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media

I Think Excellent Customer Service Is More Important Than Ever – Do You Agree?

Good customer service is very important to me – is it important to you? In fact during 2014, I made a point of praising anyone who gave me, or my family, excellent service and being very clear when service was not up to scratch.

One mantra I’ve heard repeated several times is ‘why is this important when you can buy so much online now?’ – to me, there is no difference between excellent customer service on or offline. If it wasn’t important, why would services like Amazon and Ebay ask for reviews? And do you ever read the reviews? I do – and does it influence a buying decision? It certainly does for me.

cafe in Ireland with words 'come on in, the kettle's on the boil'

Excellent Customer Service

 

In the real world, shopping has to be more and more like an experience – and a good experience at that – why? because it’s so much easier, more convenient and often cheaper to buy online. Therefore, real world shopping must offer something extra. There must be some added value which engages the emotion. These are absolute musts for 2015.

If anyone is in doubt – look at the success in my home town of Swindon of the Designer Outlet Village, where experience is at the heart of shopping. People come from all over the country to shop there – they anticipate a bargain and they also anticipate an experience. This flagship centre for McArthur Glen – the company which runs the site – is a testament to good service. The mailing list for this one outlet centre alone is huge – a list many of us would be thrilled to manage.

So what is bad customer service? For me, it’s any person within any business who makes me FEEL slighted, stupid, silly, of little value – EVEN IF I’M IN THE WRONG. Remember the old adage ‘the customer is always right’ – there’s sense in that. No one can argue with how a customer feels, even if that customer is being unreasonable. Here are a few things I personally class as ‘bad’ service:

*Being ignored when I ask a direct question – this once happened to me in an Apple store where the member of staff, started talking to another customer during a conversation with me – I left and  made no purchase.

* Being continually hassled by staff when it’s clear I’m browsing and taking in the shop and what it has to offer. Once is enough.

* Being made to feel stupid when you can’t work out the intricacies of the ‘bill’ – this happened to me recently at Dominos Express in Swindon where the manager insisted I was unintelligent – his view changed however when I told him I was a journalist (something I should not have to do to be treated well). I will never enter that shop again. Not because the pizzas aren’t good – but I will be reminded of how I was made to feel.

*Being pushed aside by a telephone call – if I’m being served and the staff member receives a telephone call, I expect to come first – not be dismissed in favour of a telephone. This will guarantee I will leave without making a purchase.

*Being told ‘we can’t do that because the system won’t accept it’ – this has happened to me several times, when you want to amend a standard order, especially in food outlets. Where you cannot make a small change because a computer system is set up to offer no options. Again, a great reason for me to leave.

However it’s no good being continually negative. I now take the time to thank people for good service, fill in surveys where requested and give feedback. Nothing will change if you don’t engage. I have no idea what happens to that feedback, i just know it’s worth doing. Some excellent customer service highlights for me this year:

* the patience of a store manager when one of my children was horribly embarrassed about having a bra fitting and was tearful on entering the shop.

* the excellence of an American company which supplied me with a faulty product and replaced it within 48 hours, from America, at no extra cost and did not insist on the faulty item being returned.

* the responsive attitude of a Mini Service member of staff in Swindon who listened when I explained a complaint, put it right immediately and then sought me a better deal to make me feel better – hence work on my car which I thought would be £200 at least was actually £25. Now how will I feel on entering those premises again?

So it’s all about excellent customer service – but the onus is also on me as a consumer to give feedback, to say thank you and to praise as much as possible those who go the extra mile.

I’d be interested in your experiences too….

Rolf Harris, sexual abuse and the world of television and the media

As we know – this week, entertainer Rolf Harris was sent to prison for abusing children – using his celebrity status as a cloak for his disgusting activities. His past has now caught up with him, he’s paying the price and so will his family. Justice perhaps for those he abused.

He’s one of a line of people, often most famous in the 70s and 80s,  who have been accused – and some subsequently convicted – of allegedly having one public persona and another private persona which is infinitely darker, sexually motivated and criminal.

