Reputation management: it's how you tell your story

Earlier this year I was asked to comment on the preposterous action being taken by easyJet on some flights. The dreadful deed? Cabin crew were taking hand luggage off passengers just as they were about to board their flight. 

This week I have been asked to comment on the news that easyJet has launched its "hands-free" luggage service whereby you can check your cabin luggage into the hold for £4 each way. 

PR stunt or customer listening?

A cynic would call this a PR stunt. Those more generous at offering benefit of the doubt might give them a pat on the back for flipping a negative story on its head into something positive. The use of the incremental revenue employee to provide comment on the news could even be argued as this being a purely operational decision. 

So which is it?

Burying bad news

If you check out the news results on Google for a search related to easyJet and hand luggage, you'll find a healthy stream of largely (early days) positive news stories about the story.

Adjust that search to find news about the kerfuffle about hand luggage and the hold earlier in the year and you'll struggle to find much. 

Albeit a tad delayed what they've achieved, despite a rather public spat with Daniella Westbrook about this exact issue, is that they've pretty much buried bad news. 

Time's a great healer

The problem: too many passengers are trying to travel with only hand luggage, to avoid hold luggage fees and waiting at bag collection carousels.

The big issue: there simply isn't enough space in the cabin to stow bag for every passenger in the overhead lockers (especially not when we're talking pull along suitcases).

The short term view: take bags off passengers at the gate at which point they have no choice (quite likely they'll have no insurance for what's in their hand luggage either, but that's another story). You'll take a thwack to your reputation, but what the hell, they'll come back for more and they'll learn for next time. Won't they...

The long game: develop a strategy that communicates an opportunity upfront to customers (via the media), gives them choices (buy hold space or risk having it taken away) and provides an accessible/affordable solution with 'added' benefits (apparently having less luggage will make security processing quicker and airport transition quicker). The outcome: a hands-free luggage option.

The art of storytelling. Or is it spin?

A good news story not only broadcasts or launches the new product or service, it also qualifies its creation. What easyJet has succeeded in doing here is both - hence why it made headlines and became a topic for debate today.

If they achieve any incremental revenue as a result, well done them.

Call it a win-win.

Tomorrow's chip paper

To anyone familiar with flying with low cost carriers, when this story broke in February this wasn't news. There were plenty of disgruntled passengers out there happy to share their stories. It turned out that having your hand luggage taken off you at the gate was fairly common practice, especially if you were towards the back of the queue. I saw it first hand on my way back from Malaga with easyJet in February. 

And some would argue that the story ran for a while and, as with most news in our rapidly revolving world, died a death a few days later. They used to call it tomorrow's chip paper. But despite the pace of news nowadays, the legacy of a story remains online, largely. So to a brand that has reputation management as marketing metric or objective, there's only one option: to replace the bad with good.

While, since then, it hasn't fascinated news or travel editors, it has continued to irritate customers. Which means it will continue to be corrosive for the brand's reputation unless they find a solution.

Quite the turnaround

It's taken them about six months to deliver this idea from corridor conversation (or creative scrum) to a PR-able story, but they've hit the headlines all the same. 

Turns out it was only easyJet. According to an online article in The Sun, Ryanair was playing the baddie too. So what will they do now...

What's lurking in your brand's closet?

It's hard to write a crisis comms strategy when you're on the inside. Trust me, I've been there.

I've also handled my fair share of journalists thrusting customer complaint letters down the phone or through email demanding an immediate response. It ain't pretty, but the more prepared you are, the less you'll panic and the greater chance you'll have of resolving the situation quickly and without too much noise.

Scenario planning forces you to face the possibilities of worst case scenarios that could result in the media hearing about and publishing a story relating to your company's involvement in 'a situation'. It isn't easy because few like to admit or look for those possibilities. 

If you need an objective perspective and are serious about crisis comms planning, let's talk.

What is the future for coastal tourism in Britain?

When the sun shines in Britain, we rush to the seaside like it might dry up before the day is out. We love the British coastline so much that we're prepared to sit in horrendous traffic jams to get there. And in our race to paddle in the sea, us Brits have acquired a fairly poor stereotype of forgetting to apply sunscreen.

