The North East used to be our best kept secret. Not anymore.
A South to North exodus is happening, driven in part by property value disparity and the realisation for many that 10 hour working days with a 90 minute commute either side isn’t much fun.
Sitting on a sunny Saturday afternoon at a bar in town after returning to Tyneside last year, I asked two friends where the money was coming from: the Quayside’s busy restaurants and bars were packed, and it was only 3pm. They shrugged. “There’s been a noticeable difference in the last couple of years,” one said. “Not sure why.”
The universities, business development, the explosion of the food and drink industry, greater lifestyle choices?
I heard the answer first in the parks of Whitley Bay: the southern accents, the accountant who moved up from London, the engineer from Surrey working in offshore renewables. The same anecdotal stories: “We couldn’t get the kids into a nearby school.” “The commute was killing me.” “We just wanted more space.”
It’s a stretch to describe myself as a ‘boomerang’ Geordie, though I’m a north easterner through and through and studied, lived and worked here for over 20 years. But coming back after a decade away has been a real eye opener.
“Flat caps, whippets and coal,” used to be the standard wisecrack from those who got a nosebleed North of Watford Gap, but Newcastle upon Tyne has rapidly become a vibrant hub for higher education and R&D, with two thriving universities bursting with innovation.
The North East is at the forefront of green energy, notably in offshore wind. And the tech, digital and creative sectors have been experiencing rapid growth too. It all has a positive ripple effect on business. Then there are the constants: Northumberland has some of the finest beaches in the world, with castles steeped in history, fishing villages with bobbing blue coble boats, and seals and dolphins frolicking off the coast. There’s Hadrian’s Wall, the Cheviots, the Farne Islands, Housesteads Roman Fort, Lindisfarne, Gibside, Durham Cathedral, High Force. The list of things to see and do is endless.
The lifestyle is more relaxed, friendly and offers space to breathe and take your time. No surprise then that northerners are returning to their roots, with southern born colleagues hot on their heels seeking a piece of the action. The transformation presents its challenges which the region will no doubt meet in its usual determined way, not least in the provision of jobs, housing, schools and sustainable public transport for this and the next generation. There are disparities in wealth that must be addressed if everyone is to benefit from economic growth, and with that must come real term wage increases.
North Tyneside is ahead of this curve: the jewel in its coastal crown, the restoration of the iconic Grade II listed building at Spanish City, is an illustration of the ongoing economic renaissance and boost to tourism. The knock on benefits are clear to see already: new business start-ups, new houses and regeneration. The council’s Low Carbon plan sets out to reduce the council’s carbon footprint by 50%, as well as incorporating a range of new energy generation initiatives. Its stated aim is to provide a clean, green, healthy, attractive, safe and sustainable environment.
And an historic devolution deal is to give the area new powers and investment. The North of Tyne Combined Authority has ambitious plans to create 10,000 jobs. With £600m of extra money to invest locally, there will be projects to develop land for economic growth and regeneration, to improve workforce development, training and adult education, and to help equip people with the skills they need to get into work.
There will be checks, balances and compromises along the way, and achieving these aims will depend upon genuinely collaboratively public and private sector partnerships: with business, with government departments and agencies, and with local communities. Effective prioritisation of spending will help lever in additional private investment too.
With online competition as fierce as ever, it’s important to use your website as often as possible to demonstrate the benefits of your products or services.
Regular news posts, editorial about client case studies or business success stories are a great way to refresh your website content and spread the word about what you do, and more importantly, why others should do business with you.
So why do so many business websites lack this type of content, and why is the copy clearly written from the perspective of the owner rather than that of their prospective customer?
The answer is quite simple and fairly typical: it’s just not part of the ‘day job’. There always seem to be more pressing ‘show on the road’ duties to which to attend, right? All too often the emphasis of website content is on features and terms of a product instead of actually illustrating its benefits and how it will help you, the reader and prospective customer.
Creating a helpful narrative around your business includes practical applications of your offering and case study examples clearly showing how, when and to whom it is proving beneficial. You can achieve online sales growth by demonstrating solutions in this way.
Published and attributed third party recommendations from satisfied customers are like gold dust too. How do I know this? Because almost all of my new business comes from referrals – if you have done a good job for someone, they will be happy to tell others about you.
Do you feature your client testimonials prominently on your own website? Whenever a customer gives you positive feedback, be bold and ask them for a testimonial. Go a step further and ask if they would be prepared to be featured as a case study example on your website.
You can use this kind of content for all sorts of different promotional vehicles too, from sprinkling short punchy customer compliments across your website, to using case studies in marketing literature, PR and social media activity.
