The PR Guru

June 25, 2012


Filed under: Uncategorized — richardswancott @ 5:20 pm
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Staffordshire’s Business Innovation Centre has some funding available for SMEs which need some help to grow in the current economic climate.

The grants can be used for anything which could be described as ‘specialist intensive assistance’, for example advice, support and strategy which will help a business increase turnover and/or profit, or expand the workforce.

That might be something as straight-forward as having a contract of employment drawn up, or developing a marketing strategy, or something more involved like advice on new product design or development.

An awards panel decides on your application, so as long as you can demonstrate how this funding will help you take on new people or bring in more contracts, then you should be eligible.

You can claim up to £2500, which can be no more than 25% of the overall cost of the project, and you must not have started work already – the funding can’t be awarded retrospectively.

Oh, and you have to be based in Staffordshire.

If you’re interested, contact Jackie Millward at BIC Staffordshire on 01782 333798, or jackie.millward@the



June 20, 2012


Filed under: Uncategorized — richardswancott @ 12:39 pm
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The Business Boost Awards for 2012 are now open!

Businesses in the Borough of Newcastle-under-Lyme with fewer than 250 employees can apply for one of five awards and there are cash prizes of up to £6000 on offer!

Here are the categories:

Impact on the Borough (first prize: £1500)

Entrepreneurial Spirit (first prize: £1500)

Customer Focus (first prize: £1500)

The Apprenticeship Award (first prize: a 12 month day-release apprenticeship placement worth £6000)

The Judges Special Award (a discretionary award given to the judges’ pick of the most innovative business, with a £1000 prize)

To enter, submit your application – which must make a strong case on how your business boosts the local economy – before the deadline. (This is still tbc as they haven’t changed the date on the website. Last year it was the 29th July so at a guess the deadline will be around the end of July again this time.)

Successful applicants will then need to submit a business plan, and then a handful will need to present to the judges to help them make a final decision.

The winners are then announced at a ceremony in September.

It’s well worth taking the time to apply, because as well as the cash prizes there are also PR opportunities for the successful applicants. And just think what a boost it would be for your business, to have a panel of judges say you’re doing a great job and reward you for your efforts!

There is a bit more info available at

November 11, 2011


In light of today’s gaffes from Cornetto UK and British Gas (updating during the Remembrance Day silences – surely you know better than that!), I thought I’d mention some of my favourite epic fails of the past couple of years.

Coming in at three, it’s the 2009 fail from Domino’s Pizza.

When employees Kristy Hammonds and Michael Setzer filmed themselves doing vile stuff while they prepared their orders – none of which can be mentioned on a family blog – Domino’s management were so slow to respond it did untold damage to their brand in the States.

The video was posted on YouTube, and you can guess the rest – within days, it had been viewed over a million times, and by the time bosses had caught up with the puerile pair – who were subsequently fired and arrested – and posted their own reply on YouTube, the damage had been done.

Their mistake was to ignore what was being said about them on social media. Or perhaps they just didn’t know about it.

Make sure you are paying attention to what the world is saying about you online – it will help you nip a crisis in the bud and show how effective you are at dealing with customer service issues.

My second favourite is the complete failure of Nestle to deal with a Greenpeace campaign to save orang-utans in Borneo last year.

Greenpeace had put together a mock KitKat ad, substituting the chocolate fingers for orang-utan ones, and posted it on YouTube. The idea was to force Nestle to change suppliers of a key KitKat ingredient (palm oil), which had been sourced from the rainforests of Borneo – thus contributing to mass deforestation in the area and threatening the orang-utan habitat.

Nestle responded with aggression, making YouTube remove the film, and when people complained on Nestle’s Facebook and Twitter pages, they were dealt with rudely – making the situation ten times worse.

Eventually Nestle came to an agreement with Greenpeace, and changed their palm oil supplier, so all that fuss was for nothing.

My tip here is to be professional and courteous should someone be saying negative things about you on social media. Imagine how you would deal with a customer face-to-face if they had a problem – and then times it by ten, because the world is watching how you respond.

And finally, my Number One social media gaffe is courtesy of United Airlines, which caused irreparable damage to some guitars belonging to Canadian band Sons of Maxwell in 2008.

Instead of offering compensation, some free flights, or even an apology, the airline ignored the issue. As a response, the band wrote a song called United Breaks Guitars and posted it on YouTube. You can watch it here:

It has since become one of the most popular viral videos, being watched more than 11m times, and supposedly wiped $180m from UA’s share price. Cue some very unhappy shareholders! And all for the sake of an apology.

It’s easy for simple accidents to turn into a crisis – PR people deal with this all the time. The best response is always to be honest and face things head on – offer sincere apologies, and promise to launch thorough investigations. Don’t run away from it, because it will come back and bite you!

