Do you remember your first time?

ImageSomething different – a girl with a gun.

Remember the first time you tried something new? Here’s my take on my first attempt at clay shooting – written for the lovely



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Can you say a few words?

It’s a question which strikes fear into many – the prospect of speaking in public, giving an interview or making a presentation causes nerves to surface in almost everyone.
And this is probably because almost everyone has been on the receiving end of a truly dreadful presentation. Who hasn’t experienced death by powerpoint, or dozed off during a monotone delivery of complicated financial predictions?
Even people accustomed to performing live in front of thousands get nervous about making a speech or a presentation – just take a look at Tom from McFly’s wedding speech to see what I mean.

Yes, you can see he’s nervous but what gets him through is preparation – there’s more than 10 minutes and a panicked list of bullet points scribbled on a beer mat gone into this speech.

So if you’re asked to make a speech or presentation how can you make it easy on yourself?
Preparation is the key. Know what your key messages are – two or three are enough. Then work out how to put your messages across.
Being well prepared will help your confidence and make sure you don’t miss out anything important. This infographic from , a company specialising in presentation skills training, is a useful checklist to work through so you cover everything you need to.

Presentation planning infographic from Skill Studio

Presentation planning infographic from Skill Studio

There’s a lot of truth in the saying ‘It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it’. If you speak in a dull way your audience will remember your presentation as dull – if they remember it at all.

Regional accents add colour and personality to presentations, and provided you’re speaking clearly and slowly there’s no need to worry people won’t understand you. In fact, regional accents are making a comeback, according to the Daily Mail.

My own Geordie accent had the edges knocked off after living down south for 15 years but living on the west coast of Scotland means it’s creeping back.

Joey Barton received criticism for adopting a French accent when interviewed on French TV but it seems more likely he was just trying to fit in, using what experts call ‘speech accommodation’ – mimicking the accent of those present in an attempt to fit in.

So if your accent is fine what else should you consider?

Good advice is ‘Stand up, speak up and shut up’ – say what you have to say but don’t go on. If your voice doesn’t project very well can you use a microphone? It’s worth practising with one in advance – especially if it’s hand held.

Above all remember you’ve been asked to present or be interviewed because people want to hear what you have to say. So next time you’re asked to say a few words, take a deep breath, smile and say, “Of course!”


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Raising the tone

This week’s viral sensation is a letter from Lego’s customer service team to a seven year old boy who’d lost one of his treasured Lego figures. Unlike many of the so-called customer service letters which do the rounds this one is being shared because it’s ace – a perfectly pitched letter which actually solves the child’s problem without patronising him or (even worse) hiding behind ‘company policy’.

If you haven’t read it you can find it here:

So what did Lego do that was so right? It’s all in the tone – and they hit all the right notes.

Have you noticed that every time you read something you subconsciously adopt a little voice which ‘speaks’ the text in your head?

And if you read something aloud you most likely read it in the way you think it was meant to be heard.

Authors rely on this reaction so readers imagine the personality of the characters they created.

Imagine being a seven year old boy reading the letter from Lego. How impressed would you be that the guy in customer services had  passed on a message for him from his fictional hero?

Will anyone be impressed when they read your emails, leaflets, web site text or day to day correspondence?

Getting the tone right can mean the difference between your customers understanding what you are saying and how you are saying it. And chances are different customers will apply a different tone.

Try reading this sentence out loud:

I didn’t say she stole the money.”

Now say it again, but this time put emphasis on the first word. And again, with emphasis on the second. Repeat till you’ve stressed each word.

Each time you change the emphasis you change the tone – and with it the meaning of the sentence.

You have no idea of the tone your customers adopt when they read your text, or where they’ll place the emphasis, so you have to help them out.

Which voice and tone do you want them to use when they read about you?

If you want them to mimic a Downton character, in top hat and tails then you’d best get your dictionary out.

Often the most formal notices are in the least expected places.

bad ferry sign

This one, from a ferry journey I took recently, isn’t too bad but how many times have you visited a public toilet and been greeted with a poster declaring “Please be advised these conveniences are inspected at regular intervals. Should there be anything remiss we kindly request you inform a member of staff.”

It must be a nightmare for anyone who isn’t a native English speaker to pick through the flowery formal language to discover the toilets are checked and if anything is wrong they should mention it.

(Of course this begs the question, is the notice even necessary? If you visited a broken toilet you’d mention it, wouldn’t you?)

Tone of voice is as much a part of a brand as the logo. Big companies want to be friends with their customers and so speak to them in their language. It helps them build brand loyalty. I’m a particular fan of the tone used by First Direct, Boden, John Lewis and Naked Wines – but then I’m a fan of the informal. Other people will prefer something more official. Others will want to read something even more casual.

