As we PRs re-emerge from precarious piles of magazines that have risen like a barricade around our laptops (now consigned to the recycling bin with the most recent issue kept for future reference!) and start a fresh notebook with a hopeful, ambitious to-do list that triple underlines getting that CPD programme in the bag before the end of February, it must be almost time to leave 2019 behind.
A natural time to pause, reflect and evaluate the year gone by, the waning of another year sees us making plans to build on our achievements to date. Personally, when I stop and think about Hoot & Holler's achievements this year, there are many and I feel tremendously thankful to my wonderful clients for challenging me and appreciating what I do. But for me, it always comes back to that age-old PR conundrum of evaluation - how do we best evaluate our PR campaigns? Is it based on the reach of each press release? The delivery of key messages? Customer opinion? Or whether we have directly contributed to an increase in the bottom-line? Should we be patting ourselves on the back for the 24 press releases issued? The fact that our client was featured in 10 publications every month? The 12 reviews and competitions run in partnership with influencers, which have resulted in a significant increase in social media followers? Or the 45 blog posts we've written this year for the company's social media feeds? The fact that we've delivered a strategic PR programme that achieved the aims we set out at the beginning is always a good start of course!
But it's more than that.
Not a fan of marketing jargon, I do, however, use the term 'halo effect' when talking about the role and the value of PR in business because I think it describes the depth of a good PR campaign and what it can bring to a business or a brand in terms of its reputation and perception with stakeholders. When you decide to engage in PR and stimulate relationships with the media, offering up story ideas, you're losing complete control (unlike a paid-for advert) but almost always, you're gaining valuable influence via third party endorsement in some form. It's about shining a light on your business or brand and deepening your audience's understanding and awareness of it, piquing their interest, building trust and finally gaining advocates. Finally, do your employees feel good about the company they work for, do your customers feel good and are they telling their friends about you - this is the 'halo effect' of great PR.
All of those press releases, story ideas, blogs, reviews, competitions are of course the building the blocks of getting to this end point, which takes some time and consistency. As we all know, building relationships with longevity doesn't happen overnight. But equally, PR is also beautifully agile and adaptable and can quickly respond to the whims of the market by focusing on a specific message or a niche audience.
So, with all that in mind, here are some additional questions we might ask ourselves as we head into the New Year. Have we widened and deepened our media contacts? Told new stories so that customers can see our clients in a new light? Trialled new media channels and brought valuable new ideas to the table? Got under the skin of a brand or organisation? Offered an agile, creative consultancy to inspire our clients or help them out of a tricky situation? Perhaps most importantly, have we acted with integrity and honesty? If you can answer yes to all of this then I think we should all be clinking a glass of something fizzy with nearest and dearest, looking forward to 2020 with anticipation and always with fresh eyes!
Cheers to a Happy and Prosperous New Year!
“We’re all influencers now” is the title of a webinar that I joined today, featuring Sarah Waddington, Stephen Waddington and Andrew Terry, three of the authors of the “#FuturePRoof guide to influencer marketing governance for public relations”. It’s an invaluable guide and point of reference for PR practitioners giving the ‘nuts and bolts’ of working with influencers.
Still a nascent area developing its rules of engagement, whether you’re a PR, a marketer or social media specialist, you can’t afford not to be in the know. Particularly, as the guide points out, when a global brand like Estee Lauder is spending 75% of its marketing budget on ‘digital social media influencers’.
As an industry, PR practitioners have been somewhat slow on the uptake. Working with influencers is akin to working with print journalists, building relationships and trust, so it should come naturally. It’s just that there’s certainly some confusion when it comes to working with influencers in terms of whether it’s advertising or PR or to put it another way paid-for or earned media. For example, invite a journalist from a glossy magazine to visit your business and experience your offer and the resulting article is definitely editorial, even if it includes a giveaway. However, if you’re doing the same thing with an influencer and anything is given free of charge, the resulting social media post is deemed to be an ad by the regulatory authorities namely the ASA (Advertising Standards Authority) and the CMA (Competition and Markets Authority).
