Thursday, 6 December 2012

Home workers put in a longer day...

Page 16 of The Telegraph today covers research from the University of Texas which states that home workers put in a longer day and work harder than those who work in an office. Having benefited from Cirkle's flexible working policy, in which Account Managers and above have the option of working from home on Friday's, I can vouch for this.
Freed from the commute either side of the working day, most of us in the office find that we can be particularly productive with the extra time and the feeling of 'getting ahead', even just for a couple of hours a week is invaluable. Friday has become the day to save tasks where you need a quiet, uninterrupted space – it’s also a bonus that you can pop out to do house errands at lunch, or even just stick the washing on.
The research doesn't say anything about staying in your pyjamas until noon though... hmm....

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

The Future of the PR Industry - The Apprentice's View

This is a blog post by Jessica Kirby - PR Apprentice, Cirkle
Arriving at the PRCA National Conference 2012, I have to admit I was quite apprehensive as I was not entirely sure what to expect from this well-regarded event. Walking through the doors of BAFTA, a sense of professionalism was immediately present and calmed my nerves; the PRCA could not have chosen a more elegant, smart venue. When the conference was underway, I became aware that it was much more than PRCA members meeting to share opinions, it was a visionary, forward-thinking presentation of what the industry could, and should be.
As an apprentice and having just entered this diverse, evolving industry, it was a fascinating insight attending the conference. The guest speakers were excellent with valuable points, and the audience were active in giving opinions generating engaging debates at times. There were intriguing points made by Jane Boardman, Talk PR and the key speaker, Peter Barron, Google. Something that remained with me was the idea of PR evolving from a craft to a true profession. It is apparent that the industry recognises that a change needs to take place for PR to finally be taken seriously and not disregarded due to its origins. It was suggested that a possible explanation for the lack of credibility of PR could be due to task assignment within agencies. The talent that PR people possess is not being applied to the right job and hence, not creating the best outcome. 
Something that interests me is the concept of the ‘digital native’. Being young, I have grown up immersed in the technological world, however, this does not mean that I, and the young people in the PR industry should be responsible for everything digital. There are plenty of people in the PR industry with extraordinary creative skills, there is nothing to stop agencies harnessing that and making it digital. It is all about the ability to apply – taking something on paper and making it accessible and utilising it in the digital world. I have found whilst working at Cirkle, that they are all in tune with digital and the potential it possesses, and that it is a combination of the ‘old school’ creative combined with the new ideas that results in such innovative campaigns. An interesting topic was the possibilities that can become a reality by using the free tools provided by Google, such as Google Fusion and Google Correlate enabling agencies to create visuals that engage their audience instead of numerical eye sores on a page.
A consistent theme was the call for talent in the industry. The PRCA has understood this and designed the apprenticeship which I am participating in, providing an opportunity for both the PR industry and young people. A new era of PR professionals is being created through the innovative training programme that the PRCA and Pearson in Practice have generated. The scheme enables me to have priceless experience in the workplace, whilst being taught the necessary tools, resulting in a nationally recognised qualification.

Being given the chance to attend the PRCA National Conference was truly an invaluable experience, being able to hear from experts in the industry. I felt that the topics being discussed were fundamental to the industry’s progression and ultimately will be the responsibility of the next generation of PR professionals. I feel that I have been filled with information that can be taken and applied to the work that I do everyday. The change in the industry is not about a sudden, jolting change but about a gradual progression. 
To find out more about the Public Relations Higher Apprenticeship scheme please go to

Friday, 23 November 2012

Stop, Collaborate and Listen.

How would you describe your relationship with your key customers and agencies? Is it a “partnership”? Are you “working together”? Is it a “win-win”? These are buzz words commonly touted around in our industry, but in my view infrequently are they actually true. For a business relationship to be successful it must be “collaborative” and that means it must be built on a shared goal and commitment to achieve it. I am a firm believer that collaboration fuels creativity, innovation and ultimately sales.

It came as no surprise to me that a key theme at the recent IGD Convenience Retailing 2012 Conference was the need for suppliers and retailers to work collaboratively. Why? Well the UK Convenience market is expected to deliver the biggest cash growth in the UK grocery market over the next five years. Everyone wants to get their slice of sales in this highly competitive battleground, but no-one can do it single handedly. A collaborative approach is what’s required to win through.

Someone who has seen success from collaboration is Paul Cheema, director of Malcolm Stores and a member of our Retailer Inner Cirkle Group in conjunction with the Association of Convenience Stores. He has developed many supplier partnerships in recent years and successfully grown sales. Speaking at the IGD, Paul said: “Working with a supplier and getting them into store can work for you both.”

