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.

Editors Lunch Take Two

I am not quite sure how it happened, but last year I was roped into organising a lunch for some of our regional editors. They had such a good time that they asked me to do it all over again.

Editors Lunch Patrick Phelvin and Jeff CooperThis time, we added the new editor of the Express & Echo, Patrick Phelvin, to the mix. He joined Andy Cooper, editor of Devon Life, Anna Britten, editor of Exeter Living, Jeff Cooper, editor of Taste Buds and Becky Sheaves, editor of West Magazine, Western Morning News.

Our destination was Jack in the Green, a fantastic foodie pub that sits on the old A30, away from the madding crowd but conveniently close to Exeter, and Andy Cooper’s office. We were all slightly shocked to see the encroachment of the Cranbrook development – with building work taking place right next to the pub’s car park.

It was great to hear our local editors’ commitment to environment. Anna bravely decided to take a bus from Exeter (though she willingly accepted a lift back into the city with Becky), and Patrick told us about his fold up cycle used to get himself into the Echo offices. Shades of W1A sprang to mind.

Everyone enjoyed the amazing food – I could have eaten my Capricorn goat’s cheese with raspberry twice over. Everyone ordered something different, from fish pie to Piper’s Farm chicken. The food was flawless. Although we ducked out of desserts due to time pressures, the plates of choccies that came with the coffees.

I am not allowed to repeat any of our conversation (Chatham House rules apply) let’s just say it was all very illuminating, and entertaining. The world of print is having a hard time, but these Editors lunch napkineditors are committed to print for the long-term, and I’m right with them on that. Okay, you can read up-to-date news on your laptop, desktop, tablet or phone in the blink of an eye, but there’s nothing quite like the feel of a newspaper, or magazine, with a cup of tea (or even a glass of cider) and a little bit of time to indulge.

Roll on the next Editors Lunch.

 

Raising the Rafters

A couple of months’ ago I received a call from a choir. Now, I’ve worked with many, varied clients to provide PR support, from big corporates like Thames Water and Lloyds Bank, to new businesses such as Barrel Top Wagons and Baking Matters. But this was something a little different.
The Exeter Philharmonic Choir has been singing for some 160 years, although none of the original members now remain (sorry, had to pop that in). I’ve lived in East Devon for nearly 20 years, and I had never heard of them. To be fair, this might be because I’ve never had a relationship with choral music; theatre, comedy, pop music, films, those are more my line.
The choir, it transpires, perform in three major concerts a year, plus Christmas Carols at Exeter Cathedral. So what did they want from me? I may have Grade 3 in singing, but I’m not sure I’m the soprano I once was. Of course, it transpired the choir needed to let more people know about their concerts, in particular the March concert at the Cathedral. They had taken a decision to try PR, and my name had come up to provide PR support.
Exeter Philharmonic Choir Concert PosterThe concert was intriguing – a sea-themed extravaganza featuring pieces by Mendelssohn and Vaughan Williams and the debut of The Seafarer, written by Andrew Millington. Andrew was Director of Music for Exeter Cathedral until last year, and is the choir’s conductor. His piece was written around the Exeter Book, an Anglo Saxon book kept at the Cathedral.
I knew this was going to be a challenge, as performance PR is uncharted territory for me. But I found it really inspiring – the members of the choir are so committed, the choir is, of course, non-profit, and the story behind Andrew’s new piece was intriguing – and a good hook.
So I’ve spent the past two months writing and distributing press releases, speaking to magazine and editors, talking to radio and TV and supplementing the choir’s social media output. I was very fortunate to receive support from all the lovely local media, with the event receiving coverage in Exeter Living, Exeter Life, Western Morning News, BBC Radio Devon and more. Thank you all. And with a bit of forward planning, I have secured a feature article with Devon Life, with photographs taken (at the concert rehearsal) by the ever-talented Matt Austin.
Finally, the night of the performance came round, and the choir had kindly invited me to go along. I turned up at the Cathedral with layers (it can be cold in these places!) with a friend who had far more experience of this type of performance, being Welsh and a wonderful singer.
I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the concert blew my socks off. The choir were amazing, the soloists impressive, the orchestra, the Bournemouth Sinfonietta, just fabulous. They all enjoyed themselves and received a massive amount of applause afterwards, particularly Mr Millington.
From what I could see, there were lots of people in the audience. I’ve yet to find out how numbers compare to previous events, but I do hope my work had a positive effect. If all went well then I’ll be starting to work out a PR strategy for the choir’s concert in October, their very first ‘Lord Mayor’s Charity Concert’. Now that should be fun!
Just for a moment I toyed with the idea of auditioning for the choir myself. Just for a moment. Then I remembered I am so much better with words than music. No-one leaves the room when I start writing.

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!