Monthly Archives: September 2012

Fire, flood and plague? Are you prepared for a crisis?

Autumn floods have left businesses across the country mopping up and wondering how or if they can return to business as usual.

As well as dealing with the practical issues of getting back to work many businesses will face the prospect of having lost customers forever because they couldn’t be reached. Customers who had to go elsewhere may never return.

But there are a few practical things you can do to help keep your customers when you’re in the middle of a crisis. Keep them informed and they’re more likely to be waiting for you when you can help them again. Even better, with a bit of planning you can carry on throughout a crisis and never lose a sale.

Have you got a plan?

Bad weather gets the blame for lost business days in the UK. But we know it’s coming. Every year somewhere in the UK experiences high winds, unexpected floods or heavy snow. Traffic disruption, staff shortages and power cuts cause as much of a problem as damage to stock. So you should be prepared for it.

But you might have a crisis related to staff illness or damage to your premises. It’s worth spending time considering what possible situations could stop you from operating and then making a plan to get round them. 

So what’s your plan for what to do if you can’t access your premises, you’ve got no staff or if the lights go out?

  • Can you work from somewhere else? If you can, make plans now for a seamless transfer of business.
  • Can you divert your phones remotely to another number or mobile? Consider having your staff mobile phones spread across network providers so if one loses signal there’s a chance someone will still have a usable phone.
  • If you have an answerphone can you access messages remotely? And can you change the recorded message to let your customers know your circumstances? If you can’t learn! And write down the instructions somewhere in case you need someone else to do it.
  • Can you put a message on your website from anywhere?
  • Do your staff know what to do and where to go in an emergency? Do you honestly expect them to struggle through dangerous driving conditions or have you already agreed where they will go and what they will do in a crisis? Make sure they know what you expect them to do.
  • Have you considered giving people ‘emergency’ roles? If your reception staff are all struck down with the flu or are trapped on the wrong side of a snow drift have you already identified which business functions you can stop doing while you redeploy staff to cover business-critical activities elsewhere.
  • Is your IT backed up? And where is the backup stored?
  • Who are the key holders for your premises?
  • Have you got enough insurance?

How will you tell your customers what’s happening?

Can you mail them? Put a message on your web site? Can you tweet them? In a crisis there’s usually a hash-tag. Tweet your business status and everyone searching under that tag has a chance to see your tweets – it’s a wider audience than you might reach elsewhere. And many people get text messages from Twitter alerts, so you might reach them even if your IT network is down. 

Putting a temporary message on your voicemail or web site is fair enough, but remember to say what time you left the message and when you’ll update it – this could save you answering a lot of calls from frustrated people who just wanted to know if you’ll be open tomorrow…

Can you tell local radio or the local paper how your customers can reach you?

Experienced sailors keep a grab-bag of emergency kit, with all their survival supplies in it, so if they have to go overboard they have a better chance of making it till they’re rescued. Have you got your own business grab-bag? Keep your emergency plan in it – a list of useful telephone numbers, instructions on how to change your web page or remotely access your office voicemail.

Then when the weather takes a turn for the worst you can confidently implement your business continuity plan and carry on.

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Have you got a specialised subject?

Good communication between businesses and customers covers emails and phone calls as well as web pages, adverts, leaflets and marketing material.  A few quick changes can help you and your customers to communicate better and faster.

Why the subject line is the most important part of an email

Is your in-box full to bursting? Do you receive hundreds of mails each week? Do you read emails on your phone?

Chances are you answered ‘yes’ to all of those questions. And if you answered ‘yes’ you can bet your life your friends, colleagues and customers will have answered ‘yes’ as well.

Do you wish there was one thing you could do to make managing your emails easier?

Well there is. It won’t solve all your email issues but it will help, and here it is:

Make sure your subject line accurately and briefly describes the content of your mail.

That’s it. Easy eh?

But take a second to think about it.

How often have you received a mail with no subject line at all? And how many times have you wasted time searching for that mail?

And how often have you opened an email whose subject line was ‘Urgent’ only to discover it wasn’t urgent at all?

Or how many times have you had an email conversation where the subject line was something generic like ‘your account’ or ‘Tuesday’?

I can’t tell you how many emails I receive with ‘press release’ as the subject line. (press release about what???)

And the estate agent I use sends every single email with a property address as the subject line. It makes filing and searching mails a nightmare. Which one of their hundred mails with the subject line ‘1 Front Street’ was about the rent increase and which one was about the boiler leaking? A subject line of ‘1Front Street –boiler’ or ‘1 Front Street – rent’ would have helped so much.

‘But I can’t influence the subject lines of mails sent to me’ I hear you cry. But you can. Instead of just hitting ‘reply’ and typing your text, hit ‘reply’ and change any meaningless subject lines to something more descriptive.

Change the subject line and you’ll find your inbox is no longer made up of mail-chains which have no meaning (you can usually avoid long mail chains by picking up the phone and having a two minute conversation, but that’s another subject altogether)

The best thing about using good subject lines is you can start to influence the people who send mail to you. Behaviour breeds behaviour. If you’re using good subject lines maybe they will too.

