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HOW TO BE AHEAD OF YOUR COMPETITION BY 12TH APRIL

If the Government roadmap goes ahead as planned, then 12th April is set to be an important date for the hospitality industry. Not only can self-catering accommodation open once more, but also outdoor attractions can reopen, as can gyms, leisure centres and beer gardens. This means that between now and then, it needs to be all-hands-on-deck for those businesses to ensure that come 12th April, you’re ahead of your competition and ready to welcome your customers back with open arms once more. Is your business ready for the lifting of lockdown?

To be on the front foot amongst your competitors now, you need to be looking at a PR, social media and marketing strategy – don’t wait until April to start communicating. If you were really on the ball, you may have already been communicating through lockdowns, as we can’t stress enough the importance of keeping in touch with your consumers, even when you’re not open for business.

If you’ve not started yet, then now is the time to. Below we’re laying out some tips and advice for how to be ahead of your competition by 12th April – especially if you’re in the hospitality industry – with the help of a little PR magic.

Beating Your Competition With Communications

Plenty of businesses have been communicating with their customers throughout lockdown, but not all have. Those that have continued to retain a PR strategy, have already started seeing the benefits of it as restrictions ease. Our client Combermere Abbey, for example, in the last lockdown enjoyed almost 100 bookings in the first few weeks after reopening them; and they’re set to enjoy similar successes this time around too. Don’t wait to start talking to your consumers, start now. This is what we’d advise.

Spend time on CSR

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is often wrongly overlooked as a PR exercise. Brand reputation is so important, and you want to be getting your name out there for all of the right reasons. You might not be able to trade at the moment, but what’s stopping you from supporting your local community or charities? We actively encourage our clients to get involved with local schools, care homes and other organisations as much as they can, not only does this open them up to new audiences and reinforces their brand reputation; but it also heightens the chance of some great regional media coverage too.

Become a regular on social

If you’ve not already been utilising a social media strategy, then now is the time to start. We’d recommend communicating with your customers regularly every week – talk about what’s coming up, what they can expect when they return and what you’ve been up to during lockdown. Everybody wants something to look forward to at the moment, and you have the potential to capitalise on that. For hospitality businesses, we’d recommend focusing on Facebook, Instagram – and perhaps Twitter and LinkedIn. Don’t forget about TikTok too – a relatively new platform but one that can do your business many favours if you get it right.

Jump on every press opportunity

Press opportunities are coming thick and fast at the moment, in only the last few weeks we’ve landed client coverage on big publications such as The Telegraph and the Daily Mail to name just a couple. Look out for where you can insert your business into the media and generate some extra exposure, either locally or nationally, to help put yourself in front of your competitors come April 12th. To speak to the team about how to jump on press opportunities like this and get your business some great media coverage, get in touch with us via our website.

Start direct communications now

If your customers are signed up for an email database… Then they’ll want to hear from you! Start putting together a plan for newsletters, but don’t overdo it either. It’s good to give your consumers an update, but make sure you’re tying it into something important, for example, you might have opened reservations or given the go-ahead to open from 12th April. Keep your communications consistent but relevant, and always on-brand.

Work on your website

Finally, don’t waste this period of closure – use it to put your business in a great position for when you can reopen. We recently wrote about how to navigate through the third lockdown and part of this included working on your website, optimising content, updating meta descriptions, page titles and so on. Also, put together an SEO blog strategy that focuses on relevant long-tail keywords, as well as including content that your customers will want to read about. With the right strategies in place, the work you do now may well be ranking where you want it to be by mid-April.

Ready, Set, Go…

If you really want to get competitive and have a great communications plan in place to ensure a successful spring and summer, then why not get in touch with our team of experts? We have a wealth of experience in hospitality PR, and would love to chat about what we can do for your business? Get in touch now, or why not check out the case studies on our website?

PR & MARKETING STRATEGY – IS YOUR BUSINESS READY FOR LIFE AFTER LOCKDOWN?

As we approach the end of Lockdown Mark III, the government believes that the UK economy will bounce back like a ‘coiled spring’. The question is, are you ready for a return to normality, what are you doing to prepare yourselves and have you got their marketing strategy in place to maximise opportunities? If not, now is the time to take action before it’s too late.

