medals

Under the Hammer

Managing PR for Chilcotts Auctioneers, an independent auction house based near me in Honiton, gives superb storytelling opportunities. I love the chance to really research auction lots and discover their back stories.

Recently, like the proverbial buses, three came along at once. The challenge was on to write engaging press releases for each and distribute them in the month up to the sale on June 1st.

The first story required lots of research, as it concerned RAF medals and log books, documents, uniforms and photographs from WW2 fighter pilot Group Captain Peter Casement, who flew with both Bomber Command and Coastal Command. His was a fascinating story; he was one of the few pilots to have seen service throughout WW2, and during the Battle of the Atlantic the bomber he piloted was the first to bring back photographic evidence of the sinking of a U-boat.

The combination of his medals and an extensive archive of materials including his flying jacket, gloves and boots, several sets of uniform, photographs and RAF training manuals were sold as one lot. The auction estimate was between £10,000 to £15,000. The story gained lots of interest, and the hammer price reached £21,000.

Bomber plane

The second story was a set of 19th century German Orders of Chivalry, thought to have been awarded to an aristocratic German family, with some very likely to have been given to them by Queen Victoria. The English owner of these rare medals had served in Germany in the aftermath of WW2, and we’ll never really know how he came to possess them – perhaps he was given them in return for food or shelter.

German orders of Chivalry

The third story was very different. It concerned a collection of vintage jewellery assembled over several decades by one Pamela Schneider who had lived in North Devon. Interestingly, Pamela was one of Chilcotts’ first vendors, back in 2004. 

There was a connection with the other two stories, as Pamela grew up during WW2. In spite of a disjointed education, she became a successful entrepreneur, running a café before discovering an interest in antiques. Pamela’s daughter told us that in the late 1960s she began to read numerous books about antiques, and never missed an episode of Going for a Song!

There was a good take up of the jewellery collection press release in the Devon press, and I attribute this to the stunning photograph Chilcotts supplied; butterflies, dragonflies and flowers scattered in the striking aubern hair of their daughter! I always say that images are so important, and here is another example of this truism.

Pamela Schneider Collection

Antiques Trade Gazette
Midweek Herald
Exeter Daily

2019 is Chilcotts Auctioneers 15th anniversary year, so here’s wishing happy celebrations to this wonderful family business. I’m looking forward to learning about more items going under the hammer!


Chilcotts of Oz - Pin up PR

Pin up PR

Movie mania

The team at Chilcotts Auctioneers came up trumps again with a story about a film poster collection.

They received the collection from a vendor in East Devon, whose son had been an avid collector of movie posters.

Some of these date back to the 1930s and 40s and are quite rare – while I was researching the story I discovered that posters at the time were often recycled due to paper shortages.

Diana Dors poster pin up PRA number of the posters brought back memories of watching black and white films on a Sunday afternoon, particularly those advertising Margaret Rutherford as ‘Miss Marple’. I remember those films really well! The collection included posters for well known films including Hello Dolly and Whistle Down the Wind, but also films I had never heard of, such as the X-rated Diana Dors movie, Yield to the Night.

The collection, which is being sold at Chilcotts September 10th ‘Fine Art, Antiques and Collectors’ Items’ sale, is wonderfully eclectic. I must say I am tempted to make a bid for some of the prints myself.

Strike a poseWizard of Oz pin up PR

When we discussed a photograph to go with the press release, I was thinking of having some of the Chilcotts team looking at one of the posters holding a bag of popcorn, perhaps even a candyfloss on a stick. But their own suggested creative won the day. They took the Wizard of Oz poster (the most sought after poster in the collection) and recreated it with themselves playing all the characters: Jenny Bell as Dorothy, Duncan Chilcott as the Wizard, Liz Chilcott as the Cowardly Lion, Oscar Everard as the Tin Man and Dudley Broome as the Scarecrow. I couldn’t have done it better myself!

Lots of interest from the media as usual, with the Express & Echo asking me to generate more photos of the posters so they could do the story justice.

Next up for Chilcotts, we’re moving back in history to the Civil War!

New business Tickety Boo

Ottery PR is just Tickety-Boo

Ottery St Mary is a very happening place, so it seems! I’ve been providing ‘Ottery PR’ for Otter Nurseries and Robin Rea at Rusty Pig for a couple of years now, as well as supporting the Volunteer Inn. I also handle the occasional bit of PR for the spicy Samosa Lady, Tina Chauhan-Challis.

My newest OSM client is Tickety-Boo. This is a fantastic project to revitalise the old bakery in the heart of the town with a coffee shop, playzone and events room.

Tickety-Boo is coming together fast, so it’s a bit of a rollercoaster ride at the moment. I’m overseeing the new website, setting up social media, sorting out photography, working on posters, sourcing balloons and helping to organise the opening event on August 13th. Phew!

