Oh please, let’s put the ‘customer’ first!

July 13, 2010

The arrival of social media has opened up the age-old angst felt by PR, advertising and marketing folk; into whose domain should this new fangled idea fall?

PR people say that because it is all about the written word, it’s rightfully theirs. (And actually I don’t disagree!) Whereas the other lot talk about ‘integrated digital communication’ and ‘understanding the technology’ blah blah, so they should be responsible.

At the recent MIPAA (Motoring Industry Public Affairs Association) Masterclass, Simon Sproule, director, communications at Renault-Nissan Alliance expounded the view that perhaps now was the time to put an end to these turf wars, and for a new profession – a third-way – to steer a path between these warring factions.

He spoke about organisations still largely structured in functional chimneys – or silos – and gave a number of illustrations to ask the question: Is it marketing or is it PR?’

See presentation: http://www.mipaa.com/images/stories/mipaa.sproule.final.pdf

A brand’s involvement at an exhibition, say, is likely to have been led by marketing, had the PR people take over the stand for the first few press days, and then left for the sales people to look after the great unwashed and do their selling bit!

And that seems to be the nub of the problem. Communications – or as I have long preferred to call it, ‘the management of reputation’ – should not be process driven through tightly defined channels, but all-embracing. Neither should it be a top-down function: surely social media has taught us about inclusivity and dialogue, and torn up the rule book of one-way propaganda from organisation to audience?

Let’s just remember that the customer – aka the audience – doesn’t give a toss about any of the ‘mechanics’. All they want is a seamless join between the editorial they’re interested in, the Tweets, the ads, the exhibition stands, the guerrilla marketing stunts, the shop (sorry – retail experience!), how the ‘phones are answered, the brand values and yes – the product as they experience it, right from purchase through to after sales and repairs for the next umpteen years.

For them, whether they’re driving a Polo, sucking a Polo or watching the polo, it’s the totality of the experience – good, indifferent or bad, and from the first to the last encounter; that’s what forms their opinion and perception of a brand’s reputation.

So yes – I agree with Mr Sproule. We need to think beyond the platforms and processes and focus on changing behaviours and opinions. We need to tell a good, coherent and consistent story, and we need to do so in the round – the full 360 degrees. And critically in my view, we need to do all of this from the recipient’s perspective – the customer, rather than at the organisation’s convenience and via a traditional and evidently outmoded structure.

Brabantia Increases Online Presence via LawsonClarke PR

May 5, 2010

BrabantiaLife blog

BrabantiaLife blog

BrabantiaLife blog – Twitter – Facebook – Flickr

Brabantia is taking a lead in the housewares industry by embracing social media into its communications. Working with its longstanding PR consultancy, LawsonClarke PR, the brand is launching a combination of coordinated online channels – a blog, Twitter, Facebook and Flickr.

Designed to help communicate with consumers around the globe, the new initiative is intended to help ensure the brand listens to and engages with relevant discussions taking place online.

Brabantia Life blog – http://www.brabantialife.com

The new Brabantia blog – which can be seen at http://www.brabantialife.com – is presented in an easily accessible lifestyle format, and includes a range of hints, tips and comments on colour, design and domestic life, as well as news and information about Brabantia products.

Intended to be both fun and informative, there are competitions and timely musings on what’s current, and people are encouraged to join in, comment, make suggestions, post pictures and even do some guest blogging.

In fact, guest bloggers have already provided their ‘tip-top tips’ on spring cleaning for busy mums & dads, how to use a dishwasher and keep your glassware sparking, and even offered a clever idea on where to store your replacement bin bags. There have also been posts on the contentious subject of Marmite cereal bars, about sparkling Australian red wine, and this month’s colour for Colour Your Bin.

Twitter – http://www.twitter.com/brabantialife

The company is tweeting on Twitter as @BrabantiaLife and invites you to come and ‘follow’ what’s being shared and discussed by signing up and joining in.