The Bank of England suggests that consumer spending is set to surge with that the British public having saved as much as £250 billion while being locked up. Restaurants, pubs and bars are the likely immediate benefactors as well as UK holiday providers, but all these industries have suppliers and employ people who, who when earning again, will look to treat themselves after months of curtailment.

We have talked earlier about the importance of maintaining a marketing presence during lockdown and have an excellent case study of Combermere Abbey, one of the region’s leading wedding venues and accommodation providers, on how they managed it so well. The case study shows how the business was forced to close due to the Covid restrictions but rather than twiddle thumbs, took proactive measures so they were well placed to take advantage when the lockdown was lifted.

Businesses preparing for the lifting of what is believed to be the ‘last lockdown’ should also consider how the economy has been permanently altered since March 2020. Consumer spending habits, lifestyles and trends have been shifted online, people have adopted new hobbies and outlooks, and it is hard to see how the high street can bounce back without innovation or embracing more digital opportunities.

It is not just the hospitality and retail industries that is expected to bounce back, but house builders and construction industries are also likely to benefit as people look to either move home or make renovations following months of being in lockdown. A report from our client Miller Homes suggests that lifestyles have been changed by the pandemic with more home working or a demand for more outdoor space. These new ways of living and working present clear marketing opportunities.

The use of social media has also grown significantly as users feel that they have a safe space to interact, be entertained, distract themselves, and find inspiration without any risk of contagion. July 2020 saw a rise of 10.5% in social media usage, compared with July 2019, according to a GlobalWebIndex survey. Some 46% of women and 41% of men said they’ve spent more time on social media during the pandemic, making it the second-most popular digital activity.

Businesses should alter their marketing approach to reflect this and have a marketing and social media strategy in place that maximises the opportunities presented. It’s likely that the space will remain competitive and it will be the brands that have relationships with their customers and who are able to excite, entice and engage that will come out strongest.

If you’re looking for a PR or marketing strategy, the team would be delighted to have a chat to understand where you are, what the vision is and to help pull plans together so you can get there. The end of the ‘last lockdown’ is fast approaching, make sure you are ready like a ‘coiled spring’ to take your opportunities.

WHY SOCIAL MEDIA IS NOT ALWAYS ABOUT ROI

Social media: a powerful tool that will connect you to your audience and help spread the word about what your brand has to offer.  It is of course another platform that can encourage sales but a recent campaign had us thinking about how social media does not necessarily need to lead to an increased ROI.

Have you ever thought about putting baked beans on your Weetabix?  I’m guessing your answer is no.  Well, it turns out that Weetabix have thought about it, to the point that they got tins of Heinz Baked Beans and delicately placed them on top of the nation’s favourite breakfast cereal.

On the morning of 9th February 2021, the Twittersphere went into meltdown with calls from Twitter users for Weetabix to delete its account.  It’s safe to say people were disgusted.  But it’s the disgust that carried this campaign to the point that the tweet became viral.  Weetabix’s tweet currently stands at 36K retweets, 65.6K quote tweets and 124.2K likes.  It’s certainly not a brand partnership that people would be expecting but that’s what makes the campaign so successful.  Pairing two foods broke the internet and catapulted the Weetabix and Heinz brands straight onto headlines.  The tweet was covered by media titles including, Sky News, Telegraph, Manchester Evening News and Daily Mail.

 

Piers Morgan even tried it on Good Morning Britain, adding to the conversation on social media and giving the campaign an even bigger boost to those who don’t have an online presence.  The campaign was given an opportunity to get another bite of the cherry, as Piers sampling the new delicacy made headlines and gave Weetabix and Heinz even more press coverage.

 

It wasn’t just the general public that made their opinions known on Twitter, other UK brands joined the conversation too, making for a hilarious Twitter thread.

Other brands were even trying their own disturbing Weetabix combinations…

Innocent Drinks are well known for running outrageous campaigns and causing a stir on social media.  At the end of 2020, Twitter descended into chaos as they claimed they had teamed up with Heinz for a ‘Beanz Machine’ breakfast smoothie.

So, it was all too funny when one Twitter user replied to the thread saying, “@innocent levels of chaos on the Weetabix page today.”

