Summer party welly game

Here Comes Summer

We Brits know how to party when the sun comes out, and businesses are no exception.

Everyone expects a staff meal at Christmas, but summer is the time to make the most of good weather and put on an outdoor event. Big or small, it doesn’t matter. Getting staff together in the sunshine always lifts morale.

Long-term client Otter Garden Centres holds a summer party for all employees at its Ottery St Mary branch each year. But it isn’t a question of sipping a drink, oh no. Instead, there are  school games. Games involving eggs, wellies and sacks. You get the picture. The weather held and everyone threw themselves into the games – quite literally in the case of the tug-of-war. No cheating went on at all… The management team were great, acting as Head of PE, Head of Maths and Headmistress. There was even a Miss Bossy Boots. I was there, snapping away and getting some great shots of people letting their hair Summer event at TFLC Plymouthdown (and falling over), ready to send to Devon Life Socials.

In Plymouth in June, The Family Law Company hosted a summer celebration, inviting local practitioners, barristers and clerks to thank t hem for referrals. I love that Carrie, who put the event together, mentioned that it was nice to meet up with people who they are often in opposition with at court. Down pistols for the sake of Pimms! (Press release)

This weekend it’s the turn of Coverstructures, celebrating the completion of its stunning new offices on the Finnimore Estate. Owner Stuart Phillips is holding a family day replete with bouncy castle and mobile catering provided by another client, Rusty Pig. I won’t be attending as I’m off to Greece for a summer break, but I’ve booked a photographer so watch this space. but I’ll be back in time to help out with a small celebratory event for Tickety-Boo, another of Stuart’s businesses, which will be celebrating

I’ll be back in time to help out with a small celebratory event for Tickety-Boo, another of Stuart’s businesses, which will be celebrating it’s first birthday mid-August. Hopefully there will be cake.

All too soon it will be autumn, and then time for Christmas parties!

Summer tug of warThe summer school teamSummer and everyone's falling over

Dining at Rusty Pig

Copywriting Rusty Pig’s oinking new website

Rusty Pig in Ottery St Mary is a long-term client. I first met owner Robin Rea when I wrote an article about him for Devon Life and we’ve been working together ever since.

I’m sure Robin won’t mind me saying that his website wasn’t really showing off the business as well as it could. So, it was with some relief that he told me he’d commissioned Rob Archer of Archer Studios to create his new website. Even more exciting, he was working with one of my favourite photographers, Matt Austin for images. Now, I have nagged Robin about images for years! Although I’m handy with my DSLR, the difference between my efforts and those of a professional have been documented before.

Copywriting

There was some discussion about how the copy was going to be written, and I was delighted when Robin agreed to me taking it on. I worked closely with Rob Archer to agree a word count for each section and played about with tone of voice until I got it ‘just so’. This type of website is not copy-heavy, and I really enjoy the discipline of cutting back the words whilst managing to keep the personality of the business. I also had to work fast – fortunately tight deadlines have never fazed me.

Launched

The website has now launched, and is a million trillion times better than the previous version. Take a peek at Rusty Pig and while you’re at it, why not book a table using the new booking facility!

Matt Austin’s images have been worth their weight in gold. Not only for the new website, but to illustrate a feature article I recently wrote for Devon Life, all about hedgerow cocktails at Rusty Pig. So nice to have wonderful photos to hand. And I’m proud of my headline ‘A sting in the cocktail’.

Rusty Pig feature

DEBI Awards Launch attendees

DEBI Awards Launch

2017 is the 25th anniversary of Devon Environmental Business Initiative (DEBI), and consequently the 25th anniversary of the organisation’s environmental awards. As a DEBI Director I am a keen supporter of these awards, which recognise this county’s commitment to environmental best practice.

As a charity, DEBI was founded to support businesses and organisations pursuing environmentally sound policies. The awards celebrate those in Devon that are going the extra mile for green issues.

DEBI Awards launch in the rain The awards launch this year took place at West Town Farm, in Ide, courtesy of the winner of the 2016 Enjoyed in Devon category, organicARTS. We were treated to a tour of the farm which we thoroughly enjoyed, despite the deluge (I was smug, in wellies and with a large umbrella to hand).

