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Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Brochures - do you need them?

This is the third in a series of posts re-visiting the 30 low cost or free publicity techniques featured in PHPR's founder's best-selling book: DIYPR, the small business owner's guide to 'free' publicity. The 30 techniques are a mix of sales, marketing and PR tools because you need to work all three disciplines to effectively boost a business. As the series develops, choose a few to trial for a few months. The aim is to work up to 10 varied publicity techniques that work for you and your business to create a rolling PR Plan for success.

Your feedback is most welcome and may be included (with proper attribution) in the forthcoming revised edition of DIY PR.

Despite the flexibility and immediacy of websites and PDF files, there comes a time when many a business owner wonders if it's about time they produced a brochure, or some other sort of impressive printed output, to make the enterprise appear more established. The thought usually hits them when they have just seen a competitors' particularly impressive publication.

There's no doubt that a beautifully printed job is an impressive object, especially if is exquisitely designed and produced on heavy duty coated paper, with a cover finished with a seductively silky surface coating, possibly highlighted with gloss spot varnish.

However, no matter how impressive, you need to think long and hard about your intended recipients. The chances are that your top potential clients are trying to run a paperless office and your work of art will go straight into the bin. Or worse: they will take one look and wonder how much of their fees are going towards fancy brochures. Or be shocked at how little care you are displaying for the environment.

There are practical issues. You often need to specify a lot of brochures before the unit cost comes down, but printed materials go out of date so quickly: sometimes before they come back from the printer.

Are brochures just expensive sops to the business owner's ego? Surely luxury brands are an exception?

I would suggest that nowdays, there are cleverer ways for luxury brands to spend their promotional budget. Especially when posh brochures risk trashing the company's environmental credentials. Maybe a bigger spend on design, branding or packaging? An interactive website? Or a really amazing and memorable business card? I don't think people see a business card as a massive waste of resources and the humble card is often the most immediate and frequently used tool.

If you really feel you must leave something decent sitting on prospective clients' desks, consider a good looking pre-printed folder to take well-designed loose-leaf inserts that you can update and run off onto good quality paper. Then you can select a range of product or service information sheets plus relevant case studies and licensed media coverage reprints to impress that particular client. Effectively, every folder becomes a bespoke brochure, with minimal waste. If you use sustainable paper and inks then the environmental impact is reduced and you can add a claim to that effect to collect a small green plus point.

To print or not to print is a good example of 'big picture' PR thinking designed to keep an eye out for all the behaviors and decisions that can impact on a company's reputation.

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Monday, 28 September 2009

Award-Winning Impact

This is the second of 30 low cost PR Techniques re-visited some 10 years after our MD's best selling DIY PR book was published.

Business Awards

Win an award and you are forever "an award-winning business".

Awards may not be the sole determining factor in getting a sale, but all things being equal, holding an award can tip the balance.

  • Well respected awards are external recognition of your business.
  • A relevant award could well increase your score in a formal procurement assessment or tendering process.
  • It sounds impressive to be able to put 'an award-winning business" up on your website, and in your marketing and communications materials.
  • Joining an award winning business will seem more attractive to potential recruit.
  • Winning an award gives you an edge in the eyes of your advisers and investors, your peers, your neighbours, family and friends.
  • But most of all, awards used well can make you and your staff feel more confident, and that shows through in everything you do.

Winning an award stacks up lots of positive benefits provided that you use the accolade well, and make sure everyone hears about it. That means publicising it in:

  • newsletters,
  • e-mailshots,
  • on email and forum signatures,
  • the relevant local and trade press, and any relevant membership magazines for trade or professional associations
  • marketing & stationery materials, point of sale etc.

Great awards have great benefits, but they do take up time, so do take care to pick your awards carefully.

