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As Michelle Obama says, girls must learn to fail

As Michelle Obama says, girls must learn to fail

Last week I had the honour of attending the Hunter Foundation’s dinner in Edinburgh with entertainment from Beverley Knight, but the main event was Michelle Obama in her first overseas public appearance since leaving the White House.

I expected the evening to be thought provoking, insightful and inspiring – so far, so predictable. But what I hadn’t predicted was how her comments would be perceived as controversial by some attendees.

Dame Katherine Grainger, GB’s most decorated female Olympian and chair of UK Sport, facilitated the discussion and the main themes of the night became clear: gender equality and empowering women. As a business owner and, like Michelle, the mother of two daughters, I would wholeheartedly support this. Having been involved with organisations like Changing the Chemistry and Scotland Women in Technology, both of which work tirelessly to encourage equality and diversity, I would have expected this theme to be unchallenged. Yet this focus on “girl power” surprisingly divided opinions. Several comments suggested that the discussion had gone too far, concentrating too much on female opportunities rather than opportunities for all. Interestingly, none of these observations were from women.

Those most critical worked in sectors with a good gender balance. Such views were a surprise, especially as I work mainly in male-dominated industries like construction and technology, which are hugely supportive of gender equality. I’ve never considered this before, but perhaps the dearth of women brings a sharper focus on, and more support for, equality. Michelle spoke at length about encouraging women and girls to build their confidence and take risks, and importantly not be afraid to fail until you succeed. Men’s innate self-confidence was discussed, that “men just assume they know”, with more than a hint that this is still the case even if they don’t. Self-confidence is very important, particularly in relation to willingness to take risks, but in my experience this trait is much less frequently displayed by women across the board, including by those who are equally talented and skilled.

From an early age girls who speak up are labelled “bossy” and subtly but relentlessly persuaded that success doesn’t make you popular. What is the incentive to put your head above the parapet if the price is losing popularity along the way? The impact of this lasts a lifetime, yet those disagreeing with Michelle’s sentiments about confidence and on risk-taking seemed to have little awareness or appreciation of that.

We host a regular networking event featuring topical guest business speakers. This year, in our own small attempt to help address gender imbalance and showcase strong female role models, we decided to exclusively feature female speakers. However, even the most successful and talented women have been reluctant to speak. “Why would anyone want to hear from me?” has been a common response. In six years of hosting these events I have yet to hear the same question from a man. We owe it to our daughters, and indeed our sons, to change this.

Of course, a woman who did put herself forward only to be beaten by a less qualified man was Hillary Clinton – leaving the US still waiting for its first female president. Despite Dame Katherine’s encouragement, the former First Lady made it clear that a return to the Oval Office was absolutely not on her agenda.

It was indeed an insightful and inspiring discussion, but thought-provoking in an entirely different way than I had anticipated. I support encouragement for all, but if we really want to make the most of 100 per cent of Scotland’s talent, we need to wake up to how girls and boys are treated so differently from a very young age, and the impact of this on key attributes like confidence and appetite for risk. As Beverley Knight warned us that evening, shoulda woulda coulda are the last words of a fool.

Using a sledge hammer to crack the data nut?

Using a sledge hammer to crack the data nut?

General Data Protection Regulation. GDPR. Doom and gloom. Is it “The end of the world as we know it”, “I predict a riot” or in fact “Let’s stay together”?

Having just attended the Chartered Institute of Public Relations Scotland’s very insightful GDPR seminar, I’m feeling a lot more positive about this thorny issue which is likely to be currently preying on the minds of almost everyone in business.

In view of the 25 May deadline looming large later this week and the barrage of misinformation and confusion around GDPR, I thought I would share the key points that I took from this event. The panel very helpfully featured a lawyer who focused on common sense application of the legal changes.

As I am not a lawyer myself, my own observations of this event are not legal advice, but will hopefully be useful nonetheless to those of us currently ploughing through the minefield of GDPR. Everyone reading this is likely to have been on the receiving end of a deluge of opt-in emails over the past few weeks, requesting permission to keep in contact.

The panel helpfully highlighted that email consent is nothing new and indeed rules on this are different for consumers and businesses. A key point for me was that if you have someone’s business contact details because you provide them with goods or services, unlike private individuals, this does not require opt in consent. However, it is still good practice to share your privacy policy and offer your business contacts the option of opting out too.

If you have already asked people to opt in in the past, sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but you will still need to be able to demonstrate you have this consent going forward. If you are in touch with individuals as consumers, the panel made it clear that different rules apply and the individuals’ consent is in fact required for your organisation to keep in touch with them. It is also important for the organisation to be clear on what sort of consent the individual has given, so replying to a competition with an email address doesn’t give blanket permission to bombard that individual.

