Tag: pr agency

When selling your business leaves you sour

I remember reading the story of a husband and wife team from Yorkshire who had taken their love of sausages and turned it into a multi-million pound business.

The success hadn’t come overnight and the couple had battled tirelessly to secure listings until they were bought by a larger company who assisted with their vision to see their sausages on the shelves in all major superstores throughout the country.

This blog should now end with a happy ever after however that is not the case – as I found out today when reading the Yorkshire Business Insider.

The couple in question are Debbie and Andrew Keeble and as Ben Pindar explains in his article they found that as a result of selling their business to a larger corporation they lost control of their values. Ultimately they were left holding an ‘ugly baby’ not the bundle of joy they had nurtured for years and invested their time and money in to.

You see Debbie and Andrew saw an opportunity to grow their business, taking it to the next level but in doing so found that they were working in an environment with people who did not hold their brand as dear to their hearts, nor its values which underpin the product and in particular where the raw materials are sourced from, as closely as they did.

Debbie and Andrew wanted to maintain their messaging of ‘real people, real food’ and ‘British is best’ which was impossible under the instruction of a Dutch owned business. This led to an eventual fall out and irreconcilable differences leaving the Keebles to face the prospect of competing with their own product and a brand they developed.

I have to admit that when I read this story today my heart really did go out to the Keebles – although there is little doubt they have made a significant amount of money from the Debbie and Andrews sausage range – this wouldn’t diminish the loss that would be felt if someone took away the values of your business and something that you truly believed in.

When we launched Open Communications we spent a lot of time defining the values of the business and our messaging to ensure that everything we did was true to our beliefs and allowed us to run the business as we felt it should be.

We are a straight talking PR agency, which develops creative and realistic campaigns that meet with our clients’ objectives.  In a nut shell that is what we do and it hasn’t changed. If someone came in and bought the business, allowing us to continue to run the team as directors but wanting us to change the way we do things, then the answer would have to be no.

We, like Debbie and Andrew, have invested a great deal of time in defining what we are – and are not – in order to offer a professional and unique service, to change that simply wouldn’t work. Not only would our clients lose something that they have bought in to but we would have no underpinning personality that makes our agency different – we would be another PR agency doing the same things the same way.

I hope that Debbie and Andrew find a way to build up their new business and to make it a success which rivals their former product. Perhaps the fact that they are engaging with the media suggests that they have picked themselves up, brushed themselves down and decided to take the bull (or pig in this instance) by the horns.

At the very least they know they can create a successful business and should have the contacts of the buyers they need to speak to in order for them to make it happen a second time around. Hats off to them – they certainly have a true Yorkshire spirit and determination to have another go.  When the time is right I’ll have a fry up to celebrate that!

Why careful doesn’t mean boring

I’ve worked with lots of creative people throughout my career, many of whom I totally respect for the fantastic work and ideas they have developed, but I can’t help feeling that fairly conclusively there has always been a belief that when you work with large marketing and PR agencies careful has to mean boring.

I disagree. I think in some instances careful should be changed to ‘managed by professionals’.

If I was the owner of a brand and I had hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of pounds to spend I wouldn’t want to let that budget loose on a team that would come up with stunts and ‘creative’ ideas that could be to the detriment of my business longer term.

Here’s the thing – pretty pictures can be very appealing and they can even make what in the cold light of day would be a ludicrous idea seem like a brainwave. I’ve seen it happen many times before and it usually lands on the door of the PR agency to sort it out once the ‘big idea’ hits the media and is found to be the emperor’s new clothes, or worse.

At Open Communications we have always maintained that we would work within a client’s budget to come up with campaigns that first and foremost meet with objectives. I can hear some agencies groan just reading this but it’s true. What’s the point of even employing an agency otherwise?

We could come up with yet another stunt that put yet another over-sized object in Trafalgar Square, we could consider a one off activity that would mean we claimed much of the budget in management and had little to do for the rest of the year and we could chase industry awards with our big ideas but the reality is that we just don’t work like that.

