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About this blog
The Firefly blog features news, views, buzz and ideas around the PR and communications industry.
Social trends, PR and social media tools, communications strategies, attention grabbing WOM campaigns, entertainment hotspots, running integrated and pan-European campaigns, safeguarding reputations and managing crises are just some of the topics we’re talking about.
Mr Selfridge: how the recently celebrated entrepreneur of the early twentieth century is still influencing commerce, PR and marketing today
I’m not a fan of period dramas. Hammy acting and a focus on the tribulations of bored rich aristocracy isn’t my cup of tea; which is why I usually go and make one when the Firefly office chat looks like veering down towards Downton Abbey. If you were in the same horse and carriage as me watching ITV’s Mr Selfridge pilot episode – I doubt most of the 8 million viewers were – this blog shares historical facts about Harry Selfridge’s seductive shopping vision and just might be up your street. I might not like period dramas, but there’s a lot to like about the story behind Mr Selfridge.
Like all successful entrepreneurs and business leaders, Mr Selfridge knew the value of marketing communications and the importance of the press when launching a new enterprise. Having installed Downtown’s chief screenwriter, Andrew Davies, I was intrigued to see his initial focus for the main protagonist’s affections wasn’t a female lead but courting The Illustrated London News.
As his overheads mounted and financial backers pulled out, Mr Selfridge continued to invest in advertising and networking with connected journalists. Bill Gates apparently famously (among PRs anyway) said if he was down to his last cent he would spent it on PR. Both icons have secured their place in history as a result of sharp business acumen and wanting to share it with the world.
It’s debatable if entrepreneurs are born or made, but what is clear is that the brightest blaze a trail from an early age. Episode one of Mr Selfridge makes reference to his first job selling newspapers, and it’s been suggested he was editor of his own publication aged 12. I’m sure if he had been born in our time, you would be reading his blog along with that of Ophelia Horton, a pre-teen fashion blogger of the same age who shot to fame in 2011 for sitting front row at London Fashion Week.
Like all successful entrepreneurs, Harry had more than the trick of turning an idea into an enterprise up his sleeve. Selfridge prevailed in marketing, famously coining the phrase that “the customer is always right” as well as “only ‘X’ shopping days until Christmas”. An adage Don Draper’s fictional character would have been proud of, it remains among the most widely practiced marketing tactics alive today. The only thing I presume that could be beyond his comprehension, was how early the Christmas season started last year.
As I have written about previously on the Firefly blog, era defining entrepreneurs go beyond spotting a gap in the market and strive to impart social and economic development. In the noughties of the 19th century, women’s emancipation from traditional roles had evolved, with women of established wealth and social stature gaining unprecedented influence. The pilot episode introduced two contrasting female characters in this light that look set to have important roles in the store’s development as the series plays out. Avoiding politics and infidelity at the time of writing, Selfridge’s stated ambition was for “people to buy things they didn’t know they wanted”. Steve Jobs used this ethos to redefine Apple by pairing today’s seductive tech aesthetics of visual and functionality design. With the invention of choice, perceived value and convenience, the modern consumer culture was born.
More than pure sympathy for the suffragettes that had gone before, Selfridge realised this movement was the key to keeping customers in his new department store. There’s a scene in the pilot episode in one of the lavish restaurants and a window display plot line which Selfridges is still famous for today. The light bulb moment for his department store vision in London, it is now a mainstay in modern department stores is to promote his strategy of enticing customers in and keeping them there for as long as possible.
Selfridges’ technology footprint is also notable. We’ve been treated to a revolutionary sprinkler system already and Selfridge also saw the importance of the telephone in customer service. Dialling ’1′ meant anyone in the UK would be connected to Selfridges’ telephone operators. He also submitted planning permission for a Tube station to be built under his store. While that didn’t come to fruition, the world’s hyper luxury department stores and shopping centres of today all have this infrastructure built in to their blueprints.
Having worked in retail PR for half of my professional career, I have always admired the Selfridges brand and shopping experience, but knew little of its heritage as a location for pioneering commerce. In the past, if I wanted a heritage shopping experience in London I would seek out the creaking floorboards of nearby Liberty’s. Last weekend I decided it was time for a trip to Selfridges to look for the first time at what remains of Harry’s vision for his department store when he moved to the UK from America in 1907. I didn’t come away with many shopping bags, but at least Mr Selfridge can take comfort that I’ll now be talking more about his brand as well as participating in the costume period office banter.
