Blog : Smart Thinking

Nobody panic – helping you manage out of a crisis

Nobody panic – helping you manage out of a crisis

Despite the fact we are in the middle of a huge crisis, from a comms point of view things have been relatively straight forward. The Government has led the way and businesses have followed.  No one is alone, we’re all in it together, which in many ways has made it easier to message and deal with.

But as we start to see things transition into ‘next normal’, businesses have to be prepared for managing their own news and reputations. The media are going to switch their attention away from the Government and will be looking for stories about the fallout. So, everything – from financial struggles to redundancies, closure of offices, pulling back from investment, employees not being supported or treated appropriately, to additional spikes in infection – will prove challenging to manage. Whilst much of this is unavoidable, brands and businesses will be held accountable for their actions during this time, and even the mighty can fall with one wrong move.

Last week, myself and Scotland MD, Morna McLelland, sat on a Marketing Society Inspiring Minds panel to discuss managing comms during a crisis; here’s a summary of some things for brands and businesses to think about.

1. Be Prepared (and know when an issue becomes a crisis).

None of us ever saw ‘global pandemic’ on the risk register of any business we worked with, but every business should be thinking about the potential risks and challenges facing them.  These could be financial, operational, people, product or customer related.  Prepare your own risk register, work through the scenarios, and ideally, plan how you would respond.  If you know something significant is going to happen, take as much time as you can to prepare.  Think about who in your organisation will need to be involved, what are the key stages or dates you need to work around, how will you make decisions, and how will you communicate with each other?

2. Understand your audiences

Who are the people you need to influence and communicate with?  These could include investors, stakeholders, politicians, customers, and employees.  Map out your audiences in relation to your issue.  Who is most important, what do they need, what do they want to hear, and how will you reach them?

3. Make your message relevant

Ideally you should boil your comms down to four key messages. When you write them, remember your voice, keep them short, and ideally work with a PR professional to ensure that the words you use can’t be edited down by a journalist or taken out of context in any way.  Revisit your audiences and then make sure you tweak messages depending on who you’re talking to – tailored comms will go down much better than one size fits all.  Be consistent.  Admit mistakes, be clear, and show empathy.

 

4. Don’t believe your own hype

Of course you believe in the business you work in but that can sometimes cloud your judgement on how people externally will interpret your message. Use someone external to stress test your messaging and approach, and get a real-world view on things.

5. Be clear on your voice and who is representing you

When you speak, how do you sound?  If a brand is talking, make sure you don’t ignore your brand personality but be flexible.  Even the most irreverent brands need to know when to play it straight. Be real, be authentic, and above all else be honest.  The brands who fare best in a crisis are those that are relatable and real – hiding behind corporate masks will do very little to engender any kind of empathy. Get clear on who is going to be your voice. There is of course a role for the CEO but it’s important to consider different people for different roles and to ensure the most effective communicators are used at key moments.

6. Join things up

Make sure that your communications response looks at all the comms channels at your disposal, from PR, internal channels, customer newsletters, social media, stakeholder comms, third party networks and direct communications (picking up the phone or sending someone an email).  Timing and the sequence of this is especially critical and will be dictated by your audience mapping.

 

7. Use third parties to provide a different voice

Is there a third party that could support your story? Can you signpost existing help and information resources?  Or similarly, if you know someone is going to be especially negative then you might want to brief them directly in advance.

8. Understand the mood, and how it changes over time

How your story lands will have as much to do with what you say as the context in which it is landing.  Make sure you have a good read on the external environment and are sensitive to what’s going on around you. At the moment we are ‘all in this together’ with a collective goal, but that’s unusual. Be aware of wider economic factors that are influencing opinion – both good and bad – and how your messaging might need to change.

9. Communicate often and think ahead

Keep people updated (even when you have nothing to say).  Never stick your head in the sand or ignore questions. Review your social content and frequency of communications as people hunger for information, reassurance or guidance. And while you’re in this now, and will undoubtedly be focused on getting out of it as quickly and painlessly as possible, think ahead…what could be the future implications; unemployment, shareholder unrest, staff well-being and mental health, and are you equipped for that too?

 

10. Get specialist help

Managing reputations in a crisis is something that can’t be taught in a book or by reading a blog. The process and nuances come from years of experience so get someone in that knows what they are doing and absolutely have them at the top table throughout.  If you manage something badly then it’s going to take five times longer to clear up and by then your reputation could be severely damaged. Surround yourself with experienced experts that can help you and provide calm and confident support.