Facebook – http://www.facebook.com/brabantialife

There’s a Brabantia fan page on Facebook where news and views are shared, and which is already attracting fans from around the world.

Flickr – http://www.flickr.com/photos/brabantialife

Finally you can find and post images and videos on Flickr, the useful file sharing site if you ever need a Brabantia image.

Said David Slater, sales director of Brabantia UK: “The communication world is constantly evolving. The internet and social media now give people far more open and participative relationships with their friends, family and colleagues, and this also extends to the products and brands they favour. It’s now about dialogue rather than the one way delivery of marketing messages, and in partnership with LawsonClarke we’re fully engaging with these changes.”

Added Jeremy Clarke, managing director of LawsonClarke PR: “We have seen Brabantia, its products and the media landscape evolve over the 20 years we have worked together, but the speed with which communication has changed in the past 24 months has been unprecedented. It’s very rewarding to see such a well established brand adapt to this new media so quickly.”

Survey of journalists across EMEA reveals depth of crisis in media sector

April 12, 2010

Gemma O’Reilly, prweek.com, 12 April 2010

The traditional media industry in Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) is struggling to cope with digital media and headcount cuts owing to the economic crisis, according to a new survey of senior journalists.

Burson-Marsteller interviewed 115 senior journalists from 27 countries throughout the region for the study.

According to the survey, an enormous numbers of journalists were being put out of work. Eighty-one per cent of respondents said that they were experiencing cost-cutting measures in their editorial teams.

There was broad agreement among the journalists interviewed that the quality and standards of their trade were being diminished. Thirty-four per cent said that internal cost-cutting was the biggest threat to high quality journalism today, while 17 per cent said that digital media was the biggest threat.

There was no consensus, however, about whether the digital revolution taking place in their industry was a positive or negative development. Most agreed that new digital tools had given them unprecedented access to information. However, the increased competition, as well as the de-professionalisation of their trade through citizen journalism, were all cited as serious causes for concern. Twenty-seven per cent of respondents said that blogs had damaged journalism, while 13 per cent said social media sites such as Facebook had also had a detrimental effect.

As one senior French journalist said: ‘The internet makes it much more difficult to distinguish news from noise.’

The majority of journalists surveyed said that PR agencies played an increasingly vital role in their work, either as sources of relevant information, leads for stories, or as conduits to relevant sources. Almost half (47 per cent) said that they dealt with PR agencies more than in previous years, while 28 per cent said they saw agencies as a source of relevant information.

Dennis Landsbert-Noon, chairman of the EMEA media practice, said: ‘As the media industry undergoes these tremendous changes, there is both an onus on us to ensure that our standards remain exemplary, as well as an opportunity for us to use new and exciting digital tools to communicate with traditional journalists as well as a whole new digital and social media landscape.’


Transparency on-line – there is no hiding place

March 19, 2010

Nestlé faces Facebook crisis over Greenpeace rainforest claims

Like it or not, warts and all, your reputation is now on-line for all to see. The critical points are:

i. Are you keeping an eye on it?

ii. Are you listening to what’s being said?

iii. Is someone sufficiently senior and competent engaging with your audience and responding appropriately?

Read PR Week’s report on the current Nestlé situation:


PR moves up the food chain

March 17, 2010
After years of being the ‘poor relation’ of the marketing mix, PR is coming of age.

This article by Gideon Spanier appeared in The London Evening Standard on Monday 15 March, 2010

Who does a CEO call first in crisis? The PR men

The recession has been brutal for most of the marketing industry but few sectors have performed better than public relations.

Last week Tim Bell, chairman of PR and advertising group Chime Communications, unveiled an impressive 15% jump in annual profits at his PR division which includes the firms Bell Pottinger and Good Relations. Lord Bell says Chime is capitalising on a long-term trend — the growing importance of PR for both corporations and high-profile individuals.

A decade ago, the first person a CEO might call when facing a major decision or crisis was his lawyer or financial adviser. Now it’s a top PR.

