Victoria Ruffy

PR Spotlight with Victoria Ruffy, founder of Little Red

Victoria Ruffy has had a varied career, having worked across verticals from pharmaceuticals to business, food/drink and tech for small agencies and at major players including Cohn and Wolfe and Weber Shandwick. After time as head of PR at Samsung, Victoria wanted to use all her experience to build an agency of her own that was ‘relationships and results first’, and the idea for Little Red was hatched.

With PR teams across the country recovering from the whirlwind of lockdown, changing customer needs and redrawn business plans, Victoria shares her thoughts on whether PR can ever go back to the way things were before March 2020, which sectors are likely to bounce back first and how the industry can use this opportunity to make lasting improvements to its ways of working for the future.

What are your main interests at Little Red
I am really interested now in how brands talk directly to their consumer. Post-corona (can I say that yet?), I’ve enjoyed seeing brands sharpen their focus and realise how important direct conversation with consumers is, whether that’s through social media (for so long an area so many were just playing with), customer services, their digital footprint or through traditional media.

As we are often the facilitators to that, we have to have a passion for the brands we work on and we have that in spades at Little Red. Our client list is a decade in the making and I am really proud of this meticulously curated portfolio. I am also tremendously excited at the brands who will be added to this shortly.

How has the team had to change its ways of working and strategies during lockdown?
From the offset, we have had to adapt to the new world of WFH by focusing more on digital press and honing the magazines/newspapers with high subscriber numbers. With events and briefings cancelled, we have moved to the virtual world to continue doing both, despite the situation. We are very much maintaining a ‘business as usual’ approach where we can!

I think working from home is here to stay for Little Red, as I have never felt so calm nor in control with an in-depth understanding of the skills of my team as I do now. Tabby Grove, a senior account executive on our team, has loved lockdown so much she’s written a blog about it on our website – it’s a real ode to the craft of PR. Go read it!

Do you have any plans for an eventual return to the office?
Many of us are really thriving in this new environment working from home, with productivity increasing day-by-day. We’ve had our best coverage over the last two months – more than ever before in the company’s history! We can only plan to return to our Berkshire HQ when it is safe for everyone to do so; there will be staggered arrival times, distanced desks and only a reduced team based in the office each day.

What tech has been helping you and your team working through the current crisis?
We are very lucky to all have been able to get up and go with our laptops when lockdown was announced. We have moved to agile working practices, working in sprints and have made use of Microsoft Teams for our morning stand ups and Zoom to host mega virtual events like never before. You can see a case study of our latest one for Smeg on our website – we had 60 press attend! I’ll happily admit Microsoft Teams is a bit of a game changer for me in terms of inbox management.

Do you think the industry can return to the way things were before?
No. Flexible working, thank God, is here to stay. As a mother, I welcome it with open arms. As a morning person, it’s been a revelation to have this flexibility to start super early and finish early.

From a PR perspective, the seismic shift away from the high street will see so many more brands selling direct and thus demanding a more robust social media strategy. Community management will increase and the rise of TikTok should not be ignored. Younger consumers are content creators, not necessarily content consumers in the way previous generations have been.

Traditional PR will not go away but it will work hand in hand with a clear digital strategy – one that complements and supports the other. Press coverage is the King/Queen of content.

Which particular sectors among your client base do you see making the quickest recovery post-pandemic?
The interiors and design sector I think will see a sharp increase as consumers are faced with looking at those pain points at home and have the time to fix them. Tech will stay strong as those brands are used to constantly evolving through innovation. Nimble start-ups will thrive in these uncertain times as they are unafraid of change and pressure often drives the entrepreneurs that run them.

The PR industry has a diversity problem – what can agencies do to create diverse teams and support BAME colleagues into higher positions?
I am very aware of the lack of diversity in PR and have at times felt unsure of what I should do as a company owner. It’s simply not enough to say ‘I don’t get the applicants’. Recent events have given me the ignition to be unafraid and get stuck in. I have always proactively reached out to potential candidates for roles on LinkedIn instead of feeling frustrated at the lack of diversity in our applications and we will continue to do this.

We are also finalising the details of working with a BAME women’s refuge to offer taster days and work experience for the women and the children of the women supported by this charity. Watch this space for more details of this.

We proactively advise our clients to work with a diverse portfolio of freelancers, media and influencers and will continue to champion the rights of BAME individuals to be heard and represented in this space and all spaces.

We are consciously ensuring that all our communication will make all applicants for any roles feel welcome. I want to assure people that Little Red is a great place to work and everyone is welcome here.

What do you love most about working in the PR industry, and would you recommend this as a career?

The rush of seeing my clients in print still gets me every time, but I think more and more it has to be the people. I have made some truly epic friends through this job – journalists, media and clients and as a real people person I’m not sure I could live without it. I’ve realised that the rush I get from seeing brands in print is because I truly care about the people behind the brands and it makes me feel good to build meaningful change and progression for their cause, whether that is a pivoting start-up or an icon like Smeg.

PR is a magnificent industry for self-motivated individuals who love independence. As a woman, I love it because it has given me the flexibility to have a family and a beautiful daughter alongside a tremendously fulfilling career.

Read more about Little Red on its website littlered.co.uk and find the team tweeting @LittleRedPR.

Lauren Pope

3 tips for keeping your brand consistent across social platforms

This is a guest post from Lauren Pope, editorial team lead at G2.

MySpace. Zenga. Friendster. YikYak. These are the social media platforms of yesterday.

They started as digital spaces for people to chat with their friends and connect with others around the world. Nobody could have predicted that they would pave the way for the social media giants of today. If you work in digital marketing, you’re already aware that social media is no longer a ‘nice to have’. Platforms that used to be reserved for company photos and updates are now powerful social selling machines.

Social media is another traffic source that can be used to drive potential customers to your website. And just like your other branded accounts, you should be focusing on keeping your message consistent on social media and keeping an eye on your online reputation. This guide will show you how to optimise your social media to ensure your brand shines through the noise of a crowded feed.

1. Find your brand voice
Your brand is the personality of your company. And while social media allows you a bit more freedom with what you post, you need to ensure that the heart of your brand is in everything you send out. Decide early on what your social persona looks like and create your strategy around that. Is your brand serious or playful? Do you stick to the messaging or is your copy more off-the-cuff?

Choosing the right persona for your brand on social media is the first step to ensuring continuity. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different brand voices across channels. Your LinkedIn persona will be a bit different from your Instagram persona. Tailor your tone for the social media platform you’re posting on. Authenticity always wins out in the end.

2. Create branded social media assets
Social media is undeniably visual. Buzzsumo found that posts with images receive 2.3 times more engagement than those without. But creating social media images takes time and effort. If you’re looking for an easy way to keep your branding consistent without overloading your graphic designer, here’s a tip you can use.

Use a graphic designer app or platform like Canva to create premade templates that anyone on your team can access. Many of these platforms also have the ability to create brand kits where you can upload logos, colors, and fonts. This means anyone creating graphics for social media are using the same assets, ensuring brand consistency no matter who is posting. This strategy also takes the burden off of your design team and encourages the rest of your team to be creative and sharpen their own skills.

3. Keep it consistent
The key to a successful social media strategy is consistency. Simply showing up every day and posting will get you more engagement and followers than any quick-hack you might see online.

Many companies employ the use of a social media suite in order to pre-schedule content. This allows you to work ahead, create assets, and then schedule them to go out automatically. Many of these tools also include social listening features that allow you to track your brand mentions and when people are engaging with you. These robust platforms have become must-have solutions for any company hoping to elevate their social media game.

Social media isn’t the future, it’s what’s happening right now
Invest in social media in your marketing plan and you’ll be surprised at the kind of opportunities you can create for your company. Everyone in your business should view social media as an extension of the work they are doing. When used correctly, social media is the glue that holds your digital brand together.

Lauren is a content marketing team lead at G2 with five years of content marketing experience. You can find her work featured on CNBC, Hubspot, Yahoo Finance, and on the G2 Learning Hub. In her free time, Lauren enjoys listening to podcasts, watching true crime shows, and spending time in the Chicago karaoke scene – connect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter.

