Friday, 20 December 2013


If you had three business wishes to send to Father Christmas for the New Year, then what would they be?  I expect that one of them would be to have more business in 2014, and another might be to earn more money.   If so, then the third, if you are running a business, should be to have a good marketing plan in place, otherwise the first two might be difficult to achieve!   This is, of course, easier said than done, as I have mentioned on several other occasions, but with the business environment starting to bubble a little bit now, we all want to try and get a piece of that bigger business cake.  And if you want to ensure that you are the company that a potential customer comes to rather than one of your competitors, then they need to know about you!

From our own PR agency perspective, if we had three Christmas wishes, they would be:
  1. To have clients that empower us to do a good job – there is nothing that an agency likes less than a client that wants to micro-manage every little detail and force us to do things ‘their way’, with the end result that we simply carry out an administration – and take the blame if the exercise doesn’t work!
  2. To never, ever, be asked again if we have good contacts in the media….. come on everyone!   That’s like asking a law firm if they know about the legislation or a construction company if they know any architects.  But just because we have contacts, it doesn’t mean that we will get you on the front page of Hospodarkse noviny every day!    We still need you to provide us with the content, which means something that is really newsy and relevant that we can present in a skilful and suitable format…. (so don’t write it for us…!!).
  3. To communicate with US!   No PR or marketing agency can achieve results for you (or in-house person for that matter) if you don’t give them any information to work with, don’t respond to queries from journalists on time and/or forget to inform us about what you are up to!   The more you give your PR and marketing people to work with, the more they can do for you.
And, just to cheat a bit, a fourth one – love your PR and marketing agencies or people!   The more we are stroked, the more we will do for you… marketing people don’t tend to work by the hour (even if we are supposed to!), and the more appreciated we are, the more the creativity will flow!

Wishing anyone that is reading this a great Christmas and a successful New Year!


Thursday, 17 October 2013


Yesterday I was speaking to a client that had just returned from a long business trip where, he said, he had spent a small fortune on entertaining clients, amongst other things, and the end result was one very nice new piece of business and a handful of potential projects. The total cost, he said, was far out-weighed by the value of the one confirmed piece of business, and if some of the other projects came off then the whole trip could be regarded as a huge success.  “Ah ha,” I said, “that is exactly what I keep banging on about – if you get back more than you spend on any marketing activity, then where is the downside?!”

As an agency, we have had numerous discussions with clients over the past few years who want to cut back or stop any form of marketing – even the biggest companies in the world have reduced their advertising and PR budgets significantly.  But every time we have this discussion (and trust me, I know how difficult it is to spend money when you don’t really have any…!), I ask them how they plan to build their businesses back to where they were before the economic crisis if they don’t do any form of marketing activity – which they are not usually able to answer.

At this point, I should mention a quote that I saw one time by the CEO of one of the big FMCG goods companies a few years ago, who said “I love a recession – I can guarantee that all of our competitors will stop their marketing, whilst we will be increasing ours.  And the result of that will be that we will not only maintain the business that we already have, but take over a lot of theirs as well”…   Or words to that effect.

Of course it is easy to say that when you are running a huge empire with a large amount of money in the bank!   But if you are trying to keep costs as low as possible, and you have no real budget available, it is very difficult to take a risk and spend what you don’t have on something that is not guaranteed to work.   But then… if you don’t do anything, and your competitors start to increase their own marketing activity, you might end up with no business at all.  So what to do?  

I have talked before about the various marketing activities that you can do without spending very much – and maybe some of you have tried a few of these ideas and have seen a bit of improvement.  But, generally, to get really significant results, you have to spend more than just a few crowns.

What we are seeing now is that there are companies that are prepared to invest into marketing, so now we are busy persuading those companies that they should not give this budget to their tea lady or junior assistant to use – if that is where you are now, please treat this budget as you would your accounting, legal affairs, building work or any other professional service, and use someone that is trained and has experience in marketing. Otherwise you, too, will join the ranks of those that think that marketing doesn’t work.

Finding that person is not always that easy, so in the next blog I will discuss the differences between in-house and external marketing people, and what you can expect.

More then!

Friday, 13 September 2013


In the very early 90s, when I was first in Prague, the few expatriates working here were a very close knit community and as we all spent so much time together outside of work, we felt that we knew each other very well.  Imagine our surprise, therefore, when one of our group suddenly disappeared and nothing more was heard from him until I received a letter from him from one of Her Majesty’s Prisons in the UK, and it transpired that he was someone else completely and had been on the run for several years….!!

In those days, we used to say that anyone could come to this part of the world and completely reinvent themselves, as it was a bit of a lawless society at that time.  If asked today, though, I would have said that things were very different then and now it is much more like a normal western world.  Except that in the past year or so, I have heard about two more people that, to all intents and purposes, are clearly not who they say they are!!

