3 quotes on brand purpose from PR Moment’s PR pros event

Last week’s PR Moment ‘brand purpose’ event brought together speakers from M&S, BMW, Lexis Agency and Ladbrokes Coral to share how and why brands develop their purpose and how this impacts communications.

So, what did the PR pros have to say on this topic? Here’s my top three quotes from the evening:

  1. Purpose helps you ‘say no more’ ~ Tania Littlehales, M&S (@tanialmns)

Brand purpose defines why you do what you do and what you stand for.

It allows you to be more strategic by providing a framework for business decision-making.

It will help you to put the customer at heart of everything you do, be more selective about what you do, and confidently say no to initiatives that don’t fit your purpose.

Case in point, this one from M&S, when CEO Steve Rowe felt the brand was losing clarity on what it stood for:



2. ‘Our brand purpose doesn’t mention cars’ ~ Graham Biggs, BMW @biggs3008

BMW’s purpose doesn’t mention cars. Starbucks’ purpose doesn’t mention coffee.

Why? Because it’s not about what you do or what you make, it’s about how you make the world a better place (credit for this quote: @chonners) 

And in a highly-competitive world that purpose is your differentiator. It’s what sets you apart and influences customer and investor loyalty.

‘The power of purpose’ will also be a key driver for employee engagement. It’s much more inspirational and motivational than any of your products and services.

3. Brand purpose ‘is not a comms thing’ ~ Toby Conlon, Lexis Agency @chonners

It’s no good having a purpose that simply sits on a some documents within the comms team. Brand purpose must be backed up by action.

That means helping employees demonstrate the right values and behaviours, recruiting the right people for your purpose and ensuring leaders demonstrate integrity that’s consistent with the purpose too.

At the sharp end, leaders must be willing to ‘take the hit’ on revenue if opportunities come along which don’t align with the organisation’s purpose.

Take outdoor clothing company Patagonia – its Black Friday promotion told people ‘Don’t buy this jacket’. Why? Because Patagonia believes in sustainability and the company wanted its customers to think twice before they bought new items.


Thanks to all the speakers and also everyone at PR Moment for an interesting and useful evening; I really enjoyed hearing about how brand purpose has impacted all of these companies.


What new skills did you learn as a comms pro in 2013?

As December rolls into place on my iPhone calendar, I started to reflect on my year at work.

I’ve worked in various roles in internal and external communications, PR and journalism since 2000, but never before has my skillset needed to widen, deepen and adapt moreso than in the last 12 months.

Here’s just a few of the skills I’ve needed this year to do my job, represented in a word cloud. Many are new skills, some build on existing skills I had previously….

(wordcloud created using www.tagul.com)
(wordcloud created using http://www.tagul.com)

I think it’s a great showcase of what’s so exciting about the role of a communications professional. The increase in digital skills is a key theme and while writing is still a core strength for the role, so much more is required in today’s workplace. I can’t wait to see how our industry continues to evolve in 2014…..

What do you think? What skills did you learn in 2013?

Tackling information overload

information overload

This excellent post on blog Creative Communications provides a great summary of one of the major challenges facing business communication today: ‘information overload’

I particularly like the final paragraph:

“When people complain about information overload I don’t think it’s so much about the ‘quantity of data’ but the ‘lack of signal’. A hundred new emails in your inbox in the morning is only information overload if most of them contain pointless information (noise). If every single one contained information relevant to what you’re working on, it’s not information overload (it may be a high workload, but that’s different). That’s the difference between communication and information. Information is ‘stuff’ or ‘data’ whereas communication is about making a connection. [……] It’s a noisy world out there, so fellow communicators, get out and find that damn signal.”

Finding the signal

And that’s where internal communications can add real value. Taking on the role of connector, signal master and ‘siever’, if you like, for the information available within the business. Making it meaningful to others, depending on who they are and what behaviour we need to drive.

So what do we need to do to reduce information overload in business? Is it possible?