However, the British weather and our haste to visit the coast when the climate is most favourable to being scantily clad does have another reality. In the main, we're not the greatest patrons of our coastal towns and resorts when the weather ain't so fine. 

So, what is the future for coastal tourism in Britain?

That very question is what spurred the inaugural Coastal Tourism Forum organised by the National Coastal Tourism Academy last September. It springs to mind now as BBC Breakfast's theme this week is what we love about the coast.  

A conglomeration of tourism academics, industry analysts, regional DMOs, council staff and BID team members brought stats, facts and vision to a hopeful and occasionally desperate forum of peers. 

Once the survey findings, small print powerpoints and excessively academic spiels had stirred the air, the guts of the day drew in. The reality of the morning's fanfares when succinctly formed on paper were thus...

The vision for Britain's coastline

If a vision is to be achievable it needs to be realistic. That, nodded the heads in the room, was largely the case with this hypothesis. It needed some tweaks of expectation. For example, why aim for world class service, when just good (read: better) British service would do? Who will lead a coastal tourism strategy? And how will it be funded at a regional level? 

The questions remain unanswered.

Depending on the part you play in the tourism industry, you'll have heard, retweeted or regurgitated the positively prosperous domestic tourism stats spewed from any and every travel company desperate to make a go of post-referendum socio-economics.

What's British tourism got going for it?

Perhaps, in the room I saw everything that's right and everything that's wrong with British tourism, but certainly clarification for why it's going to be an uphill battle. Too many cooks agreeing with a macro vision yet tied to their own micro objectives. 

There were certainly too many suits and corporate dresses in a room discussing travel. Maybe I've worked on the fluffy or tech side of the industry for too long but the fit felt odd. And while clearly a lot of passion and focus exists, some things just aren't academic, they're organic and dynamic. And that's why it's the entrepreneurs and the boutique tourism niches that are disrupting the industry and attracting consumers by volume. In much the same way they attract media attention. 

Travel - a disparate industry

Councils and DMOs are lacking funding and, for me, a sense of on-the-ground customer requirements for what makes them visit a destination. I couldn't believe I got caught up in a conversation about town centre signage! What's the point of signposting if what is being signposted has no brand value or promotion? Signs have little purpose if people don't know to come in the first place.

The travel and tourism industry is as disparate as they come. The traditional travel agency model still survives, just. Tour operators have boutique offices or are online behemoths. The cruise industry is evolving apace with customer expectations but still invests immense amounts on print advertising. In some quarters, travel businesses are selling to other travel businesses still as well as going direct to consumers. Aggregators continue to pop up to help one-stop shops achieve more air time. The sharing economy has given us all more than enough to think about. And social media has redefined the meaning of consumer choice. 

What's your coastal tourism story?

So how do you get your brand seen and heard nowadays without big budgets or huge resource?

Wherever you're allocating your hard invested cash, consider this: your brand, your message, your solution to the customer's problem needs to reach more than once for them to consider looking your way.

In fact, Google travel trend data suggests that a consumer can be exposed to a brand at least 12 times before deciding to actually book with that company. 

You don't need a full time team and a full on budget to achieve this. A smart thinking, holistic communications strategy will do the trick. And as you test and toss different ideas across a well-considered spectrum of marketing channels, you'll learn what works and how best to convert your customers.

For a more in-depth communications strategy conversation and to get your story heard, let's talk.  

Monarch: is there a travel company with a better brand reputation?

Monarch airlines brand reputation

Monarch has had the travel industry and its customers in a tizz since the end of September. The stalwart of low cost flights and cheap package holidays had a wobble of the financial variety. The timing of events tallied to the renewal of its ATOL certification (Air Travel Organisers Licence) and another holiday company appeared destined for the travel brand bench in the sky.

Speculation has never been so subdued

Yet for once, we saw an industry and a consumer base rally around this much loved household name. ATOL led the charge with its 12 day licence extension. The industry followed with its genuine support for Monarch CEO Andrew Swaffield. Consumer fears were allayed by proactive investment talks and forthcoming communications from the business.

As we waited with baited breath for news from down-to-the-wire talks, there was more hope in the air than has been sensed in the industry for many a month.

