Tag: pr agency

An innocent drink with a banker adds value to PR

On occasion there will be a conference or networking session which catches my eye and yesterday I found myself surrounded by bankers (insert your own pun here!) at an event in Bradford.

The Ignite Business Growth seminar was hosted by Barclays and was pitched as an opportunity to hear key note speaker, Adam Balon, one of the founding entrepreneurs behind Innocent Drinks, speak about his business journey and the challenges faced by the brand.

I never like to pass up the opportunity to hear it from those who have ‘been there and done that’ and so went along. Getting the negative out of the way early on in this blog, I was extremely disappointed to find that although Adam was in fact a key note speaker we were watching him through a screen.

It became quickly apparent that the seminar was a collective of smaller events around the country all tuned in to the same station, so to speak. I would have found this quite impressive, particularly as the use of social media and twitter (using a dedicated hashtag #BarcT2M) at the event was a great example of how to use these tools for effective networking, but the fact that this was almost hidden from delegates was not my idea of best practice.

Anyway, on with the show. We were first introduced to Luke Hodson, the brains behind promotional merchandise company Awesome Merchandise. Luke explained how he had taken an idea, which started in the bedroom of a student house he shared with 10 others, to become a successful enterprise turning over more than £2 million a year.

Explaining how he had turned to simple marketing techniques, such as sending out his own products as free samples, to encourage engagement with prospects and build the business was refreshing. It may not set the world alight but ideas like this work.

Luke even mentioned a really simple, yet effective, campaign he had launched using a mug, which had an image of an arrow on it saying ‘I’m awesome’. He sent the mugs out and asked that people have their picture taken with them and send it back. The response was overwhelming with people taking the trouble to have their ‘mug shot’ taken in a whole host of weird and wonderful places, including America.

It was really pleasing to see a local business doing good and to listen to someone who clearly has their head screwed on and the drive, passion and dedication that is needed to make it work.

Next it was over to Barclays to do a not so hard sell before Adam took to the stage.

I don’t know what I was expecting but I have to admit that Adam was a real inspiration. The way he told the story of Innocent Drinks was funny, charming and surprisingly down to earth.  What was most interesting about Adam’s talk was the way that he used experiences alongside tips to make it relevant to the audience.

In some of these events you can find yourself wondering why you are wasting your time listening to some multi-millionaire witter on about how they finally got to the top and that they can confirm that money really can buy you happiness – well, nice work but that isn’t really helpful.

Adam was different. He mentioned that in order to develop a sustainable and successful business you had to have values, vision and purpose. He also mentioned the importance of having a clear tone of voice for the brand, which is used across all communications.

This was music to my ears. We constantly explain to clients and prospects that you need to have an established tone of voice in order to give a brand personality and to provide consistent communications across all platforms.  It makes sense when you think about it but many businesses carry on regardless, leaving customers and prospects wondering why in one sense the company is personable and friendly and in another professional and aggressive.

It was apparent from Adam’s talk that the team from Innocent had done a fantastic job on their PR. They had used the media to secure a listing with Harvey Nichols and from then on went from strength to strength. TV, radio and print media were eager to cover the story of the three boys from London who had launched a fruit juice business from a back bedroom and they made the most of it.

Adam was eager to point out the value of PR and of course I couldn’t agree more. I had no idea that PR would be such a strong topic during this session but I really do hope that people in the room were paying attention and recognising just how important clear, strategic and managed communications and messaging are to a business and its long term success.

The session wasn’t just about the successes of Innocent, although mention was made to the fact that in just three years it went stratospheric making the three owners multi-millionaires and allowing them to employ a full team to support their enterprise, there was also talk of the things that went wrong including dressing as Nuns and trying to ‘pull’ at London fashion week – but I’ll leave those little nuggets under wraps just in case you have a chance to see the Innocent team speak in the future!

