About Angela Lawrence

A Chartered Marketer turned educator, currently Senior Lecturer in Marketing at Staffordshire University and Course Leader for the undergraduate Business courses.

The Impact of Technology on Business and Communication

I remember the first time I accessed the Internet. It was circa 1996 and I worked as a Research Executive for a market research company. I poured myself a coffee as the computer whirred into life. “Today I’ll show you how to access the worldwide web” said my manager. I watched as she connected a strange looking plug to the phone socket, then opened a “window” on the computer, clicked the mouse and dialled up a connection. Suddenly a high-pitched sequence of beeping and screeching noises erupted from the speakers. It sounded like something was seriously wrong, but as silence returned she exclaimed “that’s it, we’re connected!”

We opened a search engine called Alta Vista (in those days Google wasn’t a verb), typed in the search term “viewing facility London” and proceeded to search for a suitable location to conduct some focus groups. There weren’t many results; a page or two at most. There were no sponsored results at the top of the page, nor advertisements down the side either. In fact there were very few companies with a web presence at all.

St.Helens, England - January 15th 2012: iPad2 in females hands displaying google search engine page. Google is one of the biggest search engines in the world. iPad2 was launched in March 2011.

Shortly afterwards the postman arrived with a pile of post, held together with several thick elastic bands and dropped it onto my desk. Invoices, letters from suppliers, bank statements, bills, CVs from job hunters.  It took me an hour or so to sift through the mail, filing documents appropriately in the rickety wire trays stacked on the corner of my desk – In, Out and Pending.

I loved my job. Loved this amazing new world it opened up for me. Talked enthusiastically about it to my friends and family on long, lazy, work-free weekends. Let’s face it, those were the days when nothing was done from the moment you left the office on a Friday until the moment you walked back through the door on a Monday morning.

In the past two decades technology has revolutionised the way we work. We are a wireless, paperless, fast-moving, connected, global workforce which, like the Big Apple, never sleeps. We are in touch with the whole of the world, twenty-four-seven. Business communications have never been easier or quicker. Isn’t it fantastic?

Well yes, it absolutely is, but it comes at a cost. The connected workforce is less tangible. It’s possible to go for whole days or more, without even seeing or speaking to business contacts. Instead we message them, email them, tweet, post, blog, Google, we Skype and run webinars, we send information and documents electronically. And we’re still messaging, emailing, tweeting and posting once the office doors are shut. From our trains, buses, sofas and sadly, sometimes even our beds. Work can invade our personal lives and the long, lazy weekends become brief gaps in time. We’ve not just changed the way we do business; we’ve changed the way we live.

You could argue that this is inevitable progression in society, much the same as Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone revolutionised both business and personal communications. Personally, I love being part of the connected university. The fact that we are becoming paperless has huge benefits to the environment. I love the fact that I can allow my students the luxury of attending a virtual lecture, a webinar, so that they don’t have to fight through traffic and pollute the atmosphere to get in to university for that day. But I couldn’t do it every day because I still need that face to face interaction with them. We are human beings after all. We can embrace technology and all that it represents, but I still want to do business with people, not machines.

I love to bump into my students in the corridor, say ‘hi’, catch up over a coffee. But like many, I like my personal time away from work too and the struggle to protect this is real.

Technology has indeed revolutionised the way we do business, but a word of warning; don’t forget the human touch. I remember being taught that “people buy people” and despite the digitally connected World that we live in, I still believe this to be true. I also believe that you work to live, not live to work. Technology has allowed work to invade our precious and much needed personal time and we are the only ones who can police that (I have to admit that I am guilty as charged in that respect).

So switch off your laptop, phone, iPad once in a while. Switch them off when work is done. Roll back twenty-plus years, talk to people… and enjoy!

 

 

 

 

“Let’s be Honest” Rules the Roost

The Chinese New Year celebrations begin at the end of the month and 2017 is the year of the rooster (back to the chicken blogs Dr Peter Jones!). Apparently the rooster is a Chinese symbol of honesty, a quality that could be said to make or break a business. This led me to ponder on the requirement for honesty within an organisation and, despite the fact that truth is said to hurt, the difference that honesty can make.

Honesty is the best policy

How often have you heard that said? It’s certainly true in terms of crisis management and at some point or other all businesses will find themselves dealing with some form of crisis. Historically those businesses that have been dishonest have fared badly in these situations; BP notoriously handled the oil spill off the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 poorly and dishonestly. Alton Towers on the other hand, have been repeatedly praised for their honest and straightforward response to the Smiler crash in June 2015. I’m a firm advocate of holding your hands up and admitting it when you get something wrong, then throwing all energies into making good any damage done and moving on.