Ottery businesses

What impresses me about all these Ottery businesses is their commitment not only to their own business but other local businesses too, as well as the community. They seem to have grasped the fact that if people work together for the good of a community, everyone wins. Otter Nurseries was headline sponsor for the Ottery Food & Families Festival and offers fundraising parking for the Tar Barrels. Rusty Pig, Samosa Lady and Volunteer Inn support the Carnival Committee that organises the Tar Barrels each year, as well as being involved in the food festival.

The ethos behind Tickety-Boo is to give the local community something really good to enjoy. No fried food here, everything is to be home-cooked by the talented chef, Dave using locally sourced ingredients. The playzone has been hand-built and the party room murals painstakingly painted by hand. The coffee shop also has a bespoke-made feel. There’s a lot of time and effort going into this.

It’s a privilege to work with such a vibrant community. The community Facebook page ‘Ottery Matters’ is always ablaze with opinions, grumbles, lost dogs (and once a donkey), concerns and celebrations. It’s one of the most engaged pages I’ve seen, and very entertaining to read.

I’m looking forward to the launch of Tickety-Boo and the opportunity for more Ottery PR!

Amos lighting to open new branch

Lighting the Way

New showroom for Amos Lighting

I’ve known of the plans for a new showroom at Topsham in Exeter from the beginning of the year. It’s a bold move for this family-run business, but one that I am sure will go well.

We had to hold back from releasing any formal announcement for some time as the final negotiations were in the hands of the lawyers. Interesting how news leaks in the close knit Devon business community, though – I was asked on a number of occasions about the new showroom, long before the press release went out. Luckily all the documents were finally signed, sealed and delivered, so the story is now officially public.

Hot on the heels of the announcement I released a second press release, detailing the appointment of Ashton Hargreaves as the manager of the new branch. Ash is the perfect choice, and I’m looking forward to working with her once the branch is live.

Even though it’s only June, we’ll be racing towards the business launch and launch weekend in September. Catering, entertainment, giveaways – all to be organised and promoted. The launch is on the same weekend as the Self Build Show at Westpoint where Amos is exhibiting, so everyone will be working at full pelt. Watch this space!

Social Media

Amos Lighting has a healthy, active social media profile. But one important reminder that has come out of working with them is the need to ensure that login details for all social media are kept safe in a known place.

As part of my PR service I was asked to help sort out the company’s social media. We spent a fair amount of time trying to get into their existing accounts, set up long before I was on the scene. There was no record of the passwords, so it took a lot of guesswork, trying different combinations. We managed to access Pinterest but with Facebook and Twitter we had to start again, then work hard to get the old inactive pages deleted. It’s all done now, thank goodness! I have a note of all the logins, but, more importantly, so do David and Nicola Amos. After all, I might leave the country one day. Or retire.

Otter Nurseries award winning jam

Jam-tastic

Otter Nurseries – not just plant experts

When I first moved to Devon nearly 20 years’ ago, I fell in love with Otter Nurseries garden centre in Ottery St Mary. My garden became crammed with flowers purchased there; some even featured in my homemade wedding bouquet.

Now one of my PR and social media clients, Otter Nurseries is a fascinating company to work for – there are many facets of the business (which has five branches) to learn about, such as environmental ethos (no chemicals are used in the growing nurseries), ongoing and generous support for many community initiatives and charities, free gardening advice and design… and jam.

Otter Nurseries jam is made in the kitchens of the garden centre restaurant, mainly by talented cook Liz Lee. I’ve bought several varieties over the years, including a scrumptious cranberry and orange at Christmas. It’s really so very good that this year two varieties of jam were entered into the Taste of the West Awards.

Fast forward several months, and I spotted on social media that the awards judging was taking place at Westpoint. I asked the Otter Nurseries marketing department how it was going. They were taken aback as they knew nothing of the judging and hadn’t sent any produce. After a few calls and emails it transpired that the entry had fallen through the net.

But all was not lost. The Taste of the West team exhorted me to take some jams to Westpoint – if I was in time they could still be judged. Cue mad dash to Otter Nurseries to collect some jars, cue equally mad dash to Westpoint to drop them off. I’d have asked for a police escort if I’d known.* Arriving at Westpoint I couldn’t see where to go – the front doors were locked and the back seemed shut up. I pounced on a man waiting in a car. He was, it transpired, a judge and pointed out the way in.

I was slightly breathless when I handed the jams over, but encouraged when the lady who took them said how nice it was to see some traditional jams being entered. No fancy ingredients in Otter Nurseries jam; no yak’s milk or pig’s blood… (makes a change).

Two weeks’ ago, an email arrived in the inbox from Taste of the West, and it was good news. The strawberry jam had received a Highly Commended but the fabulous raspberry jam attained a coveted Gold Award.

What else was there for it, but yet another mad dash to Otter Nurseries, this time to take a photograph of the talented Liz Lee and her (now) award winning jams so I could spread the word (no pun intended) to the papers and via social media. You can read about it here and I’m looking forward to seeing more coverage, in our local magazines and regional press. Jammy, or what?

TOTWAwards_2016_Gold*Please note, no speed limits were broken in the making of this dramatic scene.

 

Liz Chilcott 'poisoning' her husband

PR promoting poison?

