Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Are We A Nation of Worriers?

According to a recent survey, the average Briton frets about something seven times a day, for at least eight minutes on each occasion. That equates to just under an hour a day, which over the average adult lifetime, is 2.3 years! And when you put it that way…that’s a hell of a lot of worrying!

So what are we actually worrying about? Well it seems the cold weather has left one in three people concerned that their boiler will break down, closely followed by money worries, ageing, remembering to lock the house, being late for work and skidding on ice whilst driving amongst other things!

And let’s be honest, with the Local Council unable to coordinate a nationwide grit to enable us to operate in snowy conditions, not to mention the unsociable hours we are expected to wait at home for a repair man to fix our boiler/plumbing/car/oven/washing machine just before Christmas when they are guaranteed to break…it’s no wonder we’re constantly fretting about something!

So what do you think? Are we a nation of worriers, or is it just come winter when everything seems to fail us as a result of the weather, that we start to fret about anything and everything?

Hopefully with Christmas only 2 days away, you won’t be worrying about the potential failure of your oven, having no heating, not being able to make it through the snow to the supermarket or even how Santa will get down the chimney. As the saying goes…if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. So before you have a mad panic about what ‘COULD’ happen, just take a deep breath, relax…and have a very Merry Christmas!

Friday, 17 December 2010

How will you spend yours..?

As the 'big day' draws ever closer, I'm shunning talk of whether or not it will be a white Christmas this year. Yes, it would be beautiful and extremely festive, but in my mind, it's still too early to predict so I'm content just to wait and see.

What has caught my attention is the conversations about what people are doing on Christmas Day and who they are spending it with. The general theme in our office seems to be a nice quiet Christmas with family, a traditional dinner and then of course the obligatory fighting over the TV remote come the evening. But what are the rest of the nation getting up to?

The latest poll in The Sun reveals that traditional Christmases have fallen by the wayside with less than 5% of us planning to attend a church service on Christmas Day and a depressing 9% claiming they will eat their Christmas dinner in front of the television! Unsurprisingly, with the rise of smart phone usage, more than half of the population plan to surf the internet on Christmas Day and check Facebook and Twitter accounts. Most people also expect to spend most of the day cooking and even the Queen's Speech has fallen out of favour - what a sad state of affairs!

However, its not all doom and gloom. 'How to spend Christmas' is a popular topic on internet forums and many people are citing the importance of spending time with loved ones and watching young children open their presents, so it seems the magic of Christmas does still exist.

Whatever you end up doing this December 25th, have a wonderful day and most importantly, do what you enjoy.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Winter Wonderland or Bleak Mid Winter

While you might be wishing for a romantic white Christmas this year, what will it mean for the UK hospitality industry if we get more of the white stuff?

The cost of the recent snow in early December to the UK economy was estimated at £1.2bn per day as people were stranded in their homes and road and rail networks ground to a halt.

Clearly restaurants and bars were among the worst hit, with customers staying at home avoiding unnecessary journeys into town centres, at a time when they should have been entertaining clients and attending office Christmas parties.
Whitbread reported a slow third quarter due to the poor weather, despite a 5.5% uplift in covers at its pub restaurants for the 39 weeks to 2 December.

In the current economic climate, trading conditions for the out of home market remain tough, without the weather adding another obstacle. Traditionally, the festive season is a busy period for the hospitality industry providing a valuable revenue boost that can see operators through the leaner trading post New Year. As the nation braces itself for another cold snap with threats of yet more snow, bars and restaurants will undoubtedly be hoping that a winter wonderland does not turn into bleak mid winter sales.

Although, according to independent online travel directory, some pubs in rural areas did quite well, being seen as a welcoming refuge from the wintery conditions. I for one could not resist the lure of a roaring log fire and a nice pint of ale with friends down my local, especially after a week of working from home in isolation! And there were no signs of trade slowing there, it was packed to the rafters and the tills were ringing.

However, as a nation we need to be better prepared to deal with the snow. A slight dusting and the country comes to a standstill, which is no good for anybody. The government and local authorities need to work harder to keep Great Britain moving. Sweden, France and Canada manage to cope - we need to as well!

Friday, 10 December 2010

The Changing PR Landscape

Whilst social media has been prominent for many, many years, especially for recreational use, most non-digital agencies would agree that the last 24 months have really seen it explode in the PR World. It has crept up the agenda for all of our clients here at Cirkle and social media is now present in virtually 90% of consumer facing projects, rather than the token 10% prior to that and, importantly, it is playing a crucial role in brand communication. PRs interviewing for new roles will undoubtably be asked about their social media knowledge, is it replacing the telephone for them?

We understand ourselves, as consumers, when we are considering a purchase or have heard about a product we like the sound of, the first place we head to is Google. We like third party reviews, we like deals, news, vouchers and price comparisons. We have become accustomed to ‘search engine editing’ and as a nation, we are moving away from traditional media and consuming news in bite-sized chunks; skimming over stories and filtering the information for our needs. We are bombarded by over 20,000 messages a day so lord knows we need to be picky. Therefore, it is important for big brands to make information available to their audience in this way, engage in two way dialogue and to have a personality. I love using the analogy, 'nobody wants to spend time with the party guest who only talks about themselves' (and that is hard lesson no.1 for most brands dipping their toe in the social media waters!).