Overall the session was inspiring, engaging and useful and certainly made me step back and think about Open Communications and what we do well and perhaps not so well. I strongly believe that you need that reality check sometimes and am sure that other businesses in the room felt the same.

So, well done Barclays, I still think you should have been more honest about the way the session was being run but overall a really good event, which was well worth attending.

Open Comms makes a move and secures two new clients

“Open Communications, the PR and marketing communications agency based at Nostell Priory Estate Yard near Wakefield, is celebrating four years in business with two new account wins and a move to larger premises.”

How exciting, we are finally in a position to announce our office move (it was three months in the planning!). After achieving four years of growth we have moved to purpose built offices at Nostell Priory Estate Yard. It’s exciting times and not least because we now have our very own meeting room and a store cupboard for all of the products we manage for our clients – Hannah still looks gleeful everytime she comes in and doesn’t have to move a pile of boxes to get to her desk.

In addition to the office move we can also confirm that we have been appointment as preferred PR supplier to Al-Murad Tiles, the largest independent tiles re-seller in the UK and Abduls takeaway and diner with sites in Pontefract and Wakefield.

We will be managing the PR and promotions for both businesses and will work with the teams to generate campaigns that run throughout the year increasing footfall and improving brand awareness.

It has been an interesting and eventful four years to say the least. We set out to create a straight talking PR agency that would care less about air kissing and more about achieving results and that’s exactly what we have done. As a result, we now have new premises and a list of clients that we are incredibly proud of.

As well as securing retained clients, over the years we have also developed a range of services including Open for New Business, an offering which makes PR accessible to smaller businesses and Open 27/7, crisis management for companies who require support during their most challenging times.

Since we launched in 2008 Open Communications has developed as an agency and we now work with some of the UK’s leading businesses including snack manufacturer, Intersnack and confectionery brand HARIBO. We have also been proud to work with smaller businesses who we continue to support as they develop and grow.

All in all we are a very proud and passionate team and would like to take this opportunity to thank our clients, our suppliers, colleagues and those we network with. Here’s to four years and many more to come!

Tears from laughing or a crying shame?

I made the mistake of watching Work Experience, the new reality sitcom, on E4 last night. I was really looking forward to the programme after noticing the adverts and was eager to see what it was all about – expecting, wrongly, that it would be a laugh a minute and something to discuss with friends over a few drinks at the weekend.

I usually enjoy these types of programmes – you know the ones – where people are ‘set up’ Jeremy Beadle sty-lee, in a situation which could be real yet isn’t, and there are hilarious consequences as a result. The first problem with this programme was that it wasn’t funny.

The scene was set at a fashion PR agency in London. The agency named, Grade PR, has the usual stereotypical boss; bitch in high heels, hoping to fall pregnant and being generally rude and abusive to everyone she meets, particularly her PA. Her side kick, who she had naturally slept with, was equally condescending, while also being a complete sleaze.

This cast, which includes a few others who are ridiculously over the top and not worth a more descriptive mention, are supposed to be providing two genuine placement students with work experience – and this is where I get really angry. The students are made to run around like idiots, tanning people, casting models and being shouted at – dealing with the tantrums and traumas of a ‘professional PR agency’ in a bid to win the real prize, which is… you’ve guessed it, an intern at a real agency.

What annoys me most about this programme is that it is a huge insult to the PR industry and I’m appalled that in both cases the placement students clearly expected some level of deva-esque behaviour. There were moments where I was so outraged I was literally shouting at the TV.

As a PR professional I find it insulting that a programme like this should be considered comedy and not because I can’t laugh at the industry I work in, after all I’ve come across my fair share of air kissing, Prada wearing luvvies in my time, but because we feel it’s appropriate to allow this perception to continue and to be fuelled. In my opinion it’s gone beyond comedy and is now a genuine expectation.

Many PR professionals will agree that to do the job you need to be qualified, experienced and able not only to write copy and secure coverage but to manage the most precious asset a business owns – its reputation. So why then do we all sit back and allow these stereotypes to continue, which only seek to ruin the one thing we maintain to know how to manage, the reputation of our industry.