Some awards are much more respected than others, and some have very specific purposes. They broadly fall into the following groups:

  1. General Business Awards - in the UK this includes the Queens Awards for Enterprise and the National Business Awards (with regional feeder awards).
  2. Specific awards for industry sectors, often involving trade associations or specialists trade media
  3. Environmental and CSR awards
  4. Marketing awards and customer contact awards
  5. Training awards

At PHPR we have an associate who specialises in winning awards for clients and gets great results. When offering this service, we always stress that half the battle is choosing the right awards to enter. That is echoed by the specialist BOOST award writing agency. They suggest that you look for awards that offer expert judge's feedback. That way, no matter what outcome, you have won expert external consultancy. We totally agree.

Using awards strategically is not a quick fix. It means choosing ones that will benefit your business most. Awards that you genuinely can address with cutting edge flair. Awards that will send out key messages that you know are important to deliver to the key target audiences you need to reach. Then implementing measures that will produce award-winning outstanding results for your business and its audiences.

For example: we have translated various scientific aspects of environmental technology into everyday English to publicise the benefits for clients' end users. Some of our clients are in property-related fields, where environmental standards increasingly matter. We think the environment is a key growth area and we determined that winning an environmental award would underline our abilities in this field. We intend to use it to spearhead a campaign to win more of this type of business. It also helps that we have a genuine interest in being a low carbon company and have, for example, reduced, re-used and recycled since 1986.

We targeted the VIBES awards, Scotland's premier environmental awards, run by the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency - SEPA.

When we entered VIBES last year I knew we didn't have enough specialist environmental expertise to pull together a really good environmental plan. But I had seen the application form and understood that the VIBES application process effectively corals you into producing a rounded environmental plan if you address the questions. We didn't expect to win anything last year, nor did we. It was a learning experience, but we did get expert feedback. We also went on the Winning a VIBES award course where we met some of the judges and found out what they are looking for. We found that not only helpful, but inspiring.

The efforts are starting to pay off. This year we have been short-listed, which we are absolutely delighted about. We await the judges' visit next month. We're not a dedicated environmental specialist company so I don't know how we'll do, but we will do our best. But just being short-listed for VIBES should improve our credibility when it comes to convincing prospective clients that we can get their eco messages across.

Whatever award you decide to go for, and there are thousands out there to choose from, you won't be the only one that has seen the value in awards. Your application needs to stand out with good evaluation and impact measurement to prove the business case.

And going through an external judges visit really rams the importance of the award subject matter into your teams. But that process starts long before the judges visit.

Adding awards-winning goals into a business involves everyone from top to bottom and can be used to drive the business forward in a specific direction. It is a year-long process to embed the ideas and collect the evidence to support your award application. All with the added frisson of competition to drive you on to create a winning entry that shows real innovation and quantifiable business benefits in addition to ticking all the award criteria boxes. The really top award evaluations will assess the impact of the changes on all the key target audiences and it must prove to be beneficial to these audiences, and not just boost the business and produce a ROI (return on investment).

If you are a niche company, do search out the specialised awards for your area. They can be excellent if you are aiming at a highly-targeted group and will bring your business name to the attention of professional or trade organisations, relevant trade media, plus potential recruits and customers.

And good luck!

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Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Ambassadors in Business Boost Brand and Referrals

This is the start of a series of posts, re-visiting the 30 low cost or free publicity techniques featured in PHPR's MD's best-selling book: DIYPR, the small business owner's guide to 'free' publicity by Penny Haywood (pub: Batsford 1998). They are a mix of sales, marketing and PR tools because you need to work all three disciplines to effectively boost a business.

As the series develops, choose a few to trial for a few months. The aim is to work up to 10 varied publicity techniques that work for you and your business to create a rolling PR Plan for success.

The techniques can be used for most sizes of business and organisations.

At PHPR, we mainly work with business-to-business clients. We need to ensure that clients get the best possible PR, sales and marketing advice, so we have evolved a list of several hundred techniques to ensure we can cover most bases in most industry sectors.

