Is it ever a good idea to pitch by phone instead of email?

With email and social media beginning to take over as the preferred channels for contacting media, the telephone pitch is rapidly falling out of fashion. But pitching on the phone has some unique benefits, says Ann Wright.

Working less might make you more productive

Do you question today’s always-on, workaholic culture and what it’s doing to our health and our productivity? Try working less to deliver more.

Three classic pitfalls of PR writing – and how to avoid them

Good PR writing requires a unique set of skills and is one of the most challenging bits of the job. Improve your content writing skills with these tips.

Getting inbound enquiries is like watching paint dry

Many people think PR consultants have journalists they can call on to place clients’ content, regardless of its quality. If only it were that simple. Good media relationships need time – just like a paint job.

Back to work: How to keep the holiday feeling at work and perform better

By now, most people are back at their desks after their holidays, and there’s that unmistakable cloud of gloom hanging in the air – but you don’t have to get caught under it. Keep the holiday feeling by continuing the habits you formed while you were away.

Why there’s more to creative than metrics

Across marketing, media and advertising, there’s an ever greater pressure to assign metrics to creative work – but driving out human emotion misses the point, writes John Brown in BrownBare.

As an example, Brown cites the ‘Chewbacca Mom’ viral video – an organic piece of content that perhaps exemplifies pure joy – which got 135m views within five days and led to the mask selling out at Kohl’s, both online and in-store, as well as searches for the item going up 1.35m percent on Amazon.

While McKinsey’s ‘Economics of Creativity’ offers guidance on how to measure the value of creative, Brown argues that this over-engineering invites lawyers and consultants to charge in, while driving out the imaginative, human element that makes such successes work.

Have we beat the fun out of #comms yet?

Image: Unsplash/JJ Ying

Deal with these issues to make remote working productive

Being able to connect with colleagues through instant messaging and collaborate on documents in the cloud has made remote working an option for more of us than ever, but we need to plan around the downsides to make it productive.

Why I love training – Guy Clapperton

The reason I became a part-time trainer, as well as a journalist in 2002, was very straightforward. I’d just had a bank statement and was therefore about to reach for the brandy and revolver (but realised I didn’t have either and couldn’t afford them). The phone went; it was Microsoft’s PR people, asking whether I offered media training

What's the worst four-letter word?

The worst four-letter word of all? It’s ‘v***’

When I’m reviewing a copywriter’s work, there’s often a particular word that leaps out at me as the most offensive expletive on the whole page: ‘very’.

Expletives include more than swear words. They’re defined as words that add no meaning to a sentence, other than to communicate the strength of the writer’s feelings. Which means ‘really’, ‘truly’, and ‘basically’ are in the same boat.

“‘Very’ is the most useless word in the English language and can always come out.” Florence King

The v-word is everywhere in marketing copy, littering sentences with pointless padding. You’re always invited to conduct a very thorough inspection, it’s a very innovative idea, or a very catchy introduction. The word bloats up copy with vagueness, while the writer feels confident they’ve expressed their intended message.

Keith Henshall (who founded the Henshall Centre) taught me to think about sentences as if they were canoes trying to get to their destination. Which sounds weird, but bear with us…

Sentences need to make a point, and any word that’s not really helping the canoe paddle to its objective is just slowing it down. To improve your writing, delete your expletives or replace them with more powerful and specific words.

Instead of having v***, use a better word. Instead of ‘very excited’, you could be ‘thrilled’. A ‘very interesting’ idea could be ‘captivating’, or ‘fascinating’, while ‘very useful’ feedback could instead be ‘valuable’ or ‘constructive’.

How to say goodbye to the ‘v-word’

Ready to let go of ‘very’? Here’s some advice I recently gave in a writing workshop.

Replace every ‘very’ with the word ‘f***ing’

  • a f***ing innovative idea
  • a f***ing catchy introduction
  • our customers are f***ing satisfied
  • a f***ing difficult process

Your boss, client or editor will delete the swear words (and think you’re an idiot) but your copy will improve instantly. I borrowed the technique from Mark Twain, who was a much politer gentleman.

