Thursday, 29 January 2015


Watching the Australian Open whilst writing this (and not enjoying it as much as usual with the early demise of Roger Federer) I pondered one of the tennis commentators’ most regular questions; who is the greatest player of all time? My vote, of course, would go to Roger, but not just because of his wonderful tennis, but more his incredible fitness (only recently has he been known to have been injured) and, even more importantly, his ability to stay driven and to work so hard day after day.

We discussed something similar over Christmas when one of my family, a soon to be retired opera singer, explained her early giving up as being due to her not wanting to keep travelling, keep practicing, be away from home so regularly and battle to stay healthy – of course, she still loves to sing. Whilst everyone else expressed their sympathy, I said that I thought that her world was not so different to mine – which generated quite a lot of debate, not least because in a family of academics, performers and doctors, I am probably the only one that knows what it feels like to run their own business..! And as I am often saying, no-one can imagine what it is like to sit in my chair, unless they have sat in a similar one!

A while ago I attended a conference on ‘leadership’, where one of the things we discussed was the stress involved in running a business, and how, then, to manage it. At one point, the lecturer asked us what we thought the average age of the top 50 most successful companies in the world was, to which we mostly answered between 50 and 100 years old.  In fact the answer was 15, which was, initially, a surprise.

However, having discussed this in some detail, it made sense; even the most successful companies were started by someone, and what was proven in our discussions was that very few people can continue building and running a company for any significant length of time before the stress starts to take its toll and they start looking at ways out – merging, selling, closing down, changing course or handing over the reins to someone else. 

My own company will be 25 years old this year, and whilst, of course, it is nothing like the sort of companies that we discussed at the conference, it still manages to cause enough sleepless nights for me to go through phases of wanting to get out in some way; and over the years I, too, have found it difficult to stay driven, to keep travelling, ‘practicing’, battling to stay healthy and so on, but it is no easier to give up on business than it is to give up on sport or music; we just have to find ways to manage what we are doing so that we don’t burn out.

I have tried a few methods over the years – not all of them good!  But generally I find that whacking a tennis ball gets rid of quite a lot of stress, and there is nothing like running as a way to see a new place (or, in my case, to pick up marketing ideas... seeing what other companies do to promote themselves is an endless source of inspiration!).

Let’s hope that we are all able to sustain our enthusiasm as we go into 2015.

Thursday, 9 October 2014


I attended a really great marketing seminar yesterday held by the International Business Forum here in Prague, which was focused on the differences between starting a company and building its brand 20 or so years ago compared to doing the same thing today. Having started JWA 24 years ago now (so I can no longer get away with trying to pretend that I am still in my thirties…!), many of the things that the first speaker (who started his business at a similar time) had to say rang very true to me; here are a few of them:

(a) When we both started our companies our clients were nearly always international companies entering what was, then, a very difficult ‘East European’ market, and what we both were selling was our international know-how. We had no real competition and even if the local business community treated us with some suspicion there were so many foreign investors that we almost had to beat them from our door.

When I was trying to come up for a name for my company I asked my good advertising friend for some suggestions, and he asked what I felt I was selling. I went off about x, y and z and he answered ‘ah yes, but why would people come to you rather than another agency that appears to sell the same x, y and z?’ The answer, of course, being because of me! And as it was me that made the company different, the name needed to demonstrate that rather than what we were actually selling. Since I planned to employ a few people, however, I couldn’t imagine having everyone picking up the phone (yes, we used phones in those days!) and saying ‘Jo Weaver, good morning’ or words to that effect, so we ended up with JWA (i.e. Jo Weaver and Associates, even though I had no associates) with Prague added on for good measure.

The point: when you are thinking about the messages that you want to get over in your marketing, remember that it is important to keep in mind the reason WHY people want to use your services or buy your products above anyone else’s in order for your marketing to be effective, and that means keeping your ‘key selling points’ at the forefront.

(b) Having said that, however, what was also discussed was the need to remember that our key selling points (and, therefore, messages) might change over time – certainly in my case, the fact that I am English (which was enough many cases years ago!) is no longer such a draw, since most of my competitors speak English fluently now. But the fact that the agency has a proven track record with a lot of different industries IS something that can be pushed as a ksp now, and for that reason our own marketing has a different emphasis to the earlier days.

(c) I know I am always banging on about knowing who your target audience is when you are planning your marketing activities, but, again, that is something that can change. And if your target audience changes, your own marketing strategy needs to change too; in the case of yesterday’s speaker, his target audience changed to such a degree that he ended up opening several other offices across Europe; ours was not so radical! We did realise quite early on, however, that whilst in our earlier years we could depend, on the whole, on word of mouth amongst the foreign community, occasional advertising in English language magazines/newspapers and some PR, that is no longer the case. And our own activities have therefore changed accordingly.

(d) Everyone at the conference agreed that the tools that are available and useful to all of us now are completely different to 24 years ago. I recently spoke to a group of marketing students about our activities when we started out compared to today and one of them, who was in her early 20s I guess, looked at me aghast when I said that we didn’t have computers, internet or mobile phones, let alone social media, and said ‘but what did you DO?’. Well, we did quite a lot!! And I still think that we disregard some of those old traditional marketing tools at our peril. There is no doubt, however, that social media and on-line marketing is become ever-more important, and any good marketing campaign needs to incorporate at least some of these new activities.

