Business Development

Value of an Agency: Partner or Supplier?

Partner or Supplier?

Simon Brown, Account Director

It’s been an interesting few months for me having recently made the move to the other side of the desk and back into agency life. After six years running the PR and communications for Costcutter Supermarkets Group, I took the decision to check out and take a fresh challenge with Acceleris.

Having spent all of my pre-Costcutter career in agencies this was a move that I made with plenty of ‘inside information’ about the workings of agencies. And it’s this experience, coupled with my learnings in-house, that I hope I can use to offer an alternative point of view on how agencies and businesses need to work together to deliver the best results.

I never imagined that I’d one day quote the New Radicals song You get what you give to make a point about how working relationships should work, but there you have it. As well as topping the charts in Canada and New Zealand, it seems Gregg Alexander has hit the nail on the head, highlighting that these relationships cannot just be one way.

A real bugbear of mine working in previous agencies was that it could feel a bit disconnected from the clients. Not geographically, although I was working for companies all over the UK, but disconnected from the heartbeat of their business, the strategic reasoning behind a chosen course of action, the real ‘why are we doing this?’. The agency would deliver against the brief and generate some great results, but it could feel a bit detached and, beyond a few predetermined metrics to define success, it was often difficult to determine the real value that we had added.

In-house couldn’t be more of a polar opposite, with total immersion from day one. In my particular situation I was the only PR person in the business, with all eyes on me for the creation and delivery of the PR strategy. This situation quickly led me to ask the question, why would a business keep their agencies at arm’s length? After all, I faced the challenge of delivering the PR activity for the business, on my own. When I did secure budget to bring in external support it had to be done in a way that would give the business, and me, the absolute best chance of success.

In my opinion there are two types of agency relationships – the Supplier and the Partner. As you might have guessed I favour the partner approach and this is certainly how I tried to do things at Costcutter. Retail is an exceptionally fast moving industry, convenience even more so with many changes in the sector over the last few years and more to come as signalled by the various deals and mergers that are underway. This brought with it a seemingly endless run of communications requirements – both opportunities and challenges to be managed. Keeping my specialist communications advisors at arm’s length and briefing them on a project by project basis simply wouldn’t have worked.

By being open with your agency and giving them the ‘big picture’, warts and all, they can analyse the current situation and the road ahead and then present their expert advice. Having this open stance with your advisors will deliver better results. One of the many idioms doing the rounds describes communications as a ‘journey’ and while I am not usually a fan of such corporate jargon it’s as good a description as any for how to approach strategic communications. In the same way that a business wouldn’t expect to deliver its entire strategy in one go, communications is a journey that your audiences need to be taken on. It won’t be a flat straight road and there will be plenty of ups and downs, so giving your agency the big picture will enable them to give really meaningful advice and create plans that deliver for the long term. After all, that’s what they do and what you pay them for.

Businesses surround themselves with trusted advisors to help deliver their strategy. Lawyers, accountants, business consultants, growth strategists and HR advisors are all consulted, and rightly so. They are experts in their field and will help shape the future direction of the business, identify the opportunities and put the resource in place to deliver it. Communications advisors are experts too, yet many businesses don’t place similar importance on the need to embed communications into their strategy or view their agencies as trusted advisors.

So, having moved back into agency am I faced with the same bugbear of old? Absolutely not. A good friend of mine often reminds me that people buy people and so as much as Acceleris did its homework before appointing me, I also did mine. Acceleris is very proud of the relationships it has with its clients and through the delivery of sound, insight-based advice it is a trusted advisor to its clients. A partner in creating communications strategies that deliver the right result.

“Communications is a journey that your audiences need to be taken on.”

Hunting For Awards – A Winning Team

The annual Acceleris away day is an opportunity for team-building, improving skillsets and most importantly of all, a healthy dose of competition between colleagues.

This year we embarked upon a Great Yorkshire Treasure Hunt set by our Chairman Nigel. With four teams working through six pages of cryptic clues and directions to take us round the beautiful Yorkshire countryside, it was a race against the (mileage) clock to answer all the questions in the shortest distance.

