People, compassion and good PR

Karen Westcott, DTW PR Manager, looks at the key ingredient into the best PR responses to adversity.

Public relations and the management of reputation is often heavily criticised and the butt of ill-informed jokes, particularly when it comes to discussions around politics, the need to save money and hiring ‘unnecessary and expensive’ consultants.

Too often we are an easy target – sometimes labelled untrustworthy spin doctors that should be believed with caution.

At a time of austerity, we, as an industry, have taken a bit of a battering, with some organisations, particularly in local government, deciding that PR was more of a luxury than a must-have, choosing to streamline and lose resources.

However, 2015 has thrown up a number of high profile cases that have shown the difference organised, efficient, empathetic communications can make, particularly at times of crisis.

In simple terms, effective PR can save a business from going under, maintain the reputations of CEOs and, crucially, help shape policy going forward.

There have been examples this year where the poor handling of a crisis has become the story, rather than the original offence. And in PR terms, there is no greater disaster than that. Volkswagen’s ability to bounce back from the emissions furore may well depend on how well it manages its PR going forward. And let’s face it, it didn’t get off to a great start with a lack of information and customer care dominating the headlines.

And this week former Sainsbury’s boss Justin King produced a report into Thomas Cook’s handling of the tragic deaths of brother and sister Bobbi and Christi Shepherd in 2006. They died, aged six and seven, of carbon monoxide poisoning due to a malfunctioning boiler while on holiday in Corfu with their father.

Thomas Cook should have done everything possible to compensate, listen to, and work alongside the children’s parents in the days, months and years following the tragedy, but instead it took an insensitive approach, preferring to pay little attention to the family and often putting profits before its customers.

King criticised the company for its abrupt and late replies when contacting the parents, and for ignoring Mr Shepherd’s attempt to arrange a meeting in 2013. He said when the company did contact the family, its approaches were “intermittent, sometimes ill-timed and often ill-judged.”

He said: “The fact that this tragic situation spanned almost nine years is testimony to how much the legal rather than human considerations dominated the landscape.”

It took nine years for the company to apologise – Thomas Cook only did so after repeated complaints about their attitude and revelations that the company had received more compensation than the children’s parents.

Contrast that to Merlin Entertainment, owner of Alton Towers theme park in the West Midlands. It was thrown into crisis in June this year when its Smiler rollercoaster malfunctioned, causing two carriages to collide, injuring 16 people – four of them seriously.

Merlin’s CEO Nick Varney immediately fronted the media response, issuing an apology and emphasising the company’s devastation and commitment to safety.

They contacted each of the injured people concerned, visited the most seriously injured on a number of occasions, and, crucially, apologised very early on.

Within days, they had accepted responsibility and had started to make interim payouts to the victims.

The theme park did lose substantial profits in the wake of the accident, but the company hasn’t come in for criticism and both the reputation of Alton Towers and its CEO are arguably stronger than ever.

The difference between the two comparisons is simple – human compassion.

Maintaining good PR may seem like an easy objective, but at times of crisis, when the world around you is critical, angry and demanding of answers, it can be extremely lonely and difficult to stay focused. Hiding away and saying very little may seem like the easier option.

The key, DTW believes, is to always remember that people are at the heart of our business – not profits, profiles and spin doctoring. Everything we do is ultimately about people, therefore, we should always treat others the way we would want to be treated ourselves.

At times of crisis, immediately stand up and be counted, apologise if things have gone wrong and investigate fully so it doesn’t happen again. Be visible from the off, open and honest and, most importantly, be compassionate. And remember always that your actions speak far louder than words, so be pro-active.

Faceless, impersonal social media may be king, but people remain the same. The moment we forget that we are communicating with emotional human beings is the moment we should throw in the towel and do something different.


Back to the Future with #TeamDTW

We all know its Back to the Future Day today. In order to celebrate the success of Doc and Marty we thought we’d go back to the future ourselves.

So we asked DTW founder Pete Whelan (the original one) to cast his mind back to the dim and distant world of 1989 when DTW came kicking and screaming into life.

You want to know how comms has changed in the past 26 years – read on.

You want to know how it will change in the next 26 years – that’s a different blog post. Watch this space.

Chris Taylor – DTW Managing Director – October 21 2015


Back to the future with DTW

In 1989….

Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web…

Mark Zuckerberg celebrated his fifth birthday…

… and DTW was founded by a bunch of enthusiastic mates who had no idea of the revolution which was about to shake the foundations of the communications world in the next 25 years.

It must be difficult for a generation brought up with the worldwide web, super-fast digital communications and mobile technology to imagine how different life was in 1989, when DTW came kicking and screeching into life.

Screen Shot 2015-10-21 at 10.45.29

The first generation of slow, clunky personal computers was just becoming affordable to small businesses (we bought some, from a bloke called Alan Sugar – whatever happened to him?)

For our graphics studio, we took a punt at Apple Mac computers, the new kids on the block, as we began the transition from cut & paste and Letraset to slick digital design. I guess that’s been one certainty over the last 25 years, that Mac would continue to develop and deliver for designers.

Emails were non-existent. The important stuff came by post. The pace of life and work was a lot slower. Apart from the roads, of course – I used to drive down from Guisborough (edge of the North York Moors) to my central London clients via the sedate M1 in four hours, parking by their front doors.

In those days life for an agency was a whole lot simpler. There were just four basics for any client comms programme: PR; advertising (press or broadcast only); a new brochure (remember them) every year or two; and perhaps a “corporate video”.

