If you’ve never heard of an organisation called the National
Licensing Authority, also known as the NLA Media Access, you’ll soon wish you
This organisation is currently actively slapping fines on organisations
which are breaching copyright laws around sharing of news articles online or
otherwise in the UK. Technically anyone who wants to share any photographic image
or screen shot of a newspaper or magazine article online, or in any other
manner, should have a licence to do so. The licences are expensive, many around
four figures and they recur.
Everyone is affected by this – any individual, any charity,
any school, any business should have a licence if it wants to share such images
online or ‘cuttings’ in the real world. However recently it seems the NLA is
going for small businesses in particular.
Technically as a journalist/PR hybrid, I should have a
licence to share cuttings with my clients – however my licence is unlikely to cover
them for sharing those articles further. Every PR agency in the UK is affected
by this, as will every cutting service as will every freelance journalist. This
is a far reaching and, in my view, extremely damaging activity.
The NLA has a very large membership of newspaper and
magazine groups including the local newspapers and magazines which are part of
Reach plc – and this widely affects Swindon and Wiltshire. Using a copyright
law from the 1980s the NLA are fining organisations for sharing screenshots or
photographs of articles – including front pages, headlines and banners – on
social media platforms and websites for breach of copyright.
The organisation and the publishers claim they are
‘safeguarding journalism’ as ‘it’s not free’ and we should all pay for that
creativity. They claim that businesses are benefitting financially for
‘hosting’ that content on their social media platforms. Yet are they? More on
In an age of open sharing on social media, where everything
is share, share, share, this seems utterly ludicrous. It seems like some kind of
‘scam’. Indeed a news editor of a local newspaper at the heart of this told me
he feared it was just that ‘a scam’.
It’s not, it’s very real as one of my clients (not based in
Wiltshire) found out this week. He was slapped with a seemingly arbitrary fine
of over £5,000 for sharing six articles (as photographs of the hard copy) in
which he appeared in his local paper and one where his business was mentioned in
a national publication which is free. Most of these articles were shared on his
social media several years ago. The NLA had clearly trawled through his social
media to find them and slapped him with a hefty fine. There is no right of
appeal and no breakdown of how the fines are calculated.
He’s not alone. In supporting him I’ve found out more about
the background, and I’ve had contact
with another small business owner who is also facing a similar fine. Together these
two businesses are exploring how they can challenge the fines under the test of
‘fair use’ or ‘fair dealing’.
The truth is the NLA has existed quietly for over 20 years.
Most journalists have not heard of it. When I started asking questions I’ve
been told as a ‘PR’ that I should know all about it. Maybe that’s true but I
did not until a few weeks ago when a post went viral from a small business
owner on Facebook. Three newspaper editors and news editors I’ve dealt with
since also didn’t know about it, so I’m in pretty good company.
After all, how can a private membership organisation enforce
the law of the land just for its members? And not for non-members? How can you
be fined for sharing something in hard copy – yet not if that story is online?
How can you be fined for sharing a photograph of an article which contains a
picture you have provided? How can you be fined for taking part freely in an
editorial story and then sharing it to say thank you to the journalist for
including you? How can you be fined when you have – in most cases – not
received a penny for your time or your contribution or your cooperation? How
can you be fined when the online version of an article offers up social media
icons for you to share on your social media? Isn’t this a two-way street where
we share to help each other?
Apparently not, if the publication is a member of the NLA. The
assumption is that you will have made money for sharing that article in that
way and you have to pay up.
As a journalist I find this devastating. I believe it’s another
nail in the coffin of local newspapers in particular because they depend on
good relationships with local businesses, charities, residents and
organisations to keep going. It will help consign them to history if action is
not taken by journalists to stop this in its tracks.
I was told by a legal mind at Reach plc (and I have the
evidence to prove it) that ‘journalism has to be paid for’. He said that to a
journalist of more than 30 years’ experience, a journalist who lost her job in
television because no one wanted to cover the cost of investigative journalism
I know more than most how tough it is to be a working
journalist today. I’m very lucky that the outlets I write for as a freelancer
are either not members of the NLA or are purely online so I know I can share freely
BECAUSE THEY WANT ME TO SHARE AND THEY WANT ME TO HELP MAKE THEM VISIBLE. Indeed
my modest online reach and audience makes me very attractive as a strategic
The NLA does not safeguard journalism at all in my view.
