Tag: messaging

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!

Food for thought – are retailers missing the point?

Barely a day goes by without another news item or broadcast bulletin referring to a supermarket chain either announcing profit warnings, staff redundancies or commonly another price war. I’ve thought about this a lot recently and I can’t help but think that these retailers are missing the point.

Let me explain. I have been a fan of the discounters for some time – in fact years, as I used to manage the PR for Netto. It’s fair to say that the brand didn’t have the best reputation for quality but consumers at the time were misguided; the produce was fresh but we were less accepting of foreign imports.

Then we hit hard times when the recession took hold in 2008 and suddenly the car parks of discounters looked like a high end car showroom. People began to realise that actually you could rely on these stores for your weekly shop and save money.

I am a huge fan of the #Lidlsurprises campaign and can’t fault the PR team for the creative yet simple way that they have shared their message with the masses. The press event which invited journalists and celebrities to a champagne reception with all the glamour you would expect only to then reveal it was all produce from Lidl was inspired. Follow this up with the same concept for a Christmas advert, keeping the messaging simple… well, what can I say, a great example of PR done well.

Anyway, I digress, but the point is that these campaigns make sense to me. They are consistent, engaging, surprising and real. It’s not about money it’s about adding value, giving the consumer something they didn’t expect – like lobster at Christmas and a selection of high quality wines to match seasonal produce.

What I don’t understand is the ongoing bickering that comes with price wars. There is no doubt that consumers are price conscious but I can’t help thinking that retailers need to take a step back. Consumers want good value, not cheap produce. They want variety and provenance – a balance between every day and speciality.

What we get is bread for pennies and milk which costs less than water! Not only is this unnecessary but it’s become a playground fight, only the retailers seem not to have noticed that they have made the consumer a disinterested bystander.

PR is all about reputation, which should be built around values. All I can see from retailers at the moment is ever decreasing costs and a battle, which to all intense and purpose communicates that they are in fact not focusing on the consumer at all but instead on their competitors.

It’s like being back at school; he said this, so I did that…

What the retailers should be doing, in my humble opinion, is looking at how they can add value. Many of them have magazines now, which are great. They are helpful, interesting, well written and appealing to the demographic but what more could they do?

ASDA launched Mums Eye View, a YouTube channel which invites vloggers to share their thoughts on products stocked in the store. Great idea; captivating and interesting content that consumers can access and better still engage with and share.

So how come so few people know about it? Rather than attracting ASDA customers, the vloggers seem to be sharing their message with their own audience, which in most instances doesn’t fit the demographic profile of an ASDA shopper.

The retailer could have done more with this platform to integrate digital with ‘real life’ further extending the engagement. Having a shopper booth at larger outlets which asks customers to give two minute reviews of their favourite ‘must have’ items would be one suggestion but instead the platform seems to be a huddle of vloggers raising their profile and doing what they do best – talking to their audience.

And so, I come back round to taking a step back.

The marketing strategy of retailers needs to start with their values and evolve to the customer journey, making sure that every shopper has an experience online and in store that they can share positively with their friends and family.

Convenience is going to continue to drive the market, as people have less time and no longer commit to a weekly shop, but retailers need to think about brand loyalty. How will they get consumers through the door and most importantly encourage them to become regular visitors without relying entirely on price.

The other point to consider, which should be fundamental to any business with a conscience, is the suppliers. Retailers may feel that driving prices down has a positive impact on consumers but what about the suppliers, the reduction needs to come from somewhere and it certainly isn’t the stores.

These leading supermarkets need to stop and think. The impression they are giving is not positive. I don’t want a local farmer to go out of business because despite supplying the leading retailers the margins have been squeezed so tight he can’t make ends meet.

Provenance is still a trend and is something that consumers have come to expect but I find it interesting that ‘Farmer Smith’ from ‘a farm somewhere near you’ isn’t quoted on pack saying ‘I won’t have a holiday this year because once again you have demanded I lower my margin to meet with your demands, allowing you to offer my produce at 10p less than your competitor’.

Things need to change and until one of the leading supermarket chains stands back and becomes a value based brand with a real conscience the playground scrapping is simply going to continue.

White-label – more like white flag!

