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Just over a week ago, dozens of coach passengers found themselves at the centre of a terror alert after a concerned passenger dialled 999 on their mobile because they had seen smoke coming from a fellow passenger’s bag.
17 police cars and vans, 13 fire engines, four ambulances and the military all descended on the southbound M6 Toll plaza in Staffordshire and after four long hours, the cause of the smoke was confirmed to be from an electronic cigarette.
The chaos left thousands of motorists delayed and the motorway closed for more than six hours before police finally revealed the cause of the alert – an electronic cigarette.
This made me wonder….is any press exposure good press exposure? The whole incident was played out minute by minute on all major news channels and the following day the story dominated the headlines in the national press.
Although the authorities have since faced allegations of ‘gross over-action’, the driver of the Megabus en route from Preston to London has been praised for his professionalism and calm manner. Furthermore, more has been written about electronic cigarettes and how they work over the past week than when they first came onto the market.
The measure of a successful PR campaign is if the right messages are being reiterated about your client by the right people and at the right time. However, no matter how excellent a PR campaign may be, the reality is that there are some incidents like the Megabus story, which can’t be controlled or predicted.
In the event of an incident of this scale, all any PR professional worth their salt can do is to advise his or her client to stay calm, be proactive and available for interview and handle the incident with the care, compassion and control it deserves. In fact, it is during major incidents like this one, where a company is suddenly propelled into the media spotlight, where sound PR support can make all the difference.
Not all PR is good PR. Some stories can bring a company crashing to its knees. What is important to remember though, is that the hallmark of a great company is not whether it is or isn’t ever involved in stories like this one, but how it behaves and reacts if it is.
Kevin Murray, Chairman of the Good Relations Group recently published an article on how stories can make leaders more inspiring. We thought you would enjoy a short extract…
Storytelling in business is going through a renaissance and rightly so. Stories are indispensable to giving leaders in business the ‘emotional edge’ that leads to real competitive advantage. Stories have a powerful ability to hook the imagination and the versatility to fulfil varying needs at different times.
So will any story do? Absolutely not. To be effective, stories in business must have a defined business purpose. The purpose of story-telling in business is to change behaviours and achieve results.
To make sure you harness the power of storytelling, here are ten rules of great story-tellling:
1. Start with the audience in mind. What do you want them to do? Consider the takeout rather than the key message – think carefully about ‘What’s in it for them?’ What would you like them to be saying as a result of hearing your story?
2. Look for stories that drive home your points. Make sure they are active and about doing things.
3. There must be a turning point or resolution and an underlying theme or message that encourages us to change and say ‘yes’.
4. Be authentic – only use stories that bond to your deeply held values which overlap with those of your organisation.
5. Listen for stories everywhere and jot them down for later use.
6. Develop a strong point of view – be certain about what you truly believe and where you can be an exemplar.
7. Think about the story the situation demands – is it a ‘future,’ ‘customer’ or ‘values’ story?
8. Your stories must be short – no more than a minute – vivid, with strong characters and a protagonist to care about.
9. Use stories to make heroes of your people.
10. Never use a story you don’t love.
To receive the full copy of Kevin’s article, or to let us find your stories, get in touch!
Christopher Satterthwaite, Chief Executive of Chime Communications plc on how to build trusted communications…
Before reading this, please do me a favour. Think about the last three memorable purchases you’ve made: (in my case a holiday, an iPhone 4s and a fridge) and then ask yourself in each case – who or what influenced your purchase?
For me it goes like this. Holiday to Ibiza – Martin and Sophie. iPhone – my sons and Terry at Teamspirit (avid reader of MacUser). Fridge – Froogle, close friend of Google.
Now ask yourself, who do you trust? To which I answer based on the evidence above, -myself, my family, close friends, well known editorial sources and organisations I feel I know e.g. Froogle / Google.
The issue of “trusted communication” be it from brands, government or individuals is the central issue facing anyone with a message, nowadays.
Advertising and modern communication thinking were founded in an era when people generally trusted what they were told. They deferred to the teller. “Preparedness to defer” has been replaced in our minds by “preparedness to refer” i.e. confronted by information, a proposition or most of all persuasion, our first instinct is to ‘check-out’ the message with other trusted sources. At Chime, we captioned this change as the transition from “The Age of Deference, to the Age of Reference.”
