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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.

Why DIY research isn’t always the best business solution

Why DIY research isn’t always the best business solution

By Sinead Assenti, Research Director, Perceptive Communicators

Most savvy businesses want to know how they and their products and services are perceived by their customers, stakeholders and employees. Most businesses can predict these perceptions with 70-80% accuracy, but it is the magic remaining 20-30% that makes all the difference.

This could be underestimating the impact of certain influences on your target audiences, which means precious marketing spend is being wasted.  Or it could be missing a key issue amongst employees which impacts on performance, productivity and retention.

Many businesses turn to online survey software, such as Survey Monkey, to carry out their own research to inform their business strategy, and I can see the attraction. After all, it is freely available and makes it possible for you to create your own questionnaires cost effectively and with relative ease.  But before you think about your next piece of do-it-yourself research, I’d like to give you a few things to think about.

Often, businesses turn to online surveys because they are quick, easy and cheap – but not every research question can be answered by a simple survey. If your research needs are complex, you have a small audience, or your questions are not suited to tick boxes, then you might want to ask an expert for advice.

My first concern with online surveys is the response rate, which can often be as low as 2%. The people who do reply to these surveys tend to have strong opinions, whether they be negative or positive. Because the respondents are self-selecting, they may not be representative of your audience, and consequently the findings of your research may not be meaningful. There’s also the fact that no matter how hard you try, in house research can never be truly anonymous, confidential or objective.

Free software is not very sophisticated when compared with the industry software used by professional researchers. Let’s face it, if it could do the job to a high enough standard, we’d all be using it too rather than paying expensive annual fees. I am often asked to produce reports on online data gathered by in-house surveys because the data they produce is sometimes difficult to understand or use. They also often lead to incomplete data, because participants miss out questions that they have to think about too much or don’t want to answer, or can abandon questionnaires halfway through, especially if they are badly designed.

Some businesses over-use research, firing out an online questionnaire every time they are not sure what direction to take. This can lead to “survey fatigue”. Over-reliance on surveys can also appear to your customers and stakeholders as though you lack confidence in decision-making.

While everyone thinks they can write a questionnaire, it is actually a skill. Some rookie errors that inexperienced survey-writers can make include creating leading or biased questions, asking several things in one question, or making incorrect assumptions. Sensitive topics should be tackled near the end of a survey and spontaneous perceptions should always be gathered before any prompting.

A tip I would give is to encourage participation by offering an incentive, like entry into a prize draw or a copy of the report, and also by streamlining your questionnaire so it is more user friendly – and therefore more likely that the respondent will complete the survey without running out of time or patience.

There is definitely a time and place for the DIY online survey, but for accurate and independent research that will help deliver future business activities with more success, it’s worth considering independent research such as focus groups, in-depth stakeholder interviews, telephone surveys or even mystery shopping.

The findings from this research can help businesses accurately understand how they are perceived by target audiences and employees, so improving return on investment for any new or current initiatives. In itself, carrying out independent research demonstrates an organisation’s commitment to excellence to its internal and external stakeholders and customers.

This article originally appeared on www.scotsman.com 

Childcare provision must work for working parents – for the sake of business too

Childcare provision must work for working parents – for the sake of business too

The ever-emotive topic of childcare is hitting the headlines again, after Audit Scotland expressed concerns about the Scottish Government’s pledge to almost double the hours of free childcare available to three and four year olds, and vulnerable two year olds, by 2020.

As a working parent, at first glance it’s hard to see what’s not to like about the First Minister’s promise to increase free provision from 16 hours a week to 30. However, auditors have flagged up a host of potential issues, including infrastructure, the recruitment of the thousands of additional staff that will be needed to deliver this, and the considerable gap between what the Scottish Government think their flagship policy will cost, and what councils anticipate the bill will be (hint: it’s considerably higher).

Logistical and financial arguments aside, in principle the Scottish Government’s plans should be welcomed not just by working parents, but by businesses too, who can only benefit if more parents can re-enter the workplace. However, for the policy to have any effect on this front, the new system must be more flexible than the current one.

