Taking time to think creatively

Thinking about creative communications

Paul Sanderson Hanicke Robins Sanderson
By Paul


I’m sure like for most people, 2016 has been a really busy year for me – in a good way obviously.


Christmas is one of the few times when I can really switch off for a while. The email alerts on my phone dwindle to a trickle, and it gives me time to think.


But that time to think is also an opportunity to be creative and ideas seem to pop into my head at those moments when I’m less focused.

Creative approach


I’m writing this blog after spending time doing some creative work for a client, and I find it really important to get away from my desk for a bit, and properly think and focus without distraction when being creative.


At Hanicke Robins Sanderson, we pride ourselves on thinking a bit differently at times. This can mean challenging our clients to be ‘Deliberately Bold’ and ‘Strategically Clever’ just like our company strapline.


Sometimes when we have a creative session with a client, this will be the first time in a long time they have sat down and had a proper think about their business. Often it becomes about whether their objectives should have changed as the business develops.


Quite often they start thinking they want one thing in terms of their communications, but realise they need another.


Our job is to help them navigate through that, to think differently while respecting the good things they already do. Then we help them focus, and finally assist them strategically in communicating that to the outside world.


One of the reasons I believe we are very good at that, is that building in time to think is a crucial part of it, and allows the creative juices to flow.


As I’m lazily watching films while eating chocs over Christmas, I probably won’t be thinking about work too much. But an idea might suddenly appear, I’ll jot it down and get to work on it in January when I’m back.


In the meantime, Merry Christmas.

‘Post Truth Authenticity’ and other 2017 PR challenges…

Adrienne Robins







By Adrienne


A couple of years ago, I remember writing about the importance of transparency in the social media age. In summary, the narrative went something like this:

  • Social media gives everyone a voice
  • If you talk the talk but don’t walk the walk, you’ll be called out – publicly
  • Be prepared – recognise and prepare for your skeletons; understand your shortfalls; build up your bank of goodness; do more to engage


And then 2016 happened.


This time last year we didn’t really have a clue what was coming. Or maybe we did have a clue – but we couldn’t acknowledge it or put it into words. At least collectively.


From a B2B PR perspective, I’ve seen so many organisations that got the whole ‘transparency’ thing. Trouble is, politically we either couldn’t or wouldn’t make that leap.


With the benefit of hindsight, if politicians had listened and responded a bit more maybe we’d be in a different place right now.
Instead we’re in a world where ‘post truth’ has happened. And 80s ‘dinkys’* (remember them) have disappointingly turned into ‘jams’**. If you’re of a certain age then it is possible that you could have started out a dinky, turned nimby and ended up in a bit of a jam. Really.
Thing is, post truth blatantly stamps all over transparency. So, do we throw our hands up and forget about it and resolve to change the story to fit the situation as required?
I think not.
So, just how should we be preparing our PR and comms strategies for the year ahead? Here are five areas that you should be concentrating on.


  1. Ensure you’re interesting: just because the world around you feels a little bit odd, that’s no excuse to revert to boring messages. Publishers are crying out for content, but unless it’s thought provoking, new and maybe a little bit controversial it’ll head straight into the bin.
  2. Be authentic: authenticity is the new transparency. Live your messaging and follow it through. Of course, you can surprise people – but do it in a good way. Remember those mission statements and values – go back to them and see if you’re really living the dream.
  3. Unleash your caring side: pick up the CSR baton, but try and make it a bit more human and spontaneous. If you or your team do something good – don’t strategise the comms into the ground. Just get out there and talk about it, in a natural, warm voice.
  4. Connect and collaborate: now, more than ever, it’s apparent that people want to meet ‘real’ people and work together to effect change and new opportunities. Get out from behind your content and listen. Add to the debate. Be brave (see point 1). Shape the outcome.
  5. Look for clarity of outcomes: when it comes to PR, measurement has long been a dirty word. Fact is, for most clients it’s about impact on real business objectives. When putting in place new PR campaigns, focus on deliverables and overarching objectives, not column inches. Get KPIs in place and everyone knows the required direction of travel.


Wishing you all a Happy 2017!


* DINKY: double income no kids yet, an acronym from the have-it-all, shoulder-padded, excessive 80s


** JAM: for those that have spent the last month on the moon, Teresa May’s shorthand for those that are Just About Managing and clearly can’t afford a new pair of leather trousers (although they may be wiser to make a different fashion choice)

How to Forge Stronger Connections and Still Have Time for a Bath

Kirsty Hanicke

By Kirsty

“Don’t talk to strangers!”