As a final thought, while no-one loves a crisis, if handled correctly they can define a business and the leadership team within it. Even when delivering the toughest of messages, if you are relatable and act with integrity and compassion then things might not end up quite as bad as you think.

 

Want the best creative solutions? Then prepare to go to Mars

Want the best creative solutions? Then prepare to go to Mars

Where’s creativity heading in today’s marketing context?
Well, there’s a ship about to leave the pod and it’s heading out-of-this-world.

Having recently attended the D&AD Festival 2019 (physically) and The Adobe Experience Festival (virtually) my take outs are looking into the stratosphere.

Just as we’re all feeling comfortable that we’re digitally up-to-speed, private space travel is bringing together entrepreneurship and enterprise in an explosion of converging technology, and futurists are now telling us to prepare for the post-digital era.

Boom! The sonic pop of this concept is blowing my mind.

So why should this matter to me as a Creative Director?

The answer is that these missions are working examples of how the combination of creativity and innovation is the key to the future. Not just as a savvy business model but as the way we need to think.

Right now, what better creative platform is there than to say you’ll be the first human on Mars? What higher technological challenge is there than to be responsible for the innovation to actually get there? What’s not entirely genius about owning both the creative and technological thinking of the journey and the experience?

Sophie Hackford, a speaker at Adobe’s 2019 Experience Festival, tells us how augmented and virtual reality are set to have a significant impact on the customer experience.  Looking at trends in the most popular gaming platforms such as Fortnite and Secondlife, gives us a glimpse into the commercial landscape of the future; spaces where avatars of ourselves are building lives, interacting, buying and selling virtual commodities.

The internet is becoming more and more immersive. UX and digital design trends are a response to these interactive and 3D environments. Communities are already engaging with flawless virtual influencers, and even our Hollywood stars and CEOs could be succeeded by both digital and synthetic avatars of themselves.

Hackford continues that if ‘virtual intelligence can automate experience’ then events in the future could become so good, no-one will want to leave and if you do miss a must-go social event, then there’s no risk of FOMO, you can travel back in time to take part in the 3D virtual world.

Where does this leave creative communications professionals?

In a fascinating, expansive place…but am I concerned? A little. Not just of the monitoring and morality issues, but more by the capacity my brain has to take all this tech on board. Time to grab an innovation geek and make them my new BFF.

And here’s where we go back to basics. Creativity can’t be automated and when fuelled by great strategy and insight it’s the driver of all enterprise, especially in communications. Looking at this year’s D&AD pencil winners, and observing as a judge at  the ‘Pioneering Spirit Awards’ for the Marketing Society Scotland, it’s clear that creativity is agile as well as migratory. If there is an understanding and skill to adapt, then creativity fits seamlessly into any new habitat and is the vehicle to get you there too.

What should we take out of all this?  Well for me it’s that creative and innovation in marketing terms should no longer be considered as separate skills. ‘Creativation’ is the future. See you on Mars.

Sophie Hackford, Futurist, Technologist, Researcher and Anthropologist Keynote Speaker, Adobe The Experience Festival 2019 https://www.adobe.com/uk/events/experiencefestival19/recordings.html

#DandAD2019 https://www.dandad.org/en/d-ad-creative-advertising-design-festival/

International Women’s Day 2019: What’s more important than balance is equality

International Women’s Day 2019: What’s more important than balance is equality

The theme for International Women’s Day this year is Balance for Better which of course makes perfect sense. It’s what we’re all striving for and although we’ve come a long way in the last 12 months, there’s still a huge amount to be achieved.

So, if this year is all about balance it got us thinking about where that left us at Stripe. You see, our workforce is 80% female and although we have a 50/50 Executive Board, our Management Board in Scotland is 100% female. Does this mean we’re in the wrong? Should we be beating ourselves up for not having more men in our business? Some would say yes, that we’re creating an environment which is positively discriminating in favour of women.

I disagree. Balance is important, but what’s much more important is creating a level playing field for every one of our team to fulfil their ambitions regardless of their gender. What’s more important than balance is equality.

We didn’t start out to create a female led business but when two thirds of people employed in our profession are female, Stripe isn’t unusual. However with only 30% of women making it to Board level, this is an area where I’m proud we lead the way.  Whilst we’re far from perfect, we’ve learnt that the key to retaining senior women isn’t about HR policies, it’s about culture. Management teams need to create an environment where all staff are supported to have a flexible working day where they can be there for family when it matters and that their career won’t suffer as a result.

