Tuesday, 7 December 2010

A BIG week!

This is a BIG week for us at JWA.  We should hear the result of three different pitches during the course of the next few days, we have signed up two new clients for 2011 in the last two days, on Thursday evening we will all be attending (and I will be moderating) the annual IBF Christmas party, and during the course of the evening we will find out whether we have won an award at the European Excellence Awards for PR - we have been shortlisted for our work with Prague International Marathon.  

I could say that we are all very excited, but with five tons of snow landing on us every day, most of us having colds and coughs, and work coming out of our ears, it is not immediately noticeable!   We are so disappointed not to be able to get to the award ceremony - all the marketing media are tipping us to win in our category (ahh... maybe I am getting excited)... but we just can't make it work - we had thought to have a car outside the Mandarin Hotel where the IBF event is being held, having it whiz us to Zofin for the award ceremony, wait for us to collect the trophy (hah)  and then bring us back to the Mandarin, but logistically... high heeled sandals, long dresses and fifteen feet of snow on the ground... it doesn't really work.

Whatever happens, there is sure to be another blog by the end of the week.  And now, back to the subject that is causing us all the biggest amount of stress (well, maybe not Andrej and Mark!) - what to WEAR!

More soon.

Friday, 19 November 2010

PR and Risk Taking

Last night, sadly, I found myself watching a programme called the 'X Factor' - a UK TV 'talent show' that enables a few chosen singers to get on stage and do their stuff, with the hope that the exposure might just lead them to making it as a rock star... .. and sometimes one or two of them win through and become, as we would have called it in my day, 'one hit wonders'... OK, just occasionally someone really talented does make it, but generally, to someone like me, who grew up with Elton, Queen, and other superstars, it all seems a bit of a farce.  But one thing did catch my attention yesterday; when one of the judges applauded one of the contestants for 'really going for it, and taking a risk' - in her view, risk taking was one of the qualities that a potential 'star' would really need in order to make it.

Risk taking is close to my heart.   One of the things that I spend some of my time doing is 'mentoring' young, potential entrepreneurs, and we have a fairly constant discussion about their ability to 'take a risk' - actually, in most cases, their inability to take a risk.   For many, particularly those that have fallen into being an 'entrepreneur' just recently because, at the moment, they just can't get a job, taking a risk is beyond their comprehension, and our conversations normally ends up with my saying that if they can't get their heads around it, then they really need to work harder on getting a job.....and give up on the idea of living the life of an entrepreneur which is, on a more or less daily basis, a risky old business.

Risk taking is, of course, a fairly large part of PR; many of our clients worry about sending out a press release, holding an interview or placing an article in case there is a possibility that something 'bad' might be written.  What they really want is to send a press release/article or speak an interview that, without a shadow of a doubt, will be published word for word.. and, if that is not guaranteed, then they wont do it.  Unfortunately, as we always tell them, there IS a risk in doing PR and it is usually impossible to ensure that what is written is exactly how they would want it.  But, if they are not prepared to take a bit of a risk, then they probably shouldn't do it in the first place.

On the other hand, we do have the 'gung ho' clients that, show them a microphone/tape recorder/whatever, and before you know it, Christmas comes early for the lucky journalist that is there to hear it... and we have to deal with the fall out!     Media training is one answer.   The other is to avoid those particular people being in front of the journalist in the first place, and for us to act as a barrier - i.e. to be the person/companies' spokesperson.   Easier said than done.

If all else fails, though, I really do believe that 'there is no such thing as bad publicity'.   OK, it can seem bad at the time... but in the long run, very few people remember what was said about you/your company... they just know that they have heard of you - and that is usually quite a positive thing!


Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Winners never Quit!

I have had so many things that I have wanted to write a blog about in the past few weeks, that the end result has been.. nothing!   Part of the reason for this is that the ideas whirl around in my head but, at the moment, there is no time to put them on paper!  Which leads me to the question - why, if there is a financial crisis and we are all hunting for new work, are we all just so busy!!