Magical stories

I’ve said before that I love working with Chilcotts Auctioneers – not just because they’re such nice people, but also because the stories they give me to work with are just magical in terms of PR.

Previously I’ve put together press stories on a whalebone that once belonged to explorer Ernest Shackleton, diaries written by a Japanese war camp internee, and a Chinese moonflask that sold for nearly £500K.

The ‘poison’ flagon

The most recent task was around a flagon that once contained a ‘cure-all’, quack medicine. This was nothing like the moonflask in value, being valued at a much more modest figure of £100, but the back story was just as interesting to research.

Microbe KillerGod bless the internet for giving me lots of resource to discover the truth behind William Radam’s ‘Microbe Killer’, invented in the late 19th century as a way to kill microbes in humans, thus defying many ailments – in theory. Although it was 99% water, the liquid also contained 0.59 sulphuric acid, 0.016 sulphurous acid and ash – and this was thought to have killed the grandfather of the vendor of the flagon, who had taken too much of it.

A great story in itself, but as usual Liz and Duncan Chilcott rose to the occasion magnificently when asked to pose for a photograph to accompany the press release. Liz cheerfully gave the pretence of wanting to poison her husband with a large ladle of the Microbe Killer – and of course, the press loved it.

Coverage

The story was picked up by regional press, including Western Morning News (who gave me a byline, much appreciated), Express & Echo and the Midweek Herald. It also attracted a lot of interest on social media.

I always have a sense of anticipation when I go to my monthly meeting with Chilcotts – what fantastic story will they give me to PR this time?

East Devon PR – THAT Chinese vase

What fun I had recently on my home turf, with East Devon PR for clients, Chilcotts. They really do have the best stories and I genuinely love getting involved in the research as we bring the threads of history together.

This time it was one of those chance finds that ends up being worth rather a lot of money. In this case, a Chinese vase, called a ‘moonflask’. Auctioneer and valuer Duncan Chilcott knew he had something extra special when he saw the object – and how right could he be? The rare puce-enamelled blue and white dragon bianhu moonflask sold for just under £500,000 in an auction held in Hong Kong.

Well, apart from racking my brains to remember if I had any Chinese vases in my own home (negative), I wrote up the story and sent it out to the usual suspects. Roger Malone at the Western Morning News got first dibs, he’s a great supporter of Chilcotts, as is Mike Byrne at the Echo. Then things went a little wild. Requests from South West news agencies came in and suddenly there was the news about the vase popped up on many popular online news sites, the BBC, Mirror, Mail and so on and so forth.

Of course, once in the mainstream press, the story morphed into something other than the truth, as it does. Suddenly, the vendor became a man from Devon who found a dusty old vase in the rattic, with much reference made to an episode of Only Fools and Horses.

Daily Mirror

“The man, who has not been named, had no idea of the value of his Chinese antique when he took it to be valued at an auction house.

But just like in the famous Only Fools and Horses episode, he was stunned to discover the family heirloom that had collected dust for decades was worth a fortune.”

This caused a fair amount of hilarity among those who knew the facts. But there was no damage, and Chilcotts was mentioned in a positive light in every case  – what a result!

So what’s the next story going to be, I wonder? I can’t wait!

 

 

PR for inspiring businesses

Working in PR and copywriting brings me into contact with an amazing array of organisations. Some of these are large, established firms and others are small businesses, or start up. There are charities and community initiatives, all needing some help, whether that’s a boost, some advice about social media, or an ongoing PR service.

The last two months have been particularly interesting in terms of the businesses I have been talking to.

  • In Exeter I met Iain Smith, the owner of independent wine shop, Smith’s Wines in Magdalen Road, and ended up writing a feature for Exeter Life.
  • Down in Beer I was introduced to Swimboat for a feature for Devon Life – a little yellow boat that has been designed to accompany open water swimmers. I learned that there are thousands of intrepid swimmers who love to brave the waves for the sheer thrill of open water swimming.
  • I’ve been working with a lovely German nutritionist, Carola Becker, who, after learning to manage her own arthritis naturally, started up ‘Life is Good’ to help others to improve energy, lose weight and generally have a better life through better nutrition and exercise. I’m hoping some of this will rub off on me!
  • A call from Exeter Philharmonic Choir – I wasn’t previously aware Exeter had one – has brought me into contact with the world of composition and classical music, and I look forward to helping them gain more coverage for their concerts in Exeter Cathedral.
  • I also had a long chat with an inspirational lady in North Devon who turned to making chocolates from goats’ milk after her husband was made redundant (Caprine Capers). Having two children myself who were raised on goats rather than cows’ milk, I have a real interest in what she’s doing – hope there’s some taste tests involved….

I’ve blogged about telemarketing, parsnips and buying chocolate by post, I’ve written press releases about electrical testing software and I’ve helped out a friend of a friend who is Asian and needs to find a match donor.

It’s been an extraordinary few months, but such a privilege to learn about so many amazing things that are going on in Devon. I’m wondering what the next few months will bring!