The best business advice, opinion, news and expertise in Greater Manchester and further afield.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Chamber Blog: No Time Like The Present

By Chris Fletcher, Director of Policy and Communications at Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce

Well it seems like April 2015 is going to be busy  if recent government announcements and the Budget are anything to go by.

It may just be me, but that particular date did seem to crop up in a lot of announcements made in the Budget last Wednesday and in various reports preceding it earlier in the week.  I know that the wheels of government turn slowly, but when we are supposed to be on an economic war footing  - a phrase that first saw the light of day in October last year – it does strain credibility that we have to wait that long.

So, then still another two years before  the main rate of corporation tax falls to 20%, the much lauded single local growth pot gets up and running, and quite a few other good sounding ideas which could have an immediate impact on the current circumstances we find ourselves in. Except we’ll have to wait.

Don’t get me wrong there were some really good ideas announced in the Budget and quite a few things taken away such as the proposed fuel duty rise in Autumn, but as we have seen again and again, especially with big infrastructure projects, the time taken to get things moving would be tantamount to commercial suicide in the private sector.

I’m a little curious as to what the Chancellor will announce in his Autumn Statement and in Budget 2014, especially if we continue to flatline when it comes to growth. By stacking up future initiatives as well as setting future tax rates as far in advance as he has done, you pretty soon start to run out of new policies to announce especially when the economy is not expansive enough to give you latitude.

So, what is left for the Autumn Statement? Well, that’s where you can come in. As the government’s options narrow, our opportunities grow. What opportunities? Ones  to come up with something different which will work and make a difference. Despite all our best efforts it still seems that  some basic stuff isn’t being taken up – business rate freeze , quicker release of approved funding to kickstart projects and grow jobs, more funding to put into employers' hands to ensure a proper demand-led skills landscape and a host of other ideas that businesses tell us about and which, to be honest, are really good ideas.

So whilst the dust hasn’t even settled on the Budget, I’m keen to find out more about what next? What should we be going back to government and demanding more(or less) of to help you create the business you want to?

We will be asking you for ideas; we want your input, we are here to help you, not in April 2015 but right here, right now.

Friday, 22 March 2013

Friday Guest Blog: Is Creativity The New Hangover Cure?

Let Ideas Take Flight in Unconventional Ways

By Seb Thompson
Head of Creativity, English Regions & Wales
Weber Shandwick Manchester

As we edge further and further into what has been dubbed the hangover year, creativity in business is becoming more and more paramount and companies need to let ideas take off with new, fresh ways of thinking to avoid being left behind.

The Jubilee, The Olympics and Royal Wedding fever are long gone and brands now need to find (or create) something else to be inspired by in 2013. Without creative and innovative thinking, brands become stagnant and tread water. Now is the time to come up with new fresh ideas to set themselves aside from the flock and standout this year.

The importance of this is ever more so, as we live in an age when the consumer is becoming more and more creative themselves and are demanding much more from a brand. What we cannot allow is for the consumer’s creativity to overtake a brand’s. With the rise in social media, brands must live and breathe 24 hours a day, seven days a week, meaning we all need to be increasingly mindful of creatively engaging with consumers at all times.

Creativity breeds new ideas, new approaches and ultimately innovation, which in essence creates engagement. As we step into the engagement era, this is something that affects all brands and businesses. Engagement covers a whole range of areas and companies need to address how well they engage with their consumers, employees and stakeholders to ensure they don’t sink in the hangover year.

At Weber Shandwick, creativity is key and at the heart of what we do for all our brands. Be that through traditional PR campaigns, social media outreach or designing & creating branding campaigns.

Our creative culture and stance is what gives our ideas the edge and ensures our campaigns (and clients) will always be one step ahead.

We believe creativity is within everyone whether you are a PR, a digital media specialist or even a plumber or builder – it is inherent within us all. It is how you channel and cultivate creativity that is crucial and people often summon, and find their creativity in a whole manner of ways and methods.

Take brainstorms for example, these are a key way to unearth ideas, but should not be the only route a company takes. For an idea to be truly creative and inspiring, it needs to be organic and unforced. Companies (and people) need to have a culture where they live and breathe creativity at all times and have an open forum for sharing ideas outside of the traditional brainstorming environment.

One of the best ways to instil creativity of this nature from a grassroots level within an organisation is to make a workplace as inspiring as possible. This can be done through a variety of methods such as having relevant books to read or a range of stimuli for people to access to help ideas flow.

A great example of a way to spark creativity is to set up what we call a Creative Playroom. Here at Weber Shandwick Manchester, our Creative Playroom includes a range of creative stimuli, inspiration, case studies and props to allow the entire agency to think in an inventive manner.