With that in mind, I thought one company dealt with a crisis very well this week. They probably won’t thank me for mentioning it, but a welder died of severe burns after an incident at the John Pointon & Sons animal rendering plant in Cheddleton, Staffordshire.

With the HSE investigating the incident, the firm clearly had to be circumspect about their comments, but here was their response…

A company spokesman said: “All at John Pointon and Sons, including directors and employees, are devastated by the tragic death of Mark Bullock, who was a highly valued member of the workforce.

“Our thoughts go out to his family and we are determined to find out how this tragic accident occurred.

“The company is co-operating with the investigation and as such cannot make any further comment.”

It remains to be seen what the HSE will make of what happened. And they may have another crisis to deal with when the findings are announced.

But saying nothing is not an option – it implies whatever has been said or written was correct, and in this case would’ve been seen as a tacit admission of guilt on the company’s part.

Compare that to Ryan Giggs’ response to the media stories about his private life (and Tiger Woods’ response last year).

They will have learnt to their cost that keeping a low profile/your mouth shut does not make the story go away.

December 1, 2010

#uksnow PR Gaffe

Councils today made a PR Gaffe by saying that an “unexpected snowfall” was the reason the roads had not been gritted.

Drivers suffered terrible journeys across Staffordshire and the Black Country when lack of grit turned the roads into an ice rink.

Cars were abandoned, bus services cancelled and long rush-hour queues built up.

Walsall and Sandwell were among the worst-affected areas, with one three-mile journey between Willenhall and Walsall taking three hours.

Council bosses in Walsall insisted 75 tons of salt were used yesterday but an “unexpected” snowstorm at 4.45pm had frozen the roads over again.

Transport chief Councillor Tom Ansell said: “We did grit the roads, I can understand people saying we didn’t but we had a snowfall yesterday afternoon and when it hit the ground it froze. It was unexpected.”

Councillor Ray Nock, leader of the Conservative opposition, said: “I am very unhappy with the way the gritting operation has been carried out in Sandwell.”

Today, more than 20 schools across the West Midlands and Staffordshire were closed. Gatwick and Edinburgh Airports were both closed today. A number of flights from Birmingham Airport to Scotland were cancelled.

November 25, 2010

The Sentinel launch Stoke News

Our local newspaper, The Sentinel, have today launched a new section of their website called Stoke news: The best of what’s going on in and around Staffordshire.

This gathers tweets from Twitter that include the hashtag #stokenews and puts them together, so that people have access to all the local stories and events that are taking place in the area.

This is great news for local businesses who should be able to get some publicity from the website – although I think tweets are manually selected according to the newspaper’s guidelines, so some editing will still take place.

It is great for The Sentinel too, as they are seen as embracing the community and coming together to provide a useful resource. Currently the service is a trial, which means that things will continually change and improve. I hope it manages to take off.

September 27, 2010

India suffers a PR nightmare

PR Gaffes happen all the time, because people speak without thinking and what they have said is instantly recorded by the press. Even months later, the press can pick up on things, such as how the Indians promised the forthcoming Commonwealth Games would turn the country around and have failed to deliver on their promise.

It seems that the Indian Commonwealth Games are going to be a public-relations disaster because the Indian Authorities talked up just how much the event would show the country’s new-found maturity. However, images of collapsing footbridges, bug-infested accommodation and child labourers suggest that the £2 billion invested by India‘s government was misused.

People have been shocked by just how little has actually been done, especially since there have been some successful developments in India; including the Bombay-Pune highway and the Delhi Metro. However, nothing like this seems to have been constructed around such a high-profile event like these games. The country’s rivalry with China will also be hurt because the Beijing Olympics in China were wonderfully organised; with the birds-nest stadium being a hit with the world and the grand opening ceremony a spectacle for viewers to see.

The crisis in Delhi is not the fault of the poor people living in shacks adjacent to each venue, as shown by the media, but is all down to the rulers who promised that things would be different. Most Indians don’t care about the Games, because it will not have much effect on them and they are just using the crowds as a way to make money.

On the day the negative stories about the Games first surfaced, the Bombay Stock Exchange hit a new high. India is led by a man who has probably profited more from absolute poverty than anyone else living today. It seems this PR Gaffe could actually be benefiting the country more than hindering it.

Because expectations were not high, the country will survive the PR disaster, but the image of India they wanted to create has been destroyed.

Of course, PR gaffes happen locally too. Some local PR stories in the last few months include Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service spending £500,000 on public relations and communications, as well as Prince Philip’s reference to Stoke-on-Trent as ‘ghastly’. Will people ever learn to think before they speak?

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