Pitch-ing About Stuff

Over the past 12 years in advertising and PR, it’s fair to say i’ve been in my fair share of client meetings. Big, small (and most recently without face-to-face interaction) I’ve seen and sat in all types. 

And the king of client meetings is undoubtedly the pitch. Like a first date – this is the make or break of whether you’ve got a dud catch-up that goes nowhere, or the blossoming of a beautiful relationship. 

The nature of these meetings is one of secrecy. Everyone is keeping their cards close to their chest, no one wants to give away too much to a stranger. 

Well, in Mutant’s spirit of transparency – I’m here to lift the agency veil on some of the most common questions that clients might have during the process, and what the agency is thinking. 

The agency has asked me for my budget before they start working on the pitch – but if i give it to them, then won’t they just use it all?

Well, that’s kind of the point of a budget.  

I mean, I get it – the idea is that if you don’t tell the agency a budget, then you get a true sense of what the work is worth. Not just something that matches your number.

Take it from me – sharing the budget you’re willing to spend up front is the single best way you can get to a great solution in a good timeframe. It gives a guardrail for the agency to operate within, and it means the ideas presented are actually viable. Not ridiculous stuff that could never actually be made. 

If you want to save some money from your marketing budget, then take that discount into account before you give the agency the budget. Better yet, give a ballpark range of budget. It gives you the flexibility to not commit to the exact dollar amounts, and a good agency will see this as a way of showing how their core ideas can extend, if the client appetite is there. 

OK so I’m in the pitch process. And a load of agencies are lined up to present to me. Aside from answering the brief, how should I judge the agency?

Think of the pitch process like interviewing a new employee. Sure, a slick presentation is an indicator in pride of work and a great ability to communicate ideas and strategies. 

Every agency should be able to do their pitch presentation well, as a base level of competence.

But like that unqualified friend you know somehow got that dream job against all logic – agencies will also talk about themselves and project themselves in a favourable light. Of course they will. They want your business. They’re not going to say anything bad. 

So just like vetting that prospective employee, the best way to judge if they’re suitable for the future is to look at their past. Review what results they’ve done in the past (case studies with hard objective metrics), get referrals from other clients that they have worked with, and do your research on their  previous creative ideas  to get a flavour of their ambition. 

How can I know the team working on my brand? 

I’ve been in countless pitches in previous agencies where the senior people will be in there just for the meeting itself. They’re experienced, they’ve been in a load of pitches, so they’re gonna impress you with their delivery. I’ve had Creative Directors fly in for just the meeting to impress the client. 

My only advice is to ask this one question – ‘who will actually work day-to-day on my account’. If there is a team member that isn’t in the room, why aren’t they there? And if someone is in the meeting, whilst not being on the team, why are they there? You’ll quickly discover whether the agency is just trying to impress you in the room, or looking to set up an authentic relationship up front. 

The agency’s initial ideas – they’re not quite right

This is one of the most common issues agencies have to combat in the first meeting. 

The simple answer is of course the ideas aren’t 100% right. The agency is operating off a written brief, google searches and scanning your website. They’ve got no clue on your internal discussions, and the brand’s history among other things.

Most of the great ongoing client relationships I’ve had in my career were won on pitch ideas that never got made. 

The execution of an idea can be changed easily, but the rationale, and the decisions behind it are what you want to judge the agency on. 

Sh*t – the quote is expensive! Can they bring the cost down?

Short answer – yes. But there’s only three realistic ways they can do it:

  • Reduce the seniority of staff on the account – having less senior team members means the head hour rate comes down.
  • Reduce it and ‘take a hit’ – because they want to work with you. 
  • Change the deliverables – reducing some, increasing others, to fit within your budget. 

If your agency does reduce the cost for the first reason, it should raise a red flag. Sure, your budget is now met – but your work is going to suffer eventually. Any agency can throw interns at a problem to reduce the cost of head hours. The good agencies will stick to their guns and give you the right resource for the job. 

The second reason? Well, this is even worse. If an agency can reduce it without giving you a credible explanation – then it means that they were either overcharging or they are willing to commit business suicide for the sake  of getting a client. Both are not great – because every cost they give in the future will create doubt. 

The best way to get to your budget is obviously option three. It figures out a middle ground of deliverables that get the maximum use out of your budget, whilst not killing the agency. Over time, once the agency shows it’s worth, the budget usually opens up to drive even more results. 

If the agency manages to get the budget down, then I would encourage you to ask them how they did it – and judge accordingly.  

What else should I know?

The one thing to know about pitches is that for the agency, it is a time of complete and utter stress. It is effectively an unpaid project, that is piled onto existing employees workloads,  which may go nowhere. 

I’ve had pitches in previous agencies that have totalled over $300,000 in internal fees. I’ve also had pitches where we worked for months, only to be asked to send the document over a procurement platform and be informed that we didn’t win via automated message. No context, no chance to present, nothing. Months of effort and stress down the drain via a single sentence in an automated email. 

It’s part of the game, but just know that if something isn’t perfect, or you’re not going to proceed with a certain agency, then it’s good to be a little understanding. Because behind that shiny document lies a lot of late nights, stress, and effort, with the faint glimmer of hope of a new client relationship.  