And if time is pressing or you simply do not know where to start, get a copywriter in to take care of it all for you, from interviewing and content generation through to chasing up quotes and securing final copy approval. I’m here if you want to discuss a few ideas! <PR services>
Businesses with successful PR and communications strategies are adept at showing precisely how they can help their customers. This means recognising where the ‘pain points’ are and clearly explaining the solution.
One of the best ways to create engaging narrative around your products or services is by using client case studies and testimonial quotes from happy customers.
These can be published across your website and disseminated via social media, as well as being fashioned into strong news releases for third party coverage across traditional and online media channels, all of which can win you new business.
So how do you put together compelling content to highlight news which independent outlets will cover? Here are a few tips to help you get your business noticed:
1.) Who, when, what, where, how? Good copy volunteers all this information as the story progresses – anticipate readers’ questions and provide answers succinctly.
2.) Create a punchy headline.Editors will be looking for key words and interesting phrases which bring a story alive. Take a look at today’s newspapers to get a feel for headline writing and what grabs the attention, e.g. “Thinking computer keeps watch on tube stations.”
3.) Presentation is vital to catch the eye – news desks receive thousands of stories every day, many of which are sub standard in content, structure, basic grammar and spelling. A professional looking press release does not ramble – a busy newsroom or website editor may spend a matter of seconds to scan your offering.
4.) Identify story ‘pegs’ on which to hang your story - it provides you with a framework from which to work. The media loves interesting facts and unique statistics to illustrate case studies.
5.) Make quotes quotable. Be direct rather than gushy or bland: get straight to the point and state why what you’re doing is so beneficial. Wherever you can, use client endorsement quotes which clearly explain to readers how your product or service is helping your customers. The use of relevant metaphors and comparisons can bring a quote alive. Avoid unnecessary technical jargon or wishy washy statements like “This will enhance our already comprehensive corporate capability.”
6.) Embed your messages. Just like good SEO copywriting for websites, a key aim of each story is to embed standard information about your organisation and your bread and butter activities.
7.) Photography can add enormous value to a news story, so create an angle to convey animation and momentum. Always include concise picture captions with your press release if photos are included. It’s up to you to make the job of the picture desk as easy as possible.
Taking control of your promotional opportunities and setting aside time each month to undertake some PR activity is a strong contributor to business growth. Don’t be afraid to ring the business or news desks at your local papers to pitch an idea for a story – but make sure you know when their deadlines are. And if you don’t have the time, give me a call!
Finally, spell check and re-read your press release twice before sending it – a good technique is to read it from the bottom up. Errors give news desks an easy excuse to spike a story.
“So what do you do?” The introductory question posed at almost every networking event you attend. For a modern PR professional, the answer to that 'regal' enquiry has become increasingly broad and complex in recent years. Much change has been afoot.
My usual reply can occasionally become an unintended ramble – not the best impression for one who earns his corn in the communications industry......... But could you describe the breadth of your job role in a simple sentence? Try it – for most of us with different skill sets, it can be complicated.
“Give your business a voice or a platform from which to get your message across to your target audiences” is probably the most precise response I can summon up, but admittedly that’s a bit of a mouthful. Maybe the first five words of that statement are simpler to digest.
The complexity of the job description is reasonable. In any given week, I can end up getting involved in an array of tasks which might not at first glance appear to fit: putting together a website structure page map for a client, working with a designer on an annual report, arranging for a journalist to review a hotel, writing content for a local authority consultation, proof reading a marketing brochure. These are all jobs I’ve been co-ordinating with different clients in recent weeks.
Those of us who work in marketing and communications recognise the range of what is required, but for those immersed in their own day to day business operations, it’s not always that obvious as to what an experienced PR, copywriting and communications practitioner can do for you on a day to day basis. So perhaps I can quickly share with you how a typical working week can be spent:
Monday – Writing a press release about a dental training programme and issuing it to local press on behalf of a healthcare client. Tuesday – Developing content for a series of case studies for an IT company to showcase their client successes. Wednesday - Putting together a set of presentation slides for a financial services recruitment and training day. Thursday – Writing a blog about elderly care and Power of Attorney documents for a legal firm. Friday – Composing a marketing mailshot for an international logistics and e-commerce firm to target the US market.
There may be a number of copy content and development tasks which you have been meaning to do for some time to help raise the profile of your company or organisation. Could a cost efficient PR and communications freelancer like me be the one to run with it and make that happen for you?