When reputation is at stake, it doesn’t take much to tip the scales. So, being aware of regulatory requirements will protect your brand in the long-run. As the guide points out, the ASA are the ones to keep an eye on, as they regular publish guidelines on influencer requirements. From a PR perspective, the main thing to take note of is that if you’ve gifted a ticket to an event or a prize for a giveaway, then the influencer is obliged to mark the post #ad or #advert, even though it needn’t be marked as an advertisement in a magazine.
From my own experience with clients, the traditional media relations form of PR is becoming less critical, which means you risk being consigned to the irrelevant pile! Clients have their own social media platforms and customer communications media now, so they’re not so reliant on media communications. Nowadays, the fragmentation of the media through online means we must include influencers alongside print and broadcast and we must play by the rules and not be put off by the #ad.
If anything, PR has a more long-term and critical role to play in the arena of influencer marketing. The #Futureproof guide has a great diagram showing the correlation between control and trust for PR via earned media with influencers versus advertising via paid-for media. It comes as no surprise that PR initiated work with influencers will have greater credibility but little or no control. Conversely, paid-for ads raise the control stakes but are more cynically received by the audience.
What’s more, we can build relationships with influencers that do so much more than simply providing content opportunities. We can partner with influencers to deliver concrete business benefits through these long-term relationships e.g. we might use our trusted influencer to improve customer service or even shape our future business. I for one am excited about the potential of influencer marketing and my clients are already reaping the rewards of influencer relations.
So, to answer my original question: is it PR or advertising? Well the answer is both, however – and I may be a tad biased - I believe that the PR approach has greater depth and longevity for brands and influencers alike.
A recent survey by Moneysupermarket.com found that 22% of families weren’t planning a holiday this year with the majority of these citing cost as the major obstacle. Out of more than 2,000 UK adults with children aged between 5 and 16, who were planning a holiday, more than a third, 39%, were opting for a staycation. Furthermore, 45% said it was too expensive to holiday abroad and 20% stating that aeroplane travel with children was too difficult.
For anyone opting to staycation in Kent this year, with the Garden of England’s rural charms and coastal cool, you’re pretty spoilt for choice when it comes to great value days out to keep the family entertained.
At Hoot and Holler PR, we’re lucky enough to work with some great clients and one of our most recent additions to the fold is Kent Life Heritage Farm Park, Lock Lane, Sandling, Maidstone. So, I was delighted to be given the opportunity to go along and experience it first-hand with my two girls and see if their brand proposition “Where history and family life sit side by side” really stacks up.
Primarily, Kent Life is a working livestock farm and the animals certainly take centre-stage and, as you’d expect, are a real draw for children. From learning about farm animals to getting up close and personal in the cuddle corner to feeding them with specially prepared feed from the Kent Life shop, you definitely get a hands-on experience when it comes to sheep, goats, pigs, alpacas, rabbits, guinea pigs and chickens! We also met ferrets, a baby skunk, owls, meerkats, enjoyed hearing from the knowledgeable, friendly livestock keepers and saw the farm animals put on their own agility display.
A colourful land train takes you on a (bumpy!) tour of the grounds so you can sit back, wave at everyone and take it all in. An outdoor play area and indoor soft play barn will keep young children entertained for hours. There’s also a packed schedule of events throughout the summer holidays in the Big Top – we saw the animal show – and were lucky enough to escape a heavy shower doing so.
As well as experiencing a working livestock farm, Kent Life is also custodian of Kent’s farming heritage and village life. It is home to orchards, herb, vegetable and hop gardens, as well as the farm’s original, magnificent Oast House, which is still used every year to dry hops at the Hops n Harvest Beer Festival in September.
There’s also a Vintage Village showcasing a range of traditional, original rural Kent buildings. My nine-year old has a great imagination and she was fascinated by the World War II cottages which were re-built brick by brick when they were rescued and moved from their original site near Lenham. They now house a cobbler’s shop, a grocery store and a cottage all furnished with original objects from the mid-20th Century - a veritable treasure trove for the digital native generation! The blacksmiths and the school room also captured her imagination and she delighted in acting as tour guide and showing us around the farmhouses. She couldn’t believe that a whole family from London would stay in one of the tin hoppers’ huts to help with the hop harvest and have a holiday in Kent!
