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!

 

 

Nourishing Nourish!

I started working with Sarah Martin in January 2019. Sarah had founded zero waste provisions store Nourish of Topsham the year before, and was now poised to open her second store on Magdalen Road in Exeter.

It was a whirlwind ride, with Nourish ‘two’ featuring in Devon Live, Devon Life, Exeter Life, Food Magazine, Crumbs Magazine and Exeter Living, plus interviews secured for Sarah for International Women’s Day and a ‘first look’ at the shop. Nourish won the Retail category at the Exeter Living Awards and Best New Business at the Express & Echo Business Awards. Nourish was Highly Commended in the Start Up category in the 373 Awards.

We worked together for six months until Sarah realised she needed to invest more into the shops, so PR had to go. Quite right too! However much I love my clients, I am always conscious that my service is often the icing on the cake.

So, in May I was delighted to receive a message saying Nourish needed me once more! After closing for lockdown, Sarah was ready to reopen, and she needed my help.

First up a press release announcing the reopening of both stores. This highlighted the measures put in place to ensure customer and staff safety. Then a spot on the Exeter Chamber Friday Lockdown Show ‘good news’ and a customer featured in the campaign ‘We’re stronger together’.

I’m currently negotiating some speaker slots for Sarah to talk about sustainability and business. A second press release looking at keeping green during Covid-19 has just gone out.

Busy busy!

The agreement is for three months which gives me plenty of time to get Nourish noticed again.

Although most of my clients are retained, I’m always happy to provide an ad hoc or shorter contract service. This is useful for start ups and smaller businesses needing a boost.

Grow

Exeter Daily

Stronger Together

Friday Lockdown (16:30)

PR for family law during coronavirus

I am proud to provide a PR service to The Family Law Company, a forward-thinking, innovative and principled legal firm. The work is always interesting and often emotive, but even moreso over the past few months of the coronavirus pandemic.

Early on, the company saw the need to explain ‘contact’ in the current climate, particularly after Michael Gove made a statement (which was later changed). Basically contact is where separated parents see their children, referring usually to the parent that doesn’t live with the children. The issue, of course, is whether this should continue at the moment. I worked with Solicitor Hannah Porter on a blog clarifying the facts. Marketing Manager Kerry England, who pushed the blog out on social media, said the traffic to the website doubled the day that it went live. I turned the blog into a press release and the interest continued. The content was later turned into a free webinar presented by Hannah and Solicitor Imran Khodabocus, for whom I secured an interview with Heart FM to explain what the webinar was all about. Devon 24  Grow

Alongside this has been supporting an initiative from MD Norman Hartnell, who has a longstanding commitment to the plight of those who need legal aid, and the problems with accessing it. The increase in domestic violence during the pandemic has been well covered, but Norman saw a pressing issue; to access legal aid, certain ‘evidence’ must be presented which is nigh on impossible to get at the moment, when getting to see a doctor, for example, is incredibly difficult. Additionally, perpertrators of domestic violence are even more present during lockdown. Norman wrote an impassioned letter, which I proofed and edited, to send to MPs including the Prime Minister, asking that this requirement for evidence is dropped, and that legal aid lawyers are more than capable of assessing whether a need for legal aid is genuine.

Again this was turned into a press release which I distributed to local press, newsrooms and The Law Society. I also had a very useful chat with a family law journalist who writes for the Guardian, a useful contact for the future! The letter is definitely worth a read: Norman’s letter

Chef

Otter Garden Centres PR update

Generating positive PR in a time of crisis.

It’s the strangest of times, there’s no doubt about it. Nothing is the same as before coronavirus struck. But there’s something really positive about the stories that keep popping up on social media. There is so much support from people for other people, and local businesses for communities and charities.

A big hats off to client Otter Garden Centres who stuck to their principles and shut their doors to customers, despite many pleading for them to stay open. People in lockdown desperately want to get gardening; I can say this first hand as my own neighbours have so far dug an allotment, laid a path, thinned the bamboo and now they’re building a mini greenhouse they bought on eBay before the crisis hit. They have found a few bits missing….

Otter has responded to the pleas by making a series of plant and veg packs available to order online – I have a veg pack arriving today although most is going to the aforementioned neighbours who have also dug a new allotment. I’m taking on the grow bags and tomato plants which is the limit of my growing abilities.

But the compaChef in kitchensny really went the extra mile when they utilised their commercial kitchens in Ottery St Mary to prepare 300 meals for the children of key workers still attending school, and for delivery to vulnerable children. It started when MD Jacqui Taylor learned about a school cook who was having to work right through the Easter holidays to prepare school dinners. Not only was she unable to take a break, she was supposed to be going away on a trip which was cancelled because of coronavirus which really didn’t make her feel great. So Jacqui offered not only the kitchens but two volunteer chefs who spent a whole Sunday cooking the meals.

