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Ideas and opinions from the world of PR

March 12, 2018
Small Man Media

How to make the most of exhibitions – an interview with Retail Expert Henri Davis

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A new year always brings a selection of trade shows – be they stationery, gardens, crafting, food or cars! These shows are the cornerstone of any industry, with business, big or small, aiming to make buyers go ‘wow!’

 

For Small Man Media, trade show preparations begins in November before Creativeworld, before excitedly heading towards the Spring Fair, the Education Show, the Office Products Show and the London Stationery Show.

 

To celebrate, we’ve interviewed Henri Davis, renowned retail expert about her experiences of trade shows. Henri has worked in the retail industry for more than 30 years as a retailer, product developer, buyer and now an independent advisor in the stationery, greetings cards and heritage sectors!

 

As an expert in the industry, what would you say are the three ‘musts’ for an exhibitor?

 

I’ve been to shows in different guises and have tips for all sectors! As a buyer, don’t go into a show completely blind! The saying ‘Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance’ definitely stands here!

 

Before heading to the venue, have a shopping list with an idea of the types of products you’re looking for, themes that you want to tap into or seasons you are looking for. Everything you do must have the target customer in mind – just because you like the product, doesn’t mean the shopper coming into your store will!

 

Know how much you have to spend – ultimately, everything has to come back to your purse strings!

 

Henri

 

Keep in mind your sales cycles and know when you want to have the products available. This is to ensure that you don’t have everything in at once, which helps your cash flow and means you have new products to refresh your displays arriving every 4-6 weeks to keep your regulars customers interested.

 

However, things are slightly different from an exhibitor point of view. The show visitor must ALWAYS be at the front of your mind. Imagine coming to a show and seeing all stands looking exactly the same!

 

Think about how visitors will approach your stand, in terms of both of literal direction and frame of mind. Make sure the areas they see first are immediately eye catching and will make them stop and look at your range.

 

Your new products must be the ones that are set to shine – don’t make your layout the same as the previous year.

 

Don’t fill your stands with lots of small images, nobody will get close enough to see what they are and they just won’t be obvious enough. Less is more is definitely a good rule to live by! Anything that you do have on your stand needs to be easy to read and immediately obvious what you are selling.

 

So, we’ve asked you about the musts – what about the major no-no’s?

 

My one big ‘no’ from a buyer perspective might sound really obvious but I always like to reiterate it – think before you order. It may sound simple, but people always feel really pressured! Don’t order stock at a show unless you are certain it is what you want and how much you need; if you are not sure take the details away and think it through – you can always order the following day!

 

For exhibitors, don’t spend all your time on your phone or laptop – those emails can wait! You’ve have paid a lot of money to be there and every person who passes is an opportunity. Plus you never know which buyer is round the next corner – it could be your next order or a great new contact.

 

Should the focus be on the product details or how the product is used and activated by retailers?

 

I think it’s got to be a real mixture of both. Product details are key. People want to know how it stacks up against what they currently stock. But it’s important to show the full package.

 

Can they get retail units? Are there people who they can get involved with to launch in-store demos?

 

It’s about selling your whole package ultimately!

 

technology

Are more people implementing technology in their pitches?

 

From what I see, I would say from a stationery perspective that the answer is no. Stationery is such a tactile product that we use every day that buyers will want to open a notebook (often their own!) to test pens or pencils. They’ll want to feel the paper and write on a notepad. From my view, technology only helps in terms of quick access to a catalogue to show full ranges and pricing details. It can extend the scope of what’s already on your stand.

 

How important is a coherent feel between product, messaging and stand layout?

 

Absolutely vital! All should all be consistent with the image that a brand wants to portray and the brand positioning for the period of the show. Ultimately, it this is an exhibitors shop front and should be treated as such.

 

Is pre-show messaging a vital part of an exhibition?
From experience, it often takes around six contacts with a ‘new’ product or brand before a retailer will truly engage with the idea of working with you!

 

Therefore, the more you can get your offering on show before an exhibition, the more likely it is a buyer will recognise it!

 

This messaging doesn’t have to be a week before the show either, there can be a big lead up to it.

Keep banging that drum! If there is an opportunity to get your products included in industry magazines months before a show, then you grab the opportunity. This should be supported by using social media in the week before and during a show.