Now that’s funny because video as a communications tool virtually disappeared for 20 years, then was sparked back into popularity by the emergence of YouTube and the emergence of a generation of people with an attention span of a few nanoseconds.  Déjà vu.

How did we imagine life in 2015? Well, the simple answer is we didn’t, any more than communicators now can guess what 2040 will be like. I guess we thought comms would be just like before but with more techie stuff to help…

Instead, social media in particular is changing the way the world works (and not always for the best), whilst the speed of digital is demanding instant response, bringing ever-greater pressures on communicators like us.

Did we think DTW would still be around a quarter century later? Possibly not. It’s a matter of pride to me that our agency is one of a handful which has survived and prospered through a world recession whilst adapting to the needs of the new communications landscape.

2040 here we come…

Pete Whelan (that’s the old one) – Founder and former Chief Exec

Screen Shot 2015-10-21 at 10.54.44


And They’re Off! The General Election Sweepstakes

The 2015 General Election is almost too close to call, but that doesn’t stop any of us trying.

We asked a few friends of DTW whose opinions we trust and respect to give us their views on who will be running the show come 8 May. Interesting reading!

David Cameron will be happy with the predictions as most respondents see him remaining as Prime Minister but half say it might not be for too long. The most popular scenario here is him remaining as PM and attempting to govern as a minority administration while one foresees a loose coalition between the Conservative party and the SNP – stranger things have happened.

The performance of UKIP could be critical here in the number of seats they could deliver to any potential coalition and all respondents saw them increasing their current tally of two, but whether it is one more or three more to a total of five MPs will be interesting to see.

Respondents were split on the turnout of the election, with half expecting an increase on 2010 and half expecting that to fall.

A range of key issues were suggested as to what would have the main influence in the election, but the most popular was the economy.

Steph Edusei – Chief Executive, A New View Ltd 

  1. Which party or parties will form the next government? Labour minority government – although I do think this will be a very close call
  2. Who will be Prime Minister after the election?  Ed Miliband
  3. How many parliamentary seats will UKIP have on 8 May? Five
  4. What will the turnout be? 64.3% (I think people are fed up of hearing about it all. Turnout in N. Ireland, Scotland and Wales will probably boost lackluster performance in England).
  5. What factors do you think will play a key role in the election? The NHS, the economy, immigration, social care (quality and cost particularly for older people)
Steph Edusei

Hugh O’Connor – General Manager, Merseylink 

  1.  Which party or parties will form the next government? Conservative & the SNP with some sort of loose alliance – although Labour & Conservative will be very close. Nicola Sturgeon could be far more influential as a Deputy PM than Nick Clegg.
  2. Who will be Prime Minister after the election? David Cameron (if he retains his seat) but Boris is waiting in the wings…
  3. How many parliamentary seats will UKIP have on 8 May? I suspect around five
  4. What will the turnout be? 61.5%
  5. What factors do you think will play a key role in the election? Overall performance on camera and quality of sound bites, in particular who comes across as the most genuine, although there is lots of time and room for any one of them to blot their copybook in the run-in
Hugh O'Connor

Ross Smith – Director of Policy, North East Chamber of Commerce 

  1. Which party or parties will form the next government? The Conservatives. They may lose some seats in England, but if the polls are anywhere near accurate in Scotland they could still remain the largest party. I’m not sure if they will find coalition partners though so they may attempt a minority government with the possibility of a quick European referendum
  2. Who will be Prime Minister after the election? David Cameron – although for how long is another matter
  3. How many parliamentary seats will UKIP have on 8 May? Three
  4. What will the turnout be? 66%
  5. What factors do you think will play a key role in the election? I think deep down, a large proportion of the electorate have a gut instinct for which of the two main parties they would prefer to lead a government, and I don’t think too many people have changed their minds on that since 2010
Ross Smith

Chris Taylor, Managing Director, DTW 

  1. Which party or parties will form the next government? I think the Conservatives will be the largest party but won’t have enough seats for an overall majority, so will try to form a minority administration
  2. Who will be Prime Minister after the election? David Cameron
  3. How many parliamentary seats will UKIP have on 8 May? Four
  4. What will the turnout be? 67%
  5. What factors do you think will play a key role in the election? Party leaders and trust in economic competence
Chris Taylor

“And the Nominations are…”

DTW has received two nominations in the prestigious PRMoment awards 2015.

In the Public Sector Campaign of the Year category we have been nominated jointly with Hartlepool Borough Council for our work on the “Hartlepool – A Vision for the future” campaign.

We worked with the council’s economic development team to create a communications strategy for the Vision which used a PR-led approach to inspire local communities to get involved.

The campaign used video and mixed photography with futuristic artists’ impressions to create an image of how eight different sites across the town could look following development.

In just five months, the Vision project has led to the direct creation and safeguarding of 300 jobs in Hartlepool and attracted £1.75 million of new investment.

We have also been nominated in the Best Use of Video category for the “I am Coast & Country” video for Coast & Country Housing. The video has been used extensively as the centre of Coast & Country’s induction programme, internal communications and in broader external communications work.

Coast & Country Housing is the largest registered provider of accommodation in the Redcar and Cleveland Borough, owning and managing over 10,000 properties.

The PRMoment awards celebrate excellence and recognise and reward outstanding campaigns and exceptional talent in the UK PR and Communications sector. The awards attracted over 650 entries from 200 companies from across the UK.

#TeamDTW is looking forward to arriving in Manchester in style for the awards ceremony on 11 March.