CovidComms Awards

CorpComms magazine launches the CovidComms Awards

The last few months have been some of the most extraordinary with CV19 disrupting every aspect of how we live and work. Under intense pressure, PR and Communications teams have grappled with ever changing news, health and policy announcements to maintain campaigns and keep people informed. The industry’s efforts have been vital to navigating this crisis which is why Vuelio is delighted to partner with CorpComms to launch the CovidComms Awards.

These awards recognise the exceptional efforts of PR and Communications teams and are designed to be as inclusive as possible – including categories free to enter. For those with a cost to enter, £10 from each entry will go to a charity that will be confirmed in the next weeks. The entirely virtual awards will include an online night of celebration with chance to listen and share best practice in the run up to the final results.

Natalie Orringe, CMO, Vuelio said: ‘We’ve heard first hand just how challenging the past months have been for the PR and Communications industry who have responded to the crisis with exceptional effort. We’ve heard of teams working round the clock to maintain public health announcements to professionals volunteering to help charities inundated with requests. Well done to CorpComms for launching this Awards programme which will help us to recognise and learn from the hard work that has gone on through the crisis.’

For more information about the awards, or to enter, check out www.covidcommsawards.com.

Glynn Davis

Beer Blogger Spotlight: Glynn Davis, Beer Insider

If you have plans for the pub coming up (while staying safely-socially-distanced, of course), grab some quick recommendations for beverages to sup and sample from Beer Insider blogger Glynn Davis – ‘There’s always something new and exciting around the corner, especially now. Beer has never been so interesting and vibrant’.

How did you originally get started with writing about beer/the beer industry?
For ten years, I judged the annual pub awards for The Publican magazine and was then finally asked by the editor that maybe I should write some pieces for them!

What’s your favourite thing to post about and why?
Interviews with people who have an opinion and put forward interesting insights.

Any particular pubs or bars you’re really missing during the lockdown?
The Great Northern Railway Tavern in Hornsey, North London, and the Bohem Tap Room (I co-own Bohem Brewery).

What’s the first beer you ever tried, and do you still drink it occasionally?
Timothy Taylor’s Landlord Bitter. And the first album I bought was Never Mind the Bollocks by the Sex Pistols. Sometimes you just hit the bullseye with the first dart.

Any beers or breweries that have stopped being produced/producing that you wish were still around?
No. There’s always something new and exciting around the corner, especially now. Beer has never been so interesting and vibrant. No need to look back.

For people who don’t drink, can you recommend a good non-alcoholic beer that still comes close to the taste of the alcoholic version?
None. It’s not my cup of tea. Actually, I’d rather have a cup of tea, or coffee.

For PRs looking to work with you and your blog/website, how would you prefer they approach you and with what kind of content?
Email is fine.

What other blogs do you check out regularly (whether beer-related or not)?
None with any great zeal. Certainly no other beer blogs. I spend more time looking at blogs about retail as this is the main subject that I write about. The sister site to Beer Insider is Retail Insider.

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Dad's Delicious Dinners

Dad Blogger Spotlight: Ian Northeast, Dad’s Delicious Dinners

If your plans of writing a book, taking up new hobbies, or passing on essential life skills to your loved ones during lockdown haven’t quite become reality, you’re not alone. While life stays busy, even in self-isolation, blogger Ian Northeast is sharing quick fix meals for the family over at Dad’s Delicious Dinners.

How did you originally get started with writing about parenting?
My blog started as a personal recipe book. I was attempting to bring new recipes to the dinner table and wanted somewhere I could store them for future use. I started to share these recipes with friends and family and then it then dawned on me that other families may find them useful as well.

The blog evolved fairly quickly and I started to share my take on parenting. Within a year, it had developed into what it is today.

What’s your favourite thing to post about and why?
I love to write about the things we do as a family, anything from playing games to camping trips or holidays. It is interesting to see the content change as the kids grow up. I’m also not shy to write about more in depth topics such as dealing with teenagers who like to push boundaries or learning about body changes with my nine-year-old daughter. It’s a wonderful feeling knowing that other families may find it helpful.

How have you had to change your approach to blogging, or your content, during the COVID-19 crisis?
As lockdown was announced, I had this romantic idea that I could teach the kids some life skills. Changing a car tyre, loading a washing machine, making things out of wood, etc. I also thought to myself that I could finally finish the book I’m writing.

In reality, the first few weeks were a mix of chaos and mess. Home learning, fitting work and blogging in, housework and of course cooking. Eventually we found a happy medium and we all settled into a relatively normal routine.

Realising I probably wasn’t alone with this, I decided to create some easy, quick recipes with easy to source ingredients. I also ran a back to basics campaign, with bread making, pasta making and lots of other things that the kids loved to help with.

As time settled, we did manage to fit in some of the life skill stuff, so I even managed a few articles about our bird table creation and other similar bits.

How will lockdown have changed the way those co-parenting view their family duties and how they share responsibilities? Will we see more men embracing being stay at home dads?
If we can take just one thing from this crisis, I honestly hope it is that more workplaces take a different view on flexible working. Allowing parents to be home with their family more. Being a single dad, I get to be with my kids a lot. It has been lovely hearing about and seeing other dads, who may only have limited time with the kids normally, embrace this period.

How would you recommend parents currently struggling with working from home with their family duties deal with the difficulties?
This has been the hardest part of the lockdown. I work for myself and also help out with a non-profit social enterprise, together with keeping my blog up to date. So, finding that happy space where they and my family life worked together took some time. However, I decided early on that the kids should be my number one priority. If needed, the rest could wait. So yeah, blog posts were often published a few days later than planned and I did lose out on some earning potential with my day job. But, during this weird and often stressful period, I wanted to make sure the kids knew I was around for them at all times.

Best no-fuss stress-free family meal for busy times?
The kids’ favourite recipe on my blog is my chicken shish kebab recipe. It takes very little time to prepare and tastes amazing. It is also a lot healthier than the takeaway version.

Other than that, I use my slow cooker a lot. It’s great to be able to chuck everything in it first thing in the morning and then come dinner time, you have a delicious meal.

For PR and brands looking to work with you and your blog/website, how would you prefer they approach you and with what kind of content?
I am more than happy to work with PRs and brands, either via my social media or posts/articles on the blog and brand ambassador roles. I will be happy to discuss any content, as long as it fits within my current content. The best way to connect with me is by email.

What other blogs do you check out regularly (whether parenting-related or not)?
I follow a wide range of other bloggers. I was fortunate enough to meet Zoey and Kelly from Our Transitional Life at last year’s Online Influence Awards. Their blog is truly inspirational, so I try not to miss any of their new posts. I also love the writing style and content that Enda over at Endastories creates, too.

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PRFest 2020

PR with Purpose at PRFest 2020

This year’s PRFest featured a packed programme of speakers on a mission to create space to share experience, learn and collaborate on some of the toughest challenges facing the industry.

In the weeks before the event, there had been some criticism levelled around the diversity of speakers which had been tackled head on by organiser Laura Sutherland. Acknowledging that mistakes had been made and needed to be learnt from, she had consulted with industry bodies including the PRCA, CIPR and Taylor Bennett Foundation to develop the DRIVEN manifesto which was published on day one of PRfest. This provides an excellent platform for any organisation seeking to make changes when it comes to diversity which, as Laura recognised, needs action and leadership to stay accountable into the longterm.

Alongside sessions on Diversity, PRfest continued its theme of supporting PR professionals to stay ahead of best practise and innovation. Speakers ranged from Vuelio’s very own CMO Natalie Orringe on tech and how this can unlock growth for PRs; to Simon Francis, Chair of the PRCA Council and Founder Member of Campaign Collective on how to embed social impact into communications strategy.

A consistent thread during the two day festival was the impact of COVID which had fundamentally changed every aspect of work. Clearly, there were some positive outcomes such as increased recognition of the importance of PR and communications strategy but negatives included missing the face to face interaction so important to creativity.

