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.
Here at h & h we've been writing about 'experiential marketing' and 'the experience economy' a lot recently and it got me thinking.... is it all just marketing buzz? What does it really mean for today's consumer?
In fact, whether you realise it or not, mainly because of social media, most of us are fully signed up members of 'the experience economy' and we can't get enough of it. The concept has been doing the rounds for a while now: the term was well and truly coined way before the turn of the millennium and analysts were already writing about it. Put simply, it's all about buying into experiences that create happy memories by making an emotional connection. It's also something we can share on social media to achieve that gratifying insta-moment. It enhances our life by giving us a new experience that we can share with others and psychologists say that experiences makes us happier than things - unless you're competing on social media and suffering with FOMO (fear of missing out), of course!! Brands have long since cottoned onto this. So, for example, instead of buying your other half the latest version of their favourite brand of coffee machine, you might sign them up to a 'barista for a day' coffee tasting workshop run by said brand. After all, it could be the difference between creating a happy memory and the anxiety-filled dilemma of what to do with the old coffee machine, which there was nothing really wrong with in the first place.
So this year, if you're an experiential brand, you're onto a winner - and this is why, I am buying into you....
Over the last decade, I've realised that I've become swamped by 'stuff'. To put it James Wallman's way, I'm suffering from 'stuffocation' or, as Oliver James would say, I've been struck by "Affluenza". Several house moves have forced me to confront my (our) hoard of stuff (- having children will really 'stuffocate' you if you haven't managed to 'self-stuffocate'!). At times, I can honestly say I've felt somewhat anxious about the 'stuff' we've accumulated and exactly what to do with it! At my most desperate, a remote cabin in the highlands of Scotland has been a fantasy of mine. In its simplest form, my awakening and transition from consuming goods to buying into experiences can be defined by deciding to do a boot fair last summer: a new (and cathartic) experience - being up before 7am on a Sunday morning and shedding lots of unwanted stuff! (And yes, I posted it on FB and Insta #industrious) So, I'm not saying I've stopped going shopping (as if!) but instead of filling stockings with superfluous Christmas presents - think slime or life-size baby dolphins that make noises and need feeding and then get put in a cupboard never to be seen again - I've adopted a new strategy. I'm buying into experiences or 'experiential products' e.g. a board game, riding boots, tickets to the theatre or a sporting event for that all important 'memory-making = happiness' formula. Best Christmas present this year? Tickets to see the England Roses beat the Australian Diamonds in the International Netball Quad Series and the kids loved it too. What a great memory that made! Next up, a good old fashioned night out at the pub with a new experience: playing a game of shuffleboard - now to find a pub with a shuffleboard....and a babysitter!
Experience economy? Bring it on!
I recently helped a client realise a new blog with the aim being to showcase their team of experts and engage with new and existing customers. It got me thinking about how we can ensure our blogs are more purposeful. Rather than being somewhere you can post all your news, features and anything else that occurs to you as a way to generate content, your blog should have a clear objective, a voice suited to your audience and relevant, engaging content.
So, let’s imagine you’re looking to position yourself as an expert solutions provider in your market rather than simply a producer or supplier. A blog can certainly help you achieve this. It’s ideal for showcasing the breadth of your industry knowledge and your trend analyses to give customers market insight.
So, here are my top tips for a purposeful blog:
In a survey, in which 10,000 young people were asked if they had drunk alcohol in the past week, a staggering 50% hadn't, that's up from 35% in 2005. So now, 16-24 year olds are the second biggest group of abstainers, after the elderly. This must be music to the ears of health campaigners and the NHS! Not such good news if you're a pub landlord, off-licence owner or any kind of alcoholic drink producer, you might wonder. The knock-on effect must be that youngsters are simply not going on a night out solely to drink together. We already know that the younger generations, dubbed millennials, are motivated by experiences, which are entertaining, novel and add to their own story.
Previously, we've already seen the trend for low or no-alcohol beers, wines and spirits gathering pace in an effort to keep step with this evolution in consumer drinking habits. Surely now, pub and bar retailers have to get seriously creative to entice the younger generations back into the pub environment for a cheeky half or three. It's not just about your drink offer, it's also about how you can add value to a night out at the pub. As many of the older, past generations of pub goers did, perhaps it's time to get the tried and tested analogue pub games out, mix it up with a few new ones (don't forget they like new experiences!) and bring the quizmaster back, only this time a younger, leaner version who is partial to a diet coke!
Now, it might seem logical that if you're looking for top-drawer PR you'd plump for an all singing-all dancing, full service agency, working with the top names. Makes sense, right? But, do you need all singing-all dancing? More to the point, is your budget up to it? If your answer to these is 'Yes' then maybe you don't need to read any further, but then again maybe you should....
More often than not, your independent PR practitioner has honed their skillset and experience at said top-notch agency and taken the leap to "do it their way" because of personal circumstances or to make a proactive lifestyle choice. Just because they're flying solo it doesn't mean that they can't add value to your business with the same creativity and professionalism. What's more, with minimal overheads - the majority work from home - they can certainly offer more bang for your buck.
Then, consider this: independents are dynamic individuals who are super-motivated to succeed. They absolutely have to be. Firstly, they're a business leader committed to succeeding. Like a leader, they are accountable: for every piece of advice they give, every release they issue and ultimately for ensuring they are delivering results that meet the client's objectives. When you choose an independent practitioner you're definitely getting 'what you see on the label' and there is nowhere to hide.
By opting for a freelancer, you can find someone who really matches your needs. There will be a freelancer with the sector specialisms and specific skillset that is the perfect fit for your business. But, hang on, what if there is something they don't have experience of? If there is one thing Indie PRs are good at it's networking - they'll know someone who can.