Within hours, more women, many over the age of consent, starting talking about Harris’s  inappropriate behaviour towards them. Then there also came the voice of those who think all of this is nonsense, a snowball out of control.

I have some sympathy with this I suppose because in those decades, some behaviour was more acceptable than it would be now. When I started out in the 1980s, I lost count of the amount of times I had my bottom pinched or slapped, or talked to someone who kept their eyes aligned with my boobs or who, on one occasion, actually told me his wife didn’t understand him. I could handle all of this  – more than handle it in fact. Several times, I pinched a man’s bottom in return, told someone my face was up here and, with the ‘wife doesn’t understand me’ line, I laughed in the face of the CEO of a large company who said that to me. Positions of  ‘power’ don’t impress me.

However, there were darker moments. Times when I felt the undertone was completely ‘other’ and the threat was something more. There’s a difference between banter and feeling compromised. I remember once visiting the home of a successful businessman who suddenly, quietly and firmly sexually propositioned me in front of his wife – I ran out and drove off at a rate of knots. I also remember one man, then in his 50s, and someone I often saw in the course of  my job, who would keep coming up behind me and gently stroking the back of my neck. It was very invasive.

Therefore, if you know this, you might understand why I got caught up in an online spat with someone who was using phrases like ‘jumping on the bandwagon’ suggesting that somehow women are ‘cashing in’ on Harris’s  conviction. There seemed to be a suggestion that these women were out for money. Or were unworthy of being believed, or were somehow complicit because they didn’t do anything about it at the time.  However, I would challenge any one to do something different to those victims, in the same circumstances.

Are you being abused?

Are you being abused?

Anyone who is a journalist would know that the majority of people who suffer abuse – both men and women – don’t tell anyone at all for very long periods of time. Sometimes for ever.

They will often feel they are somehow at fault, that something they did or said, did make them complicit in the act of abuse. There are refuges nationwide full of people who’ve put up with abuse for very long periods of time. 

 

This online ‘banter’ made me very angry – because I know what Rolf Harris was like and I’ve known for years.

 

Why didn’t you say something I hear you all cry? It’s very simple. I’ve never met him, he did nothing to me.

However, he did do something a good friend of mine – she told me – and I believed her. Why didn’t she report it? Well, that’s a matter for her – but I can probably hazard a guess. She probably thought it wasn’t worth the hassle.

Why? 

Remember the man who stroked my neck that I mentioned earlier? I did confront him and told him not to touch me again after he’d done it several times. I also did report it to my boss – a lovely man but one who appeared out of his depth and probably felt it was too minor a thing to escalate. Maybe he was right. I’d not been groped intimately. It was just the feel of that man touching me was all wrong, that’s very hard to convey in a telephone call – to your boss.  To this day, I don’t know if he was told by anyone other than me that he was out of order.

However, I was a young journalist, just starting out. I’d heard all of the stories about the ‘casting couch’ though, frankly I’ve only ever met one person in my career who I thought used her womanhood to achieve her goals. I wanted a successful career and I didn’t want to get caught up in a scandal or a case which could become something really nasty. Life in the media as a working class woman was hard enough.

Imagine that man being a celebrity like Rolf Harris? Who would believe me at that time? And even if they did, what would have happened? To me? Would it have possibly damaged my career? Anyone could have accused me of inviting the attentions of a famous man. Who would have wanted to employ me as the person who’d accused Harris? Would I inadvertently become damaged goods myself?

Now, more than 20 years on,  it would be different if someone acted inappropriately towards me.

Of course I don’t look the same, I’m older, I don’t have the slim figure I had then.

However, I have the same drive, the same passion for my chosen path – but I also have experience. My experience has shown me that if someone makes me feel threatened – I should listen to that instinct and act on it.

If someone acts inappropriately towards me – is he going to do it to someone else? Has he done it to anyone before me? Experience has taught me that it’s highly likely. For that reason, today, I’d make much noise.

