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Friday, 28 August 2009

Homes & Interiors Scotland Exhibition

A year ago I gained my diploma from the Institute of Interior Design. Not to run away from PR, but to augment our service for clients.

After all, when we've re-vamped the website, the marketing and sales materials, raised the profile in the press and online, there's no point in customers coming into a scrappy building and reception area. Plus, with five property renovations under my belt, I wanted the technical skills to add a extra style to my own developments.

We are lucky to have a terrific award-winning magazine devoted to the best Scotland offers in interior design. I always look forward to their annual Homes & Interiors Scotland Exhibition at the SECC in Glasgow.

And this year, despite the credit crunch, they are putting on an exceptional range of exhibitors, with eight room sets created by leading designers for you to pick up loads of ideas and inspiration. Plus free talks and demonstrations from 28-30 August. They include advice from world-famous designer, Nina Campbell, plus award-winning architect, Crichton Wood's "Open Up Your Home" talk shows how to enhance a home on a budget.

I particularly enjoyed Cole & Son's MD, Anthony Evans' whizz through centuries of wallpaper and production methods, up to the latest digital designs for whole walls and ceilings. They have been making beautiful hand printed wallpapers since 1875.

The new inspiration zone is a treat, offering you the chance to browse through sample books from the world's most influential brands of fabrics and wallpapers. Designs by Casamance, Zoffany and Moon all caught my eye for traditional quality designs with a contemporary edge that won't go out of date. And compared to furniture and lighting, you don't need to splash out much for a very special fabric to add real impact to a room. A few special cushions and maybe a blind will do the trick.

At the other end of the scale, the technology showcase focused on practical advice on energy saving and grants for generating your own power. I had a long chat with an energy saving trust adviser and now have a good master plan for our own building. They also had some great suppliers exhibiting really ingenious eco products.

If you have draughty chimneys, you can stop the draughts and save money on your heating bills for a few pounds with the ingenious chimney balloon. from MGC Sempatap. The same company were offering reflective panels to place behind radiators to bounce heat back into the room instead of heating the wall. Nothing new in that, but by incorporating specially designed ridges on the panels, the heated air is forced to swirl, taking the heat further into the room, saving money by improving the thermal efficiency of your radiators. Their thermal insulation is as easy as wallpaper to work with and not only puts paid to mould, it adds serious thermal properties to walls.

Tim Stead's legacy of distinctive wooden sculptural furniture is carried forward by his widow and the craftsmen he trained. It was a pleasure to see them at the show for the first time this year.

Another first timer at the exhibition was a brilliant start-up business called Gorgeous Graffiti that had designers queueing up to offer compliments on creating a stone mason look out of hand carved wooden lettering and canvas. Bespoke logos, mottoes or poems are no problem. Bang on trend and very affordable.

CraftScotland brought some really stunning pieces, from laser cut delicacy to spectacular glass and lighting.

I also liked Jokadirect's bespoke lampshades. They can do anything in almost any size, in wood or cloth, to suit your interior. Their statement feature drum pendents are popular for commercial interiors and incorporate beautiful diffuser panels to soften the light and reduce glare. They can use your fabric too. Just the thing to match the rest of your design scheme.

Architectural Angels were offering a great deal on innovative garden design, starting at under £300.

The sinuous curves of the Ashley Ann kitchen display marry Italian design flair with German engineering. They put the appliances round the walls with the work surfaces in the middle, along with the hobs and griddle. You know it makes sense when you see it.

Pick up a copy of BoConcept's new catalogue and feast your eyes on their extensive display of customisable furniture.

Another catalogue worth picking up is Habitat's latest catalogue with a Hamburg theme. Their distinctive classic range comes with a 10% discount flyer at the show.

And after seeing the display of LEDs at their stand, I'm looking forward to seeing David Brown Lighting's revamped showroom shortly. Always an inspiring treat to visit their Edinburgh showroom as lighting is the one element that makes or breaks an interior design.

I confess I fell for a silk duvet with a substantial show discount from Mandarin Silk. Any duvet that can be cleaned by the simple act of hanging outside for a couple of hours twice a year has my vote. And silk's ability to regulate your temperature added to its natural hypoallergenic qualities are all benefits worth having.

Millers specialist floor coverings included some of the best textural rug selections I have seen for some time, including some really unusual BIC rugs.

And when it all gets too much, don't forget to collect your free tickets for the Oddbins wine tasting!

I'd wear flat shoes as there's a lot of ground to cover, and take a sturdy bag for rucksack for all the literature too!

