Friday, 16 December 2011

TV Addict


I have had all sorts of ideas for blogs that I have been desperate to write over the last few weeks, but have just not had the time. Sometimes, when I am sitting in meetings, a flash of ‘good blog’ passes through my brain, but unfortunately it is usually accompanied by a rude word or complete dismay that I absolutely couldn’t publicize such a thought since the person giving me the idea is a client! (Any clients reading this...that is, of course, a joke…!).

Thinking about some of the conversations that I had today, though, I thought that I would develop my thoughts by writing them down.

Being in an office full of women, we have spent quite a lot of time today discussing the fact that this is a big weekend for those of us that watch UK TV; the Strictly Come Dancing Final. And whilst most of us agree that Harry has to win (I am sure I don’t need to explain why), there has also been some discussion about Jason’s ability to work so hard! And, in particular, some of his expressions: I particularly like his “It is not the destination that counts, it is the journey”… but my real favourite, by far, is ’Fail to prepare, prepare to fail’. Couldn’t we all use this saying in our own business environments? Certainly in the service industry, generally, and in PR and marketing in particular, this could almost become our motto; after all, the results that we get for our clients, are nearly always down to the preparation…

This also leads me to a favourite saying of my old boss, which was ‘this job is all about attention to detail’. I used to think that if he said it once more, I would punch his lights out.. twenty plus years on and I say it to my team all the time! If you think about it, though…. wouldn’t you say that preparation, combined with attention to detail, are two of the key answers to being successful in just about any job?

Another favourite TV programme of ours is ‘Dragons Den’. If you don’t know what this is, in a nutshell; four of the most successful (and richest) self-made entrepreneurs in the UK listening to a very lucky person that has been given the chance to pitch an idea for a new business, or an existing business, to them, with a view to them investing into the business; normally the pitcher says words to the effect of ‘I am looking for a GBP 100,000 investment into my business, and in return I will give you [the extremely successful and rich entrepreneur’] a 20% (or so) share in my company’, and then follows this with a short overview of said company.

One of the reasons that Dragons Den makes such great TV is that the investors can sometimes be quite brutal, and the people pitching are often… well.. idiots! Here they are, with an unbelievable opportunity to pitch to people that could change their lives, and they blow it by lack of preparation (failure to prepare), being too greedy, or having a completely ridiculous idea. I tell you, given that same opportunity, I would march in and say that I am looking for a couple of quid for a 50% share in my company just to get one of them to go for it! Imagine where we could all go with an Alan Sugar (or for those Czech readers) Petr Kellner, as our 50% shareholder. Blimey.

So that leads me to a new saying, that I hope that Jason would be proud of: never underestimate the value that a successful person can bring to your business. Listen, learn from them, and reap the rewards. (One of the blogs that flashed through my head earlier today.


Thursday, 22 September 2011


Now, this is not particularly related to business, but it is something that I have been pondering for a while, and since it probably affects us business travelers more than others, I want to ask this question: am I the only person that is suffering from an affliction brought about by the hideousness of air travel today?

My nearest and dearest think that I have turned into a bit of a nutcase, as right now, the minute that I have to start contemplating a flight, I get into a mild state of panic that can really only be described as ‘air rage’, and that definitely starts to build the minute I set foot inside an airport.

It is not so long ago that I made the decision that if I have to work this hard and need to travel quite a lot in order to keep all of our lovely clients happy, then I am going to do it in some style. In fact, those of us who were regular flyers with Czech Airlines in the days before they started to turn into Aeroflot, didn’t have to try very hard, as our loyalty to good old CSA earned us all sorts of privileges, including the ability to be upgraded on most flights and be able, in some cases, to eat and drink ourselves into a state of such euphoria that we didn’t need much persuasion to get back onto another one of their flights more or less straight after departing from the previous one. My own partner, in fact, was often heard to ask for seconds and thirds of their rather splendid dinners, a wish that was always granted and was often met with an offer of half a bottle of cognac to wash down the fifteen bottles of wine that he had already consumed… Well. Those were the days.

Now, of course, the airlines think that we all want to fly as cheaply as possible – when I recently complained about Easyjet (don’t even ask), I was asked ‘what do you expect if you are only paying peanuts’… the thing is, I don’t want to pay peanuts! I just don’t have any option as the only way I can get to where I want to go is on the low cost airlines!

Recently we have been experimenting with a number of different airlines in order to get across Europe, but for some reason, the minute they see me, it all seems to go horribly wrong. I have had the Spanish inquisition in Madrid, where I was nearly refused entry to the boarding gate as I didn’t have a visa for the Czech Republic (eh?).. narrowly avoided being put in an Athens jail because, when checking in for a Czech Airlines flight (one of the few that still exists), the Greek Gestapo officer on the check in, whilst acknowledging that I did, indeed, have a Czech Airlines gold card (sigh) decided that it wasn’t actually a real one (do what?) - a comment which I deemed worthy of a slap - and have been thrown off the plane for having a boarding pass dated the day before (yes, off the plane… went through passport control, the boarding gate and boarding before anyone noticed!) – and this, after being charged to put a bag that is supposedly ‘Easyjet friendly’ into the hold… and then it never even travelled.