We try to create long term strategies that we can implement over time to ensure that our clients engage across all channels and with all audiences. We use online, in print, digital, outdoor and sponsorship. We don’t profess to be all things to all people but one of the things that I am most proud of is that we are good at what we do – and that’s PR, traditional and online.

So for all those who think that careful is boring just consider how you would manage your project or brief if you were playing with your own money.

 

A proud Northerner

There have been a number of comment pieces recently requesting that brands and businesses consider suppliers outside of London. I wasn’t aware that there was a need to put out this call to action but apparently some companies feel that in order to get the best you have to go down South.

You won’t be surprised to hear that I’m not a believer of this philosophy, not because I’m from the North and proud of it but because I fail to see how geography can make you the best at what you do. I can only presume that you get to Kings Cross and by some miracle become a guru in your given sector.

It’s laughable that businesses still feel the need to ‘fake’ an office in London in some bizarre effort to 1. Look bigger than they are and 2. Attract bigger business.  Would it not be more productive and indicative of long term relationships to be honest?

With transport links being what they are today you can get to London, should you wish to, from Wakefield in around 2 hours. Knowing a number of people who live and work in London they find it difficult to cross the city in this time.

Not only do I know that there is an immense amount of talent in the North but also that we have leading organisations based here and also the events to support business and encourage growth.

Take for example two events that are coming up in the next couple of months – and I do have to take this opportunity to confess that Open Communications manage the PR for both – Wakefield Business Week and the Buy Yorkshire Conference.

Wakefield Business Week is a celebration of the success of the district. The week-long showcase is an open source event, which means that it is fully inclusive and allows for any business, group or individual to get involved and promote an event they are hosting from 18 – 22 March.

Right in the middle of the week is Wakefield Business Conference which will bring together more than 500 delegates, 50 exhibitors and a selection of headline speakers who will come together to network, connect and share their experiences. What a great way to meet potential suppliers and clients.

Then there is the Buy Yorkshire Conference, the largest business to business event in the North. This event, formerly the Yorkshire Mafia Conference, is off the scale. Attracting a massive 3,500 delegates, 170 exhibitors and a list of speakers that you simply couldn’t pay to see it is a must for any serious business.

We will be exhibiting at both of these conferences and I am looking forward to both. Not because we may generate business as a result, although that is obviously part of the reason we will be there, but to meet with new faces and contacts.

I am looking forward to introducing people to Open Communications and explaining that there is such a thing as a straight talking PR agency that cares more about results than air kissing! I want people to understand that you don’t have to go to London to find a PR agency that you can trust and most importantly that we are part of a vibrant and growing business community.

Business is still booming in the North and companies that only work with those who are based in the South are quite honestly missing out.

 

Do manners really matter?

As a PR agency we receive lots and lots of phone calls every day. Sometimes the calls can be from suppliers, other times it could be contacts with regards to sponsorship, a client or journalist. Although I have to admit that most of the time people are polite and well-mannered there are the odd times when this really isn’t the case.

Take this morning as a classic example.  I received a call which started with the caller demanding to speak to a colleague. No ‘morning’ or ‘would it be possible to speak to’ just an abrupt and quite honestly rude demand.

As we always do, I asked who was speaking, which in turn meant I received a blunt one line answer and nothing further.

Now this person gave me the name of their company when I asked where they were calling from and it happens we were hoping to work with one of their clients. As a result of the way in which they handled the call we will now be moving our efforts to another similar business.

So, due to that person’s appalling attitude their client has lost out.

It’s not often that people surprise me but there have been a few instances over recent months where it’s apparent that people working on behalf of brands or for third parties get some strange delusion of grandeur which in turn results in them losing all ability to communicate professionally.

Although these situations do irritate me I have to say that I also feel rather smug as I know that when people work with Open Communications – whoever they are dealing with – we are able to manage their needs professionally and appropriately wherever they are calling from and whatever the nature of the call.

