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Meet the team: Ruth Follows

By | Food for thought, Story Comms, Tips and advice | No Comments

Want to know more about #TeamStory? Over the next few months, we will be profiling each member of the team – this is where you learn who is the closet rockstar, who knows all the words to the Paw Patrol theme song (if you know, you know), who prefers Scotch and who likes nothing more than a bit of quilting after a long day at the office.

In celebration of International Women’s Day and this year’s theme #pressforprogress, this month we kick off with newbie, account director Ruth Follows… We sat down with Ruth for a chinwag on all things flexible working, equality in the workplace and what a typical day looks like for the working mum extraordinaire.

Things you can’t leave home without: My bag (aka the kitchen sink)

Favourite food: Good old-fashioned fish and chips

Favourite read: To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee

Pet hate: Lack of empathy in others

Morning routine: Peel child from cot and give milk, hastily drink coffee amidst getting ready, help husband finish getting daughter ready (he is not burdened by a beauty routine!), make smoothie/grab food for day, attempt to exit house without forgetting any necessary items, drop child at nursery, head into work and try not to look too frazzled.

What attracted to join Team Story?

I saw Story as becoming part of the fabric of Birmingham – an agency equally excited by the city’s destination status and devolutionary agenda.

What’s your favourite thing about working at Story?

The team. Supportive, energised and hungry for success – but with a necessary hint of mischief.

Tell us a fun fact about yourself.

My grandad was related to Cary Grant, who starred in many of the early Hitchcock films.

In your experience, what challenges do new mums face when returning to the workplace?

Where do I start?

Firstly, balancing the number one priority in your life with a career that’s also important to you. Not many employers support you in that, but I have been very lucky.

Secondly, the all-too-common lack of foresight and flexibility employers show in not considering employing women with a fantastic career and CV, but who have childcare responsibilities. There’s a wealth of efficient, highly-skilled, loyal talent out there who aren’t in the job market because the market has told them they don’t fit the old model.

And, finally, guilt. If you’re managing to spend enough time with kids, you feel you’re not putting in enough at work, and vice versa. They don’t teach any of this in antenatal classes!

How difficult is it to achieve a work-life balance as a working mum?

Difficult, but less so if you have the backing of a supportive employer and are confident enough to be assertive, organised and structured during your hours at work. I work three days a week and feel I have a good balance. This means when extra time is needed, I can be in early, or arrange childcare if there’s an essential project or big pitch on.

What are the benefits of flexible working (for employee and employer)?

For the employer, you have a happier, more loyal workforce. They will go further for you, giving you more by virtue of what you have given them.

For the employee, it’s about being able to put your all into your career, while having time to do the other things in your life that complete a picture of good wellbeing.

Describe a typical day in your role as an account director?

Currently, I’m very focused on ‘Project Story’ – operations, HR and processes/standards. It’s been a fast road to growth for the agency, so I’m looking forward to setting up the foundations that ready us for the future.

Have your career/life goals changed since becoming a working mum?

Not at all. I’m still Ruth Follows, with the same aspirations across my home life, career and hobbies. It’s just more of a juggling act with a new top priority – but I think maintaining a sense of yourself is really important.

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Story marks growth chapter with new faces and client wins

By | Story Comms, West Midlands | No Comments
  • Agency celebrates four new hires and high-profile client wins
  • Story flying high as region’s ‘Outstanding Small PR Consultancy’ at prestigious industry awards
  • Firm’s focus on Midlands renaissance is underpinning strong growth

Birmingham-based PR and content agency Story Comms is celebrating after welcoming four new faces to its award-winning team and securing a number of high-profile new clients.

The firm has bolstered its property and infrastructure roster with the addition of FTSE 100-listed housing developer Berkeley Group, securing briefs for its St Joseph subsidiary. Berkeley appointed the agency after a competitive pitch to represent St Joseph in the Midlands and launch its forthcoming Snow Hill Wharf development, which will see it bring forward more than 400 new homes in Birmingham city centre.

The agency has also secured briefs from UK construction heavyweight Wates Group and Midlands-based rail and project delivery firm, SLC Rail.