The need for the industry to adapt was referred to in Natalie’s presentation that highlighted how the lockdown had sped adoption of tech. At its most immediate was the almost blanket adoption of Zoom (MSTeams, Facetime…) for everything from pitches to client briefings; to turning to social media analysis to identify audience trends rather than rely on face to face research. According to Natalie, this shift had to be seen as part of broader, macro trends including information overload and the convergence of PR and marketing that made it essential PR professionals better understood what tools and tech were available to unlock opportunities.

‘We’re in a perfect storm where the industry has to recognise that technology from tools that automate ROI to identify audiences are critical to the job,’ believes Natalie. ‘Our core skill set needs to include data modelling along with understanding of which tools are most appropriate to how our organisation needs us to report (and determine where to put resource)’

‘The good news is that the Martech landscape is evolving constantly; tools do not need to be expensive but they do need to be part of our everyday planning.’

For more from the lessons and advice shared at this year’s PRFest (and to sign up for next year’s event), check out the website and sign up for updates here. And for help on the tech front, check out Vuelio products that will make things easier.

Dominic Baliszewski

How to win the game when the rules have changed – marketing in 2020

This guest post comes from Dominic Baliszewski, co-founder of YOURS . SINCERELY.

The impact of this year’s unpredicted events in the marketing and PR world has been huge. As co-founder of marketing and comms agency YOURS . SINCERELY, like many of us in the industry, understanding what good looks like in the ‘new normal’ is essential for my day-to-day life. In an effort to explore this, we’ve looked at some emerging insights below and will be discussing these in more detail with founders and UK business marketing leaders on 2 July – sign up for free here.

The biggest change our industry has ever seen

Marketing is always evolving and changing – but this usually takes the form of innovations moving to the mainstream over months and years. As marketers, we all have a fairly good understanding of what works and what ‘good’ looks like.

Want to build a killer marketing strategy? No problem, start by understanding the audience, defining the objectives and then building a channel plan involving tried and tested tactics.

Then, in March this year, everything changed – with this impacting PR and marketing professionals in a big way.

At the end of Q2, as lockdown began, entire industries were suddenly paused and the wider marketing landscape saw the biggest shake-up it has ever seen – and all of this happened overnight. Major advertisers (like travel and leisure) pulled budget, leaving some inventory at record low prices with this balanced by certain channels practically worthless – after all, who wants to pay for a billboard if no one is walking past it?

Marketers across the UK, and the world, were forced to rip up their marketing plans for the year and spin on a dime – but the landscape had changed, and all the previous wisdom about what works was no longer valid.

What’s working in the new normal?

The good news is that we are now seeing some consistency in trends emerging, and some good insight into what works:

The ever-growing importance of authenticity

Prior to lockdown, people were increasingly engaging with brands who were honest and transparent in their approach, and this has only been accelerated by the period of uncertainty. Only by delivering an authentic message that clearly communicates how your product or service can help will you truly cut through the noise.

The importance of reputation/network (particularly in the B2B space)

This relates to the above, but during periods of disruption, people want to buy from brands they can rely on, and work with people they trust. In order to win, your brand needs to have values and stick to them across your marketing and product/service delivery. People have long memories and will remember how brands behaved during this period.

Gone are the long creative lead times

Got a fab creative showing people loving your ‘in-store’ experience that you’re planning to run for the rest of the quarter? Uh Oh! The world is changing at an insanely fast pace and marketing messages can become rapidly out-of-date. Those that are winning are prioritising rapid adaptability and streamlined processes.

The growing importance of digital (but doing it ‘right’)

With eMarketer research showing that people are spending more time than ever consuming digital media during lockdown, and this pattern likely to persist as more people opt to work from home after lockdown, this is where advertisers need to be, now more than ever. What’s changed is the growing importance of targeting. With digital saturation, getting the right message to the right people at the right time is key.

Sticking to your brand values and identity

How many creatives have you seen talking about ‘social distancing’? Generating cut through is all about talking to your audience and generating a response – something that doesn’t work if you’re saying the same thing as all of your competitors. Those telling their own story have seen this pay big dividends.

These trends are just a snapshot and, while there are no quick tricks, we are beginning to see brands thrive following changes to their marketing strategies.

To try and better understand what is working in the new normal, we’re hosting a panel discussion on 2 July with founders and senior marketers from a range of businesses. Find out more and sign up here.

Dominic Baliszewski is co-founder of YOURS . SINCERELY, a comms and marketing agency that works with clients to offer a hybrid of PR and digital marketing services. Dominic has a wide range experience in marketing/PR and commercial disciplines, previously working for MoneySuperMarket group as well as running the consumer team at a global Fintech and investment business. You can find more information about Dominic, and get in touch, via LinkedIn.

Jeremy Williams

Green Blogger Spotlight: Jeremy Williams, The Earthbound Report

Jeremy Williams has been writing about the environment from the age of eight, making him ideally experienced to blog about the topic for The Earthbound Report, one of our top ten Green blogs in the UK.

Read on for more about Jeremy’s focus on ‘solutions journalism’ and how for him, going green isn’t ‘just a lifestyle choice’ but about being on the right side of history.

How did you originally get started with writing about green issues?
I grew up in Madagascar, which is one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots. 80% of the country’s plants and animals are unique, lemurs being the most famous. It also had deforestation, pollution, wildfires and erosion all up-front and very visible. From an early age, I saw wonders and disasters side by side. I remember writing about the environment from about the age of eight.

What’s your favourite thing to post about and why?
I’m part of a movement called ‘solutions journalism’, which aims to report on how people respond to problems as well as the problems themselves – something that’s easily overlooked in the news. If I want to write about an issue, I’ll try to find a person or project that’s solving it and use that as a way in. My favourite things to post are profiles of people or businesses that are doing something extraordinary to solve the world’s biggest problems.

How have you had to change your approach to blogging during the COVID-19 crisis?
I actually asked my readers about this, and their general opinion was that I should carry on as before. They could read about COVID-19 in plenty of other places! I haven’t ignored it, but I haven’t made any great changes to the kind of thing I was posting. It has rather dominated conversation, so it’s been good to set it to one side on the blog.

What are some of the environmental stories/issues happening at the moment that you’d wish more people knew about?
There’s been this explosion of interest in climate change in the last year, which is really exciting. What’s still missing for me is that most people still have it categorised mainly as an environmental issue in their minds. It is, but climate change is caused by the world’s richest people and affects the poorest first, so it’s also a massive injustice. And since the world’s poorest are mainly people of colour, it’s also a racial injustice. It can be hard to talk about sometimes, but ‘going green’ isn’t a lifestyle choice, it’s about being on the right side of history. I wish more people recognised that – and a growing number of people are.

For those who are just getting into greener living, what are three small changes you would recommend people start with?
The two things that will make the biggest difference to our carbon footprints are to eat less meat and fly less. If you can’t imagine giving those things up completely, start with a smaller step – a meat free day, or one flight less a year. Don’t stop there, though! Ramp it up as you gain confidence and discover alternatives. And as a third change, talk about it. There’s a social silence around climate change. It often makes people uncomfortable and defensive, and we need to be brave and have those conversations about how we want to live and what matters to us.

Will the growth of veganism continue?
I think the decline of meat eating will continue, for sure. Full vegan is a high bar and it will never appeal to everybody, so that’s going to plateau at some point. I applaud everyone that makes the choice, but I wouldn’t want people to think that because they couldn’t go 100% vegan, they shouldn’t bother going halfway.

Do you think the ‘VSCO girl’ trend has ultimately been a good or bad thing for the awareness of green issues?
I wore Birkenstocks before they were cool, jus’sayin. I’m wearing some right now. But I am male, in my thirties and bald, so that’s where the overlap between me and the VCSO girls both begins and ends… I suppose there’s a risk that these kinds of trends make green issues into a consumer choice, where we do the right thing when it makes us feel good, and don’t really challenge ourselves on the harder stuff. But it is probably making certain ethical choices normal and aspirational, and that’s a useful contribution.

How do you collaborate with brands and which kind of brands do you really like working with?
The themes of the blog don’t really lend themselves to brand collaborations very well, but I do occasionally run posts on green energy or products. I do lots of book reviews. I don’t run ads or do sponsored posts on the blog, because I value editorial independence. Unfortunately, that means I basically turn away free money on an almost daily basis, which is kind of painful!