What followed was yet another strange brand collaboration, Weetabix took it even further…

 

The campaign worked so well because the country is living through lockdown 3.0 and everyone is in serious need for something to laugh at.  Plus, food combos are always a popular topic of conversation, Weetabix created a large-scale conversation that lasted for days.  The campaign brought everyone together, even if it was to share their disgust with Weetabix.

 

It’s evident from these types of campaigns that social media is not all about pushing sales messages and products.  It’s all about brand-building and gaining interest from the target audience.  A brand won’t go viral by simply tweeting about what they have to offer.  As the other brands started to respond to the Weetabix tweet, they were opening up a conversation for their own followers.  This was purely organic social media content and Weetabix only needed to spend money on Heinz Baked Beans.

 

You can almost guarantee that people had Weetabix on the brain for the rest of the day and added it to their shopping list for the next food shop!

 

Find out how we can support your business with its social media management by emailing us on louis@sourcepr.co.uk or calling 01829 72078.

 

IS LOCAL MEDIA COVERAGE JUST AS VALUABLE AS NATIONAL MEDIA COVERAGE?

At Source PR, we have plenty of experience gaining coverage for our clients, from the nichest of publications to some of the UK’s largest. From the BBC News to ITV, the Mirror Online and the Financial Times, we’ve got a track record we’re proud of.

 

But we’re no stranger to local media, either. In fact, a majority of our press releases go directly to local media journalists and publications. Forming good relationships with journalists and keeping up-to-date with the goings on of regional media is essential to our role in securing coverage for our clients.

 

But with smaller readership numbers compared to national media, is local media worth trying to get coverage in?

 

We say a resounding, loud yes: and here’s why.

 

1. A relevant audience

 

It’s obvious that directing a press release towards those who will benefit from the information most is the best course of action.

 

We work with Cheshire pubs for whom the target audience of their coverage is, naturally, local readers and viewers. While a viral Buzzfeed article or a national news story on BBC News is certainly not going to hinder their business prospects, it goes without saying that a pub first and foremost has to win over the local residents – and keep them coming back.

 

Targeting local media is the best way of helping them achieve this goal, both for online and offline coverage.

 

It’s not only smaller businesses that try for coverage in local media, either: national corporations that run campaigns and events in one particular area benefit from the local media’s ability to inform local residents, meaning they’re perfect to use for advertising and features.

 

Whether it’s a pub, a logistics company or a builders’ merchants, at the end of the day, it’s those local to the business who will be giving the business the most trade – so it makes perfect sense to reach them in their local media.

 

2. Trust is key

 

Did you know that, according to an American-based study by the Knight Foundation, local journalists are seen as more caring, trustworthy and unbiased in comparison to national media journalists?

 

The same study found that 45% of participants trust local news reporting either ‘a great deal’ or ‘a lot.’ Currently, there is a lot of mistrust for mainstream media from all sides of the political spectrum: from Donald Trump’s infamous rhetoric of citing news outlets such as CNN as ‘fake news’, as covered in our previous blog; to complaints in the UK of biased reporting from the big news outlets such as the BBC, sparking a national conversation about the need for a TV license fee.

 

Right now seems like the perfect time to invest time and energy into local media, which not only has the trust of its readership, but also keeps them informed of the most immediately relevant information to their day-to-day lives.

 

3. Keeping connected

 

Similarly, readers tend to feel more connected to their local media than to national media. A Government-backed study found that for every percentage point growth in a local daily newspaper’s circulation, local electoral turnout goes up by 0.37 percentage points. Informing readers of relevant local happenings leads readers to being more in-tune with goings on of their town or city, thereby making them feel more active participants in local democracy.

 

Some corporations have intervened in order to help keep local democracy thriving. To help combat the deficit in local news reporting, the BBC launched a Local Democracy Reporting scheme, which created up to 150 new jobs in local media throughout the UK. The reporters cover top-tier local authorities and other public service organisations.

 

In Facebook’s new ‘journalism project,’ the social media giant posits an initiative specifically for local news, stating that: “We will be collaborating with news organizations to develop products, learning from journalists about ways we can be a better partner, and working with publishers and educators on how we can equip people with the knowledge they need to be informed readers in the digital age.”

