What big brands can learn from my plumber.

Advocacy. I'm all over it.

This morning I went to my second BNI meeting. It’s like no other networking event I have ever been to. The group meets every week, without fail, at 6.45am. If you can’t make it you must nominate a deputy and if you don’t turn up more than three times, you’re booted out. Every member has a 60 second slot to tell the other members what their business is and the kind of leads and referrals they are looking for. There’s a ‘thank you for the business’ box so the income businesses are earning, via the group, can be tracked. There’s a leadership team, regular training sessions and ‘power groups’, where they lump people in similar professions together (but there can only ever be one representative from each profession). After everyone has done their 60 seconds, each person then presents their referrals for that week to fellow members. The groups’ mantra is ‘if you give business, you gain business’ and members are targeted on the amount of referrals they bring in for their fellow members.

Now, I’ve never been a Mason (can women be Masons now? We need to get Caitlin Moran on to this if not) but I think BNI is probably the new-age, business equivalent of this. I’m not sure if it’s right for my freelance PR business yet but it’s certainly beneficial from a personal perspective. I’ve now got an accountant, a plumber, someone that can answer my phone (check out answermyphone.biz) an office supplies man, an I.T man and a promotional items contact.

What occurred to me though is that all of these small businesses are doing PR in its purest form… or perhaps even its newest form? At the heart of the group and what makes it work is advocacy (providing a testimonial is another key element of the proceedings). Jack Leslie, Chairman of Weber Shandwick Worldwide, recently said that ‘Public Relations’ new mission must be to move people faster to this highest form of loyalty – advocacy’ and over the past couple of years I’ve worked with large organisations where ‘advocacy’ has been the central theme of marketing and customer care strategies.

But look here! These small businesses in Wales have it sussed! I know, it’s a bit different, but it’s sort of the same? I think big brands can learn a lot from these dudes. They are generating more business and loyal customers by sticking to basics and getting the fundamentals right, which is essentially providing a good service (they know they won’t get recommended if they do a bad job), going above and beyond and being nice. They know that advocacy is the key driver of a successful business – and they know they have to earn this by doing business right and doing it well.

Advocacy may be trendy in the marketing and PR world right now, but there’s only so much the creative and comms guys can do. If a business sucks and is providing a bad service, then no amount of clever tactics are going to entice customers to recommend it.

So, while I’m undecided if I want to get up at 5.30am every week (how on earth do normal people even talk at this time), today reminded me that if brands want advocates, then they’ve got to first get the fundamentals right, no matter how big they are or how impressive their marketing budget is. And, if we want to make our jobs easier, it’s the responsibility of us PR people to make sure they’re doing it. In the meantime, Alan the accountant from Abergavenny and Peter the Printer from Pontypridd could show them all exactly how it’s done.

 

Why I think surfing is good (not in the sea though, it’s too cold).

It's staggering what you can find surfing on the internet.

Surfing internet is just the job for council staff’ shouts the headline from last week’s South Wales Echo. I thought it was going to be a piece about how the Council is embracing social media. Alas, it was not to be. The article is an expose of the websites council workers visit most, which was acquired via a Freedom of Information request. Many obvious sites were listed but it was Friends Reunited Dating that particularly aroused the demonising loins of the journo. I’m not surprised, have these council workers not heard of mysinglefriend or plentyoffish? (by the way, I hear the ‘dates’ are a bit ropey on the latter because it’s free). That actual real life people still use Friends Reunited? Crazy talk.

So, okay, the Taxpayers Alliance is narked. The lazy-good-for-nothing council workers are idling their time away, and we’re paying for it. The little sods are checking out the reviews on Trip Advisor for an all-inclusive in Turkey, posting a status about how bored they are at work on Facebook and the worst of all, searching for something on Google. Can you believe it? What a cheek!

The stats in the article tell me how many times certain sites have been ‘hit’ but not who was on them and for how long. Given that approximately 7000 people from Cardiff Council alone have access to the internet, I’m failing here, really, to see what the problem is? So Google had 1,801,550 page views in three months. That’s nothing. I’ll probably do that in a day. Google is more than a search engine, it’s my actual brain.