I was talking to a fellow PR practitioner recently (it does happen!) and they mentioned that they’d been approached by a ‘full service’ agency asking them to white-label their offering – for anyone who doesn’t know what this means; it is doing the work for the agency, as if you were them, as opposed to working directly with the client.

I know many agencies who work like this and my feeling on the matter has never changed. As an agency your ‘job’ and objective for your client is to build a brand, if that means working with a series of other agency specialists then so be it – but the idea is that you get people talking and you share messages about that business.

How on earth can you expect to do this for them, if you can’t and don’t do it for your own business? Ok, so I appreciate that some agencies get most of their work through white-labelling but there are two points that I find fundamentally wrong with this;

  1. You should be proud of your work and want to share your ideas with the client direct – knowing that they have been presented correctly
  2. Nine times out of ten the ‘host’ agency claims to be full service and isn’t, hence why they come to you in the first place – so already your relationship with your / their client is on difficult ground

To use a ‘daddism’ ‘Oh what a tangled web we weave’.

You may as well wave a white flag if you are white-labelling because as far as I can tell you must be desperate for work if you are potentially willing to have your values compromised to work for others – who are not willing to give you the credit.

Now, before I get a barrage of people calling me crazy, white labelling is not working with other agencies or even working as a team with a lead agency – it is allowing an agency to share your work with a client as their own. I should also mention here that there are a number of genuine full service agencies who do a fantastic job and good on them but that’s not what my ‘rant’ is about.

We have been approached by many agencies in the past to be a white-label supplier and the answer is always the same – NO. We are proud of our agency, of our values and of the ideas and recommendations that we produce, so why would we pass all of that on to someone to share as their own?

This leads me to my next point – don’t profess to be full service if you aren’t. We tell all of our clients that we are a PR agency, we specialise in PR, copywriting, social media and sponsorship. There are many other facets to what we do but principally it all falls neatly under the banner of PR.

Now here’s the clever bit *puts on sarcastic face*, we are honest with our clients and tell them that if they do need other skills that we are unable to offer, we can work with trusted partners or – now wait for it – pass them the details direct.

BOOM! And there you have it folks, it really is that simple.

If you don’t do something in house then let your clients know and send them the details of trusted partners – unless of course you are out to fleece not only the client but your partner and then ignore my advice because your objective will be to ‘coin in’ mark-up fees from both sides.

Interestingly I have noticed that a higher number of agencies are choosing to specialise rather than claim to be full service and I’m pleased to see it. I’m a huge advocate for doing what you do, and doing it well.

One of my favourite phrases is: “If you want to be all things to all people, you end up being nothing to nobody.”

Our clients have always thanked us for being honest and we’ve never found that a brand chooses to work with someone else because they are full service. In fact, we were recently in a review with one of our largest clients who mentioned that being a specialist PR agency is a huge benefit.

For those of you who are thinking about white-labelling then please reconsider. I have seen some agencies create and produce some fantastic work and never get the credit that they deserve – make sure you’re not one of them.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas

It’s that time of year again, the countdown is now a daily update as opposed to a monthly or weekly ‘warning’, smug looks are exchanged by those who are organised and panic stricken wide eyes respond from those (like me) who are not. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

I’m not one for celebrating the countdown from August, or even thinking about anything festive until late October, early November. I don’t think it’s fair on people who have children to be making comments about Santa Claus or present lists, unless a naughty moment calls for the odd ‘seasonal warning’ here and there – you know the one’s, Santa Claus is watching and I’ll be putting a call in later if you don’t behave…

I am certainly no Scrooge, I love Christmas and coming from a large extended family, I enjoy meeting with people and taking the time to share in some festive cheer (or cheers as tends to be the case with my family and friends).

Getting excited about Christmas is fun and everyone I know seems to have their own sign that the countdown for them has truly begun; for me it’s the launch of the Christmas adverts. Perhaps it’s because of the industry that we work in but I always get a warm feeling inside when large retailers and household brands showcase their seasonal TV adverts.

What really interest’s me is the story boards that each brand, or more deservedly their agencies, comes up with and the creative concept behind the piece, along with the call to action. Last year ASDA hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons with their ‘Behind every great Christmas there’s Mum’ campaign, but I really enjoyed it. I thought it made a valid point, certainly in our household, and the messaging was clear. Still you can’t please everyone.