When a journalist, staff or freelance, writes a story for a publication they often
have to sign away their rights to that copyright (either in a staff contract or
an ad hoc contract). The publisher can use that article across multiple
platforms or publications and generally the journalist gets paid once only. In
fact sometimes those rights extend to the article being used overseas in
related publications too.
I suspect that the publishers belong to this organisation in
the hope that once a year they get a pay-out for people that have ‘stolen’
their content. However be assured the journalists themselves are very unlikely to
see any of that money. It will be sold as a way of them ‘keeping their jobs’ in
a tough environment.
For freelance journalists, this means they need a licence to
show their portfolio to anyone who wants to employ them. After all it’s not
unreasonable for someone to say ‘can I see a sample of your work?” before
employing someone as a freelancer. Anecdoctally I’ve heard that the NLA has
told freelancers they won’t go after journalists. However that’s no guarantee.
This is effectively slamming the door on freelance journalists who need to
evidence their talent just like any other business person or professional.
There’s another reason it’s bad for journalists. They all
rely on good contacts to sell in their stories, particularly to the nationals.
As this becomes known, those contacts will be less willing to take part in
stories or features if they are banned from sharing those stories on their own
Many magazines for example don’t put their content online so
hard copy is the only option. If journalists have to tell case studies ‘you
cannot share this online at any time without a licence’ – there’s little
benefit in taking part. More will demand payment for their time, or their
photographs or they will simply not cooperate. This will damage journalists in
the long term.
It will also of course damage PR companies as well. Some
already have licences so they can share coverage or pass on cuttings to their
clients – however those licences do not (I understand) cover their clients
sharing as well.
What will inevitably happen here is that PRs will advise
clients to focus on online coverage heavily, support those publications which
are not NLA members and also engage more fully with other providers of media
exposure. These might be organisations which host guest blogs, bloggers,
v-loggers, online news services, niche publications which are not NLA members
or uber local publications which are small or overseas media services. Any
outlet which fits into these categories is probably feeling pretty smug by now.
PRs will increasingly ask for online coverage only and
gradually, as more fines are issued, the move away from hard copy will gather
Copyright is important for creatives – there’s no doubt
about that. I’m not saying copyright law is wrong, I’m saying the application
of it in this case is draconian and not fit for purpose in the modern world of
For example photographers will often watermark their images
which deters people from using them without payment being made. Videographers
will have strong copyright terms as I do myself around how a final film can be
presented or changed. Some painters and sculptors will clearly say that no
images of their works can be shared on social media or even photographed and we
have to respect that when it’s been made clear – or face the consequences.
I’ve not seen those clear and present disclaimers in any
magazine or newspaper or made by any journalist writing for them. Indeed,
currently in the NLA’s own blurb to those it wants to fine it says most people
will not even know they are breaking the law. These are empty words as
‘ignorance’ is no defence in law.
However most artists need to do PR to sell their art. Most
share images of their work to make it visible and attractive to buyers. They
encourage their clients to do so too. The more prints an artist sells, the more
the value of the original work rises. Where do you draw the line between what
is reasonable and what is not?
Doesn’t this come down to what is ‘sharing’ and what is
‘stealing’? After all, if I created a newspaper or magazine which was clearly a
rip-off of the local newspaper and called it Fiona Scott’s News or Fiona Scott’s
Magazine – then that’s stealing. There’s nothing original in that.
However if I share an image of one article from one edition of
a newspaper or magazine which appeared on a single day – and I said clearly
where it came from – isn’t that sharing? And what’s the difference between
sharing that as a photograph or a cutting – or sharing an online link to the
For me the NLA is operating is a cynical way to make money
out of people – particularly small business owners at the moment – for doing
something most would assume was actually a good thing.
It’s a way of trying to monetise the online world because
the world of hard copy is slipping away financially. It’s the act of desperate
bean-counters who don’t understand really how true journalism works and how critical
good relationships are for journalism. It’s also a way to consign relevant local
newspapers to history.
Linda Davies-Carr is one of my clients and is known as The Master Fixer. Based in Bristol, Linda works with SMEs all over the UK and internationally helping them become more efficient, more focussed and attuned to their business goals. For more information you can visit her website here – https://www.themasterfixer.com
In her own words here are Linda’s Top 10 considerations for 2018 when it comes to your business:
As we start a new year, as business owners your thoughts turn to all the things you plan to do better. Take the learning from everything that maybe didn’t go as well as planned in 2017 and how to move forward.
So having spent time in business review for 2017 (with 20% looking back and reviewing and 80% planning forward). Here’s my top five business elements to embrace and do more of, and five to avoid like the plague and run away from at breakneck speed.
