What will build-to-rent look like after COVID-19?

The pandemic has impacted all real estate sectors in some way or another - but which are going to come out stronger?

Cheque please! Is casual dining on its way out?

Is it just me who’s getting hungry every time I check the news? Last month’s financial woes at Pizza Express and the uncertain merger between Just Eat and Takeaway.com, described as a feeding frenzy by the FT, have both seen images of mouth-watering meals popping up all over the place.

Yet, behind these images are some decidedly less-appetising sights; closed stores, lost jobs, a gig-economy workforce, and ultimately, an even more barren high street. 

What’s driving this change? 

Pizza Express have blamed a lot on their  £1.1bn of debt . But while juggling masses of debt is perilous enough for any business, the restaurant industry also faces Brexit making hiring EU workers harder, sky high business rates, and perhaps the most important factor of all: changing consumer tastes. 

For example, Pizza Express isn’t the only Italian chain folding like a calzone. Jamie’s Italian went bust in May and there have been recent store closures at Prezzo, Strada, and Carluccio’s. Is it just that the UK’s love affair with Italian food is over?

The issue is in fact more widespread, and affects the entire food and beverage sector. This is why we’ve seen Gourmet Burger Kitchen and Byron struggling to keep their sites open, and a quarter of the UK’s pubs close in a decade.

The problem, it turns out, isn’t with the food, but with the reduced demand for casual dining experiences. 

The “casual dining crunch” is nothing new, but the aggressive expansion of delivery services like Deliveroo, Just Eat, and UberEats have pushed it into overdrive, much in the way Amazon, eBay and other e-commerce platforms have driven traffic away from the high street to online.

This has even led more and more eateries to divert their attention towards delivery offerings using so-called Dark Kitchens, small off-site kitchens in temporary buildings which are shared by restaurant chains to afford them delivery access to a new area, letting them avoid setting up a restaurant space.

So, with casual dining on the out, what’s next for food and beverage?

Those who prize convenience will continue to order their meals online. But people who want quality go out and spend a little more at high-end eateries that offer more than just food. The key buzzword here is experiential.

As tastes turn towards unique, unfamiliar, and instagrammable experiences, a run of the mill, bog standard restaurant setting that you’d  find in any town is no longer cutting ice. Already, customers are turning to previously unconventional cuisines, which has led the vegetarian, Caribbean, Turkish, and Middle Eastern restaurants sectors to each grow by well over 60 percent in the past five years.

It is also why we’re seeing more and more hipster pop-ups and organic food markets drawing huge numbers.

In London alone, sites such as Boxpark in Wembley or Coal Drops Yard at King’s Cross are hosting hubs of smaller, concept-driven restaurants. Offering popular trends such as street-food stalls, artisanal vendors, and curated eating experiences, these sites are creating dining experiences that younger consumers can’t get enough of, to say nothing of their events.

Build-to-rent developers have also grasped this, understanding that as a service asset they need to provide their tenants not just a home, but an experience and lifestyle. At Manchester’s Angel Gardens, BTR developer Moda Living has partnered with Pot Kettle Black, an Australian-style coffee and brunch café that will host wellness-themed events and provide F&B services to residents.

Our advice to developers and property managers would therefore be to not be afraid to roll the dice on a lesser known or local restauranteur with a unique, quality offering – they’re likely to do far better than the alternative. I, for one, can’t wait for the resulting success stories – all this talk of food has me ravenous. 

Greggs: Great PR gets the dough rolling

Following another strong profits report, there has been nothing half baked about Greggs' PR strategy
Corporate PR

Corporate PR: How To Build Your Corporate Brand In The Media

What’s the response when your company name is mentioned? Smile, frown, puzzlement, indifference? How you are viewed can have a major impact on your business success, or lack of it. It’s important to have good corporate PR, but also to be well-known among the people that matter to your business.

It’s not just a ‘nice to have’; it can increase your corporate worth and give you a competitive advantage.

All things corporate

Before we start, let’s just define some terms. Corporate reputation is how your company is viewed, based on past behaviour and expectations of how it’ll respond in future. Corporate identity is the manner in which you present your business to its public (customers, investors and employees).

