New Skills PR Professionals Might Consider

I’m not saying you need all of these, or even any of them, but I’m often asked ‘what’s next’ and what smart public relations and communications professionals can do to make themselves more useful to their organisations. Here are a few suggestions.

1) Learn To Code
It’s not enough to have a static message anymore, you should consider building interactive digital assets. They can seriously enhance a story and make it much harder to ignore you. Check for an example. It’s as simple as data exported from an EXCEL spreadsheet, displayed in an engaging way and with a nice interface for users to input their data. It’s not the most advanced piece of code you’ll ever encounter but that’s the point – if an organisation had that ability within its communications team there would be no need to outsource to a software developer. A bit of ‘coding awareness’, your confidence would grow and you’d see opportunities to take drab press releases and turn them into multimedia attractions. There was a time when a skill such as ‘typing’ was the domain of a few specialists, now it’s something we all expect to do. I think the same will be true of coding in a few years.

2) Become A Drone Pilot
You know video is where it’s at and think of the possibilities if you were able to take to the skies to get your footage! Hiring in outside help is expensive and means everything has to be planned in advance. You’re beholden to someone else’s availability. So why not learn? A decent drone can be yours for around £1,000, follow the safety guidelines and acceptable use and you can build up some practice, before undergoing more formal training and then seeking certification for commercial drone flying. This has the potential to turn into a nice sideline business of your own.

3) Analyse Data
It amazes me the number of organisations where communications and PR teams DON’T have access to website data analytics. You don’t need to know Google Analytics inside out but I think everyone in our field should have a grasp of the basics. Where do website visitors come from, which social media channel is the most effective in terms of your business objectives (not just the number of visitors) what do they do on your site, the pages that work, and those that don’t. That allows you to make informed decisions about what to change and goes some of the way to solving the issue around ‘how do we measure the success of our PR work?’. Get to grips with Google analytics ‘Goals’ and set up filters to keep the data pure. Lots of free training is available for this and it’s nowhere near as daunting as it looks.

4) Leadership
When I started my career, the accountants always ended up running the place. That’s starting to change. Smart organisations recognise the communications revolution and the need to adapt. That means a change in culture – becoming more transparent, sorting out their ethics and starting to engage their staff. That’s where you come in. There’s an opportunity for communications professionals to get right to the top. Are leaders born or bred? I’ll leave that to the experts but I know what a 12 week course of management training did for my confidence back in 2003 – even if you don’t end up an MD or CEO it’ll take you forward in other ways. Better still if you can get your employer to pay for the training. Get in the bosses’s face when they’re talking about succession planning.

5) Presenting
If you can back up confident presentation skills with substance you’re in a great position. Sometimes you’ll be pitching to external clients and stakeholders, sometimes it’s your own team or another department…the fact is standing up and talking – explaining, convincing, persuading – is becoming a daily part of our working lives. I meet people all the time who tell me they’re either ‘good’ or ‘bad’ at presenting as though somehow once you’ve done it a few times your abilities are set in stone. It’s not like that at all. Take control, get some practice and feedback and start presenting with confidence. Want to improve your presentation skills – you can.

6) IT/Computer Literacy Skills
My Dad is amazing at DIY. And I’m abysmal. I watched him doing some work in my house once and realised that where I’d always thought he was blessed with some sort of incredible skill and talent in this area he actually isn’t. Instead, he’s got a solid understanding, a tonne of experience but above all an attitude that when he encounters a new problem, he’ll find a way round it. He expects to be able to solve the problem. Sometimes it involves trial and error. Sometimes he’ll look up the answer in a book or on the internet. Sometimes he’ll ask someone more experienced and skilled than himself. There’s no innate gift. Whereas when I try a DIY job I lose my mind at the slightest issue and never recover. It’s the same for some people with IT and computer literacy. What do you do if you can’t hear yourself on Skype? How do you set up Dropbox to allow someone else to send you files? Do you know how to turn on ‘screen mirroring’ on your laptop? There’s a myriad of things of course and I’m not for a minute suggesting you go behind the IT department’s back and start changing settings without permission. Instead, get a grip on the basics and an understanding of their world. There are some things you WON’T be able to do and if your IT colleagues recognise you as someone that’s made an effort to understand them, it’ll hold you in good stead. And being able to quickly use your phone and laptop to their full potential will make your life much easier and you’ll be more effective and confident in your role.