For my part, I was also on duty as ‘press photographer’ in prep for the launch press release, sent to the usual suspects including Western Morning News, Devon Life, Exeter Living and regional papers.

2016 winners

Many of last year’s winners came to the launch and talked about their experiences. Peter Grainger, Chair of Trustees at organicARTS spoke about their association with West Town Farm and the provision of an educational facility specialising in farm-based learning.

DEBI Awards Launch Mukti MitchellMukti Mitchell, Environmental Champion 2016, talked about his company, Cosy Homes, which provides energy saving secondary glazing and insulation for period homes and listed properties. He also spoke about each person can make a difference to climate change by reducing our personal carbon footprint – even the smallest effort can help.

Other 2016 winners, Melanie Shaw from Exeter Pound, Shevek Pring from South West Outdoors and Ryan Stojic from Mike Wye & Associates talked about how winning a DEBI award has benefitted their organisations.

About the awards

Entering the awards is totally free as is attending the awards event itself. This is held at the Met Office and offers a chance to network and meet like-minded people. The date this year is Thursday, 23 November.

The awards are really worthwhile entering. Judges (and I may be one this year) visit each shortlisted entry before the final decision is made.

More information on categories and how to enter is available here: DEBI AWARDS 2017

DEBI Awards logo

Case study two penguins

P-P-P Pick up a Penguin Case Study

What I love about researching and writing case studies for clients is the variety of places I get to visit.

I have been working on a series of case studies for Devondale Electrical; these have taken me to The Castle Hotel in Taunton, WESC in Exeter, an RSPB site near Exmouth and most recently to Living Coasts in Torquay.

If you live in Devon and have children, like me, there’s a chance that you have visited many of the great family-friendly attractions. But, although I took the children to Paignton Zoo on many occasions, we never made it to Living Coasts. So I jumped at the chance to meet the penguins. My friendly photographer was Tony Cobley, who I use for my South Devon and Plymouth photography needs. Tony brought along Amelia, a work experience student from Plymouth College of Art.

Living Coasts experience

Case study penguin We were showCase study photographer Tony Cobleyn around the attraction by Pete Morgan, fellow board member of charity, Devon Environmental Business Initiative (DEBI) and Environmental Officer for Paignton Zoo and Living Coasts. While we were taking a photo of him, Pete mentioned that he’d never been photographed with the penguins before, despite his many years in the role.

Kids in a sweetshop? That we were! Three grown adults excited to see penguins, otters, auks and seals. It’s a really relaxed attraction, and the penguins are able to pop out of their enclosures for a wander, should they feel so inclined. There’s a lot more to Living Coasts than I’d imagined; first and foremost it is there for education, and we saw many children learning all about the wildlife, agog at seahorses, octopuses, flatfish and more.

LED lighting

Case study LED lightingOf course, we were there for a reason, and between gawps at the inhabitants of Living Coasts, we did manage to find out about the new lighting, which Devondale has supplied from its Paignton and Torquay branches. Living Coasts is switching over to LED lighting to save energy costs and improve the visitor experience. Spot mine and Amelia’s turn as ‘extras’!

Living Coasts is in a great location looking out over the sea. When we finished working, we stopped for lunch on the terrace looking across Torbay. Not a bad morning’s work.

Guild of Fine Food Awards

Judging at the Great Taste Food Awards

I often work at weekends, as my time is fairly flexible. So when my work email pinged on a Sunday afternoon I had to take a quick peek. It was from Jennie Cooper of Taste Buds Magazine (which I write for) after a favour. She was supposed to judge at the Great Taste Food Awards on the following Tuesday but had been taken ill and didn’t think she would recover in time. Could I possibly take her place?

Tuesday for me was a ‘bit of a day’, but I have never acted as a judge before, and the idea appealed. It was hotfoot off to Gillingham in Dorset (not Kent, thank goodness) for a morning of tasting and judging.

Arriving at the Guild of Fine Food HQ, the wonderful Jilly Sitch made me very comfortable and introduced me to a friendly bunch, including Mrs Simkins, cook, recipe researcher and writer, who I now tweet with. After a coffee, I was directed to my table where I met our fellow judges; co-ordinator Susan, Jeremy and fellow virgin judge Matthew, head of product development at Winterbotham Darby.

