpretation or opinion of a person or a brand it would be perceived to be editorial – however as platforms such as twitter have evolved is has become increasingly difficult to ascertain whether a comment or opinion has been influenced by a third party.

The problem has arisen from celebrities who have used their personal twitter accounts to ‘tweet’ about brands that either pay them or sponsor them to do so. The ASA have challenged two high profile cases; Snickers and Nike.

Now despite the fact that I work in editorial I’m not sure that I agree that the ASA should be in a position to demand that people delete the content that they choose to have on their personal twitter feeds – promotional or otherwise.

What’s even more baffling is that within the most recent case involving Wayne Rooney and Jack Wilshere the hashtag #makeitcount.gonike.me.makeitcount was clearly visible. Surely any idiot can recognise that this is a promotional tweet?

I expect that this situation will only get worse, with the ASA monitoring social media more closely than ever – but there has to be a balance. If I suddenly become a high profile multi-millionaire (unlikely but you never know!) and I decide to tweet that I love a particular brand then is that considered advertising?

Equally is it wrong for celebrities to thank brands for sending them free products? Isn’t it just polite? I am interested to see what others think about this. I don’t think there is necessarily a right or wrong answer but I do think we need to be careful to ensure that social media platforms are able to be used as a platform for people to engage, interact and use their rights to free speech, whether that be about a brand or not.

The Dragon’s Den Effect

Dragon’s Den is one of few business ‘reality’ television programmes that I have continued to enjoy watching. It is informative and although I often feel some of the comments are unfair and a little insensitive it does give the viewer an insight into how it is to own a business – people don’t walk around on egg shells and they don’t give you ‘owt for nowt’.

I quite like the mix of Dragon’s in the Den now and I really admire and respect most of them, particularly as they have come from nothing. What always gets me is that the people who choose to feature on the show know what it is all about and they understand their product or service inside out.

They have real passion, energy and excitement by what they are doing, selling or making. Then they stand in front of these entrepreneurs – who have a wealth of knowledge that you could tap into – and ask for a hand out. Now here’s the bit… how many times have you heard people ask for money to support marketing?

It is almost always the case. If it isn’t suggested as the reason that the whole sum is required, it is in there somewhere. So why do people struggle with marketing budgets so much? What makes them think that marketing is so expensive in the first place? And why go to a leading entrepreneur so that they can pass you on to their preferred PR or marketing agency?

There is no doubt that marketing and effective communication are an essential element to a business strategy and the two should be absolutely aligned with objectives, but why do these entrepreneurs find it so difficult? I have decided to call it the ‘Dragon’s Den Effect’.

It’s a nasty heritage of stories which include bad advice and burnt fingers.

Business ‘A’ goes to big agency ‘B’, they are blown away with pretty pictures, they receive a catchy ‘logo’ and perhaps a quirky strap line, they then receive a big bill and that’s that. Job done. No questions asked. No further forward with a strategy – but you have a nice logo!

Now I genuinely think that times have changed, particularly since the last recession. It almost seems that it is becoming the trend to rely on smaller agencies that are genuinely doing great things. Not only are they often more cost effective but they also (in my experience) care more about their clients – irrelevant of size or budget.

You don’t have to work in a ‘full service’ agency to get the best – just choose them. You get to handpick the very best designers, copy writers, PR people and brand managers. Some agencies will tell you this takes time and is difficult to manage but I disagree – better to have a collective of the best, who can work together, than the internal politics that come from a big agency; who gets what budgets, who is first point of contact for the client and who takes the glory when it goes well or handles the fall out when things go wrong?

So next time you come across a business who is going through the ‘Dragon’s Den Effect’ just ask them what they are doing about it. If the answer is keeping their head down and hoping for the best then I’m afraid to say that ‘I’m out’.

However if they want to chat about how to get excited by their business and put in place some excellent PR and communication campaigns, which meet with objectives and manage reputation – well, that’s a different story altogether. I’m not just in, I’m here and waiting in the den.

The dark art of social media – influencers or informers?

I was reading the Sunday Times recently and came across an article which I found quite baffling. As a PR agency we work with brands to raise their profile across social media platforms including blogs, facebook and twitter through engagement and interaction. As a result, I know only too well that this process is not a simple one, nor is it a ‘quick win’.

In my opinion it is quite simply an opportunity for someone who has credibility within their network to talk about your product or service and to provide their personal comments and opinions about it. These are not always positive and that is the risk that you take when working with social media channels – or it is, unless you are McDonalds.

The article I was reading was titled ‘McDonalds recruit blogger to super-size its allure’ and was written by Mark Harris. I immediately thought that would mean that McDonalds were recruiting an internal team, or a social media champion, for each of its geographies. No. McDonalds have ‘recruited’ more than 400 bloggers who are known as the McDonald’s Family Arches Community. This community receive benefits as a result of blogging favourably about the brand.