These 30 techniques are more than enough to get started on. We are kicking off with one of the least used: Ambassadors.

Ambassadors - some people call them brand ambassadors - have the potential to bring great benefits to any business that thrives on recommendations: and that is most of them!

1) Ambassadors

Ambassadors are common for countries and NGOs, but companies rarely use them.

I believe ambassadors can particularly benefit small businesses and they should be a more widespread phenomenon. Why?
Being asked to be an ambassador is flattering to the most influential people in your field, which is rarely a bad thing.

Having a good ambassador aligns your business with the best people.

Ambassadors are eminently quotable and add kudos to your business

An ambassador programme leverages word of mouth recommendations from people whose opinion is respected.

Having ambassadors gets you closer to people who matter.

What's not to like about ambassadors?

If you have good contacts with prominent individuals associated with your field, could they become your ambassadors? Whether they are from business, industry, commerce, professional bodies, societies, associations or universities, local councils or governing bodies, potential ambassadors are people who are in a position to make influential recommendations. They might be customers, old colleagues, friends, fellow committee members in professional bodies or contacts from the past. Or a former mentor

Even if you can't immediately think of anyone, just remember that most people like helping others and hold the thought in the back of your mind that you are seeking an ambassador. Once you acknowledge that you are looking for one, a suitable person is much more likely to appear. That's because we tend to see what we are looking for.

Most successful people work hard, but also admit to being lucky. But you can give your luck a helping hand

If you visualise being successful and attracting a helpful ambassador, your subconscious doesn't know the difference between imagining and reality, so it will start drawing you towards things that help you achieve your goals. You won't find an ambassador just by imagining one, but visualising having an ambassador will make you feel more hopeful and energised and boost your chances of finding one.

Why not list finding ambassadors on your PR plan?

Ambassadors lend an air of credibility to your organisation. They are not colleagues or contacts on referral programmes, recommending you for some sort of reward or quid pro quo.

Referrals are more likely to be generated by equals. Ambassadors will actively promote your business because they believe in you and what you are trying to do. They like to see younger up and coming business people develop. And it's a two-way street. You will keep them fresh and up-to-date with new technology and the latest thinking in your sphere. And take them to interesting places to swap notes on the industry and your latest ideas.

I would also suggest that you periodically give your ambassador something that money can't buy easily.

Maybe you know a skilled artist whose style reflects your ambassador's own taste?

Or you have written a book you can dedicate to them?

Something special hand-crafted with their name that you have carefully judged is to their taste?

Or a bottle of their favourite and difficult to obtain single malt or wine?

Hard to obtain tickets to something they will love?

All of these things are worth more than a more expensive present and they force you to really pay attention to your ambassador's preferences: something that will make them feel special and appreciated.

Ambassadors may also be regarded by many as opinion formers and they may in fact be both. The difference is, opinion formers are useful, but are more remote than ambassadors. You may seek to influence opinion-formers, but it is unlikely that an opinion-former will actively promote your business in the way an ambassador does.

If they do make excellent comments about you or your business, your opinion-former has just re-classified him or herself as a potential ambassador.

The word-art for this post was created at

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Monday, 14 September 2009

Google's Data Liberation Front

Storing your info in the cloud is great in that you don't have to carry it with you. You can log-in and access your data just about anywhere: calendars, photos, documents & presentations etc.

But it's apparently not always easy to swap data around and manage it. Especially if you want to change to another application or platform.

If you're like me. a lot of your data is on Google. This blog is powered by Google's Blogger and customised to be hosted on my website by A pro network I'm in stores data for Google-Groups as Google Docs. Many of my pix are in Picasa web albums. I used a temp Gmail account when my ISP screwed up.

How do you get all that somewhere else when you want to move to a different platform?

Well those guys at Google have been thinking about that too, and an engineering team have come up with the Data Liberation Front (DLF). The DLF reckon you can get data out of any of the Google products, but some give up that data more easily than others. To date they are about two thirds of the way through liberating data i.e. making it very easy to get data out. They've been on a liberating mission since 2007.