We eyed up our table of goodies, which ranged from chocolates to honey, chutney, snacks and oil. During the course of the morning, hot food, ice cream, meat and fish were brought to the table, along with soft drinks. Luckily this wasn’t a cider judging day, or I would never have made my afternoon meeting.

Food Award JudgeJudging food (and drink) on its own can be a difficult task. Sometimes a chutney cries out for cheese! However, in general, the four judges at my table were of one accord, most of the time. If one person disagreed, the food was sent to an arbitrator. We did debate, but our debates weren’t heated.

There are potentially three stars that can be awarded – although you can also award no stars. Three stars is an amazing achievement, and I was told that a hush would descend on the room if such a thing occurred. My panel, in fact, did award a three star, but we weren’t sure if this was agreed with by other panels – a minimum of 20 judges must agree to make it so. I’m sure I shall find out when the results are published. We also were given a three star dish, but we didn’t agree and only awarded two. Tough love!

  • One star: Simply Delicious
  • Two stars: Outstanding
  • Three stars: Exquisite! Wow! Taste that!

I only attended a morning session but it was extremely good fun and opened my eyes to the range of food producers. A big thank you to the Guild for welcoming me. Now I’m hooked on judging – in fact, I’m about to judge for our local awards, Taste of the West. So watch this space!

Great Taste Food Awards judging

The Family Law Company at the Exeter Living Awards

Exeter Living Awards 2017

Awards are part of business life – in Exeter we have a wonderful array of awards to enter clients for; WMN, Express & Echo, Devon Life Food & Drink, Love the Flavour, Taste of the West – the list goes on!

I was lucky enough to attend the Exeter Living Awards recently. This is the second year for the awards, which celebrate the ‘best of Exeter’ (and beyond). The event was held at Exeter Uni’s Great Hall which was packed; more tables than last year and a very lively crowd indeed. The Great Hall looked, well, great! Tony Hawkes (not the skateboarder) was the compere, and entertained us with his dry humour.

My partner on the night was Sharon Goble of If…Media, and we had the best table in the house, with Jim, Lucy and Nathalie from Exeter Cookery School, Bethan and colleagues from YMCA Exeter and two of my clients, Kirsten and Rachel from The Family Law Company. Everyone, apart from Sharon and me, was a finalist. (Next year, Sharon?).

Awards Winners

Exeter Cookery SchoWinners Family Law Donna, Kirsten and Rachel at Exeter Living Awardsol and YMCA were pipped at the post on this occasion, such a shame but the competition was red hot. However, as the awards on the presentation table dwindled, we came to the Legal & Financial category. The Family Law Company has won some great awards in the past nine months, and a fifth gong seemed too much to hope for.

So, when they were announced as winners, I emitted a rather loud and embarrassing ‘woop woop’. Kirsten, Rachel and Donna (who was there with another winner, Citizen’s Advice Bureau which she’s a Trustee of) went onstage to collect the award. They looked absolutely great, three talented, strong women in an all too often male-dominated sector.

I always say to clients that it is almost as good to be a finalist as it is to win. But then, when they do win, it feels amazing!

Next up

In May, Devondale Electrical Wholesalers will find out if they have won their category in the national Electrical Wholesaler Awards, which they’ve just been shortlisted for. Fingers crossed for a win, Devondale is a truly independent South West company with a great ethos.

Writing awards submissions is sometimes time-consuming, but they really do help the writer (in this case, me) to understand a company better. Of course, awards

Of course, awards wins are only part of a PR service, but they are great for kudos, confidence and chutzpah. And not just for clients, for me too.

New Otter Logo

A new look for Otter

One of my long-standing clients is a garden centre business I have known since I moved to Devon nearly twenty years’ ago. While planting up my garden, I paid many visits to Otter Nurseries in Ottery St Mary; the garden centre is just 10 minutes from my house. My garden has perennials, shrubs and trees that all came from Otter, and when  I’ve always loved spending time there and

I’ve always loved it there, with an amazing array of plants and much more. I loved visiting at Christmas, and both my children went to meet Santa there when they were younger. This is a family business, with three generations playing an active part. The company, which over the years has grown from one to five garden centres, celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2014.