1)    Support others to communicate more effectively

Reduce the amount of ‘noise’ in circulation by helping others identify the nuggets of information from the rest of the stuff that lacks meaning. Provide the tools and techniques for good communication by asking the ‘why’ for every single piece of communication: why do people need to know, what will they need to do and how does this connect to business strategy and objectives.

2)    Curate

Play the role of curator for the audience by finding the nuggets and bringing together in easy to digest formats. Many of us have been doing this for a while – weekly wrap-up newsletters for example, but there are many more opportunities now such as infographics, which quickly summarise a huge amount of information.

3)    Connect to strategy. Find meaning.

Don’t just curate information, but also help connect the pieces to the business strategy. Find the meaning for your audience and give context.

4)    Narratives

A good comms plan creates awareness and drives action. A great comms plan also builds cumulative understanding and engagement – as one piece builds on top of the previous piece into a chain that gives context and meaning and connections. The narrative that stretches through the comms plan is the ‘signal’ in operation which guides the audience to the behaviour, action or change that is the objective.

5)    Slow it down

Control the pace. Slow down the informational onslaught by working with stakeholders to stagger communications and focus in on just a few key messages at a time.

Finally, it’s time to accept the changing status quo. ‘Information overload’ is here to stay and we need to adapt. The role of internal comms and our purpose within the organisation is needed more than ever before. But we have to work even harder to make our messages heard.

When good comms go bad: is it ever okay for your CEO to dress up as superman?

Is it ever okay for your CEO to dress up as superman?

What are your thoughts on this video below, leaked from NHS (HEY) Hull & East Yorkshire Hospitals Trust?

It was released to staff at the Trust to promote ‘Work-out at Work Day’ and features Chief Executive Phil Morley dressed up as superman and dancing to music. Yep, you’ve got to watch it to believe it….

**UPDATE 28/06/2013: unfortunately due to a copyright claim by the Trust the video below no longer works, you may be able to find elsewhere online**


The video has divided opinion in press, online and seemingly within the NHS Trust itself. Variously labelled as ‘insulting’ to hard-working employees and a waste of time; others meanwhile have said it’s ‘brilliant’.

Personally, I think it’s a real shame that such a well-intentioned engagement piece has backfired so badly. I think it could put off a lot of other leaders from being open to more innovative forms of communication in the future; discourage them from showing their personality and being more than just a suit and tie in an ivory tower.

I think we should congratulate someone like Phil Morley for being brave enough to try something new. It should be seen a what it is – a bit of fun to show his support for this wellbeing initiative.

But not everyone thinks that way. So, how do you balance being creative in your comms with ensuring you protect the reputation of the business you’re in? Is it ever okay for your CEO to dress up as superman?

Here’s a few basic checks to carry out:

– Aim for fun and cool, not David Brent cringeworthyThe HEY NHS Trust video, I think, probably positioned Phil Morley more towards the latter.

– Test out your idea first: what might sound like a great idea in theory just doesn’t work in practice. Think of how it could be perceived – in this case by frontline staff who don’t have the luxury of taking time out of their day for something like this. Will everyone ‘get it’? And if it’s on a video and it’s seen externally, what then?

– Join the dots: Hmmm, multi-million pound cuts to your organisation looming? Likely to involve redundancies? Probably not the best time to be showing all the fun you’re having in the office.

– Is this the right image for your leader? Ask yourself if the person you’ll portray in the video fits the actual personality of the leader. Can they carry it off? How will this build the reputation of your leader throughout your business – particularly among staff who might not have regular face-to-face contact with your leader. If this is all they’ll see, make sure it’s the right image portrayed.

– Does this accurately reflect your workplace culture? Does your piece of comms reflect the values of your organisation? How risk-adverse is your organisation? Can you reinforce your culture through the comms, or will it undermine it?

