The key to your success

Big Data Analytics: Just a new business fashion? Maybe not!

In the past decade technology has increasingly became part of our daily lifestyle affecting in a positive or negative way, our day-to-day routine. However, looking at the bigger picture, more important has been the impact of technology on business in all its matters.

Since the inception of computers in business related functions, multi megabyte, gigabyte and lately terabyte storage systems have been employed to store key business information: sales data, growth rates, market trends, performance appraisals and so on (the list could probably fill several pages). In addition and more recently, the introduction of new technologies such as social media or smart contents brought in an almost completely new dimension of information. In fact, while the former traditional typology of data is defined as structured, the latter more recent, it’s commonly defined as unstructured.

Thus, given these two definitions, what is big data? In simple words it is the merge of structured and unstructured data and its consequent analysis aimed at providing a better understanding of business matters and helping the decision making process. However, some might reasonably question why the effort of this big analysis should matter to their businesses. The following examples will hopefully answer this question.

The well known management consulting firm McKinsey analysed a large retailer and estimated, through the use of big data analytics in full, an increase of operating margin of more than 60%. Also, a conjoint study of several private and public organizations estimated savings of $200 billion by the US Healthcare System due to the use of big data to drive efficiency and quality. If this is not enough, this last example will convince you of the usefulness of big data. On a more consumer and economic viewpoint, it has been proved that the use of big data to analyse the large amount of “personal-location data” is able to generate a $600 billion surplus receiving the right information at the right time according to your location.

As can be seen from the above examples, the applications of big data analytics result extremely broad and the benefits are brought to businesses of any kind as well as consumers.  Big data analytics will quickly become a key competitive advantage leverage. Most likely, the most responsive businesses to use big data analytics to drive key decisions will be the top players of the near future.

By Davide Cassanelli - Headhunter Market Reasearch and Analytics

The STAR Technique – An oldie but goodie to use in interviews

Walking into an interview can be a daunting task. Your hard work and achievements will be scrutinised and you’ll be expected to demonstrate your skills under pressure. Entering an interview with confidence goes a long way. Ultimately, this all comes down to the preparation.

Candidates often express their concerns to me regarding how to answer certain questions. Describing your input into a complex communications plan can be tricky. When I’m interviewing candidates I need to assess their level of capability and proven track record. You need to avoid confusing the interviewer with irrelevant details and still be concise and clear about the work you contributed to a project. 

The STAR technique has been around for a long time but its relevance still stands. “Star” is most useful when establishing ways of expressing your achievements during interviews. The table below outlines the formula. 

STAR Theory Answer
S = situation Briefly describe the situation or scene. I was working in a large communications agency as a Account Manager in the public affairs team
T = task Say what’s needed to be done to address the situation and what your role and responsibilities were. Our clients came to us as the government announced they were going to increase taxes and our client was going to be negatively affected. They commissioned us to campaign against the proposed tax increases.
A = action Say what you did and how you did it. Include your reasons if they are useful. I developed a stakeholder map of political targets and interest groups. I then engaged with these groups and secured meetings for my client with relevant MP’s and business leaders. Before the meetings I briefed my clients.
R = results Say what happened as a result of your action. As a result of the campaign my clients were able to convince the MP’s that the increased taxes would have a negative impact and therefore shouldn’t be introduced.

I also advice my candidates to record feedback they receive from their clients and managers. It’s reassuring for an interviewer to know your work is valued by others.

As a comms professional it’s imperative that you showcase your oral communicational skills. At the interview stage eloquence and confidence is key. To achieve this, prepare well. Use the STAR technique!

By Danielle Randall, Consultant – PR Division

What have we learnt from #SXSW14 Interactive?

With so much hype and excitement happening across the Atlantic in Austin, Texas where the annual South by South West Festival is taking place, I wanted to have a look at the hot topics and new trends that have emerged from the festival.

For anyone who isn’t familiar with #SXSW14, it is an annual music, film, interactive conference and festival where the brightest minds in emerging technology come together to explore cutting edge technology and digital creativity.  It is a labyrinth of networking events, keynote speeches, presentations and panel discussions as well as a host of late night parties and events for those not wanting to retire to their hotel room.

