Christmas already?

I think this is probably the earliest in the year that I’ve ever mentioned the ‘C’ word – yes, Christmas!

I found myself at Connaught Gardens earlier this month (in fact on my birthday!) in biting winds chatting with John Radford who has plans to bring a wonderful festive experience – Connaught@Christmas – to Sidmouth later in the year. This will include illuminations in the gardens, traditional music at the bandstand, and a craft fair and street food village across in Manor Road car park. It’s going to be amazing!

It really is the perfect location for an event like this, overlooking the sea from the clifftops. The garden lends itself so well to beautiful lighting and special themed areas. There’s a wonderful surprise in the offing, but my lips are currently firmly sealed.

John was keen to get the word out early, to let the locals and business community be aware that this event is being planned.

It feels really early to talk about Christmas but in all honesty, after last year’s muted celebrations I have no doubt everyone will be up for wonderful experiences just like this one in just 10 months’ time.

Early days and much more to come but, some initial coverage:

East Devon News

Exeter Daily

In Your Area

Next, I’m sure discussions about Otter Garden Centres Christmas Grotto will be happening very soon!

Ho Ho Hospiscare

Just before Christmas I was pleased to help out with PR support for Ho Ho Hospiscare, a lovely initiative by Rusty Pig and Mazzard Farm Cottages in Ottery St Mary with help from volunteer fundraiser, the irrepressible Toni Hiscocks.

Hospiscare, like many charities, has struggled during the pandemic with so many fundraising events being cancelled. There’s a lot of love for the charity locally, and Robin from Rusty Pig in particular because of the help given to his family when his dad was at the end of his life. It always strikes a chord with me too, as the local hospice in Southampton was amazing when my own dad was terminally ill back in 1986.

The event was an online draw – donate a tenner and be in with the chance of winning the top prize of a break at Mazzard Farm’s superb holiday cottages, plus a feast at Rusty Pig and a hamper supplied by Knights Farmshop. Local businesses donated vouchers for runners up prizes. I took a pic at Mazzard and sent out the press release pronto to the usual suspects. The initial target was £500 and we all watched as this was easily reached and the total started rising steadily…. So Rusty Pig and Mazzard Farm offered a second top prize if the fundraising reached £2,000, this time with the addition of an afternoon tea at Coldharbour Farmshop.

Just before the draw, the total had topped an amazing £2,300. Added to this was a donation of £250 from PASC, an organisation providing support for self-catering businesses. So the final total was £2,550, a 400% increase in the original target. The draw was made on Facebook Live at Rusty Pig, but I’m not sure anyone minded who won – everyone was so thrilled with the amount raised! I snuck out a follow up press release just to tell the world how amazing the folk of Ottery are. Another show of community spirit, just in time for Christmas.

Pre-event

Post-event

43 Elves on the loose

Tis the season to be generous – and that’s what went through my mind as I watched 43 elves arrive at work at Otter Garden Centres on a grey December morning.

The elves were all garden centre staff, festively dressed to walk, jog or cycle to work to fundraiser for Brain Tumour Support, in memory of their colleague Rob who died this year. Rob was well-liked and known by many as the driver of the Santa Express, the landtrain taking visitors to the annual grotto for a short journey to see Santa. Sadly the grotto was cancelled this year due to Covid-19, but this meant there were lots of elf costumes available to borrow!

The event was inspired by an approach from Helen Patterson, who is a brain tumour survivor and who usually takes part in the grotto as an elf. Helen wanted to fundraise by cycling from Exeter to the garden centre in Ottery dressed as an elf to raise money for Brain Tumour Support and Alzheimer’s Society. She asked to borrow an outfit but she got more than she bargained for, as the Otter team thought this was a great idea, and suggested joining in. I came on board to generate media interest in the event and take some snaps on the day.

We had some lovely coverage in online and print news, although not from local TV on this occasion – which was a real shame as the sight of all those elves descending on the garden centre was something I won’t forget! Branch Manager Karl hired a Co-bike for his trip, which was a nice touch. Even Santa made an appearance to welcome them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Helen arrived a little later having made the trip from Exeter. On her own, she raised £500 to split between Brain Tumour Support and Alzheimer’s.

 

 

 

 

Thanks to everyone who gave the fundraising event a little plug, they raised over £3,500 on the day. A fantastic result from 43 Elves!

Pre-event

Post event

Reach for the Sky!

Yet another fascinating news story for Chilcotts Auctioneers, who asked me to promote the sale of medals and memorabilia of Joan Hughes, a female WW2 pilot.

Joan was awarded a Civil MBE in 1946 in recognition of her extraordinary contribution to the war effort flying new planes to RAF bases around the country.

Amongst the memorabilia was a scrapbook created by a fan. It contained some interesting and entertaining nuggets of information, which I incorporated into the press release.

Joan was 15 when she took her first solo flight and jsut 17 when she received her pilot’s licence to become the youngest flyer in England. During WW2 she was invited to join the women’s section of the Air Transport Auxiliary, which was responsible for delivering new or repaired planes to RAF bases, freeing up fighter pilots to concentrate on training.  Joan who was the youngest of the group.