Ian Martin, Head of Commercial, BWS and Frozen Foods at the Co-operative Group told delegates how collaboration is in their DNA but it is still not as collaborative as it would like to be. He said the Co-op wants joint business plans to be a two way street to get the right product in the right location and with fewer deep cut promotions.  Simon Twigger, Sainsbury’s Convenience Director called on suppliers to translate customer insights into their categories to make them work and for a greater focus on convenience within their teams.

More and more suppliers are now starting to wake up to the commercial importance of the Convenience sector and the importance of collaboration. The conference was full of examples of suppliers who are now step-changing their focus on Convenience and mobilising their troops to do battle. 

So in the age of retail collaboration what is the role of Trade Communications? Well it has an extremely important role to play, not just as a vehicle to showcase and promote collaboration, but actually as an enabler of collaboration. Work we’ve conceived and executed with clients including GSK, PepsiCo and Premier Foods over recent years has actually brought suppliers and retailers together to work collaboratively on joint projects. These have included: shop projects using category management principles and epos tracking, retailer reward and loyalty schemes, retailer case studies, workshops and round tables, category captaincy and retailer advocacy campaigns running across the spectrum of print, digital and face to face platforms.  And we’ve been able to measure and evaluate the effectiveness of these initiatives both in terms of sales for both retailer and supplier but importantly in terms of the long term relationship and future collaboration. 

Most recently we’ve been working with Ferrero and Bestway on a “Working Together” editorial project in support of Ferrero’s 30th birthday promotion. The activity has helped successfully showcase the collaboration between supplier and wholesaler and the importance of using feature display to drive sales in depot.

Collaboration is not something that can just be simply be switched on and off - it’s a long term commitment with long term commercial benefits. So if collaboration isn’t already a key priority for your business then as Vanilla Ice once put it it’s time for you to: “Stop, Collaborate and Listen”.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

‘Networking’ – Homing Pigeon, Limpet, Blackberry Hugger, Consummate – recognise yourself?

Everyone can network, for me its just how much individuals enjoy networking that varies. For some, it elicits joy as they’re bang in their comfort zone, loving to work-the-room; but for others the mere word strikes them with fear and loathing and creates small beads of sweat. 
Whether you love networking or want to confine it to Room 101, being better connected through strong networks breeds business success. Evaluation of our new business leads here at Cirkle shows that 85% come from advocacy: positive word-of-mouth and recommendation from people we’ve worked with and impressed, including current clients, past clients, ex colleagues, media, suppliers and associates.

So do you recognise what type of event networker you or your colleagues are from our list below?

  • THE HOMING PIGEON – hangs around the people they know all night
  • THE RABBIT IN THE HEADLIGHTS - nervous, limp handshake, doesn’t want   to be there
  • BLACKBERRY HUGGER – immersed in their mobile
  • NETWORK BORE – dominates the conversation, mostly about themselves - loudly
  • MBT – Married to the Buffet Table to seek refuge
  • MTB – same as MBT but Married To Booze to pass the time 
  • LOUNGE LIZARD – ‘nuff said 
  • THE LIMPET – locates a friendly face and sticks to that person for the rest of the night
  • THE BUTTERFLY – flits from group to group without engaging in meaningful conversations
  • THE CONSUMMATE  - the networking pro

Networking has grown up and evolved, it’s not just about attending events with the obligatory glass in one hand and unwieldy canapĂ© in the other.  In fact so many things can be turned into networking opportunities, and it doesn’t have to end at ‘who you know’, it’s about who ‘who you know’ may know. For example one of our ex-client’s sisters knew someone at ‘one of our dream prospects’ who went on to become one of our biggest clients. Or,  one of our suppliers was married to someone at a business we wanted to target, that went on to become a client… you get the gist.

As well as physical networking, it’s about working the net to build these two-way relationships. Six degrees of separation is reduced to 4.74 for Facebook users and 3.43 for Twitter, whilst for Linked In, having 170 connections can put you at the centre of a powerful, professional network of over 2 million users.

Our Chairman, Caroline Kinsey’s, black book is proof of her consummate status of connectivity. She’s shared some of her insights here:

Increase the number of ‘conversation’ opportunities

Compile a database of contacts, including where you met, when, who, how, why and interesting facts about that person

Strategically map out timing touch points for regular dialogue, be it meetings, online forums, sponsorships, socials, memberships, events, phone etc

Track ex-clients, ex-colleagues, faded contacts, anyone of interest and mutual value.  At events, be generous – introduce people to each other; approach people who are on their own

Take new contacts with you to meet others in the room; if someone’s looking lost, invite them to join your posse

Feed people’s need to talk about themselves

Go pre armed with interesting questions; comment on the day’s news - have a point of view; remember it’s not a sales pitch, so hone your elevator speech and….

Always follow up connections the next day.

