Acorn Ecology Team Photo by Andrew Butler

Celebrating 15 years – PR for Acorn Ecology

Celebrating 15 years

As well as working for retained clients I enjoy providing ad hoc PR and one-off project-based services (see a previous blog to find out more).

Recently my marketing associate, Hannah Thomson put me forward to help with PR for Acorn Ecology’s 15 year anniversary celebrations. I’ve known of Acorn Ecology for some years, and I have met founder Sue Searle at various networking events. So, it was a pleasure to hop on board to work with them for this project.

Sue set up Acorn Ecology in 2003 to provide ecological services to home owners, architects, developers and local authorities. Branches opened in Bristol and Guildford in 2014 to expand the geographical scope of the work of the company and bring new expertise to the team. In 2018, the business provides expert wildlife information for protected species such as bats, badgers and dormice. It is also one of the top training centres in the UK for ecology courses.

To celebrate the milestone, Acorn Ecology hosted a celebration at their premises in Westpoint.

Always key to such an event is photography. The talented Andrew Butler was available and as usual came up with the goods;  shots of Sue on her own, with her team, with the guests and some images of the event taking place. The celebration included an interview with Sue, conducted by Cathy Towers, which informed the resulting press release.

The result was some nice coverage in Western Morning News, Exeter Living, Exeter Daily and Devon Life. At the same time, alternative press releases were sent to Guildford and Bristol media where the business has satellite offices.

And sometimes with a one off contract – there’s more to come. Another associate, Sharon Goble (who knows everyone there is to know in the local media) flagged Acorn Ecology up to Spotlight’s environmental correspondent, so hopefully we’ll see them talking bats on the TV sometime soon!

Feature writer Segway Safari

Segway or bust – feature writer

Feature writer

Alongside my PR service, I am an occasional feature writer for Devon Life.

I’ve written about many different subjects over the years, and interviewed some interesting Devon folk. But possibly my favourite features are those that involve an ‘experience’.

So far I’ve been horseriding after a break of many years, gone gliding with the Devon & Somerset Gliding Club, flown into the clouds to watch skydivers leap from a plane (I was offered a jump, but had to decline) and, my most recent experience, tried a Segway Safari.

I pitched the idea as part of the magazine’s ’13th edition’ and was delighted to have it accepted. The Segway Safari runs at Escot Estate, an area I know well from dog walking and from the work I do with Escot House. Devon Country Pursuits is the onsite company offering the experience, along with numerous other activities including paintball, laser tag, interactive treasure hunt, archery and clay shooting.

Segway Safari

This was such good fun, and we were blessed with a lovely day in late May, when the bluebells were still very much in evidence in the park. Andrew Butler came along as feature photographer, and appeared to relish the chance to ride a Segway himself. We had a great morning that included a training session and the Safari itself.

Andrew chose his spots for photographs, whilst instructor Max and I attempted to pose for the camera without falling off.

Segway is surprisingly relaxing and exhilerating at the same time. It’s an activity that I would be tempted to do again.

You’ll have to pick up a copy of the magazine to read the full experience.

Devon Country Pursuits loved the article, and suggested next time I try quad biking… watch this space.

Segway feature writer

Photo by Nick Morrison on Unsplash

Ad Hoc PR Support

Although I work with the majority of my clients on a retained basis, I also offer an ad hoc PR support service.

This type of service is perfect for a one-off project, which could be:

  • Website copy
  • Brochure copy
  • Setting up social media
  • Temporary social media management for (eg) maternity cover
  • Awards entries
  • Blog writing

Retained or ad hoc?

The benefit of working with retained clients means I have the opportunity to get to understand their business thoroughly. As the relationship builds, so does the trust – and the client can clearly see that the service is meeting – and hopefully exceeding – their expectations.

With an ad hoc service, it’s more a case of having to very quickly understand the culture of a company, get their tone of voice straight away, and to present them as they wish to be seen. Having worked in so many sectors over the years means I am often able to jump feet first into a project. On the odd occasion it takes a few stops and starts to get it right.