I can see you!

Of course in these days of instant digital communication, businesses can’t hide their mistakes for long. There’s always some follower with a bug to bear that can’t wait to post or tweet negatively about a brand the minute a mishap occurs. Businesses seem to be getting wise to this and there are numerous examples of how organisations responded cleverly to crisis situations via their social media channels. The secret seems to be responding in a timely and appropriate manner…as well as being honest!

Lies, damned lies and statistics

Are dishonesty and lying the same thing do you think, or is one more intentional than the other? Either way, Volkswagen was hauled over the coals for lying about their emissions tests. That faux pas cost the company dearly, posting their first quarterly loss for 15 years in October 2015. Clearly it doesn’t benefit businesses to lie…unless they can get away with it.

One would hope that the businesses of today have learnt from these examples and that honesty and integrity prevail in order for the wheels of the business world to turn. The Federation of Small Businesses appears to be confident in the current economic forecast, so all bodes well for both the old red hens and the hatching businesses of 2017.

The Six S’s of Social Success

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For the third month running Staffordshire University Business School’s social media presence has dominated the rankings in EduRank, the Education sector’s digital benchmarking platform. There’s been some serious online activity going on to get us there; Undergraduate Business Course Leader, Angela Lawrence, shares our Six S’s of Social Success, to let you into the secret of how we did it:

1. Spice It Up!
They say variety is the spice of life, so we like to spice things up with lots of different types of post. Everyone knows that pictures and videos go down well on social media platforms, but daily streaming of Facebook Live or Periscope is just going to bore followers. Our posts mix business news, staff and student news, education sector news, trending videos and yes, Facebook Live and Periscope from time to time too. All with a common business thread, to attract followers who are eager to see what we’ve got to say each day

2. Seamless Scheduling
We scoff at the cry “but I don’t have time to be posting on social media!” Regular feed is made easy by scheduling your posts, whether by adopting a social media management tool such as HootSuite or by using the simple scheduling tool available on Facebook pages. Half an hour a week and you can schedule an interesting post for each day; then supplement these with emerging news and trends, as and when something newsworthy arises.

3. Share the Load
It’s only fair that everyone contributes towards our social media presence; after all it belongs to students and staff alike. So we recruit student social media “gurus” who adopt a channel, be it Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter or Instagram, then focus on contributing to that channel from time to time. The job of maintaining an engaging social media presence shouldn’t have to be onerous for a select few, neither should it adopt the same tone of voice; freshen it up with views from different angles!

4. Say it Again
Quite simply, repurpose the good stuff! Our Mothership, Staffordshire University social media, posts some great content; as do the Student Union, the Student Guidance team and other schools within the university. So why reinvent the wheel? If it’s relevant to our Business audience, then we repost it on our Business channels…simples!

5. Sound it Out
There’s nothing quite like keeping your ears to the ground. Follow the blogs and websites that are going to create interesting posts for your platforms. If you’re using a Social Media Management tool then you can set it up to do this for you. Klout is one of our favourites; not only does it measure our social media presence and suggest posts of interest, but it tracks how retweets, likes and shares change our Klout score, helping us to identify the posts that work well.

6. Shareability
We won’t baffle our audience with academic gobbledygook; we just say it as it is. Social media should be conversational, interesting and fun – it’s not the place to post your 10,000 word dissertation! It’s all about understanding Social Media Etiquette and maximising the shareability of your social messaging. The more shares, the higher the exposure and the higher you climb the rankings. So make it a conversation that followers want to join in on.

Award-winning Business and Enterprise Graduate Finds the Balance

Luke Ellis, a recent graduate, award winner of the Davies Group Business School Prize and business owner talks to Angela Lawrence, Business Management Course Leader, about the success of the business that he grew alongside his studies.

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Simple beginnings

I started the business, Churnet Valley Garden Furniture in 2012 from my Dad’s garden shed. I had a vision that I could design, create and make the best garden furniture in the UK. I guess I was the drive and brains behind the operation and my Dad was a good all rounder, a hard worker with loads of experience over the years as a handy man. I’d worked for 10 years in an engineering role so I had gained all of the skills needed for design and precision work

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Juggling balls

I won’t lie, it was hard work studying, growing the business and bringing up my two sons as a single Dad with sole custody. The boys are 8 and 9 now and can both be a handful. I have struggled to balance things at times, but somehow I always manage to pull it off.