We were lucky enough to see a wedding party milling around after attending a wedding, held in the pretty pink chapel and the village hall, while the bride and bridegroom had their photos taken in the hop gardens.
What with the summer holiday ice cream hunt, which has you hunting high and low for 10 of 15 wooden ice creams all bearing a name of a Kentish seaside town, we ended up spending about five hours at Kent Life, which flew by.
All of this for the bargain price of £8.95 for an adult and £7.40 for a child or £29.65 for a family ticket (2+2) if you book ahead online and bag the 10% discount.
There really is something for everyone – children, parents and grandparents. My girls, 12 and 9, both loved it and it’s a must-do attraction for primary school-aged children and tots.
Our verdict: A great value, fun, educational day out exploring so many aspects of farming and rural life in Kent, not to be missed!
Education is a wonderful thing. Knowledge is power. So maybe this explains why a TV programme finally motivated me to break the supermarket spell that had befallen me.
For some time now, we, as a family, have been feeling rather spoilt. We can walk to Waitrose or even Sainsbury's and Marks and Spencer's Food Hall, if we're feeling extra energetic. Even the lovely Lidl is within touching distance, not to mention Tesco and Asda, the supermarket sirens luring us into their convenient trolley trap on the twice daily school run.
At first, when we moved back to Kent, I'm ashamed to admit, I was a little bit smug. My friends from our eight-year sojourn in France would enquire pityingly how we were getting on and bizarrely, I now realise, I found myself braying about our proximity to the aforesaid supermarkets. You see, despite the wonderful food markets in France, several of my ex-pat mummy friends and I couldn't help but miss Waitrose and M&S and all those homely comfort treats they proffer - like proper British bangers and yum-yums!!! But as with all of life's journeys, I'm waking up to the fact that perhaps our all-consuming supermarket obsession is just a little too convenient, a little myopic - or, dare I say it, lazy even? Perhaps, we are simply not making enough effort or 'doing our bit' when it comes to reducing our carbon footprint.
So last night, as I watched BBC 2's Horizon: The Honest Supermarket: What's Really in our Food? , I found myself compelled, under the influence of the scientific and expert truths that were revealed to me, to reach for a notebook and pen to capture all of those extraordinary facts. Did you know that we spend a staggering £190 billion a year on food shopping? Do we really think about the food miles involved in flying our favourite fruits halfway around the globe? (You'll be horrified when you realise you've been imbibing micro-plastics when you reach for the 'healthy, natural' mineral water!) So thoroughly was I moved, that this morning I decided to act. I breached the half-mile supermarket circle of convenience and FINALLY made a run for it to the local Farm Shop - an Aladdin's Cave for foodies - at Perry Court Farm, which is just three miles from my front door and yet I had never managed it until today!
So, despite adding a couple of miles to my physical journey to the shop, I've surely lopped off a sizeable chunk off my carbon footprint by purchasing Perry Court's finest fruit and veg, locally baked bread and an array of delicious condiments like sweetcorn relish to top off the BBQ meat and Harrington's finest Benenden Sauce - which the lady who served me assures me is fabulous on scrambled egg.
Of course, it's not just the TV programme or the fact that it's plastic-free July or even that, of late, I've been meeting lots of passionate local producers through Hoot & Holler's fabulous Produced in Kent membership, that's making me change my route to market. Perhaps, I might venture that the French celebration of local seasonal produce at the local market or their obsession with food to the point where any communal gathering must include an offering that is 'fait-maison', has certainly rubbed off on me. Or perhaps, I'm simply finding my way home.
You’re probably already running your own social media campaigns, but have you thought about targeting other media outlets such as magazines, newspapers and TV / Radio programmes? With unreliable or fake news on the internet, traditional media channels still have a vital role to play in delivering trusted news.
A media relations programme (a series of planned news hooks and clever newsjacking tactics that you can feed to the media) is a cost-effective way of getting exposure for your company or brand and its products or services. With the right research and PR toolkit you’ll significantly increase your chance of being featured.
