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!

Exeter Magazines – Extra Fun

I’ve been writing for Devon Life from time to time for a couple of years now. Always good fun, I enjoy having the chance to write about a variety of different subjects, from gliding and riding to auctioneers and lady stonemasons.

Recently, however, I’ve had the opportunity to write for two Exeter magazines: Exeter Life and Exeter Living. Exeter Life asked me to write up a visit to Circa 1924 with four different food editors. I’m not a foodie writer so I panicked a little about using the right terminology – there are clearly ways of describing ambiance and food dishes that are not within my usual descriptive vocabulary.

Oh well, at the end of the day it was fine, well illustrated by a photo I took of Devon Life Ed Andy Cooper with a serviette stuffed in his shirt collar.

Exeter Living then approached me to write a feature about Honiton. That was more of a breeze, as I know my local town well, and most of the places to visit, shop, dine and stay. The only problem was the word count was so low that I had a job to cram them all in! Trusty camera to the rescue once again as I ran up and down (and across) the High Street taking photos to illustrate the piece.

Enjoyable stuff. More please!

Thar She Blows!

Want a whalebone that once belonged to an Arctic explorer? Well it’s yours if you want it, just make a bid at the Chilcotts sale in Honiton on November14th.
What a great story this is.
The curious story of the day that intrepid explorer Shackleton, best known for his expedition aboard the ship Endurance that became trapped in an ice floe for nine months in 1915, decided to gift the whalebone to an order of French nuns after they bought his family’s house to turn it into a school for girls.
The humorous story of the whalebone that lay in the school garden in all weathers, before a history teacher realised its significance and removed it indoors for safekeeping.
The historic story of Shackleton’s connection to Torquay – the home his family owned and his residence there in the early 1900s. Of another of his ships, Nimrod, that moored briefly in Torquay harbour in 1907 before setting out on the first of Shackleton’s three Antarctic expeditions.
The sad story of the last of Shackleton’s ships, Quest, being anchored in Anstey’s Cove below the school before setting sail for South Georgia in 1921 – the voyage during which he died.
The fascinating story of Stoodley Knowle School, established in 1925 by the Congregation of Les Filles de la Croix, an order of nuns founded in Paris in 1641 by one Madame de Villeneuve who was driven by passion to provide an education for girls.
The concluding, melancholy story of the closure of the school earlier this year after pupil numbers crumbled.
The perfect story, in fact. Containing drama, history, sorrow, death, and even wildlife, albeit in the shape of a rather large bone. Sometimes I love my job

A chance encounter with history

I am lucky enough to have as one of my PR clients Chilcotts, an auctioneer in Honiton. Please put David Dickinson and ‘cheap as chips’ out of your mind, the world of auctions is actually a fascinating sector to work in. There are so many human interest stories to delve into, and abundance of interesting objects and artefacts to admire.

I recently visited Chilcotts to discuss a collection that has been given to them for their September Fine Arts and Collectors Items sale. Poignantly, due to the VJ Day anniversary celebrations, this includes diaries written by Devon man Lewis Burfitt, who was interned in the Weishien camp in China by the Japanese between 1943 and 1945.

The handwritten diaries give an intriguing insight into life as an internee, recording living conditions, sickness, deaths and births. They tell how the Chinese tried to help by smuggling supplies into the camp, eggs, chickens and even piglets – even though this put them in danger of punishment by the Japanese.

Eric LiddellThere were many who didn’t make it out of the camp, including Eric Liddell, the Scottish athlete who on principle wouldn’t run on Sunday. He was made famous in ‘Chariots of Fire’ but I’d never registered that he died a prisoner of war in China.

I spoke to BBC Radio Devon about the diaries, and they interviewed the nephew of Lewis Burfitt along with auctioneer Duncan Chilcott and Jenny Bell, who has been diligently researching the diaries.

As I was writing the press release, the story became even more moving when I realised that the writer of the diaries had lived and worked in Tiensin where the terrible explosions have just happened.

Getting involved in a story like this at this particular time was a real privilege, as was the opportunity to look through the diaries. It’s easy to feel very removed from the reality of a war that took place so many years ago, but this made me stop, think and remember.

Why use a professional photographer for PR?