To build up your identity, you will use corporate branding. This is the promotion of your company’s name, and its identity, particularly to the people that matter.

The aim of this corporate activity is to build a well-known and well-respected reputation for your company. To achieve this, companies use corporate communications – the management and orchestration of all internal and external communications aimed at creating a favourable point of view among the stakeholders on which the company depends.

Communicating the reality

This makes it sound as if it’s all about names and images and nice positive words. To an extent it is. But they need to be based on something real.

If your products aren’t up to much, your service is patchy, your responses are slow and everything is overpriced, you are unlikely to have delighted customers and happy employees. And this will show in comments on social media and in reviews on comparison sites.

Some companies and individuals (particularly some prominent politicians) may be able to brush over past indiscretions and unfortunate phraseology. But the rest of us need to take an honest look at how our corporate reputation currently stands before we start the image building process.

Corporate PR

Communicating the positive

Hopefully that stocktaking exercise will identify some things that you do well, and positive aspects to your service. And hopefully these things will be what you want to be well-known for (major burger chains don’t build their reputations on the quality of their packaging, for example).

What makes you different to all your competitors? Can you claim to be the biggest, best, quickest, cheapest, most reliable, greenest, safest…? You will need to be able to pass the “says who?” test. If you can’t, you’ll need to find attributes that make you novel in some way, while at the same time being solid, reliable, etc.

What is your brand?

Basically, you need to know what your brand stands for. The values, aspirations, levels of quality and standards,  as well as the things that make it stand out. Brand names like Apple, McDonalds, Uber, BBC, Ferrari will make you think of particular attributes. So what impression do you want your company name to form in the minds of its customers, clients, investors, employees?

If this impression can be backed up in reality, and as long as there aren’t people out there who can justifiably beg to differ, then you can begin to build your corporate brand.

Using the media

OK, so if that first hurdle wasn’t big enough, you are now going to trust your lovingly created corporate brand to potentially its most critical audience – the media.

‘The media’ is a coverall term for journalists, editors, reviewers, bloggers, opinion formers and everyone involved in broadcasting messages through print, the airwaves and the web. They get bombarded daily with all sorts of information, stories and claims, and they are programmed to sniff out things that are newsworthy. Newsworthy bad as well as newsworthy good, unfortunately.

They can spot corporate PR fluff at 100 paces. Most will simply be ignored, but the most outlandish examples may become newsworthy for all the wrong reasons. And if the claims are inaccurate and people rely on them, the results could be costly and damaging, as Elon Musk found out last year.

Perils of social media

Social media is even trickier. Although you control the way you portray your company in your posts, you have absolutely no control over how people respond. Unlike journalists, social media users don’t have press regulators potentially scrutinising what they write. They don’t have to be legal, decent, honest and truthful. They don’t even have to identify themselves. Anyone can say anything about anybody, and get away with it – in most cases.

Corporate PR

Crossing the corporate PR minefield

So, building a corporate brand and using the media to publicise it isn’t for the faint hearted. Wise companies use a corporate PR specialist to help them.

Blackstock Consulting has the depth and breadth of experience in corporate PR and using traditional and social media that companies need. We’ve helped our clients to build their brands, to create branding and PR strategies, to drive high quality press coverage, and to harness the power of social media.

So, if you’d like to find out more about what we do and how we can help, please contact us.

ASA bans Notting Hill Genesis ad

You have to feel a bit of sympathy for Notting Hill Genesis, whose shared ownership advert has been banned following a ruling announced today by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).

Unlike dodgy housebuilders selling leasehold homes with doubling ground rents, the housing association’s offer is designed to help people scale the housing ladder.

The Tube advert for a shared ownership property featured the line “I own a 2 bedroom apartment and pay less per month than my friends pay to rent a room in a flatshare!”. Such sentiments are pretty common in shared ownership marketing and, for the most part, are true.

Two close friends of mine – one a designer and one a GP – both own shared ownership properties and their experiences are very much in that vein.