As a communications professional I was listening intently for answers to the tricky question of dealing with journalist and media contacts. This issue divided the panel, but it is fair to say that using a paid-for media database doesn’t mean you can avoid being considered a data controller; you and your organisation are probably still likely to be downloading data and using it for your business purposes.

The same applies to customer relationship management platforms, so the onus for data control still lies with yours truly. The key here is to be able to demonstrate legitimate business use, rather than unsolicited marketing. Again, it would also be helpful to share your privacy policy and make it clear that your contacts can opt out. The panel were very clear that politicians are considered as private individuals, so if you are communicating with them, it would be considered good practice to ensure you and your organisation have their consent to keep in touch. Photography consent, particularly at large scale events, was raised by several delegates.

The panel’s advice was to make it clear to event attendees – possibly through signage at the event – that photographs would be taken and images may be used at a later date. A belts-and-braces approach could be to include this information in any pre-event communications with delegates, which could allow people to opt out in advance. As a business owner, I must admit that GDPR does seem a bit like using a sledge hammer to crack a nut. However, the panel emphasised that being able to demonstrate clear records, evidence of a willingness to comply, and having up-to-date systems will stand you in good stead. So maybe not so complicated after all, though time will tell.

Social media is not just for Christmas…

Social media is not just for Christmas…

As Christmas approaches and the annual list of shiny new toys sets fear into the hearts of parents around the country, I’m reminded of the communications industry’s own shiny and slightly scary new toy: social media.

At Perceptive we guide and advise clients on social media strategy on a daily basis and at times it can be like dealing with an excitable child opening presents on Christmas Day. It’s easy to be overwhelmed and overstimulated by the wealth of exciting new channels on the horizon.  LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat: the list is endless. So where to begin as a business? With the opportunity to connect directly to your customers and suppliers in seconds, cutting through the challenges to the responsiveness of traditional marketing channels, the temptation to tear off the wrapping paper and rush into this exciting new realm can prove too much for some businesses.

Yet when we work with clients on social media, our first message is to go back to the basics of your core business. Like Santa, have a plan – make your list and stick to it or there could be tears before bedtime. Ensure you have a strategy to support any digital activity you engage in just as you would any other business activity. It is vital to understand social media is not a quick fix solution and must be closely aligned with your marketing plan, objectives and audience.  Is your goal to improve your reputation? Increase sales? To be seen as an authority on your industry? Then choose the channels that best fit and plan accordingly.

We also advise many businesses to establish a social media protocol and share this with all employees.  This ensures everyone knows what is expected of them in the online world and what is acceptable in their role as an employee of the company. And of course what’s not. We’ve all heard horror stories of employees gone rogue online and a robust, coherent social media protocol can prove a reputation saver.  Another advantage to establishing a protocol is it can educate and encourage shyer employees to engage online, becoming ambassadors for your business, providing a win/win situation for both employers and staff.

A common mistake is failing to measure the impact of any activity.  It’s easy to get carried away in the thrill of the excitement of this new present under the tree, but if you want to make the most of social media, you need to establish your metrics from the start of any project and evaluate ROI – just as you would any other marketing activity. Is your priority awareness?  Then look at reach, exposure and amplification. Engagement?  Review retweets, comments, replies. Website traffic?   Monitor URLs, clicks and conversions. Sales? Consider paid for social media channels.

Another advantage to social media is it can hold a mirror up to your business and industry, giving your company that competitive edge. It’s never been easier to monitor what’s being said about you and your organisation using tools like Hootsuite, which is both free and easy to use, or Sproutsocial.  Monitoring tools can also be a good way to keep a handle on what your competitors are up to in the marketplace and to keep up to speed on the latest industry trends.

When we work with clients we find many businesses are tempted to pass responsibility for social media management to the elves of the social media world, the so-called ‘digital natives’. Yes, they may be enthused by the online realm and constantly attached to the latest device. Yet, the key word here is management. Social media management can make or break your business and should be handled by experts in the field. If you lack this resource in house, hire it in. You won’t regret it.

It’s clear social media, when aligned with a successful marketing strategy, offers plenty of opportunities for business success. But like a successful Christmas morning, it’s all in the planning and as long as Santa and his elves stick to these simple tips, we should all be able to enjoy continue to enjoy our shiny new toy to great effect.


Julie McLauchlan is Managing Director at Perceptive Communicators. This article first appeared in a print edition of The Scotsman

What do you want to be when you grow up?