It is now in its 21st year and has been a catalyst for many of the technology advances we see today, it can be the starting point for a process/product that will change the way we communicate and live our daily lives (most notably Twitter in 2007 and the launch of Foursquare in 2009). This year amassed more than 30,000 delegates and over 1.2 million twitter conversations giving you an idea of the sheer size of the event.

So what are the key things that people are taking away from this year’s festival?

1.       Data Security and Privacy

An appearance from whistleblower Edward Snowden via video link and a talk by Julian Assange shows how important online privacy and data security is – a global concern, many will argue that we can no longer sit back and allow this huge breach of human rights to continue.  Eric Schmidt at Google also joined the debate and spoke at length on the dangers of the misuse of online data the day before. As Snowden said: “They are setting fire to the future of the internet. It’s the maker community who can create solutions to make us safe.”  The future is uncertain but one thing is clear, it will not be tolerated.

2.       Wearable Technologies

Last year was all about the emergence of 3D printing, this year was all about wearable technology.  From the Google Glasses to The Talking Shoe, it was about demonstrating the technological advances of the tech power players.  Although some concerns are circulating regarding privacy issues around the glasses, the tech world still seems to be embracing them.

3.       Technology and biology are emerging

Bioengineering was one of the most innovative ideas that came out of the festival, with Joi Ito saying we will need to know about this just as much as the internet in the near future.  This concept is fascinating and shows amazing ways that biology and technology can work together to benefit our existence – in a talk “Full of Tomorrow” Paul Kemp-Robertson and James Kirkham spoke about the “Human Body as the next Interface”, explaining technologies like functional contact lenses which augment your world with visual data through to epidermal electronics, which can read tiny changes in body temperature to give us signals about our health. Wow.

4.       3D Printing is getting bigger and bigger

From everyday objects, to food and even buildings – yes the 3D printer is advancing in a phenomenal way.  It emerged that the MIT media lab had developed a cable suspended robotic crane for 3D printing buildings.  3D printed food came in the form of the ChefJet printer which churned out colourful shapes of food and with Cadbury-owner Mondelez International pushing the boundaries and debuting a new 3D printing machine that makes Oreos. How businesses spring up to monetise amazing innovations such as these will be fascinating to watch.

It has certainly been an awe-inspiring few days and there have been some hot topics and interesting technological advances coming out of the festival once again.  I think this quote from the guys at iTech pretty much sums up the festival….As the Internet and mobile devices grew in importance, the SXSW Interactive Festival became its own entity, introducing some of the tech world’s largest forces over the past few years…This year, the trend continues as some of today’s biggest names in technology rub shoulders with the world’s best musicians and film directors. “

I am sure the unforgettable inspirational experiences that only SXSW can deliver will only continue to get bigger and bigger in the future. I for sure, will be working on my MD to secure us tickets for next year.

Until then….

By Amy Stewart, Senior Consultant – PR Division

Is your business ready to face a fast changing consumer?

Consumer and Shopper habits have changed. We hear the economic news and how this affects retailers, the dissections of spending and purchase behaviour and all know personally that we are evolving our habits to suit a faster paced and economically savvy way of life. What is becoming more apparent is that Consumer and Shopper behaviour will continue to evolve, at a greater pace. As a foundation for a customer centric strategy, is your business ready to face a fast changing consumer.

2014 is expected to be a year of strong growth for the UK economy, poised to grow faster than other European economics and this positivity is reflected in a more optimistic outlook from UK Shoppers (Michael Freedman, IGD). This all should spell good news for UK retailers and brands; more people willing to part ways with their money. However, grocery retailers are still reporting a difficult trading climate and other retailers and brands must still be feeling the pinch too.

What is causing this disconnect? I would argue two points:

  1. A less predictable shopper
  2. An incomplete picture of the consumer

The most disruptive change purchasing behaviour has been the Internet and the plethora of associate media that now keeps the world informed. Information is instant. Opinion is conveyed across social and political borders and an individual’s influence has a wider reach than ever before. As a society, we are becoming accustomed to things happening more quickly. An aspect of this wealth of information affects our knowledge about brands – being able to compare prices, find a bargain, read about other people’s experiences and make a decision on how quickly we can get our hands on something, all weave together during the shopper journey. Also, the rise in popularity of online shopping, combined with the rise in apps and tablets mean more decisions are being made away from store and away from traditional areas of influence.