– And finally, manage closely and trust your gut instinct: It remains to be seen how closely involved the comms team at HEY NHS Trust were in the making of this video. Phil Morley has said to the media that he was asked by his physiotherapy team to take part. Ultimately, you need to be the trusted adviser to your CEO and the one guiding the decision. Even if he/she wants to take part, it’s you who should be the one making the call on whether or not they take part. Trust your gut instinct.

And that’s the hardest part of all, weighing up all the pros and cons, staying objective and sticking to your guns. What would you have done?

Speaking then blogging – what’s wrong with that?

Tesco PLC Group CEO Philip Clarke delivered an inspiring speech at the FT Innovate event in London yesterday.

His theme was around innovation in the workplace and you can read the full transcript of his speech here.

Shortly afterwards, Mr Clarke posted this blog article about his experiences at the event.

The opening to the post begins: “This morning I spoke at the FT Innovate 2012 conference…..”

Clearly, by using the past tense, Mr Clarke has indicated that the blog was written after his speech.

It is portrayed as a reflection on the morning’s events.

The problem is, the blog was posted literally minutes after Mr Clarke completed his speech at the conference. Unless I am missing something it is nigh on impossible that he would have been able to write, edit and post such a blog in that timeframe.

So now there is some ambiguity. Now we’re thinking – well, was he trying to make it look like it was written afterwards? Did he actually write it at all? What does this say about his other blog posts?

I really don’t think Mr Clarke was being intentionally misleading with his opening line. He doesn’t actually refer to anything more from the event in the blog. All he does is talk further about some of the themes of innovation.

I think what happened is the wrong choice of opening wording. Clearly the article was written before the speech, with every intention that it would be posted shortly after the speech. (I also like to think that Mr Clarke writes his own blog posts, whether or not it is later edited and posted by the comms team on his behalf).

Simply changing the wording would have given the clarity needed to the post to explain this. Something like: “This morning I will be speaking at…” or “As you read this I will have just finished speaking at…”

Now, let’s go back 12 months to another example of an article that was written before an event had taken place and that was also misleading. On an entirely different level, we will all remember what happened when journalists from the Daily Mail mistakenly published the wrong verdict from the trial of Amanada Knox.

In this case, in trying to be the first to break the news, the Daily Mail made up most of the story, including details about the supposed ‘reaction’ of Knox to the result. This was completely unacceptable because of the creation of entirely fictitious elements and because the newspaper really did portray itself as reporting on the event after it had happened.

In this case, the article does undermine the rest of the news published by the Mail Online – it’s easy to believe that the newspaper would regular pre-write news stories with fabricated content.

As different as they are, what both the examples show is the need to tread carefully when we are writing in advance for the web.

It’s fine to prepare materials in advance, as long as it’s clear that this is the case and as long as information isn’t pre-empted or presumed.

What do you think? Should we ever write blog posts in advance? Is the post from Philip Clarke discredited because of the opening line? Does it make you think differently of his blog as a whole?

Why Aussies and Brits don’t speak the same language

Do we speak the same language Down Under? (image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net)


Brits and Aussies: We speak the same language…..don’t we?

When I arrived in Australia from the UK two years ago, I assumed the transition to the corporate communications industry here in Oz would be simple. After all, we speak the same language and share similar cultural traits.

It’s not been quite that simple. My work in various communications roles since arriving in Australia has helped me discover lots of nuances specific to Oz, in particular interesting phrases and words I’d never used before. Here’s a few examples of new language I’ve needed to learn and adapt to, and their place in the Aussie language:

  • Took out’: No, nothing to do with going on a date or getting floored in a fight. This peculiar little phrase is frequently used in corporate communications and media copy to describe winning something. It is a direct replacement for the word ‘won’, as in:
    “John took out first place in the annual staff swimming competition.”
  • ‘Flow-on’: I first noticed this phrase used in the media in 2011 during the devastating Queensland floods. At first, I assumed it was a reference to the literal effects of the flow-on of the water. But it’s not. It is a phrase used as a prefix to the word ‘effect’, ‘impact’ or ‘result’, such as: “The flow on effect of having no food was that Sue was very hungry.”
  • Bashed / bashing: Used frequently by the media to describe someone beaten up, punched, or kicked. It sounds cartoon-like to me, almost like a Tom and Jerry-esque caper, but the media here use it to describe a serious incident. I first saw this used when notorious Melbourne gangland leader Carl Williams was ‘bashed’ to death with an exercise bike in prison. But it’s also used whenever there is a violent attack. Perhaps softening the reporting of gruesome and violent incidents with a word like bashed, is perhaps the whole point. Here’s the actual report from ABC news on the death of Carl Williams: “Gangland killer Carl Williams died at the high security Barwon Prison after being bashed several times with part of an exercise bike, Victoria Police has revealed.

That’s just a few of the examples I’ve come across. There are plenty more: lollies instead of sweets; thongs instead of flip-flops; the tendency to shorten every word to an ‘o’ (as in ‘arvo (afternoon), rego (registration), avo (avocado).

Does anyone who has worked in both Australia and the UK have more?

Why your annual employee conference is the most important internal communication channel you have

Fresh back from a two-day employee conference I’ve been thinking about how important these events are as part of an annual internal comms calendar.

I think most businesses have moved on from conferences that are simply departmental update followed by departmental update. What we are seeing now is really creative events that give opportunities to engage, inspire, collaborate and align people with business strategy.

Actually, I’ve come to the opinion that your employee conference is the most important internal communication channel available. Here’s why:

– Bring the business strategy to life

If the purpose of internal communications is to engage your people in business strategy and vision, there is no greater opportunity than in a face-to-face interactive environment.

A visionary opener delivered by the CEO will set the scene, create engagement and build the enthusiasm for the goals of the company. Follow this up with sessions aligned closely to the business strategy that create a narrative for the year.

Then mix this up with interactive sessions and workshops to embed the strategy by allowing everyone to create their own reflection on the goals and their own plan for how to contribute.

Get this right early on and you’ll set yourself on the right track for achieving great engagement for the rest of the year.

– Crucial cascade opportunity

Once you’ve got the people in the room on board with the strategy, then conference is an opportunity to leverage this for the whole business. Managers will need to be equipped with the tools to take back what they’ve learnt to their own area of the business. Your conference gives you the crucial opportunity to ask for this commitment, hand out toolkits and set expectations. We issued ‘talking points with your teams’ sheets at conference for managers to take back to their teams to ensure key messages were cascaded down the business. Follow this up with a reminder a week or so after conference with those managers, plus survey frontline staff to check the information got through.
If managers have never been relied upon for this kind of formal cascade approach before, your conference is an even more important opportunity to get this ball rolling.

– A launch-pad for your digital channels

This year at our conference we trialled the use of the enterprise collaboration tool Yammer. Although Yammer had already been established in the wider business (with approximately 30% take-up), setting up a private network for delegates at conference created a closed environment in which this group could experiment with the tool if they hadn’t done so already. With someone on hand (i.e me) to trouble-shoot and help explain how it all works face-to-face, conference gave this targeted group an opportunity to really get comfortable with the tool.  This paid dividends post-conference as the delegates became more active in the general yammer community and championed its use upon returning to their own business area.

Drive traffic to your other channels

Conference provides you number one opportunity to promote your other internal comms channels to the key influencers in the room. Promise to upload photos from conference to your intranet. Promote the use of Yammer. Say that you’ll be writing about the conference in your next internal newsletter or blog.

Even better, take the chance to gather some informal feedback on your channels too.

Content, content, content

Finally, squeeze the most out of every lead you come across for ideas and content. This will see you through the weeks post-conference, but also throughout the year. Take photos of your delegates – you’ll never know when they’ll come in handy through the year; do some face-to-face interviews; and above all, network, network, network, even with those you already know – who knows what you’ll discover.