So up the engagement ante and get connecting by networking the b’jesus out of life; it’ll reap rewards.  And finally, some food for thought  …  ask yourself how you’d like people to remember you once they’ve met you.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

The changing face of the PR expert

Danny Rogers, editor of PR Week, ran editorial in The Independent earlier this month talking about the still small voice of the comms expert. As he states 'a majority of FTSE 100 firms still do not have a communications expert on their executive board', shocking, as he puts it, when reputational errors regularly wipe millions of pounds off the price of shares, listing examples including BP's handling of the Gulf of Mexico crisis and Bob Diamond and Barclay's role in the libor scandal.

His insight is that thanks to the 'inherent transparency and traceability of digital communication' any big decisions business leaders take will eventually become public knowledge, making the senior comms adviser the "conscience" of the firm.

He quotes one director of comms: "Sometimes you simply have to tell other leaders: 'Ethically, we cannot do this'. But you may be seen as standing in the way of revenue-driving decisions and take a lot of flack."

One thing our industry isn't short of is labels and stereotypes, from Ab Fab's airy hedonistic excess, to the amorality evidenced in Absolute Power, or the recent (close to the bone?) absurdity of Press Officer Siobhan Sharpe in BBC mockumentary Twenty Twelve.

Outside of TV drama, Tony Blair's office openly elevated the 'Press Officer' to the upmost echelons of power, moving through the dizzying heights of the 1997 landslide victory to the vilified lows of 'sexing up' and 'spin'.

'Spin' left the context of the political floor where it was conceived as a word used openly as part of the workings of the political tradition, and became shorthand in the public lexicon for emptiness at best, and the dark arts of politicians distorting for their own ends at worst.

Set against this backdrop, the label of the "conscience" of business is one I'd like us to hold on to and embrace. The noughties (plus) look set to be remembered as the decades wrong doings of big institutions finally came to light, with politicians, media, police, banks and public persona receiving their share of the limelight via the expenses scandal, phone hacking, Hillsborough/Stephen Lawrence cases, banking collapse and the unfolding unsavouriness of Jimmy Saville's career, respectively. Communications, as a two-way mouthpiece between business/industry and the public, should be adapting accordingly, whether its strategically; advising and acting ethically, or tactically; creating content with substance.

In his article, Danny Rogers went on to list the well-known FTSE firms who do employ comms directors on their executive board: Ian Wright at Diageo, Dominic Fry at Marks & Spencers, Charlotte Lambkin at BAE Systems and Sir John Grant at British Gas, showing that while in the minority, there's a positive future for the new "conscience" of business.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

The ultimate Sunday-for-Monday story…

Written by, Nick Woods.

“This is a case study for the ages. A global world-class event. And they're not paying for distribution @redbullstratos

A very well respected ad guy tweeted that on Sunday night just minutes before Felix jumped… someone should explain PR to him.

Because Red Bull have just shown the watching world, and the PR industry, how to do great consumer PR. That was it. On a Sunday night for just over four minutes. They created a story so good they didn’t need to pay media for distribution.  So compelling it qualified as news.  And conversation.  And it was 100% on-brand.

Felix Baumgartner’s jump from the edge of space was a story which was about a someone, not a product; a story which embodied a brand’s values; a story which was about a first, a brave innovation, about pushing human boundaries; a story which had international appeal (I had tweets from Puerto Rica to Qatar and Indonesia about it and clearly the US, UK and chunks of Europe were watching); and which had some key elements which define great contemporary creative: it was creative (never been done before), conversational (global trending status), had controversy (will he survive? should we be watching?) and involved multiple collaborations (it’s difficult to imagine just how many official bodies, authorities and partners must have been consulted and worked with).

And Red Bull played a blinder.

The practice jumps which acted as teasers, the ‘postponement due to high winds’ as the big final teaser which took it from x-sports fans to mainstream, the ground-breaking Youtube-as-media-partner platform (some reports of up to 8m people watching a live-stream), the visual branding, the ‘mission control’ (what exactly were they all doing?) and of course, the media production itself.

Producers of The X Factor will have watched wishing they too would one day be able to create something so highly scripted and yet seemingly organic. The detailed data, the one-small-step speech, the camera angles (which had all been meticulously tested on practice jumps), the cuts to family members, the live Twitter feed, the avuncular main man on the ground, the science story, the angels-will-carry-you element and the live conference afterwards with three questions from the watching millions. Ber-illiant.

The post-event films have been started by Lego and will undoubtedly flow all week and beyond; God knows how many fake Twitter and Facebook accounts there are. Does Red Bull mind?  Are they suing anyone for infringement of their intellectual property?  Are they b*llocks.  That’s the conversation. They know it and they are only too delighted to see the fans flamed by people taking their idea and playing with it.