Examples of recent ad hoc PR support

  • In the latter part of 2017 I took on a three-month contract with Dartmoor-based company Directions to manage social media (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram) for three accounts based in Suffolk – two hotels and a pier! Now that was a challenge, as I never had the opportunity to see the businesses I was representing. After a week or two of tentatively feeling my way, I got into my stride. By the end of the contract I believe I had enlivened all the accounts and left them in a positive shape to be managed in-house.
  • I worked with Ross Pollard at bathroom and kitchen designer Vision Installs to sort out his website, which had been half-way finished for longer than he wanted. I tidied the existing content, wrote new content and created case studies. The website became one that Ross felt able to point potential clients to.
  • I’ve helped Griffin Chartered Accountants with blogs, press releases and most recently, an awards submission. We’ve yet to find out if they have made the shortlist, but Griffin gave me so much quality information to work with, that I’d be surprised if they don’t. Griffin are featured in my portfolio as I work from them on an occasional rather than one-off basis.
  • Website company Cloudberry Digital needed blogs for some of their client websites. These are mainly food and drink based, so I had fun researching a variety of foodie companies and products. I always feel writing a blog should be much more than an SEO exercise, a blog should be written to be read.
  • I’ve also written press releases for a variety of small businesses including Exminster Garage, Baking Matters, Barrel Tops and Gleave Media.

What’s next?

If you are interested in dipping your toe in the water, using an ad hoc PR support service is a good way of finding out a) if we click and b) if you get value for money. You can then decide on whether you want or need to move into a retained client service. For more information please contact me.

 

Snow on River Otter

Snow go!

Snow in Devon

Like most people in the country, experiencing snowfall that banks up and snows you in, is not a usual occurence. I had been watching the weather reports with interest, and while I slightly poo-pooed the coming armageddon (I refuse to call it emmageddon), I was also sensible, stocking up on logs for the woodburner and checking I had oil in the tank, and fuel in the car.

When the blizzard struck in the afternoon, it wasn’t unexpected. I had cancelled a meeting earlier in the day ‘just in case’, which transpired to be a reasonable decision to have taken.

As happens every time with major snowfall in Devon (the last being 2010), everything suddenly ground to a halt – well, after Tesco had been emptied of bread and milk. We do always seem to panic when there’s no bread or milk, don’t we.

Social media

As the weather worsened I saw lots of businesses shutting and letting people know on Twitter and Facebook. I called my clients with retail businesses and cafes to see if they were closing, and added updates on social media. One was just about to close, others were soldiering on. The following day, however, all of them were closed – bar the amazing Tickety-Boo where chef Dave was holding the fort.

Home working

Working from a home office has its benefits. Many people were unable to get to their place of work, but for me all that was required was to switch on the desktop and carry on regardless. Until the power cut, that is. Living in a rurally located village in East Devon does mean that I am slightly beholden to the vagaries of the power supply – the lines don’t always bear up in extreme weather. A number of villages in the immediate area were affected, others elsewhere.

No phone, no desktop, a laptop with limited battery life – at least the mobile gave me contact with the outside world. We’re fortunate in having a woodburner and LPG gas supply as well as electricity and oil, so the house, and office, remained warm. Now, I can always write, power or no power, so I started on a feature for a magazine. But then things took a different turn – I decided to check on an elderly neighbour and tramped through the snow with a flask of tea, only to discover he had no heat at all, his being all electric.

On a day like that, work can take a back seat. I stopped trying to get anything done and made a number of trips to the neighbour, with hot water bottles, blankets and soup (many other people were also busy helping neighbours in need, or taking supplies to people stuck in cars). I ‘forced’ my housebound teenagers to come for walks with me in the snow, which they, after grumbling, loved.  My dogs had a field day.

The upshot was that I had to work at the weekend to catch up. Well that’s life, I often work at the weekend, so I just did more. It’s been a peculiar few days, but it’s just a few days.