 

As Facebook has, in the past, come under fire for its lack of scrutiny of ‘fake news’, this is a great way for the corporation to step in and help make local news more accessible and verifiable.

 

Keeping it local

 

Some people think they have only made it in the world of PR if they’ve secured national media coverage. We say there’s a lot more to being successful in PR than only targeting the nationals. Targeting where your customers are reading is where it’s at, always.

 

Need some advice?

 

If you’d like some tips and support on the best ways of getting coverage for your business, you can get in touch with our friendly and experienced team via our website. We’re also on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram – why not follow us?

 

 

SOCIAL MEDIA ADVICE FOR B2B COMPANIES

Social media marketing is pretty vital to every company, but it’s easier for some than it is others. Marketing plans can be particularly tricky to navigate at the best of times, so we’re here with some social media advice for B2B companies from The Source team. We have a wealth of experience in B2B PR support, which includes content marketing, social media and media relations and from that experience, here’s what we recommend.

Top Social Media Advice For B2B Companies

Click on the links below to jump to specific social media advice for B2B companies…

  1. Find the right social media platforms
  2. Utilise industry news
  3. Remember that people like people
  4. Keep things interesting
  5. Leverage appropriate hashtags
  6. Don’t underestimate Facebook groups

Find The Right Social Media Platforms

Not every platform will work for every company, that goes for B2C industries as well as B2B. For example, TikTok marketing is a great opportunity for brands with a visual appeal, such as tourism providers, wedding dress manufacturers and cosmetic companies. Other platforms, such as LinkedIn, work much better for B2B marketing, especially for service products such as CRM software, for example. There’s no one way to decide which social media platform will work best for your B2B company, so the best way to approach is through trial and error. See which types of content get the most engagement, and where. Traditionally, though, we’d match the following top platforms to the following sectors..

  • Instagram – mainly B2C, with opportunities for B2B
  • Twitter – mainly B2B, with opportunities for B2C
  • Facebook – both B2C and B2B
  • TikTok – mainly B2C, with opportunities for B2B
  • LinkedIn – mainly B2B
  • Pinterest – mainly B2C

So, if you’re heading a B2B company and want to give social a go, it’s worth dipping your toe in the water with LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and potentially Instagram and TikTok also. We have some more social media advice on what kind of content to focus on below.

Utilise Industry News

You shouldn’t be content curating all of your posts, as most of your audience will be following your accounts because they want to hear from you, however, utilising relevant industry news in posts is a good way of keeping your audience informed of relevant and interesting developments. It keeps you abreast with your sector and positions you as an expert in that field, furthermore, it creates a good mix of content to keep your strategy fresh and current. We’d recommend around an 80:20 ratio of curated to original content, but don’t be afraid to mix this up week on week.

People Like People

As we mentioned above, people like people. Though you’re selling ‘business to business’, there’s still a person behind that brand at either end. A study by Princeton University proposed the stereotype model, which boils down to the fact that people judge others on their warmth and competence. The more ‘friendly’ you appear, the more likely people are to trust you – this applies to your social media followers too. Though it’s important to draw a line and remain professional, it’s also a good idea to be conversational in your content and help build trust in your brand. Harvard psychologist Amy Cuddy says it’s important to demonstrate warmth first and then competence, especially in business settings. A lot of effective social media marketing begins with an understanding of human psychology.

Keep Things Interesting

It’s a common misconception that B2B communications have to be stiff and corporate, try injecting a light tone of voice into your content or experimenting with light-hearted competitions for engagement. With one of our B2B clients Altecnic, they ran a 12 days of Christmas giveaway which included a daily video of their Technical Manager dressed as Santa. You need to remember that your audience is human and keeping things engaging is a sure way of retaining engagement and growing following. If there’s a certain lull, never underestimate the power of a social media giveaway either, no matter your industry.

Social media advice for B2B companies: competitions

Leverage The Right Hashtags

Researching into hashtags is never time wasted. You can now use hashtags in your posts across LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter and more recently, Facebook. One of our B2B clients frequents the ‘#PlumbersHour’ hashtag because this is where their core audience is. Hashtags are often followed by those interested in that kind of content, so if you have a specific audience of your B2B brand, then find out what the kind of conversations that they’re already in, and join in. You can discover hashtags through researching related terms on Instagram and Twitter, and also by looking at what other influential accounts are tapping in to.