A few years’ ago, after experiencing intense frustration with a lack of images available to accompany press releases for clients, I made a small investment. I bought a Nikon DSLR camera.

Now, I have a background in working with images. I was for many years a video producer and occasional director. I’m not bad a framing a picture. My photos have been featured in magazines, newspapers and websites.

However, I am not a photographer. I do my best but I have limited technical knowhow. My photos rarely have that extra sparkle that a news editor, for example, is looking for. I’m not doing myself down here, there’s a place for my type of photograph. However…

Robin Rea 1 My mini case study is a visual one. On the left, a photo I took for lovely client, Robin Rea of the Rusty Pig restaurant. On the right, a photo taken by the talented Andy Johnstone of Wild Dog Productions.

Sue Cade PortraitSue Cade ProfileAnd here I shall, without vanity, expose myself. On the left, a photo of me taken with my camera by my delightful teenage daughter. On the right, one taken by Matt Austin of Matt Austin Images.

I commissioned Matt to take a series of profile pics for me for business use. He swears he didn’t use Photoshop, just a ‘beautifier’ lamp… (I am currently attempting to find a portable version to attach permanently to my head).

The moral of the story is, if you can possibly afford to employ a photographer, do. They are worth their weight in gold. And they may not be as expensive as you think.

I love my camera. I mainly love my camera because it’s red and almost foolproof. But I love a professional photograph more.

Awards Season 2015

This year some of my clients are entered in awards that are new to me, as well as one that I know well, having written the submission for the very first Small Business of the Year winner, Nu-Heat, in 2011.

In the annual Express & Echo Business Awards for Exeter and beyond, I’m delighted that Robin Rea and his Ottery St Mary restaurant, Rusty Pig are finalists in two categories; Entrepreneur of the Year and Creative Business. Robin has already won at the Live Love Eat Awards this year – Platinum Award and Regional Champion.

Then there are the Tile Association Awards, which I discovered when trawling for potential awards for my South London client Diespeker & Co. Diespeker has also been shortlisted in two categories; Manufacturer of the Year and Best Use of Tile in Hospitality or Leisure.

I was also asked to enter a legal exec in for the CILEx (Chartered institute of Legal Executives) President’s Award. More of that soon.

It is always exciting to learn that a client is a finalist in an awards event and I wish them all the best of luck. I’ll be at the Express & Echo Awards myself – with some trepidation having learnt that Katie Hopkins is the guest speaker!

Outsourcing social media management – hints and tips!

Although part of what I do is termed ‘social media management’, I still find it fascinating just how many companies outsource this work. I understand the reasons, as I know first-hand what a time-consuming job it can be.

There’s nothing wrong with outsourcing, as long as you find the right person for the task. This will be someone who’s prepared to get beneath the skin of your business, achieve the right tone of voice and find the right accounts for you to connect to. (I managed one account for a while which was taken over by a dedicated sociasocial media management 1l media business. I went back some months later to have a peek, and was dismayed to discover that the business’s Twitter followers had grown tremendously, but on closer look all the followers were spam accounts. Where’s the value in that?).

How many times recently have you heard someone say there’s a clue in the phrase ‘social’ media. Here’s a good definition of social: ‘relating to activities in which you meet and spend time with other people’. On social media, people want to interact with a real person, not an automated tweet. There’s no life in that, and no long-term benefit.

In truth, most social media managers will mix and match scheduled and real time tweets and posts – it’s a tough call to avoid scheduling completely. However, it’s bad practice to schedule a tweet then forget about it as it disappears into the Twitter ether. Similarly on Facebook if someone asks a question about a post, they are much happier if they are answered quickly. Your social media manager must be on the ball to respond quickly should someone engage on one of your social media sites.

By the way, if you outsource social media management, don’t think that you don’t have to do anything. A good social media manager will need to communicate with you from time to time – for example if one of your customers has a question social media management 3needing an immediate answer that only you can give.

Although this blog discusses Facebook and Twitter management, your social media manager could also run Pinterest, Google+, Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube – whatever works best for your business, as long as they do it well!

