JWA Blog

JWA's Managing Director, Jo Weaver, writes a regular blog on issues relating to PR and marketing, running a PR agency and other similar topics. You can read a selection of these blogs here.

Sex Sells

A little while ago I was speaking to a group of marketing students about ‘life in a PR agency’ and one of their Professors asked whether I would take on any company as a client, irrespective of whether it was doing something immoral or illegal. I answered that I wouldn’t work for a company that was doing something illegal, but immoral… well, first, how do you define immoral – what is immoral to one person is not to another – and second, I am in business and the need to pay the salaries can sometimes outweigh the wish to only work for the ‘perfect’ company, and whilst I might turn down a client that is doing something that I think would be difficult to promote, or that I just don’t like, I wasn’t sure about the ‘morality issue’.

The reason that I am writing about this topic now, is that there has just been a big to do in the Czech media about the advertising of a pill that is similar to Viagra at the recent ice hockey world championships – apparently Czech TV has received numerous complaints about the organisers and the broadcasters allowing such advertising as children would be watching, and now there is a lot of discussion about the rights and wrongs of this type of advertisement and where and how it should be allowed.

I have to say that I, personally, am astonished at the furor, since here in the Czech Republic it is generally difficult to go very far down any street without coming across an ‘Erotic City’ sex shop or worse, and where, over the years, there have been many advertising campaigns that would never be allowed in the UK or US – for example, a billboard campaign with a very well-endowed young lady with a near to non-existent top holding a glass of beer, and wording along the lines of “wouldn’t you like a nice jug?” (or similar)….

The thing is, sex sells, and in the case of the ice hockey advertising and this particular brand, I would have had absolutely no qualms about working for the company myself, and would, in fact, be completely in agreement that it made obvious sense – the ideal target audience for what is being promoted, huge exposure that would, one would expect, generate significant sales against a reasonable expenditure, and lots of room for PR – actually, had I been working for them I would be rubbing my hands together at all the additional exposure that the complaining millions have brought about in the media??!

Taking the whole situation a bit further, one has to wonder whether there is something else going on here – maybe it is OK to promote women as sex objects or women for sale, but not to advertise the fact that not all men are as virile as we are led to believe..?!!!

The Toll of Technology

I recently had a number of problems with my hand and wrist which I thought were probably caused by a combination of playing tennis for a hundred years and sitting all day at a computer. My doctor kind of agreed but also said that the biggest culprit was the Blackberry (that I had at that time) and that he is seeing a whole lot of weird and wonderful health problems, particularly in children, caused by new technology. The result of which, he said, was that soon children would have thumbs the same size as their fingers.

After my diagnosis I started physio on my hand and was given a lot of exercises to do, particularly when sitting at the computer, to ensure that I didn’t round my shoulders and arch my wrists – according to the physiotherapist, more and more people are getting early curvature of the spine due to the modern work environment…. One could almost say that it is only a matter of time before we will be walking on all fours, using our hands with their very long thumbs as our front paws (or whatever gorillas have at the end of their arms….!).

On the other hand, I heard last week that it is now possible not only to buy desks that have adjustable work surfaces so that you can sit or stand whilst working, but also that some of these desks are built around a treadmill… so one can sit/stand/run at one’s desk all day long. I kind of like that idea (saves on gym fees) but I can’t help conjuring up a picture of a hamster on a wheel….

I dine out on stories of the early days in Czechoslovakia when some of us crazier expats first turned up, and when we had to run our offices with telephones that rarely worked (if they existed at all), smuggled- in fax machines and manual typewriters; emails, internet and social media weren’t even twinkles in their creators eyes. Sometimes we felt as if we were working in the wild west…. But we managed. With everything that is going on now, I can’t help feeling that they were better days, when communicating meant speaking to each other, building a social network meant working on our relationships, and getting in touch was done by telephone or, God forbid, writing a letter!

Back to the treadmill…


The Blame Game

When I was growing up, we had it drummed into us that we must always stand up and take responsibility for something we had done wrong; I can even remember times when my older brother would take the blame for something that I had done in order to make my life easier!   I think this was fairly normal in the UK at that time.

When I first arrived in the then Czechoslovakia (but read this whilst bearing in mind that this was a country that had just escaped from the clutches of communism and everything that that stood for), I remember that one of the things that drove us early expats to near madness was the rather standard way that the Czechs would immediately blame someone else for something that had gone wrong – or even start accusing someone else for something before it had even happened….. a conversation that started ‘it’s not my fault’ was pretty standard (along with ‘ah, that might work in the UK/US/Germany, but it wont work here….’… but that’s another story).

