Blog : Marketing Society Scotland

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.

 

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.

Tackling the challenges of gender inequality through listening and empowering

Tackling the challenges of gender inequality through listening and empowering

Today the Marketing Society Scotland called for the industry to commit to building an equal and thriving community after new research found the sector to be rife with inequality and gender discrimination.  The research makes some stark reading but am I surprised? Sadly, no I’m not.

For me, Mind the Gap started a year ago when I joined a group of members to see if we could get something off the ground which would help us understand the issues relating to the retention of women and devise a plan to raise awareness and make a difference. I don’t think we ever imagined that we would be where we are today.  Whilst the state of equality in our industry is not something to be proud of, we are at least admitting there’s a problem. There’s no hiding from the fact that almost half (48%) of women in the marketing community in Scotland have either definitely or possibly experienced gender related discrimination compared to 16% of men.

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I feel incredibly proud of the Society’s openness to accepting where we are and more importantly, supporting a proactive plan of action to drive significant change.

In my career, I feel very lucky that I’ve always worked in environments where my gender has never been a barrier.  Sure, there are countless things that have been said or done which have been inappropriate or crossed the line, and rightly or wrong I’ve always just accepted that’s part of being a woman, but much more importantly I never let it distract from what I needed to do.  You see, regardless of what’s said or done I truly believe I am equal and as we know, lacking self-confidence is one of the greatest barriers to women’s success.

At Stripe this is an issue close to our hearts.  Like the rest of our profession the majority of our team are female. Whilst our Board is 50/50, our leadership team in Scotland is entirely female.  For us however, this is not about gender, it’s about culture.  We believe if we put our people at the heart of every business decision, we will create an environment where they are motivated to deliver great work and the business will succeed. When you run a small business, you experience the full spectrum of life’s ups and downs and we recognise that what’s going on for people out of work impacts the role they play in the business.  In the last five years 25% of our team and 90% of senior management have taken time off to have children. When faced with this challenge rather than viewing it as a problem we decided to treat it as an opportunity.  We set out to champion flexible working and the retention of women, so that first and foremost we could retain our talent, whilst hopefully setting an example for others.

I recognise that the Stripe culture and approach is unique. It isn’t just about a policy in a handbook, it works because our leadership team get it. There’s an unspoken understanding that it’s hard to balance everything, that you’re constantly making choices about what to prioritise and that sometimes you just need to be somewhere else. I believe more than anything it is our culture that helps women thrive. We listen and support, but we also try to inspire them to have the confidence to fulfil their potential, which from my experience is more important than anything. That said this is a business and it isn’t a one-way street. In return, we ask for their continued commitment and drive to help the business fulfil its potential too.

I’m not going to lie, we haven’t always got it right and we’re constantly learning, but we’re fully committed to creating an environment where all our staff regardless of their gender can balance their home and working lives and continue to have a successful career.

Quite honestly I don’t understand why any business would not want to help every individual fulfil their potential, so enough now. Let’s close the gap.

To find out more and pledge visit:  www.mindthegapscotland.co.uk

What being Agency Employer Brand of The Year means at Stripe

What being Agency Employer Brand of The Year means at Stripe

Thursday night at the Marketing Society’s St Andrews Day dinner, we were awarded Agency Employer Brand of the Year. It’s fair to say we’re no stranger to winning awards for our work, but to be recognised for the way we treat our people was pretty special and here’s why.

When we set up Stripe we had an ambition beyond doing great work for our clients and that was to create an agency that genuinely put people first. In a business where your product is your people, it’s ridiculous to have to say it, but all too often agencies are driven by nothing but the bottom line. In my opinion that’s back to front. At Stripe, we believe happy people = great work = happy clients. This philosophy hasn’t just been good for our people, it’s also been good for business. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we’ve achieved year on year double digit growth and consistently exceeded our targets.

That said, when you run a small business, making a commitment to your people isn’t easy and the investment in time is huge. We don’t have the luxury of an HR department, so it’s down to our leadership team to define and deliver our people strategy day in day out. In many ways I believe this is why we’ve succeeded – everyone owns it and everyone delivers it.

Ultimately our people are our brand. ‘The Stripes’ as they call themselves define our culture and we try to let them own it as much as possible. Beyond that our philosophy is simple – it’s about supporting people to be the best that they can be. We do that through all the usual stuff like regular and consistent communication, providing forums for two way feedback, coaching, training, flexible working, reward and recognition. More importantly, it’s about giving people opportunities, empowering them and pushing them to realise their potential. But we also recognise that employees are real people beyond the doors of Stripe and we try to help them balance their lives with work as best we can.

