Event PR Connaught@Christmas

It was a very, very cold day when I first met Connaught@Christmas organiser John Radford in Sidmouth’s Connaught Gardens on my birthday last February to discuss providing event PR. Fast forward 10 months and what a roller coaster of a ride!

This was the first time the gardens were going to be illuminated this way, and I knew from the start it was going to be amazing. Quite the best location, on the clifftops above the sea. Connaught@Christmas combined a paid visit to the gardens with a free-to-visit Food & Craft Village in nearby Manor Road car park. Only on for 6 days, it promised something new, exciting and affordable for visitors of all ages.

After an initial press release to announce the event, all was quiet for many months as the branding and website were developed. With the event starting on December 7th, we decided September was the time to start the push for ticket sales. After introducing John to Hannah Hocking of Six Degrees Marketing to (very successfully) manage the Facebook advertising, I created a series of press releases announcing various aspects of the event, including:

  • Tickets on sale
  • Design team plans coming together
  • Showcasing 30+ local traders at the Food & Craft Village
  • Build begins
  • Gardens light up

I also wrote editorial for the East Devon Resident for its November and December issues, negotiated competitions to win a family ticket with Devon Life and Radio Exe and populated a list for the press launch.We received masses of coverage, interest and support from local media. I was delighted that Radio Devon came to interview John the day before we opened, and when ITV Westcountry responded to my suggestion for a weather report from the gardens. The stage was set! And then came Storm Barra.

We had all been watching the weather, which had looked pretty reasonable until this storm turned up, due on the first day of the event – also the day of the press launch. John and I spoke the day before, then the morning of the storm. I had already contacted everyone on the press list with a ‘watch this space’ message. At midday, the call was made and the first day of Connaught@Christmas was cancelled. I duly cancelled the VIPs. John decided simply to refund all the tickets rather than make people rebook. This was a top decision, as everyone appreciated it and the majority booked for another day. Westcountry were still going to come, as the storm had died down in the afternoon, but then called me to say that we’d been bumped by the resignation of the Plymouth Argyle manager! They did come the following day, all the better as the lovely Kate Haskell did the report – Kate and I both write for Devon Life so it was good to catch up with her.

As for the event, it was a huge success. The feedback was incredibly positive, with only a few visitors being disappointed that they couldn’t bring their four-legged friends. I have an idea about that for next year! Some people asked why it only ran for 6 nights and want it to run throughout December next time. I went twice, once to liaise with ITV and the second time to enjoy it just as a visitor. Both times I fell totally in love with the event, the location, the moon rising over the sea, the projections over Jacob’s Ladder beach, seeing Father Christmas chat with children, the choirs singing on the bandstand, the cactus greenhouse lit up with so many colours.

I’m proud to have been involved providing event PR for Connaught@Christmas. I was totally bowled over too, to receive a gorgeous bouquet from John thanking me for my efforts. Well John, that’s my job. I really hope to do it all again in 2022.

Examples of coverage

Announcement

On sale

Plans coming together

Keeping it local

Where to see Christmas illuminations

What’s On

Build underway

Event begins – a day late!

Exeter Property Awards Success

It has been an extraordinary year for client awards successes. I have to say I’m gobsmacked, not a word I use often! The latest was the Exeter Property Awards. This was the inaugural event and I had worked with two clients, SunGift Solar and Burrington Estates to put submissions together.

Both were shortlisted in a number of categories, SunGift in the Green Initiative and Suppliers & Services categories and Burrington Estates in the Developer and Transformation categories, the latter for the amazing Winslade Manor on the Winslade Park development.

These awards took place during an afternoon event at Sandy Park. I wasn’t there in person, in fact while the awards were being announced I was walking the dogs on Hembury Fort! However, I followed the results on Twitter. I lost the connection for a while, but when Twitter updated I was thrilled to see that SunGift had collected the Suppliers & Services award, and Burrington Estates had won the Transformation award. What I didn’t know until later on in the evening when SunGift MD Gabriel texted me, was that SunGift had also jointly won the Green Initiative with Grenadier (who collected a whopping three awards in total). Well, I have to say, three out of four ain’t bad!

There are just two more to go now, with the Western Morning News Awards (SunGift again) and the Family Law Awards, where The Family Law Company is shortlisted in the Wellbeing category. Then maybe a month or two respite, before it all starts again….

Congratulations to all the winners at the Exeter Property Awards!

 

Ever more Outdoors!

Since starting a retained contract with the magnificent organisation The Outdoors Group in January 2021, there’s been an avalanche of PR opps.

