8 tips to keep your meetings productive

I read with interest a blog post on PR Moment which cites meetings as a waste of time.

Although the article, written by Hacked Off Flack, is tongue in cheek to some extent (at least I hope so – he states falling asleep as a way to keep your meetings short!) I can’t help but come back with a rebuttal.

Having started a new job two weeks ago, building client relationships is one of the most important things I need to do in order to effectively manage my client’s accounts. I am passionate that this can’t be done without regular face-to-face contact.

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My best bookmarks from the last two years

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I have a very bad habit of bookmarking things and then never getting around to looking at them again.

Over the last two years this has resulted in hundreds of bookmarks and favourites – otherwise known as a big, unorganised mess.

This week I’d had enough and decided to sort them out.

I found some gems – here’s some links I found that I just had to share:

SOCIAL MEDIA:

1. Behind the scenes of 8 social media campaigns:

This post can’t fail to get you excited about the potential of social media. From the talented peeps over at Mashable, it gives 8 examples of innovative and successful social media campaigns which have captured their target audiences’ attention and generated some great results for clients.

2. What the f**k is social media

Does your boss (or you?!) still need convincing of the validity of social media? This no-nonsense slideshow is just what you need. It contains some impressive statistics and examples – though it is two years old now so it might be a bit outdated.

3. Seven deadly sins of social media

I’m a sucker for a list – and I love this one. It gives us the seven ‘deadly sins’ of social media including ‘Deafness’, ‘Phoniness’ and ‘Greed’.

4. Fifty digital resources you might have missed

Another great post from Mashable. This mammoth list gives you 50 resources worth reading including ‘How to make a 3D YouTube video with two cameras and a roll of sticky tape. I can’t wait to try that one!

PUBLIC RELATIONS:

5. Nissan’s online news room

WARNING: This post will make you want to work for Nissan. It talks about the company’s in-house newsroom which creates and develops news for the brand across all platforms, from video to print. In my opinion – all brands should be striving for this, or at least taking elements of it. A great, inspirational read.

6. Big list of free press release sites

I don’t use these sites, but they can be useful as an additional tool when selling in news releases.  This post lists LOADS of sites which you can upload your releases to for free.

7. How and why to write SEO releases, plus where to submit them:

SEO should be a skill which every PR pro is willing to learn – and it should be built into all content you create which may find itself a home online. This article is a great crash course into why SEO is so important, and how to use it for press releases.

8. Times Style Guide

Every newspaper and magazine has its own particular style, and PRs should always try and take note of these. It’s also worth having you own ‘house’ style. If you’re still trying to implement one then this could be a good post to refer to.

PHOTOGRAPHY:

9. Photography challenge:

I have a secret desire to become a photographer. Two things stand in my way; a lack of decent camera and a lack of talent. When I get these things, I will definitely be doing this challenge from the White Peach Photo blog. It gives you a photography challenge every day for 30 days – from ‘Self Portrait’ to ‘Clouds’.

OTHER:

10. Top 16 UK marketing blogs

Looking to expand your blog repertoire? Well, look no further. This post offers up 16 of the UK’s best marketing-focused blogs.

Are there any gems hidden in your bookmarks? If so, share them here.

Modern communication: The 10 ways we speak to each other

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I saw this tweet on Friday from finance journalist James Andrews (@financejames).

Of course the first thing it makes you want to do is count up your own channels, which is exactly what I did.

I have 11 altogether.  I found it pretty shocking to be honest – and a little scary when you think about just how connected we are nowadays.

What about you? What channels do you use that I’ve missed off? And is it a good or a bad thing that we are so connected 24/7?

USED DAILY:

1. Email

Ah, good old email, how I love thee. Simple to use, lets you write as much or as little as you like, send attachments, group contacts, instantly file messages into separate client/personal folders. Email is still my favourite way to be contacted and it is still the most popular way people contact me in work, and out of work for anything other than a friendly chat.

2. Phone

Look at me! I have not one, not two, not three, but FOUR phone numbers I can be reached on. I have to admit I sometimes think the phone call is a little neglected nowadays. The downside of virtual communication is that tone and humour can often be misunderstood. I often think that one quick call would make things so much simpler.