She was such a good pilot that she was trained to fly many different types of aeroplane including Hornet Moths and Leopard Moths. She also flew Stirling and Lancaster bombers, although she had to sit on a high cushion, and needed an engineer on board to help her reach the levers and controls. By the end of the war she had flown nearly a hundred different kinds of aeroplane.

The story took an interesting turn when, after the war Joan began a glamorous career as a stunt pilot. She flew Kenneth More’s Spitfire in “Reach for the Sky”; she piloted a replica of the diminutive 1909 Demoiselle in “Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines! For me, the best was her turn as Lady Penelope’s stunt pilot in the original Thunderbirds series (which I watched as a child), famously flying under a motorway bridge on the M40 when it was being built. When she retired from flying she moved to live on a farm not that far from where I live, in Dulverton, Somerset.

The story was not just interesting to research, it also left me in awe of this daring woman who seemed to have no fear. I listened to a recording of an interview with her, and she was incredibly down to earth about it all.

Coverage secured includes:

Antiques Trade Gazette

Midweek Herald

Devon 24/7

Also Express & Echo & Medal News

Volunteer Mentor Award

Life sometimes takes an unexpected turn doesn’t it? It certainly did on Friday November 20th when I found myself attending a digital awards event ‘in’ Hull.

My connection with Hull came about after I reconnected with Charles Cracknell, an alumni of King Alfred’s College (now the University of Winchester). Charles commissioned me to copy-edit the Hull Global Entrepreneurship Week brochure and it’s become an annual project. I have got to know many names of the businesses, schools and individuals who get involved in GEW each year.

When lockdown hit, a lot of the young entrepreneurs were excluded from financial help as they’d not been in business long enough. A dangerous oversight I think. Charles wasn’t going to sit back and do nothing so he asked business people to help out as a mentors. I agreed to get involved. And so I was introduced to Blush Cleaning, and the vivacious Alex and Nicole. Over the months I’ve given them support with grant applications, Covid-19 safety protocols and advice for Facebook posting (they’re actually really good at it!).

I knew from my copy-editing that GEW always had an awards event, the Hull Youth Enterprise Awards, so I was rather surprised – and pleased – to be included on a shortlist as a Partner. I was even more pleased that Blush Cleaning was a finalist for Young Entrepreneur of the Year.

For the event, I duly looked out a smart top, although I will admit to wearing fluffy socks. I poured myself a glass of fizz. I saw and heard lots of people I’ve come across in the brochure copy year after year – it was fantastic to put faces to names. And then the awards were announced.

I was thrilled when Alex and Nicole were announced as winners of The Sheila Waudby Young Entrepreneur of the Year. I didn’t win my category, but then I wasn’t expecting to. But then came a category I wasn’t aware of, with special Awards presented for outstanding service to enterprising young people. Announcing the John Cracknell Youth Enterprise Volunteer Mentor Award, the presenter described the winner as living in Devon… I realised it was me! I think I gave a little acceptance speech, I can’t remember as I was in shock. And maybe on my fourth glass of fizz!

So thank you to the lovely people of Hull GEW and the John Cracknell team. I love the fact that I’m here in the deepest South West supporting young entrepreneurs in the North East. When things settle down I’ll be paying a visit to meet Blush Cleaning face to face!

PR – the slow burn

I’ve been working on an interesting and quite different piece of medical PR since way back in August for Communitas Clinics in London.

It’s a lovely story, about how a sixth form student at Dulwich College took a pencil sketch from an ENT consultant and from it designed a practical screen to make nasendoscopy procedures safe for patients and consultants alike. Nasendoscopy is where a camera is put up the nose – unsurprisingly it often makes a patient sneeze. So with Covid-19 it’s become pretty unsafe with the danger of passing on the virus.After writing a detailed press release, I decided to work with the Press Agency to aim for wider coverage. The release went out just as I snuck off to Crete on holiday. I took a call from Channel 5 while I was lost looking for a remote village! Unfortunately,  every time the story was going to be used, it was bumped by another news story – yes you’ve guessed it, always Covid-19 related.

Eventually the story was picked up locally by London news sites. And in fact, it may not have run its course as it is still relevant, particularly with the latest lockdown after the increase in Covid cases.

The medical sector is always interesting to be a part of. Years ago I worked closely with Swedish companies Viggo Spectramed / Ohmeda Medical Devices, which was all to do with catheters. Again, not glamorous work (especially when they used my arm to demonstrate how not to insert a catheter) but fascinating all the same….

Southwark News

Wimbledon Times

Mixing it up with Mix

It’s a real pleasure to announce a new addition to my client portfolio. Meet Mix Clean Green!

Mix Clean Green (Mix for short) makes a range of concentrated eco-friendly cleaning products for the home. There are so many plus points: water free, paraben free, non toxic, vegan, low carbon footprint, single use plastic-free – and much more.

I was recommended to Mix founder Kate Deacon by Sarah Martin of Nourish Zero Waste, who I’ve worked with for a couple of years now (thanks Sarah!). Earlier this year Kate gave up her job as an Occupational Therapist with the NHS to concentrate full time on this inspirational business. A leap of faith especially in the current climate.