Shopping habits, driven by an evolution in both financial and ethical thinking has become more focussed around value (James Russo, Nielsen). Does this product represent value to me and my beliefs? Consumers are concerned with both quality and price of products and trust is a key factor in this decision. When this trust is broken or compromised, consumers are more willing to try new products or brands to find a better alternative – and are often spoilt for choice. This has lead to some suggesting that brand loyalty, in its traditional form, has died.

A recent article, discussing the Twilight of Brands (James Surowiecki) concludes that brands are now only as good as their last product. The innovation and quality of new products counts more than brand heritage and product success is driven by giving the consumer a better product to suit their lifestyle and values and one that delivers tangible value.

For brands that are established and have relied upon shared values and past performance to create loyal customers, this should be a cause for concern. A balance in communicating a consistent brand message (at every level) and giving the consumer new innovations that appeal so much that they will have to buy it is difficult to achieve.

Instead, establishing a dialogue with customers, creating a story and an experience that they can feel a part of is a strategy that creates a loyal following and emphasises the values of the brand. There is also a wider expectation to be able to have dialogue with brands in a way that has not previously existed, due to our hyper-connected lives – their voice is important and they expect to be listened to. As such, engaging with them in the correct way and using the correct forum is important for establishing the dialogue that you want to have with your target customer, as moving in conflict with these customer expectations can quickly alienate a brand and product and dissolve the trust that has been created.

How can a brand decide on the best way to engage with their target customer? The first step (and most important) is the research you conduct. This allows you to establish a base line of understanding about your consumer and subsequently pick up on the smaller, but not inconsequential, changes in perception and behaviour attitudes towards your brands and products.  In turn this enables brands to react quickly and in the right way, and to direct thinking and communications with the audience in the right manner. Just as important as the message you want to send, is to construct the mechanisms to enable an adaptive strategy that can mould to a dynamic consumer environment.

This might seem an obvious statement – I know that many businesses spend a lot of money on research and uncovering insight. Why am I taking the time to reiterate it? I speak to a lot of Research and Insight, Strategy and Category Management professionals who share a frustration in the lack of buy in to customer understanding being central to all of the key commercial decisions of a business.

A lot of businesses claim to be customer centric, but does yours have the framework and desire to truly utilise the knowledge you gain about consumers effectively? How do you make best use of all the data sources that you purchase and are all the stakeholders involved in key customer making decisions familiar with the data and research at the disposal?  In a fast evolving commercial environment the insight and understanding of the consumer must be clear enough across the business so that it can be central to the commercial strategy, thus allowing sales, marketing and digital teams to act in harmony to achieve a clear, unified and timely message.

Having the right balance of understanding the consumer you are targeting and being able to deliver an effective strategy in their area of responsibility is a talent driver for businesses going forward. All functions need to have an affinity for insight and the relevance to their deliverables, as a bottom up influence. If this understanding is widely conveyed across the business and understood, the message being communicated will be clear, using the right platforms and the value of engaging with your brand will be clearly demonstrated.

In this age of austerity and savvy shopping habits the right thinking in the right place has never been more key for businesses to outperform their competition and to effectively engage with consumers. Hiring decisions to reflect this fundamental need and to increase the affinity for insight across the business have never been more important.

With the emergence of big data, the balance of power lies with the well informed consumer and shopper – they will research and plan their purchases and squeeze value from the brands that they decide to engage with. To truly compete in this hyper-informed market, brands and retailers have to do the right research to understand the consumer and appeal to their individual values and needs and importantly, construct an effective strategy around this. Are you confident you know about the consumers with which you are dealing?

You can be sure we are doing our research on you…

By Nick Stratton, Managing Consultant - Market Research, Shopper & Branding Insights and Marketing

Transforming PR through diversity

Transforming PR through diversity:  Hanson Search and Hanover launches new PR and Communications programme “UpSkill”

Hanover Communications and Hanson Search have launched “UpSkill” with the independent charity UpRising. The programme helps ambitious young adults break into the communications industry. It is a tailor-made programme designed to support aspiring individuals interested in a career in PR and/or Public Affairs and will equip them with essential skills to improve their employment prospects in the sector, specifically creating a strong CV, writing skills, interview techniques and how to network.

