“Ah, but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now,” Bob Dylan, My Back Pages, 1964

“Ah, but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now,” Bob Dylan, My Back Pages, 1964

Words from another Bob with far more linguistic flair – though my understanding of the Social Housing (Regulation) Act 2023 is (probably) better than Dylan’s.

It’s been a busy start to 2024. I’ve been lucky enough to spend time working with plenty of folks, helping them to set plans and craft the stories that will lead their organisations into future.
These sessions are one of my favourite parts of the job.
Shuffling through some old vinyl and stumbling across Dylan’s track My Back Pages got me reflecting on some of those conversations.
The song is about a person looking back on his younger self. He’s angry and frustrated about all the things he didn’t know; about how wrong his world view was.
He’s saying, the older we get, and the more we learn, the less sure we are of anything we once knew. 60 years on, the words feel familiar.

“Ah, but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.”

Bob got me thinking about our relationship with the past – as people and as organisations.

How, in a busy world where we’re all racing to write the future, it’s easy to lose track of where we’ve come from.

At times, and especially recently, it has felt like we’re programmed to look back in time through cynical eyes.

To be angry at what we weren’t, not celebrate what we were. To mourn missed opportunities, not celebrate successes.

To reflect on the bumps in the road, rather than the reason we started the journey in the first place.

As people and businesses, we get older and, hopefully, wiser.

We have better data and processes to mitigate risks. Better IT and life admin and HR. More cash in the bank to ride out tough times, and an abundance of world-weary life coaches to steer us away from danger.

From a purely rational perspective, we get better.

The danger is that we lose something along the way. In our pursuit of marginal gains we can, slowly and unconsciously, lose our identity, our personality and the values that have defined us.

They get buried under and avalanche of systems and transformation. We turn a bit beige.

That’s why origin stories are so important. They connect us with the souls of our organisations and can help recalibrate us when we get out of line.

They stop cultural drift and provide a good opportunity for the long, hard look in the mirror that we sometimes need.

They turn ‘optimal service delivery’ into a culture where people know its okay to operate outside the box if it means doing the right thing for the business, a client, a tenant or society.

“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it,” goes Simon Sinek’s TED Talk with 60 million views and counting.

We’re still much more comfortable talking about service offers and functional benefits than building emotional connections that last a lifetime.

We love helping people and businesses re-connect with their why and help them bring that to life.

But that story almost always begins with a much younger version of a person or a business.

One that was rationally sub-optional but emotionally bountiful. What we lacked in logic, we made up for in magic. In our ability to imagine a better future.

The ability to knit those two versions of ourselves together allows us to tell our best possible story.

We can be kinder to the younger versions of ourselves. And as plan for the future for ourselves and our organisations, let’s tune in and hear what they would have had to say. In lots of ways they were right and we are wrong.
They might just remind us what it was that started us on this path in the first place.
And as for Dylan? Sorry, Bob, we’ll have to disagree.
And anyway, I always thought the Byrds version of the song was better.

Bobbie Hough
managing director, Hough Bellis Communications


Reflections on joining WISH Scotland’s Board

Reflections on joining WISH Scotland’s Board

WISH Scotland is playing an active role in supporting women to shine in their housing careers, says Nicola Douglas, Account Director at Hough Bellis Communications and newly appointed WISH Scotland Board member

I caught the housing bug about 15 years ago when I cut my teeth in the busy Shelter Scotland press office in my first proper communications job.

Ever since then, I have passionately believed no one should be without a safe place to call home.

My relatively short time there showed me first-hand what it meant if you didn’t have that safety net that most of us take for granted. It also impressed on me the crucial role social housing providers play in society.

I have held communications roles in a housing association, the third sector and local government since then – but that understanding that home is the foundation of everything has always stayed with me.

Fast forward to the present and I’m now a working mum of two children with a long-term health condition, Crohn’s Disease, that has its ups and downs.

Over the past six years I’ve gone from being a freelancer at Hough Bellis Communications to Account Director and becoming part of the leadership team.

I’m really proud of the work we do at Hough Bellis to create great communications for projects that improve people’s lives.

My career here has, in part, been made possible by the supportive, flexible working culture we’ve had in place since long before COVID-19 hit.

Everyone, no matter their parenting or caring responsibilities or disability, should have the opportunity to thrive in their career.

But more widely in society, the reality is that women still face barriers to career progression that men do not, and that was what inspired me to join the Board at WISH Scotland.

While positive progress has been made over the years, women are still underrepresented in leadership roles in businesses globally and in the housing sector.

This is in part because the burden of childcare and caring responsibilities, still largely falls to women. A recent study from the Centre for Progressive Policy found this “disproportionately impacts women and exacerbates workplace inequality”.

Yet, including women in decision-making processes at the top table is better for business.  Women bring different perspectives and skills to bear. A study by McKinsey & Company, supports this assertion – their research found organisations with greater gender diversity in their executive team are more likely to be profitable.

In the famous words of one of my favourite authors Jane Austen, in the novel Sense & Sensibility – “It isn’t what we say or think that defines us, but what we do.”

Employers across the housing sector need to take steps to address workplace inequality and create an environment where women can break that glass ceiling.

While this won’t happen overnight, starting that journey is so important. This is a deep-rooted issue where unconscious biases that we may not be aware of are having a negative impact.

Being open to acknowledging and addressing these biases is a crucial step towards building a culture of equality.

Women of all ages and backgrounds should have equal opportunities to fly in their careers. WISH Scotland is here to champion women working in housing and together we can challenge the barriers to true gender equality in the workplace.

Housing presents a multitude of brilliant career opportunities for women in roles making a positive impact on people’s lives. We need to shout about these, especially to the next generation.

By providing a supportive membership network and a range of events and learning opportunities with inspiring speakers, we are supporting women across Scotland to progress and shine in their housing careers.

As WISH Scotland marks its first anniversary later this month, I am proud to be a part of that.

Visit WISH Scotland for more information here.

 

Nicola Douglas
Account Director
Mob: +44 (0)7759 835244


Communications and trust - reflections on CommsFest 2023

Communications and trust - reflections on CommsFest 2023

CommsFest 2023. What a month that was! 80 delegates, eight sessions, and more than a dozen speakers covering all aspects of communications and housing.

As ever, the conference was a much-needed opportunity to step away from the day job. To learn from the past and look to the future.

Going through 10,000+ words of notes, there were some key themes coming through. Both from our practical sessions on, for instance, crisis management and in our more reflective networking spaces.

Words like transparency, honesty, empathy, clarity and openness appear time and again.

This is reassuring for a sector preparing for Access to Information, under increased media scrutiny and gearing up for regulation linked to perception via the Tenant Satisfaction Measures.

But it is trust – and the need to rebuild trust with tenants in the social housing sector – that provided the golden thread for the conference.

We’ve talked about trust a lot over the past 18 months with clients…. but what is it? How did we lose it? And how do we get it back?

The Trust Triangle from Frances Frei and Anne Morriss is as good a place as any to start on the subject.

The Trust Triangle argues that when trust is lost, it can usually be traced back to a breakdown in one of three drivers: authenticity (I’m experiencing the real you), logic (I believe you can deliver, and your judgement is sound) and empathy (I believe you care about me).

Delve into some of the recent media coverage on the sector and these drivers might feel very familiar.

There is a multitude of internal and external factors that impact each of those areas – but the need for high quality communications sits comfortably across all three.

Yet, often, the role of comms teams is so narrowly defined that our communications professionals have limited ability to have anything other than a peripheral impact on each of these drivers.

For leaders across housing who are passionate about rebuilding trusting relationship with tenants, lifting communications onto a far more strategic footing – and the training and upskilling that comes with that – is a sound starting point.

Throughout the conference, we heard from some incredible peers about when effective communications works well. When an open, healthy culture shines through.

We also reflected on how harmful, and ultimately fatal, it can be when the story we tell about our organisations does not match up with the experiences of tenants, peers, politicians and other partners.

We can put together the most powerful and engaging stories in the world (and we often do), but if they don’t represent people’s real experiences, then at some point down the line this will have consequences.

Communications teams are responsible for the story we tell the outside world, but they are also the guardians of our culture and the champions of the behaviours and language that bring that culture to life every day.

As we were reminded in a fascinating internal comms session, culture and communications go hand-in-hand. You can’t have one without the other.

There is much to reflect on. And that’s why it’s important for us to remember that we are part of a wider community. The roles of communications teams are changing…. and change is difficult. So we must keep learning from each other.

CommsFest is always a good reminder of that.

So, let’s keep connected. And let’s continue to work towards new and more trusting relationship, built on authenticity, empathy and our ability to deliver.

Hough Bellis has set up a WhatsApp group where comms professionals can connect, ask questions and share experiences. To join email bobbie@houghbellis.co.uk

Bobbie Hough
managing director, Hough Bellis Communications


WANTED: New team member

WANTED: New team member

  • Grow your career with a dedicated training programme;
  • Work on national campaigns and projects;
  • Supportive culture with flexible working;
  • No agency experience required.

Hough Bellis is looking for a new Account Executive / Senior Account Executive.

A bit about us…

We’re an established and growing communications agency dedicated to helping people and organisations working for a fairer society.

We create great communications for projects that improve people’s lives.

Through our work we hope to create a society where:

  • Good quality housing is available to all.
  • Communities are places where everyone can thrive.
  • People who are unfairly disadvantaged in society are given a voice.
  • We take action to protect our environment for future generations.

From housing providers carrying out major regeneration projects and clean tech firms revolutionising the energy market, to national campaigns aimed at ending homelessness and reforming our welfare system – all of our clients work towards these goals.

What we’re looking for…

We need someone who is passionate about making a difference. A person who would be proud to deliver projects that make a lasting impact on society.

We’re looking for someone who is ambitious and wants to build a career at a company where there’s plenty of chance to grow. You’ll:

  • be able to write clean, clear copy in a variety of tones
  • be passionate about causes and campaigns and have a strong desire for social change
  • have a good grasp of current affairs and issues impacting clients
  • know what makes a good story and understand the media and social media
  • ideally have experience in organising events
  • be versatile and organised
  • be able to run projects and understand how to work with clients and suppliers

What can you expect from us?

We’re ambitious for ourselves and our clients! You’ll get a dedicated training programme, a mentor to help you grow your career and additional company learning days with experts from across the media, social media and politics.

We’re proud of our work, set high standards and offer strategic advice. You’ll get to work with a variety of senior colleagues who are always happy to help and the opportunity to work on national campaigns that make a lasting impact.

We build relationships on trust and treat people fairly, and with respect. We pioneered flexible working long before other businesses, and trust people to get on with their jobs in a safe and supportive environment.

We make business decisions that improve lives for future generations and protect the environment.

Most importantly, we’re fun to work with – with action-packed company gatherings in places such as Barcelona, Edinburgh, and The Lake District, and opportunities to attend a range of events throughout the year.

We are comfortable doing things a bit differently, and we’ll be there for you whenever you need us.

Most of all, we want people who love doing great work and who love being able to make it compatible with real life. That’s the Hough Bellis way.