And to those women who found the courage to speak out – you might inspire others who have kept such abuse a secret – thus throwing the spotlight on offenders who’ve been able to hide their behaviour for a life time.

 

Wiltshire journalist shares her story to inspire women throughout the UK

Have you ever thought – I’d like to write a book? I’d like to tell my story? Can I write a book? Would anyone actually be interested? 

 

As a person who does a lot of writing as part of my business, it may seem strange to tell you that I’ve often asked myself all of the above. When I was a child I always wanted to be an author but, as I got older I wondered if I truly had anything to say of value. I was also pretty sure I couldn’t sustain a story of fiction for long enough.

After several years of running my own business I realise that I do have a lot to say, and some people will want to hear it.

 

In fact, I’ve learned that we ALL have something to say and there will always be those who want to hear it. All of us have value.

 

Once I truly accepted this fact, I found it surprisingly easy to share one of my stories. I’m now in a place where I’m not worried about those who don’t want to listen – those people will always be around – I’m reaching out to those who are life’s do-ers. Those who at least have a go at their ‘thing’ and those who want to live life with few regrets.

This week, my first foray into writing about myself in a book came to fruition. The book – available on Kindle – is Playing & Staying At The Top of Your Game – http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00KB2XRYI .

It tells stories from a dozen business women from across the south west who want to encourage and inspire other women to try and to persevere if they want to start or develop their own business. Each story is very different. It’s thanks to my women’s business club – I Am Woman – that I’ve finally taken the plunge. I’m already thinking now about doing an entire book covering many aspects of my professional life.

My story shared in Playing & Staying At The Top of Your Game

My story shared in Playing & Staying At The Top of Your Game

My story about starting my own business and what I learned in those early days is not what you think. I’m not the business person who nurtured an idea, let it grow and then went into it with rose-tinted glasses and making a million in a month. My story is very different.

I had my dream job – and I lost it. I never wanted to be self-employed, I didn’t want to run my own business and I was devastated that life had thrown me such a curve ball. However, I couldn’t change the fact that this had happened. All I could control was what I did next – and that’s the story I tell. Looking back, I realise my more negative start actually stood me in good stead. It didn’t mean I didn’t make any mistakes – I made loads. But my view was always realistic and I seemed to be able to spot when something wasn’t working. To find out more, of course, you’re going to have to read the book.

Is this being arrogant? Some might think so – but why do we women often feel embarrassed about blowing our own trumpet? Is it because men think less of us? Not in my case – I actually think it’s more because some women think less of us. Some cannot stand the fact that others are more ‘out there’ than they are. Women can be women’s own worst enemies. Truth is, I don’t actually care what anyone thinks, those who are interested will read the book, those who are not – won’t.

So I’ll end on these two notes – the woman who writes thousands and thousands of words each year about others has now written some words about herself. She also remembers one very important lesson in life which has sustained her. It was a saying which a teacher, Christopher Drew, put into my autograph book on the day I left primary school back in the 1970s. It’s always reminded me that life is always a journey of discovery and, thankfully, there’s so much more left to learn:

‘HE WHO KNOWS NOT AND KNOWS NOT THAT HE KNOWS NOT. SHUN HIM FOR HE IS A FOOL’.

 

I’m a parrot with a splash of eagle, hint of dove. What about you?

Since being in business, I’ve come to realise that understanding yourself can be key to success.

There are lots of things I know about myself but when I became self-employed, there was one thing I didn’t know – could I actually do it? Could I generate any money at all through my own efforts?

You see, I didn’t want to be self-employed. I was doing a job I loved and I wanted to carry on doing that job – sadly though that job no longer wanted me. It wasn’t a personal thing, it was a business decision and about 1,000 people lost their jobs at the same time.

Now I am almost at the five year anniversary of being self-employed and I’m still here. I’m not rich by any means but I’m earning my own money, through my own efforts and endeavours and that’s got to be something to celebrate.

