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    I’ve spent many years helping companies develop winning pitches and bids. One thing I’m often asked is what makes the difference between a losing and a winning presentation. For me, these three tips consistently stand out:

    Tip 2: do or say something unexpected. Years ago, when training as a tabloid headline writer, I was told to come up with something to make people go ‘GOSH!’ – something unexpected, almost unbelievable, that made them want to know more.  So, look at your presentation deck and ask yourself: “Where’s the GOSH factor”? If there isn’t one, find one. And if you are struggling for that headline, do something that just feels different. For example, mix it up a bit by starting with your second point instead of your first…

    Tip 1: start with your audience. What do they want to hear and how do you deliver something that resonates with everyone? While it’s important our stories have that GOSH factor, there will be different buyers in the room wanting different things. Some – procurement for example – will just want to know that you can do the job and have a process in place to ensure it’s delivered. As they say, different strokes for different folks.

    Tip 3: very much connected to our previous one: personalise the story – but personalise it about THEM. All the best stories are about people. When we talk about people we make what we do for our clients that much more understandable. As the old saying goes, “facts tell, stories sell.” But tell the stories about THEM rather than YOU. Paint THEIR picture not YOURS. Describe the difference it will make to THEM and not YOU. Get THEM –  your audience –  to feel the pain or enjoy the success of the potential opportunity. It will engage and make them feel part of the story. And that will make them more likely to buy.

    At the Amber Group, we are ALL communications experts. We know – because our clients tell us – that our advice and support for bids, pitches and presentations can often be the difference between winning and losing. We help build confident teams and equip them with the stories and content that make them stand out.

    Please e-mail me on if you want to find out more.

    Ken Deeks MBE is a Director of The Amber Group

  2. There’s a New Type of Leader Out There

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    As someone who sometimes runs leadership training courses, I am always intrigued by the different leadership styles adopted by people.

    I was therefore fascinated by the profile of Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella, in The Times on Saturday.

    Succeeding Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer, Mr Nadella is a very, very different type of leader, radiating calmness and empathy as opposed to the more bombastic leadership style of his predecessors, particularly Ballmer. At first, employees were sceptical (it was change and people typically don’t like change), but his empathetic and quiet style of leadership has been a huge success.

    With all these things, however, leadership ultimately isn’t about being liked, it’s about success.

    And under his watch, Microsoft’s share price has doubled.

    Mr Nadella’s approach reminded me of a survey I saw recently. As part of this survey, business leaders were questioned about what they thought their employees would say, if they were asked what they wanted from a leader. The business leaders, not unreasonably, suggested their employees would put forward words like vision, drive, focus and even ruthlessness.

    The survey then asked employees what they wanted from their business leaders, and the response was this: the number one attribute employees wanted from their leaders was for those leaders to show genuine concern for their wellbeing.

    Wow! I didn’t see that one coming. And it’s the word genuine that jumps out at me. It’s got to be real, it’s got to be authentic, the leader really does have to show they care.

    And when you think about it, then of course that makes sense. I personally have always been sceptical about the brash, bold, over the top approach to ‘motivating’ employees. Steve Ballmer typified this leadership ‘style’, often leaping around at company rallies, screaming: ” I love this company.” (Well of course you do! It’s made you zillions!!) But the point is, why would anyone else love it? Which reminds me of the brilliant David Brent line: ” There’s good news and bad news. The bad news is that the office is relocating and you are all losing your jobs. The good news? I’ve been promoted.” Every cloud…

    The message then is that leaders need to empathise, show concern and always be mindful that what motivates them might not motivate others. It requires brilliant listening skills and for that you need to ask the right questions.

    So, a question for all you leaders out there. When was the last time you sat down with your employees, asked them about their aspirations, and REALLY listened to the answers. And then acted upon them.

    If you’re not doing this, then you’re not the leader that your employees say they want.

    Ken Deeks is a trainer, coach and business adviser for The Amber Group

  3. PR A Penny for your Thoughts

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    The pressure to do…

    I was using the washroom of a top London PR agency recently – in between training sessions – when a chap wandered in, deeply engaged in conversation, his mobile phone clasped to the side of his face. As he stood at the urinal, he proceeded to splash and dash with one hand and the dexterity of a master card magician, while chatting away to his client, before washing and leaving – still talking. Whilst I admired his ability to multi-task, I was stunned that he felt the need to do both things simultaneously. I’ll leave you to ponder the dilemmas of 21st century office washroom etiquette, but it did make me wonder if his compulsion to save a few moments underlines a creeping concern that the agency world is being driven in a direction of “efficient doing” rather than effective thinking and execution.