Appreciate our honesty? Chat with us at [email protected]

A Dummy’s Guide To Working With An Agency

When it comes to agencies, you don’t really associate them with Greek philosophers.

But if we’re going to ask the question that you came here for, then we’re going to go back a couple of millennia. To Plato’s Republic to be specific. He said:

“Well then, how will our state supply these needs? It will need a farmer, a builder, and a weaver, and also, I think, a shoemaker and one or two others to provide for our bodily needs. So that the minimum state would consist of four or five men….”

It’s a bit of a weird way of saying it, but what our mate Plato states here is the basic idea of division of labour. That economies work best when people do what they are good at, rather than trying to do everything. 

So, when do you need an agency? 

Well, as the farmer or weaver specialise in farming or weaving, the modern-day agency is a specialist in communications – whether it’s PR, creative, design, social, or whatever. If you can’t feasibly do something internally, for whatever reason, then it’s time to look at hiring an agency. 

We know that this decision can be down to a few factors, so to make it easy, think about the SCOPE of what you’re wanting to do.

STANDARD: Could I do this job internally, and ensure it is of high quality?

The first and easiest question to ask yourself is whether you can actually do this job to the standard you need. Anyone can paint a picture, but to create a work of art you need a capable artist. 

COST: If I could do this in-house, will it actually save me money?

This is biggest hurdle to hiring an agency. Fun fact: every employee costs money to a business (including you) so when it comes to doing a project or ongoing work, whether it’s an external agency bill, or an internal salary bill, your company will be paying for the work.

Assuming that you have the same capability internally as the agency, and you’re weighing it up just on cost, there’s a simple test you can do. Quantify your hours, figure out the real cost of your salary (and the opportunity cost of you not working on other things), and compare that to what the agency has quoted you. 

EXTERNAL OPINION:

Everyone thinks their baby is the cutest, but as we know, it’s not always the case. Unlike a biased mother, when it comes to brand communications, you don’t want someone from inside the business to be the judge of how the brand is perceived externally. Having someone external work on your business is a great reality check and a good agency will be a great bullsh*t detector, taking the position of your audience when it comes to ideas and communication. 

PRODUCTION: 

This one is easy. Agencies are employed to not only come up with concepts, but actually execute them. Sometimes they can do this internally ( stuff like design, writing, etc), and sometimes (like in TV, photography, experiential) they employ production partners to do the job. This is a key element of an agency’s value. 

They do all the sourcing, vetting, quality control, third party payments, and negotiations – an enormous, time-consuming task. As the client, all you have to do is agree to the overall timeline and the cost, and the agency should take care of the everyday minutia. 

END RESULT:

One of the great advantages of employing an agency to do the job is that they are accountable. Because you’ve paid for the work and agreed to a scope, you should expect results. Being super clear on what you expect before the work starts is imperative, and will ensure you can see the real value of the agency and decide whether you want to use them again.

If after this process you’ve come to the decision that you need an agency, well, then you need to find a good one. Easier said than done, but lucky for you, we know a good one you might want to try. Talk to us at [email protected]

Copy That: How to Protect Your Agency from Ideas Theft

So, you were invited to pitch for some business. You spent hours – weeks, or months – coming up with a creative direction, a strategy, and an execution plan that you then shared with the potential client in a formal environment. Your pitch was well-received. You nailed it. You leave the meeting, go and have a drink and hope all your hard work pays off.

And it does! Only, not for you. Instead, you discover, the client loved your ideas – but not your (reasonable and justifiable) retainer. So they took your plans and your creative concept and passed it along to a smaller, cheaper agency to execute your vision under the guise of “going in a different direction” or some other excuse. But you soon see your vision – your exact vision– come to life, and you just about burst a blood vessel over the unethical practices of some businesses. How dare they be so bold as to steal your creativity while another agency reaps all the glory? Maybe they even win awards for it. You bitch and moan with your team, but you grit your teeth when it comes to actually doing anything about it. What can you do, really? What’s done is done, right?

Yes, idea theft happens – we all know this. In fact, almost half of all PR agencies have experienced it, according to a new report by PRCA.

We’ve experienced variations of this at Mutant over the years. Some have been a shock, while others have given off a bad smell from the outset. We’ve even had a potential client demand several time consuming rounds of comprehensive proposals, only to take it all in-house while simultaneously trying to poach our staff to run the show.  Thankfully, we’ve got a loyal team and a strong culture, and this was flagged by our people pretty quickly.

To be fair to clients, some crossovers may have been unintentional. Creative PR strategies are often closely tied to the clients’ business goals – and several agencies may have pitched ideas that are similar. But while I try to believe all clients have the best intentions, sometimes things are just way too coincidental.

So, instead of sitting there clenching your fists, I believe we all need to do more to combat these poor practices and hold clients accountable for their lack of ethics and blatant theft. It’s not easy, but it can be done.

Call them out

This is probably less popular solution here in Asia where saving face is a big deal, and confrontation can be difficult. But if there are no consequences for these actions, then the practice will never stop and the industry won’t change. Keep things civil, but know you’re well within your rights to at least ask what the hell happened and why they are running with your exact idea with another agency. At the very least, you might get an apology and stop them from doing it again – at most, you might end up winning additional work with the client in the future (if you still want to work with them).