What do current staff think?

“It was clear from the start that trust and flexibility are key to the company. It’s great for someone like me as I am trusted to get the work done but can do it when creativity strikes rather than within ‘working hours.’

“I appreciate the importance the company gives to training sessions and personal development – and the effort that goes into away days.” – Account Executive.

Interested?

This will be a permanent role with a salary ranging from £24,000 – £27,000 per year depending on experience.

We’re not like most communications agencies – so if you’ve had a bad experience elsewhere or are looking for a change, we might just be right for you.

We recruit on values and how well we’d work together, so we’re open to people looking for a career change.

To find out more or for a no-obligations chat, get in touch today at bobbie@houghbellis.co.uk

SORRY, NO AGENCIES

Bobbie Hough


Aiming for excellent tenant satisfaction?

Aiming for excellent tenant satisfaction? Then great communications is non-negotiable

Do you work in a housing association or council? How often do you put yourself in a tenant’s shoes? Not just when it comes to your specific service or business area. But thinking about every interaction they might have with your organisation?

For a moment, consider just how many touch points someone living in one of your homes might have with the organisation in any given month. Everything from signage and posters in their building to everyday conversations with housing officers or repairs teams. They might receive printed letters and documents. Perhaps they also follow the organisation on Facebook or are in a community group.

When we zoom out and consider tenant experience like this, often it exposes our blind spots.

How confident are we that everyone who comes into contact with our organisation gets a consistent experience which aligns with the values and principles we’ve spent a great deal of time honing at Board and Executive level?

Do they experience a similar tone of voice? Are they being asked the same questions several times from different departments? Do they feel listened to or are they completely out of the loop?

It’s a lot to consider and when I’ve raised this in the past with landlords the questions and potential next steps can feel unwieldy and overwhelming.

We’re at a point where the whole housing sector has been held accountable for failings in communications with tenants.

It has never been more important to offer a seamless service to tenants, operating as one joined-up organisation which cares about and genuinely listens to the people living in your homes.

The Regulator of Social Housing has laid out its vision for housing associations. It expects them to be more transparent and open. Tenants should, quite rightly, have access to information and the easy ability to hold landlords to account. And tenants will be asked to assess how well they think their landlord is communicating with them.

Communications, then, can no longer be see as something purely delivered by the comms team.

It isn’t just polished documents or social media posts. This is about the whole organisation and every touch-point or conversation someone may have with it.

Strategic, consistent and highly professional communications are essential for delivering excellent customer service and high satisfaction. But, I get it. Where on Earth to start?

How can we identify areas for improvement? How do we begin transforming our culture so that tenants can always trust information and know their experiences and opinions are valued and acted upon

We have partnered with HQN to develop the Communications Audit Toolkit. Amalgamating decades of experience working with hundreds of housing associations and councils, the toolkit is a step-by-step, practical and comprehensive guide to assessing whether you have the right foundations in place to deliver excellent communications with tenants.

It highlights actions and next steps in a logically ordered and achievable way.

Once organisations have invested the time to go through the whole process, they will be highly equipped and prepared to transition into a more open, transparent and tenant-focused culture.

It will also highlight the business-critical nature of communications and why effective comms should be prioritised and invested in accordingly.

It’s not easy having the spotlight shone on us and being publicly critiqued for our failings. But let’s turn a tough lesson and a moment of reckoning into a new era for the housing sector.

Let’s commit to approaching the micro and macro through the eyes of our tenants. Then, the excellent satisfaction will naturally follow.

Join us on Wednesday, November 23 for our In their shoes event with HQN where we’ll be exploring how we can see communications through the eyes of tenants.

For a copy of our Comms Audit Toolkit please email bobbie@houghbellis.co.uk 

Bobbie Hough
managing director, Hough Bellis Communications


Five lessons learned – How effective PR got our client’s issue onto the PM’s priority list

Five lessons learned – How effective PR got our client’s issue onto the PM’s priority list

I nearly fell off my chair when I heard Liz Truss say the words ‘heat networks’ and ‘equivalent support’ in her first speech as PM.

For many, this was a minor point in a wider plan to deal with spiralling energy bills that were driving up the cost of living. But for the team at Hough Bellis, it was the culmination of ten months of sustained campaigning in the media.

It meant that around 500,000 homes in the UK living on heat networks – who were set to be amongst the worst affected by the energy crisis – would get the financial support they needed.

What happened?

As people were enjoying the calm of the week between Christmas and New Year, the government quietly announced its intention to regulate the heat network market. This was huge news for our client Heat Trust, the consumer champion for the sector.

Without regulation, consumers currently have had no protection against poor customer service and inaccurate billing (unless their energy provider signs up to the Heat Trust scheme).

This also means households are not protected by Ofgem’s price cap, meaning their bills have been spiralling uncontrollably as the wholesale cost of gas soared.

The campaign

Since the start of the year, we’ve been supporting Heat Trust with its campaign to:

  • Make sure that these people – who were facing bills of up to £1,000 per month during the winter – were not forgotten by government support packages,
  • Speed up the move to regulation, giving households access to consumer protection in line with other parts of the energy market.

Top tips

Being at the start of my communications career, working on a campaign to get these two outcomes on the agenda has been a steep learning curve. Here are five valuable insights I’ve learnt from working on this campaign:

  1. Map out your timeline

For us, this meant knowing when Ofgem was announcing and bringing in new price caps, when the Queen’s Speech would be and the dates the Energy Bill was being debated in Parliament, and working around that.

By hooking our campaign to key dates we were able to get Watchdog’s Matt Allwright speaking about the problem on The One Show and secure coverage across the national press.

  1. Allow for unexpected opportunities in the changing news agenda

It’s vital to move quickly to react to what is happening in the news, either because the news cycle has come back around or because you now know when something will be announced.

Ofgem don’t always publicly share when they will announce the upcoming price cap, and it could be just a week before. We used our knowledge of the sector to make an educated guess and were prepared with our response.

Similarly, when we realised that the National Housing Federation (NHF) had sent a similar release, we followed up with journalists and the NHF. We achieved coverage on the BBC’s homepage and are now coordinating with the housing body.

  1. Understand your audiences and tailor your message

It pays to tease out what the industry needs to know versus what impacts consumers.

Dealing with a complex and yet too little-known issue has meant that I have had to really break down the issue for journalists and their readers. Even energy journalists have admitted to me they are not that familiar with how heat networks work..!

But doing this has meant we have secured coverage in media as diverse as Energy Live News, The Mirror and You and Yours on BBC Radio 4.

  1. Quick turnarounds

More often than not, press journalists and broadcast producers have a tight deadline for statements or an interview. Although this is unpredictable, it helps to know your client’s or tenant case study’s availability and helping them prepare with notes or possible questions.

  1. Nurture your key contacts

I kept our important journalist contacts updated so they knew who they can come to for reliable help with their stories.

It meant that when a national journalist was unsure of what Liz Truss’s support package would mean for families on communal and district heat networks in her first ever announcement as PM, guess whose inbox she dropped into?

Planning ahead – combined with HB Account Director Ben’s first-hand knowledge of Parliament’s inner workings – has been invaluable and resulted in us getting the support these tenants vitally need.

But with regulation still a way off (if not on the rocks after Jacob Rees-Mogg’s recent revelation), there’s more to be done. Who else is going to fight the corner of heat network tenants if not us?

To speak to Hough Bellis about a campaign you’re passionate about, contact us.

By Catriona Gilmore


I’m sorry I made us fat

I’m sorry I made us fat – reflections on the government’s bizarre culture war on home workers

 

It all started because I didn’t want to wear shoes. Now I’m seemingly being blamed – in part at least – for the nation’s economic downfall and obesity crisis.

When we started Hough Bellis nearly six years ago, we wanted to challenge conventional thinking around the way we worked. To remove the systems and traditions that made little sense in the modern world.

What If we could find a way to get rid of the nonsense working practices that locked people out of jobs (or made them unbearable) – and forced carers, and parents and people with health conditions to choose between the career they wanted and the life they needed?

Then we would have done some good.

From a personal perspective, there were two parts of working life I wanted to confine to Room 101:

  1. Wearing shoes – I have arthritis in my ankles. Shoes hurt my feet. I now have one pair that get dusted off for formal occasions (I still can’t put the team through the embarrassment of turning up to awards ceremonies in my Nike Air Max).
  2. The commute – I’d just had a baby. I wanted to see him grow up. I take him to school most mornings and pick him up most afternoons. I couldn’t have done it driving back and forth to an office in Manchester every day.

Back in 2016 we were vocal about our decision not to take an office and offering staff the flexibility to work where they want, when they want. It wasn’t the done thing at the time, but we knew it would bring loads of benefits and unlock the potential of huge parts of the workforce.

We blogged. We spoke at events about our approach. Plenty of folks lined up to point out we were wrong.

It took a global pandemic to prove we might be right. Fewer than one in ten now want to return to the office full-time according to the Office of National Statistics. Around half of office workers in the UK would rather resign than permanently return to an office building.

Yet, the Ministers and commentators seem to have put returning to the office at the centre of their culture war.

The Bank of England’s policy on home working was blamed for spiralling inflation, Jacob Rees-Mogg has been put in charge of getting us all back around the watercooler, while Boris Johnson seems to think the workplace revolution correlates directly with his cheese intake.

It feels remarkably interventionist for government, and a Conservative government at that, to be telling me how to run my shop.

It also feels like a bizarre put down for a cultural transformation that offers a genuine opportunity for levelling up in red wall communities, the flagship government priority.

So, with home working back in the national spotlight here’s our take on what we can expect from the future of work, and our learning from six years of offering staff freedom and flexibility.

  1. There’s a difference between flexible working and working from home

Flexible working doesn’t mean people being sat at home chained to their kitchen tables 9-5.  It doesn’t have to mean isolation for staff and it’s not the end of sharing ideas or ‘watercooler moments.’ It just requires a different approach.

It’s about giving people the freedom to work how they want, where they want, when they want. Sometimes that might mean working from home, others working from a co-working space or coffee shop.

We’ve held meetings on rooftops in Barcelona and in office blocks in Edinburgh.

It’s about allowing people to work in ways that best suit them and then bringing people together in new and interesting ways.

  1. Cultural reform is needed to unlock the benefits of flexible working

The average daily commute in 2018 was nearly 59 minutes (both ways combined). For those now having to commute to their home office, we’ve been gifted around a day of our lives back each month.

So, what do we do with that extra time? Well, most of us work. Some of us relax, or go to the gym, or help the children with their homework. This has got to be good for a nation that needs to be healthy and happy to be creative and productive.

We need to make it okay for people to have more flexibility in their working choices and give them more freedom over their time.

  1. New leadership and management styles are needed

Modern leadership means being the way you want the company to be. You need to be active in providing a positive culture with clear expectations. If we are less visible, then every interaction counts.

Creating a high trust culture is so important – as is acting swiftly when trust is broken.

We also need to learn to manage by results – setting aims and supporting staff to achieve them.

Those who like to manage by control, propped up by a big office machine, are unlikely to be fans of flexible working.