Now I would have thought that if someone wanted to reinvent themselves, they would do it pretty discreetly – the world being a pretty small place - but neither of these two people have done that; in fact both of them have gone out of their way to become ‘out there’ figures amongst the business community (completely independent of each other... I am not sure if they know each other, but they have followed a similar route).   And, in a funny sort of way, I quite admire the way that they have fooled everyone, as of course, it has all been done by very clever marketing.

First of all, they have taken a name and decided what that name stands for, who they want to sell it to and how.  And then they have single-mindedly built their brand by following a set course – meeting with the right people, being seen in the right places, doing their own advertising and publicity and so on - to the point where they probably believe what they are saying themselves.   And to be a successful salesman, which they clearly are, you really have to believe in what you are selling, as then it is much easier to persuade someone else to buy. 

The moral of this story is (well, maybe moral is not the right word…!) – that with any marketing campaign, whatever the product or service, you need to really know what your product/service stands for, work out who you want to sell it to, believe in it yourself, and go about your promotion in a well-executed and single-minded manner, and you wont go far wrong…

Just remember, though, shoddy products/services/people get found out sooner or later… and to build a good brand on a long-term basis, it needs to really stand the test of time.


Thursday, 25 July 2013


One of the reasons why working in an agency can be so interesting is that we get the chance to meet and work with people from all sorts of different industries; my day today, for example, includes meetings with a law firm, a construction company, an ice hockey player and a charity, and so it will continue through the week.  
This job is not for everyone, however, as many people find the need to flip from one thing to another at speed, and, of course, the ability to learn a lot about a company in a very short amount of time, very stressful.   Not least because so many of the company representatives that we meet find it very hard to express in simple terms, exactly what it is that they do and, therefore, what they are actually trying to market!
I have worked for companies where I have had to attend whole day ‘induction courses’ in order, they feel, for me to understand enough about the company to be able to work with them, but despite their best intentions, I have often come away from one of these courses with very little that is useful in regard to the company’s marketing and/or PR.  And this then leads me to the crunch; if senior marketing people in the company, who live and breathe it all day long, cannot tell me what exactly they sell and why someone should buy from them, then however do they manage to sell anything at all!
The thing is, when you work inside a company, especially in a senior position, you and the people working with you know so much about it, that you sometimes forget what the key things are that the outside world should know.   I have talked (a lot!) in the past about the need to know who you are targeting with your marketing, but you must also know why someone might buy your products or services – i.e. what makes you/your product so much more suitable for a particular customer than someone/something else. 
Usually, when we first meet a potential client, we will go through various standard questions about their business, and these include, of course, ‘why you’.  And we really don’t want to hear ‘because we are the best’ (let’s face it, you are unlikely to say you are rubbish).   What we hope to hear is something akin to an ‘elevator pitch’ – i.e. imagine you have got into a lift on the ground floor and in steps the person that you have identified as the perfect customer for your company – so you have just a few seconds to sell to him/her, before you reach the right floor and he/she steps out, what you do and why he should buy from you – if you have a good and appropriate elevator pitch, you are most of the way towards saying ‘why you’.   
Then, If you know exactly the market you are targeting, and you know exactly why you have a product/service that your potential target really ought to buy, then preparing your marketing to attract such a customer is really not that difficult.  Or is it….?


Tuesday, 7 May 2013


Partly due to our having been involved in a lot of large scale events over the years, and partly as one of our main specialties is sport communications and marketing, we have often been involved in sponsorship; sometimes working on the side of the sponsor, and sometimes the sponsored party.  Recently, too, we are meeting with a lot of companies that have plans to organize events or other activities and need a sponsor in order to get going…..  It doesn’t matter where we are involved, however, there is no doubt that there is an awful lot of confusion out there regarding ‘sponsorship’ and what it all means.

First of all, if you are a company/individual, that has been asked to sponsor an event or similar, there are a few things to think about - although, if you want to do it because you like the event/project and/or your friend is organizing it, then go right ahead!  But if you are thinking that such a sponsorship would add to your marketing effort, then you really need to approach it in the same way as you approach everything else relating to marketing; first of all, by asking yourself who is the target audience and does it match with my target customer?  

For example, years ago I was very involved in the sponsorship of one of the beer companies here of ice hockey: who was the beer company’s main target audience?  Men between the ages of 18 and 45 (give or take a few years!).  And what do Czech men of this age like to do?  Watch ice hockey.    Go figure, as my American colleague would say.    So think about your own sponsorship in the same way. 

Assuming that the target audience of the event/project IS your target group, then you need to ask what you are going to get in return for the sponsorship (and, if you are on the other side and are looking for sponsors, you need to think about this too!).   Is it enough to just have your logo on the materials (I was told by the sponsorship boss of a large company recently that everyone in the country knows them anyway, so what possible value is there for them in having their logo on a few billboards and so on…)?  Probably not.