This isn’t always easy and I’ll be honest, sometimes we don’t get it right, we are human after all. We do however take our responsibility to our people seriously. When the life of every individual is so precious, surely every business has a responsibility to do that?

My Digital Day take-outs: Tackle the big questions first

My Digital Day take-outs: Tackle the big questions first

By 11am last Thursday there was some pretty big questions being asked of the delegates at the Marketing Society Scotland’s Digital Day 2015. Namely, how do you want to change the world? We’re talking in the context of brands here so not me personally, but even still. My exact thoughts in response were: Coffee. First. Please.

The speaker was Andre Campbell, Global Manager of Integrated Digital Marketing and Brand Partnerships at Microsoft and despite the enormity of that specific question he was doing a pretty slick job of convincing us that really, if you can’t answer that question then your brand is going to lack purpose. And these days it’s ALL about the purpose (Note: purpose, not proposition).

Andre is a really passionate speaker and got me thinking about how important it is to tackle these tricky questions up front and put them at the heart of how we, as marketers, build brands. If you want to succeed in today’s competitive world then you need to be so much more that ‘just another great product’. That helps of course, but it’s not everything – in fact, far from it. Brands need to show heart. Lots of heart.

I had a discussion with a colleague a couple of days before where her words echoed a similar sentiment – ‘start with the heart and the rest will follow’ and she’s right. Create a purposeful brand that stands for something. Evoke emotion. Take action. Win hearts and minds. Sounds good, right?

So how does this translate to content – today people want more from their brand and therefore more from their content. Andre states quite simply ‘build stories that matter’. This sounds like common sense to me but this stuff needs to be said out loud, because, well, sometimes common sense isn’t that common. And you only have to look at your own social media feeds to see the brands guilty of churning out content that does not matter.

Having said that there’s a lot of stuff that’s pretty awesome – Andre cited the Nike ‘We Own the Night’ campaign. I love this. They totally nailed it. Nike created a meaningful space for its female fans – it invested time and energy in them and the result was gold for everyone. I’m just gutted I wasn’t there.

For me, what this comes back to is thinking about the quality of content – Nathalie Nahi touched on this in her workshop around the science of online persuasion – and Tom Ollerton of WeAreSocial discussed it more detail asking another big question of the day, ‘if you stopped doing social now – why would anyone miss you?’. Yikes. So you can be timely, relevant, informative and entertaining but to really succeed you need to give your fans a reason to miss you – give them the content that they can’t get anywhere else. While exclusives are nothing new, we need to think hard about the audiences and channels we apply them on.

Digital Day 2015 definitely threw-up lots to think about relating to the role of content in building a really strong brand led-business. But for me it was all about the big questions. I was so intrigued that evening I asked my six year old how he wanted to change the world. His answer: make a donut robot. When I asked why, he simply said, can you imagine how happy everyone would be. Start with the heart and the rest will follow, maybe it is that simple.

Shining Gold and Silver with IRN-BRU at the Star Awards

Shining Gold and Silver with IRN-BRU at the Star Awards

Stripe scooped two golds and a silver last Thursday at the Marketing Society Scotland Awards. Held in Glasgow this year the awards celebrate the very best of marketing talent in Scotland and Stripe was proud to be rubbing shoulders with the brightest sparks in the industry.

In partnership with the Leith Agency and Blonde we won Gold in the ‘Food & Drink’ and ‘Sponsorship’ Categories for our work with IRN-BRU and their sponsorship of Glasgow 2014 – and we secured a further silver in the PR category.

All in all a great night for the agency and more reasons to pop a can of the fizzy stuff.

You can see a list of all the 2015 Star Awards winners here.

Reach for the stars! Stripe shortlisted for employer brand award

Reach for the stars! Stripe shortlisted for employer brand award

We’re on a roll… Following our shortlisting for UK Consultancy of the Year earlier this month, we’ve made it onto the shortlist for Employer Brand of the Year at the Marketing Society Scotland Star Awards.

The new award recognises the importance of effective recruitment and employee development in the marketing sector, celebrating Scottish businesses that attract, retain and reward top talent.

Winners will be announced at the Marketing Society Scotland Star Awards dinner on 12 June 2014.

Another Friday, another award shortlist for Stripe!

Another Friday, another award shortlist for Stripe!

This time for Marketing Society Scotland’s Star Awards, which recognises the most dynamic marketing campaigns from across Scotland. We made it through in the PR category with our campaign for the Scottish Government on Alcohol Behaviour Change.

Judges will award one Gold, Silver and Bronze Star for each category at the 9th Star Awards dinner in Glasgow on 6 June 2013.

You can view the hotly contested categories here!