Category Archives: Blog

25 years in the game

It’s 25 years since Ethos public relations was formed. Here Sean looks back…

Write a blog about Ethos public relations being 25 years old this month, I thought. After 25 years running a PR and communications agency, you’d think that summarising our business ethos and experiences ought to trip off the fingers and into this 400 word blog.

My first instinct – as it probably was after 10 and 20 years in business – was to focus on all the changes that had taken place since we set up. New technology, the decline of print media, the rise of social media and a global pandemic will certainly be a rich seam to explore.

But at the same time, so much is unchanged since we started with a mission to bring professional communications help and advice to smaller businesses, especially those in the charity, co-operative and social enterprise sector.

It’s certainly the case that charities and others have been impacted – positively and negatively – by the changes in the media landscape over 25 years but perhaps it’s the things that haven’t changed (much) that are the most interesting.

The main thing that has stayed constant is the need to tell a story. Case studies, interviews and research are as important now as ever they were.

Another constant is the difficulty – in spite of numerous new media – of finding placements for charity and ‘good news’ stories. To paraphrase the old hacks’ mantra, it’s always seemed sad to me that ‘Man Bites Dog’ is a better story than ‘Man Helps Dog’. News needn’t always be negative. Charities, co-ops and others have so much positive to say – we need a greater willingness for our media to cover it. Couldn’t the world be a better place with more emphasis given over to positivity?

That said, another constant frustration to is the lack of value given to PR and communications by many organisations. How many businesses do you know that don’t keep their websites and social media up to date or don’t reply to contact forms designed for customer interaction? Or don’t use local website and social media accounts to keep their public informed about what they stand for and what they are doing?

I can’t imagine I will be writing another blog like this in 25 years but if I were, I would hope that the PR world has moved on to being more inclusive and positive. Where news means new things that have happened reported in a co-operative and equitable way.

Photo of lots of buttons

Is the environment worth a button?

In his latest blog Sean looks at how focussing on small items might be important in tackling climate change

At a recent conference, delegates were discussing the future of the planet and the actions individuals and businesses could take to make a significant impact on climate change.

Ideas ranged from giving up on fossil fuels entirely to energy efficiency and a switch to electric only cars. This latter idea coming hot on the (w)heels of a Government announcement that new petrol and diesel cars ‘could’ be phased out from 2035.

This sort of grand headline-grabbing initiative – though weakened by the use of the word could – is a hallmark of governments wanting to make their mark and be noticed. Interestingly, one of the next government announcements was about a proposed bridge between Scotland and Northern Ireland, to encourage cars to drive between the two.

But in many ways, the seriousness by which we should judge the action of businesses in relation to big issues like climate change is probably not by grand gestures or announcements, nor fundraising to help species affected by the Australian bushfires, but rather by buttons.

Yes, you read that right, buttons. Hundreds of factories in Qiaotou in China produce more than 60% of all buttons and with one factory reportedly making between 2 and 3 million buttons a day, that’s a hell of a lot of buttons.

Green button

Should all buttons be green?

Buttons have been the main way of doing up clothes for decades now, which means there have been billions of buttons made, usually from one plastic or another.

Clearly, the world doesn’t need any more buttons as almost all of those manufactured over the years are still in existence – as we know plastics are very persistent.

So why are buttons not stripped from used clothing and re-entered into the manufacturing process? Well, it’s obviously the economics (stupid) but the current system is not ecologically sustainable.

Next time you buy a new shirt or skirt with multiple buttons, think about all the millions that are either in landfill around you or that have ended their days in incinerators. What a waste!

The cynic in me feels that until we grasp the small things – like buttons – and find a way to seriously cut down on the numbers we need each year, we are not going to address climate change in the way we need to.

Who fancies setting up a button reuse and recycling company?

Business needs to change to avoid climate breakdown

In his latest blog Sean looks at how business should be reducing its dependence on carbon

All but the very sceptical now accept that our climate is changing and serious action is needed to slow down the damage caused to our environment.

The recent report by the UN international Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has said that we have about 12 years to ensure that we don’t exceed the 1.5 degree increase in global warming and has outlined some of the serious consequences of missing the target – even by only half a IPCCdegree Celsius.