Don’t Underestimate Facebook Groups

Finally, our last piece of social media advice for B2B companies is not to underestimate the power of a Facebook group. Similarly, to leveraging hashtags, Facebook groups can be a great way to find your audiences. In 2019, Facebook announced that Facebook says there “are more than 400 million people in groups that they find meaningful”, meaning there’s a huge potential audience if you know where to look. Start by searching keywords on Facebook that are relevant to your brand for example “food manufacturing”, “plumbing” or “health and safety”.

 

For more advice and support for B2B PR, social media, content marketing and more, please get in touch with our friendly and experienced team through our website. Or, you can keep up to date with what The Source is up to on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram.

WHAT MAKES THE BEST PR AGENCY?

As the new year begins and we enter a third lockdown, now seems the right time to think about what will make the best PR agency for clients whether in Manchester, Liverpool or the North West.  Here, we share our thoughts on what makes a PR and social media agency successful and how good client relationships are the secret to taking marketing results to the next level.

Key Characteristics Of The Best PR Agency

Know the client. I mean really know the client

One key skill for PR executives working in agencies is the ability to juggle various client demands at any one time. It can be very challenging working in a PR agency, but it does allow executives to get a broad range of experience under their belts, which in turn adds value back to clients.  You can really become mini experts in a number of different industries in no time, and the best PR agencies will always be the embodiment of this skill.  After working client side, I realised that there’s always more to know about a business, to understand its strategic decisions and its relationship with stakeholders.  If you can take this in-depth approach and apply it on the agency side, whether for B2B clients or B2C clients, you not only offer better communications advice but can also help shape the client’s business direction.

Put substance before style

I’ve never been a big fan of the PR stunt or more general ‘PR puff’.  Although creative ideas remain the backbone of what we offer, the best PR agencies should always consider whether the proposals are achievable and whether they deliver real returns and impact for clients?  There’s nothing worse than a Mr Negative in a creative brainstorm or planning process, however the best PR agencies always keep an eye on the prize and an effective balance between style with a healthy dose of substance behind it all.  Over promising and under delivering is the worst of all worlds.

Tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth

When looking back on my career, I do recall a moment when working in house for one of the UK’s leading retailers and we were advising the board on how to handle the media in light of a poor set of annual results.  The CEO was his usual bullish self, pushing for us to make this claim or that.  I realised then that my boss, a very successful director of communications, was essentially the grey man of the boardroom by only telling the CEO wanted to hear.  I made a vow to myself never to be that grey man and to always offer honest PR / communication advice based on experience.  Clients are at liberty to adopt or ignore it but for effective relationships, always be honest (perhaps that’s why I never became a Director of Corporate Affairs..!?). To us, this is one of the most important things that makes the best PR agency.

It costs how much?

The days of big spending PR campaigns may be over, but the requirement for showing a return on investment is omnipresent.  It has never been more important and the best PR agency will always demonstrate that great ideas shouldn’t cost the earth to deliver. We live in a quicker, more transparent society and one that does allow great stories and content to be shared easily.  Also, if you know your client, you should know what they need to spend to succeed – don’t turn your back on big budgets but always be aware of what will be delivered in return.

Know what PR campaigns work

You’d be amazed how many clients still view being on a breakfast TV sofa as a success.  Be honest from the outset and tell B2B PR clients that sales of their new widget are rarely achieved after an interview with Phil or Fern.  Be targeted, selective and know their customers and where their products or services need to be – this adds real value.

Be supportive and flexible

With Covid 19 still causing business disruption, the best PR agencies will continue to be flexible and supportive of their client’s changing needs and priorities – including knowing how to handle a crisis situation.  Having the right strategy and the flexibility to evolve it ensures a client’s business remains focussed on priorities and the changes on the ground.  Our work with Combermere Abbey is one such example of a business that faced hardship due to lockdowns but came out stronger on the other side.  Let’s hope the same is true for other businesses as we eventually emerge from this pandemic.

If you’re looking for a PR agency or social media agency in Manchester, Liverpool, Cheshire or the North West, please get in contact and let us show you why we are the best PR agency.