Supporting the agency’s rapid growth, Story has welcomed account director Ruth Follows to its senior management team. Ruth brings extensive experience in delivering strategic and integrated communications campaigns for clients across the public and private sectors.

Tom Bradshaw-Smith also joins the fold as a senior account manager. Tom, whose experience spans business and consumer campaigns, will play a vital role in delivering for the agency’s legal, finance and construction clients. Completing Story’s new hires are account executives Lewis Thomas and Claire Simpson.

Story’s fast growth since launching just three years ago was recently recognised by industry body, the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR), which awarded the firm ‘Outstanding Small PR Consultancy of the Year’ at the region-wide CIPR Midlands PRide Awards.

Amanda Lowe, founder and managing director, Story Comms, said:

“Story is born, bred and committed to the Midlands. As an agency, we are firmly focused on helping to boost the region’s growth and that is reflected in our growing client list. We are very proud that the organisations we work with, new and existing, are helping to push the region forward.

“I am also excited about the new additions to our team. Their talent, drive and expertise adds hugely to our offer and will help us forge ahead with our growth plans.”

Launched in 2015, Story’s client roster includes the British Business Bank and the Midlands Engine Investment Fund, The FA, the Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP, the West Midlands Growth Company, Enterprise Telford, Finance Birmingham, Frontier Development Capital, Mills & Reeve, Anthony Collins and Berwick Partners. The firm has also completed work for the likes of Town Hall Symphony Hall, Millennium Point, Gowling WLG, Goodman, CEG Property and Drive Midlands.

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Fixing the female PR pipeline

By | Campaigns, Food for thought, Story Comms, Tips and advice | No Comments

PR is a female-led industry, 64 per cent of its employees are women and 59 per cent of all PR managers are female. Yet, the top jobs – and salaries – are dominated by men. In 2016, just 19 of the top 50 listed in PRWeek’s Power List were female and just 30 per cent of all global PR agencies are run by women.

If we cannot achieve parity in an industry with a ready supply of female talent, how can other sectors with a less balanced pipeline make the strides needed?

If progress is to be made, we need to be asking ourselves why this happens, and, perhaps more crucially, where do the women go?

In PR, the issues leading to such male dominance for senior roles, in spite of the sector’s female majority, are complex. Not least however, is the problem we have in losing female talent after they start families.

PR is traditionally an ‘always-on’ profession, permanently hooked up to 24-hour news channels and on the end of email for any comms eventuality. It’s not an attractive proposition for someone looking to balance work with the demands of family life, particularly in the early ‘new parent’ years. The result is predictable. Some just don’t return, others come back but to positions that do not reflect their talent, experience or drive and some are somewhere in the middle.

At Story, we are passionate about delivering the best work possible for our clients. Work that makes people stop, think and change. To deliver that, we need the cream of the talent crop. In a competitive marketplace, a huge part of that comes from offering a uniquely supportive and creative working environment that allows people to deliver, while balancing the rest of their lives – including family responsibilities.

We don’t just pay lip service to work-life balance – we are invested in employees actually achieving it – and that is giving us the edge.

Making it happen however means having a team that are all highly motivated and focused on delivering KPI-busting results and industry leading campaigns. That individual drive and commitment is imperative to making our own flexible approach work.

It is important to remember that flexibility is not just a female issue either. Men have families too, and the more we can encourage and support them with family responsibilities, the more the playing field levels and childcare doesn’t become about gender. You also don’t have to have a family to want some leeway when it comes to working practices.

Today marks the launch of the #pressforprogress campaign. In PR, as in many sectors, we have a long way to go to achieve gender equality. The first step has to be in realising that family (or other commitments) exist – and that by working with, rather than against them; supporting our talent rather than forcing it to choose, makes business sense. If we don’t, the talent will vote with their feet and we’ll all suffer the consequences.

Ready to be inspired about making work work? Here are a few campaigns and initiatives we love:

#WorkthatWorks
#IWD2018
#PressforProgress
#100Women
#WIPR

Innovation 50 – our latest campaign with Mills & Reeve is live!