Outsource outsource outsource
Do what you do best and outsource the rest. You can’t do everything and you need to focus on what you do best. If you’re sitting there and thinking you can’t afford to, my advice is you can’t afford not to.
Develop your influencer marketing strategy
Think of the old age “word of mouth” marketing brought up to date. You don’t have to be a huge name like the Kardashians but you can get savvy with using the testimonials you already have. Use their words, pop them on an image, tell the world in the words of others.
Customers are wary of traditional adverts, with only 33% of consumers trusting them – however, 90% do trust recommendations from their peers. So develop your influencer marketing strategy and use your business reviews and testimonials. If you don’t have any or enough get in the habit of asking – it makes business sense.
Surround yourself with your 2018 epic team. The people who know more than you do. The ones who you go to for their advice, the ones who “get you” the people who have your back, the ones you call when you’re having a wobble, or you just want to have a rant and the ones you call to scream from the rooftops that you’ve pulled it off! Talk to them often, buy them cake – shoot the breeze and love all over them.
Get clear on your business goals.
Be crystal clear on your goal. You need a goal and you need to be able an agile plan that will help you achieve your goal. You need to be able and willing to STRETCH that goal and flexible with your approach. You need to write it down and let those around you know what the goal is.
Know your Numbers
You need to know your numbers. It really matters – I love the quote by Peter Drucker “what gets managed gets measured” and its true. It’s not good enough to not know what your profit margin, revenue or net profit is. We’re in business – decide today whether your business is a business or a hobby.
AVOID LIKE THE PLAGUE
Procrastination is a habit, it’s a bad habit and its an excuse. Indecision is a habit. Procrastination is just a modern day term for choosing to make something else a priority. It’s an active choice. A choice of avoidance. So choose to manage your time more effectively and choose to avoid using procrastination as an excuse.
Customer dislike inconsistency. Inconsistency of service, communication and execution. So choose to be consist in everything you do. It breeds confidence, trust and consideration.
People, customers and friends alike are happier when they know where they stand and what is expected of them. Interestingly most don’t like change. So do what you say and say what you do. Consistency has to be your best friend. Do a little bit every single day – no matter what. It’ll help you’ll be less stressed and you will feel more in control. Leaving everything to the 11th hour never helped anyone.
Don’t avoid LinkedIn
It’s a critical business resource. Its essential that you have a profile – people won’t take you seriously if you don’t! Its the “go to” place to check out your business reputation, credentials and experience. You can connect with people in your industry and in organisations you want to connect with. Your ideal customer is probably hanging out on LinkedIn, so if you’re not – you are missing a trick. So stop scrolling through Facebook looking at pictures of cute cats, or weight loss images and build business relationships and your profile on LinkedIn.
Stop scrolling stop comparing
We always compare our worst with their best. Social media is amazing but let’s be honest it’s where we can see everyone else’s achievements in all their splendid glory.
So when it comes to comparing what’s happening in our lives, it’s pretty hard when we are faced with it day in day out, scroll in scroll out.
Here’s the reality check – YOU STILL DON’T HAVE TO COMPARE!!! Life is not a competition to who earns the most money, whose kids are doing the best at school, or who have the best grades, whose business is moving the fastest, whose got more clients an who is ‘doing better’
The fastest way to ruin your own stuff is to start comparing with other people. Think of when you start to compare and how it makes you feel?
Comparison is a choice. So choose to be smart and make an active choice not do it.
Don’t do what you don’t love
Love what you do and do what you love. Do not compromise, we spend 35+ hours a week working and 40 years of our lives working – its critical therefore that we enjoy what we do – otherwise what is the point? The great news is it’s a choice – so make the right choice and do what you love.
Last week I shared with you my first few days of driving a hybrid vehicle. In this blog, I’ll finish that story and give you some facts about the car.
There was a hard frost so another new challenge. The car took a bit longer to clear than I’m used to but once it got going it defrosted very quickly (I’m a engine on, scraper kind of driver as I don’t like the chemical stuff).
I just tootled around town from meeting to meeting and I used hardly any petrol. This car is definitely very good around town. I also find I’m getting used to the automatic and don’t really have to think about it.
Parking is fine but – being so quiet – I’ve noticed that other road users and pedestrians DO NOT HEAR this car. It has made me even more vigilant.
My home is near a popular cycle route in Swindon and it quickly became obvious that cyclists don’t know you are there and they don’t modify their behaviour or road position.