However, I’m also wanting to be better in what I do. So I’m taking a course! I’ve been searching for ages for something which will make me better but which will engage me. During this course, which I’ll blog about many times I’m sure, I’ve been reading text books.

I don’t know about you but reading business books has been without fail, a hideous experience. They are mostly badly written, rushing off into different directions and lacking in real life examples. Frankly, many are simply tripe.

But I’ve just read one in a single day. That’s a record. It was called Taking Flight…do look it up. It tells a very simplistic story about birds in a forest who have to act when trees start falling down…no literary masterpiece but it does the job required…it shows how certain personality types can work.

It’s all about personality types – using the DISC model – which until recently I knew nothing about. Now it’s all around me. I’ve had two personality profiles done and they do capture lots of things about me.

The truth is, I do know these things but knowing and grasping the reality are two different things. Applying that truth is also tricky.

I’ve found out – in bird analogy – that I’m a parrot, with a large element of eagle and a quite large portion of dove. I’ve got very little owl though.

If you know this book, the previous sentence will make sense.

The biggest immediate impact is that I’ve started to recognise others around me, mainly in my friendship group and realised that the dynamic is visible. For example, one of my children is very, very caring and very detailed orientated – which drives me absolutely potty. But it’s not her fault, that’s her response to things and that’s okay. Now I know it’s okay, I find I’m not so irritated by the constant questioning and asking the same thing over and over again.

I also spent some time with two old friends and hardly got a word into the conversation – very unusual for me. I ended up feeling that I was of little value as no one seemed that interested in me or anything I had to say. As I started the self-pity dance, I realised that these were two eagles vying for position without realising it. As a personality with both eagle and dove, confronted by this, I simply gave up and shut up rather than expend energy trying to be heard. I don’t feel angry at all, I’ve just realised that it’s better to see them individually if I personally want to feel listened to – otherwise I’ll continually be a spare part.

Now I’m hoping to become better at business through this learning….here goes!

No, I'm not a peacock..I'm a parrot....

No, I’m not a peacock..I’m a parrot….

 

 

 

Reviewing a Sunday spent in the garden

Gardening – a term which fills me with dread. I’ve always hated gardening and everything that goes with it.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t dislike gardens, I appreciate the effort which goes into a garden but I just don’t want to bother with all of that myself. If I had a choice between gardening and reading a book – the latter would win. As would cooking, cleaning, ironing, walking, driving and much more…

The only time I choose to go to a garden centre is to meet someone for coffee and cake – never for any other reason. A couple of years ago, a close family member bought me gardening vouchers for my birthday and I almost spit out my dummy. When, some months later, I raised the issue I was told that I was ‘approaching the age when I’d be into that sort of thing’.  A comment guaranteed to ensure that when I hit 60 I’ll be even less interested in gardening than I am now!

Today, however, I was part of a family team of gardeners. Having stared at the weeds growing up alongside our house for a couple of months, my need to deal with a problem boiled over. And my usual strategy – kicked in. We all muck in and do it in a morning – or I will be spending all day doing it myself. Always works.

So I now have cuts and bruises from pulling brambles, after my gloves ripped and my feet were black after realising that gardening with crocs on probably wasn’t such a good idea.

I then had to go to a garden centre with my other half to buy some plants to fill the space left  by weeds and brambles. Somehow we actually ended up at B&Q – a place which also ranks in my list of awful places to visit.

Flower

This is not the flower bought today for our garden

So today’s lesson is this – I still hate gardening but having grasped the nettle (quite literally several times) the place looks a little better.

How many months until I have to do some more?

 

Where does sexual innuendo between men and women at work cross the line?

Just felt the need today to blog about the whole discussion over sexual harassment in the light of the latest debate surrounding a particular politician.

I’ve faced up to sexual harassment – but did I do it the right way or not?

I listened to a discussion on a weekly political show, on a weekend discussion programme where the issue was discussed in some detail. It’s a mixture of women, men, power, control and sexual desire. A variation on the whole theme of the ‘casting couch’, ‘men in power’ etc etc.