What should you do instead?

The next time you reach for a ‘very’, stop, and think of another adjective you could use instead.

It might be hard at first, but as with everything that’s worth doing, you’ll build a habit with practice but you’ll build a habit with practice. If you’re struggling, bookmark this list of v*** f***ing useful alternatives.

How to create a time management system for your company

How to create a time management system for your company

Employers expect their people to have a good handle on their time by default. That’s a lovely wish, but it’s also the reason I spend a lot of my time teaching people how to manage theirsWhile I like my productivity courses, I’d really love to see companies preventing time management problems instead of trying to fix individuals through training.

Henshall Centre changes hands

Henshall Centre has a new owner – our director of learning, Liton Ali, completed a buyout on 2nd June 2017. Having started in 1988, our founders, Keith and Maureen Henshall retired, leaving us as one of the UK’s leading PR training companies. Liton continues our mission to make the communications community more motivated, successful and happy at work.

After running his first Henshall Centre course in 2014, Liton became our full-time learning director, working to improve our learning experiences. Over the last three years, he has updated our range of courses and our team of experts and coaches.

When Liton first arrived, he set out to develop the training centre into a learning centre – adopting accelerated learning methods backed by neuroscience and giving customers more control over their education.

Liton explained:

“Training is usually something that’s done to you so – learning is always something you do for yourself. I’ve always aimed to make learning so enjoyable that it’s addictive. At Henshall Centre, we don’t really think about teaching – we prioritise guiding people to knowledge and sharpening their skills.”

We’re the same company

Since day one, our most essential function has been to help people improve the way they work immediately. We’ve always employed experts that work in their fields of expertise and used educational theory to enhance their workshops. Liton’s role has been to help them upgrade their courses into unforgettable learning experiences.

But some things have changed:

  • Courses are now limited to eight people per group. We started researching the optimum number years ago and halved the course limit. The new number enables trainers to coach each person individually so that they can improve rapidly.
  • Our days are shorter. Like most training companies, we used to start at 9:30 and finish at 5:00. Most of our courses now begin at 10:00 and end by 4:30.
  • We’ve moved to a less corporate, more learning-friendly venue in Vauxhall. When asked for a design brief, Liton requested ‘something between a therapist’s office and someone’s study’.
  • We have neuroscientific learning expert Stella Collins as an adviser, to make sure our focus on enjoyable experiences always makes learning more productive.

You’re more likely to learn things correctly when you have intrinsic motivation and curiosity. So we work on this stuff before, during and after a course. You’re unlikely to learn well if you’re bored or half asleep. That’s why we design enjoyable learning experiences that keep you active.

An interesting background

Liton grew up in a family business, began working full time at 16 and soon ran his first brand campaign for a local start-up. This involved logo design, copywriting, radio advertising and local PR.

The project set the tone for his career, and he learned various skills that enabled him to work as a journalist, copywriter, designer and in-house marketing director.

He has spent the majority of his career as a PR consultant and now describes his learning director role at Henshall Centre as his dream job.

The future

Liton’s goal is for us to evolve into a ‘blended learning’ company, providing knowledge and expertise to communications professionals when they need it most. He set up our online course production department in July and is working on a portfolio of on-demand courses to complement our workshops. You’ll still see him running some of our workshops, but the new role means he’ll spend more time behind the scenes.

Where’s Keith?

Keith spends his time between Florida and the Cotswolds with Maureen, co-founder of Henshall Centre, who happens to be Mrs Henshall. Keith remains a mentor to Liton. They both agree they wished they’d met 20 years earlier. You can connect with him on LinkedIn.

Want to know more?  

Don’t miss out on how Liton and the Henshall team continue to innovate and inspire the PR and communications communities.

Sign up to our newsletter, follow us on Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook, or come and meet Liton in person at one of our free events.