Several people liked the look of the car and have admired it. The children love the space as my own car is small. They feel it’s spacious and smooth with lots of flashing lights.
In the dark, when you open the car, the dash lights your way which is very appealing.
On my last day, the Toyota Auris Hybrid took me very smoothly to Devizes where I drove around for ages trying to find a long stay car park as it was an all day event.
It turned out to be one of those days where I had to move the car around town twice due to there not being any long stay parking spaces available. Each time I looked forward to getting in it.
I also really like the fact it has front parking sensors – my own car doesn’t – and the wing mirrors also automatically fold when it’s locked. This does two things – reduces the risk of them being knocked in a car park and gives you confidence that you’ve locked the car. It’ s a clear visual clue. My own car does not do this and I feel it’s a bonus to have folding mirrors.
At the end of the working day, I drove the car back to Andrew and must admit I felt a bit sad. I suppose the real question is – would I buy a hybrid car?
The answer is yes, I’d definitely consider it when the time comes. In the five days I’d driven it, I used half a tank of petrol. Given I’d been all round Swindon, across Wiltshire and a longer journey to Cardiff, that’s less fuel consumption than I’d normally expect.
There is also a slight feel good factor that you are trying to do something more positive for the environment. There are also vehicle tax advantages – though the tax on my current car is only £30 a year.
All in all, I was grateful for the opportunity to try the car and would like to thank Andrew Crosby of Fish Brothers Toyota for the opportunity. If you’d like to find out more – please contact Andrew, or one of his colleagues, by calling 01793 467525.
Toyota Auris Hybrid factfile:
Cost – Hybrid range from £20,045 OTR.
Fuel consumption – Up to 78.5 mpg combined.
Engine size: 1.8 petrol + electric motors and battery – total output 136 hp, automatic transmission.
Service intervals: 10k miles or 12 months whichever comes first.
Warranty from new: 5 years or 100k miles.
CO2 from 79 g/km; 13% BIK for company car driver; £0 road tax.
When I arrived to meet Andrew Crosby from Fish Brothers Toyota in Swindon I was in for a shock.
In my mind, I’d be tootling around town in a small two-door hybrid vehicle, my first ever experience of a car powered by batteries and petrol.
The car was brought around and it was, to me, a large family car, four door with an enormous boot. It was a Toyota Auris Hybrid in white.
Not going into too much technical detail it has a battery at the back, an engine at the front and the two work in tandem to offset each other depending on the driving conditions and speed. It’s an automatic which was a new thing for me – as I’d never driven one before.
The electric batteries power the car only for a short distance, around 1.5miles but it kicks in and out as you progress through slow moving traffic. Until you drive such a vehicle over a number of days, you have no real clue as to how useful (and eco friendly) this is. Believe me, I’ve been educated, the electric power kicked in a lot.
So two challenges in one day, driving a new type of vehicle and getting used to keeping my left foot still. Andrew took me for a test drive, stayed with me while I had a go and then I was on my own.
By the way and I’ll say this upfront, this car also parks itself but I knew at this stage, I just didn’t have the bottle to try to parallel park relying on the car. I need a space big enough to park a jet in at the best of times, and I couldn’t quite bring myself to trust the car to do it for me.
As I drove the car back home to my office, the first thing which hits you is that it’s so quiet. So very quiet that you almost feel as if the car has stalled when you stop and you initially feel out of control, as if you are coasting in neutral. It’s quite a big mental hurdle to overcome. I knew this would take some time to deal with – every person who got in the car with me commented freely on how quiet it was.
You don’t realise how much you rely on listening to your car and its sounds, until those sounds are not there.
My first proper ‘outing’ was the school run which took me a couple of miles from my central Swindon home. Once again, starting the car demonstrated how silent it is – and at this stage it still feels very strange.
The electric power is engaged at very low speed and when in traffic (which is often in Swindon) so far so good. It’s a smooth ride but I had a couple of niggles. The clock favours the passenger so it’s hard to see and I realise I check the time a lot. In my own car the clock is more central and slightly down to my left, I’m so used to looking at it, having to look elsewhere is odd.
Also there is a compartment or elbow rest next to the driver’s seat which is at the wrong level for me. It would be at the right level if you were taller – but I kept banging my elbow on it.
I’ve had this before in other cars – my current car doesn’t have this arm rest and my previous car had one which could be moved backwards.
Solution? Keep the lid open all of the time.