The power of a good story

A couple of weeks ago I was chatting away on social media when a company called Barrel Top Wagons (great name) came up in my Twitter feed. They were very excited to have won a Theo Paphitis #SBS (Small Business Saturday) Award and wanted to make some noise about it. Last year, Lyme Bay Cabins had the same success and I’d helped them out with a press release and distribution which resulted in some local coverage and a piece in Devon Life. Lyme Bay Cabins’ owner Gary started tweeting at Barrel Top Wagons to talk to me.

I am always willing to help out a small business ‒ after all I am one – so I talked with Jo Henderson, who co-owns Barrel Top Wagons. She put together some information for me, which was a great starting point, and I tweaked this into a press release.

Barrel Top Wagons Theo Paphitis smlWhen the picture of Jo with Theo Paphitis at a winners’ event came through a few days’ later, we were set fair. I sent the story to my contacts in the regional press and I’m delighted to say the response was brilliant. Western Morning News popped it straight up online and featured the story in the Sunday edition, while Tom at the Okehampton Times took the trouble to email me to say it would be in the next issue. I spotted it in the Express & Echo Monday edition, too, and Jo at Barrel Tops said it was included in the North Devon Journal. (So that’s a ‘yay’ as I’m not yet immune to the thrill of achieving such extensive coverage!).

In truth, this news item was a gift for any PR; the story behind the company is genuinely interesting (read it here) and Jo had given me enough background to make it easy to write a press release that could grab attention. Match the story up with a photo of Jo and the former Dragons’ Den entrepreneur Theo and – well it’s not rocket science is it?

Good luck to the inspirational and ethical Barrel Top Wagons!

We’re not gossiping, we’re networking!

Attending a networking group for the first time can be daunting. Despite Networking 3working in PR, a sector associated with people who are brimming with confidence and know how to talk the talk, my personal style is somewhat less ‘in your face’. I will even admit to being quite shy. For me, walking into a room full of strangers is a challenge.

If you’re the same, the answer is not to hit the bottle for a confidence boost (that would be frowned on at a breakfast meeting anyway!) but to keep a clear head and remember that everyone is in a similar position.

People who frequently go to the same group have the advantage of knowing other regulars, which obviously gives them a head start. On the other hand, fresh blood is always welcome, and most people will be happy to talk to you – after all, there may be something in it for them! That may sound a little cynical, but, at the end of the day, this is the reason that most people network.

Networking 2In my humble opinion, however, it is not always wise to go to a networking group simply to hunt for business. I believe a better approach is to go along to meet new people, share business experiences, learn something and have a bit of fun. If you are sociable, natural and likeable, other networkers will enjoy talking to you and finding out more about what you do. Then if they need the service you provide, you will pop into their heads and bingo!

Once you’re comfortable in a group, you could offer to give a presentation. Most networking groups like to include a talk, so why not take advantage? Keep it short and snappy, and don’t drone on about how marvellous your services are. Impart useful information and advice around your services that people will remember. Again, should they find they need those services, you’ll spring to mind.

During my year of networking I’ve changed from shy, retiring wallflower to someone who will approach the newbie in the room and ask them about themselves.. I’ve given a presentation myself with another PR, which went down very well – and we picked up some new business as a result.

If you aren’t yet networking, take a look around. Chat to people who do, ask them for suggestions. Go along with someone you know to a group that they regularly attend. If you’re a woman, might you enjoy a women in business networking group? Is there a specific group for your type of work – if you’re a crafter, a craft network, for example. Be proactive and put your head above the parapet.

Which type of networking is going to work for you is a matter of trial and error:

• Breakfast meetings are useful as less of the working day is taken up
• Late morning meetings are particularly good for working mums who can’t do early mornings
• Lunchtime networking is great for socialising, but be careful that they don’t result in a less productive afternoon
• Evening meetings can be ideal, as long as you don’t have teenagers to ferry about or babies to get to bed.

It’s a juggle, so choose whatever suits you best, or mix and match. You don’t have to go every month. Bear in mind, though, that some groups have annual fees so you may need to weigh up if you will be able to attend regularly. Others are pay as you go, which could prove more cost-effective and practical.

In truth, networking has changed my business. I have new clients, and new friends. There’s been a lot of laughter and I’ve learned some great tips from other local business people. And I know more, much more, about how everything interacts in my business community – which is proving to be pretty useful. Good luck!

Networking 4