Of course you need to be reasonable – if you are only paying a small amount, you can’t expect too much… but then is it worth it at all?   If the likely results of the sponsorship are better than they would be if you spent the same amount on, say, advertising – then OK, that probably works.  But if you are paying a reasonable amount, then you need to be given more than just a bit of branding…   Will you be mentioned in the PR campaign (attend the press conference, have your name in the press releases, etc), will you be able to invite people of your own (free tickets), will the organisers do anything to assist with getting you in front of their key guests, media, etc?  I know this all sounds obvious, but you would be surprised how often I have been met by blank looks when I have asked companies that are looking for sponsors what we will get in return… !

Right now, there are not so many companies willing to sponsor things – the smaller companies are watching every penny and sponsorship is a long way from their minds (if they are doing marketing at all) and the bigger companies are being approached all the time and have very clear strategies on sponsorship – if their strategy is, for example, to sponsor football, then they are not going to sponsor tennis - plus some of them can take so long to agree on doing the sponsorship in the first place that the event/project is over before they have made a decision!  

Finally, if you are thinking to try and get a sponsor for an event or project, think very carefully – over the last twenty or so years, we have been involved in the organization of hundreds of events and we have yet to find the secret to actually making money on them!   If you need a sponsor in order to organize something, I would say, just now, don’t bother!   And if you don’t, but the sponsor will be the icing on the cake, then make sure that you offer them as much as you can in return – sponsors are a very rare breed and need to be nurtured!


Monday, 18 March 2013


Up until a few years ago, we considered ‘event management’ to be a key part of our business, something that we regarded as our ‘bread and butter’.  With the onset of the financial crisis, however, the majority of large scale corporate events became a thing of the past, and we have only been involved in a handful during the past four years.

I have to say, though, that I am not that disappointed, as event management is something that very few people value (normally if we received an instruction to organize something, the opening line was ‘we could, of course, organize it ourselves, but no-one has time, so we thought we should ask you…..’), plus event management is one of the most stressful things that we do.

Having been involved in the organization of a very nice ‘gala’ this last week, I have been reminded of some of the issues that we can run into when we are organizing an event on behalf of a client, so if you are thinking about doing something yourself, maybe bear in mind the following:

(a)    Nowadays, musicians, technical equipment, venues, outside caterers, etc, are relatively easy to find and pretty reliable (compared to 1991, when we organized our first event and couldn’t find one of any of these and then, when we did, it was always touch and go whether they would actually show on the night!).  I usually tell clients that we can organize an all singing, all dancing, event pretty much tomorrow, but what we can’t do is get the people there if the invitation is left to the last minute.

(b)   Getting the word out about the event, therefore, should be the first priority – no point in spending hours on choosing the music, or stressing over the presentation, if you then send the invitation just a few days in advance.  While all the planning is going on, we like to start by sending out a short ‘save the date’ email to the guest list in order to get it into people’s diaries, but it makes sense to book the venue first as that might have some bearing on the date (the good venues can get booked up a long time in advance). 

(c)    Follow the ‘save the date’ up with a proper invitation – we prefer something that is printed and posted rather than emailed, but that depends on budget.  But do not spend days debating the design of the invitation – better to get something simple out a couple of weeks in advance than wait until you have the ‘perfect’ design (there is no such thing) and end up giving everyone just a few days’ notice.

(d)   The biggest cost of an evening ‘gala’ type event is nearly always the food and drink.  My own view is that if you have such a tight budget that you can’t really stretch to decent wine and/or some reasonable food, then you might be better off doing a completely different marketing activity.  Most people remember an event for the people they met, and then the food and/or wine that was served – whether good or bad!

(e)   The little details can make all the difference – sometimes we have a bit of an argument with clients regarding decoration (flowers/lighting/etc) and/or music – they often don’t see the need, but we usually insist!   You may not notice these things when they are there, but you definitely notice if they are not.

(f)     Goody bags – the bane of the organiser’s lives…. Are they worth it?  Great if you have something good to give, but if not, I would say it is better not to bother – how many events do we go to where we return with bag loads of materials that simply go into the dustbin.  What a terrible waste.