Research from campaign group Fair Funding for our Kids shows nine out of ten parents who want to change their working situation say lack of appropriate childcare is their main barrier. Most council nurseries only offer free childcare in slots of 3 hours 10 minutes during term time, with no option for parents to buy extra hours for the rest of the day. Only one in ten council nurseries opens from 8am-6pm. This is obviously an unusable system for many working families.

I count myself among the luckiest parents in Scotland, because I work from home three days a week, with the other two spent in the office. On home-based days, I am able to drop my four-year-old off at a council nursery at 8.45am and still make it to my desk by 9am. I have family nearby who pick my son up from his free morning session at lunchtime and look after him for the afternoon.

Those not as fortunate as myself are left with the option of using a private nursery which offers longer hours. However, UK parents currently face some of the highest childcare costs in the western world. By the time families have two pre-school children, it’s not just the low-paid who don’t have much money left to take home by the time they have paid their nursery bills. Some funded places are available at private nurseries in partnership with their council, but in many cases, these are limited.  Because of this, many working parents are missing out on their free entitlement altogether.

The situation does not improve much when children get to school. Without adequate provision of pre-school or after-school care, many parents face a logistical nightmare to arrange pick-ups and drop-offs. Incredibly, I am aware of at least one council which is currently considering axing breakfast clubs – a guaranteed meal for our most vulnerable children, but also a godsend for working parents – from its primary schools to save money. How this fits with their aspiration of lifting more families out of poverty is anyone’s guess.

The childcare conundrum disproportionately affects women, as more than three quarters of mothers shoulder the primary caring responsibility. Women are the ones, therefore, who are most likely to drop out of the workforce altogether – fine if they can afford to and want to, but many can’t or don’t. Women are also more likely to work fewer hours than they would like to, or settle for less challenging jobs. This means businesses are missing out on huge pools of female talent that could potentially address the skills shortages faced by some sectors, such as construction, science and technology.

So until the extended hours of free childcare come into place, what does this mean for business? Quite simply, companies who offer flexible hours or home working will be the winners when it comes to attracting talent. Working parents, after all, can often be some of the most focused, motivated and productive employees you are likely to meet.

Of course, enlightened employers such as mine already recognise that greater flexibility isn’t just appreciated by parents – and they will already be reaping the benefits of a happier, healthier workforce.

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

How to get the most out of broadcast interviews

How to get the most out of broadcast interviews

 

 

By Clare Todd

Most mornings, as I get ready for work, I listen to radio news to get a jump-start on the news of the day.
Some items are of more interest than others but what always stops me in my tracks is a live interview going spectacularly wrong – at least as far as the interviewee is concerned.

I stop what I am doing, turn up the volume, and listen to the back and forth, sometimes with amusement but more often with incredulity. As a communicator of 25 years’ standing, it’s painfully clear to me that the person squirming in the studio or stuttering down the line has not properly prepared or more specifically been media-trained to cope with this high-pressure situation that is unlike any other conversation they will have.

While many people are skilled and confident in media situations, I have lost count of the number of senior people who shy away from broadcast interviews when asked to step in front of the microphone or camera. They are happy to provide a quote for a release, of course, but ask them to follow this up with a broadcast interview and they run for cover, mumbling about a forgotten dental appointment.

Some lucky people are naturally good at media interviews. But for the rest of us mere mortals, we have to learn how to handle them. And the good news is, it’s not rocket science. The approach is a bit different depending on whether an interview is live or recorded but the principles are the same. The first is to find out – or work out – what you are going to be asked and in what role you are being interviewed – industry expert, passive witness or even villain.

The one question that is often missed is finding out who else is being interviewed. Is your interview standalone or are you being pitted against the opposite perspective? Broadcasters in particular are duty-bound to demonstrate balance, so sharing conflicting views is standard practice. Much better to know the context of other interviewees so you are not caught on the back foot live on air.

While Theresa May’s “strong and stable” message became a negative, it’s still important to remember an interview is not a normal conversation, so be really clear on the two or three key points you want to convey – and make them quickly. Finally, practise the interview in advance.