7) Practice Mindfulness
Us humans were never designed to live in towns and cities let alone carry mobile phones around with us all day. Work, rest and play have all changed dramatically in the last few years and since the economic collapse of 2008 we’ve all probably felt an increase in pressure to some degree. It’s probably not going away anytime soon and the one constant is change. It seems that change is constantly relentless and some pretty smart people are predicting even greater ‘digital disruption’ lies ahead, impacting every business and organisation significantly in the next few years. Driverless cars anyone?! We’ve all got a responsibility to look after our health and wellbeing and it’s great that some of the stigma around mental health is now being overcome. It improves our lives and makes us more effective – why wouldn’t you want to embrace it! ‘Mindfulness’ is the current term that we hear a lot but you might find value in particular books, yoga, meditation, or where appropriate some form of counselling. Think about your mental health but also learn to understand everyone else you meet will have their own world view and their own way of working. There are some great practitioners working in this field – Connie McLaughlin for example is doing some outstanding work with people to lead teams.





It’s All About The Experience

There’s irrefutable evidence that the unique ‘experience’ is what we all want these days.

A recent article about Barrhead Travel’s expansion highlighted the demand for customised holiday experiences, rather than simply cheap flights and hotels.

I’ve just spent a small fortune in the M+Ms store at Leicester Square, buying gifts for the family. I’d mentioned after my last trip to London that there was an amazing 4 storey building devoted to the tiny little sweets and mentioned some of the merchandise it sold. This turned into a full blown discussion about the madness of it all, but after I showed my Mum some YouTube clips from other visitors she was quickly won over and insisted I brought her something back from my next trip! And then there’s my kids…my nephews etc etc!

Round the corner in Covent Garden, ice cream giant Magnum has a pop up shop where you can ‘make your own Magnum’ and then eat it in the cafe area. At every stage in the process, there are opportunities to take and share pictures of you ‘experiencing’ Magnum on social media. It’s like the ‘Build A Bear’ workshop for adults!

Smart brands are going to great lengths to unlock there’s ‘experience’ opportunities.









It could be expanding a range of merchandise, bringing products to life, turning them into characters, or letting people in on the creative process…how are these products made? Can customers ‘have a go’ at making their own?

Break down your customer journey and your manufacturing process and look for opportunities to let people in and turn it into an attraction.

Perhaps radio cou

ld turn weekly playlist meetings or music research into an event, which as well as gathering useful focus group, market research data, also serves as a powerful marketing activity.

Choose selected listeners who’ve downloaded your app, send them push notifications and invite them along to the ‘Playlist Night’. Put on some food and drink, show them round, explain how you choose what songs get played, let them hear the latest releases and canvas their views.

Many stations I listen to have white label ‘dating’ apps. Why not turn the ‘playlist night’ into a ‘music testing/speed dating’ event. You could charge a modest admission fee for that and you’d be giving a desirable audience a unique experience they’ll tell their friends about, thus marketing your station.

And if you think ‘nice idea but no-one will ever do it’ – think again. Some station already is because I’ve just overheard a woman raving about the whole experience to her friend on the tube. It’s the first time in years I’ve overheard someone talking enthusiastically about something involving a radio station.

Much is made of the digital revolution. But ‘digital’ alone is 1s and 0s and boring as hell. Digital that works is expressing the physical in a digital space. Enjoying a unique real life experience and keeping a permanent digital record that we carry with us everywhere we go and expressing how that physical experience has made us feel, in the digital realm.

Think about how you can unlock the unique experiences associated with your business.


Can Town Centre Drone Racing Save Your High Street?

If you haven’t seen ‘Drone Racing League’ on Sky Sports, take a look at this:

Now let’s play with the idea a little and see if there’s a way of adapting this emerging sport into a family friendly large scale event in high streets and town centres all over the country.

There’s a million reasons NOT to do it and many problems to overcome but imagine crowds lining either side of a pedestrianised street, video screens showing feeds straight from the drones as they race up and down and in and out of empty shop buildings (which for the purposes of the event become a positive asset rather than a hindrance).

Think of the sponsorship potential – individual races, the course, various stunts and obstacles, disused premises – all present opportunities for branding and sales.

And think about the signal it sends out. The energy and enthusiasm it starts to have people associate with your town centre? When was the last time something genuinely exciting happened in your high street? People throughout Scotland and the rest of the UK and beyond are currently clamouring for opportunities either to race drones or to watch, and they’re having to go to large out of town sites to do it. That could change.

No surprise it’s already happening in America.

But now in the UK various drone racing groups are being formed and despite what you might read in the media, many drone enthusiasts are responsible and abide by the rules. They’d welcome the opportunity to show off what they can do and discuss their hobby in more detail. If you’re a forward thinking local authority looking for that ‘wow factor’ and something different, why not bring them right into the heart of one of your greatest assets, before the shopping centres start doing it.

What about the tourism potential for some of Scotland’s islands? Imagine a drone racing grand prix taking in Millport on the Isle of Cumbrae, Skye and Arran?


