Donald Maxwell, the Kent author and artist, referred to Oast houses as “curious towers with conical tops” that are “the castles of Kent” – and Sussex! After a weekend stay and family celebration at Hare Farm Hideaways very own Oast, just five minutes from lovely Rye, East Sussex, I couldn’t agree more.
Here is a kingdom where boxing hares, loquacious sheep, swooping swallows and majestic barn owls reign in the undulating greenery of the Brede Valley. Breath-taking views draw you in as you round the driveway to the Oast. Once installed, you can sit and while away hours on a strategically placed tree trunk – a casualty of winter storms, given a new lease of life - with a cup of tea or a local wine or cider, depending on your outlook, being entertained by nature’s show. This feels like a world away from virus pandemics!
Stepping foot inside the Oast, you won’t be disappointed. This building was lovingly restored in 2011 by brother and sister Stuart and Jo on the family farm after sitting derelict for decades. Since then, the visitor book tells the story of the guests it has welcomed from near and far, celebrating milestone birthdays and anniversaries en famille, reuniting groups of friends and providing a spacious yet embracing backdrop to feasts and frolics.
In the three roundels of the Hare Farm Oast you’ll find: a kitchen, utility and washroom and a double bedroom on the first floor plus two twins and the master suite upstairs. There’s also a pretty double bedroom and bathroom with windows overlooking those mega views. We were 12, filling the Oast to sleeping capacity (there’s also a Shepherd’s Hut perched out of view in the adjacent field if you need to squeeze in two more!) but never feeling like you’re on top of one another, which in these socially distanced times is something of a necessity!
I’ll avoid mentioning the dreaded C-word, but we can reassure anyone who is feeling strange about staying away that Hare Farm are doing their utmost to put additional precautions and cleaning measures in place. Each bedroom has a black sack provided for guests to scoop up their used linen and help with the additionally labour intensive cleans between guests. There are several laminates with clear instructions and tips on staying safe. There are also enough bathrooms for everyone to stick to their own washing facilities, which is ideal.
The hubby and I were lucky enough to inhabit the master bedroom with its concealed walk-in wardrobe and magical pendant light which spills light in a Middle Eastern mosaic all around transforming it into something of a princess tower room. We slept like logs, cradled in the solidity of the conical tower.
Ceramic baby Oast houses are handles to bathroom light pulls and make for cute touches and original Oast equipment – a local hop pocket, a wooden scupper for scooping up the hops – remind you that you’re somewhere a bit special and part of local history.
For foodies and family feasts, the Oast is well-equipped with two fridges, a large freezer and heaps of tableware. This is also great if, like us, you decide to skip the cooking and ask a local caterer to put on a spread. Kristi at Seasons Wild & Free provided our banquet so that we could toast our mum’s 70th birthday in style. From imaginative canapes with champagne on the terrace to mountains of lamb tagine, delicious salad, cous-cous and potato sides and the best ‘princess and the pea’ style strawberry pavlova at the dining table. Just don’t mention the cheeseboard, which was woefully neglected as we’d all been complete gluttons!
We never got to use the quirky log-fired BBQ as we were rained off – probably just as well as there were plenty of leftovers still to devour from aforementioned banquet! However, we did manage a late-night huddle around the firepit, finishing off our wine before bed.
There are plenty of walks through the Brede valley if your party like expeditions and playing at nature detectives, which are also the perfect antidote to all that feasting.
We spent a magical weekend in this enchanted kingdom that will go down in our family folklore. Has there ever been a time when we’ve all needed to be part of a fairy tale more than this?
If there have been any positives to lockdown, one must surely be the spotlight it has shone on the impact of us humans on the planet. Since lockdown started, pollution has plummeted and Venice’s canals have cleared up with sightings of swans and dolphins.
Thankfully, there are plenty of businesses who are serious about reducing and even eliminating their impact on the environment. Many of them are independent, small businesses driven by values, passion and the desire to do good, while making a living at the same time. As individuals, we can buy into their values-driven economy and together, make the world a better place.
One of the best examples of this is one that’s come directly out of lockdown. A start-up that has embraced a sustainable business approach, has a great backstory and is driven by an immediate purpose: FFSB are makers of up-cycled face masks and champions of the #masks4all movement.
Personally, as someone who has been talking about making facemasks for the family from some old clothes and dusting off my sewing machine from the under stairs’ cupboard for some weeks now, I take my hat off to them. I haven’t managed it, but they have. And they've done it with style. So, when I read about them in a Father’s Day gift guide on blogger Lianne Freeman’s anklebitersadventures, I immediately bought into their story and their funky face masks. And here’s why.
FFSB are Frank, Finn Sebastian and Bela, 4 London teenagers, who found themselves twiddling their thumbs after their GCSE’s had been cancelled and their sports sessions were paused. But the thumb twiddling didn’t last long as they realised a chance to make a difference and join the fight against COVID-19 by making face masks that (in their own words) don’t make you look like a dentist!
Friends since they were four years old, these guys, like so many of us, know the benefits of Zoom as they’ve been working remotely together from 4 different locations. They’ve also been mentored by the awesome fashion company House of Baukjen, so that has definitely helped!
Not only have they made masks but they’ve designed an uber cool, utilitarian logo (which they stencil spray in pink on your envelope), set up a website, collaborated with a family-run factory in Portugal and chose their first batch of fabrics for their masks. They’ve also named the masks after cities echoing Instagram’s story filters – I chose Helsinki and Rio.
I’m a sucker for a good story and this one reeled me right in. Then I found out that the masks have been ethically and sustainably made and they look good too (- just how I imagine my own handmade versions might have looked!!!). They’re up-cycled, made using 100% soft cotton leftover fabrics and cut-offs. Handmade in a double layered, pleated design and they can be worn again and again and again. Finally, I spotted the banner at the top of the website announcing that 10% of all profits go to the Young Minds Charity (they also make black masks in support of #blacklivesmatter,
which are sold out as I write), well, they had me hook, line and sinker!
So, in the space of five minutes or so, I’d ordered a mask for all the family (they do kids sizes too) from their easy-to-use website and hey presto, the masks arrived in less than 24 hours tied together with a paper tag politely asking me to share their brand #FFSB and #Masks4all.
This is exactly how values-driven business and consumers can come together, make the difference and feel good.
Don’t you just love it when great PR, marketing and customer service come together - nice one lads!
www.ffsbshop.co.uk @ ffsb.ldn
Now more than ever, we’re relying on digital communications to stay in contact. Social media is an easy and cost-effective way for businesses to get messages out to existing and potential customers. In times of crisis, it can be a lifeline for businesses looking to quickly and efficiently communicate with all their key stakeholders. Social media content is:
As someone who regularly works from home, I wanted to share some practical tips on how to work effectively and how to stay sane, as many of us are now basing ourselves at the kitchen table for the foreseeable future. So here goes:
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.