It made me reflect on more than 20 years working in various areas of the media and the times I’d encountered such practices. Which have been few, I should hasten to add. There is  no part of the media where I’ve thought ‘can’t work there too many men with wandering hands’.

However there have been a small number of occasions where the behaviour of some men, and women, have surprised me. I won’t say shocked as it takes a lot to shock me.

Please bear in mind, I’m not talking about inappropriate flings or relationships here – I’m talking about moments or revelations which happen and which completely blindside you.

I should set a context – I’m a naturally tactile person, many journalists are, I’ve noticed. I will often touch someone while talking to them, it’s part of my natural body language I suppose. I can be flirtatious but I have a line which cannot be crossed. That is where healthy contact and banter becomes something overtly sexual, makes me feel uncomfortable or seedy. But I’m good at making it clear when that line has been crossed.

I can think of several occasions both professionally and personally where my outgoing personality has led others to think I’m romantically interested in them. I have had to have several difficult conversations about the feelings not being returned, reminders about the fact that I’m married and I take that seriously, and, in some cases, friendships and connections have remained intact. I had these conversations when I was single and when married.

Occasionally however, none of the above apply and here are three incidents I’d like to share.

One: 

 

What do you do when, as a very young green journalist, an older journalist who is always friendly suddenly thinks it’s okay to touch you inappropriately? In this case, it was a man in his 50s, probably, who thought it was okay to stroke the back of my neck. Not abusive but creepy to me.

When it happened the first time, I let it go. The next time, I told him not to touch me again. I have no memory of his response. I think he beat a hasty retreat.

I did tell my boss at the time but I was postively encouraged to take it no further. After all, nothing had really happened. I was told that the person would be ‘told’ about it. Must’ve worked, it didn’t happen again. I just hope it didn’t happen to anyone else.

 

Two:

 

Another time was personal. A man known to me, retired and someone I saw relatively often, pinned me against a doorframe in his house and tried to snog me. A whole tongue down the throat affair while his wife was in another room. I was a teenager.

It was completely vile and even now, I can recall the feeling of disgust.

Again I told the man, who was in a senior position within his community, to ‘never touch me again or I’ll tell your wife’. Seemed to work.

But I’ve always wondered if he ever did it to anyone else….I also spoke up about it at home but I think it took a long time for my parents to believe it had happened. I know for sure, that my natural revulsion and pushing him away, may have stopped things being much worse.

 

Three:

 

The other incident I recall was far more recent – within the last five years. I was working alongside someone I’d known for a long time but had not worked directly with and we were in a small room together, we had to be for the job we were doing at the time.

A discussion was taking place which had got around to families and relationships. Nothing unusual in that. Then he asked me a question which really threw me – he asked ‘if I liked three-in-a-bed relationships?’

I looked at him and I think my reply was something bland like ‘I’m a one-man woman me’ and tried to forget it.

The context didn’t set up a question like that and I immediately knew this could all go horribly wrong. I also felt I didn’t want to work with him again straightaway. I did, however, finish that task and nothing happened. I never worked with him again.

I didn’t ever complain about this inappropriate moment. But I find myself asking the same question yet again  – did it happen to anyone else and was it even worse?

 

My conclusion is that most women will have experiences like these both privately and personally. I feel I dealt with them to the best of my ability at the time. I have no idea if I was right or wrong. I can only say that I trusted my judgment of how it made me feel and acted accordingly.

 

Child benefit, Leveson – a 2012 rant from a Wiltshire mum

As journalists, we are not often able to express opinions about political things – and many of us just don’t want to – but today is different.

Today I feel the need to say what I think both as a journalist and as a mum – and it’s two gripes here:  the Leveson inquiry and child benefit.

LEVESON:

I’ve waited a few days to say what I think of the Leveson inquiry, sometimes it’s best to wait and take stock before opening one’s mouth.