After meeting with Kate, enjoying GF cake and lots of tea, we agreed a three-month PR starter package. Over the past few weeks I’ve been busy learning about the products, creating a press kit and working on the first press release. Kate has provided me with assets including a very useful photo gallery.

There’s masses to do for Mix, it’s such a fantastic idea and Kate is truly passionate about what she’s doing. There are ideas in the pipeline giving me more than enough content to work with. She’s a very reactive client, too, answering my queries and giving me feedback in a flash. Impressive!

I recommend a visit to the Mix website to take a look and browse the products – be part of the sparkly clean revolution!

I’m loving working with this particular green ‘suite’ of clients, adding Mix into the mix with Nourish and The Recycled Candle Company.


NB My starter package for young companies and start-ups is designed to provide a PR boost at the early stage of their business journey. It works really well and often as not we carry on working together either on a retained or ad hoc basis.

We Are Only Human

The Family Law Company kept me busy during lockdown, commissioning me to copywrite their new Divorce Guide, We Are Only Human.

Part of the brief was to write a simplified explanation of the process from start to finish. This gives those starting down to the road to divorce a good overview of what is involved.

The challenging element was to interview past clients and write up their stories. I’ve conducted many telephone interviews over the years but clearly these required extra sensitivity! In the end I spoke to nine clients all with very different experiences. There were some with children, others without. Some had remained amicable with their ‘ex’ whilst for others there was a need to draw a line under the relationship.

As professional as I am, I couldn’t help but empathise with all of them; I even shed a few tears along the way!

I also interviewed two counsellors, Sarah Ashworth and Amanda Williamson who were kind enough to provide information for sections on how to be sure a marriage is over, and tips on how to move on. Wise words from both.

After writing up each interview, I passed them in front of the lawyers involved to double check the legal processes were described correctly. Marketing Manager Kerry England then created the digital guide using her many creative skills.

The Divorce Guide is just part of the ‘We Are Only Human’ campaign. Kerry oversaw the production of a video made by Blinkback Video and I wrote several features introducing the new guide via a number of publications including Devon Life.

This was a meaty and satisfying copywriting project and was a great way to keep busy during the lockdown months.

We Are Only Human

Lockdown competition

The best ideas sometimes arrive in the middle of the night, and this lockdown competition for Diespeker was no exception.

Lockdown made many of us restless, and so it was that I was thinking about Diespeker at 2am. I thought lockdown would provide a great opportunity for a competition to design a bespoke terrazzo.

Now I know a fair amount about terrazzo as I have managed Diespeker’s PR for a good few years through London agency Terra Ferma Media. Although I haven’t made bespoke terrazzo myself (yet), I’ve watched the process and seen the end result.

I worked with Account Manager Lucy Sanderson to bring the concept to life; I wrote a news article and Lucy promoted the competition on Instagram and via the Diespeker newsletter. We brought influencer Emily Murray of The Pink House on board to be one of our judges.

The entries began coming in, and we were amazed at the creativity and ingenuity involved.

After the closing date Emily sent her top three picks, after which I ran through the entries in detail with John Krause, MD of Diespeker. There was a clear winner in Ali Blake, whose idea incorporated items from the banks of the River Thames he’d spotted during lockdown cycle rides. Very topical.

Such is John’s enthusiasm for terrazzo that he couldn’t contain himself to one winner, and he picked three runners up as well. On includes a brass zip and another, buttons. John said he couldn’t resist the challenge presented by these entries.

Ali’s winning terrazzo is underway and he has plans to make a table top with the material once it is ready.

All in all a successful lockdown competition with plenty of PR still to come once the terrazzo designs become reality.

Website news

Tile & Stone Magazine

Insta promotion

 

PR for Lionel’s 95th birthday

Often the best PR is firmly based on real life stories. I was presented with a wonderful opportunity when a long-term customer of Otter Garden Centres came for a visit in June.

Lionel and his wife Barbara had been shielding since lockdown began due to their ages, and Lionel’s 95th birthday was approaching. As lockdown began to ease, Lionel’s son-in-law Tony thought the perfect present for Lionel would be a visit to Otter – he knew it would be a safe, caring environment.

Tony got in touch with Otter and the wheels rolled! The team were thrilled with the idea, and planned a warm welcome for Lionel with a red carpet, banners and even a birthday cake.

I went to the garden centre in Ottery St Mary armed with my camera to capture the moment. Lionel didn’t have a clue what was planned and his face was a picture. Managing Director Jacqui Taylor came over to say hello and wish Lionel a happy birthday.

Tony told me the backstory – after Lionel retired as a scientist some 30 years ago he moved to Devon with Barbara. Apparently his first question to their new neighbour was “where can a find a good garden centre?” His neighbour told him about Otter and he has been shopping there for all his gardening needs ever since.  A lovely accolade for the business, which is still very much family-run and independent.

Afterwards, Lionel went off shopping, loading his trolley with essentials like compost – and lots of plants!

Coverage

Devon Live

Sidmouth Herald

Exeter Daily

East Devon News

Sidmouth Nub News

Plus 185 likes on the Facebook post, 76 likes on Insta.

Thanks Lionel!