That was the advice we all received as children and many of us will find ourselves saying those words to our own offspring. No one told us when to start talking to strangers again, 21? 30? 40? We have had to figure that one out on our own. As professionals and communicators we need to not only talk to strangers to build our network but we need to talk to the right strangers to build a robust, meaningful network.

You only need a small network. 25-50 people can get you what you need. There are essentially three levels of networking that really matter: a friend of a friend of a friend. That means that the friend of a friend of a friend of a friend (4 removed) won’t do much for you.  Further, if you want to build a meaningful professional or personal network, you need a warm introduction by someone. That fourth or fifth removed “friend” won’t get you places.

Other great advice that I have obtained over the years, and wholeheartedly try to put into practice is:

  • Your network is your critical asset; your network equals your net worth
  • Just be nice
  • Communicating is about listening more than talking – have to admit to having trouble with this one!!!
  • You can disagree without being disagreeable
  • Don’t ask, don’t get
  • Sometimes great ideas come when you’re not thinking about work
  • Kick fear to the curb
  • Work with people who have intellectual curiosity and a sense of humour – I am very lucky to be able to do so
  • Learn how to say NO – you will miraculously clear your calendar for more important things – this is so liberating but has taken me forever to implement
  • Rethink your assumptions – you know the old adage….
  • Work hard, work fun and take more baths.

That’s right: take more baths. Some of the best advice is the simplest.

Are you brave enough to say “tails” instead of “heads”?

Flipping a coin when it comes to exhibitions

Paul Sanderson Hanicke Robins SandersonBy Paul.


If you flip a coin, you might think you have a 50/50 chance right? Well you might be wrong.


If you attend an exhibition, then you will get leads right? Well you might be wrong on that too.


Most of us will typically say “heads” when asked to flip a coin, and actually, our chances might be slightly better by doing so. Research in 2012 found that things like the way people toss a coin and the weight of the coin, often leads to 51% of tosses landing on heads and 49% on tails.


So that slight advantage exists with heads even if we did not know it to begin with and just went along with what we have always done.


However, the research also found that if you use an American 1 cent coin (also known as a penny), the weighting on the heads side featuring Abraham Lincoln is such that tails is more likely to appear 80% of the time.


Flipping a coin when it comes to exhibitionsWhat appears to have been a 50/50 decision for most people, has turned into an 80/20 decision in favour of tails.


It just shows that even when we are making a simple decision, we need to ensure we have the evidence at hand to make sure we can make the right decision for our business.


I’d recommend making the same evaluation when it comes to your communications strategy. So rather than making a 50/50 punt, can you toss the coin so that it is more like tails on an American penny and therefore more in your favour?


For example, are you sure you are employing the right blend of experience and creativity to raise the profile of your business through PR and marketing?


Would you be better off arranging your own bespoke tightly organised event rather than spending a fortune on an exhibition where you don’t know whether the right people and leads will go to your stand?


Think about it, attending an exhibition means the odds are not in your favour. There is risk that your stand is in the wrong place at the end of a dead end, or that the person with the £1 million contract in their pocket is networking with your competitor because you were talking to a retired bloke who wanted to reminisce. It is also in the interests of the exhibition organiser to get more stands, and that means it dilutes the amount of potential visitors per stand.


Don’t get me wrong, some exhibitions are great, but having been to many, I also know the ones where the tumbleweed is blowing down the aisles and exhibitors look annoyed and frustrated with the time and money they have spent. I visited two of them myself in just November last year.


At a guess, I would say the odds of an exhibition working for you would be less than 50% – maybe even less than 25%.


But what if there was the American penny option, where you knew that if you shout “tails” the odds are massively in your favour?


There is that option, organise your own event with our expertise, and we will ensure that every person networks with you is a potential lead.


We will ensure those leads get quality time with you, so you can show off your business.


So when you are deciding whether to do that exhibition again, maybe it might be better to be brave and shout “tails” and do something where the odds are more in your favour.


RIP Black Friday

RIP Black Friday

Adrienne yellow


By Adrienne


Maybe it was the wind and rain that kept UK shoppers at home on Black Friday. But I suspect it had more to do with Black Friday over-run.


With deals available in store and online from the preceding Monday and widely available for a full seven days (some being available even longer), shoppers could be forgiven for their lack of urgency, excitement or belief in the whole bargain fandango.


