Investors in People finalists

We are extremely
proud to announce that we have been shortlisted as finalists for the Best
Newcomer Award (0-49 employees) in the Investors in People International Awards
2015. Chosen from 400 entries from across the world, we have been selected as
one of the final six in our category and are the only company in our category
shortlisted from East Anglia.

As a finalist,
Investors in People has recognised that as a business, Conscious Communications
shows an incredible passion, dedication and unswerving commitment to investing
in our workforce. We have a clear understanding of what we want to achieve!

This latest achievement
follows our Investors in People Bronze accreditation in November, which made Conscious
Communications the only public relations and marketing consultancy in Cambridge
with the accolade.

The Investors in
People International Awards ceremony takes place on 24 June – keep your fingers
crossed for us!

We’re liking…Augmented Reality

image

We are witnessing huge innovations within the digital world. First of all we were in awe of 3-D
printing and now we turn our attention to augmented reality (AR) which is only
now becoming mainstream, despite the term having been around for decades. We
can wave goodbye to 80s-style virtual reality goggles, and can now enter a 3-D
world through the use of our mobile devices – truly magical.

Software developer, Aurasma, has created
an opportunity to enter an augmented world where every image, object and place
has its own Aura, changing the way you see and interact with the world. Check
out Aurasma and watch some of its most engaging projects here.

Our favourite AR campaign to date
is for The Times Magazine – download the Aurasma app and watch it here. By
downloading the app and scanning the cover, readers gain exclusive access to comedian
Graham Norton and his pet dog – genius!

What is most exciting about this
piece of software is how it can completely transform the way we engage with
potential customers on mobile devices. AR provides a richer user experience;
increases the perceived value of products and brands; and conveys innovation
from forward-thinking brands.

Most of all, AR injects playfulness
and fun into everyday products –  M&S
used Auras to bring its new summer collection to life last year – customers
were able to search for the perfect outfit, to share their Auras via social
media, view the range and, of course, buy what they saw.

We are just scratching the
surface of AR’s potential and we are sure it will continue to evolve – make
sure you take advantage of the excitement and creativity it can bring to your digital
public relations and marketing campaigns.

Get the Aurasma app on Google
Play
or the App Store
and create your own Aura!

Investors in People Accolade

Our company recently became the only public relations and marketing consultancy in Cambridge to be awarded Investors in People Bronze – the UK’s leading accreditation for business improvement through people management in the UK.   We wanted to aim high and go for the Bronze award, instead of just the core accreditation, and we’re very proud with what we’ve achieved.   

Investors in People (IIP) describes the award as ‘demonstrating a commitment to employees and representing a solid foundation of good practice in a socially responsible organisation’.

At Conscious Communications we always strive to put our people first.  We understand the importance of employee development in continuing to provide excellent results for our clients – our IIP assessor, Caroline Wormleighton, said: “Their key strengths are within their strong ethos of ethics and transparency, together with their inclusive and developmental working culture which result in a highly motivated, involved and empowered workforce.

“During the assessment process, the evidence showed that people are a valued asset to the business, a culture of involvement, trust and openness is felt throughout the organisation.”

Employees are a fundamental resource for any organisation, the way they are treated and how much they value the individuals they work with impacts their performance and, in turn, the performance of the business.

There is a mass of evidence to support this theory.  One study, led by Andrew Oswald from Warwick University and a team of economists, suggests clear links between workers’ happiness and their productivity, finding that happy workers are 12 percent more productive than unhappy workers.

There are a number of ways an organisation can ensure employees feel valued, respected and engaged in their roles, and a strong management team is an essential part of the mix.  Good managers will lead by example and can make or break a company.

Our IIP assessment report noted that our “managers are inspirational role models and take advantage of management development opportunities and programmes available to them to improve the way they lead, manage, and develop.”

Good managers will also be adept at devolving responsibility, ensuring that individuals feel challenged and stimulated.  And, with this responsibility comes a sense of pride and ownership which reflects in the success of our company – as this year’s Waitrose Christmas gingerbread stall advert says: everyone who works at Waitrose owns Waitrose so they care.