    After 12, mostly wonderful, years working in UK PR agencies, today with the Amber Group, I spend the majority of my time helping train and develop the new generation of PR practitioners. Visiting and working with consultants at a wide range of PR firms, from the very largest to the next big things, I can honestly say I have learnt more about the industry as a trainer looking in than I ever did as someone working within it. It is a brilliant industry; full of bright minds, enthusiasm and creativity. But one trend does seem to be accelerating at a pace; the pressure to spend time doing rather than thinking. I suffered similarly when working full time in agencies; too much to do and not enough time to do it. Busy being busy. Focused on the near-term result but neglecting the ultimate objective. In the spirit of encouraging our industry to continue to flourish, here are five things I wished I had reminded myself every day before stepping into that mad, chaotic but brilliant energy-bristling, creative maelstrom that is the agency world.

    Everything we do should be geared towards helping clients sell more stuff or helping them change the way their target audience thinks and behaves. This is the magic. At its best PR makes people think and do things they hadn’t considered before. Wow, what a job! So let’s not get bogged down in ordering the ingredients, let’s makes some potions!

    From account manager upwards, it’s about thinking – not doing. As an industry, we promote account executives for being efficient doers. They get through their to do list, shout early enough if they are about to drop a ball and are quickly rewarded with promotion. Unfortunately, we forget to tell them that from account manager onwards their success depends predominantly on their ability to think rather than do. We don’t sit them down and explain this and then we wonder, after a confused six months in their new role, why they are still behaving like glorified account executives. Let’s get our new talent thinking from day one.

    There are no new PR ideas – only beautifully executed campaigns. Call me a cynic but once you have delivered the 12 or so PR tactics a few times for different clients, there really are no new ideas. (Care to take on the challenge of naming the 12?) It’s the same principle as there are only ever seven stories – or variations on the theme. Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy finds girl again and lives happily ever after. Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy finds girl again but then dies tragically. You can swap or mix the genders but you get the picture. So, the magic is not in the tactic but the execution; the crafting of the message and the delivery that makes the target audience take on the idea like osmosis. Let’s think harder about the planning and ensure every bright idea has the impact we desire.

    Curiosity didn’t kill the cat – it turned it into a brilliant PR person. With the intensifying need for action, we are losing a natural curiosity for life and knowledge and discovery. The most creative, mind-bendingly brilliant campaigns I ever had the pleasure of having a tiny hand in, or been touched by, came from naturally curious agency people joining the dots and coming up with something brilliant. To join the dots in our mind we must feed the brain with information and cultural context to allow the unconscious to make the connections. Let’s build agencies that encourage and thrive on curiosity. Let your people wander physically and mentally.

    Sometimes the client doesn’t know their objective from their strategy and tactics – help them understand. Some clients buy agencies for extra arms and legs, but most want insight, clarity and direction. Many mid-level marketing and PR managers in large organisations are lost in the detail of the day-to-day. We owe it to those clients to help make them great.

    This is not a knock at the PR industry – agency or client. I love this industry. It has clothed, nourished and educated me and I will be forever grateful. Its people strike me with their enthusiasm and natural joy for communication each and every day. We have a world-leading industry and brilliant minds, but this is a plea for more thought before action – more time to think – and to pee!

    Prompted any thoughts or reflections? I look forward to reading them.

    Paul Smith is a trainer and coach with The Amber Group

  4. Life is a Negotiation

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    In business as in life, you don’t get what you deserve, you get what you negotiate,” said Chester L. Karrass, author and negotiation guru. Those words have never been more poignant than in recent times.


    Sitting on the train, free commuter tabloid in hand, I notice a clear theme to the issues of the day: front pages carry the latest response to Brexit negotiations, back pages awash with football transfer negotiations while the centre pages dish out advice on negotiating a salary increase in the current economic climate.


    As a trainer and coach, I find negotiation skills are rising rapidly up the development agenda for many organisations.  The reasons are manifold: clients want more for less; a desire to attract and retain the best employees for competitive advantage; the need to stretch budgets in the face of austerity – to name but a few.


