Jan 142009
 
Thursday Afternoon City Hall Wedding
Image by Thomas Hawk via Flickr

I just read a post in my Feedreader from Damien’s corporate portal, Mulley Communications, where he looks at the difference between marketing and PR — the former, he surmises, is akin to a “quick shag”, while the latter is more of a long term relationship….

I can see what he’s getting at, but to my mind PR — the building of relationships and reputation for a brand — is part and parcel of the bigger overall concept of marketing. Marketing encompasses pretty much everything from the inception of a new product or service (what does the market want, need, demand?), it’s design (to meet that want, need, demand), it’s promotion and sale, follow up support… everything! Including PR.

So yes, there are companies out there who subscribe to the “short-sharp shock” approach to marketing and to PR — snapshot advertising campaigns, a flurry of press releases / coverage for a new product or service… and then silence. There are also companies that understand the value of building long-term productive relationships with their customers, with influencers online and in traditional media, with society at large.

I think it’s probably more useful — borrowing Damiens relationship analogy — to compare businesses with people. There are those of us who perpetually lurch from one short-term relationship to the next, but have commitment issues when it comes to investing in a long-term relationship. They have plenty of fun, and can see great short-term results, but ultimately end up lonely and unfulfilled.

Then there are those who come to appreciate the value of building a relationship over time… of getting to know the subtle nuances of another person’s character, and yes, in some ways, even compromising a bit of our own to mesh more effectively and make that relationship work.

Of course most of us start our adult life in the former category… but over time, as we realise there’s more to life, we gradually see the value of commitment and long-term relationships. It’s an evolution — one that I think applies equally to businesses.

Short-sharp-shock marketing (including PR) is typical in the early stages of an organisation — it’s the old-way of getting the message out their in a blitzkreig of advertising and press coverage. Hammer home the message, build an audience. And then, silence, until the next campaign.

As the business grows (smart businesses, anyway) it begins to realise that there’s more to this equation… that it could be missing out on something much more rewarding and fulfilling. It realises that it needs to start listen to and interacting with its customers, to deliver more value, refine it’s offering. It needs to get over its commitment issues and engage in a long term relationship.

Call it marketing, call it PR, call it whatever you want — but if you want your business to become more than a one-night-stand get over your commitment issues and start engaging with your audience…. Woo them, before another suitor proposes and you lose them for good!

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Nov 182008
 
Aer Lingus A320 EI-CVC

Image by caribb via Flickr

Last week Irish trade union SIPTU sent a letter to Aer Lingus letting them know that its members have approved strike action if the airline proceeds with plans to axe around 1,300 jobs.

While I feel for the Aer Lingus workers’ plight… I really do, reading part of the letter (released into the public domain as part of a SIPTU press release) made me cringe.

In a couple of paragraphs it demonstrates everything that’s wrong with communication in the workplace. It’s pompous and utterly unintelligible business writing at its very worst. Here’s an extract from the letter to show you what I mean.

This decision of our members in the Aer Lingus Branch, Cork No. 5 Branch and Shannon Aviation Branch has now been sanctioned by the National Executive of SIPTU and you are hereby served with fourteen days official notice of same.

Following the expiry of notice the decision will be activated as decided by the Union arising from the unilateral implementation by the company proceeding to implement new or changed terms and conditions of employment without agreement contained in their proposals of October 6, 2008 or any variation thereof. In this connection you should note that the sanction covers strike action and the full withdrawal of labour with the placing of pickets on the company locations, and [for] industrial action which is [for] limited work stoppages with the withdrawal of labour and the placing of pickets on … company locations. The nature, timing and duration of any or all of the foregoing will be determined by the Union.

Again, please… clearly, and in English this time! Reading the above made my heart sink, and my head hurt.

If workers, or anybody else for that matter, really want to get their message across they need to stop trying to sound important by throwing in formal, over elaborate and superfluous verbiage (much as I did there ;-)), and start writing clearly in plain, easy to understand English.

The latest entry in the Plain English Campaign’s “Gobbledegook of the week” reads as follows:

"By aggregating a range of public and commercial datasets, including global addressing and Directory Enquiries, voter databases, commercial data and documentation including dates of birth, and voice-based verification solutions, 192.com Business Services delivers the most comprehensive global online ID verification solution available. "

(from www.192.com)

I think the SIPTU letter trumps that with ease: it’s in a league of it’s own. Or rather, it isn’t, which I guess is the material point here. All too often business and workplace communication is bloated, jargon riddled dross written by people who think that throwing long words into overly intricate prose makes them sound more important than they really are.

But here’s the rub… when the name of the game is getting your message across, you’re audience doesn’t care how “important” you sound, or how many syllables you can cram into a single sentence. They care about the clarity with which you deliver the essential information. People are busy, they don’t have time to decrypt your missive – they need to understand it instantly, first time round.