Target audiences, ‘preparedness to refer’ is changing the communications model and should be changing the way companies invest their marketing communication spend.
Take the Automotive Sector. Our research of what influences consumer selection can be mapped against LBS / Marketing Expenditure trends to demonstrate considerable “credibility gaps.” Advertising is over spent by more than x2. Sales promotion, about right. Brand / PR / Sponsorship (a category including social, media and third party influences), is underspent by x3, likewise interactive. Finally, our research would suggest a large slice should be dedicated to improving the overall customer experience.
If you look at packaged goods, one sees too much expenditure on Awareness: not enough on point of purchase.
In Financial Services spend on intermediaries and public relations is woefully out of kilter with expenditure on Awareness.
These analyses of spend / influence suggest a number of conclusions.
Our view is that, money is being spent in the wrong places. The reason for this is that the ‘Awareness Model’ of communication which underpins most of marcoms thinking and training, has not been reformed to include “Influence”. Awareness alone does not work in the age of reference. ‘Preparedness to refer” rather than “Preparedness to defer” means influence has to be treated with equal importance.
Furthermore, customer experience of brands is not being developed in a trustworthy way. It’s not that we don’t trust anymore. It’s that we trust differently and to be a trusted communicator, you need to consider the following:
Involve target audiences and stakeholders so that people gain personal experience. We generally trust ourselves. Be open and transparent. And, understand that people turn to people they know or people they feel they know, so in your communications factor in the personal networks people rely on. ‘Social Search Engines’ are as powerful as web based search engines and in social web based network engines like ‘Trip Advisor’, you of course have both operating together.
In our minds “trusted communication” is based on building outstanding customer experiences and then building communications plans that involve trusted social, media and web based networks. If this is the case, why does the industry continue to invest in an Awareness led model of communication and whose fault is it?
Our view is that there is a passive conspiracy. No single vested interest is at fault – we’re all contributing. Creative agencies are not at fault because competitive advertising gives the basis on which customers will ‘refer’ to trusted sources be they social, media or web based; however, creative agencies could be less ad centric and appreciate that more money spent on ‘reference’ points through public relations would pay client dividends. Media agencies are not at fault as they pursue ‘media neutral planning’; but if the ad is good enough to prompt response or talking points, can anyone explain to me the point of a frequency tail in media plans? DM & SP Agencies have been demanding a re-appraisal of media spend for as long as I can remember; but their attitude has been too megalomaniac to be believable. Public Relations agencies have a deep understanding of the power of third party endorsement and referral; but they haven’t proposed a serious alternative to the awareness based model of communication that remains in place. Finally, clients have been demanding innovation and new thinking; but too often clients impose budget profiles based on LY and the previous LY which make a new approach mighty difficult. And they insist on departmental management and budgeting that makes a new ‘reference’ model a nightmare: how can public relations, advertising and research be kept so separate in a customer led business?
In conclusion, an understanding that people have a ‘preparedness to refer’ when confronted by communication, changes the marcoms investment map. ‘Influence’ should become an equal partner with ‘awareness’ because influence is communication through trusted third parties, to whom we all “refer” in the Age of Reference. Thank you Martin, Sophie, Terry, Jamie, Henry and Froogle. And of course, me.
The Diamond Jubilee, The Olympic Torch Relay, Euro 2012 and the London Olympics, just a handful of events that seem to have whipped up a frenzy of patriotism in recent weeks. With the bunting and union jacks now a permanent fixture in communities up and down the country, brand Britain hasn’t been so in vogue since the days of ‘Cool Britannia’.
Keen to not miss the boat, some of the UK’s favourite consumer brands have ridden this wave of patriotism with specific marketing campaigns to exploit the swell of Britishness. Hovis, Heinz, Mcvitie’s and Schweppes are just a few brands who have celebrated the national spirit with new flavours, packaging and advertising campaigns.
However, it’s not just in the UK where the British brand is riding high. Consumer research by Deloitte found that the Olympic effect was also benefiting the UK’s tourism industry internationally. 63% of Chinese and 60% of Indian consumers interviewed said they would like to buy UK products, a further three quarters of those surveyed said they wanted to learn more about the UK as a result of the London Olympics.