You have to work a bit harder at creating good working relationships, for example, and find creative ways to get a team buzz. But the flip side is that flexible working fosters creativity, independence and reliability.

We’re focused on what we want to get done (personally and professionally) – and when we do get to spend time together we really value it.

  1. Flexibility should be driven by culture, not cash

If the main driver allowing staff to work flexibly is to save a few quid on office space, then stop what you’re doing right now.

This is a cultural journey focused on improving the health, happiness and performance of your team, not a financial one.

Money that would ordinarily be spent on office rent should be reinvested in better kit, systems and activities that set the right culture.

  1. Working remotely won’t make you fat or lazy

Apparently, home working is impacting our calorie intake. Everyone who’s ever worked in an office knows there are mountains of holiday chocolates and special occasion treats, not to mention the birthday cakes. Lunch is often grabbed at the nearest corner shop.

Food is hastily eaten over a dirty keyboard before your next meeting. If you missed out on the last sandwich, there’s always the crisps and chocolate machine to help you out.

It needn’t be like this of course – lots of worthy people manage to pack a healthy salad before they start out for their early commute AND hold out until lunch time before they crack it open.

I’m no expert on healthy eating choice, and, frankly, neither is our Prime Minister, but surely it’s a lot easier to eat well if you have some influence over what’s in stock.

If Mr Johnson can’t concentrate and eats too much cheese while working from home, perhaps that says more about what goes on at his house than in ours.

  1. Old habits die hard

The old way was great for those who already had it good. It’s no wonder some are desperate to rush back to it.

Newspaper owners who miss their daily sales to commuters and property owners who shudder at the thought of office rents reducing will understandably resist change. It’s also understandable that people who live in crowded or unfit homes may be happy to spend time in the office.

That’s the point – flexible working gives you a choice. We’re on the threshold of something new and exciting. That’s progress. Let’s embrace it.

Bobbie Hough


Ben Powell joins Hough Bellis as Account Director

Ben Powell joins Hough Bellis as Account Director

Ben Powell has become the latest recruit at Hough Bellis following a strong period of growth, joining the team as Account Director. He will play a leading role in ensuring that the expectations of clients are met at all times and will help the agency to meet the growing demand for impactful campaigns and political engagement.

Cheshire-based Ben has 13 years of experience in delivering high-impact communications, media relations, campaigns and public affairs. He joins Hough Bellis from the senior management team at 38 Degrees, one of the UK’s biggest campaign organisations. Prior to that, he held senior communications roles at two trade unions.

After qualifying in law, Ben spent the early part of his career in local and national politics, working in Westminster as a political advisor and serving for six-years as a local councillor. Ben has also held board level positions at Marketing Cheshire and Avenue Services, and currently serves as a Non-Executive Director for a housing association.

He said: “I am thrilled to be joining at what is an incredibly exciting time for the business. The reputation that Bobbie and the team have built over the last five-years is second to none – Hough Bellis has established itself as a must-have partner for any organisation with a social purpose.

“I’m looking forward to helping some outstanding organisations to tell their stories, and I’ll use my experience in delivering campaigns to ensure that they can make a strong impact at the highest level.”

Hough Bellis Managing Director Bobbie Hough added: “Ben embodies our values and has a clear passion for doing work that improves lives and communities.

“The experience that Ben brings to the team will enable us to broaden our offer to clients, building on some of the really exciting campaign work that we have undertaken over the last couple of years.”


Nicola steps up to Account Director role at Hough Bellis

Nicola steps up to Account Director role at Hough Bellis

Hough Bellis Communications has promoted Nicola Douglas to the role of Account Director.

Nicola, who joined the company in 2018 as Account Manager, has been an integral part of the company’s rapid growth.

Hough Bellis now counts more than 30 organisations retaining its services, ranging from local authorities and social landlords to mental health charities and cleantech companies.

The business is also embarking on a recruitment drive on the back of a number of new client wins, with Catriona Gilmore recently joining as Account Executive.

Edinburgh-based Nicola has more than a decade of experience of delivering high impact public relations work in the housing, local government and charity sectors, and has an MSc in PR.

She said: “I’m really excited to be taking this next step in my career with Hough Bellis as the company continues to go from strength to strength. I love my job here and feel lucky to work day in and day out to help organisations with a social purpose to tell their stories.”

Hough Bellis Managing Director Bobbie Hough added: “It makes me incredibly proud to see Nicola progress into this new role.

“She has been a vital part of our success in recent years and epitomises the values that we set at Hough Bellis.”

To find out more about roles at Hough Bellis click here.

Nicola Douglas
Account Director
Mob: +44 (0)7759 835244


Catherine Bellis Academy launches

Catherine Bellis Academy launches

Hough Bellis Communications has launched a new training academy named after its founder, Catherine Bellis.

The Catherine Bellis Academy will launch in 2022 and will help develop the next generation of communications professionals.

The academy will offer training for Hough Bellis recruits and the wider industry.

Catherine helped found Hough Bellis in 2016 with business partner Bobbie Hough, but retired when her multiple sclerosis worsened in 2017.

She remains an active voice in the business and will help develop the academy programme.

Catherine began her career in journalism and edited a number of local and regional titles. She moved in public relations working at Staniforth PR before moving to become a Director at IPB Communications.

Catherine said: “I was one of the very lucky people to look forward to work each day. Having to give it up has been hard. I am delighted to be involved something that will benefit new recruits across the social communications sector. I feel very honoured to have my name attached to what I believe will be such an asset to a new wave of recruits.”

Bobbie added: “Catherine has dedicated a large part of her career to helping develop talented people in both journalism and public relations.

“It is therefore a fitting tribute to set up the academy in her name.

“We look forward to working with Catherine in developing the programme and providing the best possible training for our own recruits and others across the sector.”

Further details about the academy will be announced in 2022.

Bobbie Hough


Catriona joins Hough Bellis as strong growth continues

Catriona joins Hough Bellis as strong growth continues

 

Hough Bellis has appointed Catriona Gilmore as Account Executive as the company enters a new period of strong growth.

Catriona will join the team permanently from 1st November following a stint at The Hut Group. Prior to that, Catriona had worked in marketing for leading cultural tour operator Martin Randall Travel, where she developed and led the organisation’s social media strategy.

With a keen eye for creativity and spotting new opportunities, Catriona is looking forward to working with ambitious and socially conscious organisations.

Hough Bellis Communications was launched in September 2016 and specialises in sharing the stories of charities, housing providers and companies with a social purpose.

Since then, the agency has grown significantly. Hough Bellis now counts more than 30 organisations retaining its services, ranging from architects and social landlords to mental health charities and cleantech companies. They are also embarking on a recruitment drive, with an Assistant Account Manager post currently being advertised.

Catriona will also be the first to benefit from the company’s new training programme, The CB Academy, named after co-founder Catherine Bellis. It was an early dream of the company to offer young communications professionals coaching and insight from esteemed professionals in the industry.

Hough Bellis’ ethos is focused on innovative and flexible ways of working. Working from home long before the pandemic made it the norm, the consultancy has no formal offices and promotes the freedom of its staff to choose the location and hours they work.

Catriona said: “I am passionate about finding and creating opportunities for exciting projects and worthy causes – which is exactly what Hough Bellis does.

“I’m honoured to be the first to train as part of the CB Academy programme, and I’m really looking forward to getting stuck in.”

Bobbie Hough, Managing Director at Hough Bellis, added: “Hough Bellis is enjoying a period of sustained growth and Catriona’s appointment will support the services we offer. She will be an important part of our plans to give companies with a strong social purpose a voice.”

For more information email catriona@houghbellis.co.uk or call 07531 757664.

 


In defence of silliness

In defence of silliness

Being a bit silly is a serious business.

One of the first things I learned as a newspaper reporter was to never be scared of asking a question that might seem blindingly obvious.

They often get the most interesting answers – and rarely do people say what you were expecting.

Yes, every now and again you might look a bit of a berk. But it’s a sacrifice worth making if it earns you the right to tell a better story.

The same is true in business.

Organisations that tell the best stories tend to be the ones that succeed.

And great stories – along with great ideas – only start when you’re prepared to ask interesting questions.

Again, it’s the seemingly simple ones that are the hardest to answer.

We live in serious times.

From troubling scenes overseas to the impact of the pandemic at home, there’s lots to feel angry about.

Serious times need serious people. But not always.

Whether you want society to build back better/stronger/fairer, the reality is if we have the same people asking the same questions and using the same processes, we’ll get the same answers.

Nothing will change. We’ll drift back to how things were – a frustrating prospect for those of us committed to social change.

Recent developments in the shift to flexible working are an example of this.

We have an opportunity to address a deep-rooted social challenge around our relationship with work. To make employment more accessible. To open doors for those locked out of the system.

However, as soon as the great debate reaches those who hold the purse-strings it gets reframed as an economic challenge, not a social one – and we’re back on the carousel.

Serious people, asking serious questions and landing on safe answers. How can this save us a few quid? Who has ever got in trouble for asking that?

Google and others appear to be heading down the route of offering less pay for home workers, while the Government has made its stance clear on where they want people to work.

To me, the Google story is a ludicrous proposition. If someone is, say, 15% more effective at their job working flexibly then surely that constitutes a pay rise rather than a pay cut? Or maybe 15% more time off fourday week anyone?

Maybe my brain works a little differently, and that’s kind of the point.

The ability to reframe situations and view challenges through a different lens will give us more hope on arriving at a future that is kinder, greener and fairer.

Ad man Rory Sutherland’s book Alchemy argues this beautifully, using simple questions to reframe the debate around everything from HS2 and tax reform, to NHS waiting times and the reasons we brush our teeth. 

The pandemic means the world is ripe for change. For the chance to write a new story about our lives and our organisations. But we won’t get there with fear and conformity.

If we really want to change, then now is the time to unleash the creative forces within our organisations and our institutions. 

To empower “the mad ones” as Kerouac described them. The ones who are “mad to live, mad to talk… the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing.”

We need folks who think differently. Who ask daft questions. Who are, perhaps, a little bit silly.

Creatives (and I include comms people in here) challenge conformity. They can take organisations to new places. 

They understand that changing perception can have as much value as changing reality – and that it is a hell of a lot cheaper.

But they can’t do that downstream as part of an operational team.

They need a seat at the top table – and leaders that are brave enough to give them a voice.

For those serious about change, creating a little more room for people who ask silly questions at to the top table might be a good place to start. 

Bobbie Hough


Video: the world’s favourite form of storytelling

Video: the world’s favourite form of storytelling

No other area of comms has developed faster in recent years than video production. Video is a powerful tool that can connect with audiences on a deep emotional level, and it’s becoming increasingly easy to produce with the ongoing evolution of phone cameras, editing apps and social media platforms.

Let’s start off with some stats. You’ll have heard all of these before, but they demonstrate why video is completely essential to any serious PR strategy:

I could go on – but I won’t, because you don’t need me to tell you that video is a big deal. All the major platforms are scrambling to double down on their video offering. Video is the world’s favourite form of storytelling, and telling a story is what good PR is all about.

