‘Birmingham – A digital opportunity’

The Digital Revolution

I was recently at a Birmingham Business Breakfast Club event and the guest speaker – Simon Jenner, a technology entrepreneur – gave an inspiring and motivating talk regarding the position of Birmingham as a digital hub.

As we are all becoming increasingly aware, the digital landscape is changing and technology appears to be influencing everything we do.

A great example of this is Uber. Simon explained that within a 4 year period, the company has gone from nowhere to being a $50bn business and the biggest taxi firm in the world. Yet they own no taxis and no taxi drivers – they are a truly digital business.

Brummies Overlooked?

So, where does our great city and the surrounding area fit into the global digital arena? Simon told us that in terms of numbers in employment, digital technology accounts for the 4th largest sector, equalling 40,000 people. The public sector is still by far the biggest employer in Birmingham, with 450,000 people.

However, despite most sectors now being affected by technological advancements and despite 20% of the UK gaming industry being based in nearby Leamington Spa – why is ‘digital’ is still being overlooked?

An Opportunity

Simon is clearly very passionate about his city and technology. The issue from his perspective is that the two have not become aligned as yet, but there’s absolutely no reason why Birmingham cannot become a ‘digital hub’ on a grand scale, rivalling London, Manchester, Edinburgh…

It’s easy to think of this scenario as classic Birmingham – living up to a reputation of a city behind the times. However, it’s thanks to Simon and other visionaries that we should see this as a great opportunity for the city to build a reputation, like any brand, by offering a clear vision and standing out from the crowd.

 

It’s true that without a ‘champion’ business, such as a Google, it has been difficult to be seen as an industry player, but with lots of smaller individual companies – who knows which one of them could be the next overnight phenomenon?

Success breeds success, and the time is now for Birmingham to join the digital revolution.

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BP and Chile: building belief in a brand – by Aimee Postle

Aimee Postle

Aimee Postle

So, back in April, an oil rig blew up off the coast of Louisiana.  More than six months later and BP is still feeling the full force of the damage to its reputation, its share price and its ability to move forward with new projects.

In August, 33 miners were trapped deep underground in Chile and were not rescued until two months later.  A month after the rescue and Chile is still basking in the reflected glory of success and world attention.

Two crises, two very different outcomes.  What lessons are there to learn for business?

  • Get out of your BED (blame, excuses, denial) and pick up your OAR (ownership, accountability, responsibility) – where BP tried to blame everyone but themselves, the Chilean government took responsibility for staging a mammoth rescue attempt with the eyes of the world watching.
  • Personality matters – while Tony Haywood at BP was vilified for taking a sailing trip in the middle of the disaster, Chilean billionaire President Sebastian Pinera was available for comment and acted as a charismatic spokesperson for the country as a whole.  US President Obama’s approval rating sank after a slow reaction to the BP disaster while Pinera’s grew.
  • It all comes back to basic identity – while BP workers the world over conveniently forgot who they worked for when it came to socialising with friends, the Chilean people rediscovered their heritage and national identity.  While BP tried to disassociate itself from the crisis, Chile used their situation as a textbook example of turning a crisis into a reputation triumph.  The rescue of these 33 miners has sparked nationalist parties throughout the country with people celebrating and reconnecting to their national identity.

So, next time you get a call in the middle of the night to react to a business crisis… stop and think.  Instead of thinking about how to pass the buck, consider instead how you can own the crisis and influence your reputation positively.

Q: What do Sir Ranulph Fiennes and a bucket of Flash™ have in common? – by Angela Podmore

A:  They’re both compelling and authentic brands.

Angela Podmore, Kinetic Communications

Angela Podmore, Kinetic Communications

Nothing is more uplifting than spending an hour in the company of a person who’s living with all their mind, body, heart and soul all beautifully aligned in courageous pursuit.

Speaking on leadership, challenge and perseverance in the face of adversity, explorer Sir Ranulph Fiennes captivated a packed hall 5 (28 October 2010) at Birmingham’s ICC.