Communicating clearly with your target audience – whether that’s your customers, your co-workers or your employer – is critical to any business, and never more so than during hard economic times. So, before you send anything – letters, e-mail, blog posts, comments… anything at all – read it through to yourself at least once, aloud if necessary, and ask yourself truthfully “does this achieve what it sets out to do efficiently and effectively”? If the answer is no, perhaps you should stop and take another look.

And by the way, if you happen to be a national union executives looking to serve strike notice on the CEO of a major company, and you’d like some help writing your letter, you could always drop me a line ;-).

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Oct 252008
 

Had to write a quick post to announce the launch of a unique new wedding date site for couples in Ireland. I have an interest in wedding sites, mainly because we run our own photo wedding invitation business, and naturally we keep an eye on what’s happening online in the weddings space. (NB. I know our site is in dire need of a facelift – it’s on the To-do list).

Last week saw the launch of an exciting new website on the Irish wedding scene: Weddingdates.ie opened its virtual doors on Friday (24/10), and offers a unique facility that helps engaged couples in Ireland to select their ideal wedding venue.

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Simply enter your preferred wedding date and the county you want to get married in and Weddingdates.ie will return a list of venues in that county with reception availability on your date. It’s simple… and priceless. No more trudging through the golden pages and ringing around laboriously to come up with a shortlist of wedding reception venues who can accommodate you: Weddingdates.ie does it all for you.

This is very different to the swathe of run of the mill “Wedding directory” sites that simply list service providers. This is an indispensible tool for engaged couples.

When you’re planning a wedding anything that can reduce the time, effort and, lets face it, the stress involved is certain to be a huge boon. And that’s exactly what Weddingdates.ie offers.

If you’re getting married, or know someone else who is, why not head on over and take a look. If you’re a hotel manager, and your hotel isn’t featured, you might want to remedy that pronto!

The site is the brainchild of Ciara Crossan, who I had the pleasure of meeting briefly at a SOHO Solo / Cork Open Coffee joint meeting a few months back. Congratulations Ciara on a great concept, a great looking site and something that I’m sure will make life easier for countless Irish couples over the coming months and years.

Oct 072008
 

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Louder Voice knocks the socks off other peer review sites in terms of usability, design and its community-centric features. Another example of an Irish tech-company delivering a product / service that’s truly world class.

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And the newly launched Louder Voice for Business offers similar reviews functionality for your business website… which is excellent news for businesses who “get” the shift towards conversational marketing and online consumer engagement.

What is the Tuesday Push

I figured it was finally time for me to engage with this Tuesday Push malarkey (… I, know, I know… better late than never is probably going to be carved on my tombstone).

According to Damien Mulley, orchestrator of the “push”:

The Tuesday Push is a way for the small but growing tech community in Ireland to make some noise about ourselves by picking a good example of an Irish Tech Company and highlighting their product(s) every second Tuesday.

Louder Voice – reviews the way they were meant to be

The worthy recipient of this week’s “push” is LouderVoice (LV) – a great peer review site that makes reviewing products, services and anything else you can think of intuitive, easy and convenient.

You can post reviews via a variety of media: directly on the LouderVoice website, via SMS (so you don’t even need an internet connection – delighted or otherwise with that restaurant? Post a review while it’s fresh in your mind), through micro-blogging services like Twitter, you can even post reviews to your own blog and LV will pick them up from your RSS feed.

Cross-posting of reviews can work the other way around too (I think, although I haven’t done this yet): you post to LV via the web, SMS, Twitter or wherever, and LV will publish the review to your blog… which is a great way to keep things fresh and varied.

One of the best things about LV is the vibrant community of reviewers who contribute, which means that there’s plenty of conversation on everything from the best value wine to the latest tech gadgets to the most popular TV show and everything in between. It’s a community that’s growing all the time as word spreads and LV gains momentum, and as a consumer the benefits of exchanging information, ideas and opinions is obvious and compelling.

Reviews and your business….

But there’s another aspect to this conversation and interaction that’s often overlooked (and the reason I featured LV, complete with screenshot, as a great example of a review site in the Social Media chapter of “Understanding Digital Marketing”). This is a conversation you can participate in, yes, but as a business it’s also a conversation you can learn from.

Listen to people, find out what they’re talking about, what they like and don’t like. Even if they’re not talking about your product or services directly there’s a wealth of information and intelligence there that can help you to serve your customers better.

Of course, one of the best ways a business can use reviews in order to gauge consumer sentiment is to integrate review functionality into their own website – and if you want to explore the possibilities the all-new LV for business offers a suite of review services that are ideally suited to the purpose.

Anyway – the best way to find out more about LV is to start using it – so off you go and start reviewing – I’m looking forward to reading what you think.

NB. If you want your company to be considered for the Tuesday push you can submit your details online.