Kent Online published an article last week about a pub landlord who took aim - 'metaphorically speaking' - and hit back at a customer who gave his pub a one star review on TripAdvisor about their disappointing service and food experience at his pub.
As a PR consultant, whose role is to help organisations build great reputations by managing their communications and relationships with their stakeholders, the article naturally piqued my interest. My first piece of advice to this landlord would have been that on reading the customer review he should have stepped away from his computer or mobile phone, inhaled deeply, counted to 20 - and then some - and not even have attempted to respond until he was feeling less emotional. Unfortunately, the red mist got the better of him and he hit back with an emotionally charged riposte. This exchange was reported in the local paper and now it's potentially become a PR issue for that pub. Maybe, he views all publicity as good publicity. He's almost certainly lost that customer's business for good and likely made other potential new customers think twice about visiting, fearing that they too may find themselves on the end of hostilities.
When I was an agency PR account director for a brewery with a pub estate, we often drafted statements on the brewery's behalf for the local or even national press - or even occasionally an online comment (it wasn't that long ago!) - in response to negative news stories affecting the client's pubs or brands. The journalist would alert us to a complaint or a situation with a disgruntled third party that had been brought to their attention and they would duly give the brewery a chance to respond. We would then draft up a response for the client to approve in time for the journalist to print their piece. This third party PR consultancy process meant that the client ended up with a considered comment and avoided any emotionally charged responses, which may have painted them in a less than favourable light.
Negative consumer experiences are part and parcel of life. As a business, you are not going to get everything just right all the time and as consumers, we've all had disappointing experiences from time to time. The difference nowadays is that our frustrations are largely played out online on social media or review forums. Disgruntled customers no longer have to contact the local media to get some attention, they can get on their mobile phone or laptop and punch out a vitriolic report to vent their frustration and let off some steam. It's so immediate and as the landlord rightly pointed out in his response it's easy to be a 'keyboard warrior' instead of raising your concerns with the staff at the time and giving them a chance to rectify things. It must be so tempting when you're a business owner and someone attacks your business - your pride and joy - not to sound off online.
So, how can business owners best deal with negative reviews? Well, remember the paying customer is always right, even if they're not! So telling them that they should or shouldn't have done this and that is just not going to cut it. They did what they did and they feel how they feel. So, how can you turn this around and make something positive out of? Always acknowledge how your customer is feeling and your disappointment that they are feeling like this. Examine why this might be and look for ways to improve their experience. Maybe invite them to come back and try again. Focus on an aspect of the experience where you might be able to take some constructive action and turn things around. Don't shy away from turning a critical eye on your procedures and your offer. Be honest. If the customer expected something else, then is this something that other customers have thought too but maybe not voiced? Is this an aspect you can communicate more clearly to avoid future misunderstandings? In general, online feedback whether positive or negative should be a way of improving your business where possible or at the very least bringing clarity to a situation.
In the end, if you do nothing else, the golden rule is don't let emotion colour your responses, always be responsive, as saying nothing looks like you don't care, and try to keep an open dialogue with your customers.
Networking. It's a bit like marmite. But love it or hate it, if you want to stay on the industry radar, remain current and - at the most basic level - continue interacting with real people (if, like me, you work from the solitary confines of your home office) then, it's a must-do.
At a recent - and very enjoyable - networking event I attended, I found myself wondering why networking is often considered a necessary evil. Is it because we feel we have to sell ourselves and are inherently bad at self-promotion? Is it because we worry about walking into a room of mostly strangers or more precisely, worry about what we should be saying to these strangers? Is it because we're experiencing a kind of FOMO anxiety - we can't possibly talk to everyone in this room can we ? Or is it because we have to put ourselves out there - out of our comfort zone? And yet, the life coaches will tell you that this is where the magic happens, when we push ourselves out of the everyday.
So as all good PR and marketing experts would do, I decided it was time to conduct some market research. At my next networking event, I duly dropped in a few networking related questions to my unsuspecting subjects: "Do you come to these kind of events often?"; "What do you feel you get out of them?"; "What is your aim in attending these kinds of events?". The responses ranged from "I chose this particular event because it was being hosted at a brewery" (fair enough, I'm with you there!) to "I'd had enough of being cooped up in the office and needed to take a break" (yep, that too!) to "keeping yourself on the radar and building relationships with potential clients who don't need us all the time but might simply want to ask a question from time to time" (smart, one to adopt!). So, I think it's fair to say that we all have slightly different agendas and motivations when we select our networking platforms.