Truly the man of our time, he spoke – in a curiously laconic yet bullet-hitting and modest fashion – of his various feats of derring-do:  his package holidays with a 52-strong team from 9 different countries.  His training ground and recruitment consultant of choice – the SAS (where they called him a donkey walloper harking back to his cavalry past).

He’s circumnavigated the globe through the poles without outside support.  He offered us all a simulated arctic experience – put three of your 6ft friends in a bath tub and drag them over dunes for 2,000 miles!

He feels the same fears we’d all feel before setting off on such a feat.  Difference is, he feels the fear and does it anyway (great book by Susan Jeffers).  The author of 18 books, he was signed Mad, Bad and Dangerous to Know (what his father-in-law said to ward his daughter from marrying him!).

Compelling leadership

There’s no payroll for the Ranulph’s express.  So his team selection process focuses on motivation.  Motivation is his answer to everything – if it’s ever so slightly dodgy, you’re out.  “You can sack someone  in Antarctica but you can’t get rid of them.  So selection is key.”

I asked him to what he attributes his self-belief.

His answer was surprising, “when I’m near giving up, I hope and pray one of the team will give up first but they never do.  I live in the now and you have to know your own resources.  But I’d say my self-belief stems from what my father and grandfather did.  I think of them watching me and I don’t want to let them down.”

And that links nicely to how another compelling brand – my bucket of flash which also didn’t let me down while scrubbing our 10 year old kitchen floor.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s been mopped every week but we’re talking deep clean here.

Sir Ranulph Fiennes impresses because he’s the real deal in stratospheric motivation, ambition and attainment.  But great brands share that so take heart with Flash.  Used  neat, Flash has made our ceramic tiled floor, shine like a new pin.  A compelling performance from another great brand you can trust to do the job.

Note of thanks to all the organisations who made this inspiring Sir Ranulph Fiennes lecture happen:  Birmingham City Business School in partnership with Institute of Business Consulting and Chartered Management Institute and CiPD.

The Martini Era – by Angela Podmore

Angela Podmore, MD, Kinetic Communications - Birmingham PR Consultancy

Angela Podmore

THE MARTINI ERA

Anyone remember the Martini ads?  At their zenith in the 1970s but repeated in the 1990s (I think), they featured the beautiful people having wonderful times in the world’s most glamorous places and promised pleasure anytime, anyplace, anywhere.

What’s it got to do with today?

Whatever brand you need people to believe in – personal or corporate – it’s open to attack anytime, anyplace, anywhere.  I’ve coined it the ‘Martini era’.  Let’s hope they won’t chase me for copyright infringement – they should consider it a favour.

So how do you control brand reputation in these times?

FOCUS

The answer?  Make sure everyone knows what you stand for.  What’s your common purpose as an organisation?  What makes you stand out?  How do you define ‘your way’ of doing things?  Your culture?

The answers to these questions are the essential essence.  They’re what makes your brand tick.  Bottle that essence and it pulls everything into sharp focus.  We all know how powerful that is.  Ever started a fire with the sun’s rays and a simple magnifying glass?

WHO GETS IT

Size doesn’t matter.  Business start-up and multinational alike understand the need for focus.  But it’s equally interesting who doesn’t get it.

ENTREPRENEURS

Positive Pressure gets it.  They’ve been in business for a few years but knew they didn’t have their ‘elevator sell’ sorted – ie that ten second sell that would make them stand out if they were sharing a lift with a stranger.

They knew what they did – they can measure the difference they make in team performance by building individual wellbeing ( massage, reflexology etc).

Our two hour session energised them because “the vision is so exciting and it’s great to have something that feels so right”.  Hopefully, that clarity will help them with every business decision from now on.

GLOBAL LEADERS

For big business, let’s look at Goodrich:  Fortune 500, global aerospace and defence company.  ‘If there’s an aircraft in the sky, we’re on it’.  They know their essence.  They also know the key is to integrate internal and external communications.

Goodrich ECEPS division – 1,000 people spread over five continents – understands how internal communications is key to keep the essence alive.

For all its investment in a successful Farnborough Show, trade advertising and sponsorships, a disgruntled employee could shake the faith in its reputation with what would appear to them an anodyne, online comment.