What do you want to be when you grow up?

What did you want to be when you grew up? Vet? Train driver? Hairdresser? I wanted to be Mr Benn.

But even at eight years old I realised that was probably going to sound a bit odd, so my reply was either doctor or ballerina, depending on who was asking and the mood I was in. If you had been able to speak to someone actually doing your dream job, would that have changed or reinforced your career choice?

With my Mr Benn aspiration dashed by reality a few years later, I had the good fortune of getting practical and insightful advice directly from Flora Martin, who had forged a very successful PR and communications career. Flora’s honest and straightforward advice had a huge positive impact on my future career and encouraged me to stay in my chosen sector.

Have you ever been asked to speak to a young person considering a career in your industry? PR and communications is a really popular career choice and, like Flora, we are asked this all the time. We are very happy to speak to young people about what it’s really like working in this supposedly “sexy” industry. I absolutely love the work we do, but “sexy” – not so much!

What strikes me, time and again, is that most of the individuals we speak to are the ones who already have great professional networks at their fingertips, thanks to family connections, rather than those from less fortunate backgrounds who perhaps don’t. According to Action for Children, one in three children in the UK grows up in poverty. Regardless of which statistics you read, there is an attainment gap; children from richer backgrounds significantly outperform those from poorer backgrounds, in terms of education and job prospects. This continues to be a massive challenge.

Because social media is a great leveller, as almost everyone these days has access to a smartphone, we’ve decided to tap into tech to reach as many young people as possible with direct careers insights. Recently we launched an online careers Q&A on Twitter (#PerceptiveCareers) via our Twitter handle @perceptivecomms, hopefully allowing young people of all backgrounds to access careers advice on sought-after roles directly from those doing these.

The aim of the Q&A is to give young people the direct opportunity to ask questions of individuals in careers that may be of interest to them. Those interested in taking part can follow the hashtag #PerceptiveCareers and tweet @perceptivecomms, which will be the channel for the Q&A during that hour.

The online careers Q&A will take place between 2pm and 3pm on the first Wednesday of each month. The first one took place on 4 October and was hosted at Trinity High School in Rutherglen, part of Clyde Gateway, Scotland’s largest regeneration area.

The first Q&A featured Marion Forbes, director with Mactaggart & Mickel Homes, who has more than two decades of experience in retail and construction, including many years in HR. Marion answered questions relating to preparing for interviews, applying for jobs and starting work.

Future Q&As will feature people doing a ­variety of different jobs from journalism to joinery. Thanks to the wonders of social media, we will also ask those taking part what sort of careers they would like to hear about most, so future sessions will be directed by those taking part in the Q&As.

Clyde Gateway, Scotland’s largest urban regeneration company, is supporting this initiative by helping to promote it amongst young people in its local areas including Bridgeton, Dalmarnock and Rutherglen. If you know of any young people who would benefit from taking part or even just listening to the comments, they simply need to follow #PerceptiveCareers. We can’t guarantee an audience with Mr Benn, but promise direct access to careers advice from vets, train drivers and hairdressers.


An earlier version of this appears on www.scotsman.com

New Year, New (LinkedIn) You

New Year, New (LinkedIn) You

If your LinkedIn profile deserves a bit more of your attention this year, you’re not alone.

We’ve trained over 1000 people in social media management and the number one request we get from individuals is for help with writing a great LinkedIn profile. Companies are also increasingly engaging our services to help them create a great LinkedIn presence for their business.

Once you’ve updated your LinkedIn profile, it is a relatively low maintenance platform to keep on top of. Like diet and exercise it’s the little and often that works best, just 5-10 mins a day can supercharge your networking and profile.

So if you’re looking for a new year’s resolution you can keep, LinkedIn is a good place to start!

Why LinkedIn

Like good nutrition and quality sleep, keeping a LinkedIn profile up to date is a discipline worth investing in. Used properly, it is a flexible, cost-effective and simple way to:

  • Enhance your professional profile and supercharge your networking efforts
  • Discover new business opportunities and contacts
  • Attract and retain new and existing clients and staff
  • Enhance your personal brand and your company’s reputation
  • Keep up to date with your contacts and industry

We’ve used it to build a highly successful business ourselves and have also seen clients enjoy great returns such as securing sales with customers who couldn’t be reached previously. LinkedIn can open doors that were previously closed.

Face first

A profile or brand page without a picture is perceived as suspicious or incompetent at worst, and unprofessional at best.

Your LinkedIn profile image should reflect a genuine likeness to you. Make sure your face is easy to decipher and that you are the only person in the shot.