At the time of its publication, there was much media coverage, which is great in raising awareness of this important subject, but there doesn’t seem to have been any significant business response.

As individuals, we all have a role to play in reducing energy use and thus global warming, but small changes by big businesses by definition have the potential to make a disproportionately large impact.

In the last few weeks, two examples of business practices which seem to take no recognition of the importance of climate change have stood out to me. In no way am I criticising the businesses behind these practices, it’s a competitive world out there, but they do highlight how big a sea change is needed in business thinking if we are ever going to reduce our dependence on carbon and perhaps save the environment.

First example. Recently, my friend’s car had to go to the garage due to a damaged AdBlue tank – yes, it’s diesel, that’s a whole different blog – but not only did the new tank have to come from mainland Europe the car had to be shipped from Wrexham to the North East of England to a specialist repairer. All of which was anything but zero carbon.

Today, businesses are becoming so complex and specialised that they build in even more carbon to their business operations.

Second example. Recently, we had to have a small wall rebuilt after an insurance claim. True, many of the bricks could be salvaged and were therefore reused, but the insurance company has a contract for such works with a building contractor. The work took two days and the builder drove 50 miles each way to undertake the work. Why wouldn’t the insurance company contract the work to a local builder, which would reduce traffic as well as reducing carbon emissions?

As I mentioned earlier, these examples are not unique to the businesses concerned and on their own don’t amount to much, but when you consider the imperative businesses have to grow and how many businesses will be doing something similar every day across the globe, the only conclusion I can come to is that businesses need a real shake up in how they operate.
To date, there’s little evidence that many are about to do so.

I hope I am wrong.

Ethical public relations versus fake news

For over 20 years, Ethos public relations has described itself as an ethical PR agency. We might not have known it back then, but what we were really saying was that we were against ‘fake news’.

Ethos 20 logoIn recent years, a number of things have contributed to the term fake news being bandied about, almost every time someone disagrees with some information or an editorial stance. This is not at all useful and is only going to increase mistrust of information and expert opinion.

In the PR context, what we meant by ethical PR was not engaging in spin but focusing on the real news behind a story. For many clients, especially in the charity and social enterprise sectors, this is particularly important as they have meaningful stories to tell supporters and funders and we believe this is best done with real, honest case studies and stories that demonstrate the real impact of their work.

Back in the 1980s it wasn’t fake news that made us develop our honest approach but rather spin and ‘kiss and tell’ stories.

Unfortunately, the transformation to fake news from this was almost inevitable and was supported in part by some bad editorial decisions by the media along the way.

It’s easy to blame editors, but a free media does need to be protected, and probably almost everyone working in public relations can cite examples of where really interesting, pertinent and newsworthy press releases have gained no coverage, while less socially useful information gets on air or in print.

Journalists aren’t social workers, but they do need to take a responsibility to their community and reflect what is going on in a balanced and holistic way. We have always subscribed to – and done our best to adhere to – the NUJ principles in our dealings with the media.

In a pre-digital age it was true that air time and newspaper space was limited, but that’s hardly the case now. Real, good quality and verifiable news should be able to find an outlet on trusted media sites to balance the seemingly endless rise of so called ‘news’ sites peddling opinion as fact.

Ethos 20 logo

New dimensions to PR: celebrating our first 20 years

Ethos public relations was established in Manchester in April 1998 and is still going strong. Here, Shaun, one of our directors, looks at some of the changes we have seen in that time and considers a new opportunity for the future.

Ethos 20 logo

Over the last 20 years, there has been a transformation in the way news is communicated, not just in how people access the latest stories, but in terms of how organisations reach out to journalists.

One of our first commissions was to write an article for a trade journal. The article was printed and published and that was that. It wasn’t posted on a website; it wasn’t shared on social media; it wasn’t ‘liked’ and ‘linked to’, forever present in the online ether. No doubt the article remains in a dusty archive somewhere, but for all intents and purposes it was never seen again.

In those days, it wasn’t unusual for a PR agency to put a press release in the post to a journalist, in anticipation that it would be used days, weeks or months ahead. Nowadays, like all of us, journalists track websites and social media channels for the latest stories – which can circle the globe within minutes – while doing their best to sniff out fake news!