For PRs looking to work with you and your blog/website, how would you prefer they approach you and with what kind of content?
Email is easiest. The content I’m most likely to use is new scientific research, campaign launches, innovative green technologies and projects. Other people in the top ten green blogs are covering the lifestyle stuff better than I ever will, so I’m less likely to write about products and services unless they’re doing something groundbreaking.

What other blogs do you check out regularly (whether green-related or not)?
One of my favourites is the Greenpeace investigative blog UnEarthed, and I recently discovered the business facing Future Net Zero. In another life I’d have been an architect, so I love to check out beautiful and ingenious buildings on Inhabitat or ArchDaily.

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Deliveries in lockdown comms

ParcelHero’s coronavirus comms strategy: turning the front door into the front line

This is a guest post from David Jinks, Head of Public Relations at ParcelHero, on the importance of keeping agile in a fast changing environment.

I could start by spinning you a yarn about how ParcelHero had an emergency comms plan already prepared for the impact of a near biblical plague. The truth is we didn’t and, be honest, you wouldn’t enjoy reading a puff piece as much as hearing the gory details about how we learned from our initial comms mistakes.

ParcelHero is an online parcel price comparison site; effectively, we’re ‘Compare the Meerkat’ for parcels. Simples. Of course, being a home-delivery courier company meant we were one of the first to experience the full impact of the coronavirus.

Key to our media strategy as an e-commerce business is building brand awareness and (here’s where I’ll be kicked out of the Monday PR Club) link building. Old skool releases and pitches are at the heart of this plan. Looking back, our first release on the subject was 27 January: ‘Should shoppers question the safety of Chinese parcels?’. In retrospect, it’s an odd release – partly ramping up the scare to attract journalists and partly downplaying it – because some regular users were already experiencing problems with stock coming in from China. It got good traction but, at the time, it felt like an annoying distraction from my beloved 2020 PR plan, which had been so many weeks in gestation.

I clung grimly to that plan throughout early February, in the blind belief that no story could be bigger than Brexit. It wasn’t until 25 February that I smelled the coffee and tearfully chucked it away. Our release that day on ‘Ten steps to reduce the impact of Covid-19 ‘ was lapped up by an increasingly nervous business press. It had lots of prescient tips but still featured a not-in-front-of-the-children intro that soothingly gushed ‘…many health professionals are saying it is unlikely to have a greater effect than many typical global flu outbreaks’.

Let’s spare my blushes and move into the next stage. Without teaching Grandma to suck eggs, bad news sells and big numbers make big headlines. As the epidemic developed, we forecast on 3 March that e-commerce’s market share would double to 40% ‘if the coronavirus becomes an epidemic in the UK’. That secured us a good splash in the Mail and lots of business press. In a social media double-whammy, Facebook even used the prediction in its LinkedIn presentations. Again though, look at that qualifying ‘if’

Just before lockdown, ParcelHero had been booming, as people shipped food to loved ones in isolation and ordered thousands of hand sanitisers. However, when lockdown started on 23 March, bookings fell off a cliff. Stores were closed and even those with websites had little confidence they could distribute orders safely.

We hit the press, emphasising that couriers were still picking up directly from doorsteps and businesses could stay alive selling solely online. By the second week, ParcelHero was experiencing Christmas-level peak volumes and that’s been the case ever since. ‘The front door becomes the front line’ – our key message that was picked up by many journalists – underscored our efforts to standardise rules to replace signatures as proof of delivery.

Increased bookings led to their own complications, however. 50% of international parcels are flown in the belly-hold of passenger flights and, suddenly, they were all grounded. Customers wanted information. Now. Our carefully laid social media plans were swiftly abandoned as Twitter became a key tool for Customer Services.

Nonetheless, by 15 April, our comms was firmly proactive rather than reactive. We caught the public mood with a release stating: ‘It’s no longer a sin to order non-essentials online’. From then on, the thrust was all about looking forwards.

So, what turned the tide from that dreadful Lockdown Monday to us gaining multiple new links and national coverage in the FT, Express, Sun and Mail? Driving our success was our ability to adapt our message to fast-changing circumstances, even if it meant ditching our existing strategies and entire social channels.

Looking forward, we’ll be taking the lead in issuing advice as regulations and market conditions change. We’re currently focused on encouraging all our business users to ‘lock-in your lockdown wins’.  Who knows, one day, not so far in the future, I may be able to return to Brexit. Now, where did I throw that 2020 plan?

David Jinks was a guest on our recent webinar, Moving from Crisis to Recovery, along with Liz Slee, Head of Media at Enterprise Nation and director at the think tank The Enterprise Trust. Listen to the recording here

Catherine Hughes

Gardening Blogger Spotlight: Catherine Hughes, Growing Family

From grubbing around on allotments as a child to blogging full-time about gardening now she has children of her own, Growing Family’s Catherine Hughes has turned her passion for plants into a career she loves.

With gardening becoming more and more popular as people are getting the most out of going outdoors, Catherine shares which kind of posts are proving most useful for her readers, gardens that inspire her, and whether gnomes should be standing next to your Salvia.

How did you originally get started with writing about gardening?
I’ve always been fascinated by the process of making things grow; I grew up grubbing around on my dad’s allotment, and I’ve been gardening for as long as I can remember. Before having children I worked in brand marketing, but gave up the full-on career to be a full-time mum. This gave me a chance to start a whole new career blogging about my passion. Now I get to combine gardening with my day job, which is pretty amazing!

What’s your favourite thing to post about and why?
Easy gardening projects that you don’t need to be an expert to try and that you can involve the kids in. I firmly believe you don’t have to be a pro to enjoy gardening and I hope my blog inspires people to have a go and have fun in the process.

How have you had to change your approach to blogging during the COVID-19 crisis?
With gardening seeing such a big increase in popularity, I’ve been focusing my writing on topics that appeal to newly-interested gardeners and those who are trying to garden with limited resources. Brand work has been reduced, so I’m working more on SEO and my social channels. I’m also blogging at some odd times of day to fit in around the kids!

What are some small things people can do to change up their gardens/balcony planters/windowsill flowers while on lockdown?
Adding in some summer bedding plants will give things an instant lift, and they’re easy to get hold of from supermarkets and garden centres. You can also make things more interesting in the garden by providing food for wild birds and encouraging them to visit. Having a go at growing your own veg is a great lockdown project, too – I’ve converted one of my garden borders into a vegetable patch this year.

For those just getting into gardening, which essential tools do they need for their kit?
A decent hand trowel, comfortable gardening gloves, and a kneeler pad will all get used every time you garden. Plant pots in various sizes and plant labels are a must if you’re growing seeds; avoid plastic and go for an eco-friendly option if you can. A lightweight handled bucket is brilliant for moving around compost and collecting weeds, but you can improvise on this one if you need to. I’d also add in a spade if you’ve got more than just containers. And you definitely need a watering can to keep those plants happy!

Most beautiful outside space/garden you’ve ever seen?
I have a real soft spot for the Japanese gardens at Newstead Abbey. They’re so precise but luscious at the same time, and there’s something about the contrast between the historic surroundings and the vibe that just works for me. I find something new and inspiring every time I visit.

What are your thoughts on garden gnomes – cute, or creepy?
Definitely creepy – they’ve always given me the shivers. I don’t want eyes watching me in the garden!

How do you collaborate with brands and which kind of brands do you really like working with?
I really enjoy collaborating with brands and regularly work on ambassadorships, sponsored content, reviews, giveaways, guest writing and social media promotion. Home and garden brands are the best fit for my content and audience.

For PRs looking to work with you and your blog/website, how would you prefer they approach you and with what kind of content?
My readers expect and enjoy unique content, so that’s always my aim when working with PRs. I’m always interested in press releases related to my blog’s content as they keep me up-to-date, but I don’t tend to publish them on my blog. A detailed brief is really important; as well as being a professional way to work, it helps avoid misunderstandings and saves lots of time. The best way to contact me is via email.