Day Two was a real test for the car as it was a busy day out and about around town then off to Cardiff for an event and overnight stay.
From early morning the car took me to West Swindon, Old Town, Royal Wootton Bassett and Purton. It performed well and is a dream to drive because it’s such a smooth ride. I’ve not noticed any real loss of power – my own car is a 2 litre and this one is a 1.8. However it doesn’t have the acceleration of my own car and I’m still getting used to that slight delay as the automatic moves through the gears ‘on its own’.
The rear view mirror is a bit narrow for my liking – although the car has a reversing camera. As I know quite a bit about cameras, they are great for some reverse moves but the truth is the perspective is distorted and you cannot see the sides. Therefore I’m reluctant to rely soley on the camera.
Written as I sit in the hotel in Cardiff prior to my first meeting of the day. Yesterday I had travelled to the city in the most appalling weather conditions, pretty scary in a car you don’t know well.
It performed well and was smooth though occasionally felt buffeted by the very strong winds. Having said that, any car would have been bounced by the high winds and driving rain.
The car got me safely to two meetings in different parts of the city. As most of the journey was with petrol on the M4, fuel consumption seemed about the same as normal. It appears that around town you use very little fuel, but on a longer journey, the petrol is used up very much at the same rate as my existing car which is a diesel.
One thing is that it can be easy to speed in this car because it’s so quiet. As I was trying to find my way to my first meeting in central Cardiff, I was flashed by a static camera. No excuses here – it’s my fault for going too fast but I just hadn’t realised I was over the speed limit until it was too late. And yes, I was caught on camera doing 35 in a 30mph zone and am now awaiting my fate.
I’m not blaming the car for this but please take this as a warning. If you are considering purchasing a car such as this, give yourself a good few days to get used to it’s ‘sounds’ or lack of them. This is especially if you are driving in an area which is unfamiliar.
Also I did have some problems with the blue tooth audio, it kept cutting out and I’m not sure why. This was while travelling in Wiltshire – I didn’t use the blue tooth on the way to Cardiff, the weather was simply too appalling to talk to anyone on the phone. Radio was fine though.
I must admit I’m not keen on the cover of the steering wheel as it’s very smooth – I personally prefer something with more grip. But that’s a very personal preference.
The boot is great, could easily fit a pushchair and bags. My overnight bag, business banner, laptop and other paperwork was utterly lost in the space.
Next week – part two – my last two days and a fact file on the Toyota Auris Hybrid.
By Fiona Scott, journalist and media consultant
Having worked as a journalist for almost 30 years, it still amazes me how blinkered small businesses can be when it comes to PR or story-telling.
Entrepreneurs, in my experience, tend to fall into three categories:
One – the company owner who thinks they have no stories or nothing to say.
Two – the company owner who thinks their business is the hottest topic in town.
Three – the business owner who just understands and embraces the organic process that is PR and the need to keep telling stories in order to create selling opportunities down the line.
Guess which one is the easiest to work with?
Even in the last month I’ve dealt with, and passed on, three businesses which only want ‘national’ publicity and aren’t interested in the local or regional press.
My answer? In our digital age – what is national? Isn’t anything which hits the internet potentially global?
Also with our access to social media on its various platforms – aren’t we in the best position to make our stories work much harder through sharing, asking for shares and commenting – even if that original story appeared in the local High Street News online?
All businesses have stories to tell but you must consider what is a story and where can it be told?
A ‘fixtures and fittings’ magazine wants to hear about fixtures and fittings – it’s reach is narrow. The Cheltenham newspaper wants a story which says Cheltenham, it’s reach is specific.
National journalists in the UK have much more stringent criteria because they have a big pond in which to fish.
Even when your story meets their criteria – whether on or offline – that story will have to compete with other stories on the table.
Are there any short cuts? Perhaps.
You can employ a PR agency which may, or may not, deliver against your expectations.
You can always advertise – but you need a big budget for this and you have to keep doing it over time. Ask yourself, when was the last time you read a paid-for ad in a national newspaper?
If you are aligned with a celebrity or someone with a very high profile, you could shoot up the priority list. If Bill Gates invests in your business, brace yourself for the interest – in Bill Gates first and you, second.
Even if you meet these criteria, a national journalist will check you out online to measure your profile – they will assess your website, and while you may not rate local publicity, they often will. In many cases, they started in the local media and they rate it, even if you do not.
It doesn’t matter whether you agree or disagree with the news agenda, or how you feel about it – this is the reality and no amount of bluff, bluster or spitting of feathers will change it.