Perhaps if people took the time to consider how they would feel if the person they were speaking to was to handle their call in the same way they may just choose to change their attitude. We have a saying in our house – ‘manners cost nothing!’

It’s all in the timing

Social media, content marketing, engagement, push, viral, digital… need I go on? These are all words that are used frequently in the world of marketing, PR and communications and they all lead back to one thing – attracting attention and sharing a message.

What I’ve noticed is that brands who have got it right, in my opinion, are those that are able to turn things around quickly. Take Bodyform as a classic, or Specsavers as another, then there’s Richard Branson and his stunt announcing the BA couldn’t get it up and Paddy Power’s ambush of the Ryder Cup.

The way that these brands have been in a position to turn around their campaigns so quickly, never mind come up with them in the first place, is fantastic. Not only are they creative and quirky they capture attention and get their message across. At the end of the day, most brands use PR and marketing in the first instance to raise the profile of their business and in these cases they do exactly that.

The problem of course is that it is often impossible to get approval to turn something around in such limited timescales however the more that brands become aware of the benefits to ‘almost real time’ engagement the better.

It seems to me that the future is all about the timing and that means reacting within hours as opposed to days. Let’s hope that more brands see the benefit in putting PR at the top of their list of priorities because this is simply the best way to shout about your brand which subsequently puts your products in front of the consumer.

An agency with an office and proud of it!

There has been a lot of noise in the media recently with regards to the benefits to a ‘team’ that work entirely from home. An office-less environment for a business may be something that some of us gasp at but when you think about it from a commercial perspective it makes perfect sense.

There are others of course who will spend all day arguing that in a world of modern technology with smart phones, apps, iPads, online conferencing, skype and any other social media tools you choose to use for business there is no need for an office and there is an argument to back this theory up.

Not only will you have no rent to pay, as such, but you get to work from the comfort of your own home, which has been proven (in some cases) to deliver greater outputs and actually increase productivity. So you have significantly fewer costs and more work gets done – happy days.

Now the other side to this, and the part that I find particularly hard to get my head around, is what I think makes a company a real success – the team. Although you will still work for a brand and business – and there’s nothing to suggest you can’t develop this remotely – I can’t see how you would build the camaraderie which comes from working together in an office.

I feel that working remotely would lose some of the personality that makes a brand individual and unique. Take Innocent smoothies as a great example, when you speak to people about the brand there is little doubt the conversation will get back to their famous offices, which have faux grass carpets, comfy seating areas and an invitation for anyone passing by to simply drop in.

Without an office Innocent wouldn’t have the opportunity to use such a great marketing tool. It is simple and very, very effective.

Some companies will never be able to run from home due to the nature of what they do however as the director of a PR agency that could quite easily pack up and refurb the back bedroom I think I would miss my colleagues, the chat and banter that comes with everyday office life.

When you have people surrounding you they become your support. Without that, I would feel like any other person, working for any other business but when I work for Open Communications I understand our vision, values and how we all use our skills to give our clients a totally unique service because that service comes from us all and part of that is as a result of the environment we work in.

You could even put this down to the nature, nurture debate but let’s not get into that!

HR magazine have written a great feature about the future of work being mobile and although in theory this is great I do hope in practice people will recognise that there are huge pitfalls to this approach.

The article suggests that people who work from home get a better work / life balance however I would dispute this, as those I know who work from home are logged on at all hours because it’s simple to do so and when you live and work from your office it’s more difficult to draw a line between the two.

It would be silly to suggest that as a business we didn’t consider overheads, turnover and most importantly profits but I genuinely believe that the environment you work in has a huge impact on how you develop, grow and deliver as a market leading organisation.

As a PR agency that has the luxury of being based in the idyllic setting of Nostell Priory Estate Yard we always take the chance to invite clients and prospects to come and have a coffee, chat and mooch around. For anyone out there who would like to take us up on that invite please feel free to do so. The kettle is on and the Open team will be here to welcome you.