They point out that "Customers own the data they put into Google Apps, so we fundamentally believe it should be easy for companies to switch away from Google Apps to other messaging and collaboration solutions."

It may be counter intuitive, but I think it's a smart move.

By making it easy to get stuff out, we feel comfortable and don't want to leave.
Make it hard to get out and it niggles away at us. We feel trapped and some start to view it as a challenge.

And announcing it now is even smarter. As InformationWeek says: it's "a move that comes as the company is being assailed by competitors, interest groups, and the government for its online ad dominance and its digital book ambitions."

In PR and the news game: timing is all.

But I did find out something useful: although it's easy to escape from Blogger, the same easy escape route - an export from Blogger - is also a handy way to export a copy to your hard-drive as a back-up precaution. They may not be earth shattering, but you may find other similar insights at the DLF's site & blog:

I currently wouldn't want to escape from Blogger because I hear that Google's own blogs get indexed on Google faster. But if you do want to escape, the Data Liberation team "hosts the Google Blog Converters open source project. This project also powers a hosted conversion service with support for migrating from WordPress, MovableType, and Livejournal."

Another smart move: as you check the DLF out: they may well tempt you into other Google offerings - it's a fair-sized list down the left-hand side!

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Thursday, 10 September 2009

Speaking for Profit

Asked this morning at a breakfast seminar* what promotional tool I found most effective, We regularly use around 30 different techniques depending on time available & mood/inspiration hits. When pressed for the most effective tool: it has to be getting out there and giving talks.

Public speaking is one of the things many people dread doing most, but almost every time I speak to a business group, we land a new client almost immediately. That's an incentive to get going, if ever there was one!

I enjoy public speaking now, but I used to dread it. I was a written words person.

Toastmasters International gave me a really effective confidence boost in public speaking with their positive feedback-based training and speaking practice. And it has to be one of the best bargains around at c£100 a year for fortnightly sessions.

The Toastmasters' training manuals are great, but it's the positive feedback that helps with the nerves. You are clapped every time you speak, and evaluated in a way that encourages you to make the most of your best traits.

Eventually you love getting an opportunity to speak because you know how to prepare and practise effectively. You have a whole box of proven techniques to engage your audience. Including impromptu speaking for those times when a speaking opportunity suddenly emerges.

There are two Toastmasters clubs in Edinburgh: and

Other Scottish Toastmasters' clubs are in Glasgow, Dundee, Linlithgow, Aberdeen and Forres (nr Inverness). For these and other clubs use the meeting finder at (note: all UK location results show a map centred on the UK Norfolk HQ - scroll past that to get to your results).

* Thanks to Kirsty Lloyd at OA Executive for inviting me to their breakfast briefing on staff communications in difficult times led by the very excellent team from Enhance.


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Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Boosting Business and Health

If you are ill, it's easy to neglect business promotion as you crawl around the place.

When I had a frozen shoulder, every handshake would have been excruciating so I didn't see the point in networking. I did focus on the things I could do easily, like short blog posts, phone calls and tweets.

And delegated what I could.

I worked out the minimum amount of effort needed to keep ticking over to avoid creating a famine of work in the future. I invested in my health, using physio, the Bowen technique and chiropractic treatment to accelerate out of a frozen shoulder in two months.

I use the Hospital Saturday Fund for a cost-effective way to take some of the financial sting out of getting faster medical and health services, and they cover some alternative therapies, such as chiropractic & physio.

I was careful to look after myself well and got into Nordic walking since most of my usual exercise options were beyond me and the poles helped free up my shoulder.

Best of all, the time spent relaxing allowed me to plan all sorts of new services and absorb the life-lessons my shoulder provided and I now practice Qigong and have returned to meditation to ensure I harness my energy and use it effectively.