Protect yourself

So many clients ask the agency to sign an NDA ahead of sharing business information with you, so why can’t we do the same? Unfortunately, we have seen some unethical pitch demands and briefs that specify how all ideas submitted at the proposal stage will remain the property of the client, with no legal recourse given to agencies.

But our creative ideas are intellectual property. We know our value and that our top quality services cost money. Our ideas and approaches to briefs are not magicked out of thin air, and it’s fair to expect the parties you are sharing them with to acknowledge this if they want to hear them. We all need to stop underselling ourselves and placing a higher value on the great results we know we will achieve.

Qualify, qualify, qualify

Receiving a clear, concise brief with an indication of how agencies will be evaluated as well as a shortlist of other players we are up against is a breath of fresh air. Agencies give as much as we get – and this helps us to focus on showcasing our approach and share an idea alongside several case studies with proven results. If required, agencies are always happy to work closely with clients to help shape their briefs to truly nail their business objectives.

What doesn’t pass the sniff test is a topline brief with no clear indications of budget, timelines or evaluation metrics.

Pay for pitches

Sounds like a dream, but it makes sense when a client needs to evaluate actual work by an agency before a longer term commitment. We have experienced this firsthand when a client handed us a clear content brief and compensated us for the articles we wrote. Two weeks later, we realised it was a test they conducted amongst two agencies – and we were handed over the other half of the scope as they were satisfied with the results. It was a smart move by a client who’s still with us four years later.

While getting paid for pitches will never be commonplace, it does help a client who need a stronger justification for a content or integrated marketing retainer investment. Plus, it’s just good manners, honestly.

Industry regulators

The PRCA have created the Ideas Bank as an option for agencies to store their creative ideas, intended to serve as an independent body that can help mediate suspected IP infringement. This is a great start as transparency is key – and we need to work together as an industry to move ahead.

The bottom line is: if something smells fishy, it’s probably gone bad. Don’t be afraid to ask for more information or walk away. As agencies, we are allowed to make money, too – so reserve your time and best ideas for fair clients who are looking for partners, not vendors.

Need a partner who can formulate compelling, original pitches? Drop us a text at [email protected]

Working mums: Let’s talk about flex

“Are you planning to have children?”

I’m willing to bet almost every woman of a certain age has been asked a form of this question in a job interview. It may not be as blatant as, “So are ya planning on getting knocked up?” but there are ways employers dance around the topic without landing directly on it.

Even though an illegal employment practice in many countries, including Singapore where I live, it’s something plenty of women can probably relate to. And yet, how many of us would feel comfortable asking a potential employer about their maternity packages? Most wouldn’t dream of it for fear of being ‘accused’ of wanting children someday. How dare they.

And even when you do have children, the guise continues for many of us. Amidst managing school holidays, childcare, sickness and toddlers who just refuse to put their bloody shoes on in the morning, the desire for a child is far easier than pretending your actual, real life tiny human doesn’t exist.

Instead, we stride into job interviews or go about our work with the air of a single, career-focused businesswoman whose ovaries are immune to any clock we might feel ticking inside. I have heard of women taking off wedding bands and blatantly lying about even having so much as a hint of a boyfriend, too.

I read somewhere that women often pretend they don’t have a job when at home and that they don’t have children when they’re at the office. This shame is completely misplaced, and—with two children of my own and working in full-time paid employment (I feel the need to clarify the ‘paid’ element here, because having children and staying at home with them is definitely, certainly also ‘work’)—I can see how destructive this mentality is to both career women and employers.

Thankfully, this is changing, slowly. According to the latest Conditions of Employment Report released by the Singapore MOM this month, the number of companies offering flexible working arrangements is growing—with 72% of workers saying their employers offer at least one type of arrangement, up from 70% in 2017. More employees are also being offered ad-hoc arrangements, up to 87% in 2018 from 81% the previous year.

And it’s 100% necessary, because—newsflash—while people still care about money, they care more about culture, experience and how they are treated in the workplace. This includes having options available that allows them to dictate the best way to manage their office and home life.

An example of this is here at Mutant. We offer the standard 12 to 16 weeks’ (paid), but then we provide a staggered approach to return to work. So, when I returned three months after my daughter was born, the first month I worked just 10 hours per week. The following month it was 20 hours, then 30, and then back up to 40+—all while on full pay. The goal here is retention, engagement and building loyalty. Suddenly ripping a mother away from her child and forcing her back to work eight hours a day is a shock to the system. It sucks, and it’s why so many new mums end up resigning. But this approach passes the power back to the employee.

And it’s a mentality we carry over to flexible working for all our staff. For the first time in my life, I am able to make work fit into my life in a way that suits me. It means I can come in late, leave early, or work from home some days. It means I don’t feel guilty if I have to rush off for sick kids. It also means I am efficient, productive and squarely focused on getting my work done well, because the payoff is huge: I get the satisfaction of doing a good job at work and being present at home to do a good job as a mum. Basically, the dream.

Many employers will probably lump this flexi-shift in the ‘too hard’ basket, but changing the way we think about work and judging staff on their ability to do good work (not on how well they sit in a chair until the boss leaves) is a win-win for employee and employer. It means a happier team, lower costs and higher productivity.