In our IIP report the assessor said: “People are very quickly encouraged to take ownership and responsibility, developing their knowledge with hands-on experience and projects.”

Individuals also need to feel that their personal goals are being met alongside the company’s and by devising a career plan for each member of our team we have established our commitment to their advancement.

Each member of our team has an annual training budget and a training log to complete which helps keep note of courses and workshops they have completed throughout the year.

Everyone also has two paid days each year to volunteer with a charity of their choice which provides them with an opportunity for personal development outside of their day to day work routine.

This is just a snap-shot of what we’ve achieved inside our business in two-and-a-bit short years and we see evidence every day of how our internal culture is reflected in the quality of our work and the results we achieve for our clients.

Of our IIP achievement, Paul Devoy, Head of Investors in People at the UK Commission for Employment and Skills, said: “Achieving the Investors in People Bronze standard is something that a business, as young as Conscious Communications, should be truly proud of. It is the sign of an organisation which is truly committed to good people management practice and we’d like to congratulate the company on its achievement.”

Our brand of marketing

Capturing the key points from a recent interview our MD, Alison Taylor, did with Star Radio’s Business Hub, here are Conscious Communications answers to some of the questions we are frequently asked by SMEs in the region.

How do I approach my marketing strategy when I have a tight budget:

We will always recommend taking an holistic approach to your marketing and communications strategy, that looks to deliver your messages efficiently via whichever channel is most effective in engaging with your specific audiences.  There will never be just one solution, you should look at all potential elements of the marketing mix and make informed decisions about where your money is best spent.

Set out with a clear set of objectives for what you want your marketing to achieve – these will always boil down to two broad objectives:

  1. Profile raising and influence
  2. Sales/support – this may relate to sales of a product or, in the case of charities or social enterprises, refers to the support they gain for their activities

Taking these two objectives in turn our advice is:

 1.     Profile and influence

  •  Don’t scattergun your marketing – aim for quality not quantity.  This is especially important for SMEs where marketing budgets are tight
  • Analyse your market – the types of companies/organisations you want to work with, where they’re based, who they’re currently buying products/services from
  • Look at what the competition is doing – aim to identify your niche and understand why potential customers will want to buy from you and not from your competitors.  You need to really understand what you’re offering – think in features and benefits
  • Don’t focus on talking about what your company does: talk about what it can do for your potential customers – how will what you offer benefit them
  • Don’t reinvent the wheel – that’s not to mean don’t be creative; but don’t waste resources and time – monitor and evaluate and learn from what you achieve
  • Don’t pin your whole marketing effort on social media.  It can play a role in what you do and can be a useful tool, but it is not a solution in itself and much time and resource can be wasted on social media channels/platforms that aren’t relevant for your customers

Once you understand your audiences and what they’re looking for, examine all the marketing channel options available to you; weigh up what they offer and the potential return: advertising, sponsorship, media relations, events and exhibitions, networking.

Much of your marketing may be ‘under the radar’ rather than overt – it may be that your business is best built on reputation and word of mouth, like ours is.  In which case much of your investment may be in the time it takes to be out and about meeting the right people at events, conferences, seminars.  Factor this into your budget and monitor and evaluate the results

A few tips for what not to do:

  • Don’t invest without measurement in place
  • Don’t ignore existing customers – they can be your best source of new business
  • Don’t ignore your mistakes – learn from them

 2.     Sales and support

Relationships are absolutely key to closing any sort of deal, even in this digital age –  people buy from people.  From a marketing perspective, there are three keys to successfully securing a sale:

  • relationships built on trust – this can be evidenced by word of mouth; endorsement from existing clients/customers.  This is true for business to business, and business to consumer markets
  • evidence that the product or service can and has previously been delivered, and/or that the product has previously been successfully purchased/used – examples, case studies, reviews
  • proof that there will be the required return on investment.  Your customers will want to assess a cost vs reward ratio – if I spend x on this product, I will receive x-worth of benefit, whether this is tangible, intangible or even subliminal!

