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News and views from possibly the biggest public relations consultancy in the world... well, certainly the largest in Coalville.

Friday, 16 January 2015

The two imposters

Triumphs and disasters - part three of a trilogy 25 years in the making

Six months after setting up an office in my back bedroom and becoming the biggest PR consultancy in the village of Groby, work was beginning to pile up.

It was obvious I needed help and a more formal business location. The back bedroom was barely big enough for one person never mind any more, especially visiting clients.

It was time to grow up. I became an employer, rented premises and took on a whole range of financial commitments that hadn’t been there before. Things were getting serious.

Business boomed. We did some great work and found that we were particularly good at crisis management. (My first experience of crisis management had occurred several years earlier and had involved a presidential assassination and the closing down of an entire country for a while – but that’s for another time.)

At one stage, we were working for Christian Salvesen, Hotpoint, Redring and family retailer Wilkinson, as well as a host of others. Prospective clients were knocking on our door because they had seen the work we were doing for others in their field.

Suddenly, I wasn’t writing copy or talking to journalists any more, I was managing a team of eleven people who did that for me.

The danger of hubris

Some of those people were excellent and have gone on to prosper and to excel elsewhere in similar roles. Others weren’t so great, but their failing was my responsibility. It was my business. I made the recruitment decisions. I cocked up, both in terms of selecting individuals in the first place, then not monitoring them closely enough to identify and to help remedy the issues that, in hindsight, were oh so apparent.

In my self-aggrandising eyes, I was good at my job, I was a great judge of people and I expected them to get on with things, just like I did. My business. My money. What I say goes.

Humility has come a little late in the day, but I should have let other people have a far greater say in who joined our team. Yet, despite the diversity of talent and ability within the business, we continued to do well.

We were publically praised for our work by four different senior executives at a two-day European management conference for a major blue-chip.

We saved almost one million pounds for a manufacturer who had set aside a considerable budget to deal with quality issues following a major product launch.

We came up with a marketing solution that resulted in huge things for a Midlands-based distributor.

Then it happened.

The phone calls

I think it was the late, great David Ogilvy who talked about agencies being one phone call away from a major problem and two phone calls away from a disaster. We had three of those phone calls in three months.

Hand on heart, none of the major client losses we had in those three months could be laid at our door – acquisitions, mergers and changes in strategic direction all had their part to play.

The one thing you can guarantee in this business is that you will eventually lose all the clients you have today. The key is to keep what you have as long as possible by delivering a consistently excellent service and by being innovative and proactive.

But you also need to invest in a business development programme that brings in new clients on a regular basis, or at least establishes cordial relationships with future prospects.

We were too busy with current clients to focus too much attention on ongoing business development – especially when we’d had prospects knocking on the door.

The result was my most traumatic work experience ever. I had to let almost everybody go. Some were very understanding. Others took it very badly.

I saw every redundancy as my personal failure. I had started this business on something of a whim – the timing and the circumstances had just fallen into place. For years, the business had gone from strength to strength. We had already seen off one recession and I was confident – too confident – in our ability to withstand anything the world could throw at us. 

How wrong was I.

Learning lessons from the past

It took a while to recover from that period in our history, but we managed it. Cautiously, we began to rebuild the team. I was far more rigorous in selecting employees and involved others in the entire process.

The girl whose crisis management expertise amounted to letting off a library user who should have been fined 35 pence for an overdue book didn’t get past the first interview. 

Neither did the man whose expertise in dealing with awkward members of the press amounted to persuading an insistent local journalist to call back ten minutes later. Three years earlier, both would have been welcomed with open arms.

Perhaps the only positive from the whole experience was that I finally returned to writing copy and managing client accounts and a small team, rather than running a larger team rather badly.

Today, we are a team of six with a network of associates both in the UK and abroad we can call on as and when required.

Everyone has close contact with a range of clients and works directly on several accounts. Our most recent employee joined over seven years ago; our combined experience in the business totals well over 60 years.

As you’d imagine, we’re a close-knit team. We’re also living proof that size isn’t everything. Our global PR service currently reaches into South America, China and India as well as across mainland Europe and, of course, the UK.

We all have ‘soft’ business development as part of our remit and this has worked remarkably well in terms of getting us in front of potential clients and securing new business as a result.Could we have arrived here a better way? Yes. Would I do things differently if I had my time again? Undoubtedly, but given the lack of time travel opportunities, that’s not going to happen.