Am I alone in thinking that flying by private jet is getting more and more appealing? Anyone fancy sharing a flight to Malaga now and again?

Sunday, 26 June 2011


I have lost count over the years of companies coming to see JWA and starting the meeting with the statement that ‘they have tried marketing/PR, but it doesn’t work’. Usually these are SMEs where the person overseeing the marketing is the owner/managing director, and they are very nervous of spending the money without being ‘hands-on’ to what it is being spent on.

One of the problems when persuading companies that it makes sense to work with an agency, is that, to the outside world, there are no real rules involved. So, whilst these same people would probably listen to, and follow the advice of, their lawyer/accountant/architect/similar if they were coming to them for advice, since ignoring that advice could land them in all sorts of trouble, when it comes to marketing and PR… well, they are all experts, even if their own training is in accountancy, law, architecture, etc! The result being, of course, that they are loathe to want to listen to or spend money on someone that IS an expert in the field, and they would prefer to believe that it is the marketing itself, rather than their OWN particular marketing, that doesn’t work.

If you are thinking to embark on a marketing/PR campaign, it really IS worth at least talking to an agency before you start – all agencies will meet for an initial consultation without charging you a bean. And you might be surprised about the amount that they will charge you to go forward, compared to the amount that they will save you. And then consider the following:

• Advertising does work. But you need to be sure of who you are targeting, whether you are using the right advertising medium and whether the advert itself is getting the right message across. Don’t just embark on some advertising because someone offers you a great deal, or the editor is a friend, or because you, yourself, like to read that particular magazine or newspaper!! It is a bit more complicated than that!

• Not just anyone can write a press release or article, and, no, it is not just a question of giving a friendly journalist a call and asking him/her to place a press release on the front page of the paper! There is a real skill in writing a press release that generates attention from a journalist (who receives hundreds of press releases a day!) and just because you find a topic interesting, it doesn’t mean that a journalist does. If you want to get out in the media, an agency will advise you on the topics that specific media are interested in at any given time, will prepare your press release in a way that will get attention and will write your article so that it is interesting to read. And then, if they work really hard, you might get some coverage. Not because the journalist is a friend of the agency. But because they have given the journalist something that he can use.

• Direct marketing… well, that’s easy and cheap, isn’t it! But how many times do you, yourselves, open a letter, or read a newsletter, look at the first couple of lines and put it in the bin or delete it? Do you really want to spend money on printing, envelopes, postage and time for 99% of the recipients to bin what you have sent them? Don’t just think that because you can write, you can carry out a direct mailing campaign… it is more complicated than that!

Does any of the above sound familiar... I haven't even started!  What about what happens when the marketing actually does work... and then you fall at the first hurdle when the customer walks through the door... More on that in Part 2!


Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Corporate Social Irresponsibility

Am I alone in wondering where all of this is going to end?  And, no, I don't mean Libya, Japan, Congo and all the other horrors, which.. don't even get me started.  I am talking about the role of the SME in the Czech business environment (and maybe elsewhere!).

The last few weeks I have been reeling from the behaviour of some of the biggest companies that we are working for, might be working for (if we are prepared to do it for free....) or that my friends and others are working for.... Some examples:

a)   A [huge] company that we worked for once before and are just starting for again, who informed us that their payment terms are 90 days as of 1st January this year.  Says who?  If we don't agree, then they will go elsewhere.  If we do agree, then we are going to incur some quite hefty costs on their behalf and then act as their bank for three months (if, indeed, they do actually pay within the three months).  That was last week.

b)  A [nother huge] company that after lots of negotiation promised us payment terms of 30 days, sent all the necessary paperwork before we even started and now, 90 days later, we are still waiting....also last week

c)  Being terminated with one week's notice from a long standing contract with a three month termination clause (negotiated by the client), for no particular reason other than that they had decided to 'do things differently'.

d)  Another agency in Prague calling up one of our clients and asking for a meeting with a view to pitching.. and getting it!!  Because, we know, and they know, and the client knows, that if they offer to do it cheaper than us.. well off we will go.

I can't even go on, as some of the companies I am thinking of will read this and think I am being disloyal.  Hey ho.   The point is, though, that those of us in the service business are all fighting for a very small piece of cake in order to feed a lot of quite hungry mouths.  So the SMEs are having to get ruthless and undercut each other .. and the big boys can sit there and say 'ha... we know you want our business... so make us an offer.  And, by the way, if you are cheap enough, we will even let you act as our banker'. 