All of the above can be evidenced in your marketing.  It’s not just about getting noticed, it’s about proving you’re the best one for the job, or that your products will meet and exceed your customers’ needs.

It’s worth bearing in mind also that you don’t have to go it alone; so much today is about partnerships and collaboration.  Look for likeminded organisations to work with and form mutually beneficial partnerships to market; you may be able to pool resources and budgets to make advertising more affordable for example; or you may be able to develop a joint event which people are more likely to attend because it’s hosted by more than one company.

Picture this

The rise of image-led communication across the business spectrum, from basic infographics to the full-blown illustrative interpretation of strategies, continues to gain momentum.   In our own business the change is evidenced by many ways; our business plan, which in days gone by would have populated many pages of a decent sized paperback, has now been translated into a one page visual which is simple to grasp, memorable and, therefore, easy to translate into action for every single member of our team.

There is a fascinating article in BA’s Business Life this month which illustrates just how far we have come in understanding the power and many uses of imagery in the business world.  The saying ‘a picture tells a thousand words’ has been used for generations in the marketing industry but traditionally (for those of us old enough to remember) the saying’s meaning referred to the use of photography to illustrate text – it was assumed that without the words the audience couldn’t possibly be expected to understand what the communication was about. 

Now it seems we have finally turned this thinking on its head and today the picture is increasingly used to communicate the message, replacing most, if not all of the words.  So, if the old saying is still true, and if each 1,000 word article can be replaced by just one picture, communication will continue to become infinitely faster and more streamlined.  Unfortunately for those people whose brains aren’t so able to process images, this may prove challenging but, if we’re to believe the words of experts cited in the BA article, these people are few and far between.

The concept of graphic visualisation is nothing new of course.  Anyone who has seen Ken Robinson’s animated thinking on education will know how powerful live, illustrative interpretation can be when executed well.  The ability to communicate a thousand words through just one image takes the type of skills that not many people possess.  But, from experience, we know that utilising the simplest of pictures to capture and bring elements of a concept together, can certainly help with interpretation of the message.  And, with so many digital tools available, many of which are free, there is really no excuse for any organisation not attempting to use the power of images. 

The simple graphic used in this blog about ‘Conscious Business’ captures beautifully what the author sees as the four essential elements of the concept.  Even if the reader hasn’t the time or the interest to read all of the blog’s text, they will be able to grasp the basics of what the author wants to convey from this simple graphic – job done.

Graphic visualisation has also become an increasingly popular tool for internal communications specialists, especially those responsible for driving internal change.  An image that can map an organisation’s structure, work flow, products, services, customers (internal and external), can be very effective for enhancing engagement and stimulating involvement and ownership.  Channel 4’s corporate workflow graphic is a colourful example.    

The utilisation of graphic facilitation in the work place is a relatively new concept and simply brilliant.  For everything from strategic development to team building, the technique takes meeting facilitation to a completely new level and allows teams to develop something completely unique and memorable that has the ability to help break down barriers. Forget the pack of post-its, coloured pens and flip chart, spending a little extra money on an illustrator to capture the nuances and emotions of a workshop can be worth every penny.

But, with all the excitement about graphics, there is still a significant place for words – the beauty and value of well-chosen words shouldn’t be dismissed.  Like artistic masterpieces themselves, they wear the test of time.  Here are some of the great opening lines from literature as chosen by the Daily Telegraph: “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all doing direct the other way”.  We challenge you to try putting all of the depth of emotion and meaning in these words into a picture! 

Clifford’s downfall signals bright future for PR

Max Clifford may be an expert at ‘spin’ but he has never been a ‘king of PR’.  In fact, he knows nothing of PR and has never practised anything that Conscious Communications would even loosely term public relations. 

Max Clifford is a publicist who has made fortunes from other people’s misfortunes and we couldn’t be happier that his conviction will remove him from the fringes of our industry and mean that he can no longer taint our profession with his tatty, manipulative money-making practices.