The winning team, Not Bad Cod Be Batter, pipped Run AMC to the winning post with a mileage difference of just 0.4 and a host of winning selfies.

But it’s not just away days we know about winning. On Friday, we were thrilled to find out we’ve been shortlisted for seven CIPR PRide Awards for the Yorkshire and Lincolnshire region and this year we celebrated winning more than 50 awards in our agency lifetime.

Amongst our gongs we count three European Excellence Awards we’ve won in four years for our Issues and Reputation Management work and the three UK Public Sector Agency of the Year Awards as well as CIPR’s pub quiz team of the year, we’re proud of them all!

But why enter Awards? It’s not just because we’re competitive, honest. Being recognised by our industry builds credibility and recognises the creativity of our team and the results we’ve achieved for clients.

We’ve had clients approach us after seeing news of our awards in the papers or on our website, and the Award wall in our Harrogate office never fails to impress visitors.

Acceleris is a boutique agency with some very specialist credentials and campaigns, but we’ve often fought off big corporate contenders to win Awards – last year we beat IBM and Lidl in the Issues and Reputation Management category, plus – believe it or not – the Catholic Church! To be recognised for our creative thinking and campaigns and hold our own against some big players is testament to just how hard we work for our clients.

The CIPR’s PRide Awards celebrate the very best PR campaigns and teams in the region and we’ve got stiff competition across the region.

We’ve been shortlisted in seven categories (out of seven we entered if you must know) for a range of different campaigns, including our work launching disability organisation Purple, promoting greater autism awareness in airports for Experia, celebrating 100 years of maritime charity Seafarers UK and helping manage the reputation of Britain’s seafarers with trade union Nautilus International.

The results will be announced at an awards dinner on 30 November, but to read a bit more about our award-winning campaigns, take a look at our Awards cabinet.

January is the Worst Way to Start the Year

Louise Vaughan, Managing Director

Gloomy nights, an absence of alcohol, resolution records set and broken faster than a Usain Bolt sprint start and a waistline two inches north of where it was this time in November.

 

But hey, enough about me….

 

What the new year also does is also provide the opportunity – and often the budget – to take a fresh look at PR and marketing communications strategies and test something new. Something fresh. And maybe, because fortune favours the brave, something revolutionary.

 

Here at Acceleris we work on the basis there are three essential elements to the periodic table of what makes a great PR campaign – Insight, Intelligence and Innovation. Here’s a few thoughts on how all three could boost your PR, content marketing or reputation management activity in 2017.

 

Insights: Acceleris Insights

Did you know we’re exposed to up to 5,000 advertising EVERYDAY. So how do you cut through a mammoth amount of marketing noise that’s constantly growing? The holy grail of effective content marketing and communication is understanding your target customer. Knowing what interests them. What excites them. What issues they face. Where they go, what they do and critically, how they consume information. Then responding to this knowledge with information relevant to your business that will add value and enrich their lives.

 

Easier said than done.

 

Or is it?

 

One of the big things we’re incredibly excited about for 2017 is the launch of our new Insights service to arm brands with the audience insight to facilitate communications strategies directly aligned to target customers.

 

Google accounts for up to 90 per cent of web searches in Western markets including the UK and US, and answers more than three billion search queries globally every day. Not only are your customers sharing valuable information on their interests, they also sharing secrets they wouldn’t dare disclose to friends, on Facebook or in a customer questionnaire.

 

Perfect target customer insight…but are you using it?

 

If you haven’t interrogated Google analytics as part of your marketing plan, give www.answerthepublic.com a go – a fun – but useful way of revealing some of the searches that are happening relevant to your product or service – and how you could tap into them.

 

Using Google trend and user data, coupled with social media insights, wider industry data and cool tools like www.similarweb.com to assess your competitor performance means we can now frame campaigns to directly address customer preferences, behaviors and market opportunity. For an example of how we’ve used Insights check out our work on the Testing Times campaign for leading used car website Trusted Dealers.