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Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Speaking Easy

The ability to communicate effectively is a key asset in both business and personal life. Whether it's interviewing potential recruits, connecting with new people, or deciding between new business pitches, who wouldn't prefer an interesting speaker with a clear message?

So it's good to see that one of Scotland's leading communications skills training companies has put up free communications training resources on a new blog

They include videos showing VoiceBusiness walks the talk - see for a quick pre-speech exercise featuring their director, Dilly.

I've known Dilly over the years and have seen her in action several times: impressive and always generous with her tips. More importantly, I've seen the results of her training. Her company produces a step change in speakers' abilities.

Speaking is so important, yet we rarely think about it until shortly before we have to make a speech. We often haven't put the groundwork in to learn speaking skills, nor have not prepared or practiced enough. And deep down, we know it. It's not surprising that our speaking experiences are often laced with nerves or downright panic.

I'll never forget pitching to produce a new magazine. I'd done an OK job, but I wasn't a totally confident presenter. I got a phone call afterwards saying our proposals were much better on paper and we had a better team, but another company had done a much better presentation on the day. They got the work, despite it being a writing job with no presentation skills involved. When I pointed this out there was a total silence as the caller realised just how stupid their decision had been.

But I learned an important lesson that day. With a background in editing and writing, I needed to develop broader presentation skills. I joined the Edinburgh branch of Toastmasters International (TMI) and I achieved visible improvement in presentations within 6 months. Since then I have seen an increase in winning new business pitches.

It's certainly benefited my PR career. We have less than 30 seconds on the telephone to interest an editor in a client's story, so concise speaking is essential. And running a business, I have to be able to connect with new people effectively. I only have a few seconds to create a favourable first impression, and I need to think on my feet effectively. Toastmasters teaches you how to run your brain ahead of your mouth!

Plus the explosion of video online (UK online video viewing time is rapidly approaching TV viewing time) means that every business spokesperson needs clever presentation skills to take advantage of this most powerful medium.

It's never too late to do something about it.

We can take a leaf out of our US cousin's book for a start. We tend to think of Americans as being more outgoing communicators than us Brits. But they don't spring from the womb with fully-fledged speaking skills. They work at it. In schools - as many now do here. And they continue to practice impromptu and prepared speaking big-time at Toastmasters International (TMI) clubs.

TMI is a not-for-profit organisation with a proven track record of training more than 4 million people in public speaking and leadership skills world-wide. They offer a range of public speaking and leadership qualifications that are recognised world-wide.

Just how much more effort US citizens put into developing speaking skills is clear when you contrast the number of TMI clubs here and there.

A friend (and TMI member) moved from Edinburgh to Portland, Oregon. She reported that the population is roughly the same as Edinburgh. Yet they have 125 Toastmasters clubs in Portland. Until recently Edinburgh only had one TMI club called Capital Communicators which meets in the New Town. That grew too big and we now have two clubs with the recent launch of Waverley Communicators in the Old Town.

Why not find a Toastmasters International club to give you a speaking practice arena with constructive feedback? also has a good range of free speakers' training resources.

The TMI site has a world-wide club finder. The last time I used it, disconcertingly, all UK results show a map centred on the UK TMI HQ in Norfolk, but scroll past that and you'll get a list of clubs in your area. Edinburgh's Waverly Communicators isn't on that list yet as we need a couple more members to reach official TMI chartered club status, but I'm happy to provide you with info. As a not-for-profit, TMI club membership fees are very low - related mainly to meeting costs - so they vary from club to club. The clubs in Edinburgh and Glasgow are around £100 a year for fortnightly training and practice lasting 2 hours.

You can start boosting your speaking skills today by visiting and re-visiting every month or so to to tap into their free resources.

And if you need to improve your speaking skills in a hurry, or your business depends on your presentation and speaking skills, why not invest in a VoiceBusiness course to produce overnight results?

PHPR has no commercial arrangement with either VoiceBusiness or TMI.

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Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Put Words into Pictures with Wordle

Discovered the excellent free Wordle today.

Actually I read about Wordle a few months ago in that excellent repository of all-things-computer-made-simple: ComputerActive magazine. Wordle was created by Jonathan Feinberg, a senior software engineer at IBM Research.

Wordle makes great-looking word-clouds: pictures of the words in a piece of text where the words are displayed by size, the largest being with the most frequently used (it ignores common words like and, the, a etc.

But Wordle takes the word cloud a step further and turns it into art, by arranging the words in all sorts of directions, fonts and colours. And you can play about with the mix to create your very own unique Wordles.

Been meaning to try it out for ages. Today was the day because I got fed up of sifting through my 30,000 or so photos to find images to liven up this blog.