Firefly bolsters its team, with one new Account Director and two new Account Managers
Firefly Communications announced three promotions at the end of 2012. The promotions celebrate the fantastic achievements of the talented Account Managers and Account Directors, who are responsible for managing and leading our day-to-day client business.
Caroline Higgins has been promoted to Account Director. Caroline joined Firefly in April 2010 and is responsible for leading some of its biggest clients and multi-regional campaigns. Caroline is one of the senior pillars of Firefly’s B2B team, and directs the accounts for The Search Agency, Freescale, EvoSwitch, LeaseWeb and Masternaut.
Austin Brailey has just celebrated his one year anniversary with Firefly – and wrapped up his 2012 with a promotion to Account Manager. Austin was part of the pitch team which, in August 2012, won new Firefly client Savvis, the global leader in cloud infrastructure and hosted IT solutions. Austin also works on the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution (CEDR); he recently led a high-profile project for CEDR on the Inquiry into Inquiries, which was aimed at probing the current public inquiry system.
Charlotte Stoel has also been promoted to Account Manager. Charlotte is one of Firefly’s longest-standing team members, having started her PR career in the Firefly Paris office part-time while completing her degree. Now a core member of the Firefly London team, Charlotte’s clients include Give as you Live – for which she manages award-nominated campaigns, including one which was shortlisted for a 2012 PR Moment Golden Hedgehog and was a finalist in the 2012 Holmes Report European Sabres. Charlotte was also part of the pan-European pitch team that won new consumer client Vimeo, in March 2012.
It’s hard keeping track of all those social engagements at this time of year; and it’s even harder trying to organise them yourself, for all your business contacts, in the last couple of weeks before the big day.
While we may not be able to get you to a reservation at the latest hotspot in town just by reading this post, we can help you to make the right booking. If you’re looking for the best place to eat the latest fusion food or to try the latest craze in uber-cool entertainment, search on. But if you want the real life user’s guide to choosing a venue that is right for your genuine entertainment hopes and fears, than read on…
For if you want to break the ice with some new contacts: Very little makes a lunch more awkward, than not knowing or gelling with the people round the table. Break the ice with some sharing platters from BKB. Three courses, all delivered on sharing boards, mean that you will always have something to say to your neighbour. And if all else fails, wow them with the fact that this is part of the Soho House group, or people watch – the restaurant that is right oppositeLondon’s notorious G-A-Y nightclub.
For if you want to save that awkward scramble to the bar: Or if you want to avoid the discussion about whose round it is, what could beat a table at Bob Bob Ricard? Forget worrying about what wine to order, and just press the “more champagne” button to your heart’s content. The English and Russian food is great for soaking all that fizz up, too. And even better – ties are not required, so you can take those scruffy journalists in there too.
For if you want to look like you have spent more than you have: Oh how we love Brasserie Zedel. Central location right next to the tube, so even the out-of-towners can’t get lost – check! Huge chandeliers and plush decour – check! Exquisite menu – check! A bill that at the end of the night surprises and delights; and means that your boss might just give you a pat on the back for your thriftiness… Waiter, cheque please!
And perhaps the ultimate tip from the team here at Firefly:
For if you want to encourage yourself not to get drunk: book yourself and your guests a table at NOPI. Yes, theMediterranean, Middle-eastern and Asian cuisine is delicious; and yes it has the cool factor. But have you ever found the ladies loo in there? And if you have, have you ever found your way out of it? With that mirror maze, you will definitely need to keep your wits about you if you ever want to get back to your table…
Christmas – the time of year when you spend as much time in one restaurant or bar or another, as you do at your desk. And certainly a time when you spend more time out and about, than you do in your own bed or on your own sofa. We hope that this little guide gives you some festive hosting inspiration; and have fun…
Our media friends have been busy publishing Christmas gift guides, left, right and centre. You’ve seen them in print, you’ve seen them online; “for him”, “for her”, “for the oldies”, for “the young ones”, “for that woman in accounts who you got allocated in Secret Santa”… While they’ve been busying away, have you considered what they might want for Christmas?
With a little help from the team at Give as you Live – which raises money for your favourite charity as you online shop, at no cost to you – us PR folk have thrown together the ultimate Christmas present list for our very favourite people of all: journalists.