Of course, there’s a bit more to it than that, and that’s where media training comes in. A decent media training package will include the above and more, ensuring that your senior team is prepared to represent the organisation in a professional manner. External trainers will also flag up any industry jargon that would prevent people understanding what you are saying. Rail bosses used to talk about “strengthening trains” until it was pointed out to them that “adding carriages” might make more sense to passengers.

If you decide to invest in media training make sure that the content suits the likely needs of your organisation. For example, you may not need to practise in an expensive recording studio. All too often, one reporter will use their smartphone and a plug-in microphone. So look out for a company that has moved with the digital times.

And finally – a heartfelt plea here – please hold the training before you are facing a crisis or damage-limitation. We can help you either way, but being prepared makes practical and financial sense. The so-called “golden hour” – the chance to get prepared before a big story breaks – no longer exists thanks to social media. If you are finding out, chances are so are your audiences.

Like it or not, your customers and stakeholders are influenced by what they see, read and hear about you and your organisation on media and social media channels. They may not read your annual report, but they will remember the time you were skewered live on air over the nation’s breakfast tables.

This article originally appeared on www.scotsman.com 

Three Ways You’re Blowing Your Awards Entries

Three Ways You’re Blowing Your Awards Entries

In this short guide we review the common pitfalls of drafting awards submissions, and how you can avoid them to give yourself the best chance of being shortlisted.

It’s been a busy few weeks in the entertainment industry’s awards season, and with the Oscar winner’s due next week Monday, it’s easy to get swept away by who-will-win-what and forget the work behind the scenes in actually being nominated in the first place.

But, just like every awards process, even the Oscars require have set eligibility criteria. It doesn’t happen by magic, but rather by a detailed set of rules.

I’ve spent a lot of time writing industry award entries for clients and employers over the years – at Perceptive we’ve won 50 awards for clients and ourselves in the past three years alone. In fact, we’ve recently been shortlisted for Boutique Agency of the Year at the PR Moment Awards to be announced on March 16 (fingers crossed!).

While every industry is different, there are a few common pitfalls which will usually guarantee your entry won’t make the cut:

  1. Underestimating the work involved

I’m often amused by how easy everybody thinks writing awards submissions is . . . until they don’t win.

It’s heart-breaking when your hard work and exciting project isn’t recognised, and the first hurdle is being shortlisted.

So make certain you give yourself plenty of time to sit and write the award, run it through sign off, review it and submit. This should include background reading on the previous winning entries, and in-depth interrogation of your colleagues and the work being showcased. Needless to say, the entry must be error-free in every way.

  1. Failing to answer the question

The most common complaint we’ve heard from colleagues and clients who’ve judged awards are that would-be nominees fail to answer the question properly.

Instead, applicants often go overboard on offering something incredibly dense and impenetrable or, on the other end of the scale, cut and paste something un-tailored and low on substance.

You need to write from a place of genuine understanding and insight on what was achieved, and how it demonstrates best practice against the entry criteria. Make certain that you have addressed every single point in the award’s criteria explicitly.

  1. Arrogance, verbosity, vagueness

This relates closely to the two points above and is sadly something we hear a lot of.

Too often, awards submission writers assume their audience is just as excited or knowledgeable about their particular piece of work as they are. So they fail to explain the results clearly and concisely, which often irritates judges and comes across as arrogant even if not intended to be so.

Being too verbose, or alternatively favouring style over substance, puts up unnecessary barriers between your submission and the shortlist.

Be careful to avoid jargon and clichés, and never assume insider knowledge on the part of your judges. While they likely are incredibly experienced and knowledgeable themselves, they also have hundreds, potentially thousands of other submissions to read. There is no guarantee they will recognise or care as deeply about your brand as you do.

Hopefully the above tips will help you get your next submission into great shape. If you would like a professional consultation on how you could improve your hit rate with awards submissions, or would like to discuss how we could write and help you win your next award entry, get in touch.

PR for finance people – what is it all about?

PR for finance people – what is it all about?

Our wonderful commercial director Emma Fair gives her (accountant’s) perspective on PR and whether or not it is valuable to the bottom line. 

‘What exactly is PR?’ asked the finance person….