From taking on an existing forest school site in North Devon, through launching a new course for adults outdoors with autistic children, being named as a finalist in the rural business awards, opening a new special school site, running a yoga retreat. Then there have been business stories, celebrating a bumper 10th anniversary year and, next up, moving to a new HQ.

As well as press releases, we’ve run a competition with Devon Life with full page editorial, hosted a journalist on the yoga retreat and had the TogFest featured in Exeter Living’s social pages. The Outdoors Group also won the Education category at the Exeter Living Awards. For once, I didn’t write the nomination!

After a bit of nagging from me (“I need some good images!”) a wonderful library of professional photos is growing, courtesy of photographer Pip Raud.

So much more to come, with a spectacular rebranding underway, the first SEND conference being planned for 2022 and national press coverage to chase. An inspiring client, forward-thinking with an exceptional ethos. Pause for breath… and on to the next piece of news!

Just some of the coverage to date:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Awards update

With apologies for the double negative, I can’t not revisit this after the Devon & Somerset Law Society (DASLS) Awards took place last week.

It was a ‘virtual’ awards event, hosted by David Fitzgerald and perhaps the quickest awards I’ve ever attended (I think it took all of 30 mins)! I’d poured a glass of fizz in readiness just in case one of the finalists from The Family Law Company won. In the end I had to pour another as the award wins came thick and fast.

The first announced was the President’s Special Recognition Honours, a new award introduced to acknowledge someone who went the extra mile for clients and colleagues during the pandemic. I’d helped to put together a nomination for incredibly hardworking Senior Associate Solicitor Imran Khodabocus – and was so pleased when he was chosen in recognition for his extraordinary commitment not just in his work but for his community.

In the category awards success for The Family Law Company continued. Jane Chanot won Solicitor of the Year; Cassie Saunders picked up Support Team Member; Hannah Porter was named Rising Star; Gemma Sparks won Chartered Legal Executive; and Donna Hart was highly commended in Leader of the Year, with Grace Bradley a finalist in the Legal Aid Lawyer category.

At the same time as DASLS, the National Paralegal Awards took place virtually. The Family Law Company’s Becka Combes was a finalist in the Family Law and Best Newcomer categories and was delighted to win both categories. Becka wrote both her nominations, I just gave her a little help in tidying them up. So all credit to Becka, what a great win!

PS there was much hilarity at DASLS when one of the finalists forgot to mute themselves and we all heard them discussing Gus Honeybun who, local people will know, was a stuffed rabbit who Mr Fitzgerald had to work with many moons ago…. Let that be a lesson to all of us who continue to use Zoom.

PPS Not long after DASLS, The Family Law Company also won at the prestigious Law Society Awards, where they were awarded Excellence in Practice Management. Wow!

Awards Season

Awards season 2021 has been non stop with nominations for clients. In fact, I can’t remember when I’ve worked on quite so many.

Now the shortlist announcements and awards events are in full swing.

Four clients were finalists at the recent Exeter Living Awards:

  • Winners: The Recycled Candle Company (Retailer) and The Family Law Company (Legal & Financial)
  • Finalists: Burrington Estates (Property) and Griffin Chartered Accountants (Legal & Financial)
  • The Outdoors Group won Education, with their own nomination

The Family Law Company is a finalist in the upcoming Family Law Awards (Wellbeing), Law Society Awards (Excellence in Practice Management), DASLS Awards (seven categories!), Paralegal Awards. They were finalists earlier in the year for the Legal Aid Awards and we have also entered the Wellness Awards.

The Recycled Candle Company has won a Green Apple Environmental Award and – all being well – will visit the Houses of Parliament to collect the award in November. We’re trying to get a Queens Award nomination ready but there’s so much detail this one may have to wait a year.

My newest client, SunGift Solar, is a finalist in the Western Morning News Awards in both categories we entered, SME and Environmental. We wait to hear with bated breath about the Solar & Storage Awards.

And I have recently submitted a nomination for London client Diespeker & Co in the South East Manufacturing Awards.

More to come with the Exeter Property Awards and then I guess we start all over again!

There is definitely a skill to writing a successful nomination. And whilst data and evidence is of paramount importance, it is also crucial to be honest, and to give heart to a nomination.

It’s all part of the service!

On the Small Screen – TV coverage

Gaining TV coverage for clients can be tricky, and its often difficult to measure the impact. Two of my clients recently featured in mainstream programmes. London’s Diespeker & Co featured on Your Home Made Perfect, and Exeter’s The Recycled Candle Company’s Pride heart candle was highlighted on Channel 4’s Steph’s Packed Lunch.