Putting it bluntly, here are five things national journalists don’t care about:
They don’t care that you are busy and don’t have time – they are busy too and if you can’t be bothered, they won’t notice.
They don’t care what product you produce or service you offer unless they are talking about that product or service on that day – anything else is advertising.
They don’t care about the fact they’ve not replied to your emails or the emails of your PR company – they have hundreds each day and they will have forgotten every single one on a busy shift.
They don’t care about your mission statement – they want facts they can work with, not vague wishy-washy dithering.
They often don’t care about the day-to-day of small businesses – even small business editors will look for the biggest, best, smallest, worst, most unusual, first and last.
Faced with this, my top tips are:
National journalists want stories which have a national interest or are extremely unusual or moving. They often want something new, topical with an opinionated and outspoken view or some kind of jeopardy or conflict.
But more than anything else – they want a story which meets their need at that moment, that day, that week. Meet that need.
The first place they will start to find that burning story – is within their own circle of contacts and experience. Enter that circle.
Relationships have to be built and nurtured, just like any other business relationship. It takes time and effort. Make the effort.
And remember the one key thing in business and in PR – it’s all about people, people, people.
Do you want to appear in the national press? Do you want to be interviewed on national radio? Do you want to be featured in a high quality national magazine?
If the answer to any of these questions is yes – please read on.
I attended an event in London last week called Meet The Journalists – organised by Dan Martin of Enterprise Nation. You may well ask ‘why would a journalist want to meet other journalists?’ – in my case it was to make new contacts face to face but also to ensure my thinking about the national media and the advice I share with my clients is actually up-to-date and accurate. It was.
The event was attended by many small business people and PR people and it was sold out. What interested me was the behaviour of some of those who attended. First of all, when invited to ask questions – several people launched into a long pitch about their business. Often very desperately as if they had to speak at 100mph and share their long story in 30 seconds flat. This demonstrated to me they saw this as an opportunity to pitch, not to ask. Rather like the hard sale at a networking event and probably likely to yield the same result.
The next thing which interested me was the way in which a few small business owners wanted to whine and bleat at the journalists about how hard their lives are, how they try to get publicity but are ignored and how they don’t have time to make the effort to engage these journalists. There was a sense from some in the audience the journalists had some kind of ‘duty’ to tell their story. Again, this is a familiar ditty which I hear week in and week out. For me, it’s also a sign of a business which probably won’t last. It’s no good telling a journalist you haven’t got time – they aren’t interested. Listening and acting efficiently on the tips they share is one of the best ways to spend marketing time surely. Or hire someone to do it for you. Simple.
A third thing which really got my attention was the way in which a national journalist will decide if your business is worth more than a cursory glance. I know how the news agenda works – when in television day in an day out, a story was often not deemed newsworthy until it had appeared in a newspaper somewhere first. Personally I could never understand that – a good story is a good story. However it often worked that way.
Now, the journalists clearly have a pattern of research and – surprise, surprise – it’s very similar to anyone’s pattern of research.
In a national arena where they write about the biggest, the best, the richest, the worst, the least – they will not write about the mediocre. If a national journalist is interested at all in you, they will look you or your business up on the internet first. If your website is done by your cousin’s child and cost you 50p you are out straightaway. If there are no news stories already there about you to reinforce your credibility – you are at a huge disadvantage. If national or international profile is your goal – you have to be present in a way that can be found easily and quickly.
Finally, some national journalists positively want to hear from the little guy or the little gal but not every day and not on stories which are not of national interest. If you are hiring your first employee – that’s not going to cut it. If you are hiring that expert from Flog It!, that might get their attention. However, if they are writing about apprenticeships and you have hired your first apprentice – well, that’s a toe in straightaway. So my final piece of advice is this – keep on top of the news agenda every day and, if it fits you or your business, become part of the story by proactively letting them know that you are around – and you are available.
On February 13 this year my friend Ainslie died of breast cancer after fighting the dreaded disease for 12 years. I knew Ainslie was going to die, at the time of her death she had cancer in her brain, was wheelchair bound and her body was less and less able to function. Given that I knew she was going to leave, I was always so sure I’d know when the time came. However I did not.
It was a full 24 hours later – while away with my family on a weekend break – when I got the text from her husband Phil to tell me she’d gone. I went into the state of shock which comes when someone who is part of your life is taken, a parting even worse if that someone is young, in this case just 47. My son told me he’d never heard me cry like that.