What other blogs do you check out regularly (whether gardening-related or not)?
There are lots of gardening blogs on my list! The Middle-Sized Garden always has articles that inspire me, Sharpen Your Spades is brilliant for all things grow your own, and Gardens, Weeds & Words is beautifully written with stunning photography. I also love Thrifty Home for great family budgeting tips, and Love Chic Living for fantastic interiors inspiration.

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Clare Dewey

Cycling Blogger Spotlight: Clare Dewey, Epic Road Rides

Sharing hidden gem rides you haven’t heard about, and new roads to the places you have, Epic Road Rides’ Clare Dewey is looking forward to getting back on the bike blogging saddle now that she’s seeing ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ for the tourism and trips-out industry.

If you’re planning for your next trip, sort out your itinerary and pick which horizon you’ll head for by checking out today’s cycling spotlight.

How did you originally get started with writing about cycling?
I’ve always loved cycling and travel. I spend hours and hours planning trips, reading through guidebooks and magazines, poring over maps and combing online forums to glean information on the best places to cycle abroad. Often information is scarce, as cycling tour operators are reluctant to share their information online.

For years before I set up Epic Road Rides, I’d idly wonder why there was no authoritative resource with the information I was looking for.

After my second maternity leave, I had a ‘now or never’ moment and decided that now was the time to create the website I’d always been looking for… So Epic Road Rides was born!

Clare Dewey 2

What’s your favourite thing to post about and why?
I love writing about anything cycling and travel related, but my favourite topic is places people probably haven’t heard too much about; the undiscovered parts of the world that are amazing for cycling that people don’t tend to go to.

In a similar vein, I love to write about the secret gems in the places that lots of people visit. For example, everyone knows about visiting the Alps to ride Alpe d’Huez, but do they also know about riding the Pas de la Confession halfway up Alpe d’Huez? What about the Col de Sarenne, which is the much less known but very beautiful route up the Alpe? Have they tried the road out to La Bérarde, which feels like you’re riding to the end of the world?

Sharing information on great cycling-friendly bars/restaurants/cafe stops is also really fun, because it’s the sort of local knowledge that’s really difficult to find elsewhere but which can make a big difference to your trip.

I love to get people excited about riding new routes and trying out new destinations. There’s so much to discover out there!

How have you had to change your approach to blogging during the COVID-19 crisis?
Travel is obviously one of the areas that’s been hardest hit by the pandemic.

Initially, I flexed our content to provide inspiration and interest while cyclists were spending more time at home. Articles on things like the best cycling films, documentaries and books were popular.

Now it feels that the light is starting to appear at the end of the tunnel, there’s been a definite return to people planning holidays and our articles on cycling within the UK and ferry-drive destinations have been shared a lot on social media. I’m also working with brands to ensure that their destinations and services are top of mind as people start to book and re-book their trips.

What kit/equipment would you recommend people put together and take with them when cycling while social distancing?
I don’t think the kit you need to take has changed too much – for a day ride, you’d want to take all the usual essentials like phone, money, tools sufficient to change a puncture and a jacket (in case of a change of weather). You can find our day-ride and holiday packing list here, if it helps!

That said, it’s probably more important to think about how you’d get home in case of a major mechanical breakdown that you couldn’t fix. Also, if you might want to stop at a shop while out, you could consider taking a face mask.

Do you think the Tour De France will still be able to go ahead without any issues this year?
This is the million-dollar question at the moment!

The French government has banned all sporting events until the end of August, but I guess the Tour may be getting special dispensation since its revised start date is 29 August. There’s a huge amount of speculation going on as to whether it will be feasible to run the event, given the number of riders and support crew and the proximity they have to live in with one another during the Tour.

If it does go ahead, I wonder if it will happen behind closed doors or with limited numbers of spectators and journalists.

Can you remember your first ever bike?
Good question! I do remember learning to ride my first bike without stabilisers around a car park in the little village we used to live in. The feeling of finally ‘getting it and being able to ride alone was amazing. I must have been about eight or nine years old. Can that really have been my first bike?!

If you could cycle anywhere right now, where would it be?
We should be on a press trip in Austria with roadbike-holidays.com at the moment, and I wish we were there now! I was really excited about the opportunity to explore the Tannheimer Tal region and share it with the Epic Road Rides community. Fortunately, the trip has been postponed rather than cancelled, and I can’t wait to get there very soon.

How do you collaborate with brands and which kind of brands do you really like working with?
I collaborate with brands to showcase their products and services within our inspiring photos and SEO optimised written content. I can provide anything from an advert in one of our guides, to mail shots to our email list, social media promotion and full brand partnerships.

I really enjoy running interviews and in-depth features with brands to explain their products and services to our community of 70k+ avid road cyclists. Where it’s a brand that provides a service in a particular destination, I love to draw out their local tips and knowledge that I know our community will love and which will help showcase the brand’s expertise.

I love to work with brands that are passionate about quality and customer service, and who provide a product or service I would want to buy and use myself.

For PRs looking to work with you and your blog/website, how would you prefer they approach you and with what kind of content?
I like to receive a friendly email that introduces them, their brand and what they’re looking for. It’s always nice when this introduction makes it clear that they know Epic Road Rides and what we do. Generally, we will then exchange some emails and, if it sounds like there’s potential to work together, we can get on the telephone and talk about the details.

My favourite way of working with brands is by way of longer-term partnerships over months and even years. This could be through a series of articles and social media posts or by an all-encompassing brand partnership that includes things like promotion within our highly Google-ranked destination guides, email newsletters and social media. I find longer term collaborations much better than one off articles/posts for building the kind of trust and engagement that brings the best return on investment.

By way of example, I’ve been working with the cycling kit company Stolen Goat for the last two years and have developed excellent brand trust and loyalty for the brand within the Epic Road Rides community.

What other blogs do you check out regularly (whether cycling-related or not)?
I like National Geographic’s travel section for its general travel-related inspiration, the TrainingPeaks blog for training advice and DC Rainmaker for cycling tech reviews. During winter, when I tend to do a bit more running, I also like to check out Man v Miles.

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PRCA

PRCA survey finds industry in disagreement on in-office returns

Almost a quarter (23%) of leading PR industry figures taking part in the latest PRCA Pulse survey are in favour of returning to in-office working as soon as possible. But feelings are mixed, as 19% report a reluctance to return.

Carried out by The Pulse Business, the new survey asked respondents: ‘Which one of these statements, if any, best describes your feelings towards returning to the office?’. The breakdown of responses was:

– 23% I would like to return to the office as soon as possible
– 35% I’m somewhat looking forward to returning to the office
– 23% I have mixed feelings at the moment
– 19% I’m reluctant to return to the office
– 0% I do not want to return to the office at all

Returning to in-office working will be hard for many PR teams who have found new ways of balancing home life with career concerns during the lockdown, discovering the ease of using team chat and file sharing software and enjoying time away from stressful commutes. While some will be eager to get back into the buzz of a busy working environment, businesses will have to navigate ways to make potential returns to the office work for everyone.

‘Senior leaders and business owners will need to be aware of the diversity of feeling on this issue,’ said PRCA Director General Francis Ingham of the mixed survey results. ‘While the majority of our industry’s leaders view a return to office life as a positive development, a sizeable minority do not. Many cite concerns over using public transport as their number one worry.

‘Until confidence is established on that issue, a sizeable minority of our industry will continue to eschew office working. Industry leaders will need to adopt a flexible approach to safeguard the physical and mental wellbeing of employees in the months ahead.’

Read more from the latest PRCA pulse results here. Concerned about returning to the office? Check out 11 tips for getting mentally prepared for a return to workplace working.

Race in PR CIPR

CIPR publishes report on Race in PR

Experiences of racism, microaggressions and unconscious biases have been shared by BAME PR practitioners for the CIPR research report released today Race in the PR Workplace: BAME lived experiences in the UK PR industry.

Following the career journeys of its 17 BAME participants, the report highlights common struggles including harder work for fewer opportunities, being held to different standards than white colleagues and a lack of support when speaking up. A supporting Q&A has also been published by the CIPR to support the findings, detailing how the industry body plans to move its diversity and inclusion initiatives forward.