I dread to think what will happen in next week’s episode but I think I’ve had my fill. I will continue to hold my own opinions about the industry and will promote PR as the professional specialism it is, after all if I’m not prepared to try to change these perceptions all I am really agreeing to do is to conform to them, and that simply is not going to happen.

As for placement students, please, please don’t think that even during difficult times you should be treated like this, irrelevant of the industry you are working in – it’s not funny and it’s not right.

 

Wakefield really does work!

I recently posted a blog about Open Communications agreeing to get involved with a local initiative, Wakefield Works. The concept was thought up by Andy Turner from First Choice Recruitment and Marcello Moccia from Room: 97, in partnership with the Wakefield Express.

Rather than sitting around and complaining about the lack of jobs for young people within the Wakefield District, these two entrepreneurs encouraged more than 35 local companies to agree to open their doors to prospective employees for a day. The only real commitment from the businesses who chose to get involved was to give some time and also a minimum of two weeks work experience to any relevant candidate that was interviewed.

As an example of businesses being pro-active and supporting the potential of the district I think this was a shining example of working together and making a difference.

In contrast, I attended the First Friday event last week and was disappointed to hear some people focusing on the negative and referencing the number of candidates who registered yet didn’t take the time to get turn up for the respective appointments.

I don’t think that when providing feedback about an event that this should have been the focus. I think it would have made more sense to give those who arranged the initiative the credit that they deserve for taking their time to do so and then for those involved to provide examples of how well the activity had worked.

We had two candidates turn up to Open Comms on the day and I am pleased to announce that we have agreed to provide a two week work placement for one of them. The candidate that we chose has relevant experience and has the chance to prove themselves to be a real asset to our team.

This is the kind of feedback that we should be focusing on, not the negative. Perhaps by showing how many work placements were agreed as a result of this activity those who didn’t bother to turn up to their appointments will recognise the mistake that they have made and the opportunity that they missed out on.

I would personally like to say a huge thank you to Andy, Marcello, the Wakefield Express and Wakefield Job Centre Plus for their support in making this initiative a success. Without their time and effort it would never have happened and we would be another city just sitting around waiting for someone else to turn the employment statistics around.

I’m hoping that businesses who did get involved in Wakefield Works will agree that it was worth the time and effort and that it should become a regular event in the Wakefield business calendar. Let’s get Wakefield working, focus on the positives and benefit from what we can achieve as a collective.

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.

The glamour of PR

PR is all about Prada, free champagne, air kissing and high profile events…

And if you believe that you’ll believe anything, it’s all just one big pretence

 

The reality is quite different you see, like spinning plates the whole day through

You have to keep them all in the air, if they drop the blames on you

 

It takes hard work, commitment, dedication and thought no less

You have to use your brain to bring the creative thoughts to life from inside your head

 

There are early starts and no lunch breaks – as for an early finish, forget that

But the excitement of getting the headlines you want keeps us smiling and our clients coming back

 

No two days are ever the same in a world that is driven by news

With traditional media, in print and broadcast plus bloggers and their many views

 

There’s events to plan and sponsorship to secure

Copy to draft and website to procure

 

Design to outsource and print to negotiate

All in a day’s work as part of the going rate

 

We have great fun, some laughs and giggles but glamour it just can’t be

When you’re dressed as a giant bear on your weekend off as part of your allocated fee

 

But when all is said and done and the office door is firmly closed

We know we are already looking forward to what adventures and campaigns will unfold.

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.

 

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.

Because the client says so

People think that working with so many clients in such a diverse range of sectors would be difficult but it isn’t as long as you understand their business, communications strategy and wider brand plan. It’s important to get to know their business inside and out in order to put together recommendations that will deliver on objectives.