Head and shoulder shots in business attire are best. While tempting to use a photo of you looking your best at a social event, avoid using wedding, party or holiday pictures. This is your personal professional brand, so should be a photo of how you look at work.

If you’re setting up a company page, don’t be an amateur. Get your logo and banner images properly designed so that your LinkedIn presence can reflect your brand. This need not be expensive – services such as Fiverr.com are a great option for quick design tasks.

Think strategically

Your LinkedIn profile is not a standalone billboard on the internet. Nor is it a static page you create once and leave. It is an ongoing part of your overall networking toolkit or communications strategy and should be used to back up who you are in person.

Just as you need a blueprint to build a house, you need a strategy to develop a successful LinkedIn profile, whether just for yourself or for a corporate brand.

Before you even start editing your profile, think about:

  • What you want to achieve in your career or with your page
  • Who you want to network with (individuals) or who you want to target (company)
  • What networking (individuals) or wider communications activity (company) you are already undertaking

Don’t write in robotic CV-speak. Write like a person. Keep your profile brief yet interesting, and tailor it to your target audiences and objectives.

Then, once your profile is up to date, keep it alive with regular interactions and shares. These take a few minutes and will ensure you stay connected with your audience.

Social Media Policy

While less important for individuals, having a social media policy in place alongside your strategy can save companies a world of pain while helping engage a key demographic – your staff.

Providing simple and straightforward guidelines on minimum expectations for staff LinkedIn profiles will enable your employees to contribute to the company brand confidently.

It will also help you to increase your organisation’s reach with relevant audiences as your staff become more self-assured in using LinkedIn for business development.

Finally, LinkedIn is one of the key sources potential employees and business contacts research before making contact. Having a cohesive, well-maintained brand on your LinkedIn page which extends across your employee’s pages will create a good first impression.

Training and networking

If you’d like to tackle your social media in 2017, get in touch now to discuss how we can help you sort out, improve or ignite your online engagement by emailing info@perceptivecommunicators.co.uk or calling 07734 932 578 / 07762 769 659.

That really was the year that was…

That really was the year that was…

By Devin Scobie, Public Affairs Director

Thirty years ago next summer I was a proud History graduate from Edinburgh University and I recall debating what was the most memorable year from times past.  1066?  1314?  1789?  Well, as this year draws to a close, and, incidentally, family history is repeating itself as my younger son has started out on a History degree, I reckon 2016 will be a contender for students of the future.

I’ve been a political anorak for all of those 30 years and more.  I’ve seen election surprises come and go – John Major’s shock ‘survival’ in 1992, Gordon Brown’s non-election of 2009, a majority SNP government at Holyrood in 2011 and more by-elections of the century than there have been years in the century.  From Hillhead in 1982 to Richmond last week, every one has been the death knell for the losing side.  At least until the next general election where invariably the ‘host’ party retakes the seat.

But so to 2016.  This time last year I was writing about the coming Holyrood elections being the political high spot, with half an eye on Hillary Clinton scoring a comfortable Democrat victory over a moderate Republican like Rubio or Carson. The Brexit referendum would have come and gone with a 55-60% ‘in’ vote – and have been forgotten about as swiftly as the 2011 AV referendum (anyone remember that one?).

Instead David Cameron has been well and truly (Br)exited, Theresa May’s kitten heels whisked her into Number 10, and The Donald well and truly Trumped Hillary – and the great US of A – to win the keys of the White House.

So, given all the surprises of 2016, dare we predict what 2017 has in store?  Well, Donald Trump will be the 45th US President come 20th January and although he will continue to fine new and creative ways to wind up the vast majority of the planet with marginally more moderate views, I have a hunch he will have just enough sane voices around him to temper some of his more extreme ideas.  But he will be the leader of the free world, and I’m afraid Theresa and all the other sceptical world leaders will just need to get in to say, ‘yes Mr President’

We should see Angela Merkel safely re-elected in Germany, and Francois Hollande will have more time for his memoirs after losing in April. Marine Le Pen will run M. Fillon close but I suspect the wily ex French premier will be the one celebrating.

Closer to home, we have all-out council elections in Scotland.  Expect the Scottish Conservatives to make significant progress and modest gains for the Lib Dems and SNP – all at the expense of Labour, who continue their downward spiral.  The SNP should finally gain control of the City of Glasgow and could make a clean sweep as the largest party in all four of our largest cities.

But politics is never dull, and I’m sure there will be just as may surprises as there are safe bets.  So, on behalf of all the Perceptive team, let me wish you and yours, a very Merry Christmas – and a peaceful 2017!

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