Part of the action being undertaken by the CIPR to help with equality issues raised in its State of the Profession reports over the last few years – which have shown the profession becoming less diverse over time – is the relaunch of its Diversity and Inclusion Network. The existing volunteer team will expand to become a member-wide group, welcoming those across the CIPR community to work together on improving the industry’s record on equality.

Also included in the Race in PR report are details of BME PR Pros’ launching programme The Blueprint, a scheme offering comms leaders ways to improve diversity within their teams, as well as the work of the Taylor Bennett Foundation, and BAME2020’s ‘No Turning Back’ programme.

‘The CIPR research is heartbreaking but unsurprising,’ said BME PR Pros founder Elizabeth Bananuka. ‘We are a sector full of people that want to talk about diversity but don’t ever want to discuss or engage with racism or racial inequality. That don’t ever want to ask why in 2020 an industry with so many agencies and organisations based in cities as ethnically diverse as London, Leeds, Manchester and Birmingham, can be 92% white and why the number of ethnic minorities has declined over the years.’

‘This report has been a long time coming. You could say it is years overdue,’ said CIPR 2020 President Jenni Field of the results. ‘I’m pleased we’re able to share these stories and I’m pleased with the work that has gone in to making our response a robust one. But I’m not proud of this report.

‘None of us reading this should be.’

Read more from the Race in the PR Workplace: BAME lived experiences in the UK PR industry report on the CIPR website here.

Fran Griffin

5 reasons to consider a PR freelancer

This is a guest post by Fran Griffin, freelance PR consultant, Fran Griffin PR.

Today marks National Freelancers Day, and this is an important awareness date because it recognises a growing community and style of workers in the PR and digital industries.

Having worked agency-side for many years where I employed freelance support, to now, where I am completely freelance myself, I hope to shed some light on the reasons to consider a PR freelancer, and the benefits of doing so.

1. They complement existing PR efforts
It’s not necessarily always an either-or decision between a freelancer or a PR agency. A freelancer can be the perfect support hire for a project or busier period.

Perhaps you are a business and have an annual awareness week coming up and want to make noise in the press, or have a new quarterly marketing budget that enables you a PR budget, but not quite enough for a full-time hire?

Similarly, you could be an agency that requires more hands-on support during a busy period or need someone with a certain industry experience or niche contacts to bolster a client’s campaign.

Freelancers are flexible and most are used to working in a project style as opposed to retained, so are able to become a temporary or long-term (but part time) team addition to a business or agency.

2. You get a specialist skillset
There are freelancers who offer PR and media relations as a wider spectrum; but a growing number of those who have a background or specialise in other services like social media, influencers or events, too.

A big reason in going freelance for me personally, is that I have both a traditional PR and digital/SEO background. Even though the industry is changing, there are very few agencies that mix both types of PR still or get’ both approaches. I can now work with businesses that want either approach, or sometimes both.

3. You benefit from years of finessed media relationships and niche experience
As well as specialisms within skillsets, this also applies to areas of PR work too. You can find a freelancer with really specific experience in the sector you operate in, whether that be as niche as B2B tech PR or consumer beauty, for example. Most freelancers make this career jump away from being an employee after years of working in different agencies, in-house roles, and across multiple industries and sectors, so they can focus on one sector they like best or find most rewarding.

Working with a freelancer that has a relevant PR background means you benefit from tapping into finessed media relationships and journalist connections that can take a business years to build itself.

4. They become an extension of your team and you become a priority
Having direct contact with the person who is handling your PR on the front-line with press, and them also being the same person who reports and measures KPIs, or takes part in ideation, unearths a new level of transparency.

It’s always in a freelancer’s best interest to make a client relationship work, as referrals, recommendations and repeated client work is often the make-up of their business. So there becomes quite a bit of comfort and reassurance that you will be a priority.

Freelancers are in complete control of their own time, working style, and agenda. This means we get the privilege of picking who we work with and who we say no to as well. If a freelancer doesn’t believe your campaign idea is PR-able or possible, they won’t undertake the work to later fail, as that’s their own reputation on the line.

As a business, you can also tap into their expertise and garner their external feedback and third-person perspective that you usually wouldn’t have within your immediate team.

5. There’s value for money
Sadly, there is still a bit of a misconception for some that freelancers are just a cheap option because they’re significantly less expensive than agencies.

It has to be noted – as a vital key decision factor for those hiring – that the cost of freelance is usually lower than agency fees for obvious reasons like less business overheads or less employees on the campaign/client. You side-step the minimum monthly fees associated with agencies, meaning you can tap into big brand experience by working with just one person, at a fraction of the cost.

Do bear in mind though that cheap is expensive in the long run. You’re not only buying into a PR service from a freelancer, you’re buying into that person’s years of media contacts, strategic insight and experience too!

You can get in touch with Fran Griffin via LinkedIn.

Taylor Bennett Foundation

Spotlight on the Taylor Bennett Foundation, with chief executive Melissa Lawrence

Having worked in the charity sector for over 20 years with a focus on mobility and diversity, Melissa Lawrence was drawn to join the Taylor Bennett Foundation and its mission to improve ethnic diversity in the PR and communications industry.

Bringing her experience with developing education, training and employability programmes for the financial and professional services sector to the role, Melissa and her team work to mentor BAME candidates for meaningful comms careers in an industry still struggling with the issue of equality, both at the hiring stage and at boardroom level.

As every industry across the world questions what it can do to fight racial inequality within its ranks and support those harmed or held back, Melissa shares what the foundation is doing to help, and how we can all take action to make things better.

‘Only 8% of the communications industry identify as an ethnic minority,’ says Melissa. ‘That is woefully low’.

Melissa Lawrence

What originally got you into the comms industry, and why is it a great career path for your candidates?
Before I joined the Foundation, I knew very little about the comms industry. However, I did a lot of preparation for my application and the more I learnt about it the more interested I became.

Communications and Public Relations as an industry is a fantastic career option to consider. Comms can provide a great career path for our candidates because there are a wide range of opportunities to choose from.

Communications is needed in every sector and discipline; it is fast paced, there’s lots of variety in the work and most importantly, you can build a professional career and earn a good salary while doing so.

With what’s happening across the world in reaction to racial injustice, has the foundation had to rethink its strategy and focus for the upcoming months?
Our strategy and focus is still highly relevant now, perhaps more so. The Taylor Bennett Foundation has always championed equality, diversity and inclusion. We stand against racial injustices and with all that is happening across the world, we have a renewed resolve to push forward with our work. We have been delighted with the number of agencies and in-house teams who have been in touch recently, offering to work with us and donating to the Foundation.

Many brands and celebrities have been criticised over the last weeks for their responses to the #BLM movement – which responses were well-judged? And which brands should be doing better?
I think Glossier responded well, and PrettyLittleThing could have done better. But these are difficult times and difficult issues – the most important thing is to ensure that any response is made with the lived experience of those involved in the #BLM movement at its core.

What are some of the big reasons that brands need to be more focused on diversity and increasing/amplifying BAME voices?
It’s important to amplify BAME voices because they are the voices of those whose experiences have often been marginalised. You get to hear directly from people about their lived experiences and this often leads to positive changes. We are seeing real examples of this right now. Plus, many big brands do not have diverse communications and marketing teams; this is why the Foundation’s work is so important.

What should agencies be putting in place to ensure their hiring practices are fair, and to ensure candidates from a wider variety of backgrounds apply for roles at their firms?
There are a number of things that agencies could do, starting with ensuring that their opportunities are shared in a more transparent way. Many roles are often shared first with candidates that are former colleagues and friends, and on company websites or social media. There are lots of agencies in the industry and if candidates do not know who they are, it’s difficult for them to find the roles. We have a jobs page, so we can help.

For agencies thinking about encouraging diverse applications and putting in measures to do so, I encourage them to develop a thorough recruitment strategy and audit their recruitment process frequently to ensure it’s giving them the desired results they want.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the Taylor Bennett Foundation summer PR training programmes?
COVID-19 has meant that we have had to push the dates for our PR Training programmes back, so our summer programme will be shorter to accommodate our autumn programme. Also, as many offices remain closed until the autumn, the summer programme will be delivered in a virtual format. This is a first for us – there are going to be some challenges, but we are excited about taking on those challenges and making a success of the programme. We are fortunate that Brunswick, the sponsoring agency, remains totally committed to making it work and are supporting us now more than ever.

