Tag: pr agency

Supporting local initiatives because ‘Wakefield Works’

As a Yorkshire PR agency and Wakefield based business, we were asked recently to attend a meeting with like-minded  companies in the area, who would support a local initiative to provide unemployed people in the district with advice and guidance, in the hope that they may secure temporary or permanent roles as a result.

The initiative, Wakefield Works, was the brain child of local entrepreneurs Andy Turner from First Choice Recruitment and Marcello Moccia from Room:97 hairdressers. The concept is relatively simple – each business who agrees to get involved will open their doors on Thursday 4 October and will commit to meeting with local unemployed people who choose to visit their business.

Giving around 15 – 20 minutes to each candidate, businesses are asked to provide advice and guidance to each person, while also answering any questions that they have. In addition the company will provide one person from those who visit the organisation with a week’s work placement.

What a great idea! So simple, yet potentially very effective.

Needless to say here at Open Communications we are getting behind this project 100% and hope to meet with some very interesting and inspiring people as a result. I think it’s important to highlight that the people who are looking for work in the region can be any age and any level of experience and that is what makes this approach all the more interesting.

If as a result of this activity just one person finds temporary or full time work then it has been a success – ideally more will follow and we will find that as a result of this activity the companies who choose to get involved will also help to reduce local unemployment levels.

So come on – here’s a shout out to all those businesses within the Wakefield district who aren’t involved in this great initiative yet. Get in touch with Andy Turner at andy@first-choice.co.uk and find out more about how you can help to make our area a better place. You never know, you could just find the new recruit of your dreams. Stranger things have happened!

 

 

Can you weather proof your marketing?

You can’t really say that we’ve had a summer time yet, despite it being mid-July, in fact it feels more like some balmy extended winter. The only glimpse of sun we have had in the UK has been a random day here and there or if we really push it maybe a week.

The problem isn’t just flooding to houses and roads, burst river banks and floating cars, it goes far beyond that.  We work with a range of clients who rely on us to put together PR strategies and plans which meet with their briefs and deliver results, while achieving objectives. Not always as simple as it sounds.

As a PR and marketing communications agency, we do not profess to be all things to all people but we are a creative team and we come up with a range of ideas that the client can then choose from. Sometimes these ideas go beyond PR and include sampling, experiential and even, on occasion, suggestions for advertising campaigns or retailer engagement.

Working in this way allows us to put recommendations forward that we feel will work for the client and better still deliver a return on investment. We know that one theme can create an integrated approach, which can then be used in a number of different ways to achieve results. We also know that the ideas we propose have longevity, which can build over time, and ultimately create retention of key messages throughout the campaign period.

It would be unfair of us to suggest that we always come up with the ideas, as we work with a range of agencies and benefit from their insight and experience.  In order to make this approach work as well as it can, we hold agency days where all agencies come together and share their thoughts in order to agree the best ideas and creative routes, which are able to translate across disciplines.

So what has all this got to do with the weather?

This ‘summer’ has proven that an integrated approach to marketing and PR is absolutely essential. We have heard about the number of events that have been cancelled or rescheduled, which has impacted on sampling opportunities, sponsorship and outdoor activities.

There is nothing you can do about the rain, so in order to weather proof your marketing, by having a multi discipline approach, when one recommendation cannot be implemented as expected another can come into play, meaning a brand can have a contingency in place that will still deliver a return and build on the campaign theme.

As an example, if an activity cannot go ahead, PR activity can continue with features and press releases distributed to the media, sampling activity can take place in doors and advertising on cinema screens can reach an audience that are trying their best to get away from the wet weather.

I’m sure we are all praying for some more sunshine – and I don’t want to be the one to dismiss the fact that we may just get a summer – but on the basis that we do get more wet weather, we would advise that brands consider how they can work smarter to ensure they have a contingency in place.

The first step is to choose an agency that doesn’t simply look at quirky ideas that hit the headlines one minute and are lost the next or those who feel that winning an industry award makes for best practice – but an agency that delivers consistent results with the brand and business objectives in mind, while taking into account their disciplines and those of others.

Ready at the starting blocks – but not for sport

We were asked recently to deliver a presentation during an event in Castleford run by Wakefield Enterprise Partnership. The purpose of the event was to provide advice and guidance to people who were considering starting up a business. As a result we were asked, as a Wakefield based PR agency, to discuss communications and how you could go about setting the foundations before you reach the starting blocks and launch a company to the market.

We really enjoy events like this, not least because you get to meet so many new people with a real passion for the products or services that they have to offer. What was most striking from the event was the variety of businesses that people were hoping to start from web based companies right through to a consultant offering health and well-being in the workplace.

It was encouraging to see that the room was full of people with ambition and a genuine desire to do well. Some of them had been made redundant, whereas others just felt it was the right time to take the plunge.

Events like this always take me back to when we launched Open Communications in September 2008. It feels like a lifetime ago now but we had a clear plan and a definite determination to make it work. We were entering an unknown territory having never owned or run a business before and I think this is what people forget when they consider starting a company.

We were both professional PR consultants with experience and a portfolio of excellent results – what we didn’t have was any idea about a P11d, corporation tax, VAT bills or employer and employee PAYE payments. It’s a real minefield.

Thankfully we were surrounded by people who were only too willing to help and this support was gratefully received. For those out there considering starting a business I would think hard about putting the foundations into place first before offering a product or service to the market.

It sounds like common sense to plan before you launch but the simplest things are those that people overlook, such as getting your messaging right, knowing your market and communicating with your customers and not your competitors.

