small business pr: a big opportunity but one size never fits all

When I pick up a shiny new top off the shop rail, nothing makes my heart sink faster than a “one size” label.  Why? It never fits.  You’re pretty much guaranteed either your boobs, your tummy or your bum will be mercilessly exposed by a garment designed to be OK for everyone but that usually provides a poor result.  And it’s usually the one part you want to hide that ends up on show.

I hadn’t intended to start with a shopping analogy but hey ho, I am short of time so let’s press on.

We’ve been doing a lot of work recently with small to medium sized businesses and it never ceases to amaze me how many companies just don’t get what they need.

Small yet individually formed

In March this year, when David Cameron told the Conservative Party Conference ““There’s only one strategy for growth we can have now…and that is rolling up our sleeves and doing everything possible to make it easier for people to start (and) grow a business,” a line was drawn in the sand.

Only two months later, business secretary Vince Cable stood on a national stage alongside Lord Green and William Hague to announce that, “we’re rightly proud of British firms and making sure they can increase their exports to a worldwide audience is vital if we are to rebuild our economy.”

From grassroots campaigns to large-scale media pushes by the likes of The Mirror and The Independent; Google’s “get your business online competition” to HSBC’s small business confidence monitor, championing British small and medium-sized businesses and wanting them to succeed has never been more fashionable.

This is different.

If the UK is to recover from recession and bounce back from the economic woes that currently face us, we need small businesses to succeed.

Q. But how many large organisations truly understand the needs of small businesses?

A. Not many…..at least not when they are trying to communicate with them.

The most common complaint we hear from journalists (and the counsel we provide for our clients) is that the story IS different….solutions selling doesn’t work in the same way for SMEs as for large enterprises.  As for targeting audiences by job title, how does that achieve the desired results when the HR director is the finance director and the marketing director and the managing director all rolled into one?

From IT complexity to changing taxation; super-fast rural broadband to money laundering regulations; cloud security to the cost of “free”; understanding changing privacy laws to increasing remote working and the power of micropayments to the impact of mobile technology.  As the managing director of a small British business today, there is currently a LOT going on in your head.

And the end game? Cutting costs and achieving growth.

So where are the danger points? And why do (according to Experian) over 1800 small businesses a month fail in the UK?

According to Jonathan Hogg in April’s Independent SME supplement, “businesses fail to understand that the most successful time in a company’s life is its most dangerous time” and attributes this to what Freud called “totems and taboos”.

“Totems are ideas that become so sacred they cannot be questioned and taboos are the questions that cannot be asked. They arise from some very deep-rooted human instincts…reflect our natural conservative bias in the form of a reluctance to change….and the herd instinct where everyone wants to agree with the majority.”

And why this reluctance to change? At an enterprise level, businesses usually have non-executives to lean on.  To spot trends, point out pitfalls and to provide experience from learning the hard way.  But what do SMEs have?  Very often a combination of gut feel and a very small amount of spare time.

Doing well by doing good

In the UK at present there is a real opportunity to provide not only support, education and competitions/giveaways to the SME market but genuine help. The media want this, the government wants this and only a very few global organisations are really doing it.

I believe here is a wealth of industry knowledge, support and mentorship sitting within vertically-focused global businesses that can be shared to mutual benefit with the SME market in the UK.

What does this mean for PR and social media?

Where the focus on technology in the broadsheet media has shrunk over the past ten years, the tabloids, regionals and small business/consumer titles have seen an increase, particularly online.  An increase in blogger credibility, search and link-led marketing, has meant that ideas MUST be good enough to be shared amongst friends and colleagues and campaigns must deliver more than just news.

What works?

Businesses that are succeeding in reaching SME and industry audiences through print, broadcast and social media are using a simple but successful communications formula:

Simple language + human angles x strong support from real businesses= PR success

In the UK, there is a real opportunity to take initiatives such as business mentoring and community partnerships a lot further.  PR-wise, it amazes me that still companies are not talking the language of small businesses, instead burying all the interesting stuff under mountains of product marketing speak.