So when Niki Court, ECEPS marketing co-ordinator, asked us to come into an internal communications session and challenge them, I knew exactly where she was coming from.  She wanted an ‘agent provocateur’.

(I had the good fortune to work at Saatchis in the 1980s where we were taught to seek opposite opinion.  Criticism is more powerful than harmony in testing creative ideas.)

Niki was leading a continuous improvement workshop and wanted an outsider’s perspective.  We served up an A0 sheet filled with pictures of exemplars to inspire the team to raise their game when communicating internally.

All were highly skilled and experienced communicators around the table.

“Kinetic helped spark interesting conversations,” said Niki.  “The session was very interactive from the start and the conversations carried on long after they’d left.  They inspired us in quite a few ways by using new/different methods of communication.

“Their thoughts on exemplars – what others companies are doing – were also reassuring because they told us that we’re doing a lot right already in terms of internal communications and promoting a values-driven culture.  They helped us put all of what we’re already doing in a clearer context and really raised the energy of the group.”

Organisations like Goodrich have all the channels ‘plumbed in’ – website, intranet, media relations, newsletters etc.  It’s the consistency of their messages that glues them all together.

Today’s top brands are congruent.  That means they look, sound and feel the same anytime, anyplace and anywhere you interact with them.

We are a world away from ‘give me six press cuttings in the local papers.’

We left the era of fluff over substance some time ago.  The Martini era is about transparency, trust and integrity.  Now content is king and conversation is the kingdom.

Building belief in the football brand – by Aimee Postle

Aimee Postle, Account Manager, Kinetic Communications - Birmingham PR consultancy

Aimee Postle

Cameron and Clegg must have been grateful this past week as their Comprehensive Spending Review announcements were overshadowed by something far more important for the UK population – whether Wayne Rooney was, in fact, going to leave Manchester United.

This week has been somewhat of a football focused week – with Pompey on the brink of collapse (again!) and Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson facing a barrage of criticism after just eight league games in charge.  Recent months have seen the cash for votes scandal around the England 2018 bid for the FIFA World Cup while the exit of Martin O’Neill from Aston Villa dominated headlines for a number of days.

So, what is it about ‘the beautiful game’ which captures hearts and minds – and headlines – and what can the business world learn when it comes to managing their own reputations?

Rich or poor, black or white, at home or abroad – anyone can watch or support football.  It is universally understood and transcends linguistic, cultural and geographic barriers.  Clubs such as Manchester United are internationally recognised – with kits and souvenirs being shipped all over the world.  It could be argued that Rooney’s exit – no longer to happen – would have been felt further and wider than the UK spending cuts.

For business, this suggests that universal access can reap high rewards.

However, while universally accessible, football brands also instil a sense of team pride – fans feel a sense of belonging, the right to comment on failures and revel in success.  Anyone who considers themselves a fan feels they have the right to pass public judgement on the actions of the football business.  So, every decision is examined in minute detail.

For business, something which may lead to uncomfortable outcomes.

Finally, this scrutiny runs both ways.  Football clubs get the positive stories and headlines because they provide information and access in the bad times as well.  The media is a fickle friend and journalists will soon stop talking about the good times if they are not given the access during the bad.

For business, a lesson that media coverage does not always go the way you want it to!

Confessions of an Intern by Stefan Colligan

Stefan Colligan, Kinetic Communications intern

Stefan Colligan, Kinetic Communications intern

I am entering into my final week as an intern at Kinetic Communications Ltd and must say it has proven to be the perfect introduction to the world of Public Relations.

The Kinetic team prides itself on a trusted formula:

Energy + Commitment = Guaranteed Results.

The team works tirelessly for itself, each other, and most significantly, its clients.  The commitment to upholding the principled mantra was foudroyant from day one; thrust into the team’s Jewellery Quarter office I was given a sense of direction and immersed into an atmosphere where I felt trusted, valued and acknowledged.

Whether it was business research, writing press releases and business blogs, liaising with clients, phoning the media, meeting journalists or taking part in creative idea sessions, the Kinetic team involved me in every aspect of its work and provided a substantial and much appreciated learning experience about the world of business communications.