And the change can start small. It can be as simple as employers openly and actively mentioning maternity and paternity benefits during the interview, in the same breath they discuss sick leave and vacation days. It’s as basic as understanding that flexibility is a people issue, not just about ‘mums who want to see their kids more’. Flexibility is not just about parents, but being able to draw out the best results from every individual.

And until we understand this, people will continue to fail at juggling responsibilities, hide the fact they have children, feel they can’t ever stop and take a breath, and overwhelm themselves until they quit what is essentially a game they can’t win.

This article first appeared in Campaign Asia-Pacific. 

Steer Clear Of These Five Things When Working With A Designer

People employ designers for a variety of reasons: their company’s website requires a facelift, they need a hip logo for their book club, or they want to impress a client with cool infographics. Working with us designers can be a fun, seamless, and painless process…but only if you avoid committing these five cardinal sins:

Being vague with instructions and feedback

“Make it pop? Sure. By the way, I’ll be sending you an invoice for my mind reading services, too.”

Be as specific as possible when it comes to giving designers with instructions, direction or feedback on a project. Ambiguity isn’t going to help you achieve what you need, and will only leave the designer feeling stumped. To minimise frustration, be clear, direct and transparent when providing feedback to your designers. We are not psychic, and do not work well with meaningless phrases such as “make it pop” (how?), or “make this more yellow” (what kind of yellow?) or “this artwork is missing an X-factor” (What, exactly, is the X-factor for you?).

Designers are visual creatures, so use that to your advantage! It only takes a few minutes to throw together a mood board, which is a thematic collage that captures the essence of what you want the final artwork to look like. Attach examples of other projects in line with your vision so your designers can better ascertain the aesthetic you’re aiming for.

my-june-mood-board-for-farrowball-via-eclectic-trends

(Source: Electric Trends)

Getting your designer to work on non-editable files/low resolution images.

To effectively solve your business problems, we need tools that will help us get the job done. This includes assets such as working, editable files (think Adobe Creative Suite, not JPGs or PDFs), font files, text which can be copy-pasted and high-quality images (72 DPI for web and 300 PPI for print, as increasing the size of a low-resolution image would lead to pixelation) for efficiency. Heads up: screenshots and Microsoft Powerpoint or Word files do not count as design assets, as we cannot modify them.

(Source: Yearbook Machine)

Providing inadequate content

Designers are not magicians and cannot conjure artworks out of thin air. If you don’t provide assets or content for us to work with, you are setting everyone involved in the project up for failure. When giving us the design brief, it’s okay not to have all content in place. However, expecting the designers to rely solely on placeholder text and images to work with will only create the possibility of several rounds of re-design. If there is no finalised content, there can be no design.

On the other hand, dumping a mountain of content on us and expecting us to sift through the suitable parts will cause us to miss our deadlines, both internal and external. If you are the kind of person who expects work to be turned around quickly, make both our lives easier by providing us with the relevant, approved content so that there is minimal back-and-forth.

Expecting your designers to make changes instantly

The adage “good things come to those who wait” has never been more applicable. For the duration of the project, changes both major and minor are expected. However, expecting your designers to complete all edits in an hour is rather unreasonable.

Don’t underestimate the time needed to incorporate changes – even if the change seems simple to you, it may not actually be an easy fix. To save time, it is best to collate all edits and hand it over to your designer, and do try your best to keep the rounds of changes to a minimum. For everyone’s sanity.

Setting the deadlines without consulting the designer

The luxury of time is something we designers do not possess, as we are usually juggling multiple projects. If you give us unreasonable timelines, we will not be able to deliver. Procuring assets, loading files onto our digital workstations, conducting research and ideation, designing, editing, and testing digital platforms are time-consuming processes.

Never set a deadline without prior consultation with your designers. By having a chat about what’s an appropriate turn-around time expectations on both sides are adequately managed and no one will be disappointed.

Need a designer to whip up some beautiful artwork for your marketing campaign? Chat with us at [email protected]

How to get the most out of your relationship with your marketing agency

A client-agency relationship is more than just a business transaction. It takes more than charismatic account management and savvy sales pitches to make the relationship really work. What many agencies and clients miss, is in the on boarding process– from the business objectives to the culture. Here are 5 key points to help you kick-start an awesome partnership with your marketing agency:

Invest some time

Given that you’re trusting this agency with the reputation of your brand, you need to feel confident about the ability and reputation of the team. Plus,  actually getting on well with the people you’re dealing with has a huge impact on your relationship – so don’t be afraid to explore the company culture, values and, of course, technical expertise. Developing authentic, trusted connections with your customers is at the heart of marketing; similarly, you need to feel confident in your relationship with your agency. The best way to do this? Invest some time when it comes to finding out a little bit more about the agency, whether it be heading over for a lengthy chemistry meeting, going out to lunch or arranging a happy hour.

Agree to a communication plan

At the start of any new client relationship, a communication plan should be mutually agreed upon from day one. 