Marking 50 years brought with it the inspiration for a review of the Otter, and the company decided it was time to look at a fresh approach to its brand. So, over the past year or so, client Otter Nurseries has embarked on a rebrand with Exeter marketing specialist, Wall To Wall Sunshine. This has included visiting all the garden centres, creating customer profiles, producing new designs and new branding guidelines. The ‘Nurseries’ has gone, and the company is now known as Otter Garden Centres, to better reflect the company and its retail offer. There was some discussion about the otter and its part in the brand, but quite rightly it was decided that the animal was intrinsically linked to the business, so it remained.

My part within the overall project has, by comparison, been relatively minor but, even so, necessary; issuing PR to reassure the public that Otter has not been bought out, but is still a family business; updating social media platforms, updating the website, creating a post about the rebrand and linking to it on social media.

As an objective observer and a customer of Otter, I think this is a really positive change for the company. As the rebrand is rolled out across the branches over the coming year I’m sure customers will respond positively. Certainly on social media so far, the responses have all been ‘thumbs up’.

Agata Domarecka food & drink PR

A big cheer for Agy at Rusty Pig

Hurrah for the Rusty Pig

I’ve been fortunate enough to work with Robin Rea for several years now as one of my food & drink PR clients. Robin owns Rusty Pig in Ottery St Mary, a restaurant, butchers shop, specialist charcuterie wholesaler and wedding caterer (if you want a wedding feast, he’s the man to talk to). PR has been good; awards shortlistings, contributing to Devon Life’s Christmas Hamper (three years in a row), brokering reviews plus a whole lot of press releases and feature articles.

Robin, it has to be said, has a unique personality. He goes his own way, not compromising on his beliefs and way of life to make greater profits or jump up a notch or two in the chef stakes. Robin is his own man.

Rusty Pig has been a fixture in Ottery since 2011 but over the past year there have been some really positive changes. The superb Mark Russell joined as resident chef, allowing Robin to develop other aspects of the business. And then, early in 2017, a small explosion occurred when new restaurant manager Agata Domarecka was appointed.

I’ve come across Agy a few times, notably when Devon Life Ed Andy Cooper sent me an email from her suggesting a feature on her partner, leathermaker Matthew Bailey (writing it at the moment, watch this space). I bumped into her at The Source trade show at Westpoint Exeter where we had both gone to support Robin who was exhibiting his charcuterie with business partner Paul Young.

Food & drink PR

Next up, I interviewed Agy for a press release about her appointment. She’s an amazing lady, full of energy, full of ideas. Originally from Poland, Agy has been working in the UK for 10 years, starting as a waitress then being promoted to restaurant manager at Combe House before it became a Pig (not a rusty one).

I distributed the press release last week and had some nice feedback, especially from Devon Life who had popped in for brekkie on her first day and saw exactly what I was talking about!

It’s always been a privilige to work with the Rusty Pig team – they are as friendly as anything and okay, sometimes a bit cheeky (you know who you are). I suspect Agy’s appointment will herald a new chapter in the fortunes of the business – she is taking a firm grip and shaking a few things up a bit. She’ll soon have customers eating out of her hand.

A good time to book dinner – and meet the whirlwind that is Agy!

Slowburn PR lights and sofa

Slowburn PR for longterm results

Ready, steady, launch!

Last week I attended the launch party for Amos Lighting‘s new showroom in Topsham. It was lovely to see the showroom in its finished state; last time I was there, the floor was still concrete and there weren’t any stairs – or lights.

Suffice to say the magic has now been worked and the showroom, Amos Lighting & Home, looked fantastic. I was tempted not only by the lights on display that included new designs I hadn’t seen before but by the extended furniture range. Will a Conran sofa be seen in my office sometime soon? Watch this space.

I was there not only to schmooze but to help with name-getting for the event photographer. This was a tough call as the showroom was packed with local business people, interior designers and architects, but all were happy to be snapped.

On one circuit I bumped into Tara from AB, an Exeter digital marketing specialist. We got talking about PR, and she said that she thought it must be a difficult service to offer from the perspective of always needing to find opportunities and openings for clients. We discussed how PR is often seen as a light, fluffy service, but is actually an important part of a business strategy.

There are no two ways about it as far as I’m concerned, effective ongoing PR is hard work but eminently achievable, if you’re prepared to put in the effort.