In my opinion too many PR agencies get caught up in trying to pull the next big stunt without looking at the bigger picture. How will that campaign have any longevity and what will happen once you have secured the column inches. How could it work as a theme that could be delivered in phases so that you get more than one opportunity to speak to the media and greater retention of message?

At Open Communications we work with our clients to create campaigns that grab attention, while also meeting with expectations and delivering on objectives. Anyone can make unrealistic suggestions or over promise on ideas that simply won’t deliver but we choose not to be like that.

One principle that we have employed from day one is to be honest and open. We don’t do something because the clients says so and we are more than willing to challenge an idea if we think it is to the benefit of the client and their brand and business.

As a small agency our reputation is literally our business and we are not prepared to go along with something for the sake of banking some cash. We are however more than prepared to work with our clients to come up with ideas that can improve their brand awareness, engage with their consumers and impact on their bottom line.

I think this is why I enjoy working at Open, not least because I was part of the partnership that set the company up and am therefore completely biased, but more so because we work WITH our clients and not for them. This approach, as simple as it sounds, has led to us sharing long term relationships with the brands we work with and becoming an extension of their teams.

When launching the business we decided that if someone was going to employ us as the experts we are then they deserve the benefit of our experience, recommendations and knowledge. There is no point in nodding politely and then when it comes to reviewing an activity having the embarrassment of saying that you knew it wouldn’t work in the first place but just couldn’t say anything.

I wrote a blog recently about being from Yorkshire and calling a spade a shovel and once again I think this lesson has served me well. If you are honest with people and you work with them to come up with ideas and plans that work you can all share in the results. Otherwise you are just another agency, nodding politely at another client, who will be looking to replace you once your latest stunt is complete.

Business down but PR win for Britvic

Today’s headlines report a profit fall in Q3 for soft drinks manufacturer Britvic leading to a loss of approximately £15 – £23m. Now before we all take a sharp intake of breath, the business reports that this is as a result of the poor weather and more significantly the product recall of the brands Fruit Shoot and Fruit Shoot Hydro bottles, using a new sports cap.

Whereas most people will be looking at this story and wondering how the brand will recoup the losses, I read it very differently. Within the story, which I read first on The Business Desk, the journalist chooses to use the words ‘well-publicised product recall’.

As a communications agency that commends great work and is not too proud to take our hats off to those who do it well – I would personally like to say congratulations to the team responsible for managing the communication for the recall.

Before you think I’ve finally lost my marbles let me explain.

Ok, so it wasn’t the best story that Britvic will ever have to deal with, no one wants to come into work and have to fend off questions about safety issues, particularly not for food and drink products and let’s be honest it shouldn’t have happened in the first place – but it did, so as a press team you have to get on with it.

Overall I think the situation was well managed, handled appropriately and did the job. Everyone was aware of the product fault and why the brand was recalling the items. The statement was clear and the call to action made sense – you weren’t left wondering if the bottles had been tampered with or if little Jonny’s pack up was more of a danger than a snack at lunchtime.

It can be a difficult call when you have to make decisions like this, but Britvic seem to have made their mind up quickly and as a result they deserve the respect of their consumers. The money that went into advertising the recall, as well as relying on the support of a PR team, won’t have come cheap, so when you add that to the loss of a potential £23m it is enough to make your eyes water but before you go dashing for the hankies turn the situation on its head.

A well-managed crisis situation can do a brand the world of good and not only does it get consumers taking about you, it also puts you in the spot light when it matters most. Today’s press are full of interviews, comments and quotes from Britvic, reiterating their concern and commitment to the consumers. They play down the recall as something that happens to all brands, yet do not dismiss the seriousness of the situation.

This is exactly why it is imperative for brands to have a committed and experienced PR team to deal with crisis situations. It isn’t a game when you get a call to recall a product it is make or break and I am pleased to see some businesses getting it right.

So, once again, well done Britvic. It’s hit you hard this quarter but it won’t stop me from purchasing your products and I’m sure others will feel the same