New faces at Clarke Associates

Louise Iles, senior account manager

We are delighted to welcome two new faces to the team.

Louise Iles joins us as senior account manager. A consumer specialist, with more than 15 years’ management experience in-house and agency side, Louise was previously with Halfords and more recently an agency representing the leading consumer brands of Lego and Hornby.

Back to her childhood!

By coincidence, Louise finds she is returning to her childhood roots. Her mother lives just down the road (on Chapel Lane as well) and as a child, Louise attended Sunday school at what is now The Old School House. How’s that for a coincidence?

Lydia Marshall, account executive


Lydia Marshall joins us as account executive. A classics graduate from the University of Manchester, Lydia attended Edgbaston High School for Girls and lives in Birmingham.

They’re already car sharing and sit opposite each other: a formidable team! Welcome to them both.




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Facebook campaign boosts survey responses

TLFBWe are delighted to have been appointed to handle communications for Tamworth & Lichfield for Business – a business support initiative by Tamworth Borough Council and Lichfield District Council.

A key piece of work so far has been rolling out a social media campaign in support of a vital business survey covering both Tamworth and Lichfield. The survey will provide a better understanding of the issues facing local firms in order to tailor support and advice to better suit their requirements.

And it’s working! Already:

  • 110 additional businesses have participated – representing a 100 per cent increase in respondents on a previous survey
  • Tamworth & Lichfield for Business has reached its target for the number of surveys completed
  • Combined Facebook reach and Twitter impressions have touched 50,000

So how did we do it?

The silver bullet on this occasion has been using Facebook’s phenomenal demographic targeting functionality to reach the target audience.

The approach to content was simple: very direct calls to action and clear explanations of the reasons why people should take part, using self-interest as that all-powerful motivator.

To many a wordsmith, the tone of the calls to action sits uncomfortably. But it works. When it comes to asking people to perform an action on social media, simple direct messaging such as “do this now” is king. Combine this with a reason why people should take part and you’ve got a winning formula. In this case, it was by stating that participating in the survey would help the local economy.

One of the most illuminating aspects of this work has been the lack of incentivisation, i.e. ‘take part in our survey and win an iPad’. This is a useful tactic but it’s not always necessary if you’re able to identify a powerful reason why strangers should support your cause. What we have seen is nothing less than the creation of a movement of people, probably mostly strangers, working together towards a common goal. In this instance, taking part in an activity that is set to aid the prosperity of the area in which they live and work. It’s powerful stuff.

So if you’re looking to hire a communications agency to raise your profile and more successfully use social media give us a call. It should be on every marketer’s agenda.



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Investing in Design

Investing in good design

As head of design at Clarke Associates, you won’t be surprised to hear me waxing lyrical about what good design can do for your business. But it really is a huge differentiator, and I’ve even conveniently rustled up some research to prove it!

For too many, good design can be simply regarded as an option. But with such fierce competition, the differentiating factor is clear – good design will always showcase a brand’s real personality, allowing for consistency of message – in short, enabling it to flourish.

And here’s the science…

Warwick Business School has done a great piece of research* on behalf of The Design Council UK, to back up what we at Clarke Associates have always known – great design can help your business make money. Key points from the research are that good design helps:

  • Strengthen branding so clients, consumers and customers recognise and trust you
  • Drive innovation and gain a foot in new markets
  • Differentiate products and services to attract customers

Great design shows an organisation at its best. It’s a window onto its personality, enabling audiences to immediately know what it’s all about. As a result, they’re more likely to trust the organisation and, who knows, maybe never again look elsewhere!

The thing about a brand is that it’s all about relationships – and lasting ones take a long time to grow. Therefore it really does pay to also invest in the relationship you have with your design provider, because the long-term benefits for your business can be tremendous.

So we recommend:

  • Integrate your design and branding – a consistent look and feel really will make you a cut above the rest.
  • Trust your designer’s talent: Designers train for a reason. Although many people have strong opinions, these alone do not maketh a designer! There’s a subtle and powerful science behind the art – and one well worth having done properly.

So, if you haven’t already, why not make that long considered investment in your brand? It really does pay to build for the long-term.

And if none of this has swayed you, then we’ll just have to talk it over! We’ve just completed our shiny new Clarke Associates’ design portfolio – a great way to give you a flavour of the best of our design work. Simply get in touch with yours truly, and I can arrange to meet with you to discuss what we might do for you.



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With a raft of widely-reported woes, a lot of folk are down on Twitter. I think they’ll eat their words.


Poor Twitter.

In a week that has seen major technical problems with users unable to access the platform for long periods, Twitter’s Chinese imitator Weibo has announced it’s ending its 140-character limit. The move follows recent speculation that Twitter was planning to do just this. Ouch.