Last night, whilst catching some evening TV, I stumbled across the Marks and Spencer Christmas advert. My first thought was, phew, I bet that cost a pretty penny but then watching the creative and following the story I was drawn into a land of make believe, with subtle product placements throughout.

The concept was certainly well thought through; a digital collage of fairy-tale moments packaged with a great big festive bow, sprinkled with celebrity faces, topped off with a clear marketing message; ‘Believe in Magic & Sparkle’. The whole piece was beautifully executed.

It’s only fair that I admit to not liking last year’s festive advert from John Lewis, I didn’t ‘get it’ and was never entirely sure of what all the fuss was about, other than the fact that a major retailer had put significant budgets into above the line (no real shock there!).

However… the advert from John Lewis this year is really impressive. I won’t go as far as to say that it brought a tear to my eye, but I did think about it. I love the animation (as it reminds me of a cross between Watership Down and Guess How Much I Love You) and the soundtrack from Lily Allen is to be nothing short of applauded. The story is Christmassy, without being sickening, and the call to action is subtly dropped in at the end to complete the piece. A gift wrapped story that is fit for the whole family, no matter what your age.

I’m really looking forward to watching more of the Christmas adverts as they hit our screens and will also be interested to see how many of the brands have thought to extend their creative into print, in order to engage further with consumers at a time of such high spend and competition.

People seem to have their favourite adverts during the festive season and I’m really interested to hear what your preferred options are. I do have an all-time favourite, which still gives me butterflies years on and I don’t believe that any brand has quite mastered or captured the spirit that this particular creative is able to deliver…

I give you, ‘Holidays are coming…’

Not only do I feel that this advert is synonymous with Christmas because the brand has chosen to build on it each year, as opposed to come up with something completely different, but the team have also built on it with competitions, digital activity and charitable donations.

An integrated campaign that can deliver year on year deserves a real festive thumbs up so well done Coca Cola, you get my vote every time.

Reputation is our biggest asset, how have we got it so wrong?




There is absolutely no doubt that the PR industry has a less than positive reputation – but the irony is that we are tasked with managing the reputation of the brands that we work with, so how has it come to the point where we are unable to create positive associations for our specialism?


Personally I think the problems are deep routed and come from times gone by. Long gone are the days of lazy lunches, wining and dining and partying until dawn to roll into the office, totter on Prada heels and ‘fanny about with the press releases’.


PR is a specialism and like a naughty toddler the industry has had to grow up. During difficult times clients are looking at budgets, they are considering their spend and they are evaluating what investments are delivering a return. It’s common knowledge that marketing is always one of the first costs to be cut at times of austerity and we have all had to sit up and defend our position around the boardroom table.


There was an article on the BBC Website recently which made for uncomfortable reading but I hate to admit it did have a lot of truth behind it. What I find most interesting is the comments that are below the article which are a startling example of the job that we have to do to give the industry the credibility that I believe it now deserves.


When asked what I do for a living I often have to explain the role of PR in business and how the techniques that we use are invaluable to brands. Many people look at me with cynicism at best and repulsion at worst – what they don’t realise is that we don’t sit at a desk drafting articles and lunching. What we do is plan and manage the communications strategy for our clients to ensure that we meet with their objectives and support sales.


We work with print press, online media, bloggers, stakeholders, employees and partners – it’s certainly not a case of drafting a story and sending it to a database of journalists who may or may not choose to use it.


I would like to think that in the defence of PR things have changed quite considerably over recent years. I’m not suggesting that every agency is ethical, moral or even does the job well but there are those of us who are fighting our corner and showing just what PR can deliver.


And if you don’t believe me then take some wisdom from the BBC. Even if this article is somewhat dismissive of the PR stunt many of the leading businesses in the world have used PR techniques to create an impression, perception and reputation that in turn has resulted in a multi-million pound bank balance; Virgin and Innocent Drinks are just two fantastic examples.


So before you decide that the last thing you need is ‘Patsy’ tottering around your office and re-charging the costs for lunch at the Ivy, take a look at those who are doing the job and doing it well. You just might find the agency that you are looking for – the one that can add value to your reputation and your bottom line.


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.