There is a lot more, but this is just the gist, and I want to wrap it up now as there are a couple of important details that I want to mention (and here I go again!): before organizing an event, think about who you are targeting and what you want to achieve and then plan everything around that.   But make sure that everyone in your team also knows what you want to get from the event; if you want clients and staff to have a rave up, then rave.  If you want to get new leads and potential business, then remember - you and your staff are walking billboards for the company, and you all need to reflect the same message as you want the company to reflect…


Monday, 18 February 2013


I recently wrote a blog about my lack of enthusiasm for social media, which prompted quite a few people asking me how I, someone that works as a communications professional, could possible by against it.  My response was that it was exactly because I work as a communications professional that I had my reservations, since, as I have said before, I am very cautious about the messages that our clients send out to the public and if there is no control over what is being said, then there is always potential for trouble. 
If you have seen the English news recently, you will have heard about the damage that has been caused to a company called HMV – a very big, established UK company that has just gone under, but that is trying to be rescued.  When the receivers went in and made loads of people redundant, what did those people do?  Immediately start posting as many horrible things about HMV that they could come up with on all of their social media sites (including HMV’s own), with the result that the company may, now, collapse altogether.
Maybe it is due to HMV, maybe it is just that many of the bigger companies are starting to get worried anyway, but in the last two weeks we have had three different requests for proposals to manage clients’ social media sites, and, in particular, advise on crisis management.  So if you are not already thinking about how to deal with your own sites, here are a few tips on how to make it work for you, without causing a whole bunch of problems:
(a)    Treat your social media like you treat the rest of your marketing materials; as I have said before, you wouldn’t let just anyone draft your brochure and then send it to print without first checking it, so do the same with your Facebook, Twitter, Linked-in and other sites
(b)   Make sure that the messages that are put out on your sites are consistent with the messages that you are putting out elsewhere; have you followed anyone on Facebook recently and thought that they appear to be a completely different person to the one that you know (I know I have and if I had known, I might have thought twice about being their friend!)… would you want people thinking that about your service or product?
(c)    Be careful about the way the text is worded on Facebook or Twitter in particular – we recently reviewed a client’s Facebook site and saw that the social media manager had been posting a lot of questions – for example, ‘we have just brought out a new product – once you have tried it let us know what you think of it’ – now, to my mind that is asking for trouble…..and sure enough, in this particular case, after a few rave reviews along came one that rubbished it.    Better would have been to keep it simple and leave the invitation out! 
(d)   Limit the number of people that can access your social media sites on your behalf and make sure that you guard the passwords and so on carefully (at HMV, just about anyone and everyone was able to get onto the company site and post a lot of damaging information).  Be careful, too, about who you ‘befriend’.
(e)   Monitor your sites on a daily (or more) basis, and be sure to have a methodology in place if something starts to kick off – i.e. a crisis management plan. 
(f)     Consider adding a clause into your employment contracts that, for example, imposes a fine on the employee if they post something negative about your company (of course you can’t control what their friends say about you,  and it might be difficult to enforce, but at least it puts them on notice…..!).
Need I go on?  Social media is an amazing invention and something that everyone in marketing needs to know about and understand…. But, as with everything relating to marketing, treat with a bit of caution, and don’t let just anyone do it!

Friday, 4 January 2013

Dear Father Christmas

I am not a huge fan of social media, as everyone that knows me will tell you, but I do quite like Linked-in, and there are a few blogs that I follow, my favourite being by one of the UK’s biggest entrepreneurs who, every month, writes a short business-focused blog that is, to my mind, full of words of wisdom.

To kick off this year, he has suggested that all of us think back to when we were kids and pretend that we can now write our own ‘note to Father Christmas’ – i.e. if we could ask Father Christmas for, say, five ‘presents for our businesses’ what would we ask for?    I have already prepared my list, most of which I wont go into here, but one of them is, I suspect, a present that most of us would include in our list for this particular year, and that is ‘an increase in the number of clients/customers that we have’, and/or ‘an increase in profits’.  
Having written such a list, the idea is that we then spend some time considering how we might make that wish list come true.   For sure, when I look at my own list, one or two of my wishes really do need Father Christmas to intervene, although I will continue to ponder them.  But the ‘increase in business’ is, to me, an easy one, as I think there is only one answer; to increase our marketing!!! 

I know I keep banging on about this, but when I hear from clients, or just people that I talk to, that they are cutting back on their marketing because they don’t have the budget – business being so bad - I wonder how, exactly, they plan to improve things if they are NOT doing some form of marketing – and don’t forget, marketing includes attending events, networking, social media, etc (by the way, if you are reading this and you can suggest some other ways of making more sales without marketing, then please let me know!). 
Now is the time to prepare your marketing plan along the lines discussed previously, and to get started.   If you can’t figure out what you are able to spend, then think about a figure that you wont be completely devastated to lose if nothing works (and of course it will work if you do it properly!!).   Split that figure into months (but please don’t think that you will get fantastic results in just a few weeks – you need to work at it consistently – the ‘drip, drip, drip’ effect)  and then start thinking about what is possible for whatever figure you end up with.  You might be surprised at just how much, for not a lot of money, you can achieve.

Happy New Year!