Treating the triumphs and disasters of the past quarter century just the same and looking at the business today, I am very proud of my team and very proud of our achievements.

My grateful thanks to everyone who, in whatever shape or form, has been part of the journey.

Monday, 12 January 2015

Clients - a musing

Part Two of a trilogy 25 years in the making

I can honestly say I’ve enjoyed working with every single client that has crossed my path over the last 25 years, but some of them stand out for various reasons.

Most Fearsome Client

My very first job as a new business was copywriting a brochure for a firm of club doormen (bouncers) in Birmingham.

Both directors were so big, they had to stoop as they came through the door. They were very affable guys, dressed smartly, were willing to listen and had a great sense of humour. However, when they frowned slightly at something they weren’t sure about, you had the feeling your life was about to end – quickly and with some degree of pain.

I don’t think I have ever felt so nervous handing over copy for approval. And I can’t believe they ever had any trouble in the establishments they ‘looked after’.

Best News Photo

A packaging business had issued a news release promoting a storage box that was very strong and which could be stacked to great heights even when full. The release bombed. They came to us for help.

“What weight can each box take?” we asked. “7.5 tonnes,” they replied. And there was the answer.

One week later, four jacks were removed from a 7.5 tonne vehicle, leaving it balanced on one of the new boxes, which had sections cut out of its top to accommodate the vehicle chassis. Three minutes later and with a nervous vehicle insurance rep on the phone, the photographs had been taken and the vehicle was back on the ground.

The results – masses of coverage in key titles, huge interest in the product and some substantial orders.

Most Important Competition Lesson Learned

The lesson? If possible, try to do a little research before deciding on a competition winner. When we tried to arrange a presentation photoshoot with the winner of a posiest pet photo competition, we were told the dog had died three years earlier.

The winner of a best garden competition wouldn’t be photographed receiving the first prize in her garden as she was extremely agoraphobic and wouldn’t come out of her house. The work had been done by a neighbour, who lived abroad six months of the year and had just left on his extended break.

Quickest Major Result For A New Client

We felt that our assimilation notes for a new client were a strong summary of the business and how it had grown over the previous 12 months. Fleshing out the story with more operational detail and some customer testimonials, we submitted the final version in the industry’s main awards scheme just four weeks after starting work. Our client walked away with the headline award.

A great start for a working relationship that lasted eleven years – although it put the pressure on for the last ten years and eleven months of that period.

Most Fulfilling Work

I have tremendous admiration for all the emergency services and for the people who work within them. When the opportunity came to help the comms team at a regional ambulance service, we jumped at the chance.

Here was an organisation that saved lives and went to the aid of people in trouble 24 hours a day, seven days a week, but whose ability to operate effectively depended on the funding it received from other health bodies who always had other priorities.

Of course, saving lives day in day out isn’t necessarily a news story when that’s what you’re expected to do, but when something goes wrong? That’s a different story. Negative press was having an impact on everyone in the organisation – even when they knew they were doing their best with the staff, equipment and systems available.

Our role was to help boost team morale by generating good news stories and to minimise the amount of potentially adverse publicity by making sure any editor looking to publish something negative could at least make a decision based on having all the facts at their disposal.

We did a great job. We increased the amount of positive exposure, reduced the negative and made sure that any issues were at least reported in a fair and balanced way. I’ll always be very proud of our involvement.

Biggest Disappointment

In 2002, we issued two April Fools stories for a mobile phone client.

One concerned a couple who had bought a mobile phone for their pet parrot, so they could call it from work and prevent it getting lonely during the day. The other featured a mini airbag, which could be attached to a mobile phone and which deployed around it if the accompanying sensor detected the handset had been dropped.

Both stories attracted a lot of enquiries from the national press and regional media for additional photography, interviews and so on. We were confident that Monday 1st April 2002 would be a memorable day, and so it was – but not for the right reasons.

That’s because on Saturday 30th March 2002, Buckingham Palace announced the death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. The weekday media caught up with the news on the Monday and made up for the delay by dedicating oceans of space and airtime to Her Majesty’s lifetime. As a result – and undoubtedly alongside a host of other wizard wheezes for April Fools’ Day – our parrot was caged and our airbag deflated.