In 48 years of trading, Monarch has taken most of us somewhere in Europe. It has carved out niches. It has faced adversity. It has risen again and again. It’s about to do that all again.

Us Brits have a soft spot for a battler

You see Monarch hasn’t glided through the last few years with a silver spoon in its proverbial mouth. Its P&L has demonstrated more ups and downs than the average school kids yo-yo. But it’s a business that in the last two years has had the financial and strategic backing of a business saving investor (Greybull Capital).

During that young tenureship Greybull has proven its worth by bringing Monarch back into the profitable black. While it did so with some significantly difficult adjustments to its model and staff structure, it did it with grace and aplomb. The outcome: a robustly intact brand reputation and loyal customer following.

The reservists hate a bragger

Now Monarch won’t blow your socks off with its marketing. It’s unlikely to win any awards for brand innovations. If it did, I can’t imagine it shouting about them overtly. But Monarch is a pretty sound example of how sticking to what you know and doing it well, can curate a loyal following.

Since introducing the Monarch blog in 2011, they’ve maintained open communication with their customers. From their blog you’ll find the latest flight routes, destination inspiration and behind the scenes insight as well as their latest news and press statements.

Monarch’s social media activity has that pleasant, easy-on-the-eye look, feel and tone to it too. What’s not to like.

And Monarch’s handling of recent events has taken a similar tone and strategy - open and informative as and when was possible and appropriate. Because Monarch doesn’t do shock tactics and sensationalism, its customers and peers gave the brand the time it needed to come to a resolution they all hoped for and expected. This time around it worked.

A case in point for the travel industry

However, Monarch’s brush with ATOL retirement and financial obscurity naturally raises the questions how and why did this happen. The difficult trading conditions created by terrorism, the Brexit vote and weaker Pound have all contributed to a challenging 2016 for tour operators, accommodation providers and the aviation industry. For Monarch in particular it prevented them from selling holidays to Egypt - a significant proportion of their business - and impacted sales of package holidays to Turkey.

To weather this unpredictable storm, Monarch needs a cash injection to continue the roll out of its efficiency strategy and the economies of scale that will come from having a new fleet of more efficient planes.

But Monarch isn’t alone in this challenge. To put an appropriately positive spin on things, the travel industry is dynamic and constantly evolving. The agility required of travel brands in the current climate will continue to be tested in 2017. The brand loyalty accrued by Monarch in the last 48 years and bolstered by its digital marketing strategy will be the envy of many a travel company.

What shape is your brand reputation in?

How do your customers think of you? What do you do in the name of customer loyalty to drive repeat business? How would your customers and industry peers react if your business found itself in a similar situation? 

Whatever you do, if you think you could do it better, let’s talk.

 

Term time holidays: is the travel industry to blame?

In case you missed Friday afternoon’s breaking news, there was a landmark ruling in the High Court that struck a chord for parents, headteachers and the Department for Education.

The highest court in the country acquitted a father of failing to pay fines for taking his daughter on an unauthorised term time holiday. Magistrates informed Isle of Wight councillors, who had brought the case, that the child had attended school regularly and a seven day consecutive absence failed to demonstrate otherwise.

 

That’s the background. But why are we talking about this?

I was asked to comment on the day’s events, both before and after the ruling, from a travel industry perspective. The crux of the questioning? What’s the travel industry playing at hiking prices so significantly during school holiday periods.

Like it or lump it (and I’m a parent too), this is business. When supply outweighs demand, prices go up.

Call it advantageous. Call it greedy. Call it tactical back-covering to pay for quieter periods in the year. But find me a business that doesn’t increase it prices when there’s a timely and relevant opportunity to maximise a peak in demand...

 

Time for an analogy or two

When I was talking to Danny Kelly on BBC Radio WM, he talked about the butcher with the last turkey on Christmas Eve. I borrowed that analogy for my slot on the BBC News Channel to simply demonstrate that the travel sector is not alone in its practices.

Can you find many restaurants that charge the same for Christmas Day lunch as they do the rest of the year? And what about supermarket ‘express’ and ‘metro’ stores – they openly admit their prices are more expensive than in their larger stores. They blame logistics, but if the store wasn’t there the community would have to travel to grab that must-have ingredient for tonight’s supper. We call that demand – the price you pay for having access to a corner shop at all.