Business growth

I pushed the business in every way I could think of; it became both my hobby and my passion. I started off exhibiting at my local village carnival in 2012 and four years later I am winning an award for the best garden furniture stand at the Ideal Home Show in Manchester and I’m on target for a quarter of a million pounds turnover this year. I’ve made products for JD Sports, H&M and completed a huge project making and installing Christmas market chalets for a French market group last winter.

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Where next?

My goal is to maximise my current capacity at my workshop by growing the business to a level where it is big enough to run independently and consistently. I have always had a passion for the food industry, so I think that will be my next venture – to get something running in the winter months, when garden furniture isn’t exactly on people’s minds.

Keeping it in the family

I also want to return to university and do an MBA, and then open my own consultancy business. I bought my Dad out of Churnet Valley Garden Furniture in 2015 and this year my younger brother has invested time and money in order to prove himself and earn a share of the company.

Proud moments

Seeing my boys grow up into good kids makes me proud every day. I’m proud of what I’ve achieved academically, of getting a 1st class honours degree, of winning the student award for the best overall performance on the BA (Hons) Business Management and Enterprise course, and of the way in which my company has grown and developed. We recently ran a Facebook competition to win a garden Love Seat. It reached over 60,000 people and got over 800 page likes in just three days! So we must be doing something right.

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Yes You Can!

I love a good TV commercial, a good ad. I guess it goes with the territory, being a marketer. In fact I’ve often thought that it should be written into the person specification for all marketing roles; “Must love a good ad”. It’s the ones that elicit a strong emotion that are the best; the ones that make me laugh, cry, squirm, rant, or just sit quietly and contemplate…the ads that I can’t wait to tell other people about. So I keep a board of my favourite ads on Pinterest, and I bring them out from time to time to liven up a lecture or tutorial. The students love it – they love a good ad too!

So here’s a thing. I was watching a programme on TV the other night and along came the commercial break. More often than not the perfect opportunity to get up to put the kettle on or nip to the loo. Not this time. I didn’t move. I was still sat on the sofa, totally absorbed by an advert for the 2016 Paralympics. The new Superhumans Ad features more than 100 people with disabilities tunefully contributing to Sammy Davis Jr’s “Yes I can”! It celebrates disability and all that is good about diversity and inclusivity. A sequel to the 2012 Superhumans ad, it is pure genius.

Now I don’t recall any ads for the Olympic Games this year. I’m pretty sure there were some, but none stand out in my memory as one to add to the Pinterest board. So what is it about the Paralympics ad that makes it so memorable…that etches a permanent “must remember this one” notch in my marketing brain? Maybe it’s just a damn good ad, a powerful creative concept, a strong visual and a catchy tune…or maybe it’s something more.

Do you remember the spectacular opening ceremony of the London 2012 Paralympics; Stephen Hawking’s speech and Marc Quinn’s celebrated sculpture of pregnant disabled woman Alison Lapper dominating the centre stage? It was breathtaking, thought provoking and much applauded by the media Worldwide, over days and weeks to come. With a finale of Beverley Knight singing “I am what I am” bringing tears to the eyes of many in the 62,000 strong audience at the Olympic Stadium, something changed that night in terms of our perception of disability. The nation as a whole suddenly embraced impairment and stood in awe of the achievements of our paralympic athletes.

London 2012 Paralympics was hailed as the best Paralympic Games ever. It began a new era, a Games where “remarkable” triumphed over just “great”. Oscar Pistorious, the blade runner, appeared on our screens sprinting on what became a new generation of prosthetic limbs to be exposed with pride instead of hidden from view. Extraordinary stories were told of triumph over adversity and a nation, indeed a World, watched and listened with respect and pride. Research concluded that 81% of British adults thought the 2012 London Paralympics had a positive impact on the way people with an impairment are viewed by the public. That’s eighty one percent!

We were led into the 2012 London Paralympics with the first Superhumans ad, which I also loved, but which elicited a different emotion in me. There was something shocking about it; the car crash, the bomb, the foetal scan picture. There was also something mysterious about it, with the dark background of unknown territory. Looking back, it feels like an introduction to what is possible, where the new ad feels like a celebration of what we know can be achieved.

If you’ve not seen it yet then watch it on YouTube. You too will undoubtedly feel proud and in awe of these incredible people. I’m pretty sure we’re going to be treated to an amazing Paralympic Games in Rio and I’m pretty sure the World will be watching, echoing the words from the Superhumans ad in anticipation of some spectacular achievements…. Yes You Can!

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