Simplest, Most Effective Idea

A network of mobile phone retailers was upset by the decision of supermarkets to sell mobile phones and wished to make the point that ascertaining each customer’s specific communication requirements, identifying the best solution and ensuring that the solution was delivered correctly was slightly different to flogging somebody a tin of beans.

So, we got the mobile phone specialists to sell beans for a short while at a cheaper price than the supermarkets. The idea captured the media’s imagination and coverage was amazing. So much so, that we revisited the idea eight months later in the build up to Christmas, substituting sprouts for beans and achieving similar results (as you would if you switched sprouts for beans – but that’s a blog that will probably never be written).

Monday, 5 January 2015

Channelling the message - a musing

Part One of a trilogy 25 years in the making

It doesn’t seem a minute since I was sitting in my back bedroom with my Macintosh SE/30, a laser printer, a landline and a fax machine, trying to avoid the temptation that was Tetris and focusing instead on the layout of a four-page A3 newsletter – which was tricky enough anyway, given the size of the SE/30’s mono screen.

A quarter of a century has passed since I founded the PR business that is now Quiet Storm Consultants. I can’t quite believe where the intervening time has gone.

Although the technologies existed already and would engulf all of us soon enough, emails, web sites and mobile phones weren’t even on my radar at that time.

Searching for forthcoming editorial features meant thumbing through a printed version of Advance every quarter. Obtaining sign-off on a news release required a copy to be printed out and faxed across to the client with a covering note requesting a signed copy to be faxed back.

Distributing a release with a picture meant ordering copies of prints, attaching a label to the back with the relevant details and mailing with the release to a carefully selected circulation list.

Those were the days when colour separation fees were actually used for creating colour separations.

Adopting, adapting and upsetting
Mobile phones came out at just the right time. A colleague and I decided to try my first – a nifty little number attached by a cable to a huge battery with a handle – by calling a client in London from my car to say we’d be slightly late for our pre-arranged meeting, only to discover he had left for Glasgow earlier in the day.
That very first call saved me fifty miles or so of a wasted journey. Mind you, we had already travelled sixty miles down the M1 before we made the call and still had to make the same trip back.

Email technology took a lot of the pain out of issuing news releases and contacting journalists. This in turn fired up the journalists’ animosity to PR people.

Issuing a news release suddenly became much easier and a lot cheaper. Adding other media to the circulation list effectively cost nothing and could potentially boost coverage results. The problem was that the extra journalists who were targeted hadn’t been on the earlier lists for a reason – they weren’t really relevant.

Being inundated with bumf that was of no use to them soured an entire industry’s view of the PR profession and still lingers in some areas today.

Developing smarter solutions

Happily, experience and more recent technological developments have alleviated that issue for the more considerate and circumspect within the PR industry, who build relationships by being responsive, helpfully proactive and by generating interesting, original and newsworthy material, which is targeted with surgical precision.

Web sites and social media have made it much easier to reach the end user directly, rather than risking key messages falling victim to the editor’s delete button, or the entire story being (the modern equivalent of) spiked.

Bloggers, fan sites and social networking channels provide a whole range of new opportunities and challenges. Reams of virtual paper on LinkedIn and other sites are used to share (or sell) ideas on how to make the most of these media, or - increasingly frequently - simply duplicate or paraphrase the thoughts of others on the same subject.

Looking at my LinkedIn home page, I empathise with the journalists of that recent bygone era who were plagued with material of little or no relevance – only this time, I feel as if I’m being given the same information time and time again.

Fortunately, with a few clicks in Pulse, I can enjoy a respite from the influencers, channels and publishers for as long as I like. Of course, given the relentless march of development, I’ll have to re-engage at some stage in order to ensure that I don’t feel like a Luddite in this age of e-enlightenment.

It’s an interesting and exciting time for the PR industry, but then, ‘twas ever thus.

Despite the great channel leaps forward over the last 25 years, the ability to identify and to generate interesting material that engages the right audience and delivers the right results for clients has remained a constant.

It’s a challenge my own business has enjoyed meeting for two and a half decades, and will continue to do so for some considerable time to come.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Good to hear!

A major client today revealed editorial coverage generated by us has been directly responsible for meetings with three potential customers, including one of the world's biggest IT companies and another where our client wasn't even on a tender list being drawn up (and which has since been put on hold). 