In essence, to keep moving in this hangover year, brands need to make creative thinking part of employees’ daily routine, like reading the morning paper, and in no time at all employees will be firing ideas around left, right and centre.

Companies and clients often get hung up on ideas being very expensive. However, strong creative ideas needn’t cost the earth to execute or facilitate, the simplest of ideas can often prove most effective. The rule is not to over complicate otherwise messages will get lost, hidden or become too difficult to convey to your audience. An easy and often successful method to try is breaking down all the individual elements a story needs to convey. By taking an idea back to its roots, you will then uncover the inherent messaging a brand needs to tell.

Weber Shandwick Manchester calls this the smash it up and put it back together method. This involves taking apart all the essential messages and elements of our client, the media landscape and the timings for the story you want to tell. You then piece all these strands back together to hopefully unearth an idea that is simple and has all the inherent messages in.

Take the below for example, an idea which was extremely cost-effective, but had standout cut through and media coverage.

Weber Shandwick Manchester was tasked by one of our North Wales tourism clients to create news during August, a key holiday time for the area, but with a limited budget.

The below diagram shows the thought process and individual strands of smash it up:
When the strands were packaged back together it led to an inspired and quirky idea – warm ice cream! It ticked all the boxes for seaside holidays, silly media and luckily, it was quite a wet and chilly week in August last year, which played perfectly to the media’s agenda.

Through our connections we sourced an ice cream producer free of charge and launched the product on the beach in Llandudno. The activity led to a wealth of positive coverage, a reach of over 128,000,000 people and a PR value in excess of £49,000. The ice cream proved to be so popular it ended up being sold in the area for the summer.

Thinking back to 2013 and the hangover year, ideas do not necessarily have to equate to media coverage. Creative thinking can be applied to all aspects of business and by breaking down the problem into smaller pieces, companies will find it easier to package their findings back together to create a solution.

In summary, whether a brand needs fresh thinking with regards to driving web traffic, motivation or NPD etc, by simply taking a step back and applying a bit of creativity in a way that suits the organisation best, will pay dividends. Remember, people, like ideas are all different, and the routes we take to unearth them should be treated as such.

For more information on how best to stimulate creativity in your organisation, consultation requests or to see our Creative Playroom in action, please get in touch:
Seb Thompson / 0161 238 9429 / or Jo Leah / 0161 238 9400

Friday, 15 March 2013

Friday Guest Blog: Managing performance with a coaching approach

By Becci Martin - Boo Consulting

As an executive coach and coach trainer, I spend a great deal of time working with leaders and their teams on how to move from good to great. The focus of my work is often on how I can support organisations to improve performance and enable culture change that will ultimately enhance the products or services provided. I wanted to share how great it is, as a coach, when we enable our clients to achieve the desired outcome and more often than not the common feedback we hear is that coaching/mentoring has led to…

§  Better working relationships with peers
§  Improved stakeholder relationships and influencing skills
§  Improved self-confidence
§  Improved job satisfaction and performance

It is the final point around improved job satisfaction and performance that really resonates with me. If I can achieve this in my coaching session then how can a leader translate this into the wider workplace with teams and bring the results that the organisation desires?

What if we used our coaching skills in our day to day interactions with colleagues in our organisations? Trying a new approach to managing the team might just lead to individuals building confidence, taking on the responsibility, challenging poor performance in a constructive and supportive way and most importantly building their own leadership capacity which ultimately leads to higher quality output and customer service. Using your coaching style to manage performance and provide helpful and timely feedback is crucial to enabling the team to achieve whilst ensuring that performance is always on the agenda.

According to the Institute of Leadership & Management (2011) coaching has become a powerful tool in the modern workplace and has been proven to develop individual and organisational performance.

“At its best, this key management tool can deliver considerable benefits, helping managers get the most from their teams, boosting employee engagement and developing high performing workplaces” ILM (2011)

Effective leaders have a significant impact on the success of the organisation in which they are leading. They shape and inform the culture and role model excellence. Organisations that thrive are likely to be those with leadership capacity in abundance and who embrace opportunities to develop the talent pipeline. Translate this into your environment and the resulting high performing workplaces will, in turn, become high quality organisations delivering excellence.

Next time you meet with your team or strike up a performance conversation why not engage your “manager as coach” approach and see what results you achieve.

To learn more about what coaching can do for your organisation contact or

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Guest Blog - HS2: We mustn’t let our future generation down

By Mike Gibson, Connectivity Associates Ltd.

I recently had the pleasure of speaking on the subject of HS2 to the 'North West Young Planners', an enthusiastic group of young town planning professionals from across the region with strong views on balancing the need for new development with the protection of the environment.   