Neuroscience for learning – don’t believe the neuro-hype

Guess how many scientific articles have already been cited this year with the word ‘Neuroscience’ in them?

You can satisfy your curiosity immediately by skipping to the end of this post, or you can keep your dopamine levels up by hanging on to that sense of curiosity a little bit longer.

There’s a vast amount of information available right now about neuroscience in the world of learning and training with new articles on the subject published every day. As trainers, coaches and development specialists, we’re all excited by how it might apply to us, but differentiating the ‘neuromyths’ and ‘neuro-hype’ from valuable information can be hard.

You may well have been to a session marketed as ‘neuroscience’ which has turned out to be disappointingly similar to something you’ve seen before but with brain-related words and pictures thrown in. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with that – brains seem to get us all excited, and if you’ve never thought about the brain’s role in learning, that’s probably useful. But it’s not helpful when poor science is given a platform and used to validate what we do regardless of whether there’s any real evidence.

Recently I was at a session about ‘the neuroscience of values and culture at work’ which turned out to be based on dodgy facts. The well-meaning facilitators had discovered some ‘evidence’ for the neuroscience underpinning the contentious Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) personality test. The data from an MBTI evangelist who had recorded some of his clients’ brain activity had, unsurprisingly, found what he was looking for. There was no scientific rigour or design in his ‘experiments’ and the ‘researcher’ had sought to prove rather than disprove his own hypotheses, as well as cherry-picking the data. The facilitators were effectively hoodwinked by this ‘researcher’ into thinking this looked like real science and real evidence.

How to use neuroscience

As trainers, facilitators, coaches we don’t need to be neuroscientists ourselves because mostly we’re already professionals and good at what we do. But we need to be able to identify what makes good science and what doesn’t, so we can use good evidence-based research to validate our practice. We don’t need to keep up with every last tiny development in neuroscience, but it does help us when we have a good understanding of the neuroscience mechanisms and important concepts of learning such as motivation, attention and memory.  This helps us design and develop practical learning solutions that work with the ‘groove of the brain’.

Check out the evidence when you come across it – look for possible disproofs of theories as well as proofs. Be aware of your own cognitive biases to look for supporting evidence and resist them. Remember that neuroscience is usually research done at the granular level – it’s rarely directly applicable in the real world. Don’t expect to find single ‘magic bullets’ that change everything.

There are valuable evidence-based concepts, models, and theories that can shape our methodologies and way of looking at learning – so don’t throw the baby out with the bath water and dismiss everything you hear as neuro-hype. Instead, learn to recognise good science, get to know the models that are validated and get interested in what we know about how brains work because you’ll get better results with your learners and for your organisations.

Neuroscience articles

Here’s the answer to the question at the beginning – can you feel that dopamine washing around your brain as your curiosity is about to be satisfied? According to Pubmed, which lists most scientific publications, there had already been 13,887 articles cited by 7th April 2017.

Learn more – join Stella’s workshop

Join a practical exploration of some of the neuroscience of learning that you can use to inform what you do. If you’ve already read Stella Collins’ book Neuroscience for Learning and Development then you’ll find it a great way to bring it to life and if you haven’t read it, here’s a great way to start your journey.

Neuroscience for Learning and Development Masterclass.

Friday 12th May, 9am-3pm at Henshall Centre.

Call 0118 983 6339 for more information.

If a journalist rejects your pitch – is it worth another go?

Did you get a big fat no from a journalist when you pitched a story? If so, don’t take it personally.

There are loads of reasons why a journalist might not be interested – which are not necessarily because you haven’t done a good job of pitching it.

And many of them aren’t a “hard no”, because it’s just a bad story, as one of the trainees on the pitching course we ran this week at the Henshall Centre, said. They are a “soft no”, which means it may be worth trying again at a different time or in a different way.