Still not convinced? Perhaps you're thinking "yep, but they can't possibly be up to speed with the latest knowledge and skills because they don't have access to the agency talent pool?" I'd argue: yes, actually (of course, I would!). Indies have to be even more committed to training and personal development to ensure they are relevant. With industry organisations such as the CIPR and PRCA, there are plenty of ways to plug into a continuous personal development programme. What's more, the CIPR have just announced the launch of an independent practitioners group, so the good news is we now have a dedicated support network. Add to this online marketplace platforms such as The PR Cavalry and The Work Crowd, which are akin to dating apps for clients and PRs, and you could go as far to say that 2019 will be "the Year of the Indie PR".
So what are you waiting for, go find yourself an all singing-all dancing, #trending indie PR!
#indiePR #CIPRindie #entrepreneur #publicrelations
Now admittedly this may not be new to most but as we've been out of the country for a fair few years the Harris + Hoole coffee shop at a nearby Tesco was a pleasant surprise. We're pretty used to finding the likes of Costa in supermarkets and petrol stations these days. But a coffee shop that feels artisan and offers exciting non-coffee drinks and has the right dash of the personal touch is a welcome discovery.
With a laid-back diner feel, plenty of light and air and a smiley, enthusiastic - not to mention talented - barista (or hooligan as they are known in-house), it felt like we'd arrived somewhere a bit different. As it was a girly indulge in some sweet sustenance between finishing school and going to an after-school activity, we were after something more than just a pick-me-up latte. We weren't disappointed! Refreshing pink grapefruit soda made with our old friends' MONIN's delicious pink grapefruit syrup was lip-smacking and works wonders at waking you up if you've had your caffeine quota for the day. Add to this a memorable mango smoothie and a delightful hot chocolate topped with the cutest foamy bear face you ever did see (courtesy of our talented barista) and we were fully recharged and raring to go again. (Did we forget the crumbly, goes-everywhere, melt-in-the-mouth Millionaire's Shortbread? We're trying to!)
Of course it goes without saying that here at hoot & holler we can't help take our hat off to the beautifully named Harris + Hoole. It was obviously written in the coffee foam that our paths would cross. Now, we've downloaded the app and are heading back for a free taste of the H+H coffee this week. Do holler if you ever need any PR!
So, two of the big names in grocery retailing, Sainsbury's and Asda, are poised to become one. In what is set to be the biggest deal in grocery retailing since 2004 when Safeway was taken over by Morrison, it looks as though Tesco's position as top dog of the supermarket giants with a 27% market share may be under threat and the big four will become the big three.
Stiff competition from German discount retailers Lidl and Aldi meant it was only a matter of time until something had to change within this sector. Initial media reports have signalled that the deal will look to maintain all or the majority of Sainsbury's and Asda stores as the merger recognises the complementary geographical spread of each retailer's stores: Asda being stronger in the North and Sainsbury's in the South. Evidently, this mega-merger will increase buying power significantly for both retailers.
It remains to be seen how the Competition and Markets Authority will view the deal. One particularly interesting area will be the retailers' combined share of the toy market, in which Sainsbury's have already made significant gains with their acquisition of Argos.
Whatever the outcome, supermarket retailing remains one of the fastest-moving, exciting sectors and this deal is one to watch.
Go on, what are you waiting for? Indulge yourself. From a frothy coffee to get your day off to the right start to a spot of shopping or lunch with a friend, the art of pleasure-seeking is a necessary antidote to the humdrum of the everyday.
So much of our pleasure comes from what we imbibe, quaff, stuff and nibble and it's no coincidence that many businesses nowadays are cottoning onto this fact. A little treat goes a long way when it comes to customer satisfaction and loyalty. Waitrose have got it spot on: the lure of a free luscious latte or creamy cappuccino when you make a purchase and present your loyalty card in-store. They are very successfully ensuring that they are the food retailer uppermost in your mind when you need to pop for a loaf of bread, a pint of milk or a mid-week stock-up. (It also helps that they are closest to my front door, close enough for a brisk 15 minute walk with the promise of frothy coffee to spur me on the journey back. Not forgetting, the added bonus that I've burnt off the milky coffee calories or so I believe!)
If you're thinking this doesn't even register on the pleasure scale, granted a Freakshake with whipped cream, cookies, sprinkles, marshmallows and any other sticky sugariness you care to dream up may be the ultimate indulgence - as well as becoming a feature on your Instagram feed. But whichever end of the scale you find yourself at, the hot drink has become somewhat emblematic of the pleasure we take from our food and drink consumption. (BTW, If you're into the pleasure-pain equation then the Freakshake has to be your toughest gym class twice over to work that baby off - just saying!)
A recent, very pleasurable trip to Paris involved good girlfriends, coffee, an art exhibition followed by - yes you guessed it - lunch. As two of them are gluten intolerant (what are the odds?) they made me walk 10-minutes in the pouring rain (slightly painful but I was in Paris still) to seek out 'Noglu' an entirely gluten-free café. If you're now sighing and thinking here comes the painful bit: she was forced to eat alternative food, seeking to emulate the wonderful wheat-laden French breads and patisseries, then you are entirely mistaken. Noglu is a revelation. If you want utterly scrumptious, leave-me-wanting-more, how-can-this-carrot-cake-possibly-be-healthy-it-tastes-too- divine lunchtime fare then go straight to Noglu, do not pass Goglu! It's a pleasure-seeker's paradise ( -and it's all bathed in rose gold). Now, I just need one about a 15-minute brisk walk from my front door. Could life get any better??