“The world of communications has changed,” says Bell, a founder of Saatchi & Saatchi and Margaret Thatcher‘s PR guru. “Now communications companies are invited to the top table at the first meeting. Look at the Greek Government [during its current economic crisis]. The first thing they did was tender for a PR company.” He adds dryly: “You could argue they should have started by doing something with the economy rather than find a PR agency.”

Top advisers such as Brunswick‘s Alan Parker, Finsbury’s Roland Rudd, and Matthew Freud of Freud Communications are hardly known outside the City, Whitehall and the media. Indeed they strive to stay in the shadows. But they can earn as much as a FTSE chief executive. Latest accounts show Rudd earned £2.9 million.

These external PRs do more than handle publicity and manage the financial calendar, with crisis management thrown in as required. They have top-level contacts that the client’s in-house PR can rarely hope to match. And increasingly, they are looking beyond PR — to offer strategic direction and political advice in the mould of a management consultancy such as McKinsey.

“PR has certainly moved up the food chain in the last five years,” says Danny Rogers, editor of PR Week. “Reputation is your biggest asset in the modern world.” The internet and 24-hour news have made it more important for a CEO to “know who the custodian of their reputation is”, he adds. “Media and public scrutiny of corporations, brands and individuals has increased. Your reputation can be destroyed so quickly now because it is so global.”

The dramatic safety recall of Toyota cars and the allegations surrounding England footballer John Terry‘s love life are two recent examples of how fast reputations can fall — for a business or an individual.

Many PR firms are privately owned and don’t disclose much financial detail but stock market-listed Chime’s past results give an indication of how demand from clients has grown. Between 2004 and 2009, profits from PR rose in successive years by 24%, 24%, 9%, 30% and 15%. Turnover almost doubled to £67 million — albeit with some help from acquisitions.

Historically, most of Chime’s revenues came from the UK but international clients are becoming more important. Bigger players have also seen growth in global PR. WPP chief executive Sir Martin Sorrell, who controls a string of PR agencies including Hill & Knowlton, Ogilvy, Burson-Marsteller and Finsbury, told the recent FT Digital Media conference that when his team conducted an internal review of the past five years, it found that the PR division was among the best performers and “has shown consistent growth” with annual turnover of £796 million — although profits did slip in 2009.

Sorrell argues that investors should rate PR more highly as a revenue source, particularly as he believes it will have a growing role on social networking websites where “the invasion of that [space] by commercial messages” such as brand advertising “is not necessarily a good thing”.

No PR firm has been immune to the recession, of course, as clients cut budgets. In the City, a dearth of takeover deals has meant lower fees and redundancies. But Rogers, who is about to publish PR Week’s annual survey that tracks spend across the industry, believes that revenues were roughly flat last year. If that proves to be the case, it would be a decent performance considering advertising fell 12%.

Sorrell has suggested that part of the reason that PR has thrived is because it is relatively cheap for clients compared to, say, buying an ad campaign.

A PR firm’s basic retainer looks relatively modest — typically between £5000 and £25,000 a month, depending on the amount of work, with major clients paying £50,000 or more. Crisis management costs extra.

City PRs have tried to follow the same model as bankers and brokers — by offering lower retainers but then charging higher rates and “success fees” during a takeover or fundraising. But despite their growing influence, they do not charge the same as bankers, who might earn 0.5% of a mega-deal.

“One of the big challenges for a lot of PR people is that they still struggle to charge for they value they bring,” argues Rogers.

Surveying the PR industry, it’s notable how at many firms power remains in the hands of the founders, even if they have sold out to bigger conglomerates.

Some insiders complain that it is difficult for lower-ranking staff to join the “partnership” — the handful at the top who share the bulk of the profits.

“We are on the brink of a wave of start-ups,” predicts Rogers. “Good talent is getting ready to break away.” New agencies are likely to focus heavily on digital, handling internet search engines and social networking, as well as PR.