It seems to me that the main reason, certainly here at our agency and at a lot of our friend's companies, is that we have all laid off people in the past year or so, with the end result being that, whilst we may have less work, we have less people to do it.   A fairly constant discussion at JWA at the moment, where we are definitely seeing quite an upsurge in new business, is 'do we manage ourselves, or do we take on new people'.... but it is not so long ago that we were forking out a lot of redundancy money to people that could, now, be doing the new work.  I must say, speaking as the boss, I really feel that I want to see sweat running down people's faces before I make that decision.

This is definitely one of the problems that the last two years of crisis has left a lot of companies with, so what is the answer?   Sitting in the Czech Republic, where employers' taxes are so high (one of my redundant ladies said to me last year that she couldn't see what difference it would make to me each month to simply save her salary of x [her take home pay], when the reality was, of course, that I was saving her take home pay, plus the taxes she had already paid, plus a great big wodge of employers' taxes on top - in total nearly double the amount that she thought) it would definitely help if the Government could see fit to reduce our taxes and, therefore, encourage us to employ more people again.  But without going into a rant about clients wanting so much for so little (that might be a future blog!), I am a little bit at a loss to know what else we can do, other than battle on. 

On that note; an expression I heard recently and that I think will become my own personal slogan (but might not be such a good one for the company!): 'Winners never Quit.  Quitters Never Win.'    Kind of a good one, I think!



Tuesday, 12 October 2010

The David Beckham Technique

The last few weeks have been completely manic at JWA as we have been involved in two very big sporting events; the first, the annual Tesco Grand Prix, which is part of our client, PIM’s, running circuit, and then, just last weekend, a NHL ice hockey event, where we were working for the TV channel, ESPN, who were covering it … those two events, combined with a lot of other regular things going on, have meant that I have had little time for blogging…. Just as I feared when I started this, keeping up the momentum was always going to be difficult!

I did, however, have a few ideas during the last few weeks that I thought were worthy of a blog or two….. One was something that I read in someone else’s blog some time ago; their agency had carried out a survey to see which words used in the title of a press release were likely to generate the most coverage, and the result was ‘David Beckham’ – i.e. if you can find some way to incorporate his name into your press release, you have a good chance of getting a journalist to jump on it! Something like: ‘The effect of the new xxxx is likely to have the same sort of impact as David Beckham on the England football team’… of course, nothing to do with the man himself, but effective nonetheless!

Funnily enough, we had proof of this ourselves earlier this year when our PIM client said to one journalist (not completely seriously!) ‘now we have had Petr Nedved taking part in one of our races, we might just surprise everyone and invite David Beckham next year’ – and, sure enough, we had headlines all over the place the next day! Actually, before we had Petr Nedved confirmed to run in one of the races, we had a long discussion as to whether we should mention that he might be taking part. The more cautious amongst us didn’t want to say it until it was definite. My view was that the headlines we would get from mentioning it (on the basis that he was definitely considering it) were worth having… even if, in the end, he didn’t run. I won, and the coverage was immense… and then, when he did run, we got it all over again!

We had another ‘David Beckham’ moment during the NHL weekend. In the Czech Republic, mention ‘ice hockey’, ‘NHL’ or, even better, ‘David Krejci’ and the media will go nuts!

Now, I might seem to be rambling, but there is a real morale here. PR agencies are often judged by how much coverage they are able to generate for a client (often when the press release has not even been written by them and sometimes when there is little of interest to attract the journalists). But, actually, getting a lot of media coverage about a subject that is really close to the journalists’ heart is easy! The real skill is getting a little bit of coverage about something that is really not that newsworthy.. and this is where the ‘David Beckham’ technique comes in useful…. Try it!

Along similar lines, I have been watching the effect that a ‘celebrity’ can have on otherwise normal people… and the effect that those people have on the celebrity. Worthy of another blog I think.


Saturday, 25 September 2010

Marketing - Don't forget the Basics!