I’ve said before that Otter too often hide their community-mindedness, as they don’t want to be seen as cashing in on the help that they give. But this story, being very much of the time, was one to make a little noise about. The resulting Facebook post reached 37,107 people and attracted 3,351 reactions, comments and shares. The story was also picked up by the local press (Sidmouth Herald).

It’s lovely to be a part of this in a small way. Well done Otter, for helping more people to stay positive.

 

Think Positive – PR in a time of Coronavirus

To be honest, I’ve put off writing anything about this. Day to day it feels like I’m living in a sci-fi film. Maybe tomorrow I’ll wake up and it will all be normal again. I’m sure it’s the same for everyone.

Several of my clients in the tourism, hospitality and retail trade have had to close their doors. And as a consequence some of them have had to cut the PR service I’ve provided. I know people say that it’s not a time to cut marketing and PR, but for smaller businesses it’s just not possible to carry on. It’s devastating as I have many long term clients who are friends as well. But it was lovely to be told that they’ll bring me back on board asap, and I remain upbeat. I am fortunate in having a number of clients that in less affected sectors and I’m continuing to work with them – in fact I have been busier than ever for those needing to get messages out to clients and customers.

There are genuine, positive PR opportunities available. Everyone needs good news stories now, so companies who respond to the crisis, give out helpful information, help communities, support vulnerable people or just give people hope are the ones that will be remembered for their actions. It’s wonderful to see so many stepping up to offer free support to children stuck at home for a long period of time, be that exercise, teaching or just good old fashioned fun – check out Creation Station’s ‘Our Creative Face’ GUINNESS WORLD RECORD™

I’m busy thinking up ideas and being inspired by companies who are doing so much already. The best ideas come at approx 2am, I’m finding. I’ve also been doing some pro-bono work, helping out in my local community, and realising that I need to tidy my office for all these Zoom and Skype calls!

I feel we’re in for the long haul and we all need to support each other. Community is important and it’s now that we’re seeing how digital can be such a positive in a situation like this. I’m taking part in an online pub quiz on Friday night, which should be fun. I might even allow myself a cheeky half.

Stay safe, folk.

Fundraising for stem4

Last November I was asked to take part in a fundraising activity to raise money for teenage mental health support charity stem4, with agency Terra Ferma Media and our client Diespeker. Diespeker is a long-time supporter of the charity and I’ve written about their fundraising efforts over the years – but this was the first time I took part in one.

I often donate to clients and friends taking part in fundraising, but I’ve not had much time to get involved myself (apart from when I was a child and took part in a sponsored silence – wonder if the mums put their heads together to arrange that). This time I thought it would be great to challenge myself. The event was the Malta Marathon. Now, I’m not a runner and I never will be, but the event included a half marathon walkathon option of 13 miles (21km) which suited me, as I walk my dogs daily. I trained as much as I could in the miserable weather over the winter, trying to walk longer distances. My best distance was about 7 miles walking at about 3 miles per hour. At that rate I was never going to complete the walk in the 3 hours 45 mins required to be in a medal time. But that wasn’t the point for me.I flew to Malta with my Terra Ferma Media colleagues, David and Kaz, where we joined the other team members from stem4 and Diespeker – there were 36 of us in total aiming to raise £10K, some running the marathon, some the half marathon and the rest of us taking part in the walkathon. Diespeker sponsored the accommodation which was the lovely Radisson Blue Hotel. We were lucky enough to have a day’s sightseeing, taking in Mdina and Valletta. We woke to an amazing sunrise on the day of the event – the marathon runners had already left as their start time was early. We took a minibus then a coach to the start line at Mdina and then there was no turning back! Walking 13 miles doesn’t sound too much like hard work, but when we started I realised that the pace was going to be a lot faster than I was used to. I have a short stride so every so often I broke into a jog to catch up with my team mates. It was a pretty hot day so the water stops were much appreciated and I felt very professional taking a wet sponge and squeezing it over my head. My earplugs went in at around the 9km marker and I spent the next 12km walking, jogging and dancing to the soundtrack from Guardians of the Galaxy.

The last part of the walk was along the seafront and when I saw the 1km marker I knew the end was in sight. I was totally shocked to see the time – 3 hours 21 mins, almost a whole hour quicker than I was anticipating. And then – a medal was thrust into my hands. I felt elated and very proud of myself and my teammates. We’d all coped with pain and blisters but kept going. David, Kaz and I raised £1450 which went towards the total raised, over £10,400.

Someone asked me the other day if I’d do it again. I immediately said no. But…. it’s like childbirth, a short time later when the pain has faded then you start to tell yourself you really could do it all again!

stem4 is a charity that really does offer much needed support to teenagers – but also their families and carers, education professionals, school nurses and GPs through the provision of mental health education, resilience strategies and early intervention. Well worth the blisters!