The complaint – which challenged whether the statement of ownership was misleading – was upheld because the ASA said the ad appeared to directly compare “the monthly cost of paying rent to a landlord for a room in a shared home and the monthly cost of paying a mortgage on a property, rather than describing any more complex arrangement”.

Clearly, shared ownership isn’t as simple as renting a room through an agent nor are all schemes the same.  The ASA went on to say that “the reference to Shared Ownership in small print only was not sufficient to override that impression.”

There are several interwoven points worth making here. The first relates to the wider leasehold scandal into which this has been dragged. The government only has itself to blame for allowing things to get where they have gotten to, and it’s true that genuine regulation is needed – not simply around agents selling properties but around the legal advice dished out by housebuilders.

Buying a home – or even renting one – is the biggest financial decision most people make. Yet the entire sales process is entirely unregulated. Archaic leasehold rules certainly need updating to ensure people don’t get ripped off either by dodgy ground rents, baseless service charges or some of the terrible instances of freeholders evicting leaseholders under spurious claims.

At the same time, many people living in leased apartments run by honourable organisations like Notting Hill Genesis, and other housing associations offering similar products, exist quite happily within such structures.

It is certainly true that the whole shared ownership offer – particularly as it relates to people selling their stake and moving on – needs to be more transparent and fairer where it relates to opaque “marketing fees” and other such charges.

The level of risk a homebuyer takes on also needs to be made much clearer.

As we will begin to see with many Help to Buy purchases, homebuyers who have bought at the top of the market expecting perpetual price rises may be faced with difficult decisions down the line. Such risks need to be made far clearer and the government certainly has a role to protect consumers.

However, shared ownership is a positive thing and shouldn’t be tarnished by one housing association’s design agency using the wrong font size. Most people reading this advert would have sensed what it was saying. And indeed, in its response, Notting Hill Genesis said customer feedback relating to shared ownership was that the product was complicated, explaining that it had worked with specialist legal and financial advisers to ensure a customer got a fully supported experience when going through the process.

Another thing that could also be more transparent is the ASA itself.

Some travel websites selling hotels in the States, routinely advertise “free Wi-Fi” and “free water” before sneakily charging huge “resort fees” which cover – guess what? – the Wi-Fi, water and hotel amenities, like gyms which are also deemed to be “free”.

Such things have been challenged multiple times and yet wide scale changes are yet to be seen. I would have thought this was more deliberately misleading than a few posters with examples that may or not be completely accurate. Consistency is key.

How Gillette failed to 'do a Nike'

The lesson companies should learn from Gillette is to avoid cynically jumping on bandwagons with fake, preachy and out-of-touch content, says Andrew Teacher.

There’s that age-old adage that all publicity is good publicity. But unless your chief marketing officer is a total moron, ending up with such comments and a BBC headline bellowing “Gillette faces backlash and boycott over ‘#MeToo advert’” isn’t good for business.

No reasonable person could disagree that men need to be better people. (Along with some women and probably some children, too.) But the lather bubbling around Procter and Gamble (P&G) this past week has been less about betterment and more its cynical hijacking of the #metoo debate to flog razors when, let’s be honest, Gillette adverts were about as progressive as an issue of Nuts, the now defunct lads mag.

 

I have less of a problem with the ad lumping all men together than I do with the cynical tone of the advert and the shallowness of its content. The visual identity of Ralph Lauren models, fresh from the sailing club, makes the brand look far removed from the customer base it’s desperately trying to reach; the one being eroded by social media right now. It’s the poor execution that offends me the most and this is why everyone’s shrugging and saying, “it’s just not a very good ad”, rather than debating the far more important issues around #metoo.

Like many men whose days in skinny Levis peaked a decade ago, my bearded mug means I no longer require pricey packets of Mach 3 razors every month. But if I did shave every day. I’d use Machs. Probably. Not because I aspired to be one of Gillette’s glistening catalogue models fresh from a Diet Coke break – but because they worked pretty well.