I also believe if you have female leadership in a business it sets the tone and positively impacts how women are recruited, promoted and retained. This is why it’s so critically important that women are equally represented at Board level, because without that cultural shift at the top nothing will ever change.

At Stripe our culture is everything. It’s not driven by gender but is dictated by the common values that we all share. Our values are universal, but emotional intelligence plays a large part in our decision making. We treat our people as human beings rather than employees – recognising that what goes on outside of work can hugely impact their performance in the office.

Don’t get me wrong we combine this approach with a good dose of commerciality. Last year we had our most successful year and grew by 35%. That doesn’t come without a huge amount of hard work, personal sacrifices and not being afraid to make tough decisions when we need to.

Over the years we’ve kept our heads down and worked hard, rarely taking time to stop and recognise what we’ve achieved. But when we thought about this we realised we weren’t just doing a disservice to ourselves and our people, we were neglecting the fact that we have an important role to play on International Women’s Day.

And that role is to inspire. No one should have to work in an environment where they aren’t treated with respect or where there isn’t an equal playing field and people need to vote with the their feet if that’s happening to them. By telling our story we hope to inspire all future leaders to build businesses where the only thing that defines you is your talent and your values.

So, this year we are standing up and are proud to be who we are and of what we’ve achieved. We may not have perfect balance, but we will always strive for equality and surely that’s what’s important.

The Art of Insta Influence

The Art of Insta Influence

As you place that final blueberry on top of your porridge and the tub of cocoa powder on the counter ‘accidentally’ spills, perfectly framing your best china bowl, you lift your camera – poised and ready to get the perfect shot of your creation. You get a snap that fits your Instagram feed perfectly, a masterpiece that would rival the work of Salvador Dali… well maybe not, but one that will get you a lot of likes!

Thanks to this platform we have all become Instagram artists, it allows us as individuals to become creative directors of our own online brand. Ultimately you can be as creative, commercial, comical or artistic as you like and for the marketing and PR industries, working with influencers is a gamechanger in bringing campaigns to life.

Influencer led campaigns can work with those who have a large number of followers, known as macro influencers, or those with a smaller group of followers, between 3,000 – 10,000, which we classify as micro influencers. Campaigns can incorporate influencers in several ways including personal appearances, content creation, brand ambassador partnerships and influencer gifting.

I’ve pulled together three of our top tips on generating beautiful and effective user-generated content through Instagram influencer gifting, which can perfectly complement your campaign.

Be reactive!

With Instagram Stories now boasting 400 million daily users, keeping an eye on your Instagram feed can prove very helpful when scoping out macro influencers who you think will like your product. A speedy message to the influencer is a must. If someone puts a story up saying their favourite snack is pitta bread, and you happen to have a large box of them in the office, send them a personalised box, like we did with Lucy Mecklenburgh and Tiffany Watson  for our client, The Food Doctor.

It’s not all about numbers

As great as it is to engage macro influencers, sometimes they just aren’t the right fit for the brand. It’s all about doing your research and getting your product into the hands of the right people. Identifying influencers with a smaller following, who will truly love the brand and the message is just as beneficial. By gifting your product to micro influencers, and forming strong relationships with them, you’re likely to generate amazing and authentic content that will deliver meaningful engagements.

Think about the bigger picture

When you think about your mail out, imagine the journey your box will go on. From the agency, to the post office, to the talent agent and beyond. The challenge is getting your product to its final destination in excellent condition and packaged perfectly to entice the influencer to take the Insta worthy image. Pack your mail out how you want it to be opened and remember that little details make a big difference. For example, if you’re sending out a bottle of alcohol, why not include a cocktail recipe card?

And, above all else, don’t forget your compliment slip where you can include your hashtags, social handles and a personal thank you. An influencer who gets countless packages each week is likely to remember a gift that stands out and will be more likely to share it with their followers.

Inspiring Creativity – It’s a dangerous business but someone has to do it.

Inspiring Creativity – It’s a dangerous business but someone has to do it.

‘Creativity essentially scares people…’

This is a quote I used to start a talk I did recently for the Marketing Society Scotland.

The event was titled ‘Inspiring Creativity’ and was the third of the Inspiring Minds programme, designed to explore five key areas of marketing. Of those five areas which include briefing, planning, results and presentations – creativity is the most elusive.

Why? Because the end result of the creative process is what everyone cares about, and no-one really wants to know about the ugly truth behind the journey you take to arrive at that place.

This seems strange, but it’s true.