Last week I chaired a seminar on marketing; one of a series of seminars that are held on a regular basis by one of Prague’s business associations, the International Business Forum. The seminar was focused on how marketing has changed and developed out of all recognition over the past few years, and I must say that after listening to the expert speaker on ‘social media’ I wanted to immediately rush back to my office and to start setting up microsites, vlogs, new blogs and all sorts of other things!

The audience was a mixture of experienced marketing people and bosses of companies of various sizes; those from SMEs were probably there to pick up as much information as possible in order to go off and try and do whatever they could themselves; those from the bigger companies were more likely there to learn more, in order to see whether their own marketing people were doing their job.

What was clear from the discussions that followed is that the main marketing questions are still being forgotten – i.e. ‘what are we trying to achieve with our marketing’ and ‘who are we targeting’ (and I am afraid that this is nothing new – I always ask a new client, and I am often met with a blank stare!). Now that might sound daft, especially to an experienced marketing person’s ears, but in a country that is still fairly new to sales and marketing, and where the people responsible for doing the work are often very inexperienced (or who hold a completely different role in the company and are just ‘doing the marketing because they can’) there is a huge risk of hours and hours being spent on ‘new marketing’, but with a very poor end result.

Some random questions/comments raised yesterday:

• A great video (I am not clear on who actually made it, but it wasn’t Coke) posted on a blog, showing the effect that placing a ‘Mentos mint’ has on an open bottle of Diet Coke – don’t try it at home!! This video has, apparently, been viewed by millions of people, and the audience yesterday tended to feel that the Coke marketing people must have loved it… so much free advertising for them. But would they really love it? Is it ‘effective’ advertising just because it shows the brand to millions of people (even if, to my mind, it could actually put you off drinking Diet Coke forever!)? Should we all rush off and post videos of our companies on blogs and microsites and then just sit back and watch the work roll in? Is it really as easy to advertise as that?!

• A question; ‘how often would the panel recommend that a new blog is posted in order to achieve a successful result?’ Without any mention of what the purpose was of having the blog in the first place – was it to gain new friends, get interest from customers, entertain the writer? Without knowing why you are writing it and what you want to achieve from it, then how can you define whether it is successful?

• A comment: ‘50% of my time is spent during the working day on Facebook and, as a marketing person, I consider that to be part of my job’….and another, on a similar subject: ‘my colleague has more than 7,000 contacts through Linked-in, but when I ask him how many of them actually relate to new business brought in, he can’t answer it…. ‘ Is building a network of contacts really as easy as that? And by doing it will it bring in lots of new sales and business? Or is networking and building a contact base just a little more difficult?

Whilst I am definitely sold on social media (why else would I be writing this!) I think that we could run the risk of forgeting the real skill that is involved in successfully promoting a company. Social media makes it easy for everyone to get networking, to post information, images, adverts, make contacts… but if we all forget the basics of marketing then all of this time spent may not actually work … and us wise old birds will be back to sitting with clients who want to tell us that ‘marketing doesn’t work’ or ‘marketing doesn’t work for my type of company’….. and how many times have we marketing people heard that!


Tuesday, 14 September 2010

A Few Tips for Women in Business

1.  In the early 90s, before we boring westerners had had too much influence, Czech ladies liked to wear very little when they came to the office.  One morning I arranged to meet the senior account manager for an important client in their reception so that she could come there straight from home.  We were presenting our marketing strategy to the whole board and she arrived wearing what appeared to be a tissue.   After the meeting, I said that I thought it went very well, and her reaction was 'I didn't like it - half of them spent the whole meeting staring at my boobs.'  My answer: if you want to be treated like a serious business woman, then you need to look like one!

2.  That doesn't mean that we can't all look great!   When I started life in a law firm in London, it was generally thought that any successful woman had to look 'butch' and be as hard as nails.  Not so!   I am afraid that all those men out there who say that we women like to 'use' our good looks and charm to get our own way are right!!

