Posted on: 28th February 2013
Helen Oldfield writes: “I’m very proud to have been associated with this week’s national Awards success for Image Salon in Suffolk, which won the UK Professional Beauty Awards 2013 in the category of Best Salon UK (4 Rooms and over).
Putting together application packs that are good enough to win national Awards is a specialist skill of mine, and each application requires hours of careful briefing, research and the compilation of evidence to support what is being said about the business. Congratulations to Sue Carter and her team at Image. You are deserving winners!”
Sue Carter invested properly by preparing her entire team for the Awards experience, which included taking our specialist guidance on what to expect and how to approach for the mystery shop by one of the Awards judges. They understood that they had to treat every client as a VIP, since a skilled mystery shopper may be surprisingly low key in the way they interact with your business, catching you off your guard when you least expect it.
It’s a widely-acknowledged fact in business that it’s much more costly, in terms of your time and overheads, to search for brand new clients. Far better to retain your existing clients and keep them happy, making them loyal to you. The most loyal and media-savvy clients will even do your selling for you, by endorsing you in the media, providing testimonials and word-of-mouth referrals. Had Edge Hairdressing paid for the following coverage, advertising would have cost them close to £2k, proving that clever PR is the most cost-effective way of securing valuable national media exposure.
Posted on: 28th January 2013
Cardboard cut out presenting
In the early 90’s at a TV and radio training studio in Hertfordshire, a forty-something well known television actor and presenter slapped pancake makeup on his face and stood up. “I’ll show you how I do it”, he said. On he switched his full-wattage smile and his facial expression grew more animated. His voice intonation switched gear into “News at Ten Strong Anchor Man”.
Watching him talk to camera, it looked like a completely different person compared with the joyless being that had shuffled down the corridor and ushered us into a grey and draughty conference room at 9 am. The camera stopped rolling and down came the shutters of his personality again.
Naively, I remember feeling shocked that this slick presenter, who I’d so looked forward to meeting and learning from, could be so miserable and disappointing in real life (in a random mental sidestep, I also remember thinking “Why the pancake makeup, at a training session?”).
His heart wasn’t in educating others. He just wanted to perform to us. Probably it was the grim reality of needing a regular income and a “fresh meat” audience that made him take that job. It must have depressed him to work with earnest young professionals from national charities, who weren’t star struck and only wanted to know how to ensure that the politicians never ducked difficult questions again during live TV debates and radio interviews.
When he mentioned that he had originally trained as an actor, it became clear that he had been acting the role of elder statesman TV news anchor all along. That’s why he couldn’t sustain the role off camera. It wasn’t the real him and there was nothing authentic about the guy; he was a sad, cardboard cut out of his former TV self.
Keeping it real
Authenticism is sometimes called “keeping it real”. In my-mum speak it’s called “Not being a jumped up little nowt” (in her eyes the worst offences are being rude or dismissive to anyone, or putting on unnecessary airs and graces). When applied to business PR, authenticism is all about having your people present a genuine public image, one that’s consistent with the brand values and goals of your business.
If you are in the business of selling “fun”, then you need to be a person who enjoys having fun. If gravitas and having a steady, unshakeable character are important brand values for your target customers, you need to conduct yourself discreetly and responsibly in public, or at the very least do a passable impression of being a responsible grown up. You need to not post that thing on Facebook with you doing that, y’know, or expressing that opinion.
Similarly, general flakiness (“What am I like?!”) can be seen as a charmingly whimsical quality when delivered with a keen sense of irony via one’s friends. But those same qualities can be misinterpreted as “indecisive weakness” or “completely disorganised” by anyone who’s doing research in advance of a first business meeting with you. The golden rule is never to post anycontent online that you wouldn’t be prepared to say or defend in a business setting.
Am I authentic? Does Affinity PR convey authenticism? I’d say so on both counts. Business clients rely on me, their Account Director, to be down to earth and grounded, able to listen and make sensible decisions quickly, or to act as their media spokesperson with credibility. Clients in the hospitality sector need me to look approachable to others, able to make others welcome, but also to conduct myself with flair and professionalism when acting as their brand ambassador. These are all complementary components of my actual personality. If they weren’t, I’d be acting out each role, like Mr Cardboard Cut Out, and occasionally coming a cropper when the mask slipped.
Authenticism is such an important value in both my personal life and in business that it’s why I named the company Affinity PR. It’s important to me that I feel a close affinity with a client and their brand before I represent them. It’s a statement of ethical intent. It says, if I do choose to represent you, you can be sure I believe you’re the very best at what you do. By also saying I won’t also represent your competitors (plenty of PR firms would), I’m offering you assurances that I’m working for you, rather than for anyone who flashes cash our way.
When you have to present yourself regularly in business, as I do, a few good tips in conveying authenticity can be useful. The best I ever got was from my brother, Mark Oldfield, who, in the early days of his career as an opera singer, had to overcome stage fright for regular auditions. He told me that he imagines himself to be completely invisible, which enables him to stop worrying about what he looks and sounds like, walk centre stage confidently and then start to sing. He always looks so relaxed on stage and clearly enjoys what he does, so I’ve applied this “cloak of invisibility” tip many times in business networks over the years and it works. People soon warm to someone who looks relaxed, conversations flow more easily and business opportunities more quickly emerge.