Alice Weightman  founder and MD of Hanson Search “If there is one business sector that should reflect Britain’s society, then the communications industry is surely it and as it stands it doesn’t”. Our vision is that we work in an industry that doesn’t have to try and find diversity, it just comes naturally. We hope this programme will become an important part of championing the need for a long term cultural change across sectors.”

The programme will include four interactive workshops delivered by Hanover and Hanson Search. Hanson Search hosted the official launch party at their offices on Thursday 27th February 2014.

“UpSkill” – supported by the industry body the PRCA – also aims to attract ambitious individuals to PR and Public Affairs who are currently under-represented within the sector. On completion of the programme in the summer the PRCA will offer the “UpSkill” students free membership, access to online training and exclusive networking events. Together with Hanover Communications and Hanson Search they will work with the “UpSkill graduates” to secure internships or apprenticeships in a communications agency.

Charles Lewington, founder and MD of Hanover Communications: “The world of corporate PR and public affairs consultancy is grey, graduate and too middle class. UpRising is an inspirational organisation dedicated to opening doors for talented and passionate young campaigners who might not otherwise make it into a PR job or even onto an internship interview shortlist.  Hanover and Hanson Search consultants will be working with UpRising to provide job application training, mock interview support as well as the networking and written skills they need but without diluting our commitment to exacting quality standards in a highly competitive industry.”

About UpRising
UpRising is a UK-wide youth leadership development organisation. Their mission is to open pathways to power and opportunities for a diverse range of talented young people. They equip them with the knowledge, networks, skills, and confidence to reach their potential and transform their communities for the better.

www.uprising.org.uk

About Hanover
Hanover is an independent consulting firm that specialises in advising global brands, businesses and organisations on reputation, communications and public affairs. Hanover create and deliver integrated programmes that are designed to ensure organisations bridge the gap between where they are and where they want to be.

www.hanovercomms.com

If you would like to get involved please do contact Charlotte Church: 0207 632 8804 charlottec@hansonsearch.com

What are the scales saying about your work life balance?

“I really want to move to a company that offers work life balance and flexibility …..”

If I had a penny for every time I heard this I would have retired a long time ago, but with the economic climate in fluctuation it wasn’t a safe business model, so back to consulting I go.

This however still leaves me with dilemma of finding companies that offer this work-life balance option. While I discuss this with Managing Directors, CEO’s and HR Partners we can talk about core hours and flexi time, we can talk about extra holiday incentives, and training courses for personal development and well being, we can talk about part time roles but in actual fact, is it all down to the companies to change or does the responsibility always lie with the people looking for this work life balance?

Let’s define it.  Wikipedia says “Work Life balance is a concept including proper prioritizing between “work” (career and ambition) and “lifestyle” (health, pleasure, leisure, family and spiritual development/meditation.

Potentially if we take this as a definition it suggests that prioritising is the key to getting balance. So with this is mind, while an employer takes some responsibility for creating a positive working atmosphere, a big part of getting work life balance is down to the individual.

To be fair you could have made that gym class yesterday evening, and you probably could have got home to read that bed time story to the little one if you were more strict with your time, and you probably could have cooked a Jamie Oliver 30 minute meal rather than a curry take away if you had planned and bought the ingredients earlier.

So really one way of trying to get this work-life balance can simply come down to time management. This is always a huge challenge, especially when you have international clients, you can find yourself working around the clock. So how do you find more time? Well there are 24 hours in a day so you can’t add any more hours.

Try and make a list of what you want to achieve that week- it could be walking the dog after dinner, getting yourself to that good old Bikram Yoga class, it could be dropping the kids off to school twice in a week. Whatever it is, aim to achieve it, plan ahead and see how you get on. 

I am not suggesting that you will definitely get that utopia that you were looking for, and of course companies need to take responsibility in creating a flexible working culture, but just try and change one thing in your week next week and see if you feel any better for it! 

By Amy Hayer, Principal Consultant – PR Division

Light at the end of the tunnel

As the fragile economy starts to show signs of strengthening, the outlook for PRs in 2014 is largely one of opportunity. As PR budgets grow and new business opportunities increase; agencies, corporates and start-ups are clearly growing in confidence and the industry is starting to see light at the end of a very long tunnel.

