Tag: reputation

I’m not down with the kids but…

 

…I do know the importance of keeping it real! I’ve been in a number of meetings lately and it always surprises me when people commend the fact that what you see is what you get with Open Communications.

We’ve been going for nearly five years now (phew – where did that time go?) and we’ve always done the same. The business has evolved but our values have remained the same – if you want a PR agency that can do the job and do it well then our number is on the contact page, if however you want air kissing and champagne then we’re not for you.

It’s not that we aren’t friendly, far from it. I’d like to think that many of our clients have become friends over the years and that this has meant that we have genuinely long standing relationships, which mean we work as an extension of their teams – as if we were internal. This in turn makes it easier to provide honest advice that will help them to develop creative campaigns that meet with their objectives.

We’ve never been a PR agency that goes along with something we don’t believe in, we don’t say ‘yes’ to a contract because it’s there, we feel that being passionate about what we work on is really important and is another reason we are able to do a good job. Our accountant may not agree but there have been times when we have turned work down because although the contract would have been lucrative it didn’t fit with our values or we simply couldn’t see the campaign meeting with the clients expectations.

There has been a lot of news lately about the reputation that the PR industry has and I’ve always been very honest in that I feel many agencies offer the world and deliver very little. The unfortunate situation here is that brands have a bad experience with one agency and then never commission an agency again – and that’s not just the agency who handled the account badly in the first place, it’s any agency!

So for all those who want to work with an agency that DOES delivery and WILL work hard to achieve the results that have been promised, we are here and the kettle is on.

In all seriousness it shouldn’t be surprising to find a PR agency that is open, honest and willing to offer advice and guidance that makes sense. Until our industry realises that then ‘we’ will go on having a reputation that in some cases is very much undeserved.

 

The true strength of a brand

It can be difficult to sound anything but flowery when you are trying to explain to companies how important it is to build a brand, inject personality into a business and become recognised for your values.

Getting the packaging right, making sure the design stands out on shelf, ensuring the copy is drafted using the right tone of voice and building brand presence with message retention through a consistent and sustainable PR strategy are all the ‘things’ that take a something and make it a household name.

I saw a great example of how brands have got it right this week when I came across an article in Brand Republic announcing that Selfridges have created a ‘no noise’ campaign, which intends to discourage ‘information overload’.
The idea is that brands are displayed without logos or branding. The more interesting thing about this campaign is that consumers are still aware of what the products are meaning in simple terms that they are doing something very right.

It’s fair to say that not all brands can do this and of course it will work best for FMCG goods but it is an interesting concept all the same. When you get to the point where you can take away your brand and people still know who you are and what you have to offer you know that all of your marketing efforts and budgets are paying off.

Needless to say I wouldn’t recommend this become a permanent move but it’s an interesting test all the same. It would be a great ‘geeky’ game for those who work in marketing – can you guess what each item is without the brand?

Who wants to play?

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.

 

When naming becomes shaming

When we first launched Open Communications back in 2008 one of the most difficult decisions was what to call the agency. We wanted to choose something that would represent the business – give us an identity that we could build upon and go some way to explaining what sector we work in.

One thing that we never even considered was naming the agency after ourselves. I always find it quite strange when companies use their own names for their business, not least because I think it’s dangerous.

If you have a business that is performing well and has a fantastic reputation then there shouldn’t be a problem but what about those who perhaps for no fault of their own find that they are faced with more challenging scenarios. As an example, an employee hits the headlines for breaking the law and as a result the owner of that business is also referenced because their name is also the company.

There have been examples in the media recently where the Directors of businesses have been arrested and questioned by the police over serious allegations and although this is personal and nothing to do with the company they own because the organisation is named after an individual the reputation is tarnished by association.

The tendency for legal practices and estate agents seems to be to use surnames, which is less risky but still lacks any creative flair. In my opinion a business name gives personality to a brand and entrepreneurs need to make the most of the opportunity to share that with their prospects and clients.

A company that I came across recently was a great example of a simple name that told a story, ‘Awesome Merchandise’ – a merchandise company that claims to offer an awesome experience for customers.  The name is straight to the point and you know what they do without having to ask. It also shows that the team are confident with what they offer.

So, for anyone reading this blog who is considering starting a business, please think carefully about how you name your company. It may seem like a trivial part of the process but it is incredibly important and will form the basis to your biggest asset – your reputation.

Does celebrity endorsement really add value to a brand?

Having worked in PR for more years than I care to remember, I have had the chance to work with a number of celebrities who have supported clients with the launch of new products and services – I think my claim to fame has to be having the mobile number for Mr Motivator at one point!

Now there is no doubt that with celebrities come press coverage but when does the battle to land column inches or secure air time discredit a brand rather than adding value?

It was when watching the TV last week that I noticed Myleene Klass is now working for Littlewoods… erm, I thought she was one of the many celebrity faces of M&S? It is examples like this that make me question the value of celebrity associations.

In contrast, you could argue that Gary Lineker is synonymous with Walkers and that the brand gets great value from the long running relationship but perhaps that’s the key; when choosing a celebrity you have to know that they are going to be a genuine brand ambassador and not just show up, smile and leave never to mention your product again.

As far as I am concerned you have to choose very wisely when you are considering which celebrities to work with. You don’t have to look far to find some horror stories about sponsorships and endorsements that have led to brands pulling the plug and quickly disassociating themselves because one celebrity or another has been caught doing or saying something they shouldn’t.

Then there are the celebrities who will go to the opening of an envelope. They mean well and support several brands with the launch of anything from baby products to trainers, food supplements to charities. I can never really see the point in using someone who has no affinity with the brand that you are trying to promote, so this is something that I think needs a great deal of thought. It isn’t good enough to simply look for the latest King / Queen of the Jungle (groan!) or someone who will sit within the limited budgets that you have.

Perhaps times have changed but I think the value of a celebrity needs to be considered longer term. What will the benefit be to the brand once the photocall is over and how will that association build over time?

The strongest associations are those which develop organically but you cannot always rely on the fact that a celebrity will tweet about a product because they genuinely love it. Unfortunately when well-known faces are being paid to tweet about products it becomes all the more difficult to identify what is real and what is forced.

So, to conclude, for all those brands who are considering celebrity endorsement, I would advise that you think beyond the photocall or the product launch and think more about how longer term you will get continued value from the association. The most important question is to decide if you want a genuine brand ambassador or just ‘hired help’ for the half day you’ve budgeted into your campaign.

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.

 

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.

 

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.

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.