Some tips to consider when agreeing to a clear communication plan:

  • How often and how you’ll catch up, whether it’s in person or over a call
  • Your point of contact – Knowing exactly who your liaison is saves a lot of time and effort when you’re in need of a prompt  response
  • The agreed goals and objectives for your business and what you expect from your agency.
Set measurable key performance indicators (KPIs)

In order to keep up with and evaluate the performance of your campaigns, your agency will need to provide you with specific metrics against which to benchmark success. These should be based on business goals and expectations that were set out at the very beginning of your relationship. Reviewing them thoroughly will allow for greater productivity moving forward, and will also signal when there needs to be a change in strategic direction as well.

Make your meetings count

No matter how often or seldom your meetings occur,  preparation will enable you to get the most value from your meetings with your agency and negate the need for continuous threads of emails or calls outside your regular meetings.

Tips:

  • Agree upon an agenda before each meeting. This will give you the opportunity to include topics that are a priority
  • Have objectives clearly defined before the meeting
  • Ensure all relevant people are present to allow decisions to be made
Make the most of your agency’s expertise

You know your brand and industry the best. Similarly, your agency will know the latest developments and technologies in their industry best. In order to optimise your campaigns, they should be able to anticipate twists and turns, and should have the ability to adapt quickly when things don’t go as first planned or when new opportunities arise.

Your agency should always work according to your agreed plan and scope, but flexibility is crucial to the success of your campaign performance. Not only does this benefit your outcome, but its encourages your trust in them to be able to deliver on outcomes that matter to you.

At the end of the day, your agency contains a wealth of knowledge and expertise, so use it! Explore all the ways you can learn from them;  whether it’s downloading guides, reading their blog or regular newsletter or simply asking questions your agency can help you grow your own skill set.

Want to talk more about how an agency of experts could help your business? Drop us a line at [email protected]

Taking PR into the age of AI and automation

When AI, automation, and PR were first mentioned in the same sentence, most people were intrigued but reluctant at the same time. Despite initial hesitation, the application of AI in the PR industry is going to happen and the use cases are quite diverse, ranging from tracking and predicting consumer behaviour to conceptualisation and optimising user experiences.

AI’s growth coincides with a rapidly changing media landscape in Asia. In recent years – digital media has impacted audience attention, while journalists face tighter deadlines, trying to break a story first. With billions of dollars flooding into artificial intelligence and machine learning, both the PR industry and the media can benefit from this development. But how exactly is this dynamic going to change?

Why do we need AI?

While marketers already utilise machine learning, analysing data of customers more efficiently, AI is the next evolutionary stepping stone. But what exactly will AI do for PR? Can AI help to understand a journalist’s beat better? Will it ensure that they publish a certain story?

The short answer is no, but the benefits of AI are not hard to understand, as simple processes can be automated and optimised. Using scripted knowledge and repeated tasks, AI is already solving problems in other industries, including traffic control, manufacturing, and fraud detection.

Complementing – not replacing

The key to answering these questions is not how AI will replace human skills, but rather how it is going to complement and support PR professionals. There is no denying that automation is already important to the PR industry today. Media monitoring, for example, is often perceived as a tiresome but necessary task. The use of automation to track media activity frees up working hours that can be used more efficiently.

Besides effective media monitoring, AI will also support PR professionals with tasks that are traditionally time-consuming. Researching, compiling reports, and building media lists no longer will have to be done manually. The predictive analysis capabilities of AI will offer deeper insights into trends and market movements.

Predicting social sentiments

Using AI technology, PR practitioners have the option to leverage real-time data to make more informed decisions, which is especially useful in the realm of crisis communications. Remember when UBER (and United Airlines) failed to understand the extent of their crisis? The #boycottuber (or #boycottunited) storm became bigger than it needed to be from the brand’s perspective.

Using predictive measuring of social media sentiments, both brands could have reacted more quickly – instead of sitting it out. Unfortunately for UBER, it once again faces consumer backlash for covering up a massive hack and security breach that exposed the data of 57 million users and drivers. Let’s hope the ride sharing app has learnt from its mistake and is better equipped to handle #boycottuber. 

While AI might not offer insights into what a particular journalist thinks, certain algorithms will be able to predict sentiments as well as when interest among consumers might peak, offering an opportunity s to get certain stories published.

Nurturing media relations

One shouldn’t be lured into a false sense of guaranteed coverage and be confuddled by the notion of how AI can help to increase your chances of being featured as an industry thought-leader.

Media relations have always been a crucial part of any seasoned PR practitioner’s arsenal. Having a relationship with media will continue to give you two things:

  1. The ability to pick up your phone and speak to them about a potential story (and the odds of them entertaining your pitch despite their busy schedules).
  2. They will reciprocate and reach out to you if you have proven yourself to be a reliable go-to person that provides the information they need, accurately, and in a timely fashion.

The human interaction will continue to be relevant in PR because AI won’t be able to build bonds with journalists. While AI is becoming more than a resourceful helping hand, the intuition of PR professionals is still needed to make sense of it all.

Need help with your PR strategy? Drop us a message at [email protected]

7 Typography tips to ace your designs

Everyone’s had an idea for a cool design at some point. But turning your idea into reality is an effort. When it comes to creating graphics, it’s a different game. The application of graphic design is versatile and allows you to play around with shapes, images, positioning and typography. It’s a game you can get lost in.