 

From a retail buyer point of view, I do think it helps to do some preparation before a show, by tuning into the trade press and keeping abreast of exhibition news. Plan your route and timings – where will you want to spend most of your time and where you will you head if you have some extra time towards the end of your schedule?. Likewise, is there any new product that you want to see that could be a trend over the next five years? Are there any suppliers in your current stock that you could change? Do you want to know who won the awards?

 

Exhibition organizers are constantly increasing the content of their shows to encourage buyers to attend – this also means they’re harder to take everything in. Make sure you know who is speaking and if there is something you want to listen to!

 

You’ve been a part of exhibitions with retailers and as an exhibitor. What do you think retailers look for in an exhibition?
New product is the life blood for any successful retailer! As the market gets more competitive, being the first to get new products into your store or online before your competitors is vital.

 

I always suggest that every stand you head on ask ‘What have you got that is new?’

 

It is incumbent on an organiser to ensure that the exhibitors accepted to a show are going to be those with innovative products that will make the buyer go ‘wow’ or ‘I hadn’t even thought about that.’

 

By including new product awards as part of a shows content, organisers can help retailers identify products and suppliers that could be just what they are looking for.

 

Are the days of a traditional stand and leaflets gone? Is there still a place for a more ‘traditional approach’ in markets that are so saturated?
I think many buyers are still pleased to see stands with leaflets and catalogues!

 

Buyers are very visual people. The ability to be able to have pictures of products and in-store units to take away with them is vitally important to them.

USB sticks and websites are great but to be able to mark up a catalogue with sticky notes and comments and show your colleagues pictures in a catalogue is easier I always find. Trying to whizz them round a screen on a website is less expensive (both in time and in money!)

 

For me, I will take a catalogue every time if one is offered!!

 

Many manufacturers and companies will work with a demonstrator on their stand. What are the three most important things to look for when choosing a demonstrator?

 

Derwent took artist Jake Spicer to Creativeworld, who was well trainined in all things Inktense
Derwent took artist Jake Spicer to Creativeworld, who was well trainined in all things Inktense

Demonstrators need to be extremely good if they are to be an asset to your business. A poor demonstrator will reflect badly on your product, even if it’s the best product in the world.

 

The demonstrator must be very familiar with the product, can show how it works proficiently whilst having the ability to be able to answer questions with confidence.

 

If you don’t need a demonstrator, don’t have one. Your sales team can answers the questions. It’s probably best for an arts company to have on though!

 

Should every exhibitor look to enter an award at an Exhibition?

 

If they have an eligible product, absolutely! Why wouldn’t you?!

 

As many of the selectors are senior buyers, it’s the perfect opportunity to get your product in front of a select group who you’ve been waiting to see for months!

 

Plus, the fact that your product will be one of a select view increases your chance of it being seen! If the awards entry includes being shown as part of a showcase to all visitors, then even more of a reason to enter I think!

 

What does an award win add to your exhibition?
An award win (or simply being shortlisted) is hugely valuable as it gives you the perfect excuse to contact existing customers (plus prospective ones) with your great news! It’s also a great way to get your whole range in front of those same people.

 

Mustard's gorgeous Cactus Pen Pot was nominated for an award at the 2017 London Stationery Show
Mustard’s gorgeous Cactus Pen Pot was nominated for an award at the 2017 London Stationery Show

 

What is your favourite exhibition to attend?
In honesty, it varies from year to year and depends what I need to achieve in visiting! This might sound like a cliché, but my favourite exhibition is one that delivers great results and therefore is time well spent!

 

However, on a personal note, it is probably the Stationery Show. I’ve been part of this industry since 1989 and the Stationery Show is just like coming home. I know the exhibitors very well – so as well as doing good business, it is a great opportunity to catch-up with old friends.

February 15, 2018
Small Man Media

Working the angles (and cheese)

So here’s a little scenario for you.

You’re driving along the motorway in your little car, and ahead of you is a lorry which is apparently from a cheese company. Let’s call them ‘Cheddar Gorgeous’ because we like a pun. Suddenly the truck starts to jack-knife. The trailer’s rear doors swing open! Cheeses start bouncing all over the motorway lanes! There’s cheese everywhere! Eventually the truck slows to a halt, likewise the traffic behind it, leading to a huge traffic jam and a motorway covered with cheese.