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Sep 122008
 

Published in the WOW! supplement of the Evening Echo

Home office breakfast table I’ve been working from home for seven years now. Let me say that again… because it’s hard for me to believe it’s been that long: I’ve been working at home for seven years now!

Wow! (no pun intended)

There are countless benefits to working from home, but also significant challenges. On balance though, from a parent’s perspective I’d have to say I heartily recommend it! Here are just a few of the pros and cons I’ve encountered over the last seven years.

The Good

  • The 20 second commute: this has to be the number one thing about working from home. Listening to the morning traffic report while sipping coffee and contemplating the short stroll across the garden to my home office is one of the highlights of my working day.

  • Suit… what’s a suit?: when you work from home the only dress code is the one you choose for yourself.

  • Time out: one of the best things about working from home, particularly when you have a young family, is the ability to arrange your work to suit you. Want a couple of hours off in the afternoon to take the kids to the beach, no problem! My work is fluid, it flows seamlessly around the more important aspects of my life… that flexibility is priceless.

  • Making a meal of it: the dining table is the hub of family life… and working from home means I never miss a meal with the family. I think that’s priceless!

The Bad

  • Exponential Distraction: if you think distractions at the office are bad, you should try working at home. Children running into the office, impromptu visitors, emptying the dishwasher, weeding the vegetable patch… even mowing the lawn. I kid you not, when you’re working on something you don’t really enjoy even gardening has its appeal.

  • Discipline and deadlines: I’m a terrible procrastinator. It’s just the way I’m built. I need a pressure to kick start my brain into motion; that can be a good thing, but it also means I let work build up to a critical mass before attacking it. That tends to put me (and hence the rest of the family) under unnecessary pressure. You have to be disciplined – and that’s one of my biggest challenges.

  • Isolation: working from home means you spend long periods working alone. Yes I’m in contact with lots of people via e-mail, the telephone and online every day… but it’s not the same as meeting face-to-face. That’s the main reason I’m involved with a local small office/home office networking group SOHO Solo (www.sohosoloireland.com and www.sohosolowestcork.com). Meeting other home-based workers regularly helps to keep me sane….

  • Always on call: one of the biggest pluses of working from home is the fact that you’re always around your family… but it’s also one of the biggest challenges. It’s only natural to prioritise family over work – but when you work at home sometimes you can be too available.

The Ugly

  • Doing the jobs you hate: when you’re working for yourself you have to look after everything – including the jobs you don’t like. Jobs like sorting out the accounts, filing and business administration stuff. Yuck!

  • Biting off more than you can chew: sometimes it’s easy to forget you’re just one person, and you take on more work than you can handle. I’m getting better at managing my workload now… saying no to things. Still, at home unexpected things always crop up to throw your schedule out of kilter. You have to give yourself enough of a buffer to be accommodate that.

But the best thing about working from home has to be that I get to spend so much time with my children. Sometimes that can seem more of a curse than a blessing… but on balance there are more ups than downs, and as the girls grow up I know the time I’m investing now will pay real dividends.

Sep 122008
 

profile I’m working with CorkBIC at the moment to help revitalise the West Cork chapter of the small business networking group SOHO Solo.

Networking is a vital part of running any small business, and over the years I’ve found belonging to SOHO Solo invaluable in all sorts of ways. Yes, I’ve gained business directly from other members, and referrals, but for me the true value of the network goes far beyond attracting new business.

The true value of small business networking

When you’re working from home you’re often working alone. As I writer I spend much of my working week sitting in my office tapping away at my keyboard, as I’m doing right now. While I’m in constant contact with lots of people through online social media, e-mail and even the telephone (hey… call me old fashioned!), sometimes it’s important to get some “face time” with other people.

Meeting other people in person helps to keep you sane, and to realise that actually, there are other people out there facing similar challenges to you. Perhaps more importantly, you also find that there are people who’ve already overcome those challenges successfully, and are more than willing to share their experiences.

Attending a meeting is a break from the routine of the home-office, and is as much about human social interaction as it is about business, for me at least.

I find that SOHO Solo is a gateway to new connections, interesting perspectives and a vein of untapped expertise and potential. An exercise we conducted a couple of years ago unearthed a staggering wealth of experience in the SOHO Solos in west Cork.

We unearthed a former shipping executive running a wedding card business, a Swiss banker running an organic wine importation business, a marine biologist/Mexican taco vendor/IT Project Manager now running a freelance writing consultancy and wedding invitation business (that would be me :-)) and a whole host of other histories spanning an eclectic mix of industries and disciplines. The point is, SOHO Solo’s – or independent entrepreneurs as I like to call them – weren’t always “solo”, and bring a whole host of skills and expertise to networking events that aren’t necessarily related to what they’re doing now.