 

Why such a hot topic now?

Landmark court case aside, this only rears its head as a topic for debate because in 2013 the rules changed. Until then parents had 10 days discretionary leave to take their kids out of school during term time. Since then tens of thousands of parents have been fined between £60 and £120 for taking their children out of school for an absence of at least five consecutive days.

 

Is the travel industry to blame?

Given such a recent rule change, it’s funny (or not) how many commentators on this seem to forget how things used to be. Yet they don’t seem to recall that the travel industry has always had peak season pricing.

Ad infinitum, it has been more expensive to travel during school holiday periods. I remember, back in my studious childhood days, being geekily fascinated by a hotel tariff table. Its peaks and troughs, and how wonderful it would be to come here twice a year if we could only come at cheaper times of the year. Not to be.

Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, called for the travel industry to do something while talking on the BBC Breakfast sofa on Saturday morning. But then she can’t be expected to say anything else. Although I’m inclined (as a parent) to interpret her remit with rather more discretion: “promote and protect children’s right to make life better for children and young people in England.”

 

Should the travel industry find its moral compass?

The challenge presented to parents who have school age children and wish to take a holiday, is that of school holiday period price hikes on accommodation and flights.

Should the travel industry be allowed to inflict holiday price hikes? Should parents be allowed to take children out of school for holidays? What is defined as ‘exceptional circumstances’? How do you manage ‘discretion’? And what is the purpose of a fine if it doesn’t sufficiently deter unauthorised absences?

Without wishing to be drawn on the debate that naturally leads towards the topics of school performance, tests and league tables, let’s just remember that the travel industry is a marketplace: the arena of commercial dealings.

 

What happens next?

The Department for Education’s response to the ruling said that a child’s school attendance was “non-negotiable”. So we’ll likely see an attempt to legislate the matter.

I said on air today that this was a landmark day for parents and a landmark day for the DfE, but that it was unlikely to make waves in the travel sector. And I stand by that.

Dragging the travel industry across hot coals just doesn’t fit. It’s too easy a response from the pedagogues. And this is a matter that needs an objective eye if a sensible solution is to be achieved.

Peak season pricing is going nowhere. Criminalising parents for affording their children a holiday is daft. Maybe there’ll be a compromise on discretionary leave once more. With hindsight, 10 days seems excessive, wouldn’t five be enough…?

The demise of BHS and how to achieve a digital PR overhaul

Last week's sad departure of high street brand British Home Stores (BHS) got us thinking here at Coconut HQ. With the familiar household name following the likes of HMV, Blockbusters, Clinton Cards, Woolworths and many others, there a continuing pattern for the more traditional high street brands.

 

The importance of digital communications for traditional retailers

While researching ‘recent campaigns from BHS’, just purely out of curiosity, it was fair to conclude that the British Horse Society has a stronger online presence than the former department store mogul. That speaks volumes.

The BHS blog is more of a pinboard of promotional messaging than insightful industry related opinion. Their Twitter profile more an outlet for reactive customer service than strategic hashtag campaigns or interesting content. Possibly most notable is that the BHS Facebook page (arguably the most powerful social platform in reaching their target demographic) has 119,600 likes. Admittedly an impressive number, but when you compare this to the 4 million plus likes of major competitor M&S, it begs the question - where did BHS go wrong?

 

Getting the right digital marketing mix

The major point that many brands such as BHS seem to ignore, is that the most valuable effect of a good social media strategy should be brand awareness - not just sales or lead gen. In the case of BHS, it was arguably the brand itself, that needed an overhaul. Having looked at some of BHS’s key online outlets, it seems their digital strategy helped to consolidate the reputation of the brand as a little ‘behind the times’. 

Key to digital PR success is understanding who your audience is and where they're hanging out online. Once you've sussed that, you need to appreciate that today’s audiences quickly become bored.

Preparing engaging, entertaining, topical and insightful content is key to maintaining an effective social media strategy.