Client Fundraising

It is always really uplifting to help clients shout about their fundraising. It’s not only good for the clients but great to raise the profiles of the charities they are supporting. Most choose local charities that mean something to them on a personal level.

Otter Garden Centres always have impressive fundraising totals. All the branches choose their own charities and last year these included RNLI Torquay, Shekinah Plymouth, Yeovil Freewheelers and Hospiscare, which was Ottery’s charity of the year. The Ottery team raised over £11,500 for Hospiscare, a superb total that was well received on social media and in the press.

Chilcotts Auctioneers also has a great relationship with Hospiscare. Every sale day Chilcotts hands over the kitchen to the charity, who sell cakes, bacon butties, teas and coffees to people attending the auction. Since this started in 2011, the ‘cafe takeover’ has raised in excess of £17,500.

Rusty Pig, too, fundraises for Hospiscare, and was recently in the news with Higher Wiscombe after a fundraising dinner and jumblebee auction raised over £3,000. Robin Rea from the Rusty Pig is a big supporter, as the charity helped his father at the end of his life.

Tickety-Boo in the meantime is fundraising on a smaller scale for Exeter Leukaemia Fund. The fundraising is mainly based around food, of course! The most recent campaign was just before Christmas when the entire proceeds from a week’s worth of mince pie sales went towards ELF. The ongoing total is now at £750. And who can forget that Tickety-Boo’s boss, Stuart, took part in a Kilimanjaro climb to raise money for Pete’s Dragons, Cystic Fibrosis Trust and the Lullaby Trust.

The Family Law Company has supported various charities while I’ve worked with them, including Force Cancer Charity, domestic abuse agencies Spitz and Safe, Plymouth Parent Advocacy Project and Citizen’s Advice. Fundraising activities have included a Santa run, a tandem skydive, the Nello and an annual skittles challenge – all very active! They also have bake sales and a cream tea event.

The Volunteer Inn is always amongst the top fundraisers for the Carnival Committee, the organisation that keeps Ottery St Mary’s crazy Tar Barrel event rolling out each year!

While I always donate to these charities and support fundraising efforts of my clients, this year, it’s my turn! Next week I’m taking part in a Walkathon in aid of teenage mental health charity stem4. The tough part is that it’s taking place in Malta, where it’s looking like 18 C and sunshine….! My team, Terra Ferma Media (the agency I work with in London) has just achieved the fundraising target of £1,000 – but more is always welcome. Follow the link here to donate.

Well done to everyone who puts time into fundraising for charities. I know that every penny is appreciated.

Recycling tealight frenzy

Sometimes it’s the simplest things that create a buzz. Take tealights.

The Recycled Candle Company recycle all types of candles, including tealights. They’ve recently had lots of queries about these – people aren’t sure if they’re recyclable because of the metal parts.

So they added a photo to Instagram showing Richard holding a bag of tealights. Which I added to their Facebook page. And then it all went wild! Immediately the likes and comments started building – it was obviously hitting home with many people.

Richard followed up with a video thank you on and it all kicked off again.

The initial post now has well over 600 likes/loves and 600 shares, plus nearly 170 comments coming from Manchester, Cumbria, Sussex and even Texas! The reach is over 130K now, with engagement at 18.2K post clicks. The original Instagram post has also had fantastic engagement with over 320 likes, and an enquiry from the West Coast of Canada where they’re looking at setting up a similar initiative.

I’m just in the process of distributing a press release on the back of it, and I’m hoping we might get national interest. Tealights, who would have thought?

All this profile raising came from a very simple post, with a very simple photograph. Nothing fancy, nothing particularly clever, just absolutely spot on content that resonated with thousands of people.

It all goes to show that there’s a huge interest in recycling with more and more people seeking ways to keep as much as possible out of landfill.

Find out more by visiting therecycledcandlecompany.co.uk

2019 in review

2019 – that was the year that was!

So much can happen in a year, and 2019 turned out to be very busy in terms of fascinating projects, with a gratifying growth in media coverage for clients.

Spotlight came to Otter Garden Centres to film a special SEN day at Santa’s Grotto which aired on December 4th, and as a follow up Radio Devon sent roving reporter Richard on another day to interview families, elves and Santa himself. Other radio appearances were made by Richard and Sargon from The Recycled Candle Company who were also interviewed by The Telegraph for a feature and video about the current climate for small businesses.

Liz and Duncan Chilcott from Chilcotts Auctioneers enjoyed a session with Fitz on Radio Devon. The company celebrated its 15th anniversary in 2019 so I stepped up the PR with additional press releases and a feature for Devon Life. As usual, the stories were hugely varied, with a collection of vintage jewellery, a bomber pilot’s medals, a butcher’s bike, photos of the aftermath of the Lynton flood of 1952 and a huge table from Battle Abbey (allegedly!).