    Drawing on my experiences from the training room and indeed, life itself, I thought I’d share some tips that may be helpful, whatever negotiations you face:


    1. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want 

    It sounds simple but this is often the first stumbling block.  Good negotiators are clear and assertive when expressing their wants and needs. They do it in a non-threatening way that ensures the other party understands what is important to them. Note: there is a big difference between being assertive (expressing your own needs while maintaining respect for those of others) and being aggressive.


    1. Seek a win-win outcome

    Negotiation is not just about getting what you want. It’s about doing so while also trying to meet the needs of others. This is vital if we are to preserve relationships that could lead to future business, deliver additional benefits or build advocacy.  A winning outcome for one party, to the substantial detriment of the other, rarely leads to long term gain or satisfaction.


    1. Show the other party how their needs will be met

    Successful negotiators look at the situation from the other side’s perspective. Everyone looks at the world differently, so you are way ahead of the game if you can figure out their perception of the deal. Instead of trying to win the negotiation, seek to understand the other negotiator and show them ways to feel satisfied.


    1. Don’t give away without getting something in return

    Unilateral concessions are not only a missed opportunity, they tend to undermine your position and lead the other party to expect yet further concessions.  If you are giving something up (and you’ll need to from time to time) make sure there is a string attached. ‘I’ll do this, if you can do that’.  This helps to ensure you meet in the middle (the win-win) and makes the other party value the concession because they have, in essence, had to earn it.


    1. Silence is golden 

    We’ve all been there. When presenting someone with an option (price, idea, etc.), they respond with silence. It may only last a few seconds, but in that timeframe, we feel compelled to say something – something that is usually designed to sweeten the deal. That’s right, the other party hasn’t asked for anything and yet we are doing their job for them before they have uttered a word. For this reason, silence is a well proven negotiation technique. So, make sure it works for you and not against you. If you feel compelled to say something when on the receiving end of the silent treatment, ask “What do you think?” or “Is there anything I can clarify for you?” not “I can do it for £100 less…”


    1. Shut up and listen!

    Following my previous point, I’m always amazed at how much people talk when in a negotiation. In doing so, they begin to give away all sorts of clues about their position, their wants and needs and, in many cases, hidden agendas that the other party can ultimately manipulate should they wish to do so.  Good negotiators ask well considered, probing questions and then listen to the answers intently. Remember, you have two ears and one mouth for a reason. Aim to listen twice as much as you talk and you will be surprised at what you can uncover.


    1. Preparation enhances performance

    Preparation falls into two main categories. First, we need to understand as much as possible about the other party – their situation, motivations, needs and pressures. This helps us ascertain the areas that are ‘moveable’ and those that are potential ‘deal breakers’. Second, we need to get our self into the best position to perform. Being clear about what you will and won’t give up, the terminology you will use, the alternatives that might be available and so on, all put you in a stronger position from which to negotiate and enhance your likelihood of success.


    1. Know your value

    I spend a lot of time working with creative service businesses whose value is almost entirely represented by their people.  Many fail to recognise their value, or rationalise it away before they even get to the negotiation stage. On this theme, there is an oft-quoted anecdote we should keep in mind: Picasso was sitting in a café. A lady and gentleman sat down at the adjacent table. Recognising Picasso and being a fan of his work, the lady approached and asked if he would be so kind as to draw a quick sketch for her on a table napkin. Picasso duly obliged, creating a beautiful image in moments. As he handed the napkin back to her, the lady was surprised when Picasso didn’t release it, but instead asked for a substantial sum of money. Visibly shocked, she acknowledged that it was a beautiful image, but commented that she didn’t see how it could cost so much when it only took a few minutes to draw. Picasso responded, “No madam, it took me a lifetime to be able to produce it.”


    1. Don’t take it personally

    Negotiations can be challenging and often emotions run high.  The other party might seem unreasonable, display behaviours that make negotiation difficult, or just have a personality that rubs you up the wrong way. Good negotiators tend to have high levels of emotional intelligence and resilience – that is, the ability to recognise, understand and manage the behaviours of others and remain focused on the goal – to achieve a win-win outcome.


    1. Know when to walk away  

    Despite all the above and your best efforts, it’s not always possible to achieve a win-win. In these situations, to coin a popular Brexit phrase, “No deal may be better than a bad deal.”



    Richard Baines is a trainer, coach and HR consultant for The Amber Group.