A GUIDE TO COMMUNICATING THROUGH THE THIRD LOCKDOWN

For the third time in our lives, and thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic, England has been plunged into a third nationwide lockdown. Clear instructions were given by Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday that we must “stay home, protect the NHS, save lives”. This means that non-essential retailers are to close, with most hospitality outlets such as pubs, restaurants and hotels being closed already due to pre-existing tier restrictions. Navigating the next few months is without a doubt going to be tricky, but we at The Source are on hand to support you with any questions around communications you might have.

Should You Be Continuing With PR & Social Media Through Lockdown?

We might be biased, but we believe it is crucial to continue communicating with your customers, even during periods of total closure. There are many reasons for doing so, which we will explain further below. But first, we’d direct you to our PR case study for Combermere Abbey, a luxury wedding venue and holiday accommodation. Throughout the first and second lockdown, this client retained their PR and social media activity, understanding the importance of consistent communications. As a result, following the lifting of restrictions last summer, the abbey was inundated with bookings, and enjoyed a busy year, all things considered.

A social media campaign we ran for our client Combermere Abbey got great engagement during lockdown, read our case study to find out more…

The financial implications of a third lockdown mean you might be wondering whether a PR and social media strategy is worth the budget, we believe it is because…

  • Your competitors may still be communicating, and you don’t want to lose customers to them if you go quiet.
  • People will want things to look forward to, you can get them excited about the future and ensure that when restrictions are lifted, they’ll come to you.
  • You might be able to pivot your business and still make revenue during lockdown, for example by offering gift vouchers or a takeaway service.
  • With people being at home a lot more, it’s likely social media usage will rise once more, now is a great time to work on building your following and introducing your brand to a wealth of new people.
  • Now is a great time to gauge interest for later on this year, you can subtly generate interest and then introduce a hard-hitting marketing strategy when restrictions are hopefully lifted in the spring.

The Lion at Malpas voucher

What To Say When There’s Nothing To Say

An issue, of course, of communicating through lockdown is that you might feel as though you have nothing to say. It could be the case that your business is fully closed for the next few months, and up until now your social media has been focused around sales. However, just because you can’t sell to customers, doesn’t mean you should stop talking to them. It can be hard to find the inspiration of what to post for sure, so here’s 5 of our top tips…

  1. Switch up your call to actions, instead of directing people to purchase, suggest they visit your website to read a blog, or follow your social media pages for more updates instead.
  2. Get people excited about the future, by showing them what’s on offer for when restrictions are lifted.
  3. Give your customers updates. If you’re a gym and you’re renovating a certain area, shout about this on your social media – people want something to look forward to.
  4. Introduce confidence offers for people to encourage revenue now, for example if you’re in the holiday business, are there deals and secure booking policies that you can introduce, for people who book now for stays later this year?
  5. Share happy memories from times gone by. If you’re a wedding venue, for example, why not encourage past brides and grooms to post pictures from their happy days. Positivity is what got brands through the last 2 lockdowns, and it’s what will get us through this one too.

It’s worth noting that you shouldn’t post for the sake of it, though, as this could end up doing more harm than good. However, if you can find a relevant message to your brand – then hold on to that.

Other Lockdown Communication Tips

There’s no one-size-fits-all strategy for marketing, but there are some tips and tricks you can go by to ensure an efficient communications strategy throughout this third (and hopefully final) lockdown. If you’re now convinced that it’s important to stay in touch with your customers, both old and new, then here’s some of our advice for actioning that…

  • Use different means of communicating, as not every customer will use the same channels. You can typically reach an older demographic via informational newsletters and Facebook or try Instagram or TikTok to communicate to a younger audience.
  • Test what works well by trying different types of content on different platforms, then stick to what works once you’ve determined a winning formula.
  • This is a difficult time for us all but try to focus on the positives if you can. Share happy memories and get your customers looking forward to visiting you or buying from you when restrictions are lifted.
  • Use this time, if you can, do get involved with the local community and help out. Brewdog recently made headlines by offering their empty bars to the NHS to be used as vaccination facilities. Your acts don’t need to be extravagant as this, but it always helps to generate good PR if you can help out in any way you can. Why not raise money for a local charity in a lockdown fundraiser, or donate surplus stock to a foodbank?
  • Pivot your business and operate online if you can, this can be from offering a takeaway service through to creating e-vouchers. Continue to encourage people to support businesses and shop local.