OPEN SHOWS SUPPORT FOR WAKEFIELD BUSINESS WEEK

We are pleased to announce that Open Communications will be supporting the first ever business week to come to Wakefield. The event, which takes place from 18 – 22 March will celebrate the great and good of the district, while promoting the many benefits that the city has to offer.

As a leading Wakefield based PR agency, Open Communications will implement a full media relations programme for the week, working closely with the team from Wakefield Business Week and also Wakefield City Council and partners.

As a business which has launched and flourished in Wakefield we are so excited to be supporting this week long series of events. The city has a great deal to offer entrepreneurs who are able to see the potential that the district has to offer.

We launched in 2008 and have never looked back. Not only are we close to motorway links but we are surrounded by an active and complementary support network of suppliers that we can call upon as and when required. There really is no better place to be based.

As the chosen PR agency for the first business week we are eager to connect with those who feel they have a story to tell, so please do get in touch if you have a positive announcement or some good news that you would like to share.

We hope that Wakefield businesses will take the time to support this week long series of events and make it the success that is should be.

 

Optimism, now, there’s a good word

The headlines can be depressing at times and although as a PR agency we are often trying to explain to clients that they need to see beyond the doom and gloom, it can be difficult. We try where possible to reinforce that the media promote a balanced account to the news (good and bad) in order to provide the reader with the chance to make up their own mind.

In the most part this it true however where the recession is concerned it can be tricky. How do you write an article about the fact that thousands of people have lost their jobs and keep it light hearted – it’s simply never going to happen and so I find myself feeling a little sorry for the journalists who are tasked with handling these stories, particularly when the announcements are coming through thick and fast.

It’s not often you will find a PR professional saying that they have any sympathy for a journalist but when all is said and done  they just want to get their copy filed and do their job.

I was pleased however to see that Ian Briggs from The Business Desk wrote a genuinely balanced piece last week, which took a look back on the good, the bad and the ugly of 2012. The piece, which was titled ‘Ian Briggs on why his glass if half full for 2013’, did make reference to the recession and also to businesses that had fallen into administration but he also took the time to focus on many excellent pieces of news from around the Yorkshire region.

Ian said: “For me the tide is turning from a ‘we’re never going to get out of this situation’ mentality to one where the attitude is ‘we are where we are so let’s get on with it’.

Here, here, I couldn’t agree more.

As a business at Open Communications we have tried to steer clear of those who harp on about the recession all of the time – you know the ones, those who you get lumbered with at a networking lunch who start the conversation with a long sigh and then proceed to say in a voice that should be saved for funerals ‘How’s business?’.

I’m pleased to say that this year does seem to have marked a step change in attitude with many people rolling their sleeves up, as opposed to putting their heads down and long may it continue. I appreciate we are only in January (and the second week at that!) but we need to pull together, stay strong and carry on.

I’m a great believer in attitude and if you go into a year thinking you will do badly the chances are that will be the case. If however you have a strong product or service, a passion for what you do and a desire to get stuck in, then at the very least you stand a fighting chance.

I know lots of businesses who have reported better than average performance during 2012 and there should be no reason why this shouldn’t continue.  In a further piece, written again by Mr Briggs, he mentions that confidence is rising in Yorkshire as profit expectations increase.

The report that Ian highlights (The Lloyds TSB Commercial Business in Britain survey) uses feedback collated from more than 1,800 businesses. With 98 of these 1,800 based in Yorkshire it made for positive reading to find that optimism is at its strongest since the UK first reported coming out of the recession in 2009.

In addition to these findings a poll from the IoD, which is cited within the piece, has also revealed that 31% of directors expect 2013 to be better than 2012.

This is all good news and should give every business leader, entrepreneur, employee and job seeker the confidence they need to go into 2013 with a positive attitude and the belief that there is a light at the end of the tunnel and whatever a balanced article may say it is not a train coming!

