Turning customer contact into PR gold

Once again, I have to applaud the the PR team at Virgin Trains. They really know how to spot an opportunity and turn it into a winning story, as demonstrated this weekend:

Virgin trains

They clearly haven’t forgotten the rewards of publicly going over and above for their customers…

Virgin trains eg

The story of the¬†new menu¬†reminded me of the time Sainsbury’s grabbed headlines by changing the name of their “Tiger Loaf” to “Giraffe Loaf” on the advice of¬†a three-year old girl.

The¬†foresight to realise¬†that doing so would be a great story resulted in¬†a viral hit and a huge amount of¬†positive PR coverage¬†on BBC, Daily Mail,¬†Telegraph, The Sun… the list¬†goes on and on.

So, make sure you have a good relationship with your customer service team and ask them to let you know if they receive any ideas from your customers that you could make a reality. Beyond making that one person happy (and most likely a customer for life), the story could bring big rewards for you in PR terms.



Resisting the urge to create content

An email from PR Week landed in my inbox over the weekend that really made me stop and take notice.

This is the quote that caught my eye. It’s from Lisa Jedan, Global Head of Brand PR at Bacardi-Martini:

When marketers say: ‚ÄėWe need some content‚Äô ‚Äď you can just replace the word¬†‚Äėcontent‚Äô with ‚Äėshit‚Äô if people don‚Äôt know what they‚Äôre going to say.

Anyone who has ‘content creation’ as part of their job description is bound to have felt the pressure of filling a¬†pipeline¬†with¬†great articles, videos, blogs and news to satisfy a hungry and demanding audience. But sometimes resisting the urge to churn out another piece of ‘content’ is the very best thing you can do.

Creating content for content’s sake, without having a clear idea of your message, aims and call to action will typically leave both you and your audience feeling uninspired, unenthusiastic and¬†pretty darn disappointed.¬†Putting out something mediocre¬†or off-message can certainly¬†do more damage than going quiet for a few hours.

I recently attended a fantastic CPD course about business storytelling which had this message (echoed by Lisa Jedan in PR Week) at its very heart:

“We need to find passion points for our audience.”

Taking the time to understand your audience then creating specific pieces of content¬†designed to connect on an emotional level will ensure your¬†work is actually adding value to someone’s day,¬†and is not just created to put another tick in a ‘to do’ box.

So next time you feel the pressure to post “something” on social media to fill a gap, try taking a breath and really thinking about what you want to say before you start. If you don’t have anything specific to share, perhaps it’s better not to post at all. An alien concept for some, I’m sure.

Why you should include video in your next marketing plan

Video is no longer an “up-and-coming” marketing tactic — it’s here, and it’s a powerful way to communicate.

To start, here are three Insivia statistics that suggest why you should consider using video in your marketing campaigns:

  1. 1/3 of all online activity is spent watching video
  2. 92% of mobile video consumers share videos with others
  3. 87% of online marketers use video content

Live video

If you don’t want to invest in professionally filmed and edited videos, have you thought about¬†trying live video to see if that works for your brand?

The key to the success of live streaming is its accessibility and unpredictability. It’s not staged or an advert; it’s a genuine experience. The things you see are actually happening, creating a transparent representation РQS Digital Solutions

While there are live streaming video services available¬†from Twitter (Periscope) and YouTube, Facebook¬†– with its¬†1.86billion active users – would be the place I’d start. You’ll get instant feedback on whether people like what you’re doing through likes, shares and comments.facebook-live-video

If you’re worried about your video looking less ‘authentic’ and more ‘amateur’, for around a¬†¬£100 investment you can buy some basic tools such as a clip on mic and small tripod to improve the sound and picture quality, without compromising the¬†authenticity of the film.

360-degree video

For something completely different, you could consider 360-degree video.

Incorporating 360-degree technology further immerses users in your world, creating a new layer of connectedness or giving them an ‘on the ground’ view that they might have been missing previously.

Ted Baker recently invested in a new 360-degree ‘shoppable film’ to increase shopper engagement and drive online purchases:


Ted Baker 360 video

A still from Ted Baker’s 360-degree ‘shoppable film’


Google suggests that 360-degree video typically results in a higher click through rate, as well as a greater amount of engagement in the form of social shares. 360 video can have a 3x times higher average watch time, too, (source: iProspect) and while this is all very persuasive, it is worth bearing in mind that virtual reality development can add approximately 40% of additional costs to video production.

So, will you be including video in your next marketing plan?


Video: The value of PR as part of your comms strategy

I was recently asked to talk to a group of school marketing and admissions colleagues about why PR should form part of their communications strategies.

Here are a couple of short clips on the value of PR as part of a wider strategy and how to identify a potential story. Enjoy!

Why should you do PR? from Rebecca Hills on Vimeo.

Three elements of a good PR story from Rebecca Hills on Vimeo.

The art of great content

I’m always on the lookout for great webinars and courses to continue my professional development so I was delighted when I spotted a tweet from Socialbakers about a free lunchtime webinar on The art of great content.Jonah book

Based primarily on concepts from the book Contagious: Why Things Catch On by Jonah Berger, here are my key takeaways for creating truly great social content:

1. Social currency

“You are what you share”. Focus on producing content that makes people look good when they share it.