I am an accountant – not something I necessarily always want to shout about, but between you and I nothing pleases me more than a good spreadsheet! My career started as a trainee CA in the audit department at KPMG where I would audit companies, carry out stock takes and generally do all the things the more experienced accountants didn’t want to do.  I then went on to work in industry in publishing and media for ten years before landing a job at Perceptive Communicators.

The one thing that the companies I audited and those I had previously worked in had in common was that there was always an end product – something tangible you could get your hands on, count at a stock take and, as auditors like to do, ‘physically verify’.

Perceptive Communicators was very different, there was no end product as such and it took me some time to get my head around this. I thought I knew what PR was before I joined the company but the reality was that I knew about 10% of what PR was all about.

With my accountant’s head on PR was something you spent money on as everyone else was doing it and it was a necessary (and costly) evil to promote an event or a new product.  It was something that I gave lip service to in my budgeting process and the first thing that I would cut if spend was required elsewhere.

Looking back I wish I knew what I know now.  The value of PR cannot be underestimated. For a business looking to raise its profile, gain brand awareness and keep one step ahead of competitors, it is vital. The coverage my colleagues gain for our clients in the local and national press, online and on TV and radio can’t be bought. Of course advertising spend can guarantee column inches, but this lacks the credibility of a journalist putting their name to it and is hugely expensive.

The PR for our clients is not a box ticking exercise. It’s strategically planned to convey the key messages our clients want to communicate with their identified target audiences – whether that’s customers, stakeholders, government or the wider public.

Something that pleases my spreadsheet-loving self is the fact that results matter to our PR team. KPIs are set and targets created to ensure the results can be evaluated and measured, allowing us to keep our quality high and keep the finance person at the client happy (return on investment is key to us accountant types).

With my accountant’s head back on another value for money area is crisis communications and reputation management.  On many occasions my colleagues have donned their ‘Superhero PR’ capes (theoretically of course, there’s no budget for unnecessary items!) and gone to the rescue of a client to save the day and their reputation.   It’s hard to put a value on this – it could be as valuable as saving a company from ruin which is priceless, but the minimum benefit is that the crisis communications fee will be a lot less than the spend required to rebuild reputation and gain customers’ trust following  an unfortunate incident.

When people ask me now who I work for I can proudly explain to them what we achieve rather than mumbling something about communications and promptly changing the subject.

So finance people out there – don’t write PR off as an unnecessary spend instead rethink the PR line in your budget and what the value of this could actually be. You never know when you might need that PR Superhero!

If you would like to discuss, create or update your company’s PR strategy, get in touch. We are generate outstanding results for clients across PR, marketing, event management and social media. We also provide top-notch social media training for in-house teams, and we would love to help you in any aspect of your company’s communications. 

Social media: how to pick your platforms

Social media: how to pick your platforms

If sorting your company’s social media in 2017 is on your New Year’s Resolution List, you’re in luck. We’ve devised a cheat sheet for which platforms to pick according to your objectives and target audience. Read on for more . . .

With today’s abundance of social media platforms, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed with both the choice and pressure of so many ways to connect with your audience. And, seeing as everyone else is on social media, shouldn’t your organisation be too?

Well, probably. But only if it will actively help you deliver on your corporate objectives.

“To Tweet or not to Tweet” shouldn’t be your question so much as “Where is my target audience hanging out, and how can I best connect with them there?” (We think the Bard would agree. He was nothing if not an audience man.)

Resources versus aspirations

While using social media for business communications might appear free on the surface, it does require time and effort. It also increasingly requires budget, though usually not as much as traditional advertising might.

Before you even contemplate a social media platform, you need to be clear on what you want to achieve and how much time and money you have to do so.

You need a communications plan which outlines your business objectives, your target audiences, your key messages and your overall strategic approach.  If you need some advice on what this should look like, and how to grow your business with your communications, get in touch.

Then, taking your target audiences and key aims into account, use the below infographic to help you pick which channels are best to help you deliver your communications strategy. (Click on the image below to open it in a separate tab for easier viewing.)