The important thing is to work out what voice your customers want – or which voice you’d like them to hear.

If you’re keen to be cosy and friendly then don’t refer to ‘Sir’ or ‘Madam’ and ‘ask’ people things rather than ‘request’ them (unless you’re being ironic – ‘Suit you sir!)

The Plain English Society has a useful list of words you can swap if you want to simplify your language.

You should know your audience – using jargon is fine if it’s appropriate. The horsey magazines I read can confidently refer to fetlocks and martingales because their readers know what they mean, but I’d expect The Times to explain that a fetlock is a horse’s ankle, as their readers aren’t in the equine-know. Don’t assume your customers are as well informed as you are.

And having waffled on for 500 words it’s time to take more advice – from Eric Barker – and shut up. Here’s his take on how to improve your writing. It’s good advice – if you don’t mind him using (mild) swearing. I guess his readers don’t – his tone suits his audience!


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Hooray! There’s still 27 PR days till Christmas

Blackboard with 27 days till Christmas written on it

Only 27 days to go

It’s the busiest retail period of the year. Shoppers have been bombarded with Christmas marketing messages since before Halloween goodies were moved off the shelves. There’s a chance your offers will get lost in the tussle between tinsel and turkey.

If your marketing is all in place and you’ve worked out the deals you’re offering then have you considered your Christmas PR?

After all, there are still 27 news days left till Christmas too.

Here’s six low cost and no cost things you can still do to this year to make the most of your seasonal PR:

  1. Get out the decorations and get in the spirit – dress your windows, dress your staff. Resistance is futile. Some top end brands can get away with taking a ‘too cool for kitsch’ approach but most businesses don’t want to be seen a Scrooges so it’s time to deck the halls. You might as well embrace the excess – you’ll be much happier. Send a Christmas email to your customers and thank them for their business. Or put up a greeting in store or on your web site. Encourage staff to wish customers a happy Christmas. A cheery attitude costs nothing – miserable staff can cost you customers.
  2. It’s the season of goodwill, so make sure you’re doing something for nothing – and make sure everyone knows about it. Could you make a donation to charity? Draw up a Christmas quiz and give copies to your customers in return for a donation to a good cause? Give out samples of your produce – or offer mince pies and mulled wine to everyone for a limited period? How about a free gift wrap service or letters to Santa? These are all low cost ways to draw people to your products and it will only take one or two more sales to cover their cost so have a go.
  3. Take pictures: Are your staff dressing up for Christmas? Got a great window display? Made a mountain of pretty puddings? A colourful quirky Christmas picture stands a good chance of being featured in a newspaper. Avoid ‘grip and grin’ pictures – two people nervously clutching either end of a certificate or shaking hands is not an exciting or original picture. Try for something more creative – a tight close up, people lined up by height, looking back at the camera rather than head on, images taken from above or below – have a go and get creative! Then put them on your web site, send them to the local paper or pin them up in store.
  4. Don’t forget the ‘in between’ story. Newspapers are like every other organisation at Christmas – staff want to take time off to shop and celebrate. Many will run a skeleton staff over the festive period, only calling in more if there’s a major news story (remember the Indian Ocean tsunami hit on Boxing Day 2004, leaving news organisations scrambling to keep pace with the devastation). Bank holidays may have an impact on publishing schedules so make sure you know what deadlines are in your area. Many newspapers will try to have their ‘between Christmas and New Year’ editions written in advance – which makes it a good time to send in solid PR stories. A well written, generic seasonal story, with a couple of quirky pictures stands a very good chance of getting coverage at this time of year. Give your local paper a call and see if what you’ve got will interest their readers. Check out their Christmas plans and see if you can help them out.
  5. You can’t beat a Christmas pun – can you? Yes, they’ve all been done before but there’s no reason why you can’t rewrite a Christmas carol to suit your business or have your very own offer for everyone of the ‘12 days’. An outdoor retailer in Stratford upon Avon memorably announced a Christmas sale with the Shakespearean lines, “Now is the winter of our discount tents.” There’s a Christmas angle to suit every business, from having a green Christmas, through to ultimate luxury. Find an original angle but don’t over-do it or you could be ridiculed. You could play it totally straight – journalists get fed up with Christmas too. A serious news story might be just what they are looking for to balance out the angels and advent calendars.
  6. Be ready for the New Year – you already know what people do in the New Year – they pledge to save money, give up smoking, get fit, lose weight, book a holiday, reduce their carbon footprint, learn a new skill. Make sure your plans are in place to tap into these established New Year resolutions – and see if you can come up with some new ones exclusive to you.