If you read my pre-Black Friday blog, you’ll know that I wasn’t very enthused with the concept, and it seems that I wasn’t alone. As it happens, I ventured into Oxford city centre on Friday. Parking space – tick. A lovely lunch – tick. Crowded shops – not a bit of it.


RIP Black Friday

Official figures from retail analyst Springboard (and featured here in The Guardian) said that footfall across the UK had fallen 9.6% on the same weekend last year. Numbers at retail parks, however, were up, possibly reflecting an increase in online sales and the increasing preference for click and collect.


In the main, reports to date are recording more online activity with the high street floundering. It is, they say, a change in shopping behaviours.


I’m inclined to think, however, that while online shopping and weather are in part responsible, it was a serious misjudgement to extend Black Friday offers beyond the 24 hour period.


Marketing and events need to make an impact. They shouldn’t run the risk of becoming background noise.


The clue is in the name. Special offers need to be …. Special. Otherwise the event should be re-badged ‘Black November And Early December’.

Black Friday: marketing magic or mayhem?

Christmas Shopping York

Adrienne yellowBy Adrienne


It’s 7.30am and I’m wondering what this year’s Black Friday phenomenon will bring? Doubtless there will be more shoppers, more queues and more spend. But is it enjoyable? Or memorable – for the right reasons? And does it really deliver value add for retailers and their supply chain?


Let’s unpick this and consider it from a variety of audience perspectives.

  1. The shopper

It’s clear that lots of shoppers, whether online or on foot, love the Black Friday concept. Who doesn’t love a bargain? Actually, the answer is likely to be more people than you think.


Because it depends whether that bargain is something you want – or is just something you’ve chanced upon. In my experience, buying something that catches your eye in a sale is likely to be a mistake. It’s going to stay in the cupboard, unused and unloved. But maybe I’m not a good sale shopper.


And I’m not the only one. There’s a bit of a Black Friday backlash going on, both here and in the USA, with some stores promoting a more considered shopping approach. The Booksellers Association is taking a little bit of the fight to Amazon with the launch of Civilised Saturday, where independent bookshops offer simple discounts, to be enjoyed in the calming surroundings of a book-lined, hushed haven.


I know where I’d rather be. And quite frankly, left to my own devices (and without the scrum) I’m likely to spend more. Much more. Because, as my better half has lamented for more years that I care to share, I am indeed a retail marketing person’s dream.

My Pavlovian response to end of isle displays or emailed discounts is nothing short of perfection.

My shopping ability is, frankly, gold medal standard. It’s just the mess and mayhem of sales that I can’t do. I’m surely not alone in that.

  1. The retailer

It’s estimated that shoppers will spend £1.07bn today, 32 percent up on last year. If I was a retailer there’s a good chance I’d be seduced by this potential. But hold on a minute, there’s another side to this story.


Last year’s Black Friday left Asda, one of the first in the UK to adopt BF, with a bad taste. Over excited customers, whipped into a consumer frenzy, combined with inadequate management and processes led to news bulletins showing customers trampling over each other to grab (and I mean grab) a cheap TV. Not a British queue in sight. Shocking, dangerous, disappointing for many and far from perfect publicity.


To add to the insult, shoppers either left empty handed and upset or grabbed their bargain and left – which really wasn’t the point. Asda will be one of the few to shun Black Friday this year.


By contrast, in 2014 White Stuff, that quintessentially British brand, steered clear of Black Friday, instead opting for the more sedate approach of mailing, vouchers and online offers in the run up to Christmas. Did it miss out? Did it heck.


It announced strong Christmas trading results, with sales up 17.9 percent over the key Christmas trading period, an increase of 6.5 percent compared to the same period in 2013. One of the reasons for this, it said, was its full price trading stance and extra gift card promotion during Black Friday.

  1. The supply chain

The impact of Black Friday on the retail supply chain is certainly worth a mention – and here I think it’s got to be positive. Yesterday I was hosting a media visit to a Tesco distribution centre (very impressive), getting a behind the scenes look at their recycling operation.


They were ready for Black Friday and have calibrated it into their calendar now, so for them it’s busy business as usual. The supply chain plans for events like these, and having them in the calendar makes them all the more manageable and profitable. It’s a win here.

  1. The media

Regardless of other audiences, for the media Black Friday provides a fact-filled picture bonanza. It doesn’t matter whether the figures are good or bad or the shoppers are naughty or nice – they’ve been publishing stories about queues on Boxing Day for as long as I can remember and I can’t see them stopping any time soon.