I helped a local community in Broadhembury to create and launch a new website for their village hall. Funded by the National Lottery, the end result is pretty impressive – and very colourful! Thanks to Terra Ferma Media who built the website and were incredibly responsive to all requests for tweaks. Decision by committee is never easy….

I also project-managed a website for trade client Devondale Electrical Wholesalers. I’ve been nagging them for several years to get a new website and I’m so pleased it’s now up and running and working well for them.

In London I was inspired by the many fabulous projects undertaken by marble & terrazzo client, Diespeker & Co. I thoroughly enjoyed writing about these, as well as a number of young, up and coming designers they’ve supported over the year. Next year will be even better, as Diespeker is exhibiting for the first time at the Surface Show in February. Then I’m flying out to Malta with Diespeker and agency Terra Ferma Media to fundraise for the charity they support, stem4 by taking part in a ‘walkathon’ of 13 miles.

I continue to write for Devon Life, the highlight in 2019 being the November issue when my articles about Devon Association of Smallholders, a series of green initiatives in the county and Devon Youth Jazz Orchestra were all published. More to come in 2020, starting with a visit to Sidmouth and a look at a painted pianos initiative!

I was delighted to support clients in awards nominations leading to some stunning successes. The Family Law Company won two categories (including Law Firm of the Year) and achieved Highly Commended in another category in the Devon & Somerset Law Society Awards. The firm also won the category ‘Promoting Access to the Profession’ in the national CILEx Awards. Sarah from Nourish Zero Waste won the Retail category at the Exeter Living Awards and Best New Business at the Express & Echo Business Awards. The Recycled Candle Company was runner up in the national Best Small Shops Awards, a massive achievement as there were over 600 entries. I loved visiting the House of Commons with them to attend the awards ceremony. Other clients were finalists in various awards events, including Griffin Chartered Accountants and Devondale Electrical. Congratulations to you all.

A personal highlight for me was winning Best Professional Services at the 373 Awards held at Escot Estate (another client!). Quite a surprise and I almost fell off my chair.

The refreshing thing about my work is that no day is ever the same. I’m really looking forward to 2020 and seeing what it brings.

Happy New Year to clients past, present and future. Here’s to the next decade!

BBC Spotlight filming

Otter’s magical grotto

I was really pleased to achieve coverage with BBC Spotlight for long-term client Otter Garden Centres, when a crew visited to film at the grotto one one very special day.

I have history with Otter’s magical grotto; I took my children there to meet Santa when they were little (it always amused me that one of the Santas was actually my friend Michael, a lovely Irish fella. We saw him at least twice, and the kids never guessed despite the accent). When they were older, both children worked at the grotto as helper elves – complete with pointy ears and jingling bells on their shoes.

The grotto is a major attraction for local families and over the years has become a well-oiled machine offering a wonderful experience for children and adults alike. But not every child can cope with the crowds. This year Otter talked to me about a grotto they were running for children with disabilities/special educational needs. They’ve done this before – it’s evolved from parents asking about options for children with disabilities like autism who hate crowds, noise and flashing lights. This year we felt that it would be a good opportunity to highlight the issue of these children who haven’t been able to have the same Christmas experience as their peers.

Firstly I talked with a group of mums on the list who Otter highlighted as being very proactive. They were all really pleased with the idea of being given a voice about the problems they faced. One mum and blogger, Danielle, was clearly going to be the perfect spokesperson. Next I approached BBC Spotlight. They loved the idea, but of course it had to fit with scheduling particularly in light of the fact we only had a small window available for filming with the families who had agreed.

It wasn’t until the day that they rang to say they were coming. After confirming with the mums I dashed along to the grotto to meet the crew, reporter Naomi Dymond and her cameraman. They went round the grotto with the families, interviewed Danielle and another mum, and were wonderfully sensitive with the children who had very different reactions to the grotto, the animated characters, music, lights, and quite unexpected things like the fur on a deer! Otter’s grotto team were brilliant, as patient as can be, making sure all the children enjoyed their visit.

At one point I decided to get out of the way of the crew, slipped through a door and found myself lost in the behind the scenes area of the grotto. It did give me the chance to hear, through the wall, one of the children meeting Santa. Santa was so calm and friendly that the potentially scary situation for a lad with autism was turned into a positive experience for him and his family.

The feature focused on the families, not the company, which was exactly what we wanted. It aired on Spotlight two days later, and received a great reaction with more parents contacting Otter to see if they could get on board for next year.

Danielle’s blog is called The Autism Diaries, and is definitely worth reading.