I know it took years to make it happen.  I know it cost millions.  And I know Red Bull was ‘only’ a sponsor. But to paraphrase someone else who tweeted shortly afterwards: I pay 50p for a can of Coke so they can make Coke ads, I pay 70p for can of Red Bull so they can do really cool stuff like jump from the edge of space…

This was brand-as- Barnum, pulling crowds to the circus for the modern age.

Just incredible.

Brings a whole new meaning to ‘doing a Sunday-for-Monday’ story, huh…

Friday, 12 October 2012

Put your trust in brand communications

I’ve been going to the IGD Convention for a good many years now and each and every year the one thing that keeps CEO’s awake at night changes. It used to be health, then it was sustainability and now it is fundamentally about the erosion of consumer trust and importantly how to rebuild it in order to win back loyalty. It’s an extremely tough challenge in today’s increasingly transparent and digital world. Consumers are better informed and connected than ever before. 65% now own a smartphone and they are demanding more and more product information. But it doesn’t stop there, they also want to know about a brand’s whole code of conduct, its principles and its ethos. Brand communications are therefore critically important. The key is ensuring they are timely, honest, informative, relevant and interesting. If they are, consumers will then be compelled to share them with other people. PR stands for Public Relations but increasingly for me it stands for Positive Relationships. A two way dialogue that creates a positive affinity between consumers and brands which can be used to positively disrupt and enrich the shopping experience at that critical "Actual Moment of Purchase", as identified by Asda Chief Operating Officer Judith McKenna.

Banks, MPs and businesses have an all-time low level of trust with consumers and therein lies the opportunity. Companies and brands who are ready to stand up and be counted and invest time, effort and money in fully understanding how to build positive relationships with their consumers and thereby demonstrate themselves to be worthy of their trust, will certainly win. As Diageo’s President of Europe, Andrew Morgan said: “Customers need to trust something - with careful stewardship brands can fill that vacuum.”  And for me this is certainly not a short term brand strategy, it needs to be a long term brand commitment. This is why I believe trust will remain a key strategic challenge discussed at the IGD Convention and keeping CEO’s awake at night for a good many more years to come.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Fashion & Sport – Cut From The Same, Very British Cloth

The Olympics were rightly held up as an era-defining example of what ‘best of British’ means today… humour, wit, irreverence, inclusivity, organisation, warmth, success.  And LFW displayed all the same characteristics.

Show after show was a riot of originality. I loved the clashing prints at Clements Ribeiro and the potent cocktail of hologram, neon lace and patent at Kane and Saunders. And as for Dame Vivienne Westwood … who else would pair models with green faces and 1950s ladylike elegance? Show after show revealed serious, cutting-edge style wrapped up in a wonderfully eccentric, British sense of humour.

Organisationally, London Fashion Week Spring/Summer 2013 was also a master-class in scheduling, transportation and co-ordination. No dedicated lanes for the fashion pack, but there were eighty-plus shows running to time (well, almost), thousands of models, the world’s media and 50 different venues including a furniture store and a car park. It was a logistical nightmare, but also an amazing showcase for yet another side of the capital.

Our fashion industry has never been stronger, contributing gabillions to our economy during even the toughest times and is a leading light among the creative industries we are so rightly renowned for.

And it’s another part of Britain which regularly showcases what the Olympics shone such a bright light on – our creativity underpinned by superb technical skills and unrivalled organisational skills.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Is the B2B world listening?

Social media is just that - social. 

Eighty-six per cent of b2b companies now have a social media presence, but I wonder what percentage of the time is spent on the good old hard-sell, and how much really listening, advising and cultivating their social media presence. Just selling is like being at a party where you just talk about yourself over everyone else… pretty quickly, they stop listening. 

Whilst a quick-fix social media blitz might deliver a short term sales boost, b2b organisations need to consider it strategically within the context of long-term work to develop and grow their reputation.

Businesses also need to be wary of falling into the social spam trap. We’ve all been on the receiving end of a blanket message through a LinkedIn group or a random direct message on Twitter from a business you’ve never even heard of, let alone done business with. I never have and never will respond to one of these messages… they’re just annoying – and who likes the annoying guy at a party? 

The key for b2b is to spend far more time actually listening to customers and prospects in the social media space in order to really understand what it is they are saying and what their needs are. Only then will they be able to engage them in meaningful and frequent online conversations using carefully crafted content marketing campaigns. 

The variety of tools available to listen is endless, as is the creativity required to create original content, but the skill and the opportunity lies in understanding in the first place.  

We’re listening and we’re ready to have a conversation. Are you?

Friday, 28 September 2012

Cirkle's latest flexible working option?

We love our flexible working locations at Cirkle, our current choices are home, London or Beaconsfield... With this portable desk, complete with its own power supply, surely there's a case for us to add the beach to that list. Winter sun anyone?
Portable desk enables users to work in any location, the Field Power Desk from KANZ Outdoors is a portable freestanding workspace that includes power outlets.