I am lucky enough to have been doing this for a long time and to be able to cope if I have to wait for three months to get paid, get terminated at the drop of a hat, and so on.  But what hope the young entrepreneur?   Or, really, the SME generally.   Soon the only companies operating here will be the big Czech state-owned companies, the companies owned by a few very wealthy Czechs and those international companies that see the need to have an office in the CR, but don't treat it as a major place for business.    Is that so different from the communist days?  I don't think so.

Time to start an uprising I think.   Where's my gun...


PS: I am speaking at a seminar on 'entrepreneurship in the Czech Republic' tomorrow evening... I think I have warmed up nicely...

Monday, 21 February 2011

Has email ended the need for people to communicate?!!!

Now, anyone that has just read my previously loaded up blog, will see that another problem with emails and computers is that sometimes your fingers can be quicker than your brain, and you send things off without meaning to!   As was the case previously!   So... below is the corrected blog for the day!

I was telling a friend of mine this morning about the first day that a previous young receptionist came to work for us - this was a long time ago, when we needed to have a receptionist! I had been out more or less the whole time, and when I got in in the evening she had a shell-shocked look on her face as she had had 56 telephone calls for me, all of which had been neatly logged and detailed.  I said that she had done very well and shouldn't look so worried, to which she responded that she was fine, she was just concerned how I would ever respond to all of these calls!

Of course I did manage to return most of the calls, even though, generally, I don't really like the phone.  But in those days, the phone was our main method of communication, and even though it could sometimes take a while to get hold of someone, once you did, you could crack pretty much everything in one call.   What has happened now, with emails replacing the need to pick up the phone and talk?  Has communication, as we knew it, just come to a standstill?

My friend responded that nowadays she could quite easily work one week on and one week off.  One week of sending various things to her boss and the following week at home, while she waited for him to get around to responding to her!   Oh.. how that rang a bell with me!!!   How many times have we gone completely nuts waiting for a client to respond to something that we have prepared 'because it is urgent' and then not had any form of response for days (and then, when the response comes, we have to move at huge speed, again, because the deadline is near!)?  

In our office, I ask that everyone answer every email that they receive during the course of the same day; even if it is just to say 'we don't know, but will come back to you tomorrow'.  And then we DO come back tomorrow.  How much business is being lost through people firing off emails and then having to chase them a million times to get an answer?   How much time is being wasted by someone having to send email after an email to the same person, just to get an answer?  And how many ideas are being missed by everyone sending each other emails (even in an office where people sit directly opposite each other) when a quick discussion might just throw up something interesting.

I am considering having email free days in our office, and forcing everyone to get on the phone and sort things out... and I suspect they will save a lot of time in the meantime.   Of course, I am not really serious... but it might be a good test.  

I wonder what other old timers think?  Any comments on this will be gratefully received.  On the phone!


Monday, 10 January 2011


Well.  We didn't win the European Excellence Awards award.  It must have been fixed or the jury was got at, since we should have done.... and we didn't win that project that we were hoping to win just before Christmas.  Must have been fixed in advance....

Actually, I am joking.  We didn't win at the Awards, but someone else did.  And we didn't get the new project because another agency did a better pitch.  End of.  The problem with living over here is that so many things are not quite straightforward and on many occasions, unfortunately, it is easy to think that results have been fixed, contracts have been given because of money under the counter, people have been chosen or overlooked because of something underhand, rather than just accepting that that is how it is.  Paranoia is still part of the Czech way of life, and it seems that if we work over here for long enough, we all run the risk of it rubbing off on us!

Last week, a member of an association that I am involved in resigned as he felt that he had been overlooked for a promotional opportunity.   There are more than 100 members, any one of which could have been chosen, and the decision made on that particular promotion was made in a matter of a few seconds.  But he felt that something underhand had gone on, so resigned on principle.   Then, also last week, one of my friends began a market research campaign where the first three to fill in a questionnaire and return it would win a prize.  The questionnaire was on his own website, sent in the mail and posted on Linkedin.  Within minutes, comments were sent into Linkedin that questioned my friend's company's willingness to actually give the prize (and the integrity of the company at the same time) that suggested that the prize, if it existed, would be given to the bosses's 'friends' and that warned everyone else from taking part......

Then today, to cap it all, I was asked how much we had paid to get a particularly effective piece of coverage into one of the main media for a client, something that I, personally, had been working on for months.... and the worrying thing was that it wasn't asked in an accusatory way, but matter of fact; i.e. you must have paid... because that is what is done.

It seems to me that if someone asks this sort of question or makes this sort of statement, it may well be because that is how they, themselves, would behave in the same circumstances.   And since I am of the belief that, whatever we do, we have to be able to sleep at night (and I, personally, wouldn't be able to sleep if I did anything that wasn't, in my own rule book, correct), then I wonder how well some of these people manage... or perhaps they don't.

Time for a nap.