Awliscombe War Memorial

Armistice 100

Armistice 100 – a local story

I’ve heard many times recently that we’re in danger of forgetting about WW1 and the sacrifices made by so many.

A recent project I undertook for Chilcotts Auctioneers meant that one local family’s sacrifice is being remembered again – just in time for Armistice 100.

Earlier in the year, medals belonging to two brothers from Awliscombe arrived at Chilcotts to be auctioned. Chilcotts discovered that although both were killed during the First World War, only one brother was commemorated on the War Memorial in the village.

George Hine

Private George Hine of the 8th Battalion, the Devonshire Regiment, was killed during the early days of the Battle of the Somme. His name appears on the Awliscombe War Memorial as well as the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme.

James Hine

James served in India with the Volunteer unit 2/4th Battalion, also of the Devonshire Regiment. He survived active service and was discharged but died in August 1916. James was given a Commonwealth War Grave in Awliscombe churchyard. This indicated that the War Commonwealth Graves Commission (CWGC) believed he died from an illness contracted whilst on active service. His name wasn’t included on the memorial, however, because he wasn’t actually on active service when he died.

Righting a wrong

Chilcotts felt this was an injustice, because although James didn’t die in action his death was a direct result his service during the war. So I wrote a press release, suggesting that James should be added to the War Memorial. The story was seen by Cynthia Underdown, great niece of the brothers. She bought the medals when they were auctioned and determined to right the wrong.

Awliscombe Parish Clerk Sally Maynard helped the process along with the Parish Council and the War Memorials Trust. No objections were raised to the addition of James’s name and Cynthia contacted AG Real & Son Monumental Stonemasons to carry out the work. They insisted on carrying out the work or free, as a special tribute to local people who had fought in the war.

I put together a second press release with the update, with photos I’d taken of everyone at the war memorial.

However, the story seemed so poignant and relevant that I contacted the ITV newsroom. They loved it and have filmed a piece for their Armistice coverage. What a wonderful outcome!

James and George HineBob Cruwys filming Duncan Chilcott and Cynthia Underdown

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.

 

Summer party welly game

Here Comes Summer

We Brits know how to party when the sun comes out, and businesses are no exception.

Everyone expects a staff meal at Christmas, but summer is the time to make the most of good weather and put on an outdoor event. Big or small, it doesn’t matter. Getting staff together in the sunshine always lifts morale.

Long-term client Otter Garden Centres holds a summer party for all employees at its Ottery St Mary branch each year. But it isn’t a question of sipping a drink, oh no. Instead, there are  school games. Games involving eggs, wellies and sacks. You get the picture. The weather held and everyone threw themselves into the games – quite literally in the case of the tug-of-war. No cheating went on at all… The management team were great, acting as Head of PE, Head of Maths and Headmistress. There was even a Miss Bossy Boots. I was there, snapping away and getting some great shots of people letting their hair Summer event at TFLC Plymouthdown (and falling over), ready to send to Devon Life Socials.

In Plymouth in June, The Family Law Company hosted a summer celebration, inviting local practitioners, barristers and clerks to thank t hem for referrals. I love that Carrie, who put the event together, mentioned that it was nice to meet up with people who they are often in opposition with at court. Down pistols for the sake of Pimms! (Press release)

This weekend it’s the turn of Coverstructures, celebrating the completion of its stunning new offices on the Finnimore Estate. Owner Stuart Phillips is holding a family day replete with bouncy castle and mobile catering provided by another client, Rusty Pig. I won’t be attending as I’m off to Greece for a summer break, but I’ve booked a photographer so watch this space. but I’ll be back in time to help out with a small celebratory event for Tickety-Boo, another of Stuart’s businesses, which will be celebrating

I’ll be back in time to help out with a small celebratory event for Tickety-Boo, another of Stuart’s businesses, which will be celebrating it’s first birthday mid-August. Hopefully there will be cake.

All too soon it will be autumn, and then time for Christmas parties!

Summer tug of warThe summer school teamSummer and everyone's falling over

DEBI Awards Launch attendees

DEBI Awards Launch

2017 is the 25th anniversary of Devon Environmental Business Initiative (DEBI), and consequently the 25th anniversary of the organisation’s environmental awards. As a DEBI Director I am a keen supporter of these awards, which recognise this county’s commitment to environmental best practice.

As a charity, DEBI was founded to support businesses and organisations pursuing environmentally sound policies. The awards celebrate those in Devon that are going the extra mile for green issues.

DEBI Awards launch in the rain The awards launch this year took place at West Town Farm, in Ide, courtesy of the winner of the 2016 Enjoyed in Devon category, organicARTS. We were treated to a tour of the farm which we thoroughly enjoyed, despite the deluge (I was smug, in wellies and with a large umbrella to hand).