I surf the internet a lot because, let’s face it, as a PR person you can’t not. Most of time it’s work related (reading the Daily Mail counts as ‘work’ in PR by the way) but sometimes I’ll be on Twitter or Facebook (it’s very important I tell people about my dinner) or, my latest obsession, buying cardboard stag heads from notonthehighstreet.com. But I still get my job done. Because I’m a grown up and can manage my time. GET ME! If I am too busy or have a lot of meetings to go to or have pressing deadlines, I just don’t go on it as much. As the PR from Cardiff Council says, abuse of the sites is monitored. I’m pretty sure they know if Bob from Planning is playing poker all day. And if he is, then he’s either not getting the job done (which I hope would be addressed by his manager) or, there isn’t really a job that needs doing.

So, in a much long-winded way (not sure I’ve mastered this blogging lark yet) and despite the silliness of the article, it did make me conclude that I’m lucky to work in PR Especially now I’m a freelance PR. It would be ludicrous for me not to go on the internet at work. It is as important and integral to the PR as the press release once was (ok, probably still is). And because of the unfettered access I have enjoyed, I am better informed, better networked and generally more engaged with the world. The internet, I say, is good for people.

In fact, clever PR people like @DannyWhatmough are even suggesting we PR folk MAKE the internet. MAKE THE INTERNET! I can’t even make a pavlova (nor spell it according to red wriggly line I can see) how on earth am I meant to make the internet? But, whatevs, I’ll give it a go. I’m down with the kids and all that. Or will I? I have LOADS to do and I don’t really understand coding and making templates and I’m not sure if I have the time to learn. I want to but it’s overwhelming. Widgets, infographics, microsites? Man, I wish I knew how to make all of those too. The clients I could score if I had that string to my bow. For now, I know plenty of people who can do things like that for me (using my genius ideas of course) but where does it stop? Designers, bloggers, SEO’ers; what is to become of us PR people? How much more can we do? Surely our PR brains will implode and we’ll end up being a jack of all trades and master of none?

But, in essence and because of changing face of PR, I agree with Danny. Future PRs will be streets ahead if they’re whiz-kid-widget-wonders-website-maker-public-relations-gurus as well.

But I think I’m past it. I believe the children are our future, so teach them code and let them lead the way.

 

 

A leopard never changes its spots. Or does it?

Please can I go home? Oh. I am at home.

What have I done? IT’S A RECESSION AND I’VE JUST QUIT MY JOB. A job that pays wonderfully, given me lovely benefits like a desk that I only have to sit at until 5pm, many days holidays, a fat pension contribution (I’m over 30, this matters now) a Blackberry and a canteen with a wok station and a Costa Coffee. I have clearly lost the plot.

Breathe. Breathe. *pulls out paper bag*

But the job also gave me unprecedented feelings of frustration and boredom. It created levels of tedium and negativity not fit for a human. In fact, had I not quit there is every chance I would be walking around with a dislocated jaw from the lion-size yawns which inflicted me hourly, on a daily basis.

But more than that, I wasn’t fulfilled or challenged or doing good PR. And that’s what I like doing; really good and brilliant and awesome and fun and worthy and make-a-difference PR. I like working with people who get excited about PR, who want to do new things, who want to try things. I like brave people, risk-takers and working with teams with balls and guts. I also like working with folk who have never done PR and showing them what it’s all about and how it can help their business.

So, I had to do something about it. And I have. I’ve quit my job and decided to try being a freelance PR so I can work with all sorts of people doing all sorts of PR.

I’m bricking it to be honest. I’m scared I’ll end up stacking the shelves in Tesco to pay my bills (nothing against shelf stackers but I’ve got weak arms), or be sat in my velour tracksuit (what of it?) watching Jeremy Kyle and Loose Women all day every day (ok, not so bad). I’m really scared.

But, I’m also excited, happy and optmistic. I know I can do it! I have the passion and the fire in my belly and that – just about – tames the wicked flames of anxiousness.

Wish me luck my little leopards. (Gaga has done quite well building up an almighty fan base of little monsters, so I’m going to have little leopards. I like leopards. You may have guessed).