And the great  thing is that they’re only too willing to offer their help advice and support. They say a problem shared is a problem halved… but more often than not, with SOHO Solo I find that a problem shared is a problem solved.

Come and join the party

On Wednesday 17th September in the Celtic Ross Hotel, Rosscarbery I’ll be facilitating an open discussion on how SOHO enterprises can harness the power of social media to help their business. From market research to networking with peers to gauging opinion, online PR and consumer engagement, social media offers a suite of tools and opportunities for smaller businesses. Let’s explore some of them together….

Aug 292008
 

Be here now!

Three innocuous little words that, if you pay them a little heed, can be an incredibly powerful force. Words that, among the myriad distractions of modern life, it’s all too easy to dismiss.

I remember the first time I heard them back in the mid-nineties. I’d just got a job as an IT project planner with Transco, the pipeline and distribution arm of the former British Gas. As part of a massive restructuring programme the company was sending all of its tens of thousands of employees on a training course called “You make the difference”.

It was one of those touchy-feely American things, all about the power of individuals to make a tangible contribution in business and in life, designed to boost morale, develop soft skills and, for the company, to ease the acceptance of organisational change.

Naturally enough most of us were pretty sceptical, and it’s fair to say, on reflection, that the course contained more than its fair share of feel-good bunkum. But it also got you out of work for a couple of days, was a lot of fun, made you turn the spotlight on yourself to reveal things you otherwise might never see, and, it has to be said, included a couple of real little gems.

“Be here now” was one of those gems.

Continue reading »

Jul 032008
 

Written for the Evening Echo Career Moves section

image There are all sorts of reasons why people don’t go to college straight from school. There are also plenty of reasons why, after a while, those same people feel they’d like to broaden their educational horizons and explore the opportunities a third level qualification can offer.

But making that transition back into education can be daunting. Where do you start? Do you have the right qualifications to meet the often stringent entry criteria? Isn’t there a complex application process to endure? Too many questions, when what you need are answers.

One of those answers could be a joint initiative run by Business Information Systems at UCC, CIT and Cork City Partnership. The Diploma in Applied Business Computing has been specifically designed to offer people a path back to third level education, ultimately leading to employment in the vibrant arena where business and technology overlap.

Continue reading »

Jun 172008
 

This week’s Career Moves is a bit interwebby, so I’ve posted it over on Digital Marketing Success instead of here.

It’s the first in a series of articles I’m doing for the Evening Echo on using the internet for market research when setting up/growing a small business.

Jun 072008
 

All Change, by Elsie Esq. It’s amazing how often small, seemingly innocuous words in the English language can be harbingers of much bigger things. Death, for example… there’s a small word with potentially huge implications.

Change is another one – small, unassuming, and for a lot of people utterly terrifying. We tend to be comfortable with constants – they’re safe and predictable; when things stay the same we feel secure, it’s the unknown that scares us… and venturing into the unknown is all part and parcel of change.

In today’s dynamic, high paced workplace, change is often the only real constant you’ll find. With the internet, connectivity, collaboration and interaction disrupting the accepted norms across a wide array of industries and sectors, nothing in business today seems to stay the same for very long.

The pace of change can be daunting. Sometimes it seems that no sooner have you acquired a new skill than it’s becoming obsolete. But I’ll let you into a little secret… this rapid pace of change is good for your career, as long as you’re ready to embrace it. With every change comes opportunity – to learn something new, do something different or develop in some way. If you’re willing to grab those opportunities with both hands, and you can adapt quickly to changing circumstances, then organisational change can be one of your biggest allies when it comes to career development.

As usual there are lessons to be learned from nature. Charles Darwin, the father of evolutionary theory, hit the nail on the head when he observed: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”

His biological insight makes a seamless transition to the workplace… if there’s one thing that will help your career to flourish, then it’s your ability to embrace and adapt to change. Yes your suite of skills is important, your experience invaluable and your education indispensable – and I’m not trying to belittle any of those things – but all other things being equal your ability to adapt to the changing dynamics of the modern workplace is often the defining characteristic for career success.

Look at some of the most successful people in the world today – are they the brightest, the most talented, the best educated? Some, maybe… but many of them aren’t.

While wealth shouldn’t really be used as a measure of success, in this instance it serves to illustrate a point. A few weeks ago the Sunday Times published its annual Rich List. Flicking through the pages reveals a wide array of people from all walks of life. Some of them are undoubtedly bright, talented and well educated individuals – but that’s probably not what propelled them into the rich list. Pick a random selection and scratch the surface, and what you’ll find that they have in common is unwavering tenacity and self belief, coupled with an amazing capacity to embrace, adapt to and thrive on change.

Take a leaf out of their book, condition yourself to embrace change, step outside of your comfort zones regularly and explore the unknown. When the wind of change blows, and opportunity knocks, you’ll be there, ready and waiting.

Photo Credit: All change, by Elsie esq.