One of the conclusions I did reach is that it's a common misconception that networking is about the hard-sell. It's NOT. No-one wants to be sold to. Not surprisingly, no-one actually said that they were there to make a sale. OK, so we all swapped business cards and I even connected an accountant with a business owner who was looking for an accountant, so that was a prime example of the benefits of networking, right? But hands up, if you enjoy discovering new things or solving problems or what about the old saying "a problem shared, is a problem halved"? For me, this is the essence of networking. It's about being truthful about our business journeys, building new professional relationships through common ground. It's about letting people know who you are and building trust. It's about comparing notes and sharing your business headaches and maybe even finding a solution. Personally, I enjoy learning a bit more about the companies around me, sharing a moment and finding out what people's biggest business challenges are.
So with that in mind, here are my top takeaways to ease the pain of working a room full of strangers:
'Mindful drinker' or maybe you prefer 'sober-curious'? These are terms that have been conjured to talk about the mindful drinking movement. A third of under 25s are not drinking alcohol and we're all being encouraged to turn a self-critical eye on our alcohol intake. Personally, I've cut out the weekday glass of wine and rarely drink more than a couple of drinks in one session. Apparently, it's no long de rigueur! Gone are the hedonistic, cider, lager, whatever-was-going pint-swilling student days of the mid-90s. OK I'll admit that once you have children - or shall we say hit a certain age - the appeal of sinking a half a dozen or so drinks in one go suddenly loses its shine when you find that you can't just lie on the sofa and watch TV the next day!
So our drinking habits evolve, so we see the effervescent rise of craft brewers devoted to non-alcoholic beers, think Big Drop Brew (my favourite is their Stout) or Infinite Session. Interesting, sophisticated soft drinks and other appealing 'adult' drinks are also becoming abundant so that if you're 'Des' for the night or you simply choose not to imbibe alcohol you can still have an 'interesting' drinking experience. There's even an organisation to encourage you: Club Soda champions mindful drinking and the venues who are stocking no and low alcohol heroes. Basically, you no longer have to fill up on a pint of sugar laden coke or lemonade and then switch to tap water for the rest of the evening because you can't face any more fizz.
So what does this mean for pubs and bars? Well, one obvious answer is to make sure your no and low-alcohol repertoire includes more than fizzy pop so maybe some non-alcoholic beers or spirits and some colourful, not overly sweet mocktails.
Another way of approaching it though might be to upgrade and premiumise your hot drink offer and capitalise on the coffee opportunity. This is about taking advantage of all those other opportunities to go to the pub aside from the big night out. They might be business meetings, light lunches, freelance gig economy, even the after-school snack brigade - all represent valuable business opportunities.
Just like low and no-alcohol brands, coffee and tea have come a long way in the last decade. What's going to make people come to your pub for their coffee opportunity? I think it's about serving really exceptional coffee. As consumer tastes have become atuned to the explosion of exotic food and drink flavours at our disposal, as we travel more, we have become much more knowledgeable about what we are drinking and eating. We're also much more discerning in our tastes. Flavour plays a big role in the decision of how and where to spend that hard-earned cash. For example, are you going to walk another five minutes up the road to go to a venue that serves the best coffee? I'll wager yes!
My personal coffee drinking journey has been shaped by acquiring more knowledge about the drink itself through my work for brands like MONIN, who, as global flavour experts, track coffee and flavour trends and provide market responsive solutions. It's also been about getting to know - by trial and error - the kind of tastes I get excited about. Living for the best part of a decade in Paris, I went from being a tea-only drinker to becoming a regular coffee consumer. While on my Parisian adventure, I also met an Aussie girl from Melbourne (which is home to some very good coffee) who had a coffee machine the likes of which you've never seen in a domestic kitchen. It was a professional one but she was so evangelical about her coffee that only this would do. I went from thinking that this was a little - shall we say showy - because I didn't understand the difference between her coffee and my coffee. I soon became a convert when I started drinking the delicious dark liquid she brewed.