As a result, most of our PR work is now online – writing and managing websites; handling social media accounts for clients; producing online newsletters, adverts and marketing materials and so on. To survive the many changes in our industry over the last 20 years, we have had to be flexible and adaptable, and no doubt there are many more changes to come.

For example, these days printing now means something different to us – something almost inconceivable 20 years ago – and that’s three-dimensional printing. Our latest client in our 20th anniversary year produces recycled 3D printer filament which can be used to manufacture a wide range of household objects, practical items, ornaments and small mechanical parts.

We’ve all seen the startling headlines about body parts being produced by 3D printers, as well as cars, houses, clothes and food, and although it might be some time before 3D printing replaces more traditional production methods, one thing’s for sure, it’s here to stay and the potential is huge.

For us, it seems, printing has come full circle. As printed publications, which once provided our bread and butter, have declined and moved into the online world, a new form of printing – 3D printing – has emerged to fill the gap.

And finally, talking of new dimensions, from day one we had a unique, ethical approach to PR, something unheard of in the late Nineties’ world of spin, and this is something we have stuck to over the last 20 years – not just because it sounded good, but because it was what we believed. Ironically perhaps for a PR agency, it is this authenticity, which goes beyond words, that has been the anchor of what we have achieved.

Centre for Alternative Technology Revisited

In his latest blog Sean looks back at visits to the Centre for Alternative Technology

It must be about 16 years since I was last at the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT)  near Machynlleth in Mid Wales.

For those that don’t know of it, it’s a pioneering education charity based in a former slate quarry, which has used the site to trial a number of alternative technologies over the years, and today it is using many of them still to power the site.

When I visited the Centre for Alternative Technology in the early days of Ethos public relations it was to discuss an ethical online web portal, which one of our clients was involved in. Times have certainly changed as far as the internet is concerned and, no doubt, that’s true in the field of alternative energy technologies too.

View from water balanced cliff railway at Centre for Alternative TechnologyI remember arriving at the site of CAT the first time, after a beautiful train journey from Manchester, and being impressed by the water-balanced cliff railway which takes you from road level up to the visitor centre.

As with many of the technologies showcased at CAT, the cliff railway works using the simplest of technologies, namely gravity. The two carriages are linked by a steel rope and when one goes down due to the combined weight of its passengers and water tank, the other carriage travels up the cliff face, with some stunning views.

On my recent visit, another ancient technology was being displayed, though with a modern twist. Burning wood for cooking and heating can hardly be described as an alternative technology, given that millions of people around the world rely on it day in and day out, but at CAT there is an innovative display of boilers that use wood pellets to produce both electricity and heat. Obviously, managed properly wood is a sustainable fuel and so provides an alternative to fossil fuels. If we want to work towards a zero carbon economy, then this might be part of the solution.

For many years, I have thought that solar panels for domestic and industrial premises should be fitted as a matter of course instead of roofing tiles, rather than on top of an existing roof. At CAT, that’s what they have on the café.

Solar panel roof at Centre for Alternative Technology

Over the past 16 years many things have changed dramatically in the field of low carbon energy generation, whether that is the growth of offshore wind energy generation or the increasing number of homes with photovoltaic cells on their roofs, but what we still have not seen is a widespread belief in using alternative technologies from the start of a project rather than as an add on.

But there still seems to be a lot of antipathy to wind and solar, in spite of their obvious benefits. Ethos public relations has worked with community biodiesel and community wind energy operators in the past and have, in a very small way, helped get the message out about the benefits of reducing carbon dependency. There is still much to be done.

So keep up the good work CAT, keep promoting the alternatives and helping to put sustainability into practice…

Happy birthday to Ethos public relations

We are 18 – again.

Ethos public relations ChampagneEthos public relations is celebrating 18 years in business today. Over the past 18 years, we have worked with a huge range of businesses, charities, individuals and others to help them get their message out to a wide variety of audiences.

We have helped our clients launch new products; deal with a number of crises; produce videos, magazine and leaflets; create new websites; manage social media; prepare for newspaper, TV and radio interviews and engage with their employees.

The list of clients we have worked with over the years is a long one and the number of passionate individuals even longer. With hardly an exception it’s been fun, fulfilling and worthwhile.