Our health is one of the greatest business assets we have and need to nurture ourselves and our businesses to flourish.

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Focus to Boost Business

(picture created in

How many times have you wished you had more time to promote the business? We can always find the time, provided that promotion is the top priority. But is it just a case of prioritising? Trouble is, whenever you prioritise, something else is demoted. So how can we make more time for key tasks?

One solution I've heard suggested is to tap into that "just before holiday" frenzy.

We all work like crazy before a holiday to clear the desk - all we need is to do that every day to increase our output... And when you're tired? Just imagine someone pointing a gun at your head - if that was real, all tiredness would vanish. Well yes. That's great in the short term. But how long would most people's health last, piling on the stress like that?

We can do a prodigious amount of work when we have a powerful motivating reason - saving lives, helping charities, going on hols, turning the business around, moving office or house etc. But we know it's for a finite period.

Sure, build a bit of rush time into a week, but there is another way: work smarter. And I'm not thinking about rushing out to buy the latest gadget. I had a harsh but valuable experience that taught me to focus on the important stuff only.

Recently I lost the use of my right arm for 8 weeks - a frozen shoulder. Agony. And I'm right-handed. Painkillers and a good physio sorted it out. I now use the free program called WorkRave to enforce breaks so I don't get another frozen shoulder. But boy, did I get a really good set of lessons in how to work efficiently. I didn't have any choice.

I addressed emails twice a day. I only looked at ones from clients, friends and family. And I painstakingly typed one line answers to clients. Anything else was done by phone. Guess what? I slashed my email time by half and still had time to cancel or block a load of email that was not immediately useful, saving more time in future.

Speeches, case studies, articles and releases were handled with speech to text software (Dragon-Dictate) and took less time to write than direct keystrokes as speech is generally more concise than the written word (I'd previously trained the software to recognise my voice).

And I rigorously recycled text to ensure our online marketing remained on course by questioning everything I created - how can I use it again for maximum impact? A blog headline becomes a tweet and a Facebook posting via Tweetdeck pointing back to the blog. Or use to cover lots of social media and bookmarking sites with one post. And if the subject is strong enough, it could edited into a e-newsletter and pushed to your permission-based e-mailing list.

I expect you can suggest more ways to streamline your working day: let's hear them!

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Friday, 4 September 2009

Why Connecting is the New Networking

Most people would do anything other than walk into a roomful of strangers. Yet making worthwhile connections in business is the single most powerful form of publicity you can achieve. Not ‘working the room’ touching base with everyone, exchanging cards and connecting with nobody. Connecting is finding people you genuinely like: people you can do business with.
Heartfelt recommendations from people that know you really does bring in new business. It works because the people that like you, tend to gather similar people, so their contacts are also likely to like your approach.
That experience of walking into a roomful of strangers, along with public speaking were both famously ranked before death itself in a study of things people feared most. And that was a study run in the US. We in the UK tend to think they do communications better over there.
Yes, many Americans are good communicators, and I promise you there’s a very good reason for that. Toastmasters International. Portland, Oregon is a US city with a population equivalent to my hometown of Edinburgh, UK. Portland has 125 Toastmasters’ clubs to our two – and one of those is very new!
Toastmasters is a not-for-profit self-help that offers a ridiculously good public speaking training plus impromptu speaking practice (ideal for connecting with people) and a leadership skills programme that is ludicrously good value for money. It costs around £100 a year (clubs vary according to the costs of meeting rooms etc) for fortnightly 2 hour training and practice sessions.
There are great 1-2-1 trainers who’ll get you faster results, but without the practice opportunities, how long will that last?
Toastmasters offers regular practice along with proven training resources and powerful feedback.
There’s a reason Toastmasters is the world’s largest public speaking training organisation, with over 4 million people trained in most countries throughout the world.
Go onto and find a club! (scroll past the map which shows the UK HQ to find results for your area).

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