The art of arranging type, aka typography, is not only a crucial part of any design, but also key to getting people interested in your design (and what you have to offer). A bad typography layout affects the readability, causing people to lose interest after reading just a first few lines. With millennials giving you less than 5 seconds to catch their attention, your typography needs to be spot on.

(Source: Harper’s Bazaar Brazil)

Failing to realise your idea visually, doesn’t always mean your idea was no good. Don’t question your ideas, but work on improving your designs. Here are some of the things to take note of when working on your next design project:

1) Choosing the right font (personality)

Are you aware that fonts have distinct moods and personalities? Don’t disregard Arial and Helvetica straight away. Always look at what you want to achieve before picking the font. Choosing the wrong font can convey different feelings and might even screw up your entire design.

For example, working on the design and layout for a fashion magazine, you most likely want to suggest modern, elegant and sophisticated tones – visually. You want to stay away from using Comic Sans or Papyrus fonts for the magazine, as it makes the entire design look unprofessional. The font you select needs to suit the personality of the brand.


(Source: AdWeek)

Never pick fonts just because you are awe of the particular typeface, in fact, you should choose the typefaces that suit your desired outcome.

“With millennials giving you less than 5 seconds to catch their attention, your typography needs to be spot on.”

2) No more than 3!

Never be generous with the use of fonts. Try to stick with one or two fonts for your design. Too many fonts might over-complicate the entire design – distracting the reader from what’s really important.

Remember websites in the 90s?

If you really want to use two to three different fonts in a design layout, avoid using fonts that look similar to each other (e.g. Bodoni and Didot). Visually similar fonts can be quite problematic, as they make your design look too indistinctive. Make it a family affair and use fonts from the same family, as it will give your design a more cohesive look. You might think that only one font looks boring, but ‘less is more’.

Let’s not forget, you can always play with the weights, styles and the width of the font. So, forget about the 90s and don’t use more than three fonts for one and the same design.

3) Do not stretch or squeeze! 

Stretching and squeezing a font is definitely a big no in the world of design. Many people are tempted and love to stretch and squeeze a font just to make it fit a certain space. Stretching and squeezing a font does not only look odd, it also makes your design, brand and you look unprofessional. Instead, try to increase the size of the font to make it fit.

4) Don’t forget to kern it


Kerning refers to adjusting the spacing between letters – and is different from adding gaps by hitting space on your keyboard (don’t even think about it).

(Source: AdWeek)

This is extremely important as it can make your design look a whole lot different. A good and bad design can be easily recognised and differentiated by just looking at the kerning. Hence, always remember to check the kerning before sending your final design to the client or the printer.

Nice smile, but that’s how you shouldn’t kern your design. (Source: Pixie Simms)

Mastering the art of kerning is especially important when it comes to creating your own font from scratch. Check out typemethod and practice your kerning skills until you get the hang of how it works.

5) Wipe out all the widows and orphans

If you don’t know what that means, you definitely need to pay attention now. Not many people will notice and identify the typographical widows and orphans. But if you want to tighten up your graphic designs you better start taking notice.

In the design world, a widow is a word that is left dangling at the end or the bottom of a paragraph, separated from the rest of the paragraph. While an orphan is a short paragraph that appears at the beginning of a column or page. One of the easiest ways to eliminate them is to rewrite or change the line ending. Another alternative is to manually edit the text or bring the text down to the next line.

6) The ‘ideal’ line width

Easily overlooked, a design’s line width is of importance too, playing a crucial role in the readability of the text. Wide columns usually won’t do your design any good, as they break the flow of the reader’s eyes when they jump from one line to the next. On the other hand, a narrow column might annoy your reader. Finding the balance is key to making it easy for the reader’s eyes to get through the article or text. Remember – the reader should be fully taken in by the content and not be distracted by the layout.

Never try to fit in all the words onto one line, as it might screw up the readability of your article. The perfect solution to a balanced line width is to keep it short. About 8 to 10 words or 50 to 60 characters per line is ideal.

7) Create a visual hierarchy

Think of what you want your viewers to look at first – only then you can embark on a design project. Everyone wants to create a design that looks good and captures people’s attention at a glance – so, make sure you don’t distract them with unnecessary stuff. Hierarchy plays an important role in design. It creates a flow, directs your eyes and allows your brain to process it easily. Hierarchy makes it easier for the viewer to distinguish what content comes first.

(Source: Pinterest)

You can learn how to establish a visual hierarchy by reading newspapers and magazines. Alternatively, you can try to play with the size, weight and spacing to achieve a visual hierarchy in your design. The more you practice, the more you will train your eyes.

Want sharp designs? Need to visualise an idea? Drop a message to [email protected] 

How to jump-start social media when no one knows your company

It’s easy to make noise when you are the head of state. Both Lee Hsien Loong and Donald Trump are two (good and bad) examples of how to engage millions of people.

                                                                   

While the impact of social media is undeniable, not every business enjoys the reach of someone in the limelight. Though it’s hard to make noise when no one knows about your company, inaction is infinitely worse.

Before you jump the gun, you have to make a commitment to regularly update your business’ social media accounts. Ideally, appoint someone to be your social media manager, as it’s something you have to consistently work at to see benefits – ranging from direct communication with your customers to reaching people that never heard of your business.

Here’s how to get started:

Where is your audience?