For my part, I was also on duty as ‘press photographer’ in prep for the launch press release, sent to the usual suspects including Western Morning News, Devon Life, Exeter Living and regional papers.

2016 winners

Many of last year’s winners came to the launch and talked about their experiences. Peter Grainger, Chair of Trustees at organicARTS spoke about their association with West Town Farm and the provision of an educational facility specialising in farm-based learning.

DEBI Awards Launch Mukti MitchellMukti Mitchell, Environmental Champion 2016, talked about his company, Cosy Homes, which provides energy saving secondary glazing and insulation for period homes and listed properties. He also spoke about each person can make a difference to climate change by reducing our personal carbon footprint – even the smallest effort can help.

Other 2016 winners, Melanie Shaw from Exeter Pound, Shevek Pring from South West Outdoors and Ryan Stojic from Mike Wye & Associates talked about how winning a DEBI award has benefitted their organisations.

About the awards

Entering the awards is totally free as is attending the awards event itself. This is held at the Met Office and offers a chance to network and meet like-minded people. The date this year is Thursday, 23 November.

The awards are really worthwhile entering. Judges (and I may be one this year) visit each shortlisted entry before the final decision is made.

More information on categories and how to enter is available here: DEBI AWARDS 2017

DEBI Awards logo

The Family Law Company at the Exeter Living Awards

Exeter Living Awards 2017

Awards are part of business life – in Exeter we have a wonderful array of awards to enter clients for; WMN, Express & Echo, Devon Life Food & Drink, Love the Flavour, Taste of the West – the list goes on!

I was lucky enough to attend the Exeter Living Awards recently. This is the second year for the awards, which celebrate the ‘best of Exeter’ (and beyond). The event was held at Exeter Uni’s Great Hall which was packed; more tables than last year and a very lively crowd indeed. The Great Hall looked, well, great! Tony Hawkes (not the skateboarder) was the compere, and entertained us with his dry humour.

My partner on the night was Sharon Goble of If…Media, and we had the best table in the house, with Jim, Lucy and Nathalie from Exeter Cookery School, Bethan and colleagues from YMCA Exeter and two of my clients, Kirsten and Rachel from The Family Law Company. Everyone, apart from Sharon and me, was a finalist. (Next year, Sharon?).

Awards Winners

Exeter Cookery SchoWinners Family Law Donna, Kirsten and Rachel at Exeter Living Awardsol and YMCA were pipped at the post on this occasion, such a shame but the competition was red hot. However, as the awards on the presentation table dwindled, we came to the Legal & Financial category. The Family Law Company has won some great awards in the past nine months, and a fifth gong seemed too much to hope for.

So, when they were announced as winners, I emitted a rather loud and embarrassing ‘woop woop’. Kirsten, Rachel and Donna (who was there with another winner, Citizen’s Advice Bureau which she’s a Trustee of) went onstage to collect the award. They looked absolutely great, three talented, strong women in an all too often male-dominated sector.

I always say to clients that it is almost as good to be a finalist as it is to win. But then, when they do win, it feels amazing!

Next up

In May, Devondale Electrical Wholesalers will find out if they have won their category in the national Electrical Wholesaler Awards, which they’ve just been shortlisted for. Fingers crossed for a win, Devondale is a truly independent South West company with a great ethos.

Writing awards submissions is sometimes time-consuming, but they really do help the writer (in this case, me) to understand a company better.

Of course, awards wins are only part of a PR service, but they are great for kudos, confidence and chutzpah. And not just for clients, for me too.

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’.

PR at the Cathedral, some of the choir

It’s PR at the Cathedral

Earlier in the year I was recommended to Exeter Philharmonic Choir to manage the PR for their May concert, Vaughan Williams A Sea Symphony at Exeter Cathedral.

The PR campaign – a mellow mixture of press releases and social media support – went really well. I managed to negotiate a double page with Devon Life on the choir’s history, which included some great photos by Matt Austin. The concert was well attended, and, subsequently, the choir asked if I would help to promote another event, their very first ‘Lord Mayor’s Concert’ in October. The performance of Handel’s Messiah would herald the start of the choir’s 170th season.Neal Gardner, Devon Freewheelers

This was a far bigger task, as the job this time included finding concert sponsors. I drafted in Sharon Goble of If…Media to help. We spent several months chasing potential sponsors, while I simultaneously sent out press releases and photos, and persuaded Devon Life to give me another page to talk about the concert. As well as being a celebration for the choir, the retiring collection would be donated to The Lord Mayor of Exeter’s Charity, Devon Freewheelers. I provided pro bono PR services to the Freewheelers a while back (synchronicity?) so I was keen to get the word out.