Teaching Digital

You’ll have seen the usual suspects yakking about Skyscanner getting sold to China and ‘where’s Scotland’s next billion pound tech company going to come from?’

If we’ve to have any chance of achieving our country’s digital ambitions…how about we stop schools from teaching children that digital is bad?

That’s right…not only are some schools failing to teach the essential digital skills for the 21st century workplace, they’re actively giving young people the impression that digital is bad.

Our Scottish Schools Radio project aims to give every school in Scotland access to their own live streaming internet radio channel and a package of digital journalism resources to help them find the balance between fun and self expression and reflecting the work that goes on in schools and the community around them.

Already we’ve heard some brilliant examples of work from the pupils, as they produce their programmes with just the right amount of support and encouragement from enthusiastic teachers who, like so many of us, passionately believe in the relevance and importance of digital skills in the classroom.

Where it causes extreme frustration is when teachers are, for example, unable to upload the MP3 audio files to our Dropbox folder because DROPBOX IS BLOCKED. They then turn to their email and attempt to send the files that way but can’t because…SENDING AN MP3 VIA EMAIL IS BLOCKED.



You and I know these networks aren’t really blocked.

You and I know that by ‘blocked’, what they mean is ‘come and ask permission and we’ll set it up for you.’


Make it clear to local authority staff that they can make use of those channels, they just need permission, and then give the IT folks a rocket up the backside so they start giving that permission.

There’s a world of difference between ‘this site can’t be accessed right now, dial 412 and we’ll sort it out’ and ‘this site is blocked’.

Stop treating teachers like criminals because they want to use technology in education.

Stop putting education professionals with the best intentions of the pupils at heart in positions where they look like fools because they can’t get a bloody email to work.

And stop pupils leaving at the end of the day thinking that this so called ‘place of education’ is hopelessly irrelevant.

‘But why would a teacher want to send an MP3 via email?’ some will no doubt ask.

‘Why would a teacher want to use Dropbox in a classroom, show something on YouTube, or bring up Skyscanner?’

If you have to ask, you shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near a school as far as I’m concerned.

It’s perfectly possible to be safe, secure, compliant and still use essential digital technologies.

And if you can’t figure that out, you shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near an IT Department.


Instagram Stories – Can Your Small Business Use Them?

Should your business use Instagram Stories?

Of course!

But will creating Instagram Stories help your business grow?

Should you use this new feature?

Probably not.

It helps to understand the motivation behind the launch of the new Instagram Stories.

It’s due to demand from big brands and publishers, who want a method of stitching together short snappy clips of video into longer strands of content.

These big brands, publishers and celebrities, all of whom are likely to become the power users of Instagram Stories, have the reach required to make the most of the new feature.

The same applies to Snapchat – without large reach in (at least) the tens of thousands – you won’t be able to make a significant impact with your content and with a shelf life of just 24 hours it won’t drive whatever results you’re aiming for.

You’ll end up in constant ‘trying to grow followers’ mode and this will lead to frustration and time wasted.

Keep in mind too the difficulty in linking outside Instagram and Snapchat to your own website and other platforms. You are heavily restricted.

The majority of business I work with don’t have ‘fans’. Neither do they have content so interesting that it merits regular video clips. Instead, they have regular customers who deal with them directly and then have a very large, untapped audience they hope will stumble across them one day via searches or recommendations.

Instagram Stories and Snapchat COULD help with this, in theory, and for some sectors might make sense. But for most businesses that I deal with their time would be far better spent on an activity such as blogging.

It might lack the excitement of Instagram Stories and Snapchat but it provides regular, ‘sticky’ content with a long term shelf life and hyperlinks back to your website. Blogs don’t need to be long or complicated. Try and include a picture and if you want you could even film a short video of you summarising what you’ve just written and post it to YouTube.

If you’re not sure what to write about in your blog, jot down a dozen questions a potential customer might have about your business and set about answering them, one at a time. If you publish one a week, you now have blog posts for the next 3 months.

And if writing isn’t your strong point, you should consider my Writing For Digital workshop. Get in touch for details.



Helping You Innovate

This is a nice, simple exercise that can help prepare your business for change and start sowing the seeds of innovation.

Often, big organisations know they need to change but never get their because they’re too busy. Things are too comfortable, just keep things as they are and worry about change another day.

That day never comes of course, which makes you vulnerable to a new, hyper focussed new start.

So, sit your team down and ask them to imagine that all there is, the entire sum  of the business is a single, mobile app.

So, if you’re a radio station there’s no transmitter.

If you sell cars there’s no showroom.

If you’re a trainer or consultant you have no clients, no office, no website, no workshops in the diary – nothing.

And you won’t meet customers face to face.