A cheese catastrophe like the one described in this blog
A cheese catastrophe like the one described in this blog

It becomes apparent that the lorry driver had fallen asleep at the wheel at the end of a crazily long stint at the wheel. It’s a miracle nobody was hurt, although thousands of pounds’ worth of cheese was damaged. What a palaver! Wait till everybody hears about this! After all, it’s not every day you witness a cheese truck shedding its load. A great little anecdote for the pub.

Of course, a good PR person of the type you would find at Small Man Media, would not see the story this way.

In fact, a good PR person would see this little scenario as a whole load of stories and angles, interlinking to create the whole. They would think of the potential coverage, and start salivating.

Local news is a given, because any local newspaper would kill for a bizarre story like this – indeed, with a photo of the cheese-strewn motorway, you’d probably be looking at the front page (suggested headline: ‘CHEESED OFF!’). An image that bizarre, in fact, you could reasonably expect to graduate to national newspaper level, which is why you made sure you got plenty of photographs of the ‘cheese slick’.

You’d also reasonably expect the story to make it to local TV news and radio, as it is heavily image-driven and, of course, major traffic disruption is always newsworthy – especially if it involves errant dairy products.

That’s all you could get from the story though, right?

Of course it’s not. Does the UK cheese industry have its own publications? They’ll be wanting to run a story on this tragedy. Likewise the UK commercial trucking industry and its publications. What about the cheese company? Where are they based? There’s another local news story right there. How hard will the loss of cheese hit them? More material for the industry publications, and for the local newspapers’ business sections. Were they adequately insured? One for the insurance trade press. What about the driver? What does he have to say about the workload of the modern trucker? Back to the trucking magazines for stories on the dangers of sleep deprivation and overwork. What would a medical publication have to say? Is it now time to go back to the nationals again? ‘UK truckers put under intolerable strain’, kinda thing? On and on it goes…

Proof that the UK cheese industry has its own magazines
Proof that the UK cheese industry has its own magazines

What this rather convoluted [you can say that again – Ben and Rach] little tale illustrates is that there is always more to a story than ‘just a bunch of stuff that happened’. The closer you look at something, whether that be a brand or an event or a personality or a cheese lorry mishap, the more the angles present themselves, ripe and ready to be pursued. There are always, always, always more angles than the naked eye can perceive, and if you study something long enough, they will become apparent. And THAT, ladies and gentlemen, is what maketh a good PR.

See, there are some people out there, dang their hides, who seem to think that PR is all champers at the desk and parties, what you might call ‘the Absolutely Fabulous effect’, with very little actual work. Some people think that PR is an unnecessary link between source and journalist and that they’d be just fine without us. The fools! The reality is that we at Small Man like to perform a role that most would say is pretty much priceless, that of making life as easy as possible for everybody with whom we work.

What people often think PR is all about
What people often think PR is all about

In a nutshell, we worry so that our clients and connections don’t have to.

There’s nothing wrong with worrying if you do it creatively, you see. It gives rise to soul-searching questions like: Have we covered all the angles (it’s ALWAYS about the angles, y’all!) here? Has every last relevant media outlet been kept very much in the loop? If a cheeky journalist wanted to do such a thing, could he take this press release and effectively drop it onto his page as is, so faultless is its spelling and grammar? Have we ensured that the transitional process from client to media outlet is as smooth and seamless as it can possibly be?

Of course we have. We are Small Man Media. That is what we do.

The next time you see an interesting news story, a unique product or a quirky campaign that tickles you, try giving it the ‘cheese truck disaster’ treatment and seeing just how many angles from which it could be approached. If you can come up with angles and ideas that the next person just doesn’t see, than congratulations, my child. A PR person you could be…

If you want to use Small Man Media’s angle-spotting magic and turn it to your brand’s advantage, drop us a line or pop in for coffee and doughnuts. We’re at Twitter @smallmanmedia and on Facebook at facebook.com/smallmanmedia but, let’s face it, we had you at ‘doughnuts’, didn’t we?