1. The Bullshit Alarm – available at Hawkin’s Bazaar for £7, raises 15p for your favourite charity when bought through Give as you Live.
When interviewing spokespeople or talking to those with a less-than-considered pitch, this handy tool will alert hacks to stretched truths or outright lies. “Yes, we really are the world leaders…”
2. iPhone cover with charger – available at Dino Direct for £54.19, raises £1.53 for your favourite charity when bought through Give as you Live.
Keep your spokesperson talking. This iPhone cover with built in charger will make even the dullest of product briefings last and last, so that maybe you’ll give that little nugget of information that will lead you to a front page glory spread. Giving journalists no chance for escape.
3. Leather bag – available at Hush for £120, raises £6 for your favourite charity when bought through Give as you Live.
Always on the move, from briefing, to launch, to office, to pub. In order to keep ownership of the things held most dearly (iPhone, iPad, iPad mini, iwallet, ineedmoretime) this bag comes with a ‘highly recommended’ tag. More glamorous than a carrier bag, and reusable too.
5. Eight cans of Starbucks Double shot – available at British Corner Shop for £23.12, raises 58p for your favourite charity when bought through Give as you Live.
They may not be paying their taxes, but Starbucks coffees keep journalists working those 25 hour days. Help them to stock up for morning/mid morning/pre-lunch/lunch/post lunch/afternoon/home time/pre-bed caffeine-fuelled pick ups.
6. King of Naps Pillow – available at CafePress for £15, raises 1.13p for your favourite charity when bought through Give as you Live.
They’re up early, in the office by the time the rest of the world is debating what to wear and assessing Susannah’s style choice on BBC Breakfast. This King of Naps pillow allows journalists to capture those 40 winks in a bit of down time, perhaps when Nick Clegg is speaking, or at a Peter Andre book launch, for example. Capture some of that beauty sleep, not that they need it, they’re all gorgeous!
When did you say that bullshit alarm is arriving?
Merry Christmas to all our friends in the media, from the Firefly team
Rather than nurse a Jägermeister-infused hangover, in the hope of making a new connection for next year, I’ve stopped walking around town at Christmas time in a Santa hat sticking my business card to people’s foreheads. Instead I am finding out what is important to a few close people in the New Year, and taking a real interest in connecting them.
This time last year, I was walking through Buenos Aries listening to a podcast about blogging. The guy being interviewed said the simplest thing yet: “I blog to reply to the questions people ask me about my product” – boom! How easy is that? And there I was looking to come up with the next Clue Train Manifesto every week.
My point is writing something constructive, educational and helpful for the web means you are saving time and making a connection. There is a strong case that the value we create is directly linked to how much worthy content we can produce. I still have a long way to go, but these days I send people a blog about something, and that comes back to me, people share it and learn something far deeper about me than when I got the next drinks round in, which was not that often anyway…
I was at a Christmas networking event many years ago and was giving my business card to everyone, including the bartender, the toilet attendant and the waiter. After shooting the breeze with a guy and telling him how cool what he did was, he looked me right in the eye and asked me, “Are you sure you want me to call you on Monday?” What he really meant was “You are saying ‘call me’ because you don’t know how to say that you are not interested”. I thought, “Wow! I bet that guy has a lot more time in his day than most people.”
So, if you’re thinking about networking opportunities this Christmas, here are my top five tips.
1. Don’t waste your time having your business card stuck to everyone’s forehead this Christmas; in fact, just forget selling for a moment…
2. Catch up with some people that you already know, maybe some contacts you haven’t made as much time for recently as you would have liked.
3. Identify five people you really want to do business or work with and get time in their 2013 diaries now – they’re probably free, but leave the first week clear.
4. If you are at a Christmas party, leave your smartphone in in your pocket/handbag. Always remember, Twitter and alcohol don’t mix!
5. Reflect on your year and consider some of the great people you’ve met. Think about writing a round-up blog post and include some of them – and then let them know they’ve been included. It’s a nice way of reminding them about you.
However you’re celebrating the Christmas break, make it count – 2013 is going to be a cracker.
Bernie Mitchell is owner of Engaging People, an agency dedicated to helping businesses join the dots between what happens online and offline. He is also the organiser of a host of regular events and workshops, including TagTribe, the Late Late Breakfast Show and London Bloggers’ Meetup.