Finally, PR takes it seat at the boardroom table

I’ve just finished reading an excellent article in Management Today magazine. The piece focuses on the changing face of PR – and I don’t mean one shade of designer lipstick to another – no, finally it would appear that the industry is getting the recognition that it deserves and is taking a seat around the boardroom table.

Having worked in the PR industry for more than a decade and with a BA (Hons) degree in the specialism, I have long been an advocate of the merits of PR when it is practiced correctly and professionally.

As I see it there are problems with the PR industry in the same way that there are problems with any other; you have the good and you have the bad and it can be difficult to decide which is which. One will wine and dine you in fancy restaurants, while the other tells you the harsh truth and what to do about it – far less appealing than a good lunch but undoubtedly more beneficial in the long run.

The truth of the matter is that PR has always been about reputation – that has never changed and be it online or in print, what is said in the street or down the pub, it all goes back to the same thing; if you don’t know what people are saying about you, there is nothing you can do about it.

Businesses are thankfully coming around to the understanding that during any situation, good or bad, the first point of call is to make sure that you are communicating effectively with your audiences. In order to do this an organisation requires an advisor, a specialist, someone to rely on with their plans, aspirations and concerns.

The piece in Management Today very much focuses on the changes to PR based on the use of social media but I think there is more to it than that.

Tim Bell comments: “If you want to live in a transparent world then someone has to give the information about you. If you don’t want someone else to, you have to do it yourself. That’s what PR people do.”

Sure, social media and a desire by the consumer to share their thoughts and opinions with the world – plus having the ability to do so quickly and easily across a multitude of platforms – has meant that PR professionals have more to do but that is simply good practice and the evolution of an industry which spans hundreds of years.

The real change I think has come in a shift of mind set. People working in PR have thankfully taken a long, hard look at the industry and realised that as a discipline we were losing out. We weren’t taken seriously in our tottering high heels and we needed to toughen up and take our seat around the boardroom table.

Those who were serious about a career started to showcase their skills in the situations that deliver harsh recognition; a crisis without a communications professional who is experienced, able and capable of dealing with it can bring a business literally crashing to its knees.

In Management Today Jeremy Hazlehurst comments:

“PR the profession has changed beyond recognition in the past decade. Although media relations activities have burgeoned, involving the paper press, online publications, television and bloggers, it is only a small part of the job now. Press offices have been swallowed up by communications departments that deal with investor relations, analysts, shareholders, regulators and government. All are the guardians of the most precious and difficult to measure of assets – corporate reputation.”

I’ve never been ‘typically PR’ and have always felt that the discipline should be considered a necessity as opposed as a nice to have, not just because I work in the industry but because I see every day the benefits that it delivers, which are often measured less by coverage and more by ‘real life’ results and the situations which are in some cases avoided.

It’s no secret that I almost left the PR industry altogether before launching Open Communications with my business partner Emma because of the way in which some agencies work. I didn’t want to go to lunch or out to parties, I didn’t want to charge by the hour working on campaigns I knew were over-priced and wouldn’t deliver and I didn’t want to feel like I was doing the clients I was working with a disservice by not going that extra mile.

What I did want was to work with journalists so that my clients would hit the headlines, I wanted to use communication to generate business, really get to the heart of the companies I was working for and be a part of their success. I wanted to advise them in the best way possible and explain in no uncertain terms that as a direct result of my actions their business was stronger and that was down to reputation, which was driven by PR and communications.

Thankfully I can now do all of these things. I have always been a champion of ‘real PR’ but I am pleased that others are now recognising the merits to working with agencies and practitioners.

Cynical or otherwise when you look at the organisations that have failed over recent years in many instances arguably the banks have been at fault but it is also interesting to note that many of them were lacking in direction, their customers and prospects weren’t aware of exactly what they offered and this was down to poor communication. As a result they weren’t selling and in turn ceased to exist.

I hope that this new attitude to PR continues and that businesses recognise the value of the services that practitioners and agencies offer.  The truth of the matter is that PR should be at the heart of any business model and in order to get it right you need to rely on a professional.

 

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.