With an array of social media platforms out there, you don’t need to be everywhere. To get your social media presence kickstarted, you’ll need to know where your audience is. If you are a B2B company, you are more likely to start conversations on Twitter or LinkedIn, while an e-commerce can better engage with users on Instagram and Facebook.

If you are unsure about what you should do on your social media channels, check out these do’s and don’ts of social media. This is where you’ll learn about how to reach your target audience and the tangible results you’ll be able to reap from it.

What are your goals?

                                                             

Bear in mind that you’re just starting out – so don’t be unrealistic with your goals. For newcomers like you, it’s recommended that you focus on consistency and growth to really make your social media game work.

For consistency, work on:
– Lock in a set number of days to plan posts and work on your social media presence. A good start will be 3-4 days a week.
– Create new content at least once a week to beef up your content library. This can be a new set of photos, a blog post or a video about your business.

For growth, work on:
Setting a goal for how many followers you want to gain by a certain date. Every business grows differently, so plan accordingly. Having a number to work towards will make things clearer.

If you want to start with a bang, you should consider working with social media influencer – Increasing engagement for your posts. Instead of asking your family and friends to share your posts to get the algorithm working, you might want to do a giveaway to start getting shares and traction.

What’s in your content library?


Gather all of your content into one folder that your team can access. This will be your content pool where you’ll go to find images, old news clippings, videos or anything relating to your business. If you make it a habit to populate this folder, your planning will be easier in the future. A good way to start your content pool is using your website’s content. You can always repurpose and use it for social content. While doing this, you’ll also probably start to visualise what sort of content you’ll want up on your social media channels.

Other content ideas:

  • New product updates to keep people interested
  • Introduce new team members to make your brand more human
  • Insights from conferences to show you are a thought leader
  • Behind the scenes snapshots for a positive image
  • Giveaways and contests to expand your reach
  • Photo albums for the user’s visual pleasure

Which brings us to the next point…

Have you created a social media calendar?

It doesn’t have to be anything too complicated. All you need is a handy excel sheet that keeps track of the content that you’re planning to post, or have already posted. This will also come in handy when you’re brainstorming for new social media ideas. It also makes it easier for everyone to share ideas. A well-kept calendar will also help you to plan your social media campaigns more efficiently.

What conversation are you joining?

Now that you’re sorted, it’s time to be part of all that social media chatter. Have a look at what’s trending by gathering some data and see where your brand can be part of the conversation. Controversial topics aren’t a strict no-no and may sometimes help your brand to stand out. But make sure that your company has actually something to offer or say about the topic. You have to remember that the social media world can be harsh and controversial topics can easily backfire. But in the end – it’s still up to you to decide if it will work for your organisation or not.

Need help with managing your social media campaigns? Drop us a message at [email protected].

 

3 Tips to go from media shy to media savvy

The acronym ‘CEO’ will likely conjure images of fearless leaders in command of their businesses and their people, natural-born spokespeople inspiring those in the business as well as those looking on.

The reality, however, is that many CEOs may often be introverts shying away from external exposure and the prying eyes of the media. Apple’s CEO Tim Cook, for example, is not only one of the most powerful leaders in the world, but he’s also amongst the most publicity-shy ones.

Staying out of the spotlight, however, will likely do more harm than good. Research shows that an accessible CEO makes a brand more authentic.

Public relations professionals must do more than just convince their CEOs, they must support their leaders in a way that makes the process as painless as possible as well as ensure their CEO will be the custodian for the organisation’s image and reputation.

To help prepare any business leader, here are our top tips to guide the media-shy through the interview process:

Media Training is key

Critical for any CEO or spokesperson, media training is a programme aimed at creating a strong foundation of interviewing knowledge from structuring responses to question redirection. A good media training programme will allow for the media-shy CEO to get a feel of what it’s like to be in front of a reporter and face difficult unexpected questions in a controlled environment.

Media training is not a magic bullet, practice makes perfect, meaning that training sessions should be carried out on a frequent basis to keep the spokesperson’s confidence up. Further, carrying out frequent impromptu mock interviews covering the latest trending topics as well as difficult probing questions around the business can provide the crucial experience that a media shy CEO must be exposed to before sitting down with media.

Practice, practice, practice!

When the time comes for an interview, preparation is key. Naturally, a comprehensive briefing document covering the topics, questions, key messages, interviewer and media profile is a no-brainer. It is vital to sit down with the CEO prior to the interview to gauge their familiarity with the subject of the interview. Working hand-in-hand to craft a narrative and key messages with additional research would help spokespeople feel at ease.

Preparation for the media shy CEO should extend further, emulating the scenario by adopting the questions, duration and style of the interviewer to give the CEO a better idea of what to expect.

Don’t underestimate media relations

Often the most overlooked aspect, and one usually undertaken solely by the public relations professional, is for the business leader to play a first hand role in building relationships with the media.

Building relationships through no-agenda coffees, get-togethers and networking events will allow the CEO to get used to being around media, and most importantly, dispel the myth that journalists are ‘out to get you’. By building these relationships, when the time comes, the CEO will likely be able to sit down for an interview with someone familiar.  

So there you have it, our top tips on how to prepare your media shy CEO to face the media world and not only be more comfortable, but also be in a position to represent the organisation in a way that will grow its reputation and standing in the business landscape.