With the eyes of the world focused on the UK this year, many companies will want to share in the sentiment. Of course aligning your brand with all things British can have significant PR benefits but it also comes with a word of caution. Simply jumping on the bandwagon for the Olympics can feel shallow very quickly, if you make your brand very ‘of the moment’, in six months time it can seem rather superficial if you’ve simply packed away the bunting until the mood takes you again.
Many moons ago I started my career in publishing as a sub-editor on a range of trade titles until eventually reaching the giddy heights of editor.
Working in publishing, it is not uncommon to have quite a tarnished view of PRs. I often felt they were stalking me to check I’d received a press release and they frequently seemed unable to fulfil some fairly basic requests – was it really that difficult to get me a high resolution version of the picture I needed for my 12pm deadline?
Then a strange thing happened. I crossed over to the dark side and got myself a job in PR. Lured away from publishing by the expectations of cocktails after work and days spent on photo shoots with celebrities, I began my new job expecting life to take a far more glamorous turn.
However, those expectations were fairly short-lived and my impression of life as a PR very quickly changed. Far from the fluffy PR bunny image, PR consultants need to have many strings to their bow and frequently juggle the demands of many clients.
Now many years in, I do of course realise that those preconceptions I had as an editor were completely inaccurate. The reason I received so many calls from PRs on a daily basis is because they’re under immense pressure to achieve coverage for their clients. Why didn’t I get the images I so desperately needed? It wasn’t for want of trying; their client was unable to grasp the importance of my deadline and resolution requirements.
PR consultants need to be jack of all trades: able to create compelling, engaging and of course grammatically accurate copy at a moments notice; secure a slot for their client on the BBC Breakfast sofa and deliver sparkling PR campaigns on an often tiny budget.
So, far from mingling with celebrities and enjoying cocktails way into the early hours, PRs can mostly be found shackled to their desks trying to meet a tight deadline or on the phone negotiating a feature opportunity with an editor.
Now, if anyone reading this is aware of any careers where the main pre-requisites for the job are mingling with celebs and drinking Cosmopolitans please let me know – I’ll be brilliant at it.
Google’s ex-CEO Eric Schmidt gave a speech at London’s Science Museum last night where he said he sees the web becoming nothing and everything; how it will drive change in society and how he believes the world will become more democratic as a result.
I personally can’t ‘live’ without the web. It has changed the way that I work and go about all facets of my life. I use it at least a hundred times a day to do just about anything from research, to shopping for food, clothes and cars, to buying a house to booking myself into dressage comps. When I look back at how I had to do research when I was a student, it was a case of spending days in the library, searching through dusty books and looking through microfiche (I actually look back at this through rose-tinted glasses and when I regale such tales to my nephew he looks at me as though I am at least one hundred years old). However, the reality was, it took a ‘while’ to find what you needed. Now, a few keywords later and hundreds of references are at my fingertips, so productivity is so much higher.
The downside of this instant encyclopaedia is the issue of misinformation; after all, anyone can put anything up there. And the other big problem is access. How many people actually have Internet at home or work that they can use – there is without doubt a digital divide in this country let alone the rest of the world. Communities have even resorted to building their own broadband networks due to the lack of investment from operators.
However, one thing that cannot be ignored is that the web really has become significant when it comes to news. Once a story is on the web, it’s out there. No taking it back. But will the web become nothing and everything, well only time will tell.
If there’s anything more likely to cause a skirmish in a PR office than the battle over the last bourbon biscuit, it’s got to be the age old debate of footloose PR babe versus working PR mum.
Can a working mother with all her juggling balls flying through the air, ever be as committed and available as the 20-something year old who has to fit in a few trips to the gym and a Sunday visit to the folks, but aside from that, can give freely of her time?
Eagle eyed readers will note that this debate is confined to the women in the office. For today I’m leaving aside the fact that few daddies in PR ever stumble across this discussion and also stepping over the issue of ‘PR – a female dominated industry?’ and sticking to the basics.