In addition to this week’s technical problems and Weibo’s announcement, there is a constant and unhelpful background din about Twitter’s bumpy financial performance. In fact as I write this, a colleague informs me Twitter’s stock price has just dropped.

As someone who advises businesses, organisations and individuals what social media channel to use to best promote their cause, news like this certainly leaves me wondering where Twitter fits in to the wider digital mix.

It lacks Facebook’s immense targeting functionality when it comes to advertising, and doesn’t possess the niche appeal of B2B platform LinkedIn.

From a practical perspective, the linear nature of Twitter feeds makes it virtually impossible for users to read the tweets of everyone they’re following.

Following large numbers of people is a pointless exercise but one needs extraordinary levels of self-confidence to avoid doing this – one can’t help but feel obliged to reciprocate when someone follows them (fear of being unfollowed?).

Another frustrating thing about Twitter is the way in which it seems to attract birds of a feather, ie, if you work in social media and say this on your biog, expect to be followed by lots of other people who work in social media! Who benefits from this phenomenon?

Despite all of the above, Twitter has stacks going for it. Here’s what I like about it and why I think it will survive:

– Real-time updates of events
– Knowing what influencers and sections of the general public think
– Monitoring societal trends
– Getting involved in conversations with complete strangers (not as dodgy as it sounds!)
– Great B2B communication
– Good old fashioned gossip
– Brevity of message

According to the BBC, Twitter watchers are saying the platform now has little choice to expand its character limit. Twitter’s founder says the move is driven by people posting images of text as a way of getting around the limit.

As a Twitter user, I hope they will ignore the “experts” and stick to the 140-character limit. This (and its ability to converse with anyone around the world, Chinese excepted) is the central appeal of this platform.

Twitter might be going through a protracted tumultuous period – but its decline would surely be aided if it were to allow itself to be buffeted by others, especially the likes of Weibo!

So as talk of axing character limits swirls, perhaps I should end this post with a full tweet-length appeal Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey:

Jack, please please keep your wonderful 140 character limit. Communications is speeding up, not slowing down. Brevity is strength. #bestrong

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Designing a traditional Christmas card – with a twist!

Paul OQ

This year’s Clarke Associates Christmas card presented a unique and hugely enjoyable challenge for our head of design Paul Chipperfield. The brief was to create artwork displaying warmth, personality and “harking” back to a more traditional style – qualities seen increasingly less in contemporary Christmas cards. We wanted to create a card that would be special for our clients to open, and one that would really stand out.

Process First Stage
Turning a photo of the Old School House into a painting and adding extra snow
Process Second Stage
Santa arrives – now to add the CA team to his ‘nice’ list!

Believe it or not, everything from initial sketch to final artwork was created using Adobe Photoshop and a graphics tablet. It’s quite astonishing to see what can be achieved by this digital illustration technique – from the way in which the application enables you to ‘paint’ just like in traditional media, to the paper-like textures that can be overlaid at the end of the process. We’d wager that you’d find it difficult to separate this from a ‘real’ painting! Of course, using this digital technique isn’t just a gimmick. It’s a highly efficient, fast turnaround method of creating quality artwork; one that our existing clients have been benefiting from enormously.

The final design
And here’s the final card design!

Could you too benefit from some creative design work in 2016? Our head of design Paul would love to stop by with his wider portfolio to show you more of our recent work, and to see if he could help. In addition to our illustration specialism, we’re also experts in branding, design for print, advertising and website design.

Email or call 0121 702 2525 to find out more.


And speaking of cards that stand out…

We’re all used to receiving Christmas cards, but have you ever sent or received a New Year card??

It’s a novel way of connecting with people – and can be done either via email or through the post.

Clarke Associates’ design team can quickly, efficiently and cost-effectively produce these cards – a great way of standing out from the crowd.

Want to know more? Contact our head of design Paul Chipperfield on 0121 702 2525 or email


New year, new appointments

Watch this space – in the run-up to Christmas, Clarke Associates has been busy recruiting for two exciting positions, which we are confident will make a very positive impact on behalf of our clients.

We’re not going to say too much in this newsletter, apart from that one of our new faces has a real flair for creativity in the world of B2C and comes to us after some 15 years PRing products as far apart as satnavs, bicycles and children’s building blocks. Our other new recruit lists an impressive grasp of Ancient Greek and Latin and has sung with the University of Manchester Chorus and the Manchester University Barbershop Society Ladies’ Chorus – amongst her many skills.

We very much look forward to telling you more in January.