My first point is that a small number of journalists, mainly working on national newspapers, have acted in a despicable and unacceptable manner to ordinary members of the public, and the families of celebrities. Neither of these do I condone.

I also don’t condone senior owners and managers in newspapers getting all cosy to politicians and senior police officers to create some comfortable ‘honey pot’ where deals are done. For this there is fault on all sides.

I have less sympathy with celebrities who court the newspaper press when they feel like it – and moan when they don’t like the type of coverage they get. However, no celebrity should have his/her phone hacked and family members harrassed in any way. Journalists who have used these methods are breaking the law.

People who break the law in any profession are unlikely to be stopped by introducing more laws. For some, the story will always be the goal whatever the means.

I’ve been a journalist for more than 20 years and I’ve never hacked anyone’s phone, nor have I ever been asked to do so. I’ve never camped outside someone’s house because my employer is interested in writing about their private lives. I was asked to do this just once – I said no. I just didn’t feel it served any public interest at all.

Does this mean I would never write a story of that nature? No – I would and I have, but only when that part of someone’s life encroaches into their public life eg. in criminal cases, politicians who are caught out and action taken against them which comes into the public domain.

Do I think a law should be introduced to control the Press? No, I don’t . The past is paved with good intentions – but whatever the intent of such a law, it could mean that later it’s used to restrict the freedom of the Press even more – and we have a restricted press in this country as it is.

“What!” you may think – well, when I first moved from newspapers into television, I had such a shock when it came to what could and could not be done. In television, the guidelines laid down are far more stringent than in any newspaper and they are, in my personal experience, strictly adhered to.

Take secret filming for example. Due care and attention must be taken before secret filmig is ever approved. As a producer, you cannot just think or suspect that someone is doing something wrong, illegal or immoral – you have to have a strong case. That then has to be approved by the highest manager in the building at the time with a legal opinion. If you jump that hurdle and carry out secret filming, there is another process to decide if it can be used or not. I have been involved in such cases and that secret filming has never been aired.

When journalists break the law they should be prosecuted. I cannot support any restriction of freedom of the press beyond what exists already in the UK. There are thousands of journalists in this country working in towns, villages and cities who are doing a good job bringing stories to light, spreading information and allowing people to have a voice – and some of those stories save lives, bring people justice and raise awareness. This happens every single day.

If you are in any way considering that journalists’ rights should be restricted further. Look no further than revolts, uprisings all over the world where freedom of speech and expression is at risk. The Press in all its forms is one of the first things to be sacrificed or taken over in a time of conflict. It happened in WW2, the Falklands, still happens in China and lately, only last week, communications were cut off in Syria.

CHILD BENEFIT

Image of a five pound note

Money, money, money…..

As a family we’ve known for some time that we will probably lose our child benefit. Now it’s happening, and we are going to miss that extra bit of income each month. We are not a family on very low income, but neither are we a family where the child benefit goes into a savings account for our children’s future – it’s part of the budget for the month, as was always intended.

I do, however, accept that it’s going, I’ve long felt that it’s a benefit which should be means-tested. But this cutting of child benefit is not means tested. It’s a clumsy, discriminatory money-saving tactic which will do damage to this government in my view.

There are two things which have really angered me about this decision to cut child benefit. The first was illustrated when recently talking to some friends. We are two families where both parents work and each have three children. In my friend’s family, the husband is just earning below the higher rate tax level, the mother is also just earning under that higher rate as she has a middle management role and she works part-time. This keeps her earnings below the threshold. My husband is a higher rate tax payer, I’m self-employed and my earnings are not stable. I’ve been self-employed for almost four years and in only one year have I earned enough to match this other family’s household income. On average their family income is about £5k a year more than us – but they can keep their child benefit. How can that be right? In my view, we should both lose it.

The other thing that has really riled me is the letter to my husband where he could opt for me, his wife, to lose the benefit. The benefit is in my name but I’ve received no communication at all. As the higher rate tax payer, he has the letter allowing him to cut off that money on my behalf – which proves to me this is just done for ease of administration. This discriminates, mostly against women and particularly against women who stay at home and don’t go out to work.