We have helped raise awareness of issues as diverse as knife crime, disability, co-operation, Fairtrade, products made in the UK, tourism, credit unions, social enterprise, vegetarianism, local food, recycling, social housing and the closure of pubs.

Each of these issues required differing approaches but we hope we dealt with them all with the same commitment both to the subject, and as importantly, to the ethics with which we were founded back in 1998.

Our ‘ethical’ approach was adopted to try and counter some of the perceived negativity towards the public relations industry. Our approach was based on honesty and having an open dialogue with clients and the media. At times this was tested and back in 1998 we couldn’t have imagined how it would be the media itself that would become the focus of unethical practice. It seems both sides of our industry have work still to do.

We have written before about how things have changed, almost unrecognisably, since we first started trading. Posting out press releases and photos being replaced by email, faxes now defunct, far fewer local (and a couple of national) newspapers, not to mention the rise of bloggers and social media – the PR landscape is very different now.

However, our honest and ethical approach to the way we undertake PR has remained the same, and is so much part of who we are that it will remain. As we get near to the end our teenage years, we are wiser and a very different ‘person’ to the Ethos public relations of 1998, but hopefully our friends and colleagues will still recognise us.

So thanks to all our previous and current employees, clients and suppliers. We’ve had a great first 18 years. Time to crack open the fizzy wine – Fairtrade of course.

The top three hotels in the world

In his latest blog, Sean looks at customer service excellence in the hospitality sector.

Recently,  a discussion in the office turned to the number of hotels we have visited since Ethos public relations was founded in 1998.

Over these 17 years we must have stayed at hundreds of hotels, both for business and pleasure.

We have stayed in budget hotels to get our heads down after a long business meeting; big conference venues in Brussels, Prague, Berlin and Birmingham, to name but a few; small bed and breakfasts with friendly owners, and corporate chains with less than friendly temporary (and overworked) staff.

It didn’t take long before we started comparing the various stays and, rather than focusing on the negatives of any particular stay, we thought about the top three hotels we had stayed at.

Now, the results, which we tweeted recently, are not very scientific. There was not a tick box questionnaire, review website or analysis of value for money, but rather we thought about the best overall experience in a hotel.

Before we repeat the results, it’s true to say that we cannot recall staying in any really awful hotels. It’s true we have experienced bed bugs, bins being emptied at 6am, reservations cock-ups, loud guests and un-adjustable heating/air conditioning but, in general, hotels and their staff are very capable.

Our shortlist of our top three hotels in the world – yes we know that’s terrible PR hype – is: the Gran Melia Victoria in Palma, Mallorca, the Holiday Inn, Ellesmere Port, Cheshire and The Hadley Park Hotel in Wellington, Shropshire.

Hadley Park Hotel

Hadley Park Hotel

In many ways these hotels couldn’t be more different. One looks over the Mediterranean, another the Manchester Ship Canal and the third is surrounded by a business park.



Holiday Inn Ellesmere Port

Holiday Inn Ellesmere Port

But the similarity is in their focus on customer service, or at least as we received it. Public relations, we always tell our clients, is about the way customers and guests perceive you and the experience they receive when interacting with your business.

Gran Melia Victoria

Gran Melia Victoria

In these three hotels we have received customer service that made us feel valued, as though the employees of the hotels really enjoyed our visit. Now of course we know the hospitality industry spends a fortune on guest customer service training and the service we received might be down to that. But somehow, I think it is down to something much more basic. I think these hotels employed nice people. And that is worth so much more than corporate brand, stunning location, posh grub or free wi-fi.

What price honesty?

In his latest blog, Shaun looks at the role of honesty, following his relocation to Shropshire.

Honesty boxMoving to a small village in Shropshire recently, I was struck by the number of ‘honesty boxes’ – people charging for flowers, vegetables, eggs etc by leaving an unattended box at the front of their gardens and trusting people to leave the appropriate amount of money in return for what they take. It was a nice reminder that there are places where this still happens.

In turn, this got me thinking about the ‘price’ of honesty, and the role of honesty in society. Economically, for example, a high level of honesty and trust results in lower transactions costs. If you leave your produce at the end of your garden, there are no costs involved in setting up a shop, transporting goods to market or delivering them to customers.