If there is any more advice you’d like, or any questions for our team of experts, please don’t hesitate to tweet us, or send us a private message through our website. We look forward to hearing from you soon and until then, stay safe.

JO MALONE’S MISJUDGEMENT – THE IMPORTANCE OF STAYING ON TOP OF CURRENT AFFAIRS

While some businesses have folded due to the impact of COVID-19, others have managed to find their feet during it. We’ve seen tongue-in-cheek advertising slogans emerge, such as KFC’s switch from ‘It’s finger lickin’ good’ to ‘It’s good’ as a reference to the importance of hand-washing and personal hygiene,  showing an increase of sense of humour in brand communications in the past few months – a far cry from how we were all feeling back in March.

 

Staying on top of current affairs has always been an efficient way of plugging into the latest trends and hot topics, from newsjacking in PR, to keeping your social media strategies relevant. Gymshark is particularly adept at this, whether it’s voicing their support for the Black Lives Matter movement via a $125,000 donation, or something smaller, such as using the latest Twitter meme format to generate a healthy volume of engagement.

 

 

 

But it’s not just important for brands to stay on top of current affairs for their own inbound marketing, it’s also an essential way of knowing what not to say and do.

 

Gently does it

 

Jo Malone (the brand, not the person – she sold the company in 1999) recently faced backlash for exactly this. The candle and fragrance creator changed an ad that previously starred, and was conceived by, actor John Boyega to include a Chinese actor instead. The use of Liu Haoran instead was to allegedly cater to its Chinese consumer base. The original advert explores Boyega’s beginnings in Peckham, London, with the ad even starring his friends and family. The slogan for the Jo Malone campaign was ‘A London Gent’. With Boyega’s London roots, it simply makes much more sense than when compared to Haoran, who was born and raised in China. Boyega has since dropped his partnership with the company, saying that he does not condone ‘dismissively trading out one’s culture.’

 

Whilst the decision by Jo Malone was a mistake whichever way you look at it, it comes as an even bigger sting following not only the rise in protests in the last few months from Black Lives Matter, but also the actor’s own vocal support for the movement. The erasure of Boyega for seemingly no apparent reason is a reminder of the subliminal racism that is perpetuated by some within advertising industry. The Force Awakens brought in $124 million from China’s box office: though it fared much less strongly than the Avengers movies due to the lack of a nostalgia from Chinese viewers, there’s no doubt that he is known not just to Westerners, but Easterners too.

 

Keeping it current

 

If the powers that be at Jo Malone had their fingers a little more on the pulse when it comes to current political situations, would they have continued with the replacement of John Boyega for their Chinese advert? It’s difficult to say – many more factors must have been at play behind closed doors. But what we do know is that the company would have retained its partnership with the actor. There’s also no doubt that the Jo Malone will have lost the support of some of its British customers in the wake of the upset – something that could have been avoided with a little more planning and consideration for current affairs.

 

Whilst an outright support for Black Lives Matter is a risk some brands simply won’t take, many are. Some, simply to keep their fingers on the pulse, but for others like Gymshark, it’s a clear expression of their brand values.

 

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BEN & JERRY’S SOCIAL MEDIA MANAGEMENT – VIRTUE SIGNALLING OR VIRTUAL POSTURING?

Throughout my PR career, the advice has always been for corporates to steer clear of politics, religion or criticising the competition in the belief that it’s better to lead by example than to criticise others for the actions they take.

It now seems that view is behind the curve when looking at Ben & Jerry’s latest tweet to @PritiPatel which challenges UK policy on the management of illegal immigration as well as the crisis that is currently happening in the Channel.

On the surface, it makes a lot of sense to raise awareness of the social issues and highlight the fact that we are all people living together on one planet.  It’s also right to raise the issue faced by people caught in wars and torture as well as the brutal realities of climate change.  But should an exclusive and pricey ice cream brand to be leading the charge?

In fairness, the messaging reflects the views of B&J’s customers, the hippy ideology of the founders as well as the brand’s long-standing social principles.  It’s also positive that a business with more than 450k+ twitter followers is using its might to raise awareness.  Even from a communications perspective, at least they are taking a stand and saying something rather than the bland, generic guff that many corporates are guilty of sprouting.