At the embryonic stage of a career in PR there are a few caveats and lessons that must be carefully considered to make sure you achieve the most out of your work experience:

Be yourself: you are who you are – false pretences will get found out and you’ll regret acting artificially. Over time, your employer will have to trust and rely on the integrity of your character – so it’s imperative, for the benefit of both you and those you work with, to sustain an honest disposition

Be inquisitive: with a zetetic nature you will find that it’s not just the weighty and important bits of information that you digest, but the subtle, pin drops of knowledge that others may be too afraid to find out.  By asking questions I found that those around me were willing to impart their wisdom which, not only helped suppress those unnerving feelings we all get in unfamiliar surroundings, but increased my understanding of the role I needed to play.

Always be accountable for your actions: being committed to the task in hand and concentrating whole heartedly on the job will reap its rewards. Don’t hide and eschew work opportunities – what’s the point of cowering in the corner and hiding from responsibility when you only have a small amount of time to gain much needed, invaluable experience.

And of course, perhaps most importantly of all, wherever your work experience takes you, make sure you know your Earl Grey from your Nescafe Pure Blend.

The power of reputation – by Angela Podmore

Recently, Birmingham City University Business School hosted an event on Britain’s Most Admired Companies – annually featured in Management Today.

The study of corporate reputation is led by Prof D Michael Brown and this year’s keynote speaker was Sir Terry Leahy, Tesco CEO since 1997.  He’s grown the turnover to £62.5bn and £3.5bn profit, 48,000 stores and 472,000 staff – in other words a guy who knows a thing or two about getting people facing in the same direction.

Leahy finds reputation, “the most unsettling aspect of management” because you can spend a lifetime hoping to build a reputation and you can lose it in a single day.  He sees most managers as control freaks so “it’s an uncomfortable thought”.

“You can’t buy, own or possess a reputation.  It’s given to you by other people” – with these few words he shows his understanding of reputation.  A reflection of ‘everything you say, everything you do and everything others say about you’ (source:  CIPR).

He explained how far they’d come in that a tobacco company had considered acquiring Tesco in the 1980s but turned down the deal because it “might drag down their reputation”.

Regarding managing reputation, “you can’t set out to manage your reputation.  You just have to ensure you manage your company and ensure you manage a good company.”

He said at the heart of it, a company needs to be built on a clear common purpose of what it exists to do and do it well based on values.

The Tesco vision is to ‘create benefit for customers in order to earn their lifetime loyalty’.  Their values are:  ‘service – no one should try harder for customers than Tesco’ and ‘respect – treat others as we’d like to be treated ourselves’.

Simple!  And that’s why it’s worked so well.

He said you can manage 100 people but you can’t hope to manage hundreds of thousands of people.  You have to ensure they share the sense of common purpose, follow the right strategy, with the right values and we don’t over control the business.

Another great tip he gave any would-be-top-CEO.  “You mustn’t overreact when crisis strikes.  The key is to run with it and come out the other side.  A good company, built on solid foundations will come through the other side.  It’s knowing when to use the sword and the shield.”

He says the power of reputation can be measured in the percentage of ‘intangibles’ of a company’s market capitalisation.  The higher the number, the higher the esteem in which that organisation is held.  So you have Mitchells and Butler at 25%, Sainsbury’s at 30%, Tesco at 60%, M&S at 64%, Severn Trent at 65%, GSK at 83% and Diageo at 86%.  So, measure for measure, Diageo’s reputation is three times more powerful than M&B’s.

Apart from market cap, across all sectors, there are clear links between strong corporate reputation and performance:

·         Quality products

·         Quality marketing/brands

·         Ability to attract, recruit and retain their teams

·         Strong quality management

·         Financial solutions

·         Value as a long-term investment

·         Capacity to innovate

·         Community and environmental responsibility.

But love Leahy for his parting shot:  “reputation is internally managed and externally assessed.”  That’s the best shot in the arm for the owner of an integrated communications consultancy since Bill Gates’ “if I was down to my last dollar, I’d spend it on PR.”