This blog was composed by our Writer Monkey Pete. There he is, look.

Pete, hard at work again
Pete, hard at work again

February 1, 2018
Small Man Media

Let us take you out to launch

Here at Small Man Media, we like to think of ourselves as a forward-thinking agency, but we’re not averse to looking back a little too. In fact, right about now we’re going to look back to January 2017 when we helped Derwent Pencils to launch their Procolour pencil range.

It was quite a thing, that launch. In the first half of last year, our social media campaign threw up some pretty spectacular numbers: Over half a million people were reached on Facebook and Twitter; followers of Derwent shared posts on Procolour over a thousand times; 24,000 people were inspired to like or comment on the pencils on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram before grabbing their new pencils and sharing their artwork with us. That’s a whole heap of engagement right there.

Derwent's new Lightfast range: It's a bit tidy
Derwent’s new Lightfast range: It’s a bit tidy

Well, this week we’ve been at it again. Last weekend Derwent attended the CreativeWorld show in Frankfurt, the hot ticket if you’re in the stationery industry.

Launching their Lightfast range and the Inktense Paint Pan Set to expectant buyers is one thing, but naturally, the Cumbrian art supremos called upon our expertise, and particularly that of Dynamo Dan, to ensure that the launch was, as they say in hip-hop circles, ‘poppin’ off’.

Well, it has been less than a week and those aforementioned products are well on the way to achieving, nay outstripping, those figures from the Procolour launch. On Facebook and Twitter, the launch campaign has already reached about 145,000 people; across the big three social media channels, Lightfast has racked up well over 8,000 likes, and has been shared more than 1,200 times. In five days, ladies and gentlemen. No, stop it, you’re making us blush.

Our latest launch party (Champagne not included)
Our latest launch party (Champagne not included)

What this proves is that a successful launch doesn’t need a party to accompany it. Launch parties are all well and good but in the digital age in which we now operate, prone to being a tad pointless. The media is no longer staked out solely in the major cities, after all – indeed, if the media thinks it looks a bit nippy out, it can put on its fluffy slippers and never leave the house. We’re all interconnected now anyway, so really, the main beneficiary of launch parties nowadays is the vol-au-vent industry.

All it took was a few well-timed, well-honed and well-illustrated social media posts to set in motion what would rapidly become an avalanche of buzz. They say that ‘prior planning prevents poor performance,’ well in our case it’s ‘prior planning produces persistent pencil performance.’

A fantastic selection of imagery, accompanied by the ideal selection of words helped launch the campaign, but the consumer interaction post-posts (which is a mouthful!) were where our social media nouse came into it’s own.

Dan, like a Facebook Nostradamus, prepared an extensive list of expected questions (which he prides like a son or 3 points for West Brom-cheeky!) to ensure that every excited art buff, would receive the correct information and prepare themselves for the Lightfast range.

Says young Daniel, his chest swelling with pride: “I knew the kind of things people would ask – it’s all about the who, what, why. We had some beautiful imagery to accompany the posts. We knew what every status update wanted to say, in advance. All I really had to do was keep an eye on social media over the weekend, which I do anyway, and answer subscriber questions ‘live’ as and when they came in. Basically, I stimulated the conversation and kept each person engaged.”

And days later, that conversation is still being stimulated, including with those who commented seven days before!

Dan at work, while the office's REAL creative genius has a lie down
Dan at work, while the office’s REAL creative genius has a lie down

Obviously, we’re not saying that launch parties are all bad – indeed, if it wasn’t for launch parties then some journalists would never eat. But when you have identified your audience – and you can reasonably extrapolate that artists are artistic(!) as well as open to sharing, likely to engage in online discussion, spending a fair amount of their time online and ready to feed back on the quality of their instruments of work – then the merits of a social media launch such as Lightfast’s become readily apparent.

If you know where your audience is, what they want to see and know that they are likely to engage, then your launch party can exist entirely on social media, and a heck of a lot more people will show up – with no pressing of flesh and hard sell spiel necessary.

A little food for thought on launching in the social media age. And while we’re on the subject of food, here is a photograph of some vol-au-vents. We could murder some of these right now.