Producing video content in the 2020s is like having a website in the 2010s.

If you don’t, it’s just a bit weird. People expect it. That said, please don’t start creating video simply because you feel like you need to.

Hopefully by the time you’ve finished reading this, you’ll understand why video content is a valuable comms channel, what sort of video content you could be making, and how you can get started with producing it.

Trends in video marketing

During the COVID pandemic, the video content industry (like most industries) has undergone fairly seismic changes. Here are three big trends you need to be aware of:

Cause marketing

This can be a really hard sell sometimes, but the content you put out shouldn’t always be about the product you’re trying to sell. In times like this, consumers want to invest in brands that care about the things they care about. In fact, two out of three people say they would “choose, switch, avoid or boycott a brand based on where it stands on the political or social issues they care about”.

It’s little wonder, then, that throughout the pandemic we have seen countless examples of brands posting video content about what they believe in, not necessarily about the wares they sell.

Democratisation

With the rise of platforms like TikTok, and with existing channels like YouTube and Instagram providing sophisticated video editing tools, everyone is a creator now. Everyone is a camera operator, an editor, a journalist and a presenter. Is there a way you can harness that desire to create content and make it work for your organisation?

On platforms like LinkedIn, business owners and C-suite members are increasingly finding the confidence to put themselves out there in video form. Some of the most successful posts have been relatively personal and vulnerable in nature, challenging the idea that LinkedIn content must always be ‘professional’.

Unsurprisingly, these days we expect in-house comms and marketing teams to have an enormous skillset. They’re somehow meant to be Hollywood directors as well as knowing their traditional PR and marketing onions. Thankfully, the restrictions brought about by the pandemic have meant that consumers are much more forgiving of content with lower production values. We’ve seen several TV ads shot on phones, and even a feature film made on Zoom – and yet I’ve heard nobody complain about the poor resolution, the wobbly shots, or the mixture of portrait and landscape. Professional quality video production still has a huge impact, but self-shot material can too as long as it feels authentic and tells an engaging story.

Live

With so many ‘real life’ events forced to take a back seat, huge numbers of people have turned to streaming to try and replicate the buzz of a live experience. According to Restream, across the main three streaming platforms, “viewership increased from 3.89 billion hours in Q3 2019 to 7.46 billion hours in Q3 2020.”

One the on hand, people are more accepting of virtual events than ever before – just as they are with those self-shot TV ads. At the same time, though, there’s a growing sense of fatigue with online life. This appetite for live streaming might not continue for long once we’re all vaccinated and able to mingle in person again.

Video content strategy

Before diving into creating video content, it’s essential to think about why you’re doing it, what sort of content you’re going to produce and who’s going to watch it. You should be thinking about these five questions every time you put out a piece of video, as well as when devising your overall content strategy.

Why are you using video?

This gets overlooked surprisingly often, but it’s a really basic question that should inform every stage of the production process. Think about the end goal, and work backwards from there. For example, a charity might be looking to spark debate, drum up donations or raise awareness. Whatever the objective is, everything from the tone of voice to the visual style should serve that goal.

Who will the audience be?

In the same way as you produce video content with the end goal in mind, you should also have the target audience in mind. That could be existing customers, prospects, staff, or someone else. In 2020 I created a series of six videos for St Ann’s Hospice to promote their Manchester Midnight Walk, and the tone of each video was tailored to a specific audience. Compare this video aimed at existing supporters, with this one aimed at people wanting to keep fit. Just as a side note, the Manchester Midnight Walk inevitably didn’t go ahead due to the pandemic, but I was able to reversion the existing content to help promote their Virtual Walk instead.

How do you want people to feel?

Provoking a strong emotional reaction is a proven way to get people to engage with and act on your video. Despite what we might want to believe, most decisions are driven by feelings rather than logic. At the start of the production process, decide what emotional response you’re aiming for, and go all-in on it. Humour, sadness, anger, surprise – all of these and a thousand others are powerful tools for making your content stick in the viewer’s mind.

What will set your content apart?

Standing out from the crowd can feel like an impossible task. Especially in the days when 500 hours of video get uploaded to YouTube every single minute. But it’s well worth thinking about how your video content will be heard amongst the noise. It might be that your brand has a really specific tone of voice that you can apply to your videos. Maybe you give people a clear incentive to watch, like in this brilliant boohooMAN competition devised by Social Chain. One simple way to stand out is to target a very specific niche, or appeal to an audience in a single locality.

Back in 2019 I was building my own brand – trying to build a reputation out of thin air, having previously been comfortably employed by the BBC. I wanted to put some content out there that would show off my skills, make a big impact and give my social channels a boost.

Using Google Earth Studio, I created a series of four videos showing stunning aerial views of different northern cities. There were two main things that set these videos apart. As the technology was new, I knew people wouldn’t have seen anything like it before. I also knew that targeting a specific local area is a surefire way to gain traction, simply because there’s less competition than if you’re going up against the entire internet. The result? Each video received hundreds of thousands across Facebook and Twitter, I gained hundreds of followers (from next to zero) and the Manchester video was shared by Manchester Evening News.

When/where will you publish it?

There are lots of things to consider here: how frequently you want to publish video, how frequently you want to publish non-video content, how much you want to spend, whether there’s a topical event you can peg your content to. Will you be making it yourself or will it be professionally shot and edited? There’s often a balance to strike here: could you upload DIY content on a regular basis, and more polished pieces less frequently?

Remember that not every piece of video content will work on every platform. Each social network has its own quirks in terms of what content performs best, what format your video should be in, and the demographics of the user base.

Practical tips for content creation and publishing

We live in a world where most of us have a video production studio nestled in our pocket. Phone cameras are still no match for professional sound and video recording equipment, but they can work brilliantly for everyday social media content. Here are a few simple ways to get the most out of your phone. Some of these tips will also apply to DSLRs and other digital cameras, but I will focus on phones because you can also use them to edit and publish your content.

5 tips for filming yourself or other people

  1. Set up in an area with plenty of natural light. You (or the subject) should be facing the light or at a slight angle. If the sun is so bright that your face is overexposed, move away from the window or use the curtains. Be intentional about what time of day you film, thinking about how much sun there will be and from what direction.
  2. Consider whether you/the subject should be looking straight at the lens, or off to one side at an interviewer. Keep this consistent.
  3. If you’re filming yourself, still try to use the back camera (not the selfie camera) if you can. Not only is this probably a better camera, it also takes away the distraction of the screen and helps you focus on the lens. You will need to make sure the shot is framed right first – e.g. by taking some test footage.
  4. Minimise all background noise. Before you start, be quiet. Listen for any noise, even if it’s just a low background hum, and see if you can identify it and eliminate it.
  5. Think about your framing. Should your phone be landscape or portrait? There’s no right or wrong answer, it mainly comes down to what platform/s you’re using. Get a tripod or find some other way to get the camera to head height; low angles rarely look good!

5 tips for filming other subjects (B-roll footage)

  1. Always shoot more than you need.
  2. Experiment with slow motion. It will smooth out your shots and give them an arty quality.
  3. Time lapses can be incredibly effective and incredibly easy, either on your native phone camera or using third-party apps. Think about what would make an engaging relevant time lapse for your brand – from sunsets to setting up for events.
  4. If you need to stitch lots of shots together (e.g. for an event highlights film) make sure you get a mixture of different types of shot. Close-ups, wide shots, and maybe some slow motion or time lapse.
  5. Don’t feel like you need to move the camera unless there’s a specific reason to do so. Static shots, framed and edited well, will look dynamic and professional. Random wobbly panning will not!

5 tips for publishing video content

  1. Take your time at the upload stage! Otherwise you’re wasting all the time and money you’ve spent on producing the content itself.
  2. Consider creating different versions of the video for different platforms.
  3. Choose a suitable thumbnail, title and description that grabs people’s attention and accurately reflects what the video is about.
  4. Consider whether you need to add subtitles – I’ve linked to a couple of great tools for that below.
  5. If your video is going on a website, add plenty of supporting copy to give search engines a fighting chance of taking notice.

5 apps I recommend for video

  1. Adobe Spark Video – online and on iOS. A really intuitive way of pulling footage and photos together into a video, with the ability to add text, music and stock assets.
  2. Lumen5 – online, iOS, Android. This is perfect if you generate a lot of blogs, press releases or other written content. It turns your text into a really nice-looking video automatically. You can tweak it to your heart’s content, but honestly you’ll be amazed by what it does on its own.
  3. Rev – online. Upload a video and a human transcriber will create subtitles for you. I use this service all the time – staggeringly cheap and generally very accurate.
  4. MixCaptions – iOS and Mac. Like Rev but automatic, so it’s quicker and cheaper but less accurate.
  5. FiLMiC Pro – iOS and Android. If you’re serious about filming with a phone, this app is essential. It gives you manual control over all the things your native camera does automatically, which means you can fine tune things like focus, exposure, white balance and audio.

Over the past year, we have seen massive changes in the way video is made and consumed. The power and prominence of video is only going to grow over the coming decade. Just in the start of the year we’ve seen once again how even the simplest, most amateurish video content can take pop culture by storm.

It’s important to remember, though, that video isn’t the be all and end all. It’s just one method of communication. It’s arguably the one with the most potential impact, but it’s also one of the most expensive. Your PR and marketing strategy should involve several different touchpoints, which all complement each other and have a consistent tone of voice. And one of those touchpoints, of course, should be video.

Ben Horrigan,  Studio 91

Read more about the new partnership between Hough Bellis and Studio 91 here

 


Hough Bellis and Studio 91 announce new partnership

New partnership

Hough Bellis Communications has formed a new partnership with video production agency Studio 91.

The partnership is part of the company’s plans to expand the services it offers to clients as the demand for film production and editing continues to grow.

Studio 91 is based in Stockport and Manchester and led by Ben Horrigan who previously spent six years producing digital video content for the BBC for flagship brands such as Blue Peter and BBC News.

It is a social video production agency driven by purpose and impact and works with clients with inspiring and sharable stories to help tell them.

Bobbie Hough, managing director at Hough Bellis, said: “We’re delighted to be working with Studio 91, an agency which shares our values of working with clients with a social purpose.

“The demand for film content continues to grow and with Ben’s talent and experience, this partnership will enable us to offer our clients new and creative ways to share their stories.”

Ben added: “Hough Bellis have an amazing track record not just in terms of the great work they do, but in the way they do it. We’re so excited to be working alongside them and their clients, towards our goal of making content that is good for people, good for platforms and good for the planet.”

You can see the latest showreel from Hough Bellis and Studio 91 here:

Bobbie Hough


Are you Re-flex or Low-flex?

Are you Re-flex or Low-flex?

How will our businesses look by the end of 2021?

One of the silver linings of the Covid age has been its role as a change agent. It has forced us to challenge traditional beliefs on how we run and structure our organisations.

We have long argued the case for a more flexible approach to work – and the need to ensure a (peaceful) transfer of power away from business owners and leaders and back towards employees.