By | Campaigns, Story Comms | No Comments

Innovation 50 is now live!

This week, we launched a flagship business innovation campaign for Mills & Reeve called the ‘Innovation 50’ to identify and celebrate the Midlands’ most forward-thinking businesses. The campaign is a hunt for the region’s best, most innovative companies and Mills & Reeve will publish the top 50 index in September following the application and judging period.

Mills & Reeve will collate all applications and a panel of the city’s business leaders will select the Innovation 50 from across five categories:

  • Manufacturing, engineering and utilities
  • Creative and digital
  • Science, technology and healthcare,
  • Retail, consumer and leisure
  • Financial services

On 4th September the Innovation 50 will launch with TheBusinessDesk.com and will be available as an online downloadable index for all to see!

Keep track of the campaign activity and find out more by visiting the website and following the Twitter account.

New chapter for Story

By | Story Comms | No Comments
©Mathew Growcoot

©Mathew Growcoot

Story Comms has kicked off 2017 on a high, ushering in four client wins, expanding its specialist team and moving into brand new offices in the heart of the Colmore Business District.

Story has been appointed by the British Business Bank’s Midlands Engine Investment Fund to become its long-term PR partner following a competitive pitch process. The fund, which will connect 10 LEPs across the Midlands, will provide growth funding to the region’s SMEs.

As well as flying the flag for the Midlands Engine, Story has also been selected to deliver communications strategies for inward investment bodies Drive Midlands and Enterprise Telford.

Completing the wins is national property firm CEG, which has brought Story on to support its £1million co-working office space, Alpha Works. The 14,000 sq ft hub is based on the 21st and 22nd floors of the city’s iconic landmark Alpha Birmingham.

The four new partners join a client roster that includes Marketing Birmingham, the Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP, law firms Mills & Reeve and Anthony Collins, SME investor Finance Birmingham, and The FA.

Reflecting Story’s rapid growth, two new faces have bolstered the team. Account manager and corporate communications specialist Sophie Zumbe has joined to support the delivery of high-impact reactive media relations and multichannel content campaigns across the agency’s client roster. Having honed her professional services credentials through work with the likes of Shakespeare Martineau, Menzies and NFU Mutual, Sophie will be championing an agile media approach and developing the firm’s thought leadership and complex copywriting function.

The firm has also welcomed account executive Arya Chopra to the team following her tenure within the PR team at destination marketing organisation Marketing Birmingham. Arya will be working across multiple accounts to deliver quantitative ROI reports, supporting with research and media relations activity.

Amanda Lowe, Managing Director at Story Comms said:

“It’s no secret that Story is passionate about the Midlands and its renaissance as a thriving and globally relevant region. That passion is reflected in our latest fleet of client wins – all of whom are playing a key role in the area’s growth. From attracting inward investment to supporting the region’s fast-growing businesses and regenerating its skyline, we are excited to be working with clients at the heart of these changes.

“As an agency we are focused on being the home of industry leading talent and so I am really excited to welcome Sophie and Arya to the team, as we continue to grow our presence as a key player in the B2B and public affairs communications community.”

Due to its expanding portfolio, and a burgeoning pipeline of project work, Story is currently looking to bolster its team with flexible and part time roles across all levels – with a particular focus on shaping roles around the industry’s most talented professionals.

Lowe added:

“I believe the best results are produced when businesses have a talent-first approach, empowering individuals to have the freedom and structure to work in way that works for them. We’re keen to provide the flexibility and culture that the region’s brightest comms professionals want and need to thrive.”

Mayoral Top Trumps – what did the candidates have to say?

By | West Midlands | No Comments

Facts and figures aside, we wanted to hear more about the rationale behind the Mayoral candidates’ comms strategies straight from the candidates themselves. Who did they believe their target audiences were and how had they planned to persuade the West Midlands electorate that they were the right person for the top job? Here’s what they said…

James Burn, The Green Party

“The campaign has been a real eye-opener. Most people are still unaware that there is an election for Mayor about to happen, and do not know the differences between the candidates. This election has certainly not captured the public’s imagination, and a fair number of people are hostile to the idea – and that’s because a Mayor is being imposed on us from above.