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hand-apple-iphone-smartphone (1)

Mobile manners when we’re left to our own devices


There’s a rule in our house; when we sit down to eat, mobile phones, tablets and so on are a no-no.

With three kids, it’s a rule that’s sometimes hard to enforce, and it’s getting tougher.

And the reason for that is clear. We’re spending more and more time on these devices. Which of us has not sat in a room where everyone has been concentrating on their phone or tablet, in complete silence apart from the clicking of fingers on buttons and the odd chuckle?

We are now clearly a Smartphone society. They’ve overtaken laptops as internet users’ device of choice, and we’re spending around two hours a day on them. That’s a whole month of ever year. We watch two months of TV each per year (including time spent on Smartphones). I’m setting the ‘rights and wrongs’ of how much time we spend on our devices or watching TV to one side. There’s no doubt we love being on them and they’re often a vital source of information.

And they’re fun. Hands up if you’ve yet to take a selfie?

Fundamentally what it demonstrates is our thirst for access to information and a need for the ability to communicate, often instantaneously.

Interestingly, it also throws up the subject of what might be termed Mobile Manners. According to Ofcom, when we’re sitting down as families or friends together to eat, the majority of people think it’s unacceptable to update their social media status. We’re not Tweeting whilst we’re eating. So there are still certain boundaries, but I suppose precisely what they are depends on the nature of our relationship with those in whose company we find ourselves. Most people will check their Smartphone within five minutes of waking up, but will call and buy a card for a family member on their birthday rather than dropping them a text.
All of which means we’re spending more time online because we like it, it’s useful and in its way it’s timeless. We’re gregarious creatures and, though the way we communicate is changing, staying in touch and exchanging news and views is in our blood.

Is it to the detriment of conversation? Are we losing the art of how to engage, and understanding that listening can be as important as talking?

In order to answer that, I’m thinking of suggesting we introduce one evening a week in our household when all devices are banned, and we talk.

Now, would anyone like to tell my kids for me?

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Robert De Niro’s walking… how to give a media interview


“I’m not doing it, darling,” to quote Robert De Niro, is not a sentence most people can afford to say during a media interview. Particularly if you’re accused of messing up.

It’s been a week in which high profile people cutting short or walking out of major interviews has become the angle of the story.

First we had the Hollywood legend (let’s refer to The Deer Hunter rather than Meet the Fockers) making a sharp exit from a Radio Times interview, and then international architect Zaha Hadid halted a Radio 4 Today interview due to allegedly poorly researched questions.

De Niro’s and Hadid’s actions may have done little to harm their reputations long term if at all. But if you’ve never won an Oscar or don’t possess a damehood, then the chances are that getting snotty with journalists is not an option.

For us mere mortals, the best way to resist the urge to walk out of an interview, no matter how tough or excruciating it gets, is simple. Prepare.

But if you haven’t received formal media training, here are seven tips to help make your meeting with that ITV journalist next week go a little bit smoother.

  • Give thought to the worst question they might ask you and have a response in mind
  • Perform a mock interview with a colleague or close friend and get someone else to observe and feed back on how you did
  • Don’t try to defend in indefensible. If there’s something to apologise for then do so and then talk about what you’re doing to put things right
  • Don’t think you need to memorise 20 key corporate messages; there’s nothing worse than listening to a blatantly scripted interview. Two key messages are enough, and come back to them throughout the interview
  • Have a colourful anecdote up your sleeve. Talking about real life scenarios will make you look human
  • Don’t say the interviewer’s name when answering questions; it looks like you’re trying too hard to ingratiate yourself
  • Smile throughout, even if it’s radio or print

As experts in media training and interviews, these are just some of the tried and tested techniques that we teach business leaders and individuals at Clarke Associates to help ensure a successful media interview. Other techniques require a classroom setting, if they’re to be fully absorbed and understood.

If you find yourself in front of a camera, microphone or notepad and pen and manage to deploy some of the above to good effect, we’d love to know how you got on.


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Is the business card dead?



What an embarrassment!  There I was, at a Council meeting of Birmingham Chamber introducing myself to a guest speaker, suddenly realising that – having put on a freshly dry cleaned suit – I had omitted to put any business cards in my top pocket (which is where I normally keep them).

It was even more embarrassing because the individual I was approaching was from China – and the Chinese take business card etiquette very seriously indeed.

The gentleman was gracious in the extreme, handing his own pristine card over to me with two hands according to Chinese business card etiquette.  I did at least have the nous to study it carefully before placing it in my pocket (which I think is culturally correct).

The Chinese, it has to be said, are very keen on business cards and up until a few years ago, I thought that most Westerners were also.  And yet I read that they are on the decline – another casualty of our LinkedIn/Facebook/Email/Google Plus culture that seems to be demolishing everything I used to hold dear.