1. Blogging

One way to achieve this is to integrate a well planned blog within the company website, using this as the cornerstone for social media content. Designed to drive traffic to the website, writing engaging blog content, keeping posts punchy, concise and tailored to your target audience, should be key to any brand's digital PR strategy.

2. Topical content and hashtags

Tapping into trending hashtags on twitter or piggybacking calendar events and occasions can be an effective way to give a ‘hook’ to more promotional content. Just be sure that any tweet is relevant and worthy of posting before jumping on the hashtag bandwagon. And most importantly, make sure you understand the history of a hashtag before using it.

3. Multimedia content

A picture paints a thousand words and a video is even better. Entertaining gifs and short video clips are a great way to cut through the ‘noise’ of social media. Having professional and short videos produced for social media can be a great way to overcome the ever-decreasing attention span of the modern audience. If you're handy with a selfie stick that's a good place to start depending on how 'corporate' you want the finished article to look.

 

If you’d like to have a chat about digital PR strategy for your business or for a digital communications consultation, let’s talk.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to lose friends and influence people

The power of influence is an incredible thing. One of the main end goals of PR, the ability to influence people takes time, skill and usually a carefully planned communications strategy.

Unless you’re Lewis Hamilton. In which case it’s pretty much instant.

A twitter rant about a casino, a questionable snapchat video and a selfie taken whilst driving a Harley Davidson (which resulted in a police investigation), made for an eventful mini holiday for the F1 racer last month ahead of the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne. Our guess is that Hamilton’s #PRfail after #PRfail probably wasn’t part of his publicist’s plan.

Your reputation in the hands of social media

The Hamilton social media debacle is an example of how social networking has made the flight or failure of a reputation dangerously instant. The ability to influence people is now immediate and posting anything on social media equates to digital publishing.

While celebrities can occasionally be a law unto themselves, it’s helpful to learn from their mistakes as well as their successes. After all, whether they realise it or not, they are individual brands. With 3.29 million Twitter followers it’s hard to imagine how Hamilton would forget the reach and impact of his social publishing efforts, but when your ego’s being stroked that much maybe the significance of your actions passes you by.

Devaluing social media devalues your business

Of course, there have been many “Hamilton-gate” equivalents in the business world, with instances of corporate social media gone wrong. But many of these are cases of mistakenly devaluing the role of social media and the skillset required to manage it within organisations, or worse, not considering how the audience will react and play with that social content.

Waitrose’s disastrous attempt at “I shop at Waitrose because…” on Twitter backfired with acute comedy timing for onlookers. It was less humourous for the brand. And the opportunity to demonstrate their humility in how they responded to the debacle was not taken.

Many senior management teams, company owners or directors are aware that they need to have a social media presence. But organisations with an inexperienced or minimal marketing function struggle to persuade them of its real value or the resource required to plan, execute and manage activity.

Who manages your social media?

Admittedly, social media can have many different functions including marketing, sales, customer service and crisis comms. But this is precisely why it should not be overlooked.

From a business perspective, social media messaging has the scope for instant and global reach regardless of how many followers you have. So it’s necessary to view social media as a major aspect of the marketing mix, integrating it into the ongoing communications strategy of any brand.

Without a set and integrated communications strategy, celebrities and brands alike are playing with fire in terms of their long term reputation. The case of Lewis Hamilton proves that the ability to influence people in this digital generation is rife and it is just as easy to lose friends as it is to win them.

Going global in an instant. Are you ready for that?

The crux of this is remembering that whatever you post on social media, it will reach someone. Preferably that someone will be your brand’s target audience and your post will slam home a reason to believe in your offering resulting in a click, a download, a sale, or whatever it is you’re measuring. But get it wrong, because you don’t understand your audience and the implications of what you’ve published, and you’ll definitely reach more people, it just might not be the message you wanted them to hear.

If you’d like to have a chat about social media strategy for your business or for a digital communications consultation, let’s talk.

 

 

 

 

Lunchtime reading: digital marketing

A couple of weeks ago I found myself in the rare and blissful situation of having three hours in a chair minus laptop while the fabulous team at Spirit Hair worked their magic.