I hope that those who attended the presentation got the advice that they were looking for and that our talk was of genuine benefit to them. We certainly received some very positive responses.  I will be looking out for some of those people over the coming months and expecting to see them in the pages of their local papers as a result of launching the businesses that they were so passionate about.

One thing is for sure, I’m a great believer in people buying people and those who attended that session were doing so to make sure they had everything in place – if you put the effort in, you will get the reward. All that remains for us to say is good luck to them all.

Has ‘STOP PRESS’ taken on a totally new meaning?

Having worked in the PR industry for more than a decade I have been some significant changes, not least the move to more online mediums and methods of communication. There was once a time when you would draft, approve and print a press release before spending hours at a fax machine – not any more.

Digital technology and new ways of working mean you can have a press release drafted and out of the door in a matter of hours. It isn’t just ways of working that have changed however with more newspapers featuring online content that can be viewed and then shared with millions of people around the globe at the touch of a button.

Despite how easy it is to go online I can’t help but feel a little sad that we are losing the tangible benefit to having a paper and more importantly, in my opinion, the experience that print media delivers; getting a cup of coffee, opening a paper, looking at the supplements, smelling the print, turning the pages, cutting pieces out for reference. It all adds to the whole experience of buying and reading the news.

There will be many people in the PR and marketing industry who will be shouting that I’m in the dark ages and to get with the times, after all you can bookmark or share articles in the same way you could cut out clippings and its simple and easy to turn on an iPad or even access the media through a smart phone while having a coffee but that’s not my point.

We still find that when given the choice a client would rather see a full page printed piece in a regional or national newspaper, rather than a URL to a piece online. This may well change over time as people become more receptive to online news, who knows?

One piece which caught my eye recently featured in The Drum, a trade publication for the marketing industry. The headline read ‘The Guardian moves to deny ‘absurd’ rumours that it will go online only next year.’ Despite moves by the paper to contradict this suggestion, it would seem to me there is no smoke without fire and that perhaps their plan was to implement their five year strategy sooner.

It’s a shame that the print industry is in decline. Not only because of the process that I feel is so heart-warming when you buy a newspaper but also because there is a whole industry reliant on that income – beyond the sale of the papers themselves.

If we consider printers who have spent years in the same role, machinists who are professionals and passionate about their work, maintenance technicians who know the presses inside and out, designers who set the copy and imagery and then let’s not forget the paper boys / girls it paints a very gloomy picture to consider that all of these people will be without work.

I don’t personally want to see printed papers become a memory of times gone by and I hope that others feel the same way. The problem is that being a time poor society, trying to make ends meet during difficult economic conditions, for many of us the choice is made – free online publications at your fingertips in seconds, or a paid for printed version, which requires you to go to the shops or take out a subscription.

Long live print is what I say! However I get the impression that ‘stop press’ is going to take on a very new meaning over the next few years.

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.

GIVE HANNAH A HAND

There was lots of clapping and whooping going on this morning at the Open Comms offices – and for once it wasn’t because we had landed coverage for a client or nailed a major campaign. This time it was all about us!

Well, it wasn’t actually, it was all about Hannah, who has been shortlisted for the Employee of the Year Award in the Wakefield District Business Awards.  After just 18 months in her role at Open Communications Hannah has gone from  office administrator to Senior Account Executive.

This is no simple task. In fact it takes hard work, commitment, patience and often a very thick skin. With no prior experience of working within the ‘dark world’ of PR, Hannah has always got on with our clients, suppliers and friends extremely well and that is why we are asking for YOU to get involved in our ‘Give Hannah a Hand’ campaign.

All you have to do is buy a copy of this week’s Wakefield Express or Pontefract and Castleford Express and send the entry slip shown in the Business Awards coverage to the following address:

Employee of the Year, Editorial, Express House, Southgate, Wakefield WF1 1TE.

We know that everyone is busy and that it will take a little effort but we also know that you will support Hannah to get the recognition that she deserves. So come on people – take a five minute break, have a walk to your local newsagents, put your hand in your pocket and pay the 68p that will make our day.

We will of course update with the success of our campaign later in the month and with any luck we will be giving Hannah another hand, only this time it will be a huge cheer!

What a diamond of a week!

So, it’s without doubt that Diamond Jubilee mania has hit Britain – good and proper! With the media; papers, radio, TV and online, being no exception.

News desk phones are ringing off the hook, picture editors don’t know which way to turn and features are flat out with every brand trying any which way they can to steer their products into the headlines – and why not?

There seems to have been a bit of grumpiness or perhaps misguided snobbery around the Jubilee with people groaning about ‘another Jubilee related story’ hitting the headlines. But this is a once in our lifetime event? It will never happen again and just like the Royal Wedding, I think we should make the most of it.

This is something that people are going to talk about for years and years to come and it will be our photographs that we are dusting off and showing to our children, grandchildren and friends to show them how to host a real celebration!

People will keep newspaper clippings and footage of their children who are involved in local activities and commemorative events that take place.

What I’m trying to say is that it’s not all about the PR that brands are able to generate – it’s about the whole spirit of the long weekend. I’m not a particular royalist, although I do believe that the country benefits from having a monarch, I just think we have an excellent excuse to get out there (in the sun!) and celebrate like only the UK know how.

So raise a glass to Her Maj’, crack open the Champers (or Prosecco) and get ready for the party of our lifetime. I know I’m looking forward to it and I will be surrounded by as many Union Jack branded products as I can fit in my special ‘Jubilee’ hamper.

Cheers!

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.