Category: #RiotSkills

Strike a pose!

At Riot, we pride ourselves on being excellent communicators. We’ve won awards that stand testament to that, and clients who return again and again. However, we also know that success comes from constantly honing our skills – even when that means going back to basics. First impressions are critical to the work we do: from pitching to new clients to journalist meetings, winning the talent’s trust to networking with peers.

Over the past few years, there has been a focus on empowering professionals – especially women – when it comes to presenting skills and negotiation. TED Talks – such as those by social psychologist Amy Cuddy on body language, and comedian and coach Deborah Frances-White on charisma – are giving us the tools we need to create an impact on our audience, verbally and non-verbally. The science of first impressions is straightforward: an in-built vetting system in our primal brain means that we size people up within 30 seconds of meeting them. What’s often called gut instinct overrides most rational thought and, as with our ancestors, is based on both perceived threat and learnt experience. Think lion vs. prey on the Savannah, but in the boardroom.

We’ve taken the most salient points and turned them into a handy Riot 101 on how to make the best first impression. After all, that killer Cos jumpsuit isn’t going to do all the work for you…

T is for trust:
We judge people on how warm and trustworthy they seem: in fact, understanding someone’s intentions and perceived competency accounts for at least 80% of an overall first impression across all cultures. Your first job on meeting someone is to put them at an ease. Do you have mutual connections? Can you ask them a question about themselves? Can you align your body language to theirs, and ensure you are not giving off hostile non-verbal messages? Crossing arms is a real no-no, as is hiding your hands; maintaining an open posture, showing your palms and holding firm eye contact are all essentials here.

R is for respect:
Listen and be gracious. However experienced you are, you should always show respect for the time someone’s giving you. Whilst you should always be prepared ahead of a meeting, you should go into every interaction with an open mind and a willingness to listen to another’s agenda and concerns. Bulldozing might work for some, but generally it’s not the answer when it comes to building a long-term relationship. Show an instinct for harmony rather than appearing combative. It’s vital to be aware that your response (verbal and physical) can ramp up or deflate tricky situations: in a difficult negotiation, simple things like retaining an open posture and nodding your head to show you’re absorbing someone’s point (you can return to counter that point later if needs be) are more likely to help you resolve issues and reach the desired outcome.

I is for interest:
Show interest in the person you’re meeting – it may be a business meeting, but you’re also two human beings interacting. It’s good to engage in a little small talk: research has shown that just five minutes of chat before a negotiation increases the financial value created. Ask informed questions and encourage them to open up and share things about themselves. You can prepare for this by reading a LinkedIn profile, asking mutual connections about them and bringing up any shared interests you might have.

P is for personality:
No one likes a robot. Your personality and – ideally – a sense of humour will take you from a paint-by-numbers publicist to someone vital and worth listening to. Not full-on Siobhan Sharpe or Malcolm Tucker, but at least someone who has a something to say for themselves. You want to be memorable, and for the right reasons.

So there you have it: T.R.I.P.
If in doubt, channel Riot heroes Ellen de Generes or Oprah Winfrey. They are masters of non-verbal communication. From now on, we’ll be adopting Oprah’s expansive pose in all future negotiations.

Watch this space!

Purposeful and beneficial team away days

‘We’re going to have a team away day’ is the sort of sentence usually met with universal groans from colleagues as they stare at the 5,000 emails and counting in their inbox and the To Do list running across ten pages. An entire day spent away from the desk can feel like a monumental waste of time (‘Remind me, how is shooting a paint ball at Gary from Accounts’ head contributing to our bottom line again?’).

But an away day done right, can have fundamental, long-lasting benefits to the development of an individual, team and business. They can meaningfully bring a team together, inspire honesty, allow for transparency, improve lines of communication, generate ideas and create solutions. We love an away day at Riot. We down tools for the day, put the out of office on and head out to an external venue where we can hunker down to get practical, get inspired and get fat on break-time brownies.

Riot’s 6 tips for a successful away day:

A clear purpose to the day is essential. Everyone needs to know exactly what the objective of the day is in advance. The agenda must reflect the purpose and not veer from it. The purpose of our most recent away day was to specifically focus on our new business strategy. The purpose of our next one will be skills consolidation – we’re all going on a negotiation skills course. Everyone in the company has inputted into the agenda of this course for maximum impact.

A realistic agenda carefully timed out in advance. The away day is an opportunity for the team not to be racing around feeling rushed, overwhelmed and deadline driven. The away day should create a sense of space and freedom for clear thinking and clear communication. Trying to fit too much in will leave everyone feeling harassed.

Set conscious intentions for the day. A powerful exercise to get everyone in the right frame of mind from the off is to ask everyone to share their intention for the day. What do they want to get out of the away day? What quality will aid them in that endeavour e.g. patience/openness/generosity? Lay out picture cards on the floor or pin them to the walls, random images from goldfish to rainbows, the Taj Mahal to a set of keys. Each person chooses a picture that represents their intention and shares it with the team. This picture is kept visible to them all day as a reminder. Come back to the intentions at the end of the day and ask everyone to reflect on how they achieved their intention.

Create a safe space for participation. A successful away day involves everyone feeling as though they made a valuable contribution and to do that were able to be honest, open and transparent. People need to feel safe to do this. A set of rules laid out at the beginning is a good idea and might include:

  1. reserve judgement
  2. no negative responses or behaviour
  3. every individual will have time and a platform to speak
  4. every individual’s contribution is valid
  5. ‘seek first to understand, then to be understood.’

Make the day fun, creative, unexpected. Remember the purpose of the day at all times, but within that bring the day alive with exercises, games, activities that challenge and excite. At Riot away days we’ve done everything from the spaghetti tower marshmallow challenge to a rock, paper, scissors championship to creating magazine cover stories. Each activity has fed into our higher purpose but has resulted in lots of laughs, chafed knuckles and tears of frustration. Not your average day in the office.