Wordle's a great way to create a visual from anything intangible such as an idea or a service. Wordles can also be manifested as unique cards, wrapping paper, tee-shirts, or ... the applications of Wordles are only limited by the imagination. And since conceptual art is big at the moment, it's bang on trend.

You can't copyright your own Wordle creations, but you can use your Wordles for commercial purposes, but see for the full copyright info (all explained concisely in real English).

The FAQs also explain how to take screengrabs that you can import into photo editing software (Picassa recognises screengrabs automatically if you are running it while screen-grabbing), but do remember to credit if you use a screen grab as this is IBM copyright you're playing with.

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Tuesday, 18 August 2009

40% of tweets "pointless"

A report on Twitter yesterday claimed that only 5.85% of tweets are self promotion and 3.75% spam - you could have fooled me as I'd have said self promo was the prime force behind more than that! By carefully monitoring my follows I don't get much I consider spam.

And that's the point. Everyone's personal inbox will vary according to what they, as the gatekeepers, set up. That's why Twitter works. It puts you in control. As far as I can tell, this report is an analysis of the raw Twitter stream, which I doubt anyone actually experiences.

Apparently 8.7% of posts had "pass-along" value. And 40% were "pointless babble", although I expect their close mates would find it interesting enough at the time.

It's like any media. If I set up a newsletter confined to news about my street, a handful of people on the street and their mums might be interested. At least Twitter and other online media doesn't use up good paper & ink. Find the report at:

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New-old social media

I'm indebted to Kevinghay on Twitter for pointing me towards this useful piece at the Top Rank Online Marketing blog "Let’s revisit these 16 rules for social media optimisation (SMO) and see which are still relevant" at

It's good to see that, although social media sites come and go, a lot of the best practice tips come down to attending to the basics of good communications: listening and reacting appropriately, plus good ideas, clearly presented.

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Saturday, 15 August 2009

Seeing the online PR light through training

PR people often ask me about how to get on top of online PR quickly.

I usually recommend David Meerman Scott's book: The New Rules of Marketing & PR.

I think that book is a great starting place, and they'll find that online PR and marketing are converging online, so the whole ballpark just got a lot bigger. But the truth is, one book, no matter how good, doesn't give you a licence to practice. I've also put in a major time investment in training.

My CIPR (Chartered Institute of Public Relations) CPD Excellence log shows I've clocked up an average of 250 hours a year, each year for the last 4 years. That's currently 1,000 hours of formal training logged, not counting at least 10 times more time refining that training through practice.

They say it takes 10,000 hours to develop an expertise in a subject, and I reckon I must be getting close to that by now if you add the "putting it into practice" element.

If you count on around 240 working days a year after subtracting weekends and holidays, I'm spending over an hour a day on logged training. Not all of it is online PR and marketing. There's useful stuff about business processes and public speaking skills in there too. But I'm always picking up online PR and marketing tips while I'm working. Twitter sends me off on all sorts of interesting links and that's not logged, nor is watching the world's top experts on TED.

So why don't I feel an expert on anything? I think the explanation lies in something my tutor in the philosophy department said over 30 years ago. Bear in mind that he was a renowned professor close to retirement: he said, "The more I know, the more I discover there is to know, so now I feel I know less than I did when I started". I can relate to that!

Sometimes you just have to get comfortable with the idea that you have put in the spadework and know a lot more than most.

But logging the time spent on training puts good statistics behind you. That's quite an important professional booster, especially for smaller company owners and freelancers that are not in large organisations with structured training and development programs run by development professionals. And it's not just PR professionals. I reckon this could apply to any knowledge-led service providers.

I never thought I would say this as I struggle each year to add up my hours and file my CPD reports, but thank you CIPR CPD Excellence program and CIPR's Debbie Liddle for ensuring that, no matter how busy I am, I plan my training year in accord with my business goals and log my hours.

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Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Google on Caffeine Tastes Even Better

Google's new search engine is called Caffeine and it's not quite ready yet. But an early version is available to web developer to provide feedback. Google claim it will deliver faster, better results, and index content faster. As usual with Google, most of the work is under the bonnet so we will notice little obvious change.

But what will it do to our carefully optimised websites? That's why they are asking for feedback from developers.

But to get an idea of how it is shaping up as far as your site and your key search engine terms, a web developer has set up a neat side-by-side comparison site at - no, not compare the meerkats...

I ran the search terms we've been getting onto page 1 of Google's natural search results for clients using well-written content on monitored press release sites. All of them performed slightly better on the caffeinated version, so I'm looking forward to Google with a dash of caffeine.

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