Which Platform Infographic

If you would like to discuss, create or update your company’s social media strategy in 2017, Perceptive Communicators can help. We are experienced in generating outstanding results for clients’ social media profiles, and we also provide top-notch social media training for in-house teams.

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!

US Election Insight Special – all you need to know from the land of the free and home of the brave

US Election Insight Special – all you need to know from the land of the free and home of the brave

US Election Insight Special – all you need to know from the land of the free and home of the brave

The eyes of the world are on the United States today as voters go to the polls to decide who will be the next American President and therefore the most powerful (wo)man in the free world. We’ll have a summary of the implications of the result for Scotland in this week’s Political Insider, but by way of an election day warm up, here’s a short overview of the story so far…

The background

If there’s one thing America knows how to do, it’s Presidential elections. As much a part of the national psyche as apple pie, blue jeans and fireworks on the fourth of July, this latest campaign has been one of the most unconventional – and unpredictable – in recent history. Either veteran Democrat Hillary Clinton or Republican businessman Donald Trump will wake up on Wednesday morning as president-elect – and even then, the story will only just be starting.

The talking points

Clinton’s use of a private email server as Secretary of State has dogged her since campaigning began. She was (again) cleared by the FBI over her actions, yet its impact and concerns relating to her perceived untrustworthiness may yet damage her on polling day. Questions also appeared about the role she played and extent to which she silenced a number of women who allegedly had affairs with her husband. This particular legacy of Bill’s isn’t going to go away any time soon.

Yet arguably, and despite the best efforts of the Republican Party strategists, all of her actions have been overshadowed by the crass, shoot-from-the-hip approach of one of America’s most powerful men: Donald Trump. Where to begin? From early calls to halt all Muslims coming into America to disparaging comments made about, err, large swathes of the population, Mr Trump has created controversy on an almost weekly basis. From sexual remarks made about women to calling Mexican immigrants ‘racists and criminals’, not to mention ongoing questioning about his business practices, it’s clear to see why he is one of the most disliked candidates in history. Yet surprisingly, this isn’t reflected in voter surveys, with Trump only trailing his rival by a couple of points in the final poll of polls.

Where they stand

The campaign has seen personality come before policy at times, but key proposals for the Democrats include tighter gun laws, job creation of 10m jobs by investing in renewable energy and small businesses, an increased position on the ground in Syria to fight ISIS and a review of international trade agreements. While immigration and the creation of a wall on the Mexican border has been Trump’s key issue, he has also claimed he will create 25m jobs, reduce the US corporate tax rate to 15% and increase relations with Russia.

And so to election night … what to look for

If you can stay up to 3am Wednesday you should know who has won.  Republicans will count on winning Texas while California will see a Democrat victory, but the result of certain swing states will give a good picture of the way the vote will go. America by its very nature is politically mixed. A lot of west coast Democrats would be classed as far more small-c conservative than east coast Republicans and this is likely to show when the votes are counted. Clinton may attract Republican voters who are put off by Trump, most notably in Florida. Other key swing states include Colorado, North Carolina and Nevada, as well as Virginia, where only 78 percent of Republicans back Trump. Arizona, which has been Republican in every election bar two since the war, was expected to see a Democrat win but now looks set to be Trump’s to lose.

The BBC will be covering it all and their extensive coverage is all anchored via its US Elections page here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/election/us2016

And amidst all the Presidential fuss, remember that the full House of Congress and a third of the Senate plus multiple Governorships are also up for election today.  Even if Hillary wins, she could embark on her Presidency shackled to a hostile Republican Congress and – just maybe – also a Republican dominated Senate as well.

In conclusion

This election campaign has led to a number of Americans questioning where they really sit on the political spectrum. While leftist politics holds no ground in the U.S, Clinton is a slightly left of centre Democrat. Trump has steered the Republican Party further to the right, a move which will both attract new voters and see Republican stalwarts turn their back on the party.

The Perceptive team (well, two of us anyway) will be doing a late shift to savour results coming in live.  Only the Land of the Free knows how to make election night such a theatrical spectacle.

Have a Good Day now.