And yes, when I nipped into Tesco after the thaw set in, there were more people there than during the Christmas rush. All buying bread, and milk.

Teenager in snowPickle in snowSaffy in snow

Winners Tickety-Boo receiving the bronze awards

Winners all

Thursday November 23rd 2017 might go down in history as ‘the most awards in one evening’, with lots of worthy winners. Well, in my world, at least.

Tickety-Boo

Winners all glammed upIn Devon, my coffee shop clients Tickety-Boo were finalists in the Devon Tourism Awards. This was extremely exciting as these are really very prestigious awards. The event was held at the Guildhall in Plymouth and Tickety-Boo’s owner, Stuart, took his team along. They picked up a bronze award, and everyone was delighted. Recognition indeed for a very young business.

DEBI

Meanwhile, also in Devon, I was attending the Devon Environmental Business Initiative (DEBI) Awards as I’m a DEBI Director. None of my clients were entered on this occasion, although Rusty Winners in the DEBI AwardsPig was a previous finalist and Otter Garden Centres were category sponsors. These awards celebrate all that is green in Devon, with winners this year including Sungift Energy, Millbrook Cottages and Sonya Bedford from Stephens Scown, crowned this year’s Environmental Champion. I had a chat with Sonya after the awards event, she really does love her work.

Diespeker

Winners Diespeker MD John Krause collecting awardsIn London, at the same time, Diespeker & Co, my client via agency Terra Ferma Media, was attending the South East Manufacturers Awards, organised by Insider Media. This was the first awards we’d put them up for, and they were finalists in the Manufacturer of the Year (under £25M) category. We weren’t expecting a win, but they did it – a brilliant result.

The icing on the cake came the next day when Solicitor Derek Jordan from client The Family Law Company was announced as a finalist in the Devon & Somerset Legal Society Awards. Derek is a really dedicated solicitor, working in Plymouth to help clients often suffering in domestic violence and abuse situations. I hope he wins as he really does make a difference.

After all that excitement I am exhausted! But now it’s time to look at the Exeter Living Awards…..

Can’t hold a candle to – feature writing

I have written on more than one occasion about the pleasure I take from working in so many diverse sectors. It suits my personality (and clearly my brain) to move from one subject to another throughout the day. Amongst the many hats I wear, one is as a feature writer and sometime restaurant reviewer, for Devon Life, Exeter Life, Devon Home Magazine and Taste Buds. Feature writing brings me into contact with even more businesses and inspirational people.

The most recent encounter was with Richard and Sargon from The Recycled Candle Company. They had recently opened a shop in Ottery St Mary, where a number of my clients are based. Intrigued, I went to say hello and have a nose. Although the shop wasn’t quite ready, I knew immediately that it would be fabulous. I had a quick chat with Richard and asked if I could pitch the Featurie writing Richardstory – he agreed. I also purchased a rather gorgeous candle as a birthday present for a friend.

Devon Life liked the idea and commissioned a double page, so I returned for an in-depth interview. It was a fascinating to find out about Richard’s early fascination with candle-making, the blips along the way, how he met Sargon, the inspiration for the various scents and how they ended up opening a shop in Ottery St Mary. The process of using old wax to make new candles is truly interesting, though there were some trade secrets I was not allowed to divulge – on pain of death!

It is always an inspiration to talk to individuals who are following their dreams in business. Often for these people, it’s not about becoming millionaires (although I’m sure no-one would complain), it’s about having a passion. That’s not a word I normally like to use as it’s bandied around too much in the corporate world these days.

The feature on The Recycled Candle Company is destined for Devon Life’s January issue which should be on the shelves mid-December, hopefully in time to give the shop a boost for last minute Christmas sales. If those Christmas tree candles don’t fly off the shelves, then I’m a monkey’s uncle.

What’s up next for my work in feature writing? I’ve recently finished a feature for Devon Home about bathroom flooring and a review for Taste Buds for the Woolacombe Bay Hotel – that was fun and there was prosecco involved.  I’ve pitched some new ideas so watch this space.