In short, give people freedom and choice – so long as they can meet the needs of their roles and the business – and you should get happier staff and better outcomes.

Over the past 10 months we’ve been privileged to speak to dozens of leaders about this topic. For some reform was already on the horizon, for others Covid has been a catalyst for reimagining what their businesses might look like once we return to some kind of normality.

2021 will be the year that the outcomes of those soul-searching conversations become apparent, where freshly polished transformation programmes turn vision into reality.

Some change will happen very quickly, but most will take a significant amount of time.

Internal comms and a focus on re-evaluating the stories we tell about our companies will be high on the agenda. Those who have engaged and empowered their teams early in the conversation will be best placed to deal with the challenges ahead.

As new business models start to take shape, we have identified four main categories that – in the broadest possible sense – typify the approaches businesses seem to be taking. They are:

 Re-flex ·       A switch to fully remote working with all offices closed – or repurposed

·       An emphasis on high levels of flexibility for staff. Where possible teams will be given the freedom to work where, when and how they choose as long as aligned with business needs and organisational culture

·       A focus on implementing a high trust culture

·       Organisations will be outcomes focused

·       Technological innovation focused on staff wellbeing and collaboration

·       More flexible services will drive new and more accessible offers for customers

 

Hy-flex ·       A hybrid approach of both office and remote working. Offices will take on the role of an ‘innovation hub’

·       An emphasis on high levels of flexibility for staff. Where possible teams will be given the freedom to work where, when and how they choose as long as aligned with business needs and organisational culture

·       Staff given freedom and choice to attend the office when they need to – recognising individual circumstances – providing business and cultural needs are met

·       A focus on implementing a high trust culture

·       Organisations will be outcomes focused

·       Technological innovation focused on staff wellbeing and collaboration

·       More flexible services will drive new and more accessible offers for customers

 

Low-flex ·       A hybrid approach of both office and remote working

·       Limited levels of flexibility – such as a designated number of days working in the office each week, or traditional ‘flexi-time’ with core hours. Terms are dictated by the organisation, with limited staff input

·       Technological innovation focused on staff outputs – for example monitoring login and logout times

 

No-flex ·       An immediate return to traditional working practices

·       Exclusively office based

 

 

I wonder how many leaders recognise where their organisation might fit?

Of course, the above is not meant to offer any definitive answer on where companies may or may not end up over the coming years.

We are in a rapidly evolving environment – there is no rule book for the set of circumstances we find ourselves in.  This is merely a snapshot in time based on conversations in lockdown with a wide variety of businesses, and an attempt to offer up a first draft of a framework based on months of debate.

It is a provocation – there for people to muse upon, challenge and dissect.

Nobody is certain what the future will look like. But what is clear is there are plenty of good people having meaningful conversations to ensure their businesses are kinder, greener and fairer places to work after the pandemic.

And that, for once, is good news.

Bobbie Hough


Transparency is nothing to fear

Transparency is nothing to fear

 

The Government’s white paper on Social Housing mentions transparency nearly 30 times.

If you managed to miss it, take another look: it talks about transparency in relation to culture, regulation, accountability, performance, information provision, charges, decision making, tenant engagement and accessibility.

Transparency is already at the heart of many housing associations, who strive to be as openly accountable as possible.

To many organisations it is old news: the Freedom of Information Act is a teenager, launched 15 years ago. Many public sector bodies have become used to publishing information and responding to requests as a matter of routine.

While the white paper stops short of making the social housing sector subject to the Act, it does propose that transparency will be regulated through a new access to information scheme.

Housing associations will adapt – and it’s worth learning a few lessons from those who’ve gone before.

As usual with these things, it starts with culture – Boards and leaders must be genuinely supportive of openness or it will be a struggle throughout the business.

It can be tough – but it’s easier to learn to love it than try to dodge it.

And now is the time to know and own your organisation’s problems and weak points. Know the story behind them and what is being done to put them right.

Your communications team is your friend when it comes to providing clear, consistent information in a transparent way.

It’s what many of us are trained to do.

So it’s worth colleagues getting together now to work out how your organisation is going to open up, what you need to do to prepare and to learn to love this new regulation on transparency.

 

Susan Fox is the author of “Freedom of Information: is it changing the way we do PR?” in Chartered Public Relations: Lessons from Expert Practitioners, published by Kogan Page.

Would you like some help understanding what the access to information scheme might mean for your organisation? We’d love to hear from you. Contact us hello@houghbellis.co.uk.

Sue Fox


Liverpool charity launches first ever Merseyside Mental Health Week

Liverpool charity launches first ever Merseyside Mental Health Week

Liverpool mental health organisation, Imagine Independence has teamed up with Hough Bellis Communications to launch the first ever Merseyside Mental Health Week.

Imagine Independence is bringing together people and organisations from across the region to support thousands of people experiencing poor mental health and to raise awareness of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on mental wellbeing in the city region.

Taking place from 2nd November to 6th November, Merseyside Mental Health Week will deliver a week-long programme of online events and community activities.

This includes working with local people on Imagine’s Building Up Stronger project which is trialling a new approach to providing mental health services, improving digital skills and reducing loneliness and isolation.

The week is backed by The Liverpool City Region Combined Authority, Liverpool City Council, Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust, Professional Liverpool, The Federation of Small Business, Knowsley Chamber of Commerce, LFC Foundation and Everton in the Community.

Hough Bellis has worked with Imagine since 2018, overseeing the organisation’s major rebrand, together with the development of an effective social media presence.

Margaret Hanson, Chief Executive of Imagine Independence, said: “Merseyside Mental Health Week couldn’t have come at a more important time for our region as we move into increased lockdown restrictions. We hope that through Merseyside Mental Health Week we will encourage more people to seek out help.”

Bobbie Hough, Managing Director at Hough Bellis added: “We’re proud to be supporting Imagine Independence in launching this campaign. It fits perfectly with our vision of working with great people to deliver great work on projects that improve people’s lives.”

For more information contact Bobbie Hough on bobbie@houghbellis.co.uk or call 07794204268.

Bobbie Hough


Do we need a Human Translate app?

Do we need a Human Translate app?

My latest phone update came with a translate app – could be handy, I thought.

Playing around with it threw up some weird autocorrects until I learned how it worked (“Gluten morgen wine list veg tea” being the memorable one). Yes, I could have read the instructions, but does anyone do that any more? And that got me wondering – what if we had a human translation app?

We’re in the midst of – well, you know, weird / unprecedented / strange times (delete as applicable to you). Faced with extreme and frequent changes of rules for social interaction, work, travel and even doing the shopping, an understanding of human behaviour and attitudes has never been so important.

There are times when bringing people along with you is the best way to get the results you need, and this is surely one of them.

Building trust with your communities, creating clear and consistent messages and knowing how to convey them effectively is something every professional communicator will happily bend your ear about, if you’ll let us.

The ability of the human being to rationalise our beliefs and behaviours can be astounding (Barnard Castle eye tests, anyone?).

And our inability to understand the attitudes of others can create tension, waste time and risk lives. Now is a great time to increase our understanding of other people – and of ourselves.

In the words of the evergreen Jane Austen “One half of the world cannot understand the pleasures of the other”. Or the prejudices.

While we’re not at the stage of having a “Human Translate” app, taking time to understand ourselves – maybe through training, coaching or mentoring – not only helps to clarify our own motives and behaviours, it can also shine a light on why other people behave as they do.

Those of us who work in communications know that it can take a very long time to change behaviours and attitudes, and we need all the help we can get.

I think now is the time for us all to take the first step in building our own internal “Human Translate” app.

If you’d like to improve your communications skills or build your confidence through coaching and mentoring, contact Hough Bellis – we’d love to hear from you Hello@houghbellis.co.uk  

Sue Fox


A winning smile

A winning smile

We’re feeling warm and happy at Hough Bellis right now. The reason? We’re super-proud to have won the PRCA Dare Award for Small Consultancy of the Year.

We were also shortlisted for the Prolific North PR Agency of the Year award.

I’m so pleased the work of the Hough Bellis team has been spotted and recognised.

They’re a good group of people doing great things – and they’re a lovely bunch to work with.

A huge thankyou to everyone who we work with and to our amazing team.

Bobbie

Bobbie Hough


Photo of hands using a “touch to give” card reader

How can our charities bounce back?

How can our charities bounce back?

The corona-coaster hasn’t been a fun ride for any of us, and we suddenly find ourselves in July. For many of us, the whole year seems to have been a blur.

Almost every sector has been affected in some way. We’ve heard a lot about the collapse of retailers and restaurants and a swift change of direction for many others.

One sector we perhaps hear less about is the charity sector. Possibly because charities operate in such wide-ranging areas in our communities.

But charities have been hit incredibly hard. People have had less money to give and fundraising events have been cancelled or dramatically scaled back.

Yet, in many cases, it has been those charities which have supported our communities through the COVID-19 crisis.

Large national charities have a huge presence, levels of awareness are high and marketing budgets are large. I’m sure we can all name several national charities who have been able to continue with their high-profile advertising campaigns, swiftly updating them in reaction to the changing situation.

They are undoubtedly doing amazing work.

But what about those that are regionally or locally based? The ones providing food parcels to hungry families, or breast-feeding support to new mums, or money advice to those in debt, or help for elderly people unable to leave their homes?

Those charities have helped many people survive the last few months but are now struggling to survive themselves.

For small charities relying on donations and grants to continue providing their service, their financial situation is always uncertain. But for many, the crisis has had a bigger impact than they’ve experienced before.

So what can we do about it?

We can choose to support them of course, whether that’s financially, by volunteering our time or helping to raise awareness.

But what will have a greater, more lasting impact, will be charities telling their stories to the Government. Highlighting the impact that the pandemic has had on them, and the often vital services that may disappear without support.

Charities need to do that now and do it consistently. Those small organisations may not have a big voice when they stand alone. But standing together to campaign for additional funding and support could really have an impact.

We need funding and financial support to be targeted in a way that lets the regions decide how they can best support charitable organisations.

This week there were some big announcements from the Government, pledging support to people out of work, the hospitality sector and home buyers. They are looking to get the economy moving again after the lockdown.

Now is the time for charities to make their voice heard. And the louder we can all shout in support of them the better.

Anna Ross


Vintage photo of a man carrying bricks in a street

Let's build something new

Why not rushing back to outdated working practices matters

 

For about five years I couldn’t walk. I could barely get myself dressed.

I’d been crippled by Rheumatoid Arthritis.

It was a condition I’d had since a teenager. The doctors said it would catch up with me as I got older. I ignored them. They were right.

By my mid-20s I had to use walking sticks to get around. I was depressed. In a horrible place. One that I’m sure lots of people reading this have been to at some point.

Keeping going

Thankfully – with the help of our wonderful NHS – I got better. Physically and mentally.

One of the things that kept me going during tough times was work.

Like many people with a long-term health condition, work provided a counterpoint to other problems. It was something I could control.

When work doesn’t work

The problem was that work wasn’t working. Not for me. And not for many people in a similar position.