All major industries have their high profile ‘personalities’ and ‘egos’ but few have suffered and survived the degradation of anyone like Clifford.  A thorn in our side for decades, we have soldiered on, building the strength and reputation of strategic public relations practices that have delivered real and lasting impact for organisations of all shapes and sizes across the world.

The research, insight, understanding, knowledge, skill and creativity that we employ to develop and implement PR strategies, to deliver genuine and honest objectives, are qualities that Clifford knows nothing of. 

Now that Clifford’s downfall is complete, neither the public relations profession, the popular media, or the unfortunate people who sold their stories through Clifford, need a replacement, and we look forward to a future for our industry where communication experts can feel proud to call themselves PR professionals again.

Content marketing – today’s once upon a time

Content marketing is set to be the single biggest area of increased marketing spend this year.   But content marketing is not new, it’s simply the evolution of something communications professionals like us have been doing since time began – writing and telling compelling stories. 

Effective story-telling is the basis for all good public relations, marketing and brand development activity.  Content marketing combines this skill with the concept of traditional media relations, where the value of editorial is far greater than that of paid-for advertising.

The fact that we now work in a world where there’s a frenzy of content generation, everyone can be their own publisher, and there are more free channels for dissemination than ever before, doesn’t diminish the value of traditional media and journalism.  There is still huge inherent value for the marketer in achieving editorial coverage, with its perceived editorial endorsement, through well-conceived, written and pitched news and feature materials. 

More than ever, consumers are looking for reliable sources to inform and validate their decisions and purchases – editorial endorsement is still powerful and can be a valuable education tool. 

In fact, good old-fashioned media relations is still the service that the Conscious Communications team gets requests for most frequently, except that these days we also include social media engagement in the mix of course.

So we find ourselves with three main options for dissemination of our content, each of which has its   own merits and offers varying levels of control:

1) Owned media where we have total control in the form of newsletters, whitepapers, websites, blogs – brands that create 15 blog posts per month average 1,200 new leads per month;

2) social media where we can control our own messages but also invite conversation and engagement with audiences – according to the Content Marketing Institute, the average B2B marketer engages in content promotion on 6 social media platforms;

3) traditional media – print, broadcast and on-line, where editorial control is in someone else’s hands and, therefore, still has greater perceived value for the reader. 

Conscious Communications believes that the best content marketing strategies utilise both traditional and new media channels to disseminate original, repurposed and curated content to achieve optimum engagement.  In this way, a good content marketing strategy can engage with audiences at every stage of the buying cycle through initial awareness generation through engagement and lead generation, to loyalty, effectively supporting other marketing and sales activities.

There is one other option too, which spans all of the above, and that is the ‘peer review’ which, again, is now more easily achieved than ever.  Much like the traditional case study published in a business or trade journal, customer and supplier reviews, guest blogs and endorsements can be effectively utilised within a content marketing programme to promote products and services and reinforce prospective customers’ reasons to engage. 

The really exciting thing about content today is that it doesn’t need to be static and can be delivered easily through moving image, audio, animation, graphics, text and a combination of all of these.    Just imagine, a massive two-thirds of the world’s mobile data traffic will be video by 2017.

Content marketing is also a hugely valuable component of any effective internal communications programme and should be viewed and managed with the same care and attention it commands for external marketing. 

Again, this is nothing new, but internal audiences have become more sophisticated and demanding, and content needs to reflect this by inviting and encouraging contributions, promoting successes and best practice. 

Employees can be a company’s most effective ambassadors and the company that successfully involves its staff in generating and disseminating content on the company’s behalf, has a lot to gain.   However, involving individuals in content generation is a great motivator as long as it doesn’t become a burden.  So make sure to set out clear guidelines and ensure individuals keep to agreed timelines so that content is topical and maintains momentum.