Watching the news in the UK now, where the unbelievable floods are having such a devastating effect, I find myself wondering what has happened to the good old English way of ‘taking it on the chin’ and finding a solution rather than looking for someone to  blame – for the past few weeks it seems that just about everyone involved (apart from those that have lost absolutely everything, who seem to be the most phlegmatic) are looking for someone to blame – from the politicians that are blaming each other, to the regular public who hold the weather forecasters responsible, to the local authorities who blame the politicians.. meantime half of the UK is disappearing under water.   (A quick aside.. just seen a Sky news journalist asking a Ghurka who has recently arrived from Afghanistan whether he minds all the water and working in the dark… !!!   Of course he must prefer being at risk of being blown up every day… What is the matter with these people??!!).

One has to wonder how this new ‘blame society’ can manage in business.  Surely anyone that has held a managerial role in a company would concur with me that we would all prefer to deal with someone that is able to put up his or her hands and say ‘sorry, my fault, here is a solution’ rather than ‘ah, it was his fault that this happened, don’t look at me’?    If all we ever do is pass the buck, then we are all going to run out of bucks even faster than we have in the past few years….

New Year’s Wishes

If you had three business wishes to send to Father Christmas for the New Year, then what would they be?  I expect that one of them would be to have more business in 2014, and another might be to earn more money.   If so, then the third, if you are running a business, should be to have a good marketing plan in place, otherwise the first two might be difficult to achieve!   This is, of course, easier said than done, as I have mentioned on several other occasions, but with the business environment starting to bubble a little bit now, we all want to try and get a piece of that bigger business cake.  And if you want to ensure that you are the company that a potential customer comes to rather than one of your competitors, then they need to know about you!

From our own PR agency perspective, if we had three Christmas wishes, they would be:

  1. To have clients that empower us to do a good job – there is nothing that an agency likes less than a client that wants to micro-manage every little detail and force us to do things ‘their way’, with the end result that we simply carry out an administration – and take the blame if the exercise doesn’t work!
  2. To never, ever, be asked again if we have good contacts in the media….. come on everyone!   That’s like asking a law firm if they know about the legislation or a construction company if they know any architects.  But just because we have contacts, it doesn’t mean that we will get you on the front page of Hospodarkse noviny every day!    We still need you to provide us with the content, which means something that is really newsy and relevant that we can present in a skilful and suitable format…. (so don’t write it for us…!!).
  3. To communicate with US!   No PR or marketing agency can achieve results for you (or in-house person for that matter) if you don’t give them any information to work with, don’t respond to queries from journalists on time and/or forget to inform us about what you are up to!   The more you give your PR and marketing people to work with, the more they can do for you.

And, just to cheat a bit, a fourth one – love your PR and marketing agencies or people!   The more we are stroked, the more we will do for you… marketing people don’t tend to work by the hour (even if we are supposed to!), and the more appreciated we are, the more the creativity will flow!

Wishing anyone that is reading this a great Christmas and a successful New Year!



You Gotta Spend Money to Make Money

Yesterday I was speaking to a client that had just returned from a long business trip where, he said, he had spent a small fortune on entertaining clients, amongst other things, and the end result was one very nice new piece of business and a handful of potential projects. The total cost, he said, was far out-weighed by the value of the one confirmed piece of business, and if some of the other projects came off then the whole trip could be regarded as a huge success. “Ah ha,” I said, “that is exactly what I keep banging on about – if you get back more than you spend on any marketing activity, then where is the downside?!”

As an agency, we have had numerous discussions with clients over the past few years who want to cut back or stop any form of marketing – even the biggest companies in the world have reduced their advertising and PR budgets significantly. But every time we have this discussion (and trust me, I know how difficult it is to spend money when you don’t really have any…!), I ask them how they plan to build their businesses back to where they were before the economic crisis if they don’t do any form of marketing activity – which they are not usually able to answer.

At this point, I should mention a quote that I saw one time by the CEO of one of the big FMCG goods companies a few years ago, who said “I love a recession – I can guarantee that all of our competitors will stop their marketing, whilst we will be increasing ours. And the result of that will be that we will not only maintain the business that we already have, but take over a lot of theirs as well”… Or words to that effect.

Of course it is easy to say that when you are running a huge empire with a large amount of money in the bank! But if you are trying to keep costs as low as possible, and you have no real budget available, it is very difficult to take a risk and spend what you don’t have on something that is not guaranteed to work. But then… if you don’t do anything, and your competitors start to increase their own marketing activity, you might end up with no business at all. So what to do?

I have talked before about the various marketing activities that you can do without spending very much – and maybe some of you have tried a few of these ideas and have seen a bit of improvement. But, generally, to get really significant results, you have to spend more than just a few crowns.

What we are seeing now is that there are companies that are prepared to invest into marketing, so now we are busy persuading those companies that they should not give this budget to their tea lady or junior assistant to use – if that is where you are now, please treat this budget as you would your accounting, legal affairs, building work or any other professional service, and use someone that is trained and has experience in marketing. Otherwise you, too, will join the ranks of those that think that marketing doesn’t work.

Finding that person is not always that easy, so in the next blog I will discuss the differences between in-house and external marketing people, and what you can expect.

More then!