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I went to a really interesting CIM workshop at the Confex show today. I was tweeting through the event and surprised that there wasn’t a better twitter presence for the event given the type of people that would be attending if I’m honest.

But…back to the session which as I say was excellent. Speaker for CIM was Thomas Brown who was a confident and fluent presenter. I was sat fairly far back and couldn’t really see him or gauge his body language but I felt very comfortable with his approach and understood all the points he was making, which isn’t always easy in a noisy show floor exhibition seminar like that.

He started by commenting that customers’ attitudes towards value have shifted, and that this will have a long term impact on our approaches to marketing. He didn’t spend time discussing the impacts of the recession as such, but did say that a recent CIM marketing trend survey shows that the majority of large companies surveyed are starting to increase marcomms spend in 2010, showing that there’s a shift from the doom of last year.

His aim was to share some ways that marketing should be shifting to respond to the new environment we are in.

The first was to integrate customer experience. In other words, to put customers at the centre of what we do, and ensure that their experience of a brand is comprehensive, so every contact point that a person has with a company is consistent with that company’s ethos/vision/strategy/whatever you want to call it.

For this to happen, the whole organization has to unite behind the strategy. He said – very rightly – that marketing is just one strand of this conversation, and they can facilitate but shouldn’t dominate. This has to be achieved in conversation with all parts of the business, to figure out how do you want to be perceived and how does that play out in these different areas (from finance to customer services to marketing). You need to think about your customer journeys, where are the touch points and – most importantly – what is their need?

The really strong take away here was that consistent integrated experiences create tangible value: think about starbucks for example where maintaining this consistent brand experience has been shown to have made a big difference to the bottom line.

His next theme was the need to revisit value propositions: businesses must articulate real understanding of customer needs. He suggested this doesn’t need to be achieved through expensive research, but rather by engaging with key customers, chatting informally about what their top needs/issues are, and then correlating that with internal knowledge across the business. Again this isn’t just a marketing function but across the whole organization.
Theme no. 3 was using alliances/partnerships: what opportunities are there in collaboration? For example what are others in your business chain doing to engage with customers? How could you benefit from working with them? How would customers feel (could they benefit too?). It is definitely worth considering whether your business could benefit from brand association with another organisation.

His final theme was on marketing capability: what should marketers be doing? In another CIM survey, marketers commented that skill-sets are becoming more cross-functional, e.g. engagement in business strategy and a better understanding of finance. This means it’s crucial to be savvy about how the business operates outside of marketing.

His points don’t just apply to marketing but PR and all comms professionals. We all have a role to play in business strategy and brand/customer experience. I’ll certainly be looking up the free reports he referred to on the CIM website.

CIPR are running a series of ‘Meet the Editor’ sessions over 2008. This one took place on May 19.

Carol Lewis gave a brief yet informative talk on her role as Editor of Career, The Times and Times Online. These sessions have been designed as an opportunity to brief PRs on how to work better with the press, and it was certainly very well attended and I hope these sessions extend beyond the CIPR’s anniversary celebrations.

Carol’s overview was straightforward and to the point: know who/what you’re pitching to. Read it, know what they will be interested in. Don’t send them something they won’t want, or something they’ve just written about already.

Nothing new there of course, but there were some interesting insights. One thing for example is that the Times and Times Online are now fully integrated. This is the second time I’ve heard of the broadsheets doing this in recent months (the first time being with the Telegraph). Interesting, since it suggests that there’s more than one opportunity to get a story heard, and suggests that a story may get a better chance to be expanded as an online story as well as getting into print. The Careers section is not the only example of a paper that also has some content exclusively online, which again widens opportunities when pitching.

Another interesting point: while the print paper has a majority UK-focus, stories with a wider EU/international appeal do have a better chance of getting used online, where the audience is more like 1/3 UK, 1/3 EU and 1/3 ROW.

Third very useful point. It’s not something as a single-handed PR office I get much of an opportunity to do anyway, but it’s definitely worth bearing in mind: ringing to meet over coffee? good. Meeting for lunch? bad. No time, not interested. I’d be interested in knowing whether this stands true for the smaller B2B and niche media as well as the mainstream. I’m guessing yes: particularly as multitasking print and online and the 24hr news and blogging cycle are now the norm.

Overall it was a useful session, and I’m looking forward to hearing about the next one.

I’ve been searching online but have been unable to find a link to the new BT display adverts for home broadband. If you haven’t seen them, essentially they are several very neatly produced ‘happy homes’ – a house with a smile built in to its architecture, either through a strategically positioned fence, or hedge etc etc. What I like is the fact that the main picture is not trying to be subtle at all, but it has built in some much more subtle touches throughout the piece – so a smiley face in the flowers, or in the sky, or a heart-shaped smoke plume coming from the chimney.

What I also find interesting is the fact that there is a cat pictured in each ad. Now this may just be a coincidence and perhaps the designer on the job is just very fond of cats, but I also found myself wondering as I sat gazing at these ads on the tube over the weekend whether BT has any research on what consumers consider to be ‘things that make mine a happy home’. Do cats feature highly on this list? Maybe they don’t and this is all far too elaborate, but it did get me thinking about research and persuasion again.

On this topic, I was commissioned last week to re-write some copy for a direct mail campaign, to make it a little more ‘persuasive’. Not strictly being a copywriter by trade, I fell back on some of the principles of persuasion laid out in Goldstein and Cialdini’s ‘Yes’ book: absolutely worth a read if you are ever trying to write ad or marketing copy. It sets out examples of where persuasion has worked, based on a number of psychological and real life experiences. I’m fully intending on reading it a second time and highlighting some of the best tips on this blog – but in the meantime I can strongly recommend buying a copy.

I’d fully intended to spend some time on CPD this weekend. Unfortunately I was scuppered by a perfect sunny bank holiday. Somehow I just couldn’t bring myself to spend it indoors…

You may have come across my previous blog when I initially started doing my dissertation for a CIPR diploma in 2007. Having finished in September last year, I’ve since been a little quiet, and have not been doing a great job of managing my professional development. So with the arrival of a rather snowy April, I’m setting out my thoughts on PR in publishing, and hoping to pen some ideas for professional development on the way. All comments as ever are very welcome.