But actually, I am going to predict something of a counter-revolution.  Business cards are, I believe, an extension of your brand.  They can say a great deal about your business, what you do and who you represent.  They can include all the information that you need to enable people to link in to you with ease – as well as being a mini sales brochure at a time when sales brochures seem to have died out also.

They can also provide something of an ice breaker.

A few years ago, our business cards had different quotations about communications on the reverse side – there were about eight in all printed at random and I used to select the card with the quotation I thought most appropriate to the individual that I was presenting it to – or the situation.  Not once do I believe I offended anyone with my choice although I might have frustrated them as I shuffled through to find the most appropriate.

Then there are the business cards printed on unusual materials: metal, plastic, vinyl and even, believe it or not, concrete.

I was even more amused once, to receive a card that incorporated two finger holes in it together with a suitable graphic – for a fitness instructor (you’d have to see it to understand it fully).

So business cards still have a role to play – provided that is you remember to take them with you.

PS There was however, one occasion when I was less amused to receive a business card.

I had been chairing a breakfast meeting that, even though I say it myself, I thought had gone extraordinarily well.  There was good engagement with the audience, a few laughs and the guest speaker was excellent.  I’d even closed the meeting on schedule.

I was just starting to relax after my early morning ordeal when a lady, who will be nameless, marched up to me and presented me with her business card.  “I thought you might like this she said.  I’d be happy to help.”

There on the card, was presented her profession: personal speech coach.

Utterly deflated, I took a great deal of pleasure by later throwing it in the bin.

Clarke Associates has recently produced new business cards that include all our contact details including personal LinkedIn addresses.

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Going to read anything nice on your holidays?


One of the real pleasures of social media, to my mind, is its ability to open you up to so much material you might not otherwise discover.

In particular, books. Stuck for something to read on your hols this year? Jump on Twitter and ask around. Looking for opinions on books from people whose views you’d respect? Ask on Facebook.

I did just that recently; posted on Facebook asking people to whom I’m connected to recommend a good holiday read. I’m not sure we get the time we used to in order to devote to reading anything lengthy, and on reflection my online plea bears testament to that. I didn’t want to take pot luck, I wanted to be reading something safe in the knowledge that it had been recommended by someone whose views I respected. In short, I wanted to be guaranteed that any book I’m going to be getting my sticky, suncreamed paws on this year is going to be Any Good.

You do, of course, have to factor in the jokers. I was never going to take up the Harry Potter offers (I’m 53, not three), and wisecracks about crayons and join-the-dots had to be borne with what good grace I could muster.

But, I must say, the results my post elicited were great. Books I’d never heard of about and by people I’d never heard of suddenly became intriguing little nuggets and something to look forward to in the weeks ahead.

Previously my research had been restricted to trawling through Radio Four archives or scouring the Sunday supplements (you can rest assured “Fifty Great Summer Reads” will be appearing soon in a weekend paper near you).

But now I’ve ended up with the requisite three books, and am as confident as I can be that I’m in for some stonking good reads. And if not, well, I can always make my voice heard on social media.

Mark Whitehouse – July 2015

 PS The books Mark will be reading on his holidays are:

  • Do No Harm, by Henry Marsh
  • The Unlikely Pilgrimage Of Harold Fry, by Rachel Joyce
  • Rock Stars Stole My Life, by Mark Ellen

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Monte Carlo or Bust



Monte Carlo or Bust is the ultimate European banger rally adventure; buy a car for £300 or less; hit Europe’s greatest roads and in five days you’re in Monte Carlo! Plus you’ve raised money for charity too.

And that’s exactly what Jo Thurston of our client Birmingham Community Healthcare NHS Trust, and her co-driver Kate Burley are doing: driving an old yellow banger – an eye-catching yellow Renault Megane to be precise – from Bridgnorth to Monte Carlo starting 15th July 2015, to raise money for two children’s charities.

Jo and Kate are also taking the ‘yellow theme’ a stage further – dressed as characters from the Wizard of Oz. They plan to share their stories about the adventure on their Facebook page. The “Top Gear” style event includes France, Switzerland and Italy, finally pulling up in front of Casino Royale in Monte Carlo. The trip is in aid of Stacey’s Trust, a group supporting children in Shropshire who have lost someone special in their lives, and The Teenage Cancer Trust, the only charity dedicated to giving young people with cancer, the support and treatment they need.

As you might expect, their bid has our full support with a box of yellow goodies for them to enjoy on route as well as supporting them on their 1029.6 mile journey. If you would like to help fund raising target, you can make a donation here, via Just giving: Donate now

Good luck ladies and have a great time!


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