 

Innovation: VR for PR

 

If you need some convincing about the ever growing importance of video, these stats may provide it.  According to Google, by 2019, 69 per cent of all online data will be video – due largely to its success as an engagement and conversion tool. According to data from ComScore, 64 per cent of users are more likely to buy a product online after watching a video. And according to Forbes, 65 per cent of executives visit a website after viewing a video. So video works. What’s new?

 

Great video content is it needs to do one of three things – educate, entertain or emotionally engage. The big opportunity for 2017 is to do all three – by making it interactive.

 

According to research by our friends at video marketing agency Fresh Cut, 2017 is all about Interactive Video, such as this interactive video created with Discovery Channel explorer Ed Stafford, which secured a whopping 400x Website Traffic Increase in the first three weeks.

 

We’ve also seen Virtual Reality – VR – become an exciting part of the video mix for both B2B and consumer clients. A recent report from IDC claims that the combined revenue for both the AR and VR markets will hit $162 billion by the year 2020 – with current revenue for 2016 around $5.2 billion.

 

No longer the preserve of the gaming industry, VR offers a fantastic sensory showcase, bringing your product direct into the office or living room of your client for them to experience. Late last year we worked with leading corporate vehicle rental provider Nexus Vehicle Rental to use VR to showcase its daily rental technology. It’s made big waves in the industry. To take a look, just go to www.nexusrental.co.uk/VR.

 

Intelligence: Issues & Reputation Management

 

Positive reputations are hard won and all too easily lost. The last year has seen a raft of scandals that have seen the public’s faith in major institutions – Parliament, Banking, the Church, the Media, major sports bodies – all eroded by a series of scandals. In an age where the axis of a marketing campaign is centered on clicks and social shares, the power and commercial value of a positive reputation can sometimes be overlooked. As can the need for a crisis plan.

 

Things go wrong in business. Everyone’s human. And nine times out of ten it’s cock up rather than conspiracy. But what can make or break the reputation of a business or organisation is the way it manages – and is seen to manage – a problem. According to research by BDO LLP and the Quoted Companies Alliance, the reputational value of all UK listed companies is worth £1.7 trillion. A figure not to be sniffed at. As such a crisis management plan should form an essential part not only of your communications mix, but your risk management strategy too. If you’re currently without a crisis management plan, it should definitely find its way to the top of your new year’s resolutions list.

 

One of the accolades we are most proud of as an agency is winning the Issues and Reputation Management category at the European PR Excellence Awards three times in the last four years, making us one of the best reputation management agencies in Europe. For and example of how this has worked in practice check out our award winning work with the UK fishing industry here.

  

Hopefully there’s some healthy food for thought here that may, even in a small way, give your PR strategy a health kick in 2017.

 

Here’s to the year ahead.

 

 

 

 

Well, That Was Quite A Year!!!

Peter Davenport, Chief Executive at Acceleris

If there was a single, unifying factor to a calendar of events that shook up the accepted order of things it was, ‘Expect the Unexpected.’

 

The UK voting to quit the EU, America electing Donald Trump as President and Leicester City winning the Premier League. Each and every one against the prevailing odds, confounding the experts, defying the pollsters.

 

To the pessimists, it meant that ‘nothing will ever be the same again.’ To the optimists it meant, ‘nothing will ever be the same again.’

 

Diametrically opposing views of the same situation!

 

So what does the future hold?

 

The same experts who so confidently, but mistakenly, predicted the outcomes of those events above – and many others – are now in full flow forecasting what is to come. The reality is that no-one really knows what 2017 holds other than ‘uncertainty.’ At times like this, you just have hold your nerve and focus on the things you can affect rather than over-worrying about the things you can’t.

 

Here at Acceleris it’s also been quite a year.  Like many other businesses, we experienced the pre and post EU Referendum doldrums as clients struggled to understand the implications for them and either cancelled or delayed projects. But with the dawning realisation that, apart from in the financial markets where the pound took a battering, in the ‘real-world’ of day-to-day business, not a lot had changed since the vote, and may not until the result of the Article 50 negotiations are known. The final months of 2016 proved to be exceptionally busy with new clients and new projects on existing accounts.