Yes, if you work full-time and have children, then the chances are you will spend your life with lists of lists and a nagging feeling that you may have forgotten something. But that’s true of any profession and I’m betting my last chocolate button that most mums are (whisper it) more effective than most of their childless colleagues, mainly because they have to be. There are only so many hours in the day so you have to make every single one count. Conference calls are an excellent time to catch up with your inbox backlog, meetings can nearly always be done in half the time and decisions are made quickly – the spirit of ‘just do it’ lives in the heart of most working mums.
Kids bring challenges: when they’re sick you balance your laptop on their sleeping bodies as you work from the sofa and your day doesn’t end in the pub with colleagues. But children bring a huge wealth and quality of experience to you and your job and boy, do they give you stamina.
Negotiating a £100K contract is a breeze after you’ve done the pocket money deal, there’s no conflict resolution training like refereeing the battle over the wii remote and if you want to talk multi-tasking, then talk to a working mum in December. Aside from the 24 people coming for Christmas lunch, the client bash that you can’t miss, there’s also the small matter of an angel costume (to be conjured out of thin air after even the 24 hour Asda has sold out), the nativity to attend and let’s not forget, the endless Christmas present buying.
So young things with no kids take note – you may be at your desk until 7pm working hard when we’ve dived out of the door to drive like a manic to make the after-school club curfew, but we know that sometimes you use that staying late time to chat to your friends on Facebook and anyway, if you’re very lucky, it could be you one day.
Embrace mummy power. It’s a quality that works just as brilliantly in the office as in the home. We don’t stress the small stuff and if pushed, we can usually rustle up a pretty good cake although as every working mum will tell you, shop-bought, roughed up around the edges does exactly the same job.
Bill Gates once said: “If I was down to my last dollar, I’d spend it on public relations.”
That may seem a little extreme but the sentiment really is quite savvy.
In these austere times, many businesses are feeling the financial pinch as reports of quantitive easing and double-dips become the norm. Competition is fierce with only the strongest surviving in an extremely turbulent marketplace.
Unfortunately, all too often marketing and PR budgets are among the first to be cut in a knee-jerk attempt to save money and cut costs.
What is ironic, is that it is exactly these areas that, I think, companies should be investing money and effort into to differentiate their brand and give them the competitive advantage needed to survive in what is becoming an increasingly ‘me too’ market.
Managed properly and integrated, a strategic PR campaign can provide a cost-effective tool that can positively affect businesses when skies are grey. Effectively communicating with your target customers and keeping your firm in the public eye; commenting on the issues that matter, can help you stay ahead in a difficult climate.
PR is an investment that can deliver real benefit to the bottom line so whilst I I would certainly advocate Mr Gates’ philosophy, I probably wouldn’t want to bankrupt myself in the process! But then, who am I to disagree with Bill?
Earlier this year, I travelled down to London to see some old friends from my first job in the world of PR. With our gossiping drawing to a close, the subject of work soon hit the agenda. I’d never told some of my former colleagues that I’d made the move back up North and it came as quite a shock when I explained that by ‘North’ I did mean north of Watford. Bemused and slightly appalled, one former colleague added: “I didn’t know they did PR north of Birmingham?” After I picked myself up from the floor, I quickly made a point of correcting him. This wasn’t the first time I’d encountered these issues, I was once asked whether Northern PR’s wrote their press releases differently. I don’t recall ever starting a press release with an “eee by gum”!
Now I know London is the home of the national press, the seat of political power and a cultural hub, but there is life outside of the M25. Over the last few years, the North West has seen an explosion in the media, creative and digital industries with the fantastic MediaCity playing host to some of the UK’s leading and pioneering media professionals. The BBC’s relocation up North is a great example of this. The move was greeted with much dismay in the capital but it presented the North West with an opportunity to cement its place as the ‘new London’, the second home of the UK media.
In the PR industry in particular, there was once a myth that only London agencies could successfully mount a national PR campaign, but there are a plethora of Northern agencies that can quite easily blow that myth out of the water including us at Bell Pottinger North. Today, geography needn’t be a barrier to PR perfection; believe it or not, we speak to national journalists every day, giving them national stories from a regional base.
Don’t just take my word for it; take a look at some of our work here http://www.bellpottingernorth.co.uk/case-studies/consumer/co-operative-energy/