Feature writing researchFeature writing research

Our awards table

On the awards podium

Attending the awards

This was the third year I attended the Food & Drink Devon Awards. The first time was in the company of Jeff and Jennie Cooper from Taste Buds Magazine – which I write for from time to time – when the awards were held at Exeter Golf & Country Club. Last year, with the awards close by at Deer Park Country House, I went again as a guest with Jeff, celebrating a gold and highly commended for client Otter Garden Centres along the way.

This year I went under my own steam to represent Otter Garden Centres. Sadly, Otter’s restaurant manager Simon was unable to come to the event, so I attended alone. Luckily I’m not shy and started chatting to chef Noel Corston at the drinks reception. It truly is a small world as we discovered in the course of our conversation that we had both lived in a suburb of Southampton called Chandlers Ford – not known to that many people. On my table were several marvellous folk, Lizzie from Hunts Cider, Ann and Neil from Waterhouse Fayre and Sabine from Sabine’s Macarons, and we had some great conversations through the evening.

Gold!

This year, Otter scooped two gold awards, one for their multi-award-winning raspberry jam and the first gold for their strawberry jam. With no Simon, it was down to me to scuttle up to collect the award from sponsors Stephens Scown and media foodie type, Nigel Barden. You’ll know him if you listen to Simon Mayo on Radio Two (which I do!). Hunts also picked up a gold as did Waterhouse Fayre.

On the podiumAs I am not usually the person to actually collect an award as this is quite rightly done by my clients, it was interesting (and slightly nerve-racking) to have a moment in the limelight with the camera of the talented Nick Hook snapping away. Fortunately I didn’t have to make a speech….

Back at the table we were all treated to a glass of fizz by a generous Sabine and her husband.

It was a pleasure to attend and to collect the two gold awards, even if by default, and to celebrate Devon’s fantastic food and drink and to meet some lovely folk. I can’t think of a better way to spend a Monday evening.

Taster Day Segway

Escot Taster Day

I have known Escot near Ottery St Mary for many years – my children spent many happy hours at Escot Park playing in the wonderful gardens, messing about on the pirate ship, watching otters and birds of prey displays.

Escot House

That part of Escot that I am so familiar with is now a visitor centre by charity Wildwood Trust, whilst Escot’s owners, Lucy and Mish Kennaway, are concentrating on promoting the house and grounds as a venue for weddings, conferences and activity days. They’ve actually been hosting events for well over 20 years, including the wedding of the couple that run the Beautiful Days festival which has been held at Escot every August since 2003. Anyone local will know of the festival, and I’ve been along a fair number of times myself.

Last year, the Kennaways asked me to write the copy for their new website, and I was delighted to oblige. This year I have been helping to promote the venue itself alongside Hannah Thompson of Six Degrees Marketing. Escot hasn’t raised its head above the parapet in terms of promotion for a while, and we decided to run a taster day so potential clients could see the venue and try some of the activities on offer with onsite activity providers, Devon Country Pursuits.

Taster Day

On the day, Devon Country Pursuits set up Segway and archery, whilst Lucy showed visitors around the three conference rooms and Lynsey baked fresh biscuits and, the hit of the day, honey mustard sausages.

Most people Taster Day Archerydecided to try the activities and naturally I had to show willing with a turn on the Segway. It was great fun and I’m tempted to book an afternoon there myself, to have a Segway Olympics. There are many other activities besides, including quad biking, interactive treasure hunt and swamp walk – the latter my son did on a school visit many years ago. Suffice to say, it’s messy!Helen on the Segway at the Taster Day

My trusty DSLR camera was ready and willing, and I managed to get some decent action shots – including Helen from The Creative Business Network who squealed the loudest when she was taking a turn on the Segway!

A number of positive enquiries came from those attending the event, with some firm bookings made. Others who couldn’t make it expressed an interest in making future bookings. All in all a successful event which was a pleasure to be involved with.

Plus I got to sample a number of Lynsey’s yummy biscuits.

Taster Day biscuits

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