3.  Stolen from a very good friend: men like to think that the problem with women in business is that we all talk too much (Ha!!  Should I name and shame some of those men?!!).  But, it is true, that is what they think.    And, as another good friend told me (a banker...) - the best way to win an argument is to say nothing.   Try it!   Don't play into all of their hands by doing exactly what they think we do and talking too much.

4.  Accept that men and women ARE different, especially in business.  So if you know how they will behave, then don't be surprised (annoyed, disappointed, upset) if they behave exactly like you expected!  Forwarned is forearmed.

5.  Know who your real friends are.  What does it matter if someone that you don't know, or you don't actually like yourself, doesn't like you.   Treat it as a form of flattery - the "Tall Poppy Syndrome".   People like to shoot at those that they perceive as successful.   They don't bother if you are no threat.  And as a successful woman; well, they love to have a pop! 

6.  Keep the emotion out of it; unfortunately (fortunately?), we ladies are able to get more emotional than most men and it really isn't a good one to cry or get upset.... if that looks on the cards, then find a way to make your getaway, at least for a while.   And if you have to do something difficult (firing, making redundant) JUST DO IT - don't try to be 'nice' or 'sympathetic'.. the person you are firing/whatever will appreciate you more if you just cut to the chase (this has also been stolen from a friend of mine, who has had to bolster me on several occasions when I have wanted to back out of such a situation!).

7.   An old saying, but probably true; women have to work harder and be better than most men in order to get on.  Revel in that thought but don't try to prove it all the time - women know it already... and most men suspect it!

8.  Build that suit of armour so that every time someone chucks something at you, it bounces off.  And remember, there are more ways of chucking things at someone than hurling it straight back at them. 

What did I say... women talk too much.  Oh dear.  I seem to have gone on a bit....


Friday, 10 September 2010

Being a woman in business and the need for bullet proofing!

A very long time ago, I was persuaded by a friend to join a pistol shooting club in London - this was in the days when such things were allowed!   My friend persuaded me by telling me that 'they are new and they don't have any lady members... probably because women are too scared to hold a gun!'  Of course, this was a calculated comment that had the desired effect, and I soon became a regular and, in time, a crack shot (also helped by the fact that the instructors were devilishly good looking which encouraged me to practice!)  

My ability to jump in where others have feared to tread, whilst sometimes mad, has put me in good stead as I have made my way up the 'woman in business ladder', and particularly the PR world (and, actually, there have been several occasions where I have thought about a bit of target practice along the way...!).   However, whilst being able to take out an enemy at 100 paces might be useful in my own head, it is the need to wear a bullet proof vest that has been one of the biggest lessons to learn.

The Czech Republic has never been an easy place to start up a business... there are all sorts of reasons for that which I wont even go into here.  But for a woman, in such a male chauvanistic world, it definitely helps to find a way to grow a thick skin (or suit of armour) as, as my own mentor told me a long time ago, the minute you are perceived as being successful, there will be people out there who will want to attack you, even if they don't know you... and how right he was.

Of course men get attacked as well but in a very different way.   There are not many days that go by without my saying (or thinking) 'would they have said that/done that if I was a grown up, suited up, reasonably successful business man in this same position?'.  Probably not.   So what can we do?

Well, first of all, it is always useful to have a lawyer as a partner!   That tends to work when things get really nasty!    But, otherwise... I think I might just write my best ten tips in another Blog...



Saturday, 4 September 2010

Marathon Running and CVs

JWA is the agency for the company that organises the Prague International Marathon, amongst other races, and, since most of the people working for us like sport, or have been involve in it in some way, this is, of course, an exciting client for us to have. 

It may surprise people from the UK and other established 'marathon nations' that not all the publicity around the Prague marathon has been positive - looking back to a few years ago, I think it would be fair to say that most of the coverage that the race received in its early years verged on the negative - so one of our ongoing jobs is to look at ways and new initiatives that can build the positive side of marathon running; the health benefits that running brings, the money that people raise for charity by running in races, the amount of income that a marathon creates for a city, and so on.  