The smart company that can couple the wealth of interesting business news that its end users generate EVERY day with the political, social and macroeconomic picture in the UK today (alongside providing genuine support for British businesses) is a PR success waiting to happen.  So come on then, who’s game?

(cross posted with my employer’s blog)

Perception might not be justified but it *is* reality. Deal with it….

Whatever your business, if a customer makes a complaint or has a negative perception of your organisation, no matter how unjustified you think it is, you have to accept it.

If you don’t change their perception….the negative opinion will be shared and spread.

It doesn’t matter whether you agree with a customer’s perception. Don’t try to deny it, accept that it exists and work hard to change it.

The same is true in your own career. Sometimes in appraisals, we hear feedback that makes us think “WTF? I don’t do that!” Yet someone thinks you do….so change their perception…change your behaviour….it’s only real if you let it continue.

boosting morale and creating loyalty in a recession

I am often sceptical of newspaper supplements as just ending up as train floor fodder but yesterday’s Barclays sponsored guide called “The Road to Recovery: A blueprint for business” had some interesting stuff in it. 

A piece by Stefan Stern (of whom I am a big fan) caught my eye as it focused on boosting morale following corporate upheaval.  There are few companies who haven’t seen some sort of change in the past 2 years be it growth in new areas, changes in management or for the more unlucky folks, redundancies and closures. 

One of the main areas of management that has always fascinated me is how to build and maintain a team ethic as you business grows and changes and Stefan provided some interesting pointers that can be adapted to suit both the PR industry and the economy we are in right now.

  • Structure your strategy around (re)building and (re)assuring
  • Make employees proud of where they work
  • Clever and creative people want fun at work
  • Stamp out gloomy environments
  • Don’t change the message/goals before they have really got through to staff
  • Be honest and straight talking
  • Be calm, don’t panic and handle situations with openness and backbone
  • Get involved, don’t run the business from the spreadsheets: get out and meet staff and clients
  • Don’t apologise for decisions, explain why they are necessary and stand by them

Cross posted with my employer’s blog

10 things to make the pitch process easier

Following on from a piece I read the other day about delivering the perfect pitch, I thought I’d jot down some things that I find help the actual process go smoother too. Love to hear any more you might have to add….

10. Get started on the research right away
9. Don’t just rely on the net, get primary research if you can
8. Get the team who is pitching involved from the off so they feel more confident in the ideas they’re presenting
7. Ask questions if unsure on the brief. Don’t guess but at the same time, use your initiative where you can
6. Don’t just do PowerPoint for ease. Is it the best way of getting across your ideas in the time you have?
5. Look for a story throughout the pitch. A narrative makes the whole thing much easier to follow, make it flow and build it into your action plan
4. Agree your theme/idea early and stick to it. The rest of the time should be working out how you explain the idea simply and right through to measuring results
3. Allocate roles that suit people’s skills. Nerves often come from people presenting stuff they aren’t sure of
2. Rehearse, then rehearse more, then rehearse a bit more. Don’t just read through the pitch, get some people you trust to critique and help you with delivery
1. Win or lose, you’ve worked bloody hard as a team so have confidence in what you are presenting. Relax. Let the adrenaline kick in and try to enjoy it

The Apprentice ep5 – a lesson in getting your hands dirty

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During tonight’s episode, Kimberley got the chop and rightly so (despite my dislike of Lorraine’s bulldog chewing a wasp face).
Kimberley, the self defined marketing expert ridiculously denied posessing either any creative talent or presentation skills tonight.

The lesson? Managers need to get their hands dirty and if you sell yourself as an expert, you better be prepared to deliver come crunch time.

{Nick/Margaret watch: Classic Nick “They took logic and tortured it until it screamed” – absolutely brilliant}