Unplanned bouts of fatigue and pain were hidden. Long commutes sapped already depleted energy. But that wasn’t the worst of it.

15%!!!

A quick scan on my diary from that time shows around 35 hospital appointments each year. For context, there were 253 working days in 2019. Add in annual leave and that accounts to 15% of working time at hospital.

I’ve always had supportive bosses. But for businesses of any size these are tough numbers to digest.

There will be countless people in your organisations going through similar challenges. Circumstances that make work and home life incompatible.

Last year 4.2 million Brits who reported they had a disability were in employment. 70% of the 1.8 million single parents in the UK are in work, up from just 44% in 1996.

Almost 5 million workers are juggling work with caring responsibilities for a family member or friend. That’s one in every seven of your staff.

Flexibility

All the Government reviews, research papers and reports on this issue could be boiled down to one word. Flexibility.

That’s all people really want and need. The freedom to make work work for them.

At Hough Bellis we wanted to give people as much flexibility as possible. No office, no commute (thought we meet up regularly) and, where possible, the freedom to choose hours that fit your circumstances.

More freedom – when handled properly – means better performance and happier staff. That’s always been our experience.

In the UK, 77% of employees feel flexible working makes them more productive. Only 17% of people who work from home feel regularly affected by workplace stress, compared to 37% who work in office-based cubicles.

Over 39% of the people who work flexibly see a noticeable improvement in their mental health.

The future

We are already hearing of companies reporting a spike in productivity and a fall in sickness for large sections of the workforce – including those with long term health challenges – since lockdown.

As we wrestle with what the future of our organisations should look like my ask is that we take time to think about how we can unlock the hidden talent in our organisations.

The dozens or hundreds or thousands of people who have never been able to thrive because their work life and home life were not compatible.

We have a chance to change that.

The old way was great for those who already had it good. It’s no wonder some are desperate to rush back to it.

For those who believe in people’s potential, let’s build something new!

Bobbie Hough


Image of a postcard of Runcorn, the book The Gruffalo and the book On the Road

If you’re a leader, then you’re a storyteller

If you’re a leader, then you’re a storyteller

 

All great stories start with change.

Whether it’s the inquisitive mouse setting off on a journey through the forest in Julia Donaldson’s  classic – and my son’s favourite book – The Gruffalo, or Sal Paradise heading west across America in Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, a story that inspired a generation of beatniks (and one angsty teen from Runcorn), there’s a common theme in the stories that define us.

Think of the books you love. The songs that make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. The newspaper articles that boil your blood, or academic papers that make you pause for thought.

The catalyst for all of them? They all start with a moment of change!*

Over the last few months we have had to reinvent our businesses, our society and how we see the world as individuals.

We are standing on extremely fertile storytelling ground.

A plot twist

Right now, whether we recognise it or not, we are all writing a new chapter in the stories of our ourselves, our communities and our organisations.

In the face of monumental change, how we respond will reshape how the world sees us. It’s a plot twist. A chance to take the story in a new direction.

Or, for those who don’t like the story so far, an opportunity to start afresh.

How we go about this will impact our businesses and careers for years.

Organisations who get it right – the local shop that delivers to its vulnerable customers, the pub that cooks for the homeless – will earn trust and be repaid with loyalty.

For those who get it wrong – the organisations which put profit before people or abuse the trust of the public – huge investment will be needed to repair the reputational damage. Some will never recover.

Storytelling takes time 

The stories of our organisations – and the people who lead them – take time to tell and need to be crafted so they fit with our values and aspirations. They need a narrative arc. They need a strategy.

‘Quick win’ newspaper articles are not storytelling – nor is spamming key messages out on Twitter.

Like a conductor standing in front of an orchestra, leaders must set the direction for thousands of individual actions choreographed to create a symphony that an audience (be it our colleagues, customers or stakeholders) can understand, believe in and celebrate.

Those promising otherwise are selling snake oil.

It’s a noisy world

The world is a noisy place – as Sarah Harvey wrote about in her last blog.

An overwhelming 6,000 tweets go out every second and this blog is one of nearly four million being posted as I write.

We hear communicators talk about achieving the fabled ‘cut through.’ But cut through only gets you so far. It needs to be backed up by trust. And an understanding that a brand or person belongs to the same tribe as you.

Stretch your hand out in front of you and give a thumbs up (don’t worry, you’re probably WFH so no one is watching).

The area of your thumbnail – that’s what you see in HD. It’s about 2° of our field of vision. The rest is more blurred. A bit fuzzy. It’s there. But it’s never quite as sharp. The more we move to the periphery of our vision, the less we can focus.

Our eyes are constantly scanning the horizon for things we should focus on. For signs of change.

We digest information in a similar way. There is plenty of it out there. But a tiny fraction of it commands our undivided attention each day.

Often these are the things that are relevant to our own lives right now – conversations with friends, family and work colleagues and information from causes that we already know align to our belief systems.

If we want people’s attention, then we have to earn it.

Fancy sports cars

One off campaigns that blast into public consciousness for a moment are like a fancy sports car zooming past us on the motorway.

We hold them in our gaze for a second – we may even stop to admire them – but we rarely dwell on them for long.

By telling our story clearly and consistently over time, by being authentic and sticking to our values, and by being brave enough to allow people and organisations to show character and vulnerability we will register more regularly in people’s vision.

This is how we tell our stories. This is how we build trust. And this is how – when we do get opportunities to cut through, and we do hold people’s gaze – our message not only lands but sticks.

We all have the chance to write our own story. Now is the time to consider whether you are happy with yours.

* Will Storr’s book The Science of Storytelling is excellent on this topic.

Bobbie Hough


• Image of a computer screen in a video conference showing the message “unmute”

Is lockdown allowing more people to have a voice?

Is lockdown allowing more people to have a voice?

The coronavirus pandemic has been frightening. For many people, it has been a lonely experience.

Everyone is more distant than ever. Overcoming the downsides of this has been the focus of plenty of articles in recent months.

As lockdown restrictions continue to transform the way we connect and communication as both individuals and as organisations, I’d like to consider another perspective and ask whether in the face of these challenges, space has been created for some new and different voices

Author and businessman Stephen Covey famously highlighted that one of the most important habits of highly effective leaders is the ability not just to find your own voice, but to inspire others to find theirs.

While the lockdown has created huge challenges for everyone at both a personal and professional level, what it has created is a levelling of the playing field at a scale we’ve never seen before. From leaders to frontline workers and everyone in between, what is putting us all on a more equal footing in organisations is that no one has the answers.

Is this leading to a new environment not just where more people are finding the confidence to raise their voice, but where we have the space to take more notice?

The Zoom era

One of the biggest changes in how we do our jobs has been the overnight shift to video conferencing as the primary way for us to connect and continue to make things happen.

Zoom now has more than 300 million daily users. It has transformed our daily life, and, while the challenge of Zoom fatigue is very real, the new behaviours it is enabling could also be having some positive effects that we can build on for the future.

Some organisations that I have been talking too have been reflecting that they are starting to see that those often thought of as ‘the quiet ones’, now contributing more to conversations over Zoom and other platforms.

I was interested in an example of a Zoom meeting of around 15 mostly senior people discussing a new idea for a project, when one ‘quieter’ team member put some thoughts in the chat bar. That person’s idea went on to become the basis that the entire piece of work was taken forward on.

Whether they would have felt comfortable, confident or even given the opportunity to raise their voice above the crowd in a ‘traditional’ meeting setting is an interesting question, but on this new platform they had a new way to use their voice and they influenced the entire future direction of the piece of work as a result.

It got me thinking about how leaders and communicators can become more aware and better empower new voices in their organisations to feel confident enough to speak up. And if we did that how much hidden talent might we be able to uncover?

Thriving in lockdown

Similarly, there are some great examples of some of our current ways of working enabling people who have challenges with traditional office settings to thrive during lockdown.

People with underlying health conditions or commitments caring for family members that might previously have had to take time off to manage their health or responsibilities, potentially missing out on opportunities to have their say or share their ideas, are now being enabled to work in a different way and become more engaged.

Again, the benefits to organisations in unlocking new talent through a more flexible way of working is an interesting area to explore.

Old power vs new power

In the book #newpower, authors Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms talk about a shift in power brought about by an increasingly hyper connected world from a top down, controlled flow of information, to a more open and collaborative approach where ideas and movements spread and flourish at a pace never seen before.

For communications, this creates a new world of possibilities – one where it’s no longer always the biggest organisations with the loudest voices that are having the most impact but providing a platform for the most genuine and authentic messages to shine through. More about this in a future blog!

Navigating an uncertain future

We are all continue to do our jobs in the face of huge uncertainty. The only thing we know for certain is that we don’t know what the future holds.

If we are to build something better from this then hearing more voices will certainly help. The challenge for everyone – and communications professionals in particular – is to maintain this diversity of contribution when the noise returns.

Sarah Harvey


Photo of office cubicles

Workplace evolution: standing on the cliff edge of change

Workplace evolution: standing on the cliff edge of change

Welcome to the new world of work.

But a word of caution. We might just find that – once the dust settles – this brave new world isn’t that different to the old one.

Big or small, most companies have wrestled with, planned for and even dabbled in introducing more remote and flexible working models. Now this is being imposed upon us.

Much has been written about how remote working and home working (and they are two different things) will change businesses beyond recognition.

This is nonsense.

“It’s evolution, not revolution.” A phrase made famous by Clifford Berryman’s 1934 cartoon about Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal… and latterly, brilliantly bastardised in an Alan Partridge sketch.

This is what we are about to experience.

Lockdown has been abrupt and painful. But it has also provided a natural transition point for how we work at a time when many of us were already standing on the cliff edge of change.

It’s a line in the sand. An opportunity for renewal, where we recognise the things we were doing that had become archaic, and consider how we can adapt and progress to make work better.

This isn’t a seismic shift. Nobody is advocating closing every office in the land. There are no campaigns for a global ban on meeting rooms post COVID-19 (though some would argue there should be one).

This is a chance to take the good we learn from our time working remotely and make it part of whatever our new normal might be.

We’ve worked remotely since we founded three-and-a-half years ago and I’m here to tell you that there is no silver bullet here. More flexible approaches to working won’t cure all of your ills. They won’t stop a recession.

But, when done right, remote working leads to happier, more productive staff and creates a better work-life balance. Those are all good things.

I’ll blog on the reasons why we work remotely another day. For now I’ve attempted to bust some myths for those considering how they might introduce more remote and flexible working over the long-term.

These are based on our experiences along the way. I hope you find them helpful:

Culture and performance

Buildings don’t build culture. Having more desks won’t make your processes better. It’s people. It is always about people!

I’ve heard claims that being remote will affect your team spirit. Will make you less efficient or effective as a business. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Leadership, trust and communication are what matter. As is recruitment.

Staff wellbeing

All businesses, whatever size and however they are run, have a duty to wellbeing. For remote companies, that manifests itself in different ways.

Some people thrive working remotely, others will find it more challenging.

There is always a trade-off. There’s no need for long commutes, and people have more time for friends and family, but loneliness can become a bigger factor.  Working practices need to change to meet new challenges.