Occasionally, when I’m trying to be very professional and do my job as I “should”, the authentic “me” pops up, smirking spontaneously at something amusing even though I know I shouldn’t. It happened when I was being interviewed for TV5 Monde at World Travel Market. A business associate I know walked behind the camera just after I’d started speaking, and pulled funny faces at me! See if you can spot that moment in this short film
Posted on: 8th January 2013
Written by Helen Oldfield, Founder of Affinity PR:-
I’m out and proud; I’m a customer service geek.When I get great service, I sincerely hope I’m also a great customer; usually responding positively by posting a review online or writing thank you notes to people and their bosses. When I don’t get great service, I feel cheated. Quite possibly, more people would hear about my bad experience than my great one.
In that situation, the role of an accomplished reputation manager and PR ought to kick in, and hard, to counter the effects of a person sharing their single bad experience with others. That deadly, ripple-like effect is why sites like TripAdvisor, love ‘em or hate ‘em, are so influential and have to be taken seriously by people who are running or working in hospitality-based businesses. It only takes one person to tell all of their Facebook friends online, and collateral damage is done to brands.
I learned something important about customer service very early on, from a client’s Senior Banqueting Manager in a 5* luxury hotel. I attended an event in the hotel and was very impressed with the service in his restaurant. I asked how he trained his front of staff and his reply was that his team understood that their guests paid the premium rates not for the food and drink itself. They paid for the memorable experience of feeling special, of being served great food and drink byprofessionals who cared. That learning point has been a guiding principle for me in my own business.
I admit I’ve been spoiled (not everyone’s day job takes them into some of the best establishments in the UK and abroad), but I’ve also been on the other side of that table or counter, serving customers and looking after guests. It’s a very demanding job to appear to remain calm, cheerful and upbeat, especially if an operational disaster strikes (such as unexpected guests turning up and needing diplomatic re-shufflings of table plans, contracted speakers failing to turn up, guests becoming suddenly ill, special dietary requirement food orders getting mixed up etc). You’re usually on your feet the entire time and it can also feel emotionally draining when you have a guest who is, how shall we say, “particularly discerning”!
But, it all comes down to personal career choices. If you can’t hack being kind to other people all day, if you are mercurial in temperament or bad at early/late shifts, then stay out of roles that require great interpersonal skills and a genuine interest in looking after others! There is no excuse, in today’s climate where there are so many well-skilled people still looking for work, of businesses hiring (or failing to retrain, or even let go) staff who don’t engage with their customers, who are surly or rude, who fail to care for guests and anticipate their needs.
And when business leaders see their company through the eyes of their customers, it can be astonishingly beneficial, in commercial terms. I love the TV show “Undercover Boss” (ok, it is a little schmaltzy, but stick with it!) as those bosses learn commercially-useful facts first-hand, and really have their eyes opened about some of the inefficiencies and inequalities happening within their own workplaces. Short of going undercover in your own firm, how will you ever really be able to gauge how it feels to be a customer of your business? The answer is “mystery shopping”, but it’s only of long term value if it’s supported by professional customer services training and skills coaching support for the team members who are interacting with your customers. You need the entire team to be pointing in the right direction, otherwise they won’t be equipped to buy in to your vision of improving service and enhancing profitablity.
In the early days of Affinity PR, I used to carry out my own brief mystery shops of clients, just for background research purposes, thinking it would help me as a PR consultant to learn more about a client’s day-to-day operations. Then I saw so many useful things, that it was soon evident to clients that they could benefit too.
Now, when I meet with a potential new client who’s in a customer-facing sector, we will have prepared a comprehensive report on every aspect of their service offering, as seen through the eyes of their customers.
As a consequence, I’m addicted to any TV shows that feature hotels or customer service professionals at work. I was glued to “Michell Roux Jnr’s Service” and was lucky/brave enough to be asked to give my professional advice and feedback to the production team of last year’s “Hotel GB” show, featuring staff teams led by Mary Portas and Gordon Ramsay. My professional Imaginary Friend motivational supporter is Alex Polizzi of “The Hotel Inspector” TV series. If I have to face a tough situation, I give myself a good talking to, Polizzi-style. The air is momentarily thick with “beeps”.
At the time of writing, I’m about to nudge my favourite purveyor of fine patisserie for a decision on our bid to run mystery shopping services in all their cafe outlets (well, someone had to do it!). So it’s turned out that this geeky tendency of mine to please people and to want to put things right (spouse calls it my “Mother Theresa complex”) has actually led to business growth and a genuine USP for Affinity PR.
My advice to you, readers, is that you reward and acknowledge all great customer service, and complain at the time when you experience bad customer service, so the team have the opportunity to put things right immediately. Let’s make 2013 the year when poor customer service is banished forever!
You can see Helen Oldfield’s “Mystery Shopping” video tips on You Tube
Posted on: 30th August 2012
Considering Affinity PR is in the business of spreading the love about others, we have to admit we’ve sometimes been a little bit lax on telling the world about our own business successes. Too busy just getting on with it and delivering “wow” moments for our clients.
So, with only slightly pink ears, here is our announcement that Affinity PR recently won a Top 5 place in the annual Awards of Thebestof.co.uk to find the most loved businesses in the UK. Affinity PR is, officially, “One of the Most Loved PR and Marketing Businesses in the UK”.
There. That wasn’t so bad, was it?
While on the subject of national Awards, our view is that they are “PR Gold Dust”. Publicising your Awards is a great way to differentiate yourself from your competitors whilst showcasing your expertise.
Normally we help our clients to apply for national Awards run by relevant magazines, newspapers and trade associations. It can be quite time-consuming to provide sufficient evidence and a compelling written case that strikes the right tone. So when we heard we’d been nominated by nearly 30+ satisfied clients who had all made the effort to provide detailed testimonials in support of our nomination, such generosity made us appreciate this Award all the more.