And, if you’re still not sure of the value of content marketing, it is a fact that well-constructed content, that resonates with audiences and achieves recommendations, will gain attention from search engines, pushing you up the search rankings.  Google values in-depth and lengthy (1,500+ words) technical articles, white papers, study reports and so on, so a good smattering of longer pieces to complement your curated news and repurposed views content will help ensure you’re appealing to all potential audiences.

If you’re thinking about developing a content marketing programme and need some creative inspiration, www.businesss2community.com published 57 ideas – some insightful, some obvious, all worth bearing in mind: http://goo.gl/H5Y4VX.

If you need help with constructing your content marketing programme, please give us a call on 01223 393 812 or email alison.taylor@consciouscomms.com.  You can also follow us on Twitter @Conscious_comms or visit our website: www.consciouscomms.com

The value of media relations

Great media relations skills are honed through years of hands-on experience.  They cannot be learned from a text book.  Top media relations practitioners have a raw talent, an instinct for a ‘story’ and eye for an ‘angle’.  Importantly, they know their audience and understand the media which, in the digital age, is no mean feat.

So what makes a good story?  There is no doubt that bad news shouts louder than good news and that bad news spreads faster and stays longer than ever.  But how do we make a compelling story out of good news? There are six main components that make up news:

  • Immediacy – it is about something that’s happening now
  • Impact – it has the ability to affect lives
  • Change – it is about imminent or actual change
  • Interest – it excites; worries; intrigues; motivates
  • Importance – it is of consequence to individuals and/or communities
  • Relevance – it is topical and of significance

The media landscape has changed dramatically in just the past few years and now employs over ½ million people in the UK.  It is now vastly more complex and dynamic than it was with every member of the public now a potential reporter and self-appointed journalist.  With more channels for news than ever before, competition for editorial space is fierce, so why communicate through the media at all?  Why not choose another way to communicate with target audiences and raise the profile of your company, products or services? 

The one overriding compelling reason is that the media offers the potential for mass dissemination of your messages.  With the right angle, making your story newsworthy, you have the potential to reach many millions of people across the world.  Even more appealing is that, with careful planning and media knowledge, you have the ability to engage with niche markets of interested customers and potential customers.  And, now that the media is so joined-up, you have the ability to push audiences to your own media outlets – your website; blog; pages on social platforms.

Of course one of the reasons why great media relations still carries such value is because a story reported by an independent media channel carries the implied endorsement of that channel, the journalist/editor.  Even better, if the story is delivered in the form of a third party review or endorsement, giving personal endorsement of the products/services, it has yet more value.

And while, prior to the new media age, stories in traditional media became chip paper and were lost overnight, with today’s digital channels, your story has an infinite life, potentially resurfacing time and again dished up by search engines, for many years to come.  So, a little media relations expertise can go a long, long way.

Eureka, a diet that works!

January is dieting season and if you’ve made a resolution to lose weight this spring you’ll no doubt have been trawling the internet, magazines, papers for advice on how to do it. 

One of the most convincing sources of information about what does and doesn’t work, is our friends and family.  People who have actually done it; are doing it; have succeeded; and can tell you how much pain might be involved and how determined you need to be, are the ones we listen to most. 

It seems to the Conscious Communications team that almost everyone we speak to has tried, or is doing, the 5:2.  The regimen has captured everyone’s imaginations with its sheer simplicity and one-day-at-a-time pain philosophy.   The thought that we can fast for two days each week, then eat whatever we like on the other five, and still lose lbs and lbs, sounds just too good to be true.  So, is it?

Conscious Communications was privileged to be at a British Nutrition Foundation (BNF) conference last week, frantically scribing press releases in the back row.  It was here that we learned that the original version of the 5:2 was titled ‘The 2-Day Diet’, developed by Dr Michelle Harvie, Research Dietitian at the Genesis Prevention Centre, University Hospital of South Manchester, and based on extensive scientific research. 

The 2-Day Diet comprises two days of 500-600 calories, plus five days of healthy eating and, yes, it really does work.  But here’s the rub, you can’t eat whatever you like on the five days -that just won’t work. 