In a lower performing economy where businesses tighten their belts, their tendency is to cut the ‘added value’ services which they think will help their bottom line and have little impact on day to day operations.
With marketing and PR however, this is, in reality, counterproductive and will fail to achieve any long term gain or benefits. If anything, when the economy is bumping along the bottom, competition for business is at its most fierce, so additional PR and marketing activity can ensure that your voice is heard above the rest.
There are, however, other ways of saving money with your profile raising efforts.
PR and photography have always gone hand in hand, and there are ways to reduce your costs by using a PR professional with a successful track record for bringing the two disciplines together under one roof and making them work.
For me this started many years ago when I worked with PR photographers and learned from them as I went. Nowadays I can often visualise the type of photograph I want, and mould the copy content and news 'hook' around it. Whilst there is truth to the oft quoted phrase ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’, you still need good copy to promote your services and products.
Have a look around this website and most of the pictures you see have been taken by me in the course of generating newsworthy stories and media coverage for my clients. These photographs have been used by newspaper picture desks who are often crying out for well taken pics, unusual angles and different ideas.
Taking control of your promotional opportunities and setting aside time each month to undertake some PR activity is a strong contributor to business growth. Photography can add enormous value to a news story so create an angle to convey animation and momentum.
This all helps with my clients’ bottom lines as the full press release and picture comes in one inexpensive package – so It pays to think smart.
Sometimes it pays to call a spade a spade. You might be surprised to hear that coming from a PR and marketing specialist. And yet barely a week goes by when I do not find myself hurling some relatively mild invective at the computer screen, having read the latest piece of hyperbolic spam trying to flog me some overblown product which I do not need.
That got me thinking more about genuine content development and the effective presentation of products and services – and the responsibility which goes with that for both business owners and the copywriting professional they employ.
There is a school of thought that PR and communications practitioners can play a key role in policy development, customer service and product quality – sometimes even helping to drive it. Potentially we can even act as voice of conscience which can be massively amplified through online platforms and social media. You play a dangerous game if you claim your product or service can do something it cannot – and history is littered with examples of businesses who have lived and quickly died by that particular sword.
As a copywriter therefore, there is a fine line to tread between helping to market a product effectively and ensuring that the copy content produced is a precise and accurate representation of the offer. It’s worth remembering that it’s our job to protect your business’ reputation as well as promoting your wares. Better still, new customers will quickly take you to their hearts if you ‘under-promise’ and ‘over-deliver’.
When I interview business owners as part of copywriting, PR and website content assignments, I feel it’s incumbent to ask them to qualify and quantify assertions about what they produce. So if you offer a great service, say why. If your product is innovative, state how.
I could go into grammar, syntax, use of appropriate adjectives and sentence structure here, but my point is not to put you to sleep. Moreover, it might be worth going back to the last set of marketing materials you commissioned and really analyse what has been written.
Your PR and marketing content should be like a solitary matador – i.e. with no bull. So does it pass the veracity test and are you giving your customers exactly what you promise them?
Most people don’t really know what modern PR entails. Ask them and they’ll make a pretty decent stab at it, with most of course to some degree associating it with getting news coverage in the media.
This however, is just the tip of the iceberg now that PR has morphed into mainstream marketing, rather than being a traditional subset of that key business discipline. Ask them again to list the kind of everyday tasks an experienced freelance PR practitioner gets up to and they are far less certain.
The advent of online communication channels provides a wide range of platforms from which to disseminate key information about your business to multiple audience targets.
The aim of PR is still to create a narrative around your products and services, with the express purpose of demonstrating its value without the hard sell. Perhaps the best example is a series of client case studies which include invaluable third party endorsements underlining what you have achieved for your customers.
These can be used for all sorts of PR and media distribution: for newsletters, blogs, and website content (what is now being termed ‘owned’ PR), as well as for pitching to the news and business desks of key local and ‘trade’ industry press (earned PR). You can see an example of what I mean by clicking here.
My point is this: the economy is strengthening and businesses across the country are starting to invest. So what are you doing about using PR techniques to tell potential markets who you are and how your business offering can be of benefit to them?
Are you reading this? Telling people what you are doing will win you more business.
Deloitte’s quarterly survey of UK chief financial officers reveals how major UK corporates plan to navigate the risks and opportunities of 2014.
The most recent survey of 122 CFOs, over a quarter of whom were from FTSE100 companies, shows they are collectively in buoyant mood.
Business optimism is at a three-and-a-half-year high and a record 57% are willing to state it’s a good time to take risk onto their balance sheet. Just a year ago this figure stood at 25%.