Something that we talked about recently was a survey in a running magazine, where it had asked a number of HR managers how many of them viewed a candidate that had run a marathon in a positive light, and it was more or less 100%.   One or two of the team didn't quite believe this, but I have to say it struck a real chord with me; I have always favoured people who have some sort of sporting background when I look at CVs and carry out interviews, for a number of reasons:

*  First, of course, because I want people who work for the agency to get on with each other and with me, and if we all have a common interest, that makes for some lively discussions and interaction!

*  Second, and more importantly, I know from my own past that taking part in some form of sport helps to train a number of skills that are really useful in business (and, particularly, in the stressful environment of a PR agency!) - the ability to work in a team, confidence and toughness, the ability to pick oneself up and 'get back on the horse' when things have gone a bit wrong, the discipline of training every day, even when you are not feeling so good or don't really want to do it, and so on.

It doesn't get much tougher than training for and running in a marathon (although I would suggest that maybe racing a horse over fences at speed, particularly when the horse falls and lands on top of you, probably just has the edge!).   And, at the end of the day, the best people in business usually have to be pretty tough.  Something that is not always easy to learn.

Which leads me nicely into my next blog - Women in Business! Coming soon.

Friday, 27 August 2010

PR is so much more than 'just writing' press releases!

I spend a lot of my time telling anyone that wants to listen that PR Agencies do a lot more, and are a great deal more skilled, than simply being a batch of people that spend their days writing press releases and then sending them off to a group of  friendly journalists who are so delighted to receive them that they immediately place them onto the front page of their own particular newspaper..... yes, I kid you not, that is what, I am afraid, the general perception is amongst non-PR/marketing people.

For an agency such as JWA, that works mainly for international companies, the job is even more skilled as  (a) we usually have to produce press releases in at least two languages (and Czech into English and vice versa is not easy!) and (b) there is still a feeling amongst foreign companies that if we have 'contacts', we can 'persuade' the journalists to publish whatever it is we produce (nudge, nudge, wink, wink).  Not so.

We pride ourselves on having really good writers, in both English and Czech, but sometimes that is a bit of a rod for my own back, as the writing and checking of the English is normally done by me (as a native English speaker and reasonable writer); my record, I think, is writing 26 press releases in one day.....  can anyone beat that!!   But sometimes having good writers doesn't really make much difference, as many of our clients will send us what they themselves have written and ask us just to translate it and then get it out there.  And that is what has kicked off this blog today; a completely insane press release that has been written by a non-native English speaker, in English, with nothing to even generate a flicker of the eyelid from a journalist, but that is expected to stay as it is, be translated and then get onto the front page.

Life in a PR agency can be very difficult when this happens!  So what do we tell clients if they want to write something themselves.. and what do I tell my staff when they are preparing releases for their clients:

*  Think of a press release as a news release; is it really 'newsy'?
*  Find the most interesting bit of the story and put it into the headline and the opening paragraph
*  Use a quote or two from someone local - not the boss the other side of the world that is, in most cases, meanningless to the media here
*  Attach some pictures and images, but only if the file stays small!
*  Don't forget to include your contact details (no, not a joke!)
*  Try and keep to one page if at all possible!

And then.. well.. it all becomes very easy.. or does it!  I might expand on that some other time!

Wednesday, 11 August 2010


Yesterday I had to attend a networking event for the International Business Forum, an association that JWA is very involved in.   Of course I am biased, but nowadays the IBF events are about the only business events that I feel are worth turning out for in the evening, as they are always good fun, and the people are serious about business.  But the thing is, whilst many of us do a lot of business together, we talk about all sorts of other things; last night it was mostly tennis.  One of my favourite subjects!

The thing about Prague is that it is a small village.   And business people here regard networking as a very important part of their marketing.   The problem is, they don't always understand how to network successfully.