“Birmingham and Coventry have both voted against a Mayor before, but they’re having one anyway, and unlike the London Mayor, there’s no Assembly to hold the Mayor to account. That’s why I’ve been campaigning so hard to make sure that the Combined Authority and Mayor listens to everybody in our region – not just those who are interested in politics. If the Authority doesn’t work for everybody it will be a failure.”

Pete Durnell, UKIP

“My target audience is quite simply anyone who may potentially vote in the mayoral election, and my strengths are in understanding ‘ordinary people’, and hopefully in communicating my message clearly and succinctly to them. A recent survey put my support at 15.7 percent of those intending to vote, which compares favourably with national opinion polls. I do not have finances available that other candidates do, one of my opponents is rumoured to have spent around £1 million on his campaign, and I will spend less than £10,000. He has an army of activists available, I don’t, smart use of social media is the only way I can hope to even come close to competing.”

Beverley Nielsen, Liberal Democrats

“I feel the campaign has gone well so far. However, I feel there is a gathering momentum at present as the General Election has sharpened the view on the Mayoral election, raising the profile of it and making people more keenly aware of the differences in the party positions as well as the different experience of the various candidates.

“I have been primarily influenced around the need for greater investment – not cuts – to improve our competitive position and productivity. I have been very focussed on growing our own homemade success through a focus on our SMEs and manufacturing businesses. I have also been focussed on our Human Goldmine, the young talent that will power future growth and how we stop the brain drain as well as ensure more opportunity given high youth unemployment levels in the region.”

Sion Simon, The Labour Party

We did not receive a relevant response from Sion’s team.

Andy Street, The Conservative Party

“The seven months I’ve spent on the campaign have been a genuine joy – I’ve had the opportunity to get around and speak to so many different community groups, individuals and businesses that I’d never have had chance to otherwise. Part of it has been a case of listening, but also spreading the word about the mayoral campaign. The reaction has been really positive. People appreciate the opportunity to be part of something like this and I feel awareness is gradually increasing.”

Mayoral Top Trumps – Story reveals whose campaign packed the biggest punch!

By | West Midlands | No Comments

West Midlands Mayoral Top Trumps

Recent hustings – the proverbial ‘weigh ins’ if you will – may have built anticipation for the big event, but as news junkies, communications geeks and constant seekers of impactful strategy, Story decided to take to its tools and put the spotlight on the comms campaigns of the candidates for the West Midlands Mayor.

Our analysis – which assessed the candidates’ campaigns across eight measures – reveals:

  • The Conservatives’ Andy Street leads the pack on Facebook with the largest audience
  • Sion Simon, Labour’s candidate dominates Twitter with most followers
  • The Liberal Democrat’s Beverley Nielsen’s website authority trails just short of Simon’s
  • While, both the Green’s James Burn and UKIP’s Pete Durnell command 13% of media share of voice

So, whose social media prowess has convinced you? Whose website has persuaded? Join the debate on Twitter using the hashtag #MayorTopTrumps.

For details on how Story conducted this research, please email news@wearestorycomms.com

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The four golden rules to remember when looking to get your content shared, talked about and loved

By | Tips and advice | No Comments

 

The PR world no longer relies on media coverage like the simple days of old. Success now also hangs on the ability to create something that social media can take under its wing and run with.

Anyone with a smart phone and wifi can now become a creator and curator of content. The audience has rapidly become today’s publisher as well as consumer, so getting them behind a campaign has never been more important for amplifying results.

Over the past six months, we’ve worked alongside John Lewis to bring its newest flagship shop to Birmingham’s Grand Central. After two successful creative campaigns to help launch the store, we’ve distilled those hard won lessons into some top tips.

Here, Story Comms account executive Sophie Drake discusses the four golden rules to remember when looking to get content shared, talked about and loved…

#1 Have a good story to tell

Good contacts, networks and relationships all become redundant if there isn’t something exciting and new to share with the world. Your content doesn’t stand a chance of being embraced if it isn’t interesting, educational, fun or never seen before. It has to be special for someone to endorse it on their own networks.