We’re all busy and struggle to find time to read. Yet whether what we read is a tweet or one of the classics, we’ll take something away from it - often without realising. One thing often leads to another: a tweet may lead to a question or debate or article. Said classic may lead to metaphorical debate and more (or just the explanatory York Notes).

And while half the challenge in today’s world is about finding time to read, the other half is finding the content from which we can learn best or most (picking the interesting, explorative content from the search engine content).

To pick up on my point from my previous post about learning from our peers, today’s content isn’t just created by elders, seniors, long-timers. In all reality, while the theory books keep being published (and there are some worthy of the tree felling), there are few worthy enough of holding their weight for long - because the world is moving too fast.

Today’s reading fodder is created by anyone who realises they’re testing and learning something, and choosing to share it. I imagine it's like the open graph of the collegiate tutorial: one’s thought prompts another’s question, which ignites another’s counter and so on.

Back to the hairdresser’s chair: I tweeted that I was using that time to catch up on my reading and subsequently tweeted the best (and worst) of my pickings. This went down well, better than I had anticipated. I picked up followers, retweets and favourites. Hopefully the sites I was linking to picked up those and some traffic too (my pleasure).

While I found some gems of advice, tips, and test outcomes, I don’t feel like I have really retained an accessible reference to those gems (sorry twitter). So here’s the first of what will, with all the best of intentions, be a regular collation of my favourite reads of the preceding few days (I daren’t say ‘of the week’ just in case I have a #ManicMonday and miss a week here and there).

To be fair to what I read a couple of weeks ago and to reflect the real purpose and benefit of this annotation, I’m going to start with those articles.

Tweet #1

First up: any life left in Twitter events or are they old skool unless they’re spontaneous? via @comms2point0 ow.ly/QBJqW

What I liked about this article was threefold:

1, the author (in fact the whole blog) has a sense of humour

2, it identifies the faddish nature of social media - once something has been done successfully a few times, it’s old news and therefore no news

3, it recognises that this fickleness is short lived in our retro-passionate times and that once rested, a previously successful ‘thing’ can be reignited to great acclaim (until it becomes over used once more)

In conclusion, what it’s really saying is that some people did Twitter events well, others didn’t. The concept was burned by the latter rather than hailed for the former. Got an event coming up? Give it a try.

Tweet #2

No.2: a summarised and not-too-long list of actually useable #digitalmarketing resources ow.ly/QBLNU via @montfortio

My tweet genuinely sums up what I think about this article. I’ve read so many articles over the years that are ‘top this’ or ‘best of that’ only to read like a back scratching exercise with minimal value to the reader. Whereas this blossom of an article carries genuinely useful and usable resources. No, you can’t or won’t use all of them all of the time, but the list is long enough to digest and to pick from, and short enough to keep you interested and (most importantly) short of being overwhelmed.

An aside, the #digitalmarketing hashtag proved fruitful for engagement with industry peers globally.

Tweet #3

No.3: how to use social media to drive leads into your sales funnel ow.ly/QBMB0 via @kimgarst

Now I find some of Kim Garst’s headlines quite the hard sell, but her blog contains some juicy tips and anecdotes, so it’s worth looking beyond the title. This post is more tips than miracles for lead generation, but you’ll do more wrong ignoring them than skimming past the hype to her nuggets of experience.

Tweet #4

No.4 Improving CTAs via @SpinSucks. Good point re @zulily but it may work for them (more engaged base, more sales) ow.ly/QCfrz

This is a timely read after the previous article. They both focus, to some degree, on database growth and targeting audiences. Spin Sucks author, Gina Dietrich, pulls up Zulily for its aggressive sign-up requirements, but while relatively novel in retail, they’re commonplace on publishing and some travel sites. And typically that kind of aggression is rewarded with better engaged lists. Back to the article headline: however good you think your calls to action (CTA) are, you have to test them and tweak them regularly.

Tweet #5

I won’t share this tweet. It referenced an article that was a prime example of click-baiting. At the time of reading I heralded it as my #noshitsherlock moment of the day.

What did I take from it and what might you wish to take from this?

Not all content is created to engage and educate, some is just there to make some peoples’ numbers look good.

Obviously if you have counter considerations to my own thoughts on the above articles, please comment below and let’s discuss!