And soon we’ll all be able to scan mails on our phones without wondering ‘what the heck is that one about?’ because the subject line is blank or vague.

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What volunteering at the Olympics taught me about internal comms

This is something Vindicat’s Jo Smith wrote, which originaly appeared the Comms2Point0 blog, on 30 August, 2012

One of the successes of the Olympics was the 70,000 volunteers that made the games fly. What was behind the success? Good internal comms – by as many channels as possible.

by Jo Smith

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I was an Olympic volunteer – one of the poppy-and-purple Gamesmaker army who clapped and cajoled and pointed and smiled my way through shift after shift, question after question. And I loved every second.

Gamesmakers have been congratulated for their contribution to the success of the games but have you thought what kept them so chipper?

Lots of them were positioned on street corners and in railway stations, in offices or back-room locations, far from the glamour and the sporting endeavours. It wasn’t witnessing the action that kept them going, so what was it?

It’s no surprise, in my view, that keeping volunteers informed was key to keeping them motivated.

How would you motivate and inform a temporary workforce of 70,000 people, who would be working on a one- chance- to- get- it-right event? A workforce doing jobs they’d never done before, living in a strange place, working in brand new teams, under the glare of international media coverage? What would you do?

Here’s my take on the comms tactics used to make the Gamesmakers great:

1)      Multi-channel approach LOCOG used just about every comms channel available to inform and engage the volunteer army and it worked a treat. Electronic, phone, face to face, print, PR, two way radio, foot messengers – you name it, it got used at the games. Probably even carrier pigeons had an outing.

2)      Email In the lead up to the games all communication was by email, with a helpline available to answer questions. The applications process was on line, as was some of the training. Many organisations shy away from exclusively using online comms on the grounds that it limits access. It was a brave choice, but with 200,000 applicants for 70,000 places it seems the gamble paid off.

3)      Face to face Team leaders took on the role of communicator in chief – cascading information to their group at daily briefing sessions. Those at the top had faith the cascade system would work and you know what? It did.

4)      Communal areas Posters, flyers, daily news sheets and good old gossip were put to great effect in workforce areas. Comment walls, memory boards, funny photographs support flags waiting for graffiti messages and quotes of the day all provided a two way channel for exchanging information.

5)      The uniform  It was loud, unflattering and sweaty but the Gamesmaker uniform was a vital communications tool. Head to toe branding created instant team spirit. If you saw someone wearing it you knew you’d found a friend.

6)      Saying thanks A little gratitude goes a long way and thanks from the organisers, athletes and public really helped to keep everyone enthusiastic. Strangers in the street stopped me and thanked me for my contribution to the games.

7)      Small rewards – Some volunteers signed up for weeks of shifts. Others were there for only a day or two. But little rewards every couple of days helped keep spirits up. An Olympic journal, bronze, silver and gold pin badges and a brushed aluminium relay baton were all handed out at different times, so Gamesmakers had some unique souvenirs of their experience.

8)      Momentum and mailing lists. I’ve already had mails from the Olympics asking me to volunteer for Rio, for the Commonwealth Games. And you know what? I couldn’t sign up quick enough!

9)      PR Discovered some of the Gamesmakers have devised a dance routine? Get them on TV. Usain Bolt flirting with the volunteer who carried out his track equipment? Get in The Sun. Every newspaper featured a human interest story about Gamesmakers, showing once again the value of straight PR and telling people stories about people.  A Google search currently shows more than 11k articles on Gamesmakers. Not bad.

10)      Flexibility– Everyone read the scare stories of the supposed draconian rules for Gamesmakers using social media during the Games but organisers quickly realised they couldn’t keep a lid on the urge to share and the rules weren’t rigorously enforced.

The super-human achievements of the athletes may be what the record books show about London 2012 but it’s the theme-park cheerfulness of London during that golden fortnight that I’ll remember.

Here’s hoping the Games have inspired a generation to be happy and helpful. That would be a great legacy.

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Five free PR actions you can do today

PR doesn’t have to be expensive. Here’s five free things you can do today to help promote your business or event.

  1. Research your media market: Make a list of publications, web sites, radio and TV shows and forums where you’d like to be seen. Then spend some time finding the name of someone there you can contact, their email address, phone number and twitter handle. Your contact list will become your best PR tool.
  2. Make friends: Once you’ve got your contact list pick up the phone and say hello. Speak to journalists and find out what they’d like to know about your business or event. Introduce yourself and your business. Get on their contact list. Invite local journalists to call in next time they’re passing. Make sure they know who you are and what you do.
  3. Update your website: You don’t have to make drastic changes but fresh web content makes your business look dynamic. Change the images. And make sure your spelling and grammar are correct.
  4. Set up a Facebook page. It’s quick, free and gives you access to an audience wider than you think.
  5. And set up a Twitter account. Using social media to reach your customers, journalists and industry experts isn’t new or radical – it’s business as usual. Start having conversations with your customers now.

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