It’s scary for clients to commit completely to creativity, because it is unchartered territory. It is by definition, non-conformist.

It’s scary – in fact it can be an excruciating prospect – to be the person tasked to think creatively… Especially to order.

The process is so awkward. Luke Sullivan, author of ‘Hey Whipple, Squeeze This’, describes creativity as ‘like washing a pig.’

So why do we do it?

Because it amplifies our message. It allows us to cut through into those uncharted places, it keeps us dynamic and it keeps us alive and even though it is the hardest role of all to fulfil, it’s the most rewarding one.

‘I am not creative’ is a phrase people say all the time. However, in reality this is not true, because if you are alive, you can create. Fear of the unknown and comfort of the usual, are the active restrictions at play here. To be creative you just need to have the confidence to push the boundaries a bit further.

Creativity is the soul of all marketing, branding and communications and we all need to be thinking creatively throughout the whole process. If we don’t, we lose the opportunity to make the biggest impact and make the most difference, to do the best work; and as hard as it can be, make us feel amazing about what we do.

So, how do we inspire ourselves to be less intimidated and be more creative?

First absorb the world around you: look, listen and understand. As George Lois says, ‘Nothing comes from nothing. You must continuously feed the inner beast that sparks and inspires’.

Second, know the formulas.

As part of the creative induction process here at Stripe I have come up with what I call, ‘Five Ingredients to Create’. This is a crib sheet for the creative process and if you are using one or more cribs on this list then you’ve got it in the bag.

# 1 Be Original.

It’s obvious but it’s hard, because originality is abstract. Making something original is taking all the references and facts you see every day and adding that little twist to make it unique.

Picasso once said, ‘Good artists copy. Great artists steal.’

Interestingly, this was a phrase used by Steve Jobs in relation to design at Apple. This was explained later by Apple’s Bud Tribble, “if you take something and make it your own… it’s becomes your design, and that’s the dividing line between copying and stealing. That is part of Apple’s DNA.”

Creativity does not exist in a vacuum; it can do, but it seldom does. Take from the creativity of others, but make it a heist.

# 2 Be Reactive

Listen and jump into the conversation, this way you create immediacy. Instead of drawing in someone’s attention, you can fall purposely into it. Be there and be aware.

# 3 Concept and Craft

Think about concept and think about craft and how they work with each other to make an idea great. Sometimes you need to bring more creativity to the party to add value to an idea. On the other hand if the work is all craft with no concept, idea or strategy, it will lose its relevance or story. Treat the message right. Let it grow.

# 4 Innovation

Know about it. Digital and technology is moving forward around us, like an out of control juggernaut, and we all need to be aware what’s going on. Run beside it if you can’t be in front of it. Be ready to introduce new technology and techniques. Keep things exciting and dynamic. Use innovation. Use it first and be remembered.

# 5 Mistakes are good

Be careful with this one because it’s not the mistakes we make that are good, it’s how we allow them to take us forward that is. You are not being creative if you are not prepared to fail. It is a leap of faith that you have to be inspired enough to take. As daunting a prospect as this may be, this crib is the most important of all.

 

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Why be good when you can be scarily great.

In celebration of #WorldSocialMediaDay we take a look at where to start

In celebration of #WorldSocialMediaDay we take a look at where to start

Like most things, social media has its very own international day of recognition, yes that’s right, it’s #WorldSocialMediaDay and it’s certainly a cause for celebration.

2018 has been one of the most turbulent years in the world of social media – the Cambridge Analytica controversy has shifted public opinion of social media platforms and even more so, the ethics surrounding online information management. As a result, the public’s trust of information shared online by news outlets, public figures and of course, brands is at an all-time low.

Even with what seems like a constant wave of negative reports, social media has and continues to change things for the better for brands. No matter the size of business or the value of a product, micro-brands now have the capability to reach any audience they choose in the same way international brands have done so for years.

There will always be a place for global televised advertising and A-list celebrity endorsements, but social media has given all brands the chance to compete on a level playing field and that is what makes social media so priceless.

As more and more brands begin to acknowledge the value of having a presence on social media, there are still many asking where to start?

Should every brand dabble in the recently launched IGTV? Should every brand pay influencers for partnerships? Can brands even prevent themselves from being sucked into the anti-social media agenda?

One thing common across brands nailing the volatile social media landscape is those with a clear, defined and confident brand identity. An identity that transcends through all content – images, videos and tone. An identity that has helped it navigate the landscape of traditional PR and marketing, so it’s a pretty good place to start.