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At a time of pride over the Olympics – we’re celebrating too!!! Find out why?

Today I feel hugely proud of our company, Mellow Media Ltd, as I have just attended a meeting which brought to a close three months’ work on an amazing project.

We have played an important part in running, developing and implementing a marketing strategy to raise well over £4m in just six weeks.

Let’s just think about that for a moment – that’s £666,667 a week or £95,238 every day. 

Anyone connected with me on my social media network could have picked up my messages and tweets about Westmill Solar Cooperative or @westmillsolar.
It was the brainchild of Wiltshire farmer and entrepreneur Adam Twine to create a solar power station on his land but, instead of allowing a big company in to run the station, offer it up to people within the wider community. A less lucrative option for him – but in keeping with his green ethics.
Investors could bid for shares by putting in an investment of between £250 and £20k maximum. If successful, the cooperative will allow one investment, one vote. The aim was to make the cooperative accessible, open to as many people as possible and giving all an equal say, regardless of their investment or wealth.
Adam has created a similar project before, on the same site, Westmill Windfarm – that had taken years to come to fruition and had also raised a similar sum in community shares but  over a longer period, 12 weeks – and a different economic time -2007. Five years on, it has over 2,000 investors and is providing strong returns on that investment.
This time, while the integrity of the project was clear, it seemed a tall order to raise that much money. Together we came up with a marketing strategy which involved much PR, advertising, leafleting, e-mailing and other features. In our case, we looked after PR, advised on other parts of the strategy as and when required.
We’d worked on the project from mid-May working towards the opening of a share offer in mid-June which would stay open for around six weeks – a cut-off date of July 31. The aim was to raise more than £4m from would-be investors to create the UK’s only community-run solar power station.

In fact the world’s largest community run solar power station. 

 

Hundreds invested millions in UK's largest community run solar power station

This was a big ask. We are in a long-term economic depression with many businesses being happy just to survive. And many families suffering a stagnation or drop in income.
In our favour,  we had a small, but illustrious team of people hoping to raise that kind of money in a short space of time. And fantastic partners who would step in to help out and support us as much as possible. And the offer on the table was a strong one – returns way above anything a bank could offer at the moment, or for the foreseeable future.
But, of course, PR is never guaranteed. This felt like a test of the value of PR as it’s so difficult to quantify. It’s about brand, messaging, information sharing and story-telling all rolled into one. So we stuck to our basic principles of telling a story well, with accuracy and always a picture. And we always had something new to say – a new nugget, a new angle.
 When the share offer closed on July 31, it was over-subscribed by some margin. The message had clearly got out there. How did that happen?
As it was a project rather than a ‘slow burn PR strategy for the long-term’, I tracked some of the coverage we received.  I found almost 100 separate items both online and offline. More than 50 per cent were online, and often, but not exclusively, within the specialist ‘green’ or ‘renewable energy’ sector.
More than 30 per cent were articles and features in the local press – within a 40km radius covering Wiltshire, Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire and Bristol.
There were around eight radio interviews or mentions in that period and two exposures on regional television. As for the national press, there were five items in total, on and offline.
None of this included the fact that traditional written articles which appear in a newspaper, magazine or paper publication also tend to appear online – so the online total was probably much higher.
As the ideal target was reached, our role has now ended. But has it? When involved in a project like this which had a very specific beginning, middle and end – something always remains.
For me it’s a deeper respect for those who work in the renewable energy sector, who do so, often in the face of much cynicism because they feel it’s the right thing to do. Even though they might have to justify their position often.
Friends have been made, connections forged which will continue in to the future. And it’s this legacy, at a personal level, which will mean the most.

TV journalist mobbed by workers from online credit broker

I’m sure many of you will have heard of the sub-prime market in financial services…

 

It’s a rather fancy name for something which is very well-known to journalists especially those with an interest in consumer matters.
Companies operating in this part of the market lend to people who are often in debt, high risk and generally, in financial hardship.
We’ve all seen the growth of high street shops offering short-term loans for small amounts at huge rates of interest.
I’m not suggesting that these are operating against the law in any way. What you see is what you get.
However, this market is full of vulnerable people who are often desperate to find money to pay off  debts. So it’s a booming business for unscrupulous companies and loan sharks who prey on those who are in need.
The Office of Fair Trading is trying to clamp down on bad practice but it will, as usual, take an age. The OFT has recently been dealing with a ‘super-complaint’ from the Citizens Advice Bureau about this type of company.
One of the areas where the bad companies operate is online – offering to secure loan agreements for people who are high risk. They contact these people, often through cold calling, and can take an upfront free in return for ‘introducing’ them to a lender.

 

However, after taking the money, the customer can find that what was promised is not forthcoming. A loan is either not available or is available at a much higher interest rate. Getting that upfront fee back when you’ve got no loan, can be impossible. At best you might wait up to a year for a refund.



Many of us might think well it’s only £50 – but for someone who is in desperate need that £50 might be their last, might be their tiny bit of savings, might be their household budget for the month.
I encountered one of these companies based in South Wales and, worryingly, it was attached to yet another company which dealt with debt management.

 

So you might pay your £50 in the hope of a loan and then be contacted by a sister company offering to manage your debts. But guess what? That involves a fee too – often much higher. Let’s say the whole of a first month’s payment to creditors plus a cut of later payments.
Doing a story on this particular company – which had received previous bad publicity – I filmed exterior shots of its premises on an industrial estate.

 

While getting those shots, the bosses of this company came out, with all of the staff, at least 100 and surrounded us.

As luck would have it, a colleague was hidden from view behind a car and was able to stand by to get help if things got nasty.
It was an unexpected turn of events, we’d been turned down for formal interview and tour of premises. I got the impression that those behind the company wanted to intimidate us and for a moment it worked.
But given that we were not trespassing on their premises, we were on a public road and we kept the camera rolling – well it did make for good tv.
There was lots of shouting (you are picking on us, we could lose our jobs) but I did manage to mention those hundreds, perhaps thousands, of customers they’d been happy to take money from but who’d got nothing in return.
For balance, I also interviewed two or three members of staff about the work that they did – we help people, we have many satisfied customers, they said.
There were some uncomfortable facts about this company – it was being investigated by the OFT, its former boss had a chequered business past and had been banned as a company director for ten years over previous business dealings and it did use aggressive sales tactics. Several customers had told us about those tactics.
Would I do that story again, given that I know that the bosses were prepared to intimidate? Too right I would.

 

What would I have done if I’d been the boss of that particular company? Would I have got my staff to come out en masse and surround a tv crew when I’d previously turned down the opportunity of an interview? How did that make my company look? What did that say about my brand? Would I care?


Either way the publicity was hardly going to be positive. What would you have done?

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