So what does this mean for suppliers, SMEs and smaller businesses? Well, put succinctly, it’s time to get your skates on!
Several other key indicators suggest that the economy is recovering – and in some quarters there is even strong evidence of growth. But you cannot expect to be part of this, to tap into strengthening commercial sectors, if you aren’t actively communicating and promoting the products and services you offer.
It’s no longer enough to be highly competitive in your own field of expertise: modern technology and the plethora of communication platforms available means that you have to be smart, agile and resourceful in reaching potential customers and showing how you can benefit them.
It’s therefore paramount that you dedicate time and resource to your business profile. You will achieve so much more by creating a buzz with a mix of quirky, creative marketing methods and subtle PR techniques.
Well written, compelling and persuasive content for websites, blogs, news releases and articles is the foundation stone for so much of this activity. Encourage conversation about your business and valuable leads will emerge.
One of my most proactive clients has committed to maintaining their profile and visibility by communicating regularly with larger audiences and staying in people’s minds, rather than paying staff to undertake unproductive telesales activity. This helps them keep their prices low and remain competitive. It’s also enabled them to grow their business during a challenging economic period. What we are doing together works.
Multi channel communication is here to stay, and content is king in giving you and your products credibility.
If the pound spent on PR is the most valuable contributor to your marketing strategy, who is more likely to make the biggest impact in raising your profile?
An important, but frequently overlooked, ingredient in business success is trust. This is often lost or diluted within an organisation’s formal hierarchy where many people shy away from saying what they actually think. This can be a huge barrier to improving business performance and results.
When I set up my own business, I wanted to build my own client portfolio as well as working with local web design, marketing and PR companies or in house communications teams on larger scale campaigns.
Both have their benefits, from the thrill of helping a local business achieve big media coverage to making a strong team contribution to an all encompassing public engagement project.
And yet an independent freelancer is an ideal fit for proactive businesses because we are more agile and responsive to their fast moving environment and can quickly make an impact – and at a much lower cost too.
As natural self starters who offer critical expertise and independence of thought, freelancers are often better placed to tap into and build trusting relationships. We operate outside the business hierarchy and our view is not influenced or skewed by internal policy. This is often crucial for businesses and entrepreneurs to get the right advice, creative ideas and innovative solutions.
It’s important to decide which route is best for you. A freelancer’s reputation depends solely on how well they do for a client, so their commitment to you is guaranteed. Pick the right freelancer and you will get great value for money and an experienced, safe pair of hands to help you drive your business forward.
Many people say that the pound spent on PR is the most valuable contributor to their marketing strategy. Please feel free to have a browse around this website and see how the right PR strategy can generate more business opportunities for you.
A matchmaking service for material disposal and industrial need?
The drive for smarter business practice is changing the way we think about our resources and, hopefully, turning the tide against some of the more wasteful and expensive habits which modern society has allowed to propagate. There has always been great value in economy, never more so than now when many materials are subject to price volatility. Steel demand is due to rise by 80% between 2010 and 2030, whilst metal production may account for up to 40% of our energy use by 2050.
Conversely, the concept of industrial supply chains where symbiotic relationships between businesses can save materials, protect resources and reduce environmental impacts remains largely untapped. There is a stark contrast in that as much as 80% of our products are discarded after a single use, especially when population growth and rising consumption continue to increase pressure on resources and the environment.
With exposure and risk to UK supply chains growing, the Technology Strategy Board (as at Jan 2014) is spearheading a £5m funding initiative to help businesses work together to recover valuable materials, substantially cut their waste streams and give products and materials a second life - all whilst improving bottom line profitability.
By way of an example, perhaps there’s no better starting point than the Farington Waste Recovery Park, where Global Renewables and Lancashire County Council have been working in partnership to manufacture kerbs and industrial sheeting from recycled household plastics, as well as recovering waste metals for beneficial use.
The drive to promote supply chain innovation in this way is being championed by the Environmental Sustainability Knowledge Transfer Network. The aim is to accelerate our transition to a circular economy where materials are used over multiple product lifetimes.
This mutually beneficial cycle of maintenance, re-use, remanufacture and recycling preserves the value of products and extends their use. In effect, the initiative acts as a matchmaking service between material disposal and industrial need. The benefits to industry are manifold, with businesses able to reduce costs, minimise supply risk and generate value from brand differentiation.
Price rises of up to 10% in our energy bills in recent weeks (autumn 2013) seem to have finally woken our politicians from their slumber, but is this debate several years too late? A number of the ‘big six’ energy firms have claimed that increases are due for the most part to rising wholesale prices. Data from Ofgem, the energy regulator, does not seem to bear this out.