Our role is all about raising awareness, influencing perceptions and obtaining intelligence through communication programmes, which have strategic and tactical value across a range of business applications.

However, we still get a kick when we hear about these quick wins. :0)

Friday, 17 October 2014

View from the top

As well as producing press releases and case studies, part of our role is to identify opportunities for our clients to offer opinions using their expertise on current hot topics. With this in mind it was great to see Peter Jones, managing director at Logistics Learning Alliance, featured in the Viewpoint column of this week's Motor Transport as he highlighted the importance of management training.

Click here to read the article.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Transdek featured in Handling & Storage Solutions

We're pleased to help our client Transdek champion the idea of improving supply chain efficiency by integrating the loading bay and using it as a data source. Handling & Storage Solutions is featuring the story as part of its September supplement The Supply Chain – Loading Bays & Doors. To take a look at the online version, click on the link. Integrate the loading bay

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Maintaining momentum

As a Leicestershire-based public relations consultancy, we're pleased to see the East Midlands leading the way for growth, according to research by the Royal Bank of Scotland:


No doubt our boss is pleased to see his home town of Warrington in the mix too.

Maintaining East Midlands' momentum means marketing, but we would say that wouldn't we!

Throughout the recession, we've continued to work with a number of companies who recognise the commercial value of maintaining a high profile to help secure further growth and prosperity.

If you'd like to find out more about who we've worked with over the years and what they have to say about us, take a look at http://www.q-storm.co.uk/experience/.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Unusual in a good way

We’re proud to have been in the PR business for almost 25 years, riding out two recessions, which have seen budgets decimated and countless ‘boutique’ agencies disappear.

We have witnessed major changes in how we ply our trade. Electronic communications and, more recently, social media have, thankfully, replaced the endless stuffing of envelopes with press releases (and the sticking of captions to the back of the photographic prints we sent out with them).

Some things haven’t changed though - one of these being the care and time we invest in cultivating strong relationships, both within our client organisations and in the media.

As a result, we’re currently in discussions with three prospective new clients via three individuals who have worked with us in previous roles.

It also means that we’re often the first port of call for journalists looking for contributions, who know they can rely on us to give them material they can use. Journalists like Laura Cork, former Managing Editor of, and regular contributor to, Works Management, who says:

“Your prepared material is great. You look at the features bulletin, throw your hat in the ring, sell your client to us and give us the information we need. It’s unusual in a good way. We’re always very happy with what Quiet Storm delivers. It’s always relevant.”

While we can now communicate in a split second, taking the time to build strong relationships built on understanding and mutual respect remains a fundamental pillar of our success.

Monday, 7 July 2014

What's your favourite logo? It's all in the Mind...

What's your favourite logo?

My vote would go to Mind’s ‘squiggle’.

Not only does the logo clearly, imaginatively and effectively summarise the organisation’s purpose, it’s also one colour, which means the charity can utilise it in a variety of formats without its stationery and signage costing the earth.

I was prompted to go public with my admiration for the Mind logo, having received an email from a business promising to remove complexity from my business thanks to their quick-to-deploy diagnosis tool.

It’s a pity the tool wasn’t applied to their corporate identity, which appears to be a pastiche of Mind’s logo, minus the… erm… simplicity.

Connecting a suspiciously similar squiggle to the end of the word ‘Simplicity’ rather than the beginning seems to suggest that when you complete the diagnostic process you end up where you started, but in a bit of a mess. 

Kudos to Mind – a great organisation doing marvellous work and with an excellent logo to boot.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Upstairs, downstairs!

We’re very pleased to have been appointed by the Logistics Learning Alliance (LLA), one of the leading logistics and supply chain management training companies in the UK, to provide them with an ongoing public relations programme.

The backdrop to our success demonstrates one of the benefits of social media, in this case LinkedIn. Although Leicestershire based LLA is in the same building as us (upstairs) initial contact was made through an invitation to link, which lead to a dialogue online and a quick intro meeting.

After finding out more about LLA, we produced a PR proposal, highlighting our supply chain and logistics expertise, met again in our offices (downstairs), and after outlining a strategy for promoting LLA, we’ve ‘linked’ up. The official kick-off is today but to demonstrate what can be achieved we’ve already supplied a piece for the Leicestershire Chamber magazine, Business Issues for Leicestershire, which has just been published in the July/August issue!