Of course, for low value home grown produce, if people don’t leave any money in the honesty box, the seller isn’t left very badly off; they just didn’t make anything on the fruit and veg they had grown anyway. For higher value items, people are going to be much less likely to leave them out for passers-by to help themselves!

However, honesty and trust are symptoms of a society’s wider attitudes and therefore reflect how communities behave – whether in a village, a town or a country. A community that leaves out honesty boxes is a trusting one and studies show that more trusting societies perform better economically, as well delivering a better quality of life, reduced levels of crime etc for their citizens.

How often have we heard people hark back to the past when you could “leave your door open” without fear of been burgled? It’s a clichéd way of implying that the past was better because it was more trusting and honest.

Perhaps the point is better made when you think that the less trusting and honest a society is, the higher the social and economic costs – whether it is fear of walking down the street, or locking your wares away so that people can’t steal them. These days, I believe that not enough emphasis is put on trust and honesty – from politicians downwards – and society suffers because of it.

However, it was interesting to read recently that Richard Branson is going to allow his private staff to take as much holiday as they like, leaving it to their own integrity to decide how much time to take off and when. Hopefully this demonstrates the growing recognition in business that the more trust you place in people, the greater the rewards for the company and its staff.

The role of honesty and integrity in society is, of course, a matter of much debate and study. In this blog, I just wanted to get it off my chest that I think trust and integrity can bring many benefits and a more honest society is a more pleasant one to live in.

Now, what can I buy next time I go along the village high street?

No to HS2

Let no one say I jumped to rash conclusions on HS2.

Ticket office - HS2

HS2 cash might be better spent on other routes

 For the last year or so I have genuinely not been sure if I should say no to HS2 or not. I have been unsure if HS2 is a good or bad idea for the country. I found it very difficult to reconcile the needs for a modern, low carbon means of transport with the unavoidable extra environmental damage. But as the rail route to the South West of England reopened today, it seems to me that we are addressing the wrong transport needs.

I am no Luddite and fully recognise that our current transport infrastructure, not least train lines, would not have existed had it not been for people who doggedly fought in some cases to build their lines. The main motivation back then was profit for all the competing train companies but I am sure it was mixed with excitement for a brand new, shiny technology.

Until recently, I could see plenty of reasons to be both for and against HS2.

Reasons for included:
•    Meeting future capacity
•    Better connections to ‘The North’
•    Business benefits to UK trade

Whilst on the no side the following springs to mind:
•    Loss of habitat
•    Even more energy use to power the trains
•    A focus on London

To some extent the environmental considerations can be reduced by judicious use of tunnelling, avoiding areas of scientific interest and the like, but this island that we share with thousands of other species is already carved up enough by rail, roads and canals.

Just imagine how large species such as deer, wild boar and others are unable to move across this country. Effectively this island is split north and south by the M62 and M4, not to mention by numerous canals. Similarly, it is divided East and West by the almost impenetrable M1 and M6 and the West Coast and East Coast mainlines.

But my last trip to London from Manchester by train made up my mind on HS2. Now I say ‘No to HS2’. On both legs of the journey, I would guess the train was a third to half full and that’s without the four sparsely populated First Class carriages which could have offered extra capacity if needed, and at over £400 return, no wonder they were under-occupied.

The train was comfortable and got me city centre to city centre in a fraction over two hours. Obviously, a quicker journey would be nice, but not at the huge environmental and landscape cost that HS2 would demand in order that we could save perhaps half an hour on the journey.

At a time when the debate about global warming and flooding has never been more topical, it seems to me we need to be rethinking our approach to business. Surely, we shouldn’t be shaving off minutes on already fairly quick journeys, but perhaps the estimated £100 billion budget for HS2 could be better spent on re-engineering our economy so people don’t all need to travel in peak hours.

But please don’t think that I am against all high speed rail. I am certainly FOR increasing speeds on existing tracks and I’d even suggest that I’d support HS2 if it were designed to connect two parts of the country that are currently poorly served by transport connections. Certainly, a Penzance – Glasgow service would sound attractive, helping Cornish regeneration and better rail infrastructure.

In the final analysis, my views will not have much sway in this particular debate and I am open minded enough to reconsider – so if you want to let me know why I should reconsider, please do!