So there you go – it’s not an exhaustive list and it’s unashamedly Christmas focussed. If you want to mix in other winter festivities to suit your customers, their preferences and  your location then go ahead. Whatever you do, we hope yours is a very Merry Christmas!


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A marketing man in charge at the BBC? Heavens!

Tim Davie’s appointment as acting director general at the BBC has led to raised eyebrows. How can a marketing man possibly take charge of a news organisation? Surely it’s a job for a journalist?

Tim Davie, acting Director General, BBC

On the one hand it’s a valid question. The crisis which led to Davies’ appointment was caused by “sloppy journalism”. The BBC’s reputation for accurate, balanced and accurate investigative journalism has taken a severe hit over the past few weeks.

But the BBC is much more than a news organisation. Insisting the top job only goes to journalist make no more sense than insisting it goes to a documentary maker or film director.

With its journalistic reputation shredded the BBC needs to restore confidence and regain trust. A man with a marketing background could be just the person to help improve the way it’s perceived.

Like many businesses (and make no mistake, the BBC is a business) the corporation has seen its share of the news and entertainment market chipped away by other channels and other platforms.

If it is to survive it has to adapt and compete. It has to promote its programmes, its stars and its sub-brands if it’s to keep audience share.  It has to attract and persuade people to choose what it offers ahead of what can be found elsewhere. It’s no good producing top quality programmes and news if there’s no-one to watch it. It has to be packaged and sold – that’s a job for a marketing man.

Spending more than a decade heading the marketing division at Pepsico, Davie knows all about competition. Few food and drink manufacturers have a product monopoly. The battle for market share between Pepsico and its rival Coca Cola is expensive and on-going.

Don’t forget marketing is a critical business function. The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as ‘the action or business of promoting and selling products or services, including market research and advertising’.

If that’s not what the BBC needs in the long terms it’s certainly what it needs as it looks for a permanent Director General. The public needs to be reminded of all the things the BBC does well. A bit of hard sell in these areas while it puts its journalistic house in order could be just what it needs.

And who knows? The next director general may well be an ex journalist. Lots of journalists have business skills to match FTSE 100 directors. But if it is someone with a marketing background, who’s experienced the cut-throat world of retail competition, would that be so terrible?


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Marketing – a game for everyone to play

This weekend’s papers featured full page ads for Adobe’s updated software package which promises to solve everyone’s marketing problems.

It made me think – if marketing is now a case of plugging in the software then sitting back and waiting for the results does this mark the end of the marketing consultant? Are marketing professionals about to become obsolete? Is marketing just a game?

When I first saw the advert my heart sank – for years marketers have tried to convince businesses that there’s more to the profession than intuition, inspiration, smoke and mirrors. And they’ve had to work hard to convince others that theirs is a real business skill.

Everyone thinks they are a marketing expert. Few people walk in to the legal team at a large company and suggest ways they might improve their performance in court. Or head off to accounts with a suggestion for changing the way they run their year-end.

But almost everyone at some point will head for the marketing department and utter the immortal word, “I’ve had a great idea…”

And isn’t that how it should be? If creative ideas and constructive suggestions aren’t welcome in a marketing department then where can you raise them? You’d expect professional communicators to listen to new ideas and discuss your suggestion – it’s what they’re good at. Your accounts team may perform numerical miracles but you wouldn’t automatically expect them to be expert communications – it’s not their job.

But chances are it is their job to use the accounts software. Having a specialist piece of software doesn’t make you a good accountant. And having a design package doesn’t turn you into a talented artist.

In both cases you still need an aptitude for the subject and the ability to understand the information it provides you with. And you need the skill to input good information in the first place. Rubbish in usually produces rubbish out.

So will having access to specialist marketing software turn everyone into a marketing expert?

It’s unlikely. But it’s great news that marketing is taking its place amongst the mainstream professions. Adobe’s software package and its advertising campaign brings marketing to the attention of more businesses.  The more people who start to understand that marketing is a genuine business skill and not a dark art the better prospects are for marketing professionals everywhere – with or without the software.


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How a trip to the circus can explain PR and marketing

If you’re running a business you might be considering your PR or marketing. But what exactly do these terms mean?

This definition from Hollywood publicist Lee Solters may help:

  •  When the circus comes to town and you paint a sign about it, that’s advertising.
  • Put the sign on the back of the elephant and march through town, that’s promotion.
  • If the elephant walks through the mayor’s flowerbed, that’s publicity.
  • And if you can get the mayor to comment about it, that’s public relations.

You might also like to consider another point:

  • If you planned the whole thing, that’s marketing.

So there you go – understanding the difference between PR, advertising, promotion and marketing is as easy as a trip to the circus.

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