Two fantastic opportunities!

I won’t take credit for Your Home Made Perfect, as the BBC contacted Diespeker directly. The hard work was all done by Lucy at Terra Ferma Media, the agency I work with on the Diespeker account. Thanks Lucy! You never can tell how much airtime a client will get (clients have helped out with DIY SOS and rarely get a mention, although in that case it’s all for a good cause!).  But on this occasion it was really impressive – a whopping 4 minutes, including a namecheck. Presenter Angela Scanlon made her own terrazzo during the show, and was so delighted with it that she gave some additional promo on Insta.

Meanwhile, here in Devon, I received an email from the production team of Steph’s Packed Lunch requesting a rainbow striped Pride heart candle for the show – and could it be sent to arrive the next day? Richard was away in Scotland, Sargon in Bristol, so there was a momentary mad panic. Richard picked up on WhatsApp and organised for the efficient shop team to parcel up a candle and courier it to Leeds. We were thrilled when we watched the show, as TOWIE star Charlie King showed the candle to the audience, mentioning the 10% donation from each sale that goes to  campaigning charity Stonewall.

So…… the impact.

The Recycled Candle Company received a barrage of online orders immediately after the candle appeared on screen, definitely a response to Charlie and Steph’s positive comments. Meanwhile Diespeker & Co has received lots of enquiries about bespoke terrazzo although it’s harder to tell if this was a result of the coverage or just because they’re so good at what they do!

Diespeker & Co

The Recycled Candle Company PRIDE candles

Getting outdoors with the Outdoors Group

It’s always easier to provide a PR service when you get to know a client’s product or service first-hand. So it was that I recently found myself in the middle of the woods, at the Exmouth Forest School. This is one of several sites the group runs in Devon, to deliver its innovative outdoor ethos for education, experiences and training. The course I was joining was Learning Beyond the Classroom, aimed at teachers and volunteers working at primary and secondary schools.

This course aims to build confidence for teachers wanting to take classes outside, giving them ideas, practical skills and guidance on risk assessment. It’s held outdoors, unsurprisingly, with a a central campfire and overhead tarpulin in case of rain.

Just as I arrived, the course attendees were about to embark on a creative task – making faces out of mud! They used sticks and leaves they found in the woods to create the face, and soon discovered that it was more practical to make the face on a tree stump than an upright tree. Something called gravity…. Other activities included ‘ninja sticks’ which caused much hilarity and more than a litttle competitiveness. Interwoven with the activities was serious discussion around the campfire, which gave me a real insight into how teachers can really use the outdoors to encourage learning.

While I was there a toddler group was also taking place, giving me a great opportunity to have a sneak peek of children having a huge amount of fun in natural woodlands. And not just the children, but their parents too.

I’m really taken with what The Outdoors Group wants to achieve, and to be working with them as they expand and develop. From the work I’ve done so far, it’s clear that getting children outside has a huge beneficial impact on their wellbeing, development and social skills.

The Outdoors Group

 

 

 

One Year On

I can’t believe it’s one year on in, after Covid-19 ripped through our lives and changed so much.

I remember panicking at the beginning as my tourism, hospitality and retail clients had to pull back on my services. I said goodbye to six clients in a single week! In amongst this I was organising my daughter’s early return from university and making sure I had enough pasta (I never got caught up in the toilet roll frenzy).

I was also worried about what the virus would do to me if I caught it. I’ve said before, it was like being in a sci fi movie. I didn’t get any financial help from the government so after shedding a few tears of anxiety I set about battening down the hatches.

Several of my clients turned things around for me, asking me to take on project work and expanding my retained hours. I took on some short term contracts too. In the end, my turnover dipped slightly over the year but nowhere near as much as I’d feared at the start. I started mentoring two young entrepreneurs and won an award for my efforts.

One year on and what a difference. We’re slowly coming out of the third lockdown and the sun is shining again. I’ve seen more amazing sunrises and sunsets this year than ever before. I’ve been to ‘real’ client meetings, so very different from the Zoom and Teams meetings. I’ve had my first vaccination and booked a staycation for September in North Devon.

Alongside my long-term retained clients, I am working with some inspirational new clients, including The Outdoors Group, Communitas, Burrington Estates and Connaught@Christmas. I’m talking to potential clients in new sectors, which is very exciting. I’m delighted that several clients who had been unable to keep me on in the early stages of the pandemic have taken me back on board again.

Everything is feeling very positive and I for one cannot wait for June 21st, fingers crossed. Onwards and upwards.

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