Couple that with the fact that there are now far more opportunities to demonstrate the business value of PR, resulting in the influence of communications expanding at Boardroom level, we can now start to look forward, instead of lamenting the past.

So, as we start our upward climb, it’s time to take stock of the current PR landscape and the trends that are aiding the green shoots of recovery. Here’s a handful to get us started…

Content and Curation is key. Brands that still see themselves as providers of information, rather than curators or qualifiers, are doomed to fail in this new communications landscape. As Joe Pulizzi stated in his article on the subject, a company’s job is ‘like that of a museum curator, it is to unearth the best content on the planet in your niche, so that your museum doesn’t close down for a lack of visitors.

Brands are waking up and realising that an audience-centric mindset is what will power their communications efforts, so expect much more brand journalism in the year to come. Companies also need to accept that fans now have the ability to create their own content about their brand. It’s therefore important for them to work with their superfans, providing them with the tools to promote the brand, in a way that reflects positively on the company as a whole. It’s all about trust and giving up a little bit of control.

Measurement continues to be a hot topic within the industry as clients continue to demand return on investment on their PR spend. As a result, analytics are improving to the point where PRs can make fairly good and accurate estimates of ROI. Companies and brands that have silos between different departments, different agencies, and different functions will face ever stiffer challenges from competitors who are smarter with their data and the insights they get from it.

The Internet of Things gets more real. 2013 was a showcase year for the Internet of Things. We saw more evidence of the crossover of digital into real life with developments such as Google Glass to 3D printing. Another example of this is Google’s announcement last month of its acquisition of Nest Labs – one of the first major success stories of the Internet of Things era. 2014 and 2015 will continue to see further adoption of the Internet of Things as accessibility increases and costs decrease. For businesses, this means getting more creative and having tools that enable greater creativity in what you can produce.

And finally…the talent race will be tougher than ever. Creative skills and analytical skills, due to the trends above, will be in greater demand than ever, with a talent pool that’s smaller than ever. The war for talent was a term coined by Steven Hankin of McKinsey & Company in 1997 and it is still as prevalent today as it was pre-recession. If not more so. Employers are all too aware that as the market improves, they are at risk of losing their strongest people. Therefore the focus of 2014 and beyond will be on developing, recognizing, rewarding and retaining talent.

By Katie Simpson, Senior Consultant – PR Division

Real-Time Brand Advertising…what works?

The growth of social media has made it easier for Brands to appeal to consumers en masse. With the popular growth and increased usage of the likes of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pintrest, YouTube have made this possible.

Brands can now instantly judge the reaction of an audience in response to a new ad, new product, news story etc.

At events such as The Super Bowl, The Grammys, Fashion Week, The Olympics or the upcoming Academy awards Brands can now utilise this channel and reach millions of consumers, and influence consumers who they may not reach on a regular basis or fall within their target market/segment.

  1. These events are highly televised and popularised events which reach millions of viewers and odds are a high percentage of these will not only be watching, but also keeping an eye on social media simultaneously.
  2. If you utilise this mass channel, put up the right content, promote in the right way, create the most loved ad this can make a Brands name spread or “liked” or “shared” like wild fire globally. In essence create a phenomenon.
  3. These are then highly reported on the next day in newspapers, further social media posts, radio stations and blogs (such as this!)

Sunday’s Super Bowl XLVIII had nearly 50 commercials, watched by up to 110 million viewers worldwide. Budweiser’s advert #bestbuds according to Neil Young writing for The Drum were the true winners of the Super Bowl. Creating more buzz than the game itself. In a mere 24 hours the “Puppy Love” advert has almost reached 40,000,000 views on YouTube .

If you watched The Grammy’s or read any of the BEST or WORST dressed lists in magazines or newspapers the following day you will have almost certainly seen a picture of Pharrell’s outfit which was somewhat dominated by an extraordinarily large hat – almost identical to the American fast food chain Arby’s logo. The Arby’s official site instantly utilised this and tweeted “Hey @Pharrell, can we have our hat back? #GRAMMYs,” the Arby’s official site tweeted. Not only was this shared and quoted, but other brand such as Hyundai and Pepsi congratulated Arby’s in their success. Later on in the evening – so did Pharrell taking it all in his stride and responding “Y’all tryna start a roast beef?”