Now, thanks to a coffee shop, Lost Sheep Coffee in my hometown of Ashford, I'm discovering the delights of their single origin speciality coffee (very high grade coffee beans). This coffee dances on your tongue trailing smoky melodies and has a lightness of flavour, which doesn't leave that bitter aftertaste coating your mouth (aka coffee breath!). It's so good that, for the first time ever, I'm drinking coffee without my usual half-a-teaspoon of sugar to balance the bitterness. Lost Sheep has its own roastery in Whitstable and the company appear to be making great strides in taking their A-grade coffee to the masses. As I type, they have just announced the launch of compostable pods that go in your Nespresso machine. Sustainable AND delicious! Needless to say, I have immediately ordered some. Now, that's what you call a caffeine high!
So my last post covered off why, as a consumer, I want to tap into the experience economy. I realised when writing it that I don't go to the pub much at all these days and I wondered why that was? After all, it was one of the things we missed while we were living in France - the unique experience that is the British pub. I've yet to find a really good pub on my doorstep in Ashford and I feel disappointed about this, as I want to support this very British institution. There are plenty of outstanding pubs in Kent and further field but they're destination pubs that you go to for something to eat and need a few hours out of your day.
Back to our neighbourhood, and one or two of the pubs we've frequented within a five minute drive are pretty mediocre. Lacking in atmosphere, bar staff that look like they don't care, the same old drinks offer, the same old pub grub - it's all just a bit uninspiring. I've no doubt that the great pub experience that we know exists is close at hand, we just haven't found it yet! Which begs the question what does a great pub experience consist of?
For me, it's a lot to do with the people behind the bar. Do they offer a warm welcome and make you feel at home? Do they know their drink and food offer like the back of their hand? Can they guide you through an interesting choice of craft ales , wines or spirits depending on your preference? Do they have an exciting alcohol-free drink offer for those of us that don't want to fill up on coke or lemonade? Are they passionate about what they are offering? If they're excited then you can bet the customer will feel enthusiastic too. It all boils down to how well the licensee trains their staff to ensure they've got the knowledge they need to communicate confidently with customers. If they serve food, does it use fresh, seasonal ingredients, presented in an interesting way and cooked well. Perhaps they have a USP, a particular dish or style of food that they do well.
These days, a pub has to be more than just a place to go and drink a pint in the evening. So, are they making the most of all of the opportunities there are to visit a pub - great coffee for a daytime hook up with friends or business associates, brunches for weekends, an after-school offer for the mums and dads who are weary of catering for their offspring and want a break from the kitchen?
Then you can consider things like the pub itself, is it clean and comfortable? Does it have that wholesome, authentic pub feel or stand-out décor that you can post on your Instagram feed? Does it tell a story about the pub's building? Are the toilets inviting (perhaps one of the most important things in a drinking establishment)? All of these things make your visit a more enjoyable experience.
So, if you're a pub landlord and the answer to these questions is 'yes', then you've gained our attention and interest. But how do you engage us and make us want to come back for more. This is where those added value experiences come in.....perhaps you've opted for positioning yourself as a pub game mecca - a pool table, ping-pong, a dart board, maybe even a shuffleboard just to mix things up a bit? So, you can run tournaments and themed nights to entice your customers back Maybe you're more of a quizzer, or pride yourself on being a craft ale afficionado then a tasting session or a beer and food pairing evening hosted by a local brewer might be your thing. Whatever you do, do it well and it's the kind of thing that might just attract some new footfall from those experience-hungry consumers.
Finally don't forget social media, there are some really dynamic operators out there. One great example, is a local coffee house, who do weekly promotions to win a week's worth of free coffee by encouraging their customers to post pictures on Instagram of them enjoying their coffee in their outlets. It works on so many levels. Encourages repeat visits, generates third party content on the coffee company's social media feed, encourages interactions between customer and coffee house and so on. Tick, tick, tick.
I know there are many great pub operators out there doing some or all of these things, I just wish one of them was my local.