Virtue Signalling or Virtual Posturing

However, before being so bold you need to make sure your own house is in order as your actions will invite scrutiny.  This scrutiny will not, and should not, be limited to the topics the brand chooses to engage in – but all areas of its operations.  This could include; what is the company doing to support climate change, how can it justify the price / profiteering of its products, are they ignoring the critically high obesity levels in the population or even what action is it taking to actually support the plight of refugees?

This scrutiny could also be applied also to the parent company Unilever who bought the brand for $326m nearly 20 years ago.  Only yesterday, ‘Unilever’ was one of the top trends on Twitter throughout the day, as many pointed out that they have issues closer to home that such as whether they are guilty of marketing a ‘skin lightening’ cream to people of colour, the exploitation of vulnerable parts of the world or even tax avoidance – that indirectly leads to less money being made available to house refugees?

To gauge people’s views on the matter my colleague @jessicapardoePR undertook a quick twitter poll and found that two thirds of responders (75+) were in favour of the company’s stand.  Although just a snapshot, this is revealing as it’s clear consumers want the brands they associate with to reflect their own ideology.

With the growth in social media and more direct communications, brands are now better placed than ever before to manage their own messages.  Previously they would have had to use the media as a mouthpiece and face the additional scrutiny that this entails.

Social media platforms are however notorious for having a life of their own with innocent or well-meaning tweets often spiralling out of control when twisted by a ‘woke world’ or those with an axe to grind.

The virtue signalling of Ben & Jerry’s latest tweet has indeed attracted such criticism, but as with most effective PR strategies, this has just extended its message and helped to position the business as a champion of cause related campaigning.  It’s a risky route to take but in the case of founders Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, fortune seems to favour the brave.

 

THE BEST CRISIS PR CAMPAIGNS TAKE COURAGE

The best PR campaigns often take courage of convictions or a willingness to do something differently in order to influence and engage with audiences to improve outcomes.  This is even more the case in a crisis PR / communications, where the stakes are high and a wrong move can be costly.

As is often the case, the risk reward equation needs to be carefully balanced, with business leaders making the call based on the advice and expertise given by their PR agency or advisors.

But equally sometimes in business, politics or society the right action just feels right, is based on a calculated risk and an intuitive understanding of the people you are looking to engage with.

There is no better example of this than the crisis communications undertaken by Chris Swanson, Genesee County Sheriff, who put down his helmet, weapons and joined protesters marking the murder of George Floyd saying, “I want to make this a parade, not a protest”.

Simply brilliant.  He had a clear understanding of his audience, the courage of his convictions and the leadership to take his team with him.  He also faced significant risks as he faced a potentially angry mob who were protesting against police brutality and who in other regions and states had clashed violently.

Swanson took off his helmet, ordered other officers to put down their weapons and smiled and high-fived people in the crowd.  The crowd responded by chanting, “walk with us!”.  So, he did. “Let’s go, let’s go,” Swanson said as he and the cheering crowd proceeded. “Where do you want to walk? We’ll walk all night.”

His leadership and actions marked a change in behaviour as well as the emergence of #walkwithus.  Several law enforcement officials have taken his lead with more in the past few days engaging with marchers and showing solidarity either by marching, kneeling or publicly denouncing the death of Mr. Floyd.

This positive and persuasive response is in marked contrast to the confrontations that have escalated and cities, including Chicago, New York and Philadelphia, where violence and vandalism have targeted police in recent nights. Videos have shown police officers using batons, tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets on protesters, bystanders and journalists, often without warning.  Sadly at least five people have been killed so far in violence connected to the protests that started after Mr. Floyd died in police custody.

So why was this crisis communication so successful?  It was not a crisis PR campaign orchestrated with big budgets and celebrity influencers but simply honest and genuine communications that understood and related to its audiences.

It also took a lot of bravery and showed exceptional leadership in a time of crisis.  It was however considered communications and one based on an understanding of the audience, confidence in the team and an honest appraisal of the situation.

Well done Sheriff Swanson, setting an excellent example not only in policing, humanity and empathy but crisis PR communications as well.

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