Some “soft no” reasons – and how to get round them:

  1. They have covered the same topic very recently – so wait a few weeks and have another go.
  2. There is a major story which is dominating the news – again, wait until the dust has settled.
  3. It has no peg/hook or the timing is wrong – create a compelling reason why the story needs to run at a particular time, linking it to current events.
  4. They are too busy to talk to you – establish when the journalist’s busy times are and avoid these when you call.
  5. You’ve missed their deadline – find out what their lead times and deadlines are and make sure you meet them.
  6. The story as you described it is too complicated – find a simpler way to describe it.
  7. This edition of publication is full – then pitch it again for the next one.
  8. It is not their area of expertise – either ask who the right contact is, or try a different publication.
  9. You haven’t given them a good “top-line” – think again about what the most interesting angle is about this story, or the one which would work best for that particular publication.
  10. The angle doesn’t work for them – study their publication and find another angle which would.
  11. The press release isn’t well written – rewrite it!
  12. If you’re pitching for TV/video, there’s nothing to see – if this is the case, work out what pictures you might be able to offer them

Reasons for a “hard no”

  1. It’s boring.
  2. It’s the wrong story for their publication.
  3. It’s very obviously a puff piece.
  4. The journalist is a cynical hack.
  5. The journalist knows they’ll never be able to sell the story to their news editor (who is a cynical hack).

If the rejections are down to “hard nos”, then you need to rethink your strategy, work out the best types of story for your target audience and come up with ideas that will work for them. If the rejections are “soft nos”, then it is worth your while thinking again, and having another go.

Ann Wright teaches our Improve Your Media Pitches workshop. Join her to practice pitching with a professional.


Writing resolutions

Don’t just resolve this January, plan to achieve

What did you resolve to do at work this year? Something drastic like change careers? Or look for a new job?

Or something less dramatic – maybe to learn a new skill for an upcoming project. Resolutions are nice, but how about making them concrete by setting some job and career objectives, then agreeing with your manager how to achieve them? If you haven’t had a session with your manager agreeing 2017’s job and career objectives, now is the time to plan (and impress them with your proactivity).

Get started

As a people manager for over 25 years, I’ve always loved it when my team members proactively set objectives and planned how they would hit them, be those sales targets, client wins or a promotion. Let’s say you want to learn something new this year – try this approach to get moving:

Step one – Suggest and agree some key personal and team objectives that would help your manager deliver their business objectives.

Step two – Identify any skill that you or your team need to develop to deliver those objectives, be that increasing client wins and satisfaction, or raising the skills and productivity of your people.

Step three – Once you have agreed these with your manager, you will need to identify how you will gain these skills. Training can now be delivered in a variety of formats, so present a blended learning package to your manager that will deliver your needs in an engaging, enjoyable and (cost) effective way. This does not mean lots of days out of the office anymore.

Step four – Finally, you need to track and report progress against key objectives on a regular basis, to your manager and team. Celebrate success regularly.

Let me know what you’ve planned, or get in touch if you need some inspiration.

Being a charity trustee – meaningful voluntary work that pays back

If you haven’t volunteered because you don’t like the idea of stuffing envelopes or rattling collection boxes – you’ve got the wrong idea. Charitable organisations have sophisticated business needs with limited budgets to meet them.

The ten-minute persona-creator

Creating audience/reader personas can take months, but we’ve got a tool (from our content marketing courses) that will help you make them in minutes.

Our new PR coach: Nicole Love-Lloyd

We’re welcoming PR coach Nicole Love-Lloyd to our team this month. She’s here to run PR strategy and crisis communications workshops and will also coach and mentor mid-level and senior PR professionals. Nicole’s an agency specialist, having set up her own. She’s also been at Ogilvy and Halpern and even managed campaigns at Westminster Council.

Nicole’s helping us develop a complete set of specialist learning experiences for PR agencies. We’ve continually updated our Effective Account Director and Effective Account Manager courses for over 20 years. Nicole’s working on open courses for the next tier of agency management.

She’s already brought a load of fun to Henshall Centre – we think you should get to know her.

Questions and answers

What do you love about training?