SEND SOME OF THESE TO US IMMEDIATELY
SEND SOME OF THESE TO US IMMEDIATELY

If you think your company could benefit from Small Man Media’s product-launching skills, masterful social media knowledge or award-winning copy, visit us at facebook.com/smallmanmedia or hurl a tweet at us at twitter.com/smallmanmedia – we’re very approachable and our office has many, many biscuits to share.

January 25, 2018
Small Man Media

Public Relations: It’s our Natural World

(Advance warning: The following blog contains as many as ten animal / bird / fish / natural world metaphors, and all of them are equally important, to explain how fantastic we are here at Small Man Media)

So. Let’s say you have gone and got yourself a PR team sorted. We know how excited you must be because, like birds of paradise, PR people are rare and beautiful things (well, good ones are, anyway) to be admired and treasured. And, like big old fluffy dogs, they are loyal and affectionate and will repay your interest in them three times over. And, like Mogwai, you cannot  feed them after midnight or they will turn into Gremlins.

The Small Man Media team: Rach (top left), Ben (top right), Michelle (bottom left) and Dan.
The Small Man Media team: Rach (top left), Ben (top right), Michelle (bottom left) and Dan.

Actually, PR people ARE like Mogwai, and we don’t mean that we are small (which we are not), fluffy (which we are) and we give birth when you spill water on our backs (no comment). No, what we mean is that you can enjoy a long and loving relationship with us if you remember a few simple… We won’t call them rules because that makes us sound like dictators, when we are in fact your most humble servants. Let’s call them ‘Things To Remember To Get The Very Best Out Of Your PR’ – commit them to your mind and you’ll always get the biggest yield of coverage milk from your PR cow. How many animals is that? Four already, five if you count Mogwai and Gremlins as different species? Wow, we’re on fire.

This is what we look like when we have had too many cups of coffee
This is what we look like when we have had too many cups of coffee

Okay, on with the things…

THING #1: SYMBIOSIS

Symbiosis. Isn’t that a lovely word? It sounds like the title of a percussion-heavy jazz album from the 1970s, but actually it means a natural relationship that benefits and serves both parties involved, due to the way in which their abilities or activities compliment each other for mutual gain.

A good example of a symbiotic relationship is the one that exists between the cleaner wrasse fish, and larger fish such as sharks. In this relationship, the sharks allow the cleaner wrasse to swim into their mouths. But, rather than being eaten, the wrasse then does the eating itself, nibbling away all the parasites that live in your average shark’s mouth. The wrasse gets a lovely meal and manages to survive a trip into the gob of an animal that would usually want to eat it; the shark gets a fine pearly-white set of teeth. That’s symbiosis at work.

A cleaner wrasse fish, sorting out an eel's manky gob
A cleaner wrasse fish, sorting out an eel’s manky gob

We’re not going to be picking any parasites from off our clients’ teeth – we’re sure there are agencies out there who would but we just don’t need the work that badly – but we like to think of ourselves as industrious like cleaner wrasses, and helping out the big fish which are both the clients for whom we work, and the publications, websites, blogs, radio and TV shows to whom we pitch. Clients provide the very finest, most vibrant products that they can, which means that our working days are more fun; and so we get inspired to come up with genius ideas like the Cross Office Dog Of The Year contest and get them lots of commensurately vibrant coverage. Making the Small Man Media coral reef a happy place, like in Finding Nemo. Symbiosis, kids – it’s the way forward.

THING #2: WE’RE LIKE A BIRD (BUT A WEIRD HYBRID ONE)

When we talk of being like a bird, we don’t mean that we’re channelling Nelly Furtado here. No, we prefer to think of ourselves as taking an owl-slash-pigeon-slash-magpie approach to our work here at Small Man. To explain…

LIKE AN OWL! We may not have a fully-rotating 360-degree-swivelling head, but we like to think that see all the angles, in much the way that an owl can. And this is what makes us so very wise.

LIKE A PIGEON! Fascinating fact: Pigeons process visual information four times faster than humans. Seriously, the way that their brains work is that they work out visual stimuli at four times human speed, so that, to them, a car travelling towards them at 40mph appears to be moving at 10mph.

