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.
What’s the worst mistake you’ve ever made? I’d love to know — and what did you do about it?
Make sure that mistake doesn't bite!
I recently read in my local newspaper a letter from a new restaurant owner in Swindon about a review written by a journalist. She’s attended his/her restaurant and had a meal.
The letter said that while there were many positive comments, the reviewer was unreasonable in her criticisms. One was that she’d asked for a vodka mixer and no vodka was available – however the journalist should have been satisfied with the 32 types of wine on offer on the extensive wine list.
What? A journalist doing a review is no different to any other customer – and customers can be hard to please. If I want a gin and tonic or a beer – sod the 32 choices of wine – that’s what I want.
The clue is in the world ‘review’ – it’s an experience, it’s about fulfilling expectations. Some may be fulfilled, others may not.
If this happens to you, bleating about it in the letters page and slagging off the journalist is hardly maintaining a strong relationship with your local press – something you need if you are a local restaurant. Also what do you think as a reader? A reader like me? Well, do I want to go to a restaurant where my choice of beverage is ridiculed? I don’t think so…
So, what should that restauranteur have done?
Taken the positives, learned, maybe invited her back again in six months time…keep the lines of communication open. Turn something negative into something positive – a cliche but true.
A review is very powerful and, unless there’s a bug in your food or the chicken is raw, will almost always put bums on seats. Don’t diss it.
This is not a journalist’s mistake, it’s an opinion based on experience.
So what is a mistake?
Consider the following:
Any journalist who claims never to have made a mistake is from another planet.
All human beings make mistakes and if you are banging out 3,000 words a day for a publication – it will happen.
However if a journalist makes a mistake the consequences can be huge – the power of the written or spoken word cannot be underestimated.
So if you are talking to a journalist and a mistake is subsequently made what do you do?
It’s easy – talk to the journalist about it.
Be sure before you do, that the mistake came from them. (Remember that a mistake in a headline or sub-heading might be done by an editor – and the journalist may have not seen it yet. Equally a mistake in a picture caption can also be done by a third party) But the journalist can help put things right.
There’s nothing more embarrassing than having a difficult conversation with a journalist and then finding out that your press release was inaccurate – or your press office/pr consultant was the source of the mistake.
Also remember that journalists are taught that ‘inaccuracy kills’ – there’s no defence if an inaccuracy leads to defamation. So journalists should be open to those kinds of conversations.
Discuss what the mistake was and how you wish it to be rectified.
For example, a simple mistake like a name spelled incorrectly may be embarrassing but it’s not going to be the end of the world. A small correction or repeat of the story (if it’s short) may be sufficient.
A good friend of mine who’s first name is Spencer was captioned in a photograph as Stella – he’s never forgotten it and neither have I – it’s hilarious.
But if a teacher say, at a school, is charged with abusing a pupil and a journalist names the school or the wrong teacher then that’s a serious mistake and much harder to put right. That gets into the realm of defamation and possibly contempt of court.
For something serious such as the latter, seek advice before talking to the journalist so that you know where you can go with it.
However it’s always advisable to give a newspaper, tv, radio or online publication the opportunity to put things right before getting heavy with lawyers’ letters.
Apologies will be given quite prominently in a serious matter, it’s actually quite rare that a media outlet does nothing when a genuine mistake has been made.
Tip: always talk to the journalist if she/he has made a mistake. Keep the relationship going by avoiding getting heavy. Expect a rational response in putting right that wrong.
(next week, I’ll tell you about a mistake I made and the consequences)