Maybe this government thinks all of those families with healthy incomes, but where both partners are under the threshold, will volunteer to lose their child benefit out of a sense of moral duty. Will they b******s!. Would you?

I could have made the decision to keep the benefit with my hubby declaring it on his tax return next year, but then we’ll get hit with a big tax bill. I suppose the only benefit of that would be that I could keep the money, earn interest on it and then pay it back at the relevant time. A part of me wants to do that to be bloody-minded.

However, the plot thickens. You can opt out of child benefit online – where the higher rate tax payer signs in – but the partner – fills out the form. You then get a confirmation that you have ‘requested’ for that benefit to end. The whole wording suggests it’s a voluntary act, like you’ve made an altruistic decision to give up that money to help the nation. That kind of wording really worries me – could it be used against you at a later date if your circumstances changed and you needed to re-apply? Or if it was introduced again universally?

However, I’ve had to ‘volunteer’ to give up my child benefit because of my partner’s earnings. So I either have to bear that loss or I have to try to find extra work to make up the difference each month. Happy New Year!

 

A few things I hate about LinkedIn….please don’t sell at me!

Today’s blog is a bit of a rant. I cannot help it but within the space of 12 hours, two things about LinkedIn have really annoyed me.

It’s also made me think about the role each social media offering plays in my life, both professional and personal.

For me, LinkedIn is a professional site where I can share insights, news, interesting bits and bobs with other business people.

These might be people I admire, I like, I’ve worked with or I simply know or they’ve requested to be linked to me and I’ve checked them out and thought ‘yes’.

I do try not to directly market to individuals with whom I am linked. I try not to do this because frankly I hate it being done to me. I usually post information about what I’m doing, appeals for help etc on my profile or status and leave it to others to engage directly if they are interested.

I’ve found that if I’m linked to an organisation like a hotel – I might get individual messages relating to events which I usually delete. Today, I’ve been targetted by two separate individuals in two different ways and it’s safe to say I’m fed up.

One was a person from overseas, asking me if she could talk to me as she’s got ideas for television programmes and would like to talk to someone about them. There followed a basic list of about five ideas. Great.

I get numerous requests like this on an annual basis and they take up lots of time. People often think they’ve got a great idea for television but have no idea how to take the next step. Well, let  me give it to you straight – go to an established independent production company in the UK and ask for a hearing. Unless you are hand in hand with someone within broadcasting that’s one of the only ways to be heard. And another fact, less than five per cent of those ideas will get beyond first base. I know this because I’ve tried it many times, and yes, I’ve had some success.

Hearing the ideas, explaining how tv works, helping with contacts takes a lot of time and effort. Plus I don’t know how the system works in Australia (where this person is purportedly based), it could be totally different but I doubt it. And if it’s America, you’ll probably get all literature posted back to you unopened.

So, harsh as it may sound, I declined the message. Only to get two more with lots of question marks and exclamation marks as though I’ve done something heinous. In the end I send a brief reply outlining the above. So I’m now giving notice – if I don’t know you well on LinkedIn and you want that type of information – I’ll give it to you at my normal daily working rate. Please DM me, I’d be more than happy to hear from you.

Don’t yell at me with your marketing message on LinkedIn – that’s not what I like. Tell me quietly and I’ll consider…..

The other message came from a man asking me to buy his book. It’s related to raising money for charity, it’s a dreadful personal story. The first time I received this message, I replied in some detail. I’ve received it again, the same message clearly sent out as a round-robin request a few months later.

How do I feel about that? My empathy is the same but I still feel like I’m being barked at in a very personal way. If I want to buy a book I will, please don’t try to make me guilty enough to buy it. I went through a hard time with a terrible illness a few years ago and I started to write a book about it – but don’t worry I won’t send you personal messages trying to sell it to you. I’ll let you know about it in passing and the rest is up to you!