This isn’t too dissimilar to the approach taken by many brands. I don’t necessarily agree with it but it seems to work and there’s no harm in offering free samples for review, after all you want the person to interact with the brand and to understand the products in order to give an informed view.

The line does however stop at offering stays in hotels, exclusive trips away and benefits based on the number of favourable comments or posts you provide for a brand. That isn’t social media, that’s social advertising. It’s not informed, nor is it factual, it’s biased and unbalanced.

If I was engaging with a blogger and found that they were receiving all-expenses paid trips as a result of posting favourable comments about a company, product or service I wouldn’t consider them credible. In fact, quite the opposite.

The article goes on to state that McDonalds wants ‘its own private network over which it could exert more control’. I think they are massively missing the point here. It’s not about control, it’s about comment and opinion. It’s about believing so strongly in your product that by association you encourage others to love it too. You want people to want to talk about your brand favourable and yes, there are times when that isn’t going to be the case – after all you can’t please everyone – but you manage that process by interacting.

Communication isn’t about telling someone what to say, it’s about a dialogue. Putting words into someone’s mouth will not drive genuine value for the brand, it will discourage people from believing anything the company chooses to say in the future.

A quote which appears in the article states ‘And if they start doing stuff we don’t want, we are going to take action’. It seems to me that McDonalds have got this very wrong. It’s not so much super-size as super silly.

My advice, for what it’s worth, would be for McDonalds to review this strategy and to review it quickly. You cannot buy brand values and if the case is that the business cannot and do not genuinely believe in what they are offering then the seriousness of this situation goes far beyond social communication.

It’s fair to say that the McDonalds business model is used as an example of best practice. When you go into a McDonalds you know where you are, you know what you’re getting and every establishment is run in exactly the same way – you cannot do the same with a social network of communicators.

It will be interesting to see what happens when the Family of Arches is rolled out in Britain. I only hope the bloggers that are chosen see past the benefits and consider what getting involved will do to their credibility and reputation.

When close is just too close!

There is no doubt that social media has its benefits for businesses who choose to use the tools available to them correctly. That doesn’t mean knowing how to post discussions on LinkedIn or understanding a hashtag from an @ sign on twitter – what I mean is that you have to take the rough with the smooth.

At Open Communications we always explain to our clients that if you want to engage with customers using social channels and you feel that it forms a part of your business communications strategy to do so, then the first and most important point is that you have to take the good with the bad.

You cannot engage with people taking the benefits from positive reviews, product endorsements and exposure across multiple channels to a mass (often global) audience, then when faced with a complaint or negative remark choose not to communicate at all. Not only is it bad practice but it sends out a clear message to customers both current and prospective that a business cannot appropriately handle complaints.

One of the best examples I have seen in recent times was the case between Tatty Devine and Claire’s Accessories. It’s fair to say that I had never heard of Tatty Devine before the brand started to trend on twitter. I was then quickly brought up to speed via a number of blog posts and comments informing me that some of the designs launched throughout Claire’s Accessories bore a striking resemblance to those originally created by Tatty Devine.

Admittedly the prices of the products were very different and the quality was clearly poles apart, however the principle remained the same – a massive national business had a frighteningly similar portfolio of products to a boutique designer. Not good.

You would think that the first thing a national business like Claire’s would do is call upon a PR agency to put in place and manage what was likely to become a serious communications crisis for the brand. No, apparently the first thing you do when you are Claire’s is shut everything down and issue a no comment! Not just to the media – but across all platforms including social media.

Tatty Devine however went into over drive; providing customers with updates, images and a statement which was issued to all press – including the nationals. They didn’t go out and use the opportunity to air their feelings about Claire’s, as such – they instead turned the situation on its head and used it to deliver the best and most cost effective PR campaign they are ever likely to have. It was nothing short of superb, great communications and a glimpse of the business acumen behind that company. It’s also fair to say that Claire’s were quickly losing their way and turning a bad situation into a disaster, so all Tatty really had to do was sit back and watch.

This story has died down over recent months with other things taking the spot light – as is always the case in the media – although I did see Liza Tarbuck wearing what I think was a Tatty Devine necklace on TV the other day. Once upon a time I wouldn’t have known my Tatty from my Claire’s but thanks to their excellent and strategic use of social media, I may have a look and see if there’s something that would go with my new outfit.

The upshot is, remember, if you are going to engage with social media channels then be aware and prepared to deal with the good AND the bad. There is no doubt social media delivers benefits to business but it can be a tricky platform to manage when things go wrong and companies should have the infrastructure and contingency in place to handle it correctly should that happen.