Ainslie, who fought breast cancer for 12 years
I asked him what he meant. After all, I’m so soft I’ll cry at a tv advertisement which pulls on the heart strings. He’s seen me cry regularly, hundreds of times. He just said ‘it wasn’t like that’. I think he meant I was howling – making that kind of sound you make when you are almost separate from yourself wondering why on earth you are emitting such a strange, animal noise.
When home, i visited Phil and Alex to see them following Ainslie’s passing. It’s one of those moments you dread but know you have to face and I did it with one of my children who felt she wanted to be there. It was such a shock to walk into the house and see Ainslie looking at me from the sofa – my heart flipped. Perhaps there’d been a mistake – but how could there be? It was actually Ainslie’s sister, Lindsay, who looks like her, or who looks like her before cancer took over Ainslie’s body and tried – but did not succeed – to rob her of her essential self.
What do you do when your friend dies from cancer? When you could do absolutely nothing to help her when she was here apart from being there? You can – donate money to her funeral fund, you can support her family in the days following her death, offer to do some practical things like cook meals, do shopping, clean the house. However, having suffered loss myself before – that’s not where the best and most positive route lies. Do those things. Do them as a matter of course, but don’t let that be it. The best route for me lies in letting everyone know this person mattered weeks, months or years down the line. For everyone achieving that may look different.
I lost my dad when he was 58 and I remember him daily by talking about him and ensuring my children know what he looked like, the funny things he said and did. What he did or didn’t like. How he influenced me for good and ill. When I lost my brother in law at just 49, it was about honouring his children, seeing him in them, trying to support my sister through the worst times of her life – and trying to keep on doing it even when it’s hard to do so. That’s family. But what about a close friend?
When I went to Ainslie’s house to see Phil and their son Alex, following her death. Alex and Phil told me they had a plan. In her journal, Ainslie had said how sad she was that she was unable to see Alex achieve his first century at cricket. Alex is a rising young star on the Wiltshire cricket scene and the sport is his passion – as it is Phil’s who is a sports journalist and qualified cricket coach. Why was Ainslie unable to see her son play on that day? As a wheelchair user, the cricket club where Alex plays regularly has very poor wheelchair access and nowhere for a disabled or very ill person to view a match safely or in any degree of comfort. Although very proud of her son, Ainslie’s wish to see him play could not be fulfilled. Her journal revealed the true extent of her sadness.
Now I know nothing about cricket save it can involve teams dressed in white carrying bats, using very hard red balls and the word ‘runs’ comes into it. It’s not a sport I’ve ever been interested in and my only abiding memory of it is the novelist DH Lawrence refers to the ‘chocking’ of the cricket ball hitting the bat in one of his novels. I’ve always liked the word ‘chock’. When Phil & Alex asked if I would support them in a five year project to rebuild the cricket pavilion at the Purton Cricket Club in Wiltshire so that no other wheelchair user would be denied access – I said yes.
As I said before, I could do nothing to help Ainslie while she was alive battling this horrible, disgusting disease – but this is something I can do. I can do my little bit to support Phil & Alex as they attempt to create a legacy in Ainslie’s name at a cricket club which will be 200 years old in 2020. I’m proud to have been asked and I’m proud to do my bit.
Could you do your bit by sharing this blog post? It will be one of many charting this journey over the next few years and highlighting events to raise money. At this early stage, just over £5,000 has been raised to get the project off the ground. It will be a long journey ahead with obstacles, hurdles and great moments. But it will never be anything like the journey which went before….so this is what I’m doing for my friend Ainslie….
Today I’m thinking about manners – manners at home and manners in business. Manners online and manners offline.
As I was driving around my home town today, yet another motorist pulled from a merging lane in front of me – I gave way, which I didn’t have to do – I then waited for an acknowledgement of that act. But nothing happened. The driver didn’t wave, flash lights or in any way say ‘thanks’ for that.
I realised how quickly we will judge people when they act without manners – and the truth is that man probably didn’t give it a second thought. He probably didn’t even realise or care that I thought he’d been rude. However if I met him again how would I feel about him? Hardly a good first impression.
There are, of course, times in our lives when we don’t really care how people ‘feel’ about us. That’s normal. Frankly, sometimes people deserve it and we have to stand up for ourselves.
However in most business scenarios, the way we make people feel is very important. It’s so easy to annoy, upset or irritate someone when we’ve actually done nothing wrong. People can be affected by other factors which have nothing to do with our behaviour. However at that particular moment, we may annoy or anger someone simply by being there – or even by not being there.