The John Lewis #Brumscape campaign featured a first for Birmingham – the biggest photograph ever taken of the city. It was something that had never been seen before. This, combined with some super stats about the production of the photo, got people talking and sharing over 5,000 times.

#2 Do your research

Sending out content without knowing who, where, why and how you are sending it is like shooting in the dark. To make sure #ForwardBirmingham, the stunning video about Birmingham, hit its mark, Story carried out in depth research into Birmingham and its networks. The aim was to get the community proud of the city and our findings pointed towards no better way to do so, to have the very same people in the film!

Birmingham also has a vast Twitter community. Real people connect and talk about the city daily, and many of these are people that really care about Birmingham such as Brumpic, I Choose, BrumHour and Birmingham Updates. To become victorious with a campaign, its vital to know, talk to and support the existing champions. #ForwardBirmingham trended number one in Birmingham less than one hour after its launch and trended number one in the UK after two hours.

#3 Be prepared to release control – it’s a true test of emphatic content sharing

Prepare, spend days on campaigning, speaking to contacts, briefing the media and planning until the cows come home. Then share the content. The rest of the story is mostly up to the rest of them, and if the job is done well and the content matches the hard work and preparation, the rewards can come flowing in.

#4 Go beyond the screen, connect with the person first

To connect with people on a deeper level, there needs to be a personal element. This is what gets audiences sharing, liking and creating about a campaign. Both #Brumscape and #ForwardBirmingham represented a city that people are passionate about. The former won people over by inviting them to engage and find something personal to them within the image, the latter provided an uplifting and real edit of the city and its direction, something for them to be proud of.

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Coverage, coverage, coverage

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At Story we pride ourselves on our straight-talking approach and work that gets results – while not forgetting to have a jolly good time in the process!

Recent months have been no exception. For the Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP – and city partners – we announced Birmingham’s intention to bid for the Commonwealth Games 2026. We rallied the region and secured more than 400 pieces of national, trade and regional press coverage including a live feature on Sky Sunrise, FT columns, Good Morning Britain bulletins, i Paper features, BBC Radio 1 breakfast chat and a ten minute feature on ITV News. The buzz created saw the story sit pretty on the UK Twitter trend list for more than three hours on launch day (bring it on Liverpool!)

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Another thing you should know about Story is that we love experts, a lot. We get our kicks from making them the go-to guides for their media, their industry and beyond. We put one of our latest clients into action earlier this month at the Midlands Business Insider International Trade Forum. Steve Allen, Head of Mills & Reeve Birmingham and President of the British-American Business Council shared his wisdom and experience on exporting to North America at a roundtable alongside business leaders, trade experts and journalists.

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Aside from sporting shout-outs and specialist shindigs, we keep our noses to the ground for expert commentary opportunities. We pounced on Sports Direct’s staff welfare debacle and took home some top trade coverage in HR Magazine for Berwick Partners HR lead Debbie Sutton.

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Story steams ahead

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Last week we saw our proud mugs in the Birmingham Post as we announced new clients wins and our PRWeek Awards shortlisting. Read about new clients including The FA, Greater Birmingham LEP and Anthony Collins Solicitors here.

Last Tuesday we headed to London where we were shortlisted for ‘New Consultancy of the Year’ at the UK’s PR ‘Oscars’ – the PRWeek Awards. We saw our name up in lights alongside industry heavyweights and were the only Midlands agency to land a finalist place.

We’ve also been busy building our first trophy cabinet after scooping both ‘New Consultancy of the Year’ and ‘Integrated Campaign of the Year’ at the PRCA Dare Awards. Our inaugural visit to these prestigious PR awards won’t be our last!

Our very own Sophie Drake has also been in the spotlight after taking home the ‘Future Face of Communications’ trophy at the Greater Birmingham Chamber of Commerce’s Future Faces awards. Sophie saw off strong competition and we were more than a little bit proud – and loud – on the night!

Finally, wish us luck! Later this week we are up for Creative Communications & Digital Business of the Year at the Birmingham Post Business Awards – take a look at the finalists here.

Until next time….

#TeamStory