All there is, is a single mobile app.

And all the products and services you offer, the entire delivery of what you do – your livelihood – your past, present and future – the lot, can only go in this mobile app.

What does the app look like?

What does it do?

How will you build it?

How does it help?

What problems does it create?

Where are the opportunities?

What will customers think?

Work through some of these questions and discuss things for no more than 10 minutes.

Jot down some key ideas that emerge and work them around a bit and see if there’s anything you can take on and implement.

And realise that right now, somewhere, someone, is looking at your business and asking how it could be replaced with a single, mobile app.

Get there first.


Facebook Instant Articles

More and more businesses like to see themselves as ‘content creators’.

Few act like it.

If you’re serious about your content business, you’ll set things up to publish material as Facebook Instant Articles and Google’s AMP service.

Why? Because your audience will appreciate getting the content they want, on the platform they enjoy it the most, at lightning fast speeds.

Once you’ve experienced Instant Articles as a user, you become frustrated and intolerant at businesses not using it, because their stuff takes longer to load. The experience just isn’t so good.

After a period where Instant Articles were only available to select partners, Facebook has now rolled out Instant Articles to everyone with a business page. There’s a step by step process which it walks you through. If you want to keep things simple with basic design you can, but if you want to fully customise and brand it all up you can do that too.

Setting my blog up to auto post Instant Articles and AMP took almost a full day, but I had very little knowledge of what I was doing. There was a lot of trial and error and a lot of false starts before I realised that my WordPress blog could use the handy plug-in which makes things very simple.

I reckon now I could set it up from scratch in a little over an hour.

The point is, if me on my own can set it all up, and I know other very small business owners who’ve done the same, then what is stopping some of these bigger businesses?

If you’re serious about the content creation business, prove it.

And if you need help setting up your site to public Facebook Instant Articles, please get in touch by sending a message on Facebook or by visiting the contact form on my website and I’ll see what I can do.


Scottish Business Radio – August Audience Figures

Time is racing along and today I can reveal the audience figures for Scottish Business Radio for the month of August.

And the bad news is – they’re down.

Total Hours spent listening has fallen from 400 hours for the month of July to 385 hours for August. A slight dip, but not what I want to see.

Some good news comes in the form of the number of unique listeners, which is up from 1324 for July to 1389 for August.

The average listening session has fallen from 15 minutes to 13.8 minutes.

Again, disappointing.

The reason for this is lack of input on my part. I had a week’s holiday at the start of August and since coming back, had a couple of weeks where my 2 sons were in and out of hospital a couple of times. Then I had all the work around my training and consultancy business and further broadcasting commitments with Radio Clyde and the BBC.

The truth is, for the last 4 weeks, Scottish Business Radio has been running on auto pilot. I haven’t added new music to the schedule, have done nothing to promote the station, and beyond the basic station identification messages, there’s very little in the way of content.

So despite the fall, I’m fairly pleased that the station continues to hold an audience without much involvement from me. I’m planning to freshen up the music and enhance the content over the next couple of days – we also now have 113 followers via the TuneIn app, that’s grown from 82 at the end of July.

In terms of securing a viable future for the channel, it needs to cover its costs. That means finding a way of monetising the 13 hundred or so listeners it has attracted in each of the last 2 months.

I’m open to ideas and pleas do get in touch if you’d like to become an advertising partner – any and all offers will be considered. I’ve got a couple of ideas of my own which I’ll put into place at the end of this week.


Why Has Google Changed Its Name To Alphabet?

Why has Google changed its name to Alphabet?

It hasn’t.

Google is the same as it was yesterday and will continue unaffected by last night’s news.

What’s happened is that the founders of Google – Larry Page and Sergey Brin – have made Google part of a holding company, called Alphabet which includes and will include several different companies operating in a wide variety of sectors.

The reason they’ve done that is because it makes sense for investors.

Google/Alphabet is a publicly traded company, with shareholders, and the management of the company need to act in their best interests.

The reason it makes sense for investors is because they’re now investing in much more than simply the well known Google products, like mobile advertising and YouTube.

What it means for you and I is that Alphabet is serious about driverless cars, drone delivery, healthcare and much much more.

It means they’re attracting and expect to attract huge sums of money into their products and experiments in those areas, and they want to develop and launch new ideas without it impacting on the business of Google search.

If a driverless car malfunctions and is involved in an accident, there’s no need for the Google brand to be associated with it. Now, thanks to this change, it won’t be.

If mobile advertising takes a seasonal dip it won’t necessarily frighten investors to the point where the launch of a groundbreaking drone delivery project has to be postponed.

The creation of Alphabet makes perfect sense and it means lots of exciting, life changing innovations are closer than ever.