From a marketing perspective, Black Friday creates opportunities for engagement, headlines and big bucks. But the jury’s out as to whether it has simply redirected Boxing Day sale spend and if it delivers on the critical added value elements of customer loyalty, trust, and additional sales. The figures from 2015 will make interesting reading.


I’m hoping that a more targeted, customer-centric marketing approach will win out.

I’m dreaming of a Hollywood Christmas – already!

Christmas business planning

Kirsty HanickeBy Kirsty

So here we are nearing the end of November – a time most notable for the specific phenomenon: feeling “Christmassy”.

At this juncture the notion of Christmas is exciting, hopeful and expectant.

From any age I have always dreamt of what I call my “Hollywood” Christmas. Winter’s frosty delights captivating me, all dressed, elf like, in garlands of red and green, singing carols while snow is falling and being nestled by the fire nibbling on Christmas delights and mulled wine.

All this talk of performing makes me want to dust off my tap shoes, stuff a mince pie in my mouth and shuffle off to 42nd Street or the set of “It’s a Wonderful Life” or such like.

Just now, putting on my duffle coat and stepping into the cold air, which still comes as a surprise, is cosy and charming. I almost envisage crystals forming on snow clad trees – yes I’m still dreaming. Santa is on his way, and as I’ve only been a tiny bit naughty and a whole lot nice, wonderful delights will be sitting under my, not yet bought or decorated, tree very soon.

I am currently dreaming about hams, lobsters, chutneys and lots of cheese. Oh go on then some champagne and cocktails won’t go amiss. Though in a few weeks I think that I’ll be praying for 1st January to start my ongoing New Year’s resolution of losing a stone. Oh, must correct myself and say 4th January as it’s rude to start a diet mid-week….

Hyde Park winter wonderland

Talking of New Year’s resolutions….every year starts with regular 10k runs around some London park, mentally patting myself on the back for doing ‘so much exercise’. Starting another one of my health kicks and boring myself senseless  with talk of how this is the latest best thing. I get super organised and fill my diary with plans and activities that I’ve yet to accomplish.

Needless to say, in my mind I’m still in January 2015, which would account for the fact that most of my resolutions continue to be just that – resolutions. The only thing that I ever follow through on is business planning and delivery.

If you haven’t yet got your business and marketing plan in place for 2016 then now is the time to get planning. If you have a plan in place, how much of it includes doing something a bit different? Are you looking for ways to connect with your existing customer base, deploy new tactics to bring on board new clients? Then why don’t you drop us a line as you can see we do things differently.

But for now I’m off to see what’s occurring in my winter wonderland! Ta ta.



When Christmas marketing goes bad

Adrienne yellowBy Adrienne.


Christmas is coming … but there’s no room in the car park for Coca Cola. Or at least not in Leicester.


Now, I’m not going to lie, I’ve drunk my fair share of Coke in the past. Without question, I drink less now. Much less. And that’s nothing to do with maturing tastes – it’s simply down to the amount of sugar and the effective messaging of Jamie Oliver et al.


But where Jamie gains plaudits, politicians are lampooned. As Keith Vaz, MP for Leicester, found earlier this week when he announced that the infamous Coca Cola truck would not be welcome in his constituency.


In his opinion, should the infamous truck roll into town, lights blazing and Santa winking, the people of Leicester would leave their houses and protest.


Well, Keith, I doubt that’s going to happen, but you do make a valid point.


Having been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes himself, and well aware that this and tooth decay are becoming an increasing problem within his constituency, surely he’s allowed to campaign against those that are contributing to these health issues. And linking his arguments to a big brand definitely got headlines, provoked debate and gave him a platform for his messages.


Now, while on the theme of Christmas TV advertising, I woke up to see the latest John Lewis offering plastered over Facebook and YouTube #manonthemoon and to be honest I was a little disappointed. Am I the only one? Will I grow to love it? Is it too much of the same kind of thing? If you haven’t yet seen it you can watch it here:





All of these thoughts rushed through my head while I watched the little lass with her eye to her telescope spying on the lonely old man in his (B&Q) hut on the moon. Yes, I do want to make people happy with the perfect Christmas present (and will doubtless spend a number of hours in said store), but I’ve got to say I’m a bit bored with the John Lewis Christmas soundtrack and sentiment.


I really want these adverts to be a Christmas tradition but, on first view, I wonder if this type of Christmas marketing is already on the wane. Perhaps I’ll love it in a few weeks’ time, but I doubt it. As much because I rarely see ads anymore. Sky Plus has seen to that.