 

The year also marked 10 years since the agency was founded with a vision to deliver outstanding service and innovative PR and Communications solutions to clients throughout the UK and in Europe. Whilst we always strive to live up to our vision – for instance delivering our first VR project for a major client this month –  it’s especially rewarding when those qualities are recognised by our peers.

 

And in 2016 we continued to add to our trophy cabinet and awards wall.

 

For the second year in succession, we were named  Agency of the Year’ at the UK Public Sector Communications Awards at a ceremony at The Emirates Stadium in London in July and this month in Berlin, we won the Issues and Reputation Management’ trophy at the prestigious European Communications Excellence Awards, beating off challenges from the likes of IBM and Lidl. It’s a remarkable third time in four years we have collected this award – in Munich in 2013 and Stockholm in 2015 when we beat Unilever, BASF and BP to the accolade. We also won two Golds in the regional CIPR (Chartered Institute of Public Relations) PRide Awards.

 

I believe these awards are testimony to the intelligent, insightful and innovative way in which we approach our work. We can certainly do ‘fun’ but we also excel at the ‘serious.’

 

The turn of the year also marks a time of personal change.

 

For the last decade I have been privileged to lead Acceleris, latterly as CEO. From the New Year, I am changing my relationship with the agency of which I am so proud, to facilitate a more flexible way of working. I am stepping down as Chief Executive, leaving the running of the agency in the more than capable hands of my much admired colleague, Managing Director Louise Vaughan, to work as a strategic consultant across some key client accounts and to focus on business development, something I particularly enjoy.

 

I have no doubt that Acceleris will go on to build on its impressive achievements to date and I look forward to playing a somewhat  different – but hopefully valuable – part in the next stage of its story.

Is the North the new capital of PR?

Rebecca Jackson, Account Manager

Rebecca Jackson, Account Manager

PR tends to be considered as a London-centric industry but this discounts the wealth of opportunities outside the capital. With the Northern Powerhouse movement gathering momentum and so many agencies in the North performing so well, we take a look at how businesses in Yorkshire and beyond are stealing London’s limelight.    

A journalist by trade, I joined Acceleris from The Daily Telegraph in 2013, where I’d worked as a content editor across the title’s digital platforms as well as the paper. At such a pivotal time in how we consume our media and access our news, it was a great opportunity to explore what was then and still is now a relatively unknown future for the papers that have been institutions for decades.

A Yorkshire girl born and bred, I found London too faceless – ironic for a city with such diversity and so much culture –and it takes itself just a bit too seriously. I was quickly drawn back to Yorkshire, where I began looking at opportunities in PR.

With so many agencies in the region, it quickly disproved the London-centric image that PR only truly exists in the capital. The regional awards ceremonies show there’s a thriving scene in the North and there are digital centres and media hubs popping up across the region’s major cities.

As an agency with a wealth of public and third sector clients, I was drawn to Acceleris and its work in the charity, health and social housing sectors. With a headquarters in beautiful Harrogate, as well as an office on Oxford Street in London, I get the best of both worlds. I have the opportunity to travel to the capital to meet clients and journalists and take part in events, but am able to return to a region with spectacular scenery, a functioning housing market and a thriving cultural scene that gives London a run for its money.

There’s a real danger with both PR companies and businesses that they think London is the be-all and end-all when it comes to a career, in anything. With opportunities in the capital so competitive it’s short sighted not to look further afield and consider some of the non-London agencies.

There will often be better career and progression opportunities, as well as some of the best training and the opportunity to network with the top PR practitioners across the region. You also get to work with regional journalists and publications which are still essential ways of communicating with the local community. PR Week’s recent ‘Top 150 Agencies’ table includes 30 agencies from outside London – showing how regional agencies can hold their own against the London offices.

Working in a boutique agency has given me the opportunity to work closely with experts in their industry – something you just wouldn’t get in a big London agency.

Whilst some businesses might place emphasis on working with a big agency, the reality is that at any agency you will only get one account team and boutique agencies are often able to offer a more hands-on senior team. We work with clients regionally and nationally, and even internationally – where we have held our own against some of the biggest brands and agencies in the world, winning the European Excellence Award for Reputation and Issues Management not once, but twice in the last three years, the last time in 2015 beating off internal teams at BP, Unilever and BASF.