3. Twitter

It took me a while to ‘get’ it but I wouldn’t be without it now.  I don’t really use it to organise things as such, or chat with people at length, but it’s a nice way to connect with people outside of my immediate circle, and keep up-to-date with news and opinions.

4. Facebook

Facebook for me is most definitely for friends only. It’s probably the main way that I sort out where and when I‘m meeting friends for dinner, drinks or whatever. Plus it’s a good way to connect with those you don’t see as often as you like. A quick ‘hello’ on someone’s wall is the modern day equivalent of a postcard.

5. Text message

I probably shouldn’t admit this; but I hate texting. I find it laborious and boring and I am much more inclined to simply pick up the phone to speak to someone. Still ‘tis a necessity sometimes, and friends still seem to prefer to text than anything else.

6. Forums

Possibly not one on most people’s list (anymore), but I check my sports team’s forum everyday. Not only do I play the sport (roller derby if you’re interested!) but I’m also the league’s PR spokesperson and there always seems to be plenty of news to catch up on and posts to reply to.

LESS FREQUENTLY:

7. Skype

I don’t use this as often as I used to when I lived in America, but I still love using Skype to catch up with old friends in different countries – both via calls and messages. I’m also trying to get it used more at work to speak to international clients.

8. Instant Messaging

There was a day when Hotmail messenger was the hottest tool around, but it’s moved on now to Facebook chat and Blackberry Messenger. I don’t use IM as much as I used to, but I have a feeling my new Blackberry next month might change this!

9. LinkedIn

Usually I use LinkedIn simply for the initial connection. If I’m interested in speaking to anyone after that it usually migrates to email, Twitter or phone.

10. Snail mail

I love receiving post, and writing a good old letter or postcard. I liaise by post regularly with my auntie in Canada and my close friend in New York. Nothing will ever quite beat the excitement you get when you receive a letter (that you know for sure isn’t a bill!), or the feeling that actually, someone must care about you a fair bit to spend the time and money to contact you the ‘old school’ way.

AND A BONUS ONE:

11. In person

Yes, that’s right! I am not just an Avatar – I am indeed a real person. If you ever want to speak to me properly I promise you I am not a hologram and I am fully capable of conversation without aid of technological tools or methods.

Diary of a Cornish Pasty: fight for brand recognition

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Cornish Pasties - the new Champagne

When I heard that the Cornish Pasty – the meat and potato filled comfort food which has been a staple of British diets for years – had been given protected status by the European Commission earlier this week, I thought there must be something we can learn from this humble food stuff.

The protected status means the pasty now has the same standing as French Champagne and Jersey royal potatoes. It can only be called a ‘Cornish Pasty’ if it is actually from Cornwall.

Now that’s strong brand positioning.

Putting my bloodhound nose and journalistic instinct to good use I managed to track down a diary belonging to an authentic Cornish Pasty and discovered that there are some vital lessons that brands and communicators can learn from his journey.

Mr Authentic Cornish Pasty’s Diary:

2008:

I tell you what I am fed up with imposters trying to steal my identity. Only I am a true Cornish pasty – what gives these other meat filled pastry’s the right to use my name when they’re second rate citizens and prepared no where near Cornwall. Pff! That’s it. I’ve had enough.

So I’ve approached the Department for Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) which has agreed to give me support to take my case for Protected Food Name (PFN) status to the EU.

I’ve always been passionate about who I am and what I’m trying to say to my customers. I know what it is that I offer and why people should choose me over anything else.

But what gets me is how many brands there are out there that are trying to sell themselves when they aren’t even sure who they are or what sets them apart from others.

In a world where every man and his son are fighting for acknowledgment and attention from consumers, peers and potential business partners, finding your own brand identity and protecting it above all else is vital.

Finding your differentiator, your USP, is imperative; and it needs to be portrayed in everything that you do from your website, to your business cards, to the quotes you give to the media.

2010:

I’m going to fight for my identity – but first off I need to think about exactly what it is I want the world to see me as. What messages am I conveying?