Can you share some of the big success stories from the programme?
Last year, 18 graduates went through our PR Training programme and 100% of them went straight into jobs or fixed term contracts within the industry. This year, four of the six graduates from our first programme have secured full time jobs. Three were with their host agency. COVID-19 and lockdown put a stop to the other two graduates securing roles, but I am hopeful that now things are easing, we can support them into jobs. If anyone wants to get in touch with me about those individuals, or indeed anything else about the Foundation, I am always keen to make connections.

Read more about the Taylor Bennett Foundation and its PR Training programmes here, and find Melissa Lawrence on Twitter @MLucien17.

Planning for recovery

6 steps to help with planning for recovery

Getting ready for recovery as businesses reopen across the country? Here are six steps to help you plan your strategy, inspired by our recent study into the behaviours and trends of comms leaders in lockdown. Check out the Vuelio Barometer of PR and Comms Leaders here.

We also took advice from our webinar After the storm: Planning for preparedness post COVID-19, with guests including Hotwire chief strategy officer Chris Paxton, Fielding Communications director Kate Fielding and Question & Retain’s founder and CEO Annabel Dunstan – download the full webinar here.

1. Establish a post-crisis communications plan
This will be as important for your organisation as your original crisis communications plan. For a starting point, check out guidance from The PR Cavalry’s Nigel Sarbutts on generating leads from clients who have paused activity.

2. Listen and prepare your team
Your colleagues may have been furloughed or had a challenging time in lockdown. Check in to ensure they have the support they need as individuals to make their return to work. For advice on how to handle phased returns to the workplace, read advice from mental health professionals on how PRs can prepare here.

3. Focus your efforts
The economy and political landscape is volatile, making it tempting to keep switching focus to keep up. Make sure you evaluate what could have the greatest impact to your organisation and allocate resources accordingly.

4. Be true to your values
Now more than ever, it is essential to be authentic and keep your messaging consistent so your key stakeholders, including customers, feel reassured.

5. Review and improve
Analyse your lockdown communications and what you can learn from the experience. What if it happened again: what would you do differently? What positive behaviours do you want to continue?

6. And for more inspiration…
Check out the Vuelio webinar After the Storm: Planning for Preparedness Post COVID-19.

Pete Linsley

Cycling Blogger Spotlight: Pete Linsley, road|Theory

Cycling has a lot of benefits aside from keeping fit – road|Theory’s Pete Linsley has met rabbits and geese, cycling legends and some freak weather conditions along the way. He’s also racked up over six hundred blog posts about the subject he loves, and published a couple of books for good measure.

If you’re planning to get on your bike this weekend, check out Pete’s top places to cycle outside of self-isolation and some sartorial tips for what to wear while you’re out there…

How did you originally get started with writing about cycling?
I started the blog back in 2013 as a kind of creative outlet; I’d always fancied myself as a writer without ever having knuckled down to learn the craft.

When Bradley Wiggins won the Tour de France in 2012 it felt like cycling here in the UK morphed from a niche weekend pastime into something more like a cultural movement, and I just saw stories everywhere. Every bike ride a mini-adventure, every pro race an epic, and loads of cool kit and personalities.

I started idly writing and here I am seven years later with six hundred blog posts to my name and a couple of books out there in the world.

What’s your favourite thing to post about and why?
I love it all. I love developing my voice and pride myself on an ability to write 500 entertaining words about any cycling related topic you care to imagine.

If pushed, I guess it’s those unexpected occurrences that happen mid-ride and become blog posts that I really enjoy. I’ve had encounters with wildlife (peacocks, rabbits, geese), shared a random mid-ride cup of tea with British cycling legend (and Tour de Franc stage winner) Brian Robinson, and survived more weather-related adventures than I’d care to remember.

How have you had to change your approach to blogging during the COVID-19 crisis?
I’ve made a point of not getting preachy about how cyclists should or shouldn’t behave. The rules and guidance on social distancing are out there for all to follow, and I’m not sure people like me adding an extra layer of judgement is really necessary. I consider my website an escape from the grim realities of the pandemic as much as possible.

However, during then current crisis much of my subject matter has briefly disappeared. As I ride my bike alone through near deserted towns and villages the world has definitely become lighter on blog-worthy incident… and there has been no pro cycling to dissect.
It’s fair to say, like everyone else, I’ve been in reflective mood.

Pete Linsley 2

What kit/equipment would you recommend people put together and take with them when cycling while social-distancing?
Be prepared for the fact that nowhere is open: no mid-ride café, and few open shops for that emergency energy drink or ice-cream. I’ve even ridden with a thermos of freshly brewed espresso coffee tucked into my bottle cage on occasion, to recreate the on-the-road caffeine hit that so often keeps me going!

As for additional equipment – face masks, other hygiene products, for example. Cyclists are a self-reliant bunch and will make their own decisions. I think we each come to our conclusions about how to protect ourselves.

Do you think the Tour De France still be able to go ahead without any issues this year?
I’d say it’s hard to predict how le Tour will pan out. A ‘behind closed doors’ edition was mooted early on, which is immediately unworkable. You just can’t prevent people gathering roadside to watch the race roll by – it’s unenforceable.

Beyond the fans, the race is usually accompanied by an entire infrastructure of thousands of staff, journalists, TV people, and other logistics – how such an operation can operate safely in a pandemic context is, right now, impossible to imagine.

I think the Tour will go ahead in some form or other, but it might well be compromised.

Can you remember your first ever bike?
Of course. Raleigh Burner BMX, in red with yellow flames down the side! I even had trousers to match – flames ‘n’ all! My career as a cyclist peaked with that bike (and those pants!).

If you could cycle anywhere right now, where would it be?
The French Alps, maybe nipping across the border to Italy from time to time.

I love the adventure and commitment required to ride in the really big mountains – the landscape is just vast – and I am a sucker for riding on roads that form the myth and legend of pro cycling. In fact, one of the great things about the sport comes from sharing the terrain with, and judging yourself against, the superstars of the sport.

Riding up Alpe d’Huez or Mont Ventoux is the cycling equivalent of playing football at Anfield or Old Trafford. Given the chance I’d spend most of my life doing just that.

How do you collaborate with brands and which kind of brands do you really like working with?
I’m open to all kinds of cycling related projects: promoting the cycling culture and experience within different areas and regions, reviewing and promoting kit and emerging technology within the industry, but most of all working with brands who have an ethos rooted in the positive impact cycling can have on individuals, and on society in general.

I love to do my bit to promote the utter joy of the bike!

For PRs looking to work with you and your blog/website, how would you prefer they approach you and with what kind of content?
An email approach will get a near-immediate response, and from there I’m always happy to chat/Skype/Zoom on whatever happens to be the preferred platform at a given moment!

Kit review and product promotion has become something of a staple on my site, and the more popular kit reviews are among my most visited all-time pages. In addition, I’m always happy to write more general ‘brand introduction’ type pieces where I feel there is an engaging back story.

My most memorable blogging experiences have involved travel and telling stories about cycling destinations and cultures; I am always open to the invited discovery of a hidden gem of the cycling world.

Ultimately, if a project is cycling related and I feel I can add my ‘voice’ in some creative way, then I’m all ears.

What other blogs do you check out regularly (whether cycling-related or not)?
For pro cycling, INRNG.com has no parallel. With its insight and knowledge, the site is a constant source of information and inspiration. For real life, day to day cycling, I’m a fan of thewashingmachinepost, which is quirky, eclectic, and original. Away from cycling, I’m hooked on The Red Hand Files by legendary Aussie musician and writer Nick Cave – a true artist.

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Comms leaders recovery

PR and comms leaders prepare for recovery

PR and comms leaders are increasingly focused on recovery in Q2 according to the Vuelio Barometer which analyses themes dominating the public posts of 897 heads of and directors.