This message should especially be enforced with students – Leeds Beckett has one of the top PR courses in the country but we regularly lose our best talent to the capital. Even when I was at University in Liverpool and Sheffield, I was told the job opportunities are in London. This creates an ongoing loss of talent from regions and a densely populated job pool in the capital, with applications for vacancies becoming increasingly competitive.

That graduates in London struggle to break into such a fiercely competitive industry potentially alienates some of the most talented future PR people – my own personal experience of friends trying to break into the industry left many disillusioned and looking at other careers.

Regional agencies often have more to spend in terms of time and training – we regularly have work experience students in from our local schools and sixth forms and they all get stuck into real jobs, not just making tea and watering plants!

Acceleris also runs the Acceleris Academy, which includes paid internships and placements, as well as internal training for the wider team – with individual staff members often presenting on different client campaigns, sharing knowledge and best practice. Members of our team sit on the regional board of the CIPR, ensuring we keep up-to-date with the latest trends, learnings and opportunities in the industry.

London is often mooted as the place to be, especially for young creatives wanting to work in the media, but with the Northern Powerhouse really taking shape and towns across the country now boasting healthy agency scenes, there’s never been a better time to look at alternatives to the capital for your next career move.

Rebecca’s blog first appeared via PR Careers at http://prcareers.co.uk/london-vs-regions/

Acceleris: a review of 2015

The end of one year and the beginning of another is always a time for both reflection and anticipation. Reflection on the successes – and disappointments – of the past 12 months and anticipation of what the coming year has in store. In an uncertain world, however, the only certainty is that events will happen that none of us can currently predict.

With  a presidential election in the United States, a potential EU referendum in the UK, the continuing migrant crisis enveloping Europe and the insidious spread of terrorism, it can sometimes feel as though we are at the mercy of tumultuous events beyond our control. Institutions that once seemed to be the pillars of a stable society – Parliament, the Church, banking, the media, business and even sport – have all been mired in controversy.

So it is important at this time of year to reflect on the success of the things upon which we do have control.

In the case of Acceleris, on the verge of our 10th anniversary year, there has been much of which we can be justly proud.

We have won major national and international awards – named  as ‘Large Agency of the Year’ in the UK Public Sector Communications Awards held at The Emirates Stadium in London and winner of the fiercely contested ‘Issues and Reputation Management’ trophy in the prestigious European Communications Excellence Awards in Stockholm. Such accolades are credit to the creativity, intelligence and commitment of the people who make up the Acceleris team in Yorkshire and London.

We recently won another European Excellence Award in 'Issues and Reputation Management'

We recently won another European Excellence Award in ‘Issues and Reputation Management’

We have delivered campaigns for international clients  in multiple languages in almost a dozen countries; we have launched new companies, re-branded existing ones, worked with Paralympian athlete Baroness (Tanni) Grey-Thompson to get a better deal for wheelchair users, produced our first hard back book to commemorate a charity client’s remarkable 150 year history and seen our team presented to its Patron, HRH The Princess Royal. We have seen our clients dominate the front pages of national newspapers, feature in television and radio news programmes and increase their social media profiles to positive effect.

We launched the Wheelchair Leadership Alliance this summer with the help of Baroness Grey-Thompson

We launched the Wheelchair Leadership Alliance this summer with the help of Baroness Grey-Thompson

In an increasingly ‘noisy’ world, where the amount of information is already at levels which the human brain finds hard to assimilate, the challenge for all organisations – be they in  the public, private or third sector – is how to achieve ‘cut-through’ with their messages to ensure they reach the audiences they want to address.

That’s what we will be working to achieve for all our clients in 2016. We will do it by retaining a consistent desire to deliver a high quality service based on intelligence, insight and innovation allied to an enthusiasm to embrace new ideas and new thinking.

To all our clients, partners and friends, we thank you for your support in 2015 and wish you a very happy Christmas and a peaceful and prosperous New Year.

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