Sharon and me serving canapesBetween us, Sharon and I negotiated sponsorship with Gilbert Stephens Solicitors, Amos Lighting (I had a head start there!), Investec and the lovely Exeter Cookery School; owners Jim and Lucy offered to provide the canapes for the reception, held at the Guildhall in Exeter. As it turned out, they needed help on the evening, so I ‘generously’ offered myself and Sharon as waitresses for the evening (sorry Sharon). The canapes were delicious, of course, and The Lord Mayor gave a lovely speech.

I had run two Facebook campaigns, one early on and one in the week running up to the event, and pre-concert ticket sales went well. But when Sharon and I finally took off our aprons and hotfooted it across to the Cathedral, the place was packed, with lots of tickets being bought on the door. What a result, I was absolutely thrilled.

And even better, what a privilige to hear Messiah sung in the Cathedral (and yes, of course we all stood for the Hallelujah Chorus). I always say I love to experience new things, and this was certainly one of those occasions.

The choir’s next performance is Carols in the Cathedral – which needs absolutely zero PR as it is always extremely popular, and usually a sell out!

PR at the Cathedral? TS Eliot would have been proud.

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?

The black pudding team

Cooking on blood – PR for black pudding

PR is sometimes seen as a glamorous job – think awards ceremonies, schmoozing, freebies. In fact, for most of us it’s far more belt and braces, and occasionally in my case, gory.

PR for black pudding

It can be quite a challenge, as someone who is pretty much a vegetarian, to work with a business that’s basically all about meat. However, knowing as I do that the meat is sourced from animals raised only with the highest welfare standards, no factory farming here, I am 100% behind my client, chef Robin Rea of Rusty Pig.

So when Robin told me he was working with Dr Jan Davison to try out eight traditional black pudding recipes, some from the 18th century, I dropped by with my camera and notepad.

PR for black puddingBlack pudding, you may know, is basically made from blood. I watched as jugs of blood were poured into bowls with various other ingredients, mixed by hand and put to simmer on the stove. Delightful.

What was really interesting was the basis for the tests. Jan is delivering a paper to the Oxford Food & Cookery Symposium looking at how offal was once used for dishes for the wealthiest people in the land, including the Royal Family. I learned how ingredients such as ambergris, rosewater and penny royal were used in black pudding. And how one recipe called for a porpoise (which I’m pleased to say was a recipe not used).

This fascinating story was picked up in the local press, allowing for the promotion of Rusty Pig’s ‘Bourbon & Black’ event, where diners will be able to try out the black puddings. I’m going along, but Robin has promised to make me a veggie black pudding for the occasion.

This is the one and only occasion that I might be justified in writing the words, ‘bloody PR’!

Goats milk chocolates from Chocolats de Caprine

All in the name of feature writing

Feature creature

Sometimes, my occasional forays into the world of feature writing bring unexpected pleasure.

For the upcoming Devon Life Food & Drink issue, I proposed a feature on Caprine de Chocolats, a chocolate maker in Torrington making chocs from goats milk. I felt, in the name of research, the need to test out some of said chocolates, and duly placed an order. A tantalising selection of 12 chocs arrived in the post a few days’ later.

Now, it’s no secret amongst my inner (and outer) circle that I’m a bit of chocaholic. I’m the type that is fine as long as a wrapper is on the chocolate, but as soon as the chocolate is exposed to the air, I am driven to finish it. Chocolate goes off very quickly, you know. But these goats milk chocolates are something else again. Rich, and bursting with depth and flavour. One is enough for a day. Or I might manage two, at a push.

They must have a bit of creative juice in them too, as eating the chocolate led me to think of a new way to approach the article. The words were truly lit up by the taste experience provided by the cacoa.

Learning something new

Feature writing isn’t going to make me a rich woman, unless I secure an interview with Lord Lucan. However, it does give me the opportunity to try things out that I wouldn’t normally contemplate, and discover new things about life in Devon and beyond. Going up in a glider (and flying it for a hairy minute or two); researching all the spooky legends of Dartmoor; finding out what it is that makes people want to play in a brass band; learning about herbalism, taking off in a tiny aircraft and watching people throw themselves out of it (I was tempted).

Some features have led me to new PR clients. I met Amos Lighting when I wrote a piece about lighting for Devon Homes Magazine, and Rusty Pig when I interviewed chef Robin Rea for Devon Life. And over the past few years I’ve noticed that feature writing is making me a better writer in other aspects of my work; press releases, blog posts and even social media posts. I’ve been writing for years, but I’m a firm believer that you never stop learning. Hey, until recently I never really used the; semi-colon; now I’m overusing it; I am.

So what’s up next? Next week I meet the two men behind Christopher Piper Wines – I’m sure I’ll learn something there and be able to amaze my wine-quaffing friends with my in-depth knowledge of the Bordeaux region. Watch this space.