After over a decade of being given carte blanche to do as they please – and with some customers citing 40% rises in their gas and electric bills since 2007 – it might appear to some that the energy industry is finally being called to heel. Whilst inflation busting household energy bills are now being used as a political football, for my money this horse bolted some years ago and the stable door is still swinging in the wind.
No matter what the big energy companies claim, and dare I say we need many more genuine competitors in the industry to stop people using the word 'cartel', the current complexity of tariffs and the way in which they are marketed means that customers are left in the dark as to what is really the right choice for them.
It is not stretching a point to say that in many cases it takes considerable time investment (and sometimes a degree in maths) just to work out how your bill is calculated. Whilst the marketing departments and executives of the major utilities gush about transparency, fairness and highly competitive tariffs, those of us living in the real world continue to scratch our heads in confusion.
I wrote some time ago about the way in which the market has been modelled and driven on similar lines to the banking industry: trading on apathy and innumerable products which effectively negate an informed choice. Add to this the continued practice of keeping our direct debits higher than the cost of our actual use, so that we overpay whilst the energy providers garner the interest.
Now the government is scrambling for a coherent policy to regulate pricing in response to a back-of-a-fag-packet proposal from the opposition, as if keeping the lights on and meeting the country’s higher energy consumption isn’t challenging enough already.
Whilst healthy competition can balance a market and to some degree keep it honest, we will always be hit harder in the pocket if we fail to recognise when hidden costs are being peddled as choice. Whatever next, the needless proliferation and rising prices of TV, phone and broadband products and services? Don’t look now, it’s already happening.
Are businesses missing a trick with recruitment?
A buddy of mine recently attended a job interview. To my mind he was a shoe-in for the role. He is one of the most hardworking, diligent and efficient people I know, and his CV reflects this.
He didn’t get the job and it’s possible of course that he was simply pipped to the post by a better all round candidate. Except to say that the recruiting company cited a lack of specific experience in their own industry sector as the reason for his falling at the final hurdle.
Cast your eye across most job specifications these days and you will see a similar pattern: ‘Previous experience in X or Y industry essential’ is a typically stated pre-requisite.
Employers are missing a trick by insisting on specific expertise and experience which immediately rules out some highly talented candidates who would excel in the advertised post.
On the face of it, this seems a blinkered and flawed approach. There are thousands of different disciplines, sectors and niche markets out there in the business world, and a hidden elite of outstanding individuals who have transferable skills and the ability to turn their hand to a wide range of roles. This certainly holds true for the sales, marketing and PR industries.
The other day I was asked to write an 800 word article on lettuce sorting. I didn’t know anything about lettuce sorting, nor indeed the highly technological world of fruit, nut and vegetable harvesting, separation and distribution. I listened to what the client wanted, learned a few things along the way, and submitted my piece. The client thanked me heartily for my work. QED.
Early in my career, one of my first bosses said to me that project management boiled down to the following simple rule of thumb: ‘See it, count it, manage it’. Intelligence, organisation, efficiency. He was a Yorkshireman too.
So unless it really is rocket science, the best candidate does not necessarily have to have experience in your field. Widen your view on recruitment, and you might just unearth a diamond rather than a wet lettuce.
Is Vince right?
The summer sunshine may already be a distant memory, but did it help create a mirage of optimism, or are there really promising signs of economic recovery? Certainly the rhetoric has gone up a notch or two in recent weeks (September 2013).
As usual, the housing market is being used as a major barometer and estate agencies and home builders have been quick to suggest that we have more than turned the corner. So is the lugubrious Vince Cable justified in taking his ‘bearish’ stance? As ever, we need to look beyond the politicking to see the real picture.
There are signs that the typical ripple effect of house prices from the South East outwards is no longer in sync with the rest of the country. London remains (would you believe it) a relatively cheaper capital city in which to live, so demand for housing is as high as ever. The Land Registry’s house price index based on actual sales figures is yet to show sustained property value increases for Northern areas.
Couple this with the government’s wheeze to boost the housing market by effectively underwriting the mortgages of first time buyers, potentially at tax payers’ future expense, and you can understand the concern that an unsustainable bubble may inflict further damage on the UK economy.
For a freelance PR and professional copywriter, the ability to diversify and turn a hand to different writing disciplines to help clients with their business growth and marketing has never been so relevant. In recent months I have been asked to undertake many more copywriting assignments for website content, online communications, direct mail and sales literature. Please take a few minutes to browse round the site and get in touch if you would like to discuss your communications needs.