It’s important to remember that being remote doesn’t mean that you’re tied to your dining room table. It means you can work wherever’s best for you. Meeting up regularly (once we’re allowed) is important for our professional and personal relationships.

Trust is king

Remote working thrives in businesses with a high trust culture.

For those used to being micromanaged it is going to be a big shift and it could be a difficult time for staff. Managers will have to adapt to giving up more control.

If teams are used to managing their workloads and feel empowered they will thrive and productivity will likely go up.

Do what works for you

Every business is different. Every person is unique. Some of us do our best work in an office, others crave more freedom. It will ultimately be up to leaders to decide how much and quickly they feel their organisation can adapt.

This isn’t for everyone, but it’s going to play a big role in the future of work. Staff will come to expect flexibility. They will see the value in having more control over their own time. Now is the time to learn the lessons and find out how different working models features in your future.

Bobbie Hough


Vintage photo of women at a bar

The power of human connection

The power of human connection

Human connection. It’s probably not something we think about as part of our usual daily lives. We have our families, friends, colleagues, neighbours, people we chat to when we’re in the gym (or in the pub).

Most of the time, we wouldn’t necessarily consider these interactions as human connection.

They’re just our families, our mates. We chat, we hug, we do things and we do nothing, together. We don’t even really think about it much. That’s just life, isn’t it?

But with the arrival of COVID-19 and the resulting lockdown, the need for human connection has, certainly for me, been brought into very sharp focus.

Suddenly, the ability to spend time with other people has been taken away. Lives literally depend on us keeping our distance.

Lockdown has been incredibly difficult for many people, myself included. As I write this, we don’t know when or how the restrictions will be lifted. We don’t know when, or even if, life will return to the way it was before the pandemic.

The phrase “the new normal” is being bandied around and quite frankly, it’s terrifying.

A new community

But this is our normal for now, and I’ve found it really interesting to see how people from across the globe have responded.

Sometimes it’s heart-warming, other times it’s rage-inducing, but the fact that we feel strongly either way about the actions of people who are so far away from us speaks volumes.

We’re now focussing a lot of our attention on other countries, watching how they deal with the crisis and sharing videos of people in Italy singing from their balconies or a Dutch train conductor pretending to do the job from his driveway, complete with blowing his whistle.

Does that mean that perhaps there’s been a shift in what we think of as our community? That it’s more about being human than being a certain nationality?

Making different connections

As lockdown continues and, for many people, loneliness increases, we’re looking for different ways to connect.

It seems that everyone is doing online quizzes, and we’re all Zooming, Facetiming and Housepartying far more than we thought possible.

Bands and musicians are doing online gigs, there are virtual comedy nights and dance lessons and fitness classes. There is even virtual speed dating… but don’t ask me how I know about that.

We’re clapping on our doorsteps to thank our keyworkers, people are dressing up as superheroes for their daily walk to make children smile, we’re checking on our neighbours, we’re writing letters and we’re making plans for “when all this is over”.

This shift in the way we’re communicating with those we love shows how important human connection really is to us.

Despite our many differences, the need to be part of a tribe is, and always has been, ingrained in us as human beings.

Communicating differently

Clearly the way we communicate with each other has adapted to the circumstances. But how about the way businesses are communicating with us?

Beyond the emails coming out during the first few weeks of lockdown, when it seemed like every shop you’ve ever entered in your life wanted to tell you that they were following Government guidelines and that the safety of their staff and customers was their priority, it’s been interesting to see how the messaging has evolved.

To me, it feels as though brands and businesses are becoming warmer in their tone, engaging with us as people rather than just consumers, becoming less formal and showing us their human side, too.

It will be really interesting to see how this continues as the situation develops. Personally, I would love this to become the norm rather than returning to more formal or faceless communications. It would be a real shame to break those newly formed connections that are so valued.

What can we learn?

Looking on the bright side of lockdown life, I’ve learnt a lot and I’ve started to think differently about things.

I am someone who has always valued my own space. I love some time alone to sing badly at the top of my lungs, or read a book, or watch some really trashy TV. However, this experience has taken it to the extreme and has been really hard.

But through the harder times I’ve learnt that gratitude and actively looking for positives can be helpful not only to lift my mood in the moment, but to re-frame my outlook on life.

Those friends and family I’m missing so much? I am lucky to have them in my life and I will never take them for granted again.

That empty feeling when I’d give anything for some time (and a glass of wine) with my best friends or a daft game with my nieces and nephews? I know that I’ll have those times again.

For many people who can’t go out or have no family, this loneliness is their regular life. I can’t imagine having no end point to look forward to after this, and I will be looking for ways I can help those people in the future.

Human connection is vital, and now that we’ve been forced to realise that through this scary and surreal experience, I very much hope we will all carry on caring for, respecting and thinking about each other in these new-found ways.

Anna Ross


Photo of a statue of Marcus Aurelius

In a world where you can be anything…be kind

In a world where you can be anything…be kind

In a world where you can be anything…be kind

Every day we hear calls to “just be kind”.  There is a strong movement calling for us all to consider kindness in how we should live, think, act, treat others and increasingly importantly, communicate.

This is not a new message – Roman philosopher Marcus Aurelius said “Kindness is mankind’s greatest delight” – the growing kindness movement today is one that communicators across all sectors can take lots of inspiration from.

Kindness is contagious

Scientist, author and advocate for kindness, Dr David Hamilton, highlights research from Harvard and Yale that shows how kindness creates a ripple effect – when you are kind to someone, that person will be kind or kinder to someone else, who will then be kinder to someone else and so on, continuing its effects way beyond your single act of kindness.

Not only is being kind good for our health and wellbeing, it has the potential to transform how companies and brands communicate and engage with their audiences. Put simply, being kind is good for you and your business.

Building trust

Kindness builds trust. It shows that organisations have empathy with their customers and their staff, and it inspires people to act. Jon Goldstone of Brandgym highlighted that to be kind, a brand needs to speak to its target audience in a tone that is authentic, honest and transparent, and over time it will become trusted. The actions of the organisation must of course be consistent with the brand, but I know what he means!

A great example of this in practice is in the health and wellbeing sector, where new brands like Deliciously Ella are creating a new model of business where the leaders communicate directly with their audiences, sharing honest content, giving insight into their lives and using this to encourage thoughtfulness and kindness – to ourselves, to the environment and to each other.  How can we encourage more of this I wonder?

Social media

Companies that have conversations based on a desire to be kind and engage empathetically with their customers on social media have stronger reputations. This builds trust and trust builds business.

A great example of one company that successfully used social media to turn a potentially negative situation into a positive was when Yorkshire Tea faced a backlash of comments after Rishi Sunak posted a picture that included a bag of its teabags. They reminded us that there are real people behind company social media accounts and put out a call for people to try and be kind. It was an authentic and honest call for empathy, with a bit of humour, and the response that followed was overwhelmingly positive. I was moved to buy their tea, and I am sure others were too!

A culture of kindness

Workplace civility is an important cultural issue for organisations – how we treat each other has a huge impact on how teams perform, how committed they are and how much trust they have in their employer. Research shows that if we experience rudeness at work, our ability to do our jobs can be reduced by up to 61%.  This matters!

How we communicate and facilitate conversations and engagement internally has an important part to play in creating a culture of kindness, supporting civility and enabling everyone to feel better informed, respected and engaged in their work.

Be kind

In an ever-changing world and particularly in the challenging time that we all face at the moment, it’s the companies that are acting and communicating with kindness and compassion that are really standing out for the crowd.

It’s never been more important in a world where you can be anything, to be kind.

Let’s do that and raise a cup of Yorkshire Tea to an ancient Roman!

Sarah Harvey


Vintage photo of a male teacher at a blackboard teaching children

COVID-19 legacy: the value of communications

COVID-19 legacy: the value of communications

 

The coronavirus pandemic has prompted many PR staff to brush up on their crisis communications skills. Over the past three weeks we’ve spoken at several webinars on the topic; the questions and conversations have been lively, intelligent and creative. But one theme has run through them all: permission.

Many communications teams run on the bare minimum of one or two staff. Faced with the biggest crisis in our lifetimes, these people are now stepping up to the big task of ensuring vital messages reach colleagues and customers.

The norm for many organisations is to work within a hierarchy of clearance, permission and signing-off. The fast pace of a crisis doesn’t allow for this – empowerment, clarity of role and delegated authority are what’s needed. And this takes some getting used to. Some people have expressed relief that their views are being sought and listened to. Others are coming to terms with the weight of decisions they are now expected to make on their own.

We learn a lot during a time of crisis, and we try out new ways of working. Some of those ways stick. A greater empowerment for communications staff – and a better understanding of the value of those teams – should be one of the legacies from this sad time.

 

If you’re interested in developing your communications skills, contact Hough Bellis to see how we can help at Hello@houghbellis.co.uk  

Sue Fox


Vintage photo of a tin marked soap

Coronavirus – how are you preparing?

Coronavirus – how are you preparing?

 

The Coronavirus outbreak has social housing providers, local authorities and charities across the country digging out their business continuity plans. But is your organisation doing all it can to prepare?

Here are our top tips on what your organisation should be doing.

Tip 1  Talk to employees – Tell staff how you’re planning to handle the situation if coronavirus hits your organisation. Check they know their rights and obligations (remind them of the sick pay policy, for example, and tell them what to do if they have the symptoms of coronavirus or if tenants fall ill). Check managers know the situation and their role in it, and let them know if you change any policies or procedures. The golden rule is keep employees informed, even if it’s just to let them know there is no news. People will naturally be anxious and will want to see good leadership.

Tip 2  Develop local links – Make sure you know how the response is being managed in your area. Refresh links with your counterparts in the NHS, local authority, police force and housing associations. Follow the official messages – don’t speculate or make up your own advice. Make sure your organisation is included in any updates such as email briefings so you know the latest guidance.

Tip 3  Prepare for continuity – Dust off your business continuity plan and go through it with key staff. Discuss how you’ll transition to remote working if you don’t already do this. Check staff have remote access to key files, email and contacts, and to the passwords and logins for website, intranet and social media. Test your out of hours staff contact system; if you don’t have one, consider setting up WhatsApp groups. Talk to your essential suppliers to see what they’re planning.

Tip 4  Communicate with residents, service users and customers – Keep your social media and web pages up to date with your latest news, and supply your customer service department with frequently updated Q&As. Your aim is to keep people informed of any changes to the service you offer them, and to signpost them to other authorities (there’s no need to set up a rival health information service). For landlords, make sure your financial inclusion teams have the latest information on benefits and Universal Credit and let residents know if you change any policies as a result of the virus. Consider the potential effects such as reduced income (eg residents on zero hours contracts may not get sick pay), cleaning of communal areas and prioritisation of repairs work. Anticipate the questions, agree your position and get the answers out there.

Tip 5  Sustain it – It’s been reported that the incident could last months rather than weeks, so you’ll need to be able to sustain your response. Check how you’ll cope with reduced staff if you have a lot of people off sick. Look ahead at what you’ve got coming up, agree prioritisation of work and manage the expectations of residents and other customers.