The Cornish Pasty Association (CPA) have described me as ‘a pasty with a distinctive ‘D’ shape and crimped on one side, with a chunky filling, made up of uncooked mince or chunks of beef with swede, potato and onion and a light seasoning’. I should be slow baked.

Not bad, hey.

Now apart from making me hungry, this level of detail got me thinking. Communicators really could take a leaf out of my book. Prepare some proper strong, detailed key messages and make them the foundation of everything you do.

After all what’s the point in liaising with media, tweeting, doing email campaigns and updating your website and blog if you aren’t actually clear on what it is you’re wanting to say or what it is you want to achieve?

It’s like me promoting myself and people thinking I’m a sausage roll.

Positioning yourself properly is imperative. Take the time to really think about your place in the market and what sets you apart from others. These in turn become your key messages.

2011:

Yay! I’ve won! You can now call me ‘Mr Authentic Pasty’, thank you very much. My Cornish counterparts the ‘Cornish Clotted Cream’ and the ‘Cornish Sardine’ won the status last year so I feel I’m in good company.

Now I’ve got my identity sorted I’ll be keeping a close eye on my competitors to make sure no one is infringing it.

If you aren’t quite as high brow as me with your own ‘stamp of authenticity’ then it doesn’t matter. You should still be keeping an eye on your competitors and market and making sure that you are consistently fine-tuning your brand and ensuring that your USPs and key messages are still clear and valid.

Communication tips from a 5 year old

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I’m not really a girly girl. I don’t like the colour pink, fluffy dogs or babies.

But there are two things in my life that can make me go ‘ah’ and that’s my nieces, who are 4 and 5 years old.

Unfortunately, I don’t get to see them as often as I would like as they live a few hours away. But last weekend I had the pleasure of looking after them.

Between the reading, painting, Disney Princess snap, Dora the Explorer computer games and splashing through rivers in the forest, I realised that actually, as communicators, we could learn a lot from the younger (well, much younger) generation, and their way of viewing the world.

1). Don’t lie

Shame on me, but I might have told a couple of white lies over the weekend. ‘Yes, I’ll play Disney snap with you after dinner’, and then not following through because I had to go out. And there is nothing quite like a 5 year old to make you feel guilty!

Honesty should be a core trait for any communicator. Despite the reputation that the PR industry sometimes has as spin doctors, what we do, and the messages we send out should always be truthful. This should be the essence for everyone you deal with, from clients – telling them truthfully what results they can expect – to journalists. In fact, especially journalists. If you don’t know something, say so. If you can’t make a deadline, say so. It’s much better to be honest, and then try and rectify the situation, than it is to lie and be caught out when you don’t deliver.

2). Put your foot down

My nieces putting their foot down may have transpired into tantrums! But, they might well be onto something with their belief in what they were standing up for. Often clients ask us to do something which we know isn’t going to work. If you go ahead, simply to please your client, then you risk damaging your reputation with third parties (for example spamming newsdesks with crap, non-newsworthy press releases), and also the client, who will eventually wonder why your outputs aren’t getting results. We’re consultants, and should act as such.

3). Be creative

The weekend was full of reading, drawing and painting. Things I actually used to love to do but never make the time for anymore. Being creative is a core part of communication; no one wants the same tired approach over and over again. Make time for creative brainstorming with your team, and to read publications relevant to your clients for inspiration.

4). Pay attention to detail

It’s amazing what a 5 year old can notice. One of my favourite comments ever said by my youngest niece was ‘Your earrings don’t match your dress’. She was 3 at the time. Now, I personally believe that they matched fine, but this attention to detail can often be overlooked in a busy working environment. Always double or triple check everything you do – from ensuring you’ve got the right people CC’d into emails, making sure you’ve brought biscuits for that important meeting, and of course right the way down to written copy. This attention to details is what sets apart a great communicator from a good one.

5). Don’t give up

My eldest niece is an amazing reader, and when she got stuck at a word she stopped, took a long look at it and broke it into sounds. Nine out of ten times she got the word right. Seeing the attention paid to the task, and how determined she was to succeed was really inspiring. I know myself I often dread making certain calls, or doing certain things – that follow up call to a journalist, or that final chase to a client for approval – but it is important not to give up. The results are worth it in the end!