And the problem with this new Gillette commercial is that it is similarly out of touch. But where the old “Best a man can get” ads could be laughed off as ‘just being American’ and it didn’t matter, the preachy tone of this new one – combined with the obvious opportunism at play – have really undermined the objective.

In trying to “do a Nike”, Gillette’s marketing bods have failed to grasp that with a major global brand, you cannot fake anything. Blogging about Nike’s PR gamble last September, I noted how the firm had a long track record in sponsoring a diverse array of athletes, who often had contrary views to the mainstream. Gillette has no such record.

 

The company has seen its market share sliced from 70 percent a decade ago to less than 50 percent with a rise of direct-to-consumer brands selling products via the internet or through subscriptions, which P&G has sought to replicate. While Nike – and other major brands like Adidas and McDonald’s – have maintained their values in the face of opposition, as a sector, consumer goods is under pressure. Much of the “value” is pure marketing and when you strip away the perceived “brand value” – as has been done by the likes of Dollar Shave Club and its cheap alternatives – what you’re left with is a few pricey strips of metal attached to a vibrating handle.

Shifts in global manufacturing – and the rise of an entire generation that will not have grown up watching conventional TV complete with all the household brands’ commercials we know and love – mean more insurgent brands are likely to rise. And this poses some existential challenges for the likes of P&G and Reckitt Benckiser, which makes Dettol.

If you destroy the brand or alienate your customers, people start to wonder why they’re paying £23 for 10 razor refills.

 

It’s somewhat ironic that P&G, Gillette’s owner, actually has form for doing this sort of thing well. An Ariel washing powder campaign from 2015, “Share the Load”, featuring a TV advert aimed at changing gender stereotypes around housewives, featured a granddad writing a letter to his daughter apologising on behalf of every day for “setting the wrong example”. The advert saw the company’s market share soar across the Indian subcontinent, while the commercial won awards left, right and centre. Maybe the marketing bods from Ariel should ‘shave the day’ and share a few P&G tips before Gillette’s market share gets shredded some more?

As a woman, there are elements about both Gillette and #metoo I agree with and find embarrassing, says Blackstock Consulting director Laura Gibson

I’m torn between admiration and admonition for Gillette’s use of #metoo to sell products. The firm clearly sought to hijack the viral nature of the campaign to create debate and boost its own profile. Clearly the message and values at the heart of it are things we should be talking about anyway, so does the brand’s intention matter? 

Even though it feels like it’s just the cynic in me that wants me to not like it, the answer for many people is yes, it does matter. It’s a rather shameful and clumsy marketing campaign that deviously tries to surf an emotional tide many women have swum against for years. Whether you are a vehement #metoo supporter or not, Gillette’s audacity is startling.

However, I don’t think it’s as clear cut as some of those Fusion magazine ads. Not least because I’m also torn over #metoo.

As a woman, there are elements about #metoo I agree with and elements I find embarrassing. For example, not all women feel the same way about things; we’re not a homogenous group. To assume so, would promote gender inequality even more. Some women can stand up for themselves and others cannot. I wouldn’t tolerate having someone stand over me with their hand on my shoulder telling people what I meant to say in a meeting (as per one of the scenes in Gillette’s commercial). But then again, I’m lucky to be in a position of security and seniority giving me the confidence other women may not possess. The men I’ve worked alongside during 15 years in property have, for the most part, been supportive and treated me as an equal, much to the contrary of how real estate is often perceived.

Clearly though, no female or male, should be in a board room if they cannot make their point succinctly and without causing offence. Nothing is straightforward.

There will be some women who are totally happy to get ahead by using their femininity. This could be harmless flirting to seal a sale or deal (which I’m sure most of us have done). But in some cases – as in Hollywood – it may well have amounted to sexual favours in some cases. For me, anyone following that path who may have willingly been happy to participate in sexual activity in exchange for fame and riches is no different to people who kiss and tell in the tabloids. They are not victims and, for me, are also guilty of the crimes that the #metoo movement stands against as the male perpetrators they, and indeed Gillette, are trying to cut down to size.

So, nice try Gillette – the message and values are undoubtedly honourable, we just don’t believe the intention and objectives were.