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

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!

Discovering Hawkerland Brake Barn

One thing I love about my work is coming into contact with many amazing projects and concepts.

Site visit

Last week I visited a stunning log cabin in East Devon. My clients Devondale Electrical were involved with the building of the cabin, supplying the electrical kit after winning a competitive tender. I went to meet Devondale’s Kevin Coles and RSPB East Devon Nature Reserve Warden, Toby Taylor to help me write a press release and case study about the project.

I wasn’t sure exactly what I was going to find, but the cabin is an extraordinary building; made from trees felled on a nearby reserve. The trees were peeled, cleaned and assembled in Woodways yard, before being brought to the site and pieced together, like a jigsaw I imagine. The trunks are huge – this is a very solid-feeling cabin.RSPB log cabin case study accommodation

What’s more, the site is committed to using renewables. A biomass boiler provides the heating (fed by logs from the reserve), solar panels give much of the electricity needed (especially in the summer of course), and they are also using rainwater harvesting. The lighting is LED low energy lighting – provided by Devondale, of course.

The cabin provides accommodation for self-funded volunteers as well as a training room and meeting area on a mezzanine. It’s all beautifully hand-crafted and made me think that if I ever wanted to move away from PR, I might go and work for the RSPB – as long as I could stay in the cabin!

It’s a small world

WhileRSPB Log cabin for case study I was there, site manager Richard Bowmer kindly gave me the lowdown while he was finishing off a fireplace. Once again I was reminded that Devon is a small world. When I asked Richard if he was anything to do with Bowmers Restaurant in Budleigh, lo and behold he told me he’s married to the owner, Claire who I met a few months ago when I popped in to talk about their social media.

My visit was on the day that Devon battled with flooding once again (you can see the rain in the main photo), and my return from the cabin was a nightmare of impassable roads with abandoned cars floating in flood water. Being local, I knew of a back way to try, and snuck up through Gittisham before battling my way back uphill into Buckerell. A dramatic end to the morning, but I still had enough time to start work on the case study when I finally got back to the office.

Santa Claus is Coming to Town (again)

For the third year in a row I’ve had the pleasure of attending the launch of Otter Nurseries Christmas Grotto to take photos of the latest intake of Santa’s Little Helpers to use on social media.

The good old days

For me, long gone are the days of creeping around to deposit Christmas stockings on the beds of sleeping babes, and waking up early to help build Lego or Hot Wheel sets. Now Christmas is a time to pop open the Prosecco and try not to forget a crucial part of Christmas dinner (one year the stuffing, another the pigs in blankets, but sadly, never the sprouts). However, working with Otter Nurseries means I still get to have some real Christmas fun.

Christmas at Otter Nurseries

For the garden centre, Christmas starts early in the year, with buyers visiting Christmas shows in the UK and abroad. The Grotto arrives on my PR to-do list in July or August, as sales for tickets start in early SepChristmas decs as Santa Claus comes to towntember. There’s always a lot of excitement on social media when we announce ticket sales with lots of sharing going on. There are also always one or two grumps about it being way too early… you can’t please all the people all the time. My fave  grump this time round was someone who tweeted a photo of the ‘Suffragete’ movie which bore the legend ‘Perfect for Mother’s Day’ (left over from March, of course). The tweeter asked (with good humour) if we could get Christmas out of the way first, please.

The Christmas department opens at half term, and even I uttered a few ‘Oohs’ this year as the Christmas team had done such a superb job.

The GrottSanta Claus Magical Kingdomo launches in mid November. Once upon a time this meant Father Christmas arriving in a helicopter, but health and safety rules and regulations put the kybosh on that, and now it’s a far more subtle affair. It’s quite a thrill to watch it coming together, as the external shell is put up and the magical interior scenes are added.

On launch day, the bright, cheerful gang of Santa’s Helpers arrive – many are handpicked from Ottery St Mary’s secondary school, The Kings School. Some come year after year, and there are often youngsters from the same family on the team. And then of course there is Santa himself. I can’t say too much, obviously, but he’s very clever and knows a great deal about the children when they visit him. Santa Claus - his Little Helpers

This year the Grotto was visited by a blogger for the first time, which I arranged after an approach on Twitter. Stephanie Darkes of Exploring Exeter came on the launch day and wrote a lovely blog about her visit.

So there it is, Christmas has come to Otter Nurseries and Santa is on his way!