The Vuelio Barometer of PR and Comms Leaders shows that ‘Recovery’, which includes the terms ‘return to work’, ‘learn from’ and ‘get back to’ among others, has become more important since the start of lockdown and most recently accounts for nearly two in five (36%) of all online discussions among PR and Communications Leaders. This was up from being the main topic of less than a quarter (23%) of conversations in Q1.

Social media debate among PR and Communications Leaders about ‘Action’, including the terms ‘we’ve decided’, ‘start’ and ‘we need’, in contrast has decreased over the same period. In Q4 2019, two thirds (67%) of all conversations were about action. This fell to less than half (45%) of all social media conversations among PR and Communications Leaders in Q2 2020.

Over the same period, non-COVID-19 topics focusing on the community and outreach – such as Charity, Employee Wellbeing, Green Business and Institutional Trust – declined. Trust fell from accounting for one in seven conversations (14%) in Q4 2019 to just one in 20 (6%) in Q2. Unsurprisingly, COVID-19 dominated, increasing from half (50%) in Q1 to accounting for two thirds (65%) of all social media conversations among PR and communications leaders by 20 May.

Analysing which recent PR campaigns had cut through to grab the attention of industry leaders, the Vuelio Barometer found the most successful was ‘Clap for Carers’ which throughout Q2 accounted for four in five (81%) campaign conversations. In contrast, the Government’s ‘Stay Alert’ campaign was referred to in just one in ten.

Natalie Orringe, chief marketing officer at Vuelio said: ‘Our analysis of the online conversations of PR and Communications leaders reveals since Q1 2020 a shift from debating what action has to be taken to, in Q2, discussing how recovery can be managed. It demonstrates how the industry is turning from responding to the implications of COVID-19 to focus on the proactive, sustainable strategies needed to enable businesses to recover. There can be no doubt COVID-19 has reshaped the industry and continues to account for nearly two thirds of all social media conversation among communication leaders.’

Based on this insight, Vuelio has developed a range of products designed specifically to support organisations as they move from crisis management to proactively managing reputation for recovery. Packages on the Vuelio Recovery Hub include ‘Get up and Grow’ to help small to mid-sized companies kick start their PR programme; ‘Re-start-up’ for mid-sized businesses to maximise the effectiveness of their communications; and ‘The Full Works’ for large, complex organisations that need to accelerate their communications.

Lockdown stakeholder

How to adapt your stakeholder engagement during lockdown

For most external relations teams, managing relationships with a variety of audiences and stakeholders is at the very core of what they do. Systematic and regular touch points are how relationships are tested, along with keeping a close eye on stakeholder activities through media and political channels. Intelligence and engagement help inform stakeholder mapping, which is a vital activity for measuring reputation and progress against strategic or campaign objectives.

Lockdown has, however, changed the game. In the past 12 weeks, engaging with stakeholders in person is no longer an option, which Vuelio research revealed was MPs’ preferred method of engagement. Furthermore, with COVID-19 now dominating the narrative, the progress of building stakeholder voices on our behalf is likely to have slowed or even paused indefinitely.

So, how do we keep hold of our relationships and build new momentum behind our engagement goals? The answer is to firstly accept where we are. This is a new normal which means looking at our stakeholder map and relationships through a new lens and resetting the foundations:

Influence/interest matrix
Return to the basics of stakeholder mapping: are your stakeholders still interested in your priorities and can they influence them in a positive or negative way? Can you see this in their activities since lockdown began or do you need to accept their score or place in your map has changed?

Broaden your channels  
If your stakeholder map was not informed by social channels before, it definitely should now. Many key stakeholders are connecting with their audiences through social channels – this could be you. At the very least, social activity can help inform the interest axis on your matrix right now, and can provide true insight into thinking. Our sister company Pulsar has been mapping the new normal using online conversation, which clearly shows the power of social.

Build digital relationships
If our usual ‘get to know you’ conversations were based on activities your stakeholders have done or plan to do physically, you now need to find a replacement. Discussing great social posts your stakeholder may have created or even passing on content sources and data you have found useful at this time, can help build the relationship. Being a beacon of knowledge in the new normal will help entrench your value with the stakeholder.

Consult on communication preferences
Reaching out to your key stakeholders and asking how you can connect with them seems obvious. However, it may not be something your stakeholder has thought of. What different options can you offer: a regular newsletter? A regular informal virtual catch up or a structured online briefing? Do you understand how their workflow operates (does a member of their staff process incoming digital communications, for example). And are you aware of preferred timings (Do they like to catch up on reading on Friday mornings so you know when to follow up?).

And finally…

Success IS possible
It doesn’t have to be that the old plan has failed or is paused indefinitely. Establishing new metrics of success can keep your organisation progressing right now in stakeholder engagement activities.

Ready to establish new goals and make the most of the stakeholder landscape in lockdown? Find out how the Vuelio Stakeholder Relationship Management platform has helped our clients do just this.

A Lovely Planet

Travel Blogger Spotlight: Hayley Lewis, A Lovely Planet

We head Sydney-way (symbolically, anyway) to catch up with travel blogger Hayley Lewis of A Lovely Planet. Hayley sees a challenging future for the travel industry and travel blogging following the COVID-19 lockdown, but potential growth in domestic journeying, day trips and weekend breaks later in the year. So, don’t book tickets quite yet, but do start daydreaming about where you’d like to go (for Hayley, a cabin in Lapland sounds good…).

How did you originally get started with writing about travel?
I’ve always loved to travel, and friends and family would often ask me for tips on places I had been, so in 2014, I started saving the emails I’d written and decided to publish them on a blog. A Lovely Planet has grown from there.

What’s your favourite thing to post about and why?
I love putting together itineraries of trips I’ve taken. I spend A LOT of time researching before I take a trip, so I love sharing all the knowledge and experiences I’ve gained afterwards, and hopefully helping out other people who are looking to take a similar trip. I’m also a massive foodie, so love posting about food experiences, restaurants and different cuisines.

How have you had to change your approach to blogging during the COVID-19 crisis?
I’ve been focusing more on content in Australia (where I live) as domestic travel will start again much sooner than international. In some ways I’ve enjoyed having time to catch up on content that I have had on my to do list and completing tasks that I have wanted to do for a while, but the drop in traffic has been pretty disheartening and it’s challenging not knowing what the future will look like for travel and travel blogging.

A Lovely Planet 2

What kind of travel is your favourite?
I love a bit of variety. I do a lot of road trips, which generally feature some kind of adventure travel. I love being underwater, whether that’s free diving, snorkeling or scuba diving so many of the trips I take have an underwater element, but at the same time I absolutely adore city breaks. Especially when I lived in Europe and I could hop on a plane for a weekend to somewhere with completely different cuisines, a different language and culture. It feels like a lifetime ago.

How can the travel industry get back on its feet when the lockdown is over?
I think initially it will be about day trips and weekend breaks, domestically – helping the small operators and businesses. As we can travel more and as international travel starts reopening then I think people will be keen to get away, but at the same time many people have lost jobs or had a reduced income, so those trips may not be the extravagant once-in-a-lifetime trips.

If you could teleport to anywhere in the world right now, where would it be?
That’s a difficult question. Considering the lock down and how bad COVID-19 is in many parts of the world, I’m drawn to somewhere remote. I’ve been thinking a lot about a cabin I stayed in in Finnish Lapland a few years ago. It was so cosy, with a fire and a sauna and a lake nearby. I would love to be somewhere like that.

How do you collaborate with brands and which kind of brands do you really like working with?
I collaborate in a variety of ways. I often work with tourist boards on destination campaigns, with accommodation, and write reviews and posts about the places I stay. I also work with a few outdoor gear brands, like Osprey and Fjallraven, and create content featuring their products.

For PRs looking to work with you and your blog/website, how would you prefer they approach you and with what kind of content?
It’s always great when PRs approach me – usually via email is the easiest. Then we can work out the best way to work together. It’s always good to meet face to face if possible, but as I often work with UK PRs, but live in Australia that isn’t always an option, (especially right now!)

What other blogs do you check out regularly (whether travel-related or not)?
I like Along Dusty Roads – it was a great resource when I was travelling through Mexico.

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