Is there an etiquette to this type of marketing? I don’t really know. I just know what really annoys me.

And by the way, I’m holding a DIY PR day for business women on October 23 in Swindon to help you do your own PR stuff.  If you are interested – just contact us through this website. I won’t be sending you direct messages on LinkedIn!

 

GCSEs and A levels are easier…so let’s make them harder. Really?

I always find this time of year frustrating when exam results come out for young people – results on which the future depends – or so it seems for those affected. For young people of 16 or 18, getting the ‘right’ results can feel like it’s the only important thing in the world.

And that makes me so angry. It’s also all the media coverage of journalists in schools and colleges with students poised to open their results envelopes. And oh surprise! It’s all As and A*s and Bs, no failures, no really low marks…..

 

Do I blame the media for this? Not entirely.

Everyone should have a chance to shine.....

Everyone should have the opportunity to shine.....

 

I do blame the industry for continually telling the same story in the same way. Wouldn’t it be refreshing to follow a young person who didn’t do so well and help them find a new way forward? How useful would that be?

But, of course, any journalist knows that it’s not that easy. What school or college wants to put forward a student who is not at the top of the class?  Who wants to line up potential failures for exposure? And which young person is willing to be publicly shown as not having done very well?

 

The truth is that many, many young people don’t get As and A*s or even Bs or Cs. Yet the overriding impression is that more people are getting these grades so the examinations must be getting easier.

Examinations are now very different to the outdated O level and CSE system. In those days, you had one opportunity to shine and it occurred during a two or three hour window in a high pressure examination, based on what you could remember.

If, like me, you didn’t function well under that kind of pressure as a teenager – the thought that now my own children can gain marks for the long piece of coursework they’ve slaved over and lavished passion upon is uplifting. To me, it’s a much fairer system allowing youngsters who don’t thrive under examination pressure to have their chance to shine. And that’s generally how degrees and higher education and vocational qualifications work.

I do agree with high pressure examinations being part of a marking system – as life is full of high pressure situations, including a professional life. But that’s not all that is important. Coursework has its place and should be considered, especially in very vocational courses.

Also I think we should hear far more about what to do if you don’t do as well as you hoped. I worked very hard for my O levels and did reasonably well – but now when I go for a job no one cares if I’ve got O levels let alone what the grades were….but then I’m old….

As for A levels, I did pass but that was about all. And that was hugely disappointing – I was expected to be an A/B grade student. I turned out not to be. I would have been the student who, being filmed, was beaming as they opened that envelope and then in floods of tears for not having achieved what was expected.

So what did I do while clasping my C,D,E grades in my hands – knowing I’d failed to gain a place at university studying Medieval English, which was my passion at the time. Did I re-take my examinations to get better grades? Did I give up on higher education and try to find a job?

In my case, I took advice from the school and applied at ‘lower’ level establishments, went through a secondary interview  process for courses which were not full. I went to Bath College of Higher Education (now Bath Spa University) to study on a new BA Hons course in Combined Studies of English Literature & History. And I had a brilliant time there, met some great friends and worked alongside some wonderful lecturers. I must name check here Dr Mara Kalnins – who was very special to me as we shared a love for the work of author D H Lawrence.

While waiting to start my course, an article came out in the local paper listing the achievements of the students who’d done well and where they would be going to study. My name was last and it simply said ‘Fiona Bune is going to Bath’. The suggestion, to me, was that readers would assume I was going to the University of Bath. I’d rather they’d put nothing because it made me feel like an also-ran, an after thought. Years later, I became the reporter on that weekly newspaper managing and writing such stories – what an irony.

So this blog is a message to all of those young people who didn’t get the As and A*s and who are feeling that somehow they’ve failed. You have not failed. You simply are now required to re-assess and think about what you want to do next – then ask for help to get there. How you handle this situation will say far more about who you are – than any amount of A grades. And that’s what a future employer will remember…..

 

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.

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