To ensure a lively discussion and to find out what these young professionals thought about HS2, I chaired a debate with the motion 'HS2 is a Crucial Lifeline for the North West'.  This brought out some interesting and exciting views on the importance of having a new high speed rail service between Europe and the North West, including a faster and more sustainable way of travel, the extra capacity it will deliver for the West Coast mainline, the benefits it will bring to firms exporting goods abroad and the many jobs that will be created. 

Of course, some concerns were expressed, such as the effect HS2 will have on those who live close by, the harm to the landscape and wildlife, and the potential to take all business growth to the already overblown South East.  

However, the vast majority of these young professionals agreed with the motion.  They considered the economic and environmental benefits outweighed their concerns and that without investment in this transport infrastructure, the North West economy would be significantly disadvantaged.   Trips to the south of France direct from Piccadilly also had great appeal.

This highlighted to me that the real beneficiaries of investment in HS2 will be our younger generation who are looking forward to this being built and to using it for business and leisure purposes twenty or so years from now.  The message we have to give to the objectors is to think strategically and plan ahead for future generations, who will not thank us if we fail in this task. 

Friday, 8 March 2013

Friday Guest Blog: Simple Precautions to Reduce the risk of Business Diversion Scams

By Gary Duffy, Commercial Litigation Solicitor at Brabners Chaffe Street

Businesses are falling victim to a number of payment diversion scams involving often significant losses.  Fraudsters are using a variety of such scams but businesses can reduce the risks by taking some simple precautions.

The scams depend on businesses assuming that those contacting them are trustworthy.  Businesses might be contacted, most often by letter, fax or email, by what appears to be a long standing and trusted supplier or contractor requesting that future payments be made to a different bank account.  Having carried out the change, the business will be contacted by the genuine supplier or contractor wondering where their payment is.  

It is at that point that the business might notice that the email from its 'supplier' came from a slightly different (but, on quick inspection, almost identical) email address or that the letterhead of its 'contractor' is very slightly different from other letters that the business has received previously.  By this stage, it will likely be too late to cancel the payment and the fraudster will have disappeared, leaving the business out of pocket and still liable to pay its genuine supplier or contractor.

Simple precautions such as the following can reduce the risk of falling victim to such scams:
  • Be vigilant - treat any request to change payment recipient details with caution.
  • Double check - call back the supplier using proven details held in your own system. 
  • Designated person - establish a procedure and identify a limited number of people internally and with suppliers who are authorised to change payment recipient details.
  • Information security - exercise caution in providing details of contracts and accounts.

Friday, 1 March 2013

Friday Guest Blog: Google Shopping UK set to move to a paid Inclusion Model

By Nazma Noor, Digital Marketing Executive at Return on Digital   

Google is changing the way it displays UK shopping results when somebody searches for a specific product. The change means that businesses will have to pay to get their products included in the search results.

Google Shopping results often appear in the search engine when a specific product is searched for. Globally, Google Shopping results account for 1.3 billion dollars (£849m) in revenue for businesses. It’s currently free for UK businesses to include their products in the shopping search results – all they have to do is submit information about their products to Google in the format of a product feed.
However as of 13th February 2013 Google UK will be moving towards only showing companies who “pay to display” their products. Google has already successfully moved from free listings to paid-only listings for US search results and it was only a matter of time before they rolled this out in the UK.
Businesses who rely on the free website traffic they get through the current Google Shopping UK results could effectively see their revenues slowly dwindle and eventually stop completely in around June 2013 as the free listings stop being displayed completely.

How the new Google Shopping UK system will work
The new paid system will work in a similar way to pay-per-click advertising and will be managed via the same portal – Google Adwords. The Google Adwords account will be linked up to another system Google Merchant Centre, which is where the product feeds are submitted.
“Product Listing Ads” or PLAs will need to be created for each product and businesses would be wise to optimise their product feed and ensure it is regularly updated to include seasonal discounts and offers. Businesses will also need to think about ways to make their product ads stand out against the competition, for example by being creative with their product images.

Benefits of the change to a paid system
The loss of “free” traffic from this source will no doubt be a concern for businesses that currently use Google Shopping UK. However there are some positive aspects to consider. Firstly, Google are offering incentives in the form of vouchers/credit to give businesses a test budget. Secondly it gives businesses much greater control over where there products will appear, for example a business may choose to put higher spend behind products with large profit margins and lower spend or no listing at all for lower value products.

There have been mixed views on the paid-system from businesses that have been using it in the USA however with average conversion rates of 2.78% it would be unwise to overlook this channel from your online marketing plans.

For more information on Google Shopping click here.