When this all started happening, there was a scrum - who would own social media? The advertising agency said them (why not? they are cool), the design agency said them (they controlled the website after all), specialist digital agencies said it should be them (it's a completely different discipline, they argued) and we, the PR agency of course said us. Not because we saw it as a way to earn a quick buck - or to grow our shoes and bag fund as one client likes to suggest - but because it is all about COMMUNICATION and REPUTATION. The two key reasons that brands employ PR agencies.

I won't say it has been easy. At first, clients eyed the budgets attached to 'Twitter and Facebook' and 'Interactive Viral Campaign' with great suspicion - were they being ripped off? How can we measure the success? Oh and big can they have their branding and can they have their mission statement and corporate messaging on there? (Hard lesson no.2, we need a completely different tone in this environment but the content still needs to be strategically aligned with the marketing objectives). But slowly and surely they have been seeing the return, seeing sales increase, seeing repeat visitors to our sites AND, perhaps the most joyful part for most brand managers - seeing their consumers embracing the campaigns and engaging with their brand. Great examples can be seen on and

It has been a massive education. On the proactive side of things, clients have needed to be convinced that 'subtle' works and that the interactive tactics are imperative when luring the consumer in. On the reactive side, they have needed to understand that the conversation is happening whether they are taking part or not. (I was the first to unleash a torrent of fury on Twitter and Facebook recently when I experienced some especially dreadful service from Dreams the bedstore! I am not over it because they seemingly didn't care). A crisis will now spread quicker than ever before. If a disgruntled consumer posts comments on your branded Twitter or Facebook, they sure as hell expect a response within 12 hours - even if it is the middle of the night on a Sunday - which is why brands need people who are up to speed on all of their business messaging surpervising these conversations. It opens up great opportunities for us PRs but it also makes that day to day 'housekeeping' far broader and much harder to contain.

Apps are also growing in popularity by the day, with even charities such as the Poppy Appeal embracing the new technology. Whilst we haven't directly created one for any of our clients yet, it is an area where our business clients are exploring - be it profit calculators for independent retailers or interactive category management tools. It really is touching all areas of our clients businesses right now and to not be keeping up would be career suicide.

There was once a time when PR was the cheaper alternative, when TV was God and when PROs were considered fluffy. Not anymore. Now we are strategically leading brands in a way we never got the opportunity to before the recession.

It is a very exciting time to be in the COMMUNICATION business.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Cartoon Confusion?

This weekend I changed my profile picture to Jessie from the Toy Story films. I did this the moment I saw a friend’s post saying that everyone was changing their profile picture to their favorite cartoon to support the NSPCC’s campaign to end child abuse. Not only did I think it was a great cause, I thought it was really fun to join in with all my friends and change my picture to a nostalgic cartoon character.

So, then I thought I’d do a little more research into the campaign and how it fitted in with NSPCC's wider strategy. As I started delving a bit deeper, I found out it actually had nothing to do with the charity! It was a hoax!

Although the NSPCC had nothing to do with the campaign, they welcomed any increase in awareness of child abuse that it might have generated. I have no idea why someone would decide to make something like this campaign up - but it does just go to show how quickly an idea like this can go viral. I briefly searched Facebook for the campaign and found two groups with 171,000 'likes' and countless more users who have changed their pictures.

A gentleman called Greg Felgate who, like me initially loved the idea and got involved, has decided to create something good out of this weird situation and set up a Just Giving page for anyone who changed there picture and wants to get behind the NSPCC and their real efforts to end child abuse. Nearly £1,000 has been raised. So if like me you were fooled, click here and make a donation to the NSPCC this Christmas.

Friday, 3 December 2010

It's Snow Joke!

This week, we have been hit by what promises to be the beginning of many arctic freezes – shutting schools, trapping poor commuters on the M25 for hours and causing supermarket panics. The antithesis to this chaos and confusion are the serene scenes of snow-covered villages, families spending a Wednesday afternoon sledging and children making snowmen. All very quaint, somewhat delicious and almost perfectly timed at the beginning of advent.

As PRs, we are continuously poised to respond to the news agenda as it develops. With the big freeze dominating the front pages of the newspapers and with #UKsnow trending on Twitter, our winter wonderland has given rise to such news angles as announcements of impressive Porridge sales (Quaker sales are up 200%) and the offer of personal weather warnings from Oregon Scientific with their innovative Wireless Weather Station (available now from

As a nation, we seem divided about the snowy weather and to get an accurate snapshot of public opinion I consulted a reliable market research facility – the Facebook status:

Brasy Northerner: wishes all the southerners would stop having such jubilant snow statuses!

Happy worker: got closed today so i tried to do my Xmas shopping in town but all the shops where shut so i sat in a pub instead!

Disappointed student: not snowing here, how annoying!

Snow ball enthusiast: I could do this all day, or at least until frost bite sets in – round 3 of snow ball wars beginning!

Santa Clause
: Needs to Christmas shop tomorrow, please don’t snow tonight!!

Devoted granddaughter:
Has been shoveling the snow with granddad so that we can get out of the drive...oh my word, fingers have turned to icicles....

Bitter teacher: I want a snow day

Jubilant Carol Singer: Let it snow. Let it snow. Let it snow

The impracticalities of snow and our inability for us as a nation to deal with the extreme conditions are so apparent that there is to be yet another Government investigation.

But there is something so amazing about the white stuff (as long as your holiday hasn’t been ruined and you’ve not sat on the motorway overnight).
So, I leave you with the wise words of the beautiful Frank Sinatra and wish you all a very snowy weekend!