If you need help with crisis communications contact Hough Bellis on hello@houghbellis.co.uk.

Hough Bellis is joining forces with HQN to run a session on crisis communications in Manchester in May – sign up here https://hqnetwork.co.uk/events/event/crisis-comms-dare-to-prepare-1264/

Bobbie Hough


Photo of young people looking at their phones

Understanding Generation Z

Understanding Generation Z

The world is changing. And changing fast.

It’s never been easier to reach your audiences – it’s never been harder to connect with them in a meaningful way.

Generation Z – those born from 1995 onwards – are proving to be a very difficult market to capture.

From climate change to gender change, they are interested in themes and products in a totally different way from those who have gone before. For example:

  • 40% say their favourite YouTuber understands them better than their friends
  • 67% say they would rather receive an experience than a physical gift
  • 28% of young men have not had sex in the last year
  • 23% of young women describe themselves as flexitarian, vegan or vegetarian

We could go on…

The traditional marketplace and recognised methods of bringing people to it have changed.

It’s a bewildering time for many consumers and brands alike.

But there are ways of reaching this new audience. You may have to change the means and the method of communication, but it is doable.

Don’t get left behind, make sure you’re creating the right content for the right audience.

Interested in learning more about communicating with a younger audience? Drop us a line at hello@HoughBellis.co.uk

Bobbie Hough


Vintage photo of a smiling family in their living room with a radio

Why the radio star’s not dead just yet

Why the radio star’s not dead just yet

You may think that radio advertising is a dying breed, and you may well be right to a large extent. But here’s the weird thing.

As more and more people turn away from traditional ‘linear’ radio, more and more people are actually listening to audio content, particularly speech radio.

There’s a generation gap too.

The most recent figures show that 63% of British adults listen to BBC Radio each week, but the average weekly listen for people aged between 15-24 has fallen from 10.1 hours in 2008 to just 6.6 hours in 2019.

And while ‘live’ radio accounts for around 70% of all audio listened to in an average adult’s week, that falls to just 37% for younger audiences.

A large part of the reason? Podcasts.

Seven million adults now listen to podcasts every week.

The BBC had 69m downloaded podcasts just in June 2019 – a phenomenal number!

It has never been easier or cheaper to make your own audio content. It really is now down to just a few microphones and a tablet. Anyone can do it…so why don’t you?

We’re helping with the practicalities but more importantly, the ideas to bring content to life.

After all, just because anyone can do it doesn’t mean they all should.

You have to have a good concept in place before you start but with the right personalities, processes and purpose in place before you start you can be on to a winner.

Interested in making a podcast part of your company’s marketing plans today? Drop us a line at hello@HoughBellis.co.uk

Bobbie Hough


Photo of volumes of the Encyclopaedia Britannica

A watching brief

A watching brief

We all use it. Need to know how to bleed a radiator? Want to know who sings that song you’ve heard but can’t remember the lyrics? Seen something interesting that might work for your business? You tap on YouTube, right?

Incredible as it may seem, YouTube is not yet 15 years old.

The first video was uploaded to the site in April 2005, as Peter Kay took ‘Is this the way to Amarillo?’ to number one in the UK.

How quickly life has changed.

More than 80% of under-15s use YouTube each week with 59% of 5-16 year olds using it on average for two hours every single day so if you’re trying to connect with new audiences, that’s more than likely where they’ll be hanging out.

For those aged 16-24, ‘live’ TV only accounts for around a third of their viewing occasions, closely followed by such things as YouTube, Facebook, Snapchat and other social media services.

With your own YouTube content you’re in control. Make content as short or long as you like, get your message across and have an impact.

It won’t take long to learn more about how simple it can be to get your own content online.

It’s also important to learn what not to do on YouTube. We can’t promise you’ll go viral, but we may keep you from being an internet sensation for all the wrong reasons…

Interested in taking your first steps on YouTube? Drop us a line at hello@HoughBellis.co.uk

Bobbie Hough


Photo of the NASA logo

Culture, not kit is the key to remote working

Culture, not kit is the key to remote working

We’re often asked about Hough Bellis’ remote working model. No office. No set working times.  A team of 12 based all over the country.

Throw in an expanding client base and it is understandable why people often want to know… ‘how on earth do you make that work?’

Most people want to discuss kit or IT setup. What internet calling software do we use? What tools do we use to manage workflow? How does HR work?

While these are all important, in my view they are secondary issues.

By far the biggest factor for any remote working business is culture.

Our focus over the past three years has been on creating a high trust environment.

Leaders must feel comfortable offering new levels of freedom to their teams and trust that – as long as the right processes are in place – standards and productivity will rise as a result. This has certainly been the case at Hough Bellis.

The temptation when implementing remote working is to micro-manage – especially in bigger firms. From talking to folks around the country, it’s clear some managers or even business owners struggle to give up a level of control they are used to with their team around them.

This only creates a low trust environment and will leave you with all the problems of remote working, with few of the rewards.

A switch to a high trust culture can be just as tough for teams too. You’re often asking people to relearn everything they think they know about work.

Convincing them it really is okay to make decisions, that we don’t fear failure, that it really is okay to build your work hours around the school run… it takes time.

You can’t just turn trust on and off. But when the penny drops you get your rewards.

Getting the right kit will always make the wheels of your organisation turn faster. Creating a high trust culture can put a rocket under your business.

 

If you’re interested in discussing the future of work and remote working, contact Bobbie Hough on hello@houghbellis.co.uk

Bobbie Hough


Photo of Gerald Ratner in front of a Ratners jewellery shop

Dare to prepare

Dare to prepare

 

Don’t panic!

How many times have you woken up to a horrible headline, feeling grateful that you’re not part of the PR team having to deal with it?

No matter how many difficult situations you’ve handled, it doesn’t necessarily get easier. Subtle differences in the context and current climate mean that no two crises are exactly the same.

While some can be the fault of plain misjudgement (such as the classic Ratners case involving earrings and a prawn sandwich – worth a google if you’re unfamiliar with it), many crises arise from operational cock-ups and a sad few are true tragedy. Some, of course, aren’t crises at all: it takes judgement, self-control and a certain amount of steering to ensure that a small flare-up isn’t allowed to be blown out of all proportion. Comms people can foresee the problems, but of course there are limits to what we can do to avoid a crisis.

What you can influence, though, is your own response. An experienced colleague is a true treasure in a crisis. You can boost your confidence by taking simple steps to prepare yourself for that time when you’re the one taking that fateful early-hours call.

Having a mental plan of how you’ll react is a great comfort when you wake bleary-eyed to fight the fire. It’s worth spending some time now working out what your first steps would be. Sort out some basics, such as media training for your colleagues, knowing out of hours contact and password details, and ensuring easy access to accurate company facts.

With everyone able to broadcast their perspective of your crisis within seconds, it’s increasingly important to be one step ahead.

 

Hough Bellis is running a series of crisis comms training courses for housing providers and charities. For more information contact hello@houghbellis.co.uk

Bobbie Hough


Photo of two people reading books

Get your property PR “bible”

Get your property PR “bible”

If you’re considering a career in property communications, then your luck is in.

A new book is about to be published on just that topic. Promoting Property has been described as the “bible” of property PR. The book is a collection of essays on different parts of the sector, with the emphasis on theory, strategy and technique. It’s aimed at PR professionals, so you won’t find an ABC of communications in here. What you do find is a fascinating insight into what is a broad and interesting sector.

Content is varied with chapters covering local authorities, student housing, interior design and luxury property promotion, among other topics. I confess an interest here – I wrote the chapter on promoting housing associations. And I found it quite a challenge to summarise communications for all housing associations – there are over 1,000 in the UK, with a broad range from parish charities to big business developers. Of necessity, I needed to provide an overview which couldn’t include all the exceptions and individualities that the sector offers. But my conclusion was that, in general, communications work for housing associations is fascinating, and the sector is compassionate and focused on building communities, if also facing the identity challenges that come with increased commercialisation.

The book will be available in April from Routledge, and a companion text on communicating construction will follow later in 2020.

 

Promoting Property is edited by Penny Norton and Liz Male, and published by Routledge. https://www.routledge.com/Promoting-Property-Insight-Experience-and-Best-Practice/Norton-Male/p/book/9780367257170

Sue Fox


Photo of a large group of people in front of a coach

Coach trip

Coach trip

 

If you’ve benefitted from some strong role models and wise mentors, you’ll know how wonderful it can be to have someone to guide you through tricky times at work. I’ve mentored people throughout my career, so when I was offered a coaching and mentoring course, I jumped at the chance to become qualified.

There’s something hugely valuable about being allowed the time to talk your problems through. The working week tends to be crammed full, and it’s an enlightened organisation which allows the time for self-development, reflection and discovery.

A good coach won’t tell you what to do or what to think, and they won’t spend the session talking about themselves. Instead, through a structured conversation, they will help you to find the answers within yourself and give you the time and space to explore yourself and the issues facing you. The coach will provide the opportunity for insight and will help you find your way through what’s on your mind.

Coaching organisations typically encourage continuous learning; they understand appropriate delegation, and tend to reward ownership, integrity and authenticity. In a coaching culture, employees are allowed to make mistakes, and challenge is encouraged. Getting a coach or mentor is a great way to take control of your own personal development.

 

If you’re interested in developing your communications skills, contact Hough Bellis to see how we can help at Hello@houghbellis.co.uk  

Sue Fox


Vintage photo of a man with a bucket on his head, spinning plates

In praise of prioritisation

In praise of prioritisation

 

It’s a badge of honour, it seems, to tell everyone how busy you are. How often do you hear people saying that their workload is “manageable, thanks”?

In PR and communications, it’s common to suffer from heavy workloads. Last year, a PR Week survey found that 49% of respondents felt under more stress than in the previous year, with increased demand and workload being cited as the reasons.

So how do you select what to do and what to leave? The trick is to know where your effort will have the most impact. Assessing an activity by how much of a risk or opportunity it poses to the organisation’s reputation is an easy way of prioritising. Even better is to know your corporate aims and understand how communications can support them.

Ideally, you’ll have an effective communications strategy in place, based on good research, with the key actions planned and agreed. Doing the thinking up front will means you’ll be confident about what will work and what won’t, and it may prevent you from having to make rushed decisions on the go. A bit of planning doesn’t mean you’ll miss opportunities – in fact, it will make them easier to identify and create them.

Communications work is labour-intensive – it’s easy to underestimate the amount of time it takes to edit a video or write a good news release. As Winston Churchill once famously said, “I’m sorry to have made such a long speech but I didn’t have time to write a shorter one”. You can always do more. But no organisation has an endless amount of time and money, and a little strategic thinking can go a long way to making sure you spend your precious resources in the best way possible.

If you’re interested in smartening up your communications strategy, why not contact Hough Bellis – we’d be happy to help.

References:

https://www.prweek.com/article/1522033/theres-mentality-no-room-weak-stop-survey-reveals-prs-mental-health-challenge

Sue Fox