Years ago, JWA was asked to assist in training some of the staff of a major international company in business development or, more exactly, how to generate business by attending events.  One of the senior managers told me that he had had some training in the UK, but he didn't feel that it was working.  He was told:

(a)  Never spend more than 2 minutes talking to one person - move on
(b)  Always be sure to give and receive a business card
(c)  Always follow up

The thing is, and I am afraid that I am going to be harsh here; he had no real personal skills, and he took the training at its word.  So he would walk up to someone, barge in on whatever conversation they were having, thrust a card under the person's nose, say nothing much for two minutes, and then walk off mid sentence (he wont guess who he is as there are many people here that follow a similar strategy!).   

Networking is a great marketing tool if you know how to do it.  But it is not enough to just attend the event, or to hand out cards like sweets, or, worse, bore whoever you talk to to death - in fact, if you do this, you might drive all your potential business away!   I believe that most of us prefer to work with people that we like, and wooing a potential client or customer is similar to wooing a boyfriend or girlfriend.  My mother used to tell me when I was young and single 'when you go out with a boy, spend as much time asking about him as possible, listen and don't say too much, and he will go away thinking you are the most interesting person he has ever met.'   I think that is pretty much the same in networking and pitching - ask about the other person/company, listen, don't say too much, and they will go away thinking 'boy, I want to work with this person!'. 

More on this soon.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Its a funny old life

Just when everyone is saying that 'nothing much happens in the Czech Republic in July and August' we have been inundated with requests for proposals and meetings with potential clients.   Today, after five different proposals (yes, five) and two long meetings with what we thought would be a very nice company to work for, we heard that we had failed to get the job.  The only reason being that the chosen agency was 'cheaper'.  This was quite a strange reason as we hadn't really discussed fees.  Only given about a million different ideas as to how the company might promote itself, drafted a couple of PR plans for them and generally made them feel like part of the family.  

In order to make myself and the rest of my team feel better, I spent a good part of the morning telling all of them and myself how we probably wouldn't have wanted to work for that company anyway.  Hmmph.   I wonder if you ever get over this sort of rejection.  But, you know, even after such a long time in this business, I do question why we 'service companies' are expected to jump through fire to prove ourselves, meantime handing over for free the very thing that we are selling... I wonder what Czech Airlines would say if I called them and said "could I try you out for a few flights and then, if I like you, I might buy a ticket or two?"    At the end of the day, we choose them because they have a good reputation, they are going where we want to go and their price is as reasonable as the rest... why are we service companies so different?  It's a funny old life working in a PR agency!

What is even funnier, is that, having killed ourselves for one or two of these potential clients, also today, out of the blue, came an email from someone we worked for a hundred years ago, asking can we do 'x, y and z'. I said yes, and now we are starting work.  And being paid!   The whole process took about five minutes.

What is the morale of this story?  I am not quite sure... but I guess it will come to me soon..


Tuesday, 3 August 2010

PR Spin!

The biggest news of the day is that, after being nagged to death by some of my colleagues and friends, I have finally agreed to move JWA a bit further into the 21st Century and agree to the agency having a blog!

I suppose that I have always felt that we are well enough known in the Czech Republic to not have to market ourselves too hard - ten years ago, I remember being adamant that we would never have a website... but, you know, being "well known" is not enough any more, and when times are as difficult as they are now, I am up for doing whatever it takes, within reason, to raise our profile!

Are we the only PR agency out there that is battling to find new business? I know a couple of agencies here that will tell anyone and everyone that their business is booming, but I suspect that that is just their version of 'PR spin'. Certainly we are having to work hard even to open the door to companies that not that long ago were throwing money at advertising and PR as if there was no tomorrow. And then, once the door is open, it is taking forever (or longer, if there is such a thing) to get agreement to go ahead. The annoying thing is that we know that, if they would just take the risk and spend a little bit of money, we could help them to make so much more.. but try persuading them that... and, no, that is not just PR spin. Hey ho. We will see what tomorrow will bring...