We're like these guys, really
We’re like these guys, really

This is why they always take off so late when you think your car’s gonna hit ’em. They’re not stupid, they’re just in a state of calm because they have a quicker brain than the average bird, and so can exist in a world free of stress and rushed decisions. You see where we’re going with this?

LIKE A MAGPIE! Because we like things with a bit of sparkle to them and we’re happy to take them and use them to form an even finer structure, in much the same way that a magpie builds its flashy nest.

So yeah. We’re a bizarre yet beautiful gene-spliced hybrid of owl, pigeon and magpie – who wouldn’t want one of those in their metaphorical aviary?

THING #3: THE DR DOOLITTLE APPROACH

As Sir Cliff Richard once sang: It’s so funny, how we don’t talk any more. Except it’s not really funny, is it? It’s a crying shame, like the bit in Bambi when his mum gets shot. Poor, poor little Bambi, lying next to his dying mummy… What? No, we’re not crying, we’ve just got something in our eye.

If you're expecting an amusing caption about THIS, you've got another thing coming
If you’re expecting an amusing caption about THIS, you’ve got another thing coming

We’ll admit it to you: We’re talkers here at Small Man Media, and if we’re not being talkers, then we’re being listeners. Emailing is fine and everything, but emails get deleted, ignored, diverted unfairly into junk folders or simply shunted to the end of an ever-growing queue. Nope, we’d much rather talk to our clients, preferably over a cup of coffee and numerous biscuit, which is why we’ve just bought the office a fancy new coffee-maker.

You see, we know that it is in the ebb and flow of conversation, the back and forth of the exchange of ideas, that genius concepts are born. For was it not in the swelling and subsiding of the ocean tide that life on Earth itself was formed [we think you may be pushing this theme a bit too far now Pete – Ben and Rach]?

The other good thing about talking is that you also get to listen, and be listened to. Talk and listen. Yin and yang. The very balance of life [see, this is better, keep going – Ben and Rach]. The giving and the taking of information; the absorption of concepts and themes, however bizarre; the offering up of fanciful notions and hare-brained schemes; a chance remark about a stupendously absurd gif or terrible TV advert someone may have seen; even a nice meal we may have had – as Dr Doolittle might tell you, it’s amazing what can come out of talking and listening. And, of course, those are two things that an email or a tweet just cannot do.

Yin and yang, sun and moon = top PR
Yin and yang, sun and moon = top PR

So, as you may have noticed, there was a bit of a ‘natural world’ theme to this latest blog, but then here at Small Man Media, we are PR naturals. And as you can see, we’re birds of paradise, big fluffy dogs, Mogwai, cows, big fish, little fish, owls, pigeons, magpies, the ebb and flow of the tides and the very balance of life on this planet, as well, all rolled into a package as fluffy as a gosling. So drop us a line at facebook.com/smallmanmedia or at @smallmanmedia on Twitter and we can tell you how we can give you a sprinkling of our animal magic. You know that Sir David, below, would approve.

"Have you met my new bird?"
“Have you met my new bird?”

January 11, 2018
Small Man Media

Offence Intended: A new trend for 2018?

So how was your Christmas? Ours was very nice, thank you for asking. We all ate our own body weight in chocolate coins and mince pies, and as such the Small Man Media office now has ‘subsidence issues’. Any more pigs in blankets and we might sink into the ground for good.

Someone else who had a good Christmas was, by coincidence, another Black Country firm, namely Poundland, who are based just down the road from SMM HQ, in Willenhall. You might have been aware of the hoo-haa they created – in fact, for a few days, it was difficult to avoid it.

Online outrage summed up in one helpful image
Online outrage summed up in one helpful image

In a nutshell, Poundland’s Twitter feed, in the run-up to Christmas, put out a series of risque – in fact, let’s not mince words here, some of them were downright rude – images in which an elf doll, coincidentally one sold at Poundland, got into a number of rather saucy situations, often with one or more lady dolls. About the most family-friendly one is the one below, and even that one is… well, unsettling, to say the least.

And this was one of the less offensive ones
And this was one of the less offensive ones

The one that really kicked up a stink involved the elf, a lady friend and a teabag. Outrageous! And indeed a lot of people actually were outraged, as is often the case nowadays. In the days that followed, a Twitter storm swelled and erupted, think-pieces appeared on how distasteful the Poundland campaign was, with a counter-reaction from even more people along the lines of: Can you fuddy-duddies not take a (rather rude) joke?