The truth about working from home

The truth about working from home

by Anna Chambers, PR & Social Media Manager

When I first started working at Perceptive, and told people that I often work from home, I got all sorts of reactions. They ranged from envy (“you’re so lucky!”) to disbelief (“how do you get anything done? I’d be too tempted to just put a washing on!”) to misunderstanding (“I couldn’t work from home – I’d feel too isolated.”).

As I converted a spare room in my house into an office in preparation for starting my new job, I couldn’t help feeling a little nervous. What if I do feel lonely? What if I do find it hard to focus? However, I’ve been working at home for the past 18 months now and it turns out I had nothing to worry about. I don’t feel in the least isolated – if I need to bounce an idea off someone, my colleagues are always there at the other end of the phone or on Google Chat. At least two or three days every week I have a meeting with a client, so it’s never just me on my own in the house all week. And I am most definitely far too busy to do any housework!

The opportunity for home working was a major reason that our MD Julie McLauchlan was a finalist in this year’s Institute of Directors awards in the family friendly working category. Without a doubt, the best thing about being home-based is the extra time I can spend with my children. Although my children are never in the house while I’m actually working, my daughter is in Primary 2 and her little brother has just started school nursery, so I can drop them off in the morning and still be at my desk for 9am. Mornings in our house are now a much calmer and more relaxed affair. I didn’t realise how much stress commuting caused until I stopped doing it! Since starting at Perceptive I have also found time and energy to exercise again – which had been another casualty of the daily commute.

I’ve also rarely been ill – probably because I don’t have colleagues feeling under pressure to come into work when they’re sick and passing on their bugs to the whole office. And if I do have a cough or cold I can sneeze away to my heart’s content without feeling bad about infecting anyone else.

As you can probably tell I’m a complete convert to home working and don’t understand why more companies don’t do it. If they are worried about loss of productivity, this is another misconception – if you have an employee that you trust and who is self-motivated, the chances are they will be more productive at home.

In fact, evidence suggests that home workers are actually more likely to devote more time to their work, which makes complete sense to me. When there’s a deadline to be met, as there inevitably is from time to time in any job, a little extra work from the comfort of your own home once the kids are in bed hardly feels like work at all when compared to being the last one out of the office on a cold dark night, with a long drive home still ahead of you.

Our plan is that Perceptive will soon have an office in Glasgow.  We’ll use this as a hub which will be particularly good for getting the whole team together to share ideas and build our culture a few days a week and we will still be home-based for the rest of the time – so hopefully this will be the best of both worlds.

Brexit not Armageddon but keep your goals in focus

Brexit not Armageddon but keep your goals in focus

This week we hosted our first Brexit Insight Breakfast hosted and facilitated by the experienced and award winning team at Perceptive Communicators.  Devin Scobie, public affairs director of Perceptive Communicators and Stephen Boyle, chief economist of RBS Group shared their expert political and economic insights to a packed room, with some great nuggets of information to help navigate the potential implications of Brexit.

After the event, we developed a handy infographic and you can read that by clicking this link: https://www.perceptivecommunicators.co.uk/2016/08/23/perceptive-brexit-insight/

Unfortunately the only certainty at the moment post-Brexit is uncertainty.

But now isn’t the time to be disheartened and I was pleased to hear the audience felt the same. 98 per cent of those in attendance felt they could make Brexit work, as do I. Indeed, Stephen Boyle summarised his thoughts by saying that it wasn’t the end of the world, just slower growth than we would otherwise have had.

Whatever your stance, the effective use of public affairs has never been more important. At the event, Devin said he expected article 50 to be triggered in the middle of 2017.

It’s not far away and those we met on Tuesday are increasingly recognising the importance of integrated communications, including public affairs, at a time when we are facing the biggest political change in decades.

In uncertain times, you can be certain that Perceptive Communicators’ public affairs offering can support your business needs, helping you to navigate the post-Brexit environment in the process.

Our unique influencing insight has already helped dozens of clients achieve their goals and we would be delighted to do the same with you and your organisation. If you would like to meet with us to discuss how to protect your business reputationally and politically, do get in touch for a no obligation meeting.

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