Whatever happens, reputation matters. So we can be sure there will be plenty of work for the PR industry.

The LawsonClarke blog brand-daq – March

March 3, 2010

Which brands are up, down or resting on their laurels.

This entirely subjective view will be updated periodically.


Skoda – it’s ‘Superb’

So it might be based on a Volkswagen, but you’ve got to admire the transformation that is Skoda.

In 1997 I wrote a piece for The Independent in which I spoke about the steps the company was taking to return to its once proud roots of engineering excellence.  See: http://bit.ly/bXPxrp

At that time Skoda was just starting its recovery from being the laughing stock of the motor industry, but it was surely going to be a long haul.  13 years later, and having consistently developed and honed its products back to its DNA – affordability and reliability – Skoda has a range of cars that people are proud to drive.

The Superb, its latest offering, might sound a tad immodest even in a marketing-led world rife with hyperbole, yet it is a name the press has had no difficulty endorsing.  Auto Express says: “Superb by name and nature, Skoda’s range-topper goes straight to the top of the class”, while this review from The Observer is also not untypical: http://bit.ly/acrGYA

Brand recovery takes time, patience and a consistent approach, and Skoda is a textbook example others would do well to emulate.


Lloyds Bank – the most complained about financial group

A good reputation is all about trust, and you’d have thought that ‘the banks’ – by which I mean the high street brands we mostly have to engage with – would understand that establishing and maintaining trust is essential to the success of their businesses.  Patently not. http://bit.ly/9FRcLQ (Telegraph.co.uk).

Once upon a time, we held our bank manager in high esteem, and were proud to save our hard-earned within the vaults of his once trusted branch.  But then things started to go wrong.  Customers became accounts; bank staff skipped the more personalised approach to customer service and no longer knew us by name.  We were bracketed into socio economic groups and ‘sold’ credit cards and insurance policies.  There was little attempt to understand our individual needs, and anyway, why make the effort?  They changed jobs every 18 months and disappeared off to ‘regional office’, and not long afterwards their branches began to close.  That solid, stone-built edifice on the corner of the high street – once an icon of trust – became a Loch Fyne restaurant.

Then there were the dubious bank charges.  And when we called to discuss these and other matters relating to our money, our enquiry was ‘off-shored’ to a call centre in Mumbai, Middlesbrough or wherever.

So are we really surprised to hear that Lloyds Banking Group, created from one of the most trusted names in the high street, has clocked up debts of £24billion http://bit.ly/9JEHOu (Management Today)?

The saying “look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves” seems to have a hollow ring to it.  If the banks can’t look after its customers and their modest sums of money, what hope for the taxpayers’ billions….?

The LawsonClarke blog brand-daq – February

February 17, 2010

Which brands are up, down or resting on their laurels.

This entirely random view will be updated periodically. 





British Airways – for announcing a jet fuel production facility that will create aviation fuel (Avgas) from food waste.  A huge investment, but right ‘on the money’ from both an environmental and PR perspective, it will also add a welcome boost to employment in east London once the Olympics have been and gone. http://bit.ly/bFbAAL


Toyota – the brand has taken a real pasting from the national media over its recent recall programmes – unjustly so in the opinion of the specialist motoring media – yet the UK management has done an exemplary job in communicating with its stakeholders, including customers, dealer network and the media.  Kept in the headlines for over two weeks, the brand’s recovery is already well under way.





Ryanair – why does Ryanair seemingly hold its customers, staff and competitors in such low regard.  Everyone loves Stelios (Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou) founder of EasyJet and acknowledged pioneer of the budget airline phenomenon (albeit following in Freddie Laker’s jetstream), so publishing a ‘knocking ad.’ calling him a liar is somewhat shooting yourself in the foot. http://bit.ly/bXAEXX.  Ryanair chief executive, Michael O’Leary clearly hasn’t grasped the fundamentals of reputation management, and one of these days will have a major PR disaster to deal with.  At that point, his well of goodwill will be empty, and no one will run to his defense.