The punchline to said joke, dubbed the ‘Elf Behaving Badly’ campaign, was that Poundland tabled record sales for the week running up to Christmas, totalling £59 million, sales that were bolstered by 200,000 toy elves and over a million elf-related products, as the saying goes, flying off the shelves (elves off the shelves, anyone?). So the campaign clearly worked. What seems blindingly obvious is that, had so many people not been so repulsed by the tweets, to the point that they felt compelled to express their disgust, then the campaign would not have been nearly so successful.

Poundland: Doing very nicely right now, thank you very much
Poundland: Doing very nicely right now, thank you very much

So really, the professionally outraged – and there are a good many people out there who really do carve an entire career out of being horrified by things – played right into Poundland’s hands. It’s hard to remember a social media campaign so custom-designed to provoke a negative reaction, and thus garner column inches (of which there were oodles) and reap the benefits. In the process, a lot of the objectors made themselves look a bit silly, saying that they would never buy the type of stuff sold at Poundland when, of course, they sell the same brands sold at pretty much any other supermarket chain.

What Poundland seem to have realised, quite reasonably, is that this type of collective outrage can be easily and effectively monetised, because the ratio of people shrieking ‘DOWN WITH THIS SORT OF THING!’ to those sighing ‘Oh, for heaven’s sake, it’s just a joke’ and deciding that they rather like Poundland after all, is about 1:10. At a conservative estimate. And, of course, when a campaign tactic works, lots of people suddenly sit up and take an interest. One of those, at the time of writing, is the Advertising Standards Authority, who are ‘looking into’ the adverts, but that’s very much the definition of closing the stable door about a fortnight after the horse has bolted.

So we’re going to make a prediction: In 2018, we’re going to see more campaigns like the Poundland one, specifically designed to flirt with the boundaries of taste, test their elasticity, and nark those who are more prone to being narked. There are sure to be some slapped wrists along the way, because the thing about deliberately nearly going too far, is that some people inevitably will overshoot that crucial ‘not quite too far’ mark.

As luck would have it, January has already thrown up a perfect example of social media sass going horribly wrong. It started when train user Emily Cole complained, via Twitter, to Virgin Trains that a male train manager had called her ‘honey’, which seems fair enough, this isn’t the 1970s. Whoever was running the Twitter feed of the fantastically unreliable train company at that moment thought it would be hilarious to respond thusly:

How not to run a corporate Twitter account in one easy lesson
How not to run a corporate Twitter account in one easy lesson

Oh dear. It’s like… Just NO. Outrage obviously followed, but there was simply no way for a positive spin to be put on what was, from top to toe, a company being needlessly rude to, and dismissive of, one of their customers, a fact borne out by the very rapid and suitably grovelling apology from Virgin. It’s one thing to embark upon a campaign that’s saucy-rude, with no specific victim, for example one featuring a slightly horny elf – but you can’t just be snippy-rude purely for the sake of it. The next step down that road is to tell all of your customer complainants to go jump in a lake.

The Small Man Media opinion is this: If the ‘calculated outrage campaign’ trend does kick off, then so be it – these things flare up from time to time, they’ll burn out soon enough. When you decide to go down the route of echoing someone else’s shock tactics – let’s call it a ‘tribute act campaign’ – then it betrays a lack of original thinking and a certain lack of faith in one’s own PR abilities, but then not all PR agencies a) think originally or b) have any abilities. We’re of the opinion that it is better to be lovely and come up with commensurately lovely new ideas, but hey, that’s just second nature to us.

If you think your business could benefit from lovely brand support that doesn’t involve elf doll pornography or calling people things like ‘sweet cheeks’ or ‘hot stuff’, then have a gander at @smallmanmedia on the aforementioned Twitter or on Facebook at facebook.com/smallmanmedia if it pleases you. This blog was composed by our Writer Monkey Pete, who seems to have a lot of opinions this week.

"Right, I'll just hit 'PUBLISH' and then I'm off to the pub."
“Right, I’ll just hit ‘PUBLISH’ and then I’m off to the pub,” says Peter.