Drop us a message at [email protected] to talk to us more about media training.

How to get your brand heard in a new market

Venturing into new markets with your brand may be a daunting task. If it’s done wrongly, you could sink vast amounts of financial capital. Succeeding with a market entry, your brand could acquire new revenue streams and new customers at the same time.  

So, what are the things you need to keep in mind when preparing to enter a new market?

Understand your market
  • Do your research. Never assume that you know what your target audience wants. You need to have the facts and research to back it up. Take a close look at the market and find out what the most pressing needs, issues and desires of your target audience are. It will help you to position yourself as the answer they’re looking for.
  • Where do they get their information from? There’s a plethora of platforms for content consumption – both online and offline. But how will you actually reach them – through blogs, newsletter subscriptions, newspapers or social media? Focusing your efforts on the appropriate channels will ensure that you get the most mileage out of your resources.  
  • Tailor your content. Something that works in China may not necessarily see the same success in Singapore – or vice versa. Localising content helps to shape your messages in a way that your customers can relate to.
Know your competition
  • Make a competitive analysis. Walking into a new market it’s important to identify the factors contributing to the success and failure of existing brands. What has the market leader done so well that elevates them to their current position? Why can’t other brands find their footing? Learn about the methods your competitors use and find out which they are not using.
  • Differentiate your brand. At the same time, there is also great value in making sure your brand stands out. But what are you offering the market that differentiates you from others? Moving into a new market and immediately trying to compete with everyone else in the industry is not a task to be taken lightly. Carve out your own niche and communicate it to your target audience. Operating in a specific niche will reduce the number of direct competitors your brand has to manage.
Have an eye on the market
  • Spot trends. Depending on what industry you are in, markets tend to move fast today. Trends are insightful and a powerful source of information. Keeping up-to-date with the latest trends allows you to understand the current interests and wants of consumers, which will help you to capture the attention of broader audiences.
  • Network the industry. Smart business leaders know to always be on the lookout for emerging trends and be prepared for what comes next, so they won’t be left behind. However, not all trends start online. Get a feel for the industry by attending networking events in your field.
Look for media opportunities
  • Owned media. Build a communication strategy for your brand. Make sure you are consistent in what you say and how you describe your brand. Using your own media channels, such as your company blog, social media or thought-leadership pieces on LinkedIn, are an easy way to spread the word. Just make sure that you are on brand.
  • Earned media. Earned media is often the aim of a brand’s PR and social media efforts, including media coverage, social media posts, reviews, and blog mentions. As the average consumer is bombarded with countless advertisements daily, earned media is one way to stand out from the masses.

The following questions will help you when looking for brand-appropriate earned media opportunities:

  1. Is there something unique about your organisation that might interest local, national, or trade-related news outlets?
  2. Do you have existing customers who are possible brand advocates?
  3. Are they willing to tell the world why they’ve had a fantastic experience with your brand?

Why is earned media so effective? It’s simple – customers trust the opinions and experiences of other customers more than any other source available. The road to success may be a bumpy one, but take these tips into account to smoothen your journey as much as possible.

Trying to break into a new market? Drop a message to [email protected]

 

How to master the art of following up with journalists  

As a rule of thumb: if a journalist is interested in your story, he or she will likely respond immediately. So, if you haven’t heard back it’s probably because your pitch note didn’t make the cut.

Having said that, it’s also important to remember that reporters are a notoriously busy lot and often don’t have the time to read every email they receive. So, how do you catch their attention?

Following up after sending a press release or pitch note can feel a little awkward, but it’s a necessary part of the job – and if done right can help to make your placement happen. Here are some tips to do it in a tactful and non-intrusive manner:

Say something original

A journalist may have inadvertently deleted your email or simply chosen to ignore it – either way it is important that your follow up focus on conveying information that wasn’t in the original pitch. Read the reporter’s last few articles to see what he or she is currently tracking and then relate the information in the press release to relevant and related trends.

Know your client

Pitching is one thing, but answering questions from journalists as they decide whether or not your client is worth covering is another. You’ve got to know your client inside-out. The details that matter may vary depending on the publication you’re speaking to, but keeping tabs on your client’s business model, revenue (if that’s public), growth and leadership team will help you and your pitch stand out.

Personalise your pitch

Lack of personalisation is one the biggest reasons pitches get declined. For one, it shows you haven’t done your homework, but more importantly it’s downright rude. Journalists receive dozens of emails a day – so make their lives easier by sharing stories that are relevant to their sectors. Take the time to get to know journalists, the beats they cover, and the stories they track.

Don’t make multiple calls

While twiddling your thumbs waiting for a response, resist the urge to make multiple phone calls, spam reporters’ inboxes, or worse, reach them on social media. Instead, let some time pass (ideally 2-3 days) – and then call them on the phone to present your case and determine their interest in the opportunity.

Pick a good time

Research shows that journalists prefer to be pitched to between 9 am and 11 am because that’s the best time for them to figure out what they’re going to write that day and present it at editor meetings, which typically happen after 11 am.  And remember, you’re not the only one under pressure to deliver a story!

Looking for some inspiration for your next pitch? Drop a message to [email protected] 

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