The answer to all those brands in 2014 who wish to succeed or utilise social media in the best way possible is to either be funny and rely on a celebrity fashion faux pas or use the love between a small puppy and a pony and pull on the world’s heart strings!

By Ashley Tomlinson, Consultant – Branding, Innovation & Strategy

Staying Power!

How many times have you found yourself saying “I’m going to have a fresh start on Monday”? For some of us this is a common weekly or, in some cases, daily mantra.

This generally refers to starting afresh with a new diet plan or restarting a fitness program that we abruptly stopped due to work getting in the way, or our social life taking its toll. We even blame a hectic family life for not continuing with a ‘diet’ or workout routine BUT please do not take it out on the kids!

So why do we fall off the healthy lifestyle wagon so easily and find ourselves living the life of Bill Murray in Groundhog Day? Normally it’s because the diet or exercise schedule is not designed to complement our regular work/life routine. This makes it difficult to sustain for any prolonged period of time, ultimately ending in those dreaded words “I’m going to have a fresh start on Monday.”

The easiest way to avoid this trap is to make simple lifestyle changes one at a time. By lifestyle changes I mean things that we can introduce into our daily routine to enhance our well-being, without having to take to a retreat and cut ourselves off from civilisation.

This could be simply taking the stairs at work instead of the elevator, eating less processed foods, cutting out fizzy drinks, reducing alcohol intake or getting to bed earlier. One change at a time, you are taking a step in the right direction on the path to a better you.

Now you might be thinking what does this have to do with PR? Well as you are all aware we all have busy jobs that are fully loaded with long hours, 101 jobs and stress and sometimes it is even hard to come up for a breath of fresh air till eventually we break and find ourselves brewing another cup of coffee. Well start taking that first step to a better you and your find it will have a positive knock on effect with your work.

Researchers at the University of Bristol found with a study of 200 people that employees who enjoyed a workout before work or at lunch were better equipped to handle whatever the day threw at them. Sounds good?  72% improved time management, 79% said sharper mental and interpersonal performance and 74% said they managed their workload better and if all of that doesn’t swing it for you it also showed that people’s general moods improved…… and no one wants to work alongside an ill-tempered, irritable colleague.

By Luke Smolinski, Head Hunter – PR Division

Have you got your Social Media Strategy sorted?

Image courtesy of @Rem0te

From the once rapid global success and now decline of Facebook use among teens to Twitter’s IPO, we all know that one thing is for sure in social media…… very few trends stick around for long. With this in mind, PR pros and marketeers need to be one step ahead of the game at all times.

Visualise it

According to market research done by industry experts there are some clear thoughts that need to be kept in mind when looking to the near future. Looking at Facebook for example, posts that contain pictures get 53% more likes, 104% more comments and 84% more click-throughs than text-based posts. With this in mind, it is going to become increasing important to produce content in visual form, whether that is images with a text overlay or pretty quote graphics. Using out of the box thinking to turn written content into visual content to make it more shareable on social media.

Build the connection

Everyone knows that people love to buy, but they hate to be sold to and this is a fundamental point in companies selling strategies. Companies that show good connection to their target audience through discount and a sense of insight and transparency always seem to come out on top. A knock on effect of this is that a lot currently rides on the shoulders of social media marketers and PR pros. They have to be on top of the brand voice and any current company promotions or campaigns. This is also on the rise as the world is taken over by digital social media.

Satisfy

Some say that, now LinkedIn can be connected to both Facebook and Twitter, it will become a premium destination for PR news and that those taking part in that ecosystem are on the right road to future success. Moreover, simple messages and simple questions/discussion point aren’t enough anymore, customers and target audiences want to be connected with on a deeper, more intelligent level, such as videos, quality images or live polls. There is also more of an emphasis on looking after the fans/customers you have rather than the ones you want because if your message is always about the fan/customers you want to reach you will bore the ones you already have (see earlier blog on 2014 predictions). Keep the ones you have happy and they will do the reaching out for you, free of charge!

This year we have already seen the bar raised in the type of content on social media, for example the number of tweets containing images and I think it is safe to say that the bar will be pushed progressively higher during 2014 with content across all social media channels becoming more and more interactive. The advice would be, if you haven’t already started thinking and implementing ways to make your content more interactive, get your skates on……it needs to be a focus!

By Oliver Priestman, Head Hunter – PR Division