Slowburn PR

I always mention drip feed to clients when discussing the potential of slowburn PR. Keeping a business in the public eye in many small ways is often as effective as a big splash; both have their merits, of course.

There are many ways of achieving this and any PR secured needs to be in the right place (at the right time), whether this is print, online or on television or radio. The key is to be reactive and responsive, to actively seek out opportunities and keep your finger on the pulse – always. It is hard work, believe you me, to continually keep up with local and national news,  and stay abreast of social trends (here I find a teenager’s perspective comes in handy and luckily I have that on tap). You need to be talking to people, always talking, making connections and thinking of how to use them to everyone’s benefit.

When your PR consultant is keeping their eye on the ball for one client, this means they are keeping their eye on the ball for all clients, at least that’s the way I find it works.

Happy New Year

The year that was, the year that will be

2016 was a ‘cracking’ year in more ways than one. My small (but-perfectly-formed) agency worked with some superb businesses in Devon and London and enjoyed its best year yet not only in terms of coverage and client awards, but also collaboration and making connections.

I had great fun working with Amos Lighting through the year. Amos sponsored the very first Exeter Living Awards – they were also shortlisted and although they didn’t win, we all had a great time at the awards event at Exeter University’s Great Hall.

I was delighted wheWinners!n The Family Law Company picked up a number of prestigious awards, including Family Law Regional Firm of the Year, South in the Jordan Family Law Awards, and Team of the Year at the inaugural Devon & Somerset Law Society (DASLS) Awards.

I was later called in to manage PR for DASLS via Wall to Wall Sunshine with my associate Sharon Goble of If…Media. Sharon and I worked together to manage PR for Exeter Philharmonic Choir’s Lord Mayor’s Concert, too.

Another long-term associate, Alison Jobson of Straight Marketing asked me to collaborate on a PR contract with Trinity Fire & Security, which went well, achieving coverage for projects in Heathrow and Warwick. Trinity then became sponsors for an award category for this year’s green awards run by the Devon Environmental Business Initiative, which I am a Director of (wheels within wheels, you see).

I continue to work with Ottery businesses the Volunteer Inn and Rusty Pig and through their recommendation, I was taken on by entrepreneur Stuart Phillips to promote his new baby, Tickety-Boo – a coffee shop and play kingdom. This called for the creation of a website, setting up and managing social media, and helping to organise the launch event.

Social media management for another Ottery client, Otter Nurseries, became almost a full-time job in the run up to Christmas 2016. With over 6,700 likes, the Facebook page is extremely lively, with customers asking all sorts of questions – about plants, Santa’s Grotto, parking, etc. I said to the Otter Nurseries team that I need a ‘batphone’, I’ve called them so many times over the past two months. It’s great fun, luckily!

As well as retained clients, In The Right Order takes on short-term project work – not just PR but also copywriting. This year I have written website copy for several businesses, including Fresha Cafe and Escot House, and I am currently working on copy for Space’s new website.My first cover story

I have also been busy writing features for magazines including Devon Life, Exeter Life, Devon Home, Taste Buds and my first piece for Exeter Living. This year, subjects have included the Budleigh Salterton Male Voice Choir, Mears Boatyard, goats milk chocolate, white goods and wine storage as well as several restaurant reviews (can’t wait to make a return visit to the Phoenix at Chudleigh). I wrote about a cookery course, and I had my first cover story with a flooring magazine, as well.

The end of the year saw some contracts finish, but filling the gap, Escot House came on board as a retained client in November. I am delighted to be working with the Kennaway family (who I have known for some years) to increase awareness of their gorgeous venue for conferences and weddings.

Christmas meal with 373I have occasionally been so busy that I haven’t stopped for lunch (or, sometimes, dinner), and my networking over the year slowed down considerably – a situation I’m going to correct in 2017. However, I managed to attend the 373 Group‘s Christmas lunch at Deer Park Hotel just before Christmas, and out of that came some work, a lovely bonus.

Just writing this has reminded me what an amazing year it has been – I haven’t even mentioned the half of it – Chilcotts Auctioneers, Life is Good and Devondale Electrical Wholesalers, for example. So, to everyone who has been involved in my best year in business, many thanks, and Happy New Year – here’s to an equally wonderful 2017!