Invite feedback. Finally, always end the day with feedback from the team. A good old-fashioned bit of circle time is uniting and is a clear indication that you want to learn from your team.

Happy away day!

Here at Riot we LOVE a debut – whether we’re launching a new voice we know is going to resonate on a global scale, like we did with Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens, or running the “the UK’s most prestigious award for first-time novelists” (The Telegraph), the Desmond Elliott Prize.

Over the past six months or so we’ve had the great pleasure of working with the team at Hutchinson to promote a particularly special debut – Tara Westover’s extraordinary memoir, Educated. We were thrilled with the coverage, which included The Times Magazine, Observer New Review, Harper’s Bazaar, Stylist, FT, Economist, Press Association, BBC Online, Channel 4 News, BBC Radio 2 Steve Wright and BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour, to name but a few.

To celebrate the success of the campaign and Educated becoming an international bestseller, we thought we’d share some of our top tips for launching debuts:

  • Having a book published can be quite a daunting process, so it can be reassuring for first time authors to get to know others who are having the same experiences. Shout out to Amy Baker and Rosy Edwards who run The Riff Raff, a community for debut writers. Getting your author featured on their podcast or in the line-up of one of their monthly events helps to build buzz, but also gives the author the opportunity to meet supportive peers who will hopefully go on to champion their work.
  • Identifying the right influencers and early adopters who can help position the book and generate word of mouth is of course crucial for a debut. Another shout out is due here to the wonderful Caroline Sanderson, who is such an incredible supporter of the books she loves. Having such an important figure from the book world on board can help you get cut-through in the mainstream media and Caroline’s early coverage of Educated in The Bookseller was invaluable to the success of the campaign.
  • A tip for your pitches – don’t be afraid to tell media what else you already have in the bag. Nervousness around this is understandable as worded badly it can make the recipient of your pitch feel like they’re late to the story, but worded right, and with the inclusion of a bespoke angle specifically for that outlet, it can help convince them this is going to be an important and high-profile book that they really should be covering.
  • Given that your author won’t have an existing fan base, you need your coverage to be as wide-reaching as possible. Focus on working with media to create shareable content. Two examples from the Educated campaign are this BBC Online piece, which featured on the UK and International homepages all day on the day it went live, and this video interview shot by the Channel 4 Digital team, which has been viewed on Facebook over 130,000 times.
  • Lastly, plan for longevity – how are you going to keep your author relevant and interesting to journalists beyond the publication moment? Are there any hot topics that you could establish them as experts on? If so, use the publication moment to secure coverage in special interest titles, such as the TES, which you can point to later as evidence of them being a respected spokesperson on those issues. This will help you secure additional pieces of coverage further down the line – for example, comment pieces on current affairs.

Caitlin Allen, associate director


As part of our on-going #RiotSkills series where we share our learnings from campaigns we have created, this one’s for anyone managing a heritage brand.

This morning our Associate Director Adele Minchin, spoke at the publishing industry’s annual Bookseller Children’s Conference about this very topic. Entitled Moomin Marvellous: Creating New Audiences for a Heritage Brand, she spoke about our work for our client Moomin Characters whose brand has endured from its beginnings in 1945 to being one of the top ten most recognizable single character brands in the world in 2017. That’s where we come in!

Here are Adele’s top 5 PR tips for ensuring the longevity of a heritage brand:

  1. Identify your brand assets

What is it about your brand that makes it so special and has helped it endure thus far? In the case of Moomins it is the great storytelling, the unique and beautiful artwork and strong brand values. Once you know what the strengths are, do all you can to bring all your brand activity back to these assets. In this way your heritage brand will remain true and consistent to its origins.

  1. Maximise the potential that big moments present

Heritage brands often have a moment in the calendar / existing activity / partnerships in place. Scrutinise them and see if you can leverage them for further reach. This year, Southbank Centre in London recreated the magic of the Moomins in a brand new immersive experience:  Adventures in Moominland as part of their Nordic Matters season. We used Southbank Centre’s exhibition to see how we could connect our various target audiences to what was already happening. Part of this activity included working with fashion brand Chinti and Parker to launch their new Moomin line with fashion influencers at the exhibition as a focal point.

  1. Have a clear overview of all your brand activity

A year of Moomin mania in 2017 from the Southbank Centre exhibition and Easter-themed activity at Kew Gardens, to a retrospective of Tove Jansson’s artwork at the Dulwich Picture Gallery means a huge amount of brand activity to juggle. As brand managers, make sure you have a clear oversight of all the activity taking place and ensure there’s something different / unique for everyone in the mix (licensees, media, stakeholders) with no clashes.

  1. Choose the right partners and spokespeople

Aligning yourself with the right partners and spokespeople is, of course, another way to increase your brand reach and find new audiences. Moomin Characters today launched a partnership with Oxfam called The Invisible Child campaign. With similar values, Moomins will be supporting Oxfam in its work to help women and girls around the world fight inequality and escape poverty for good. Whoever you work with must be aligned with your brand values so the credibility of your brand is never compromised.

  1. Make the most of influencers

Influencers are a great way of expanding the reach of your heritage brand but it takes careful research. Zoella recently shared her love of Moomin in one of her unboxing videos, now viewed over 2 million times. In this instance, she was the right fit because we knew she liked the Moomins. But the macro influencer isn’t necessarily the best or only way to expand the reach of your brand. Sometimes micro influencers with smaller numbers of followers (around 100k) are easier to reach and have a more loyal and engaged audience. You could have much more impact working with a growing community.