So why would anyone risk making someone feel negative by not doing something as simple as saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ on a regular, daily basis? Manners are, for me, a sign of being both professional but empathetic. It means the person I’m engaging with is considering me and engaging with me at a personal level. I respond well to anyone who:
*allows me to go through a door first – be they male or female.
* ensures when they are with me they are not distracted by other things eg. a mobile phone.
* says thank you at appropriate moments.
I feel my heckles rise if someone:
* talks to me as though they are issuing commands – no matter what they are talking about.
* takes a telephone call or starts texting or reading on their phone during a conversation (unless there’s an emergency)
* chooses to respond to any kind of communication by ignoring it.
I’m not just talking about business here. My son has a birthday party soon and has invited a handful of children. Several parents have already let me know they can attend. Some have not. Of those, two parents have told me their child cannot attend but only because I’ve had to chase them. Where are the manners in that? If I had not chased, my child is denied an opportunity of inviting other friends in their stead. Also if they just don’t turn up on the day, I have to pay for them, whether or not they attend. This is, to me, the height of bad manners. I make a point of always letting fellow parents know a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ as soon as possible. I’m often staggered at some people’s capacity to completely disregard the needs of others.
Don’t be afraid to share your bad manners (or great manners) stories with me. I’d love to hear them and I might share some if that’s okay.
I’m going go to ignore you because I can….
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.
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….
Today I was asked to write a blog post about Twitter – so I’m happy to oblige.
Why? Well, as a media consultant and journalist I often hear comments like ‘why bother with Twitter?’ or ‘I’m on Twitter but I’ve no idea what to do’.
These phrases are familiar because a few years ago that’s exactly what I thought. When I became self-employed in 2009, I had a Twitter account which sat there doing absolutely nothing. I would occasionally send out a tweet but couldn’t really see how much good it would do for me in business.
However after about 18 months, for some reason, I really thought about it compared with other social media platforms. I realised it’s potentially a great way to connect with people – and here’s the key thing – very quickly with minimum effort. Also as a journalist, I’m often looking for good stories so this could be an effective way to achieve another good outcome. So I set myself a challenge – to give Twitter a year and try to systematically build my audience to work for me more effectively.
I put out of my mind the fact that Twitter is global, has billions of accounts, loads of spam accounts and can be risky in terms of trolling etc. I trusted my common sense to deal with these issues as they arose (and they have from time to time and I’ve dealt with them as needed). I decided to use Twitter according to my agenda, my audience and my desired business reach. Therefore good connections for me are in the south west and London, they are people rather than organisations and one key thing – I share, I share a lot, I share as much as I tweet and I share things which interest me or which I think are generally interesting. If you do this, I guarantee at some point someone will say to you ‘I really enjoy your Twitter feed you share some good stuff’ or ‘Oh yes, I saw you talking about that on Twitter’. You are creating your own news service.
Very quickly, having made that decision to take Twitter seriously, it became addictive and I got engaged in various conversations. I then decided to think about the best times to tweet – and you will find me talking most in the evenings and the mornings.
However the pivotal moment came when I saw a tweet asking for someone who could write a script and who had experience in the education sector. I answered as I met those criteria with a phrase ‘that’s me’. That tweet led to another tweet, which led to an email which led to a telephone conversation which led to a paid-for trip to London for a meeting which then led to a project which paid me £3,000. This was a short-term piece of work which I could relate directly back to a single tweet with a company which would never have found me – or vice versa – if it wasn’t for this amazing social platform.
That sold me on Twitter and I’ve had many great outcomes since. I’ve been offered work by people who’ve engaged with me, made the effort to research me online and then offered me work. I’ve been able to place publicity for clients and myself, and I’ve raised my profile in my own community in the south west. I will often go into a room full of business people – many of whom I’ve never met – and people start talking to me as if they know me. Talk about the best ice-breaker.
Another outcome is that those who are beginners now pay me to get them started on Twitter – a totally unexpected outcome. So I’ve actually put my ad hoc strategy into something more strategic and started to apply it across Facebook and, more recently Pinterest. I don’t claim to be an expert, I just understand the concept of social conversation over the internet and how to control some of that conversation. I’m still discovering and I often go to workshops by others to increase my own personal knowledge.
My top tips are:
Really be clear as to what is a good outcome on Twitter for you. That way you can track success.
When you make a clear connection – take the conversation from the virtual world to the real world.
Share, share, share.
And finally please follow me @mum3fi