We’ve all heard of those words – those who can do and those who can’t teach. Well, that’s why I think old school teacher/ student training courses no longer have a place. Training is getting in a room and working together towards a common problem and having fun along the way. Real people interacting with real tasks, coming up with real ways to do things better.

What’s your specialist area?

I’ve been lucky enough to have worked both agency and in-house on shampoo brands to data-houses, so my area of expertise is taking experience from the real world and putting them into a training environment so other people can benefit from what I’ve learned.

What’s your PR super-power?

Client management, creative strategy, media management and what every good PR should have in their back pocket: crisis communications.

What’s the most important thing PR people should learn?

To be curious! PR is a unique career, the skills you learn can cross industries without retraining.  PRs have the opportunity to specialise in so many areas, so get involved.  Never stop learning and then you’ll never get bored.

Why did you decide to go into coaching?

After setting up and running an agency, two years ago I went into freelance consulting. I love it as it’s given me the opportunity to work with a more diverse group of clients, but I miss the team element. Coaching means I get that – I love getting to know new people, hearing new problems and coming up with new ideas.

What’s been the highlight of your career so far?

I could say winning multi-million-pound briefs or setting up an agency, but loads of people have done that. It has to be getting a double page feature of my then boyfriend (now husband) in The Sun with the headline Britain’s Biggest Love Loser. I’ll tell you the full story over a glass of wine 😉

What attracts you to working with agencies?

While I’ve worked in-house, it’s given me some great insights as to what a client wants I’m an agency girl at heart. We have to remember it’s a business and PR is what we sell. Working with PRs to be more confident, productive and stand out from the crowd is the best bit of the job.

Join Nicole on our PR strategy course.

Follow Nicole on Twitter

SOSTAC Planning System

SOSTAC – a PR planning system

PR Smith’s SOSTAC® is a simple and brilliant marketing plan structure that is easily adapted for PR.

If you’re using AVE (Advertising Value Equivalency), stop it and use SOSTAC® instead.

Here’s a short guide (you’ll have to visit us for the rest):


SOSTAC® Planning System

SOSTAC® is a circular process – once it’s in place, you just keep it rolling. If your tactics aren’t working, turn back a stage, adjust what you’re doing, then keep going round the process. When you get to the end, use what you’ve learned to start again.

SOSTAC® explained

  • S – Situation analysis – where are you now?
  • O – Objectives – where do you want to go?
  • S – Strategy – how are you going to get there?
  • T – Tactics – what are the things you’ll do, when and how?
  • A – Action – do your thing and manage the tactics well.
  • C – Control – how did you do?

Define your organisation’s PR problems in order to work out communications priorities. Look at the wider market, target audiences and competitors.

Take research seriously and embed it in your planning process. Using SOSTAC® means you must research regularly, rather than conduct one-off audits that you’ll soon forget.

If your PR objectives aren’t matched to business goals, you’ve got it wrong. Make your objectives very specific, with timelines/deadlines included. Build measurement in – set performance indicators (KPIs) and monitor them throughout the process.

Don’t jump from objectives to tactics. Strategy is the central approach and guiding principle behind your tactical work. Spend time on getting it right before you start any communications activities.

Organise your brand messaging around your objectives, then segment and target audiences. Decide on the kind of media and influencers that will help you reach the right people.

Now you can choose what to do, how and when you should communicate, etc. Decide on the specific channels you’re going to use and plot timelines.

Get out there and do your thing. Allocate projects, tasks and budgets, manage processes, use external agencies, have fun.

You’ve set meaningful objectives in order to make this stage fast and easy. Monitor progress constantly, measure campaign outputs and outcomes, review work done and evaluate your results.

Use what you’ve learned in the evaluation process to keep improving as you go round the circle again.

Learn more in our PR strategy course

This is extracted from our Developing PR strategy course.

Download a large version of the SOSTAC® graphic.

SOSTAC® is a registered trade mark of PR Smith. For more information on SOSTAC® Planning & becoming a SOSTAC® Certified Planner visit