However, the good news is, unlike other diets where keeping the weight loss off seems impossible, if you succeed in losing weight with this one, you can then cut back to just one day per week of ‘fasting’ to successfully maintain the weight loss.

Palaeolithic diets were also on the agenda at the conference and, as well as discovering that the Stone Age menu contained many more phytochemicals and fibre than the modern day diet, it seems that they also had a big impact on satiety hormones and feelings of fullness after eating. 

The Conscious Communications team thinks, therefore, that in theory if we combine a healthy eating plan, based on the Palaeolithic diet, with an intermittent fasting plan (2-Day Diet), the weight loss process would be even easier.  Not so much ‘no pain, no gain’; rather ‘just a little, intermittent pain, and big gain’! 

Against the backdrop of all of this scientific evidence, the NHS in association with the British Dietetic Association (BDA) has launched its own 12 week weight-loss plan – yet another healthy eating plan with exercise included.  It sounds like so many other diets and surely adds to general dieting confusion.  No wonder the 5:2 seems so appealing in comparison.

Follow us on Twitter: @Conscious_comms. 

Recordings of four of the BNF conference presentations are available on: www.nutrition.org.uk

Keeping our resolve

41 percent of us will have made a New Year’s resolution at midnight on 31st December but 46 percent of these resolutions will last just 6 months and only 19 percent a full year. 

Every January the media rejoices in reporting on popular resolutions, personal and professional, many of which are predictable but enjoyable to make fun of nonetheless, even if some of them are a little too familiar, personally.  This year, the Guardian published its list with a twist: the top twelve resolutions NOT to make.   The Conscious Communications team’s favourite in this list is the new hairdo.  The sense of growing dismay and regret as your new image takes shape in the hairdresser’s mirror beautifully captured in this piece – resolution or not, who hasn’t experienced this one!

The media’s other favourite list for January is that of personal finance resolutions.  This list is similar across all media every year and a sad indictment to creative thinking.  For 2014 the recurring theme is to make better use of free on-line tools and advice to help manage and monitor your finances.  The internet has, of course, transformed the world of personal finance and allows us to research and compare information across multiple providers, products and services as never before.  ‘Switching’ is now part of our everyday vocabulary but the figures are still very low – in September 2013 the Payments Council launched a new Current Account Switch Service designed to motivate more consumers to change their bank.  One month later they announced that 89,000 switches had been completed since launch, but this was just 9,000 more than the same period the previous year when no such service was available.  The assumption could be that the public is apathetic.  But, maybe it’s simply that we’ve taken our New Year’s resolution, dug around and used free on-line information to search out better deals, then spoken to our bank and, hey-presto, customer service has kicked in and they’ve risen to the challenge and structured a package to suit us better.  That’s the experience of one member of our team anyway.

Members of the Conscious Communications team have all, individually, made New Year’s resolutions for 2014.  Interestingly in all cases these resolutions relate to learning something and ‘bettering ourselves’ in some way. 

CPD in social media is a recurring theme for us – the world in which we work moves so fast that it is essential to our work that we stay on the learning curve and, therefore, as well as being on our resolutions lists social media is naturally integrated as part of our on-going external training programme.

Without going into too many dull specifics, other resolutions from our team include further learning in sustainable business practices and collaborations; and greater involvement with local charitable causes.  If this all sounds very ‘worthy’, we definitely have some hairdos in the frame too! 

Importantly, how will we go about keeping these resolutions? According to International Business Times there are five things we all should do to ensure we keep our promises to ourselves.  The Conscious Communications team’s favourite of these is to ‘make a vision board’ – what, really?!  That sounds like a whole resolution in itself and far too much like hard work to be practical.  We actually think it’s more a case of just getting on with it although, undoubtedly, making a resolution with a friend can help, so the ‘buddy’ system described in the IBT piece has some merit.  However, buddies also have the potential to lead you astray and weaken your resolve so, one final resolution for our list is, beware the ‘weak buddy’.

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