Good examples of this are:

  • Behind the scenes photos and info¬†– make followers feel like insiders
  • Put your fans in the spotlight – crowdsource content from your community. Engage with the user before you repost it to find out the story behind the image or video so that you can share that too and get even more engagement. This is a good example from GoPro who post a fan photo every day:


2. Trigger

Celebrate events that are happening right now (you can use a content calendar to look ahead and plan your activity) but be part of it, rather than trying to make it all about you.

There are some great examples of brands doing just this at events like the Golden Globe Awards (L’Or√©al) and World Cup (Orange).

Focus on your brand values not your brand products. Invite people to join the conversation with you.

3. Emotion

When we care, we share.

“Emotion is one factor that drives sharing. We see lots of funny stuff go viral on YouTube, but we also see angry political rants get shared,” Berger says. “Any emotion that fires us up–humor, awe and excitement, but also anger and anxiety–drives us to share.” – Jonah Berger

4. Public

Recognise the power of social influencers to spread your message.

How do you find those influencers?

  • Use social listening tools to monitor for keywords relevant to your brand¬†or campaign
  • Identify the most active and the most engaging content creators for those keywords
  • Ensure their style and their values align with yours

social influencer

5. Practical value

Think about how you can be valuable to your fans. Package knowledge and expertise in your content so people can easily pass it along.

A good example is a supermarket (e.g. Lidl) sharing video recipes with its fans:


6. Story

I’m a big believer in the value of storytelling in marketing communications. If you don’t believe me, check out this blog post on Storytelling: corporate buzzword or clever business?

When creating story-based content for social media, the key is to embed your brand into the plot so people cannot tell your story without mentioning your brand.

A good example of this comes¬†from Adidas who told the story of the World Cup in Brazil from the ball’s perspective:

Brazuca 1Brazuca 2



Storytelling: corporate buzzword or clever business?

‚ÄėToday, one of the biggest corporate buzzwords is ‚Äėstorytelling‚Äô.‚Äô ‚Äď Snow

Strange, I thought. Do the two really go together? Surely storytelling and business inhabit two separate parts of our lives: one belongs at home, the other in the office…

But if you take a step back and consider that the people making big business decisions are the same that revel in stories at dinner parties, read fairytales to their children and devour the latest bestsellers on the beach, it makes sense that they’d enjoy an element of storytelling in their professional lives, too.

‚ÄėA social worker once said: There isn‚Äôt anyone you couldn‚Äôt love once you‚Äôve heard their story.‚Äô ‚Äď Andrew Stanton, film director and screenwriter, Pixar Animation Studios

Even the ‚Äėdullest‚Äô business exists to solve a problem. If you can start with the story of how the product or service was born, who it has helped and the difference it has made, it will be much easier to¬†convince¬†a customer of its value¬†than simply listing its features or benefits.

As an example, try re-writing the About Us page¬†on¬†your company’s¬†website page using the¬† storytelling template below¬†from Pixar. You don‚Äôt have to follow the format exactly. You could substitute ‚ÄúOnce upon a time‚Ķ‚ÄĚ for ‚ÄúIn 1999‚Ķ‚ÄĚ, for example, or ‚ÄúAfter the banking crisis of 2008‚Ķ‚ÄĚ.


By thinking about how to evolve your marketing copy from sales fodder into stories, your writing will stand out from the crowd and you will start to engage with your customers on a deeper, more personal level. After all,

‚ÄėThose who tell stories rule society.‚Äô ‚Äď Plato

A huge thank you to the Berkeley Storytelling Academy for inspiring this blog and sourcing the quotes. I was fortunate to win a place on the Business Storytelling Programme by entering a Twitter competition. I would highly recommend it to anyone who is looking to take their copywriting to the next level, improve their presentation skills or log some CPD hours in a fun and fulfilling way.



Heinz turns #BlueMonday bright red

I’ve written before about how celebration days, awareness days and national holidays¬†can be used to build a Content Calendar that will¬†help you plan your communications activity for the year ahead. They’re a great tool for identifying opportunities for a PR stunt, a bit of thought leadership or a timely social media campaign.

I spotted a great example of this being put into action by a big brand today when the¬†team at Heinz delivered an¬†effective¬†PR stunt on what has become known as “Blue Monday”.

According to mathematicians, a combination of grey skies and failed New Year‚Äôs resolutions means¬†Monday 16th January is officially #BlueMonday ‚Äď the most depressing day of the year (source: Cheapflights.com)

The stunt was simple:

  1. Place cans of Heinz’s famous tomato soup in bright red, ‘In case of emergency – break glass’ boxes¬†in highly photographic¬†locations around¬†London
  2. Send strong images – like the one featured by Secret London below – to the media with a compelling caption or two
  3. Encourage the spread of user-generated #BlueMonday content across social media
  4. Revel in the thanks of grateful soup eaters (and maybe a picture desk editor or two)


It’s a good case study for¬†seizing an opportunity that provides a strong platform to communication¬†your brand message. In this case, Heinz was keen for its tomato soup to be associated with warmth and comfort – everything that Blue Monday is not – so they presented their product as the¬†solution to¬†the most depressing day of the year.

Time for a nice warming bowl of soup, I think…