I am off to buy a few Google ad words now…


Friday, 30 May 2014


A little while ago I was speaking to a group of marketing students about ‘life in a PR agency’ and one of their Professors asked whether I would take on any company as a client, irrespective of whether it was doing something immoral or illegal.   I answered that I wouldn’t work for a company that was doing something illegal, but immoral… well, first, how do you define immoral – what is immoral to one person is not to another – and second, I am in business and the need to pay the salaries can sometimes outweigh the wish to only work for the ‘perfect’ company, and whilst I might turn down a client that is doing something that I think would be difficult to promote, or that I just don’t like, I wasn’t sure about the ‘morality issue’.

The reason that I am writing about this topic now, is that there has just been a big to do in the Czech media about the advertising of a pill that is similar to Viagra at the recent ice hockey world championships – apparently Czech TV has received numerous complaints about the organisers and the broadcasters allowing such advertising as children would be watching, and now there is a lot of discussion about the rights and wrongs of this type of advertisement and where and how it should be allowed. 

I have to say that I, personally, am astonished at the furor, since here in the Czech Republic it is generally difficult to go very far down any street without coming across an ‘Erotic City’ sex shop or worse, and where, over the years, there have been many advertising campaigns that would never be allowed in the UK or US – for example, a billboard campaign with a very well-endowed young lady with a near to non-existent top holding a glass of beer, and wording along the lines of “wouldn’t you like a nice jug?” (or similar)…

The thing is, sex sells, and in the case of the ice hockey advertising and this particular brand, I would have had absolutely no qualms about working for the company myself, and would, in fact, be completely in agreement that it made obvious sense – the ideal target audience for what is being promoted, huge exposure that would, one would expect, generate significant sales against a reasonable expenditure, and lots of room for PR – actually, had I been working for them I would be rubbing my hands together at all the additional exposure that the complaining millions have brought about in the media??!

Taking the whole situation a bit further, one has to wonder whether there is something else going on here – maybe it is OK to promote women as sex objects or women for sale, but not to advertise the fact that not all men are as virile as we are led to believe..?!!!

Monday, 10 March 2014


I recently had a number of problems with my hand and wrist which I thought were probably caused by a combination of playing tennis for a hundred years and sitting all day at a computer.   My doctor kind of agreed but also said that the biggest culprit was the Blackberry (that I had at that time) and that he is seeing a whole lot of weird and wonderful health problems, particularly in children, caused by new technology.  The result of which, he said, was that soon children would have thumbs the same size as their fingers.

After my diagnosis I started physio on my hand and was given a lot of exercises to do, particularly when sitting at the computer, to ensure that I didn’t round my shoulders and arch my wrists – according to the physiotherapist, more and more people are getting early curvature of the spine due to the modern work environment…. One could almost say that it is only a matter of time before we will be walking on all fours, using our hands with their very long thumbs as our front paws (or whatever gorillas have at the end of their arms….!).

On the other hand, I heard last week that it is now possible not only to buy desks that have adjustable work surfaces so that you can sit or stand whilst working, but also that some of these desks are built around a treadmill… so one can sit/stand/run at one’s desk all day long.   I kind of like that idea (saves on gym fees) but I can’t help conjuring up a picture of a hamster on a wheel…

I dine out on stories of the early days in Czechoslovakia when some of us crazier expats first turned up, and when we had to run our offices with telephones that rarely worked (if they existed at all), smuggled- in fax machines and manual typewriters; emails, internet and social media weren’t even twinkles in their creators eyes.    Sometimes we felt as if we were working in the wild west… But we managed.  With everything that is going on now, I can’t help feeling that they were better days, when communicating meant speaking to each other, building a social network meant working on our relationships, and getting in touch was done by telephone or, God forbid, writing a letter!

Back to the treadmill…


Monday, 17 February 2014


When I was growing up, we had it drummed into us that we must always stand up and take responsibility for something we had done wrong; I can even remember times when my older brother would take the blame for something that I had done in order to make my life easier!   I think this was fairly normal in the UK at that time. 

When I first arrived in the then Czechoslovakia (but read this whilst bearing in mind that this was a country that had just escaped from the clutches of communism and everything that that stood for), I remember that one of the things that drove us early expats to near madness was the rather standard way that the Czechs would immediately blame someone else for something that had gone wrong – or even start accusing someone else for something before it had even happened….. a conversation that started ‘it’s not my fault’ was pretty standard (along with ‘ah, that might work in the UK/US/Germany, but it wont work here….’… but that’s another story).

Watching the news in the UK now, where the unbelievable floods are having such a devastating effect, I find myself wondering what has happened to the good old English way of ‘taking it on the chin’ and finding a solution rather than looking for someone to  blame – for the past few weeks it seems that just about everyone involved (apart from those that have lost absolutely everything, who seem to be the most phlegmatic) are looking for someone to blame – from the politicians that are blaming each other, to the regular public who hold the weather forecasters responsible, to the local authorities who blame the politicians.. meantime half of the UK is disappearing under water.   (A quick aside.. just seen a Sky news journalist asking a Ghurka who has recently arrived from Afghanistan whether he minds all the water and working in the dark… !!!   Of course he must prefer being at risk of being blown up every day… What is the matter with these people??!!).

One has to wonder how this new ‘blame society’ can manage in business.  Surely anyone that has held a managerial role in a company would concur with me that we would all prefer to deal with someone that is able to put up his or her hands and say ‘sorry, my fault, here is a solution’ rather than ‘ah, it was his fault that this happened, don’t look at me’?    If all we ever do is pass the buck, then we are all going to run out of bucks even faster than we have in the past few years….  

Friday, 20 December 2013


If you had three business wishes to send to Father Christmas for the New Year, then what would they be?  I expect that one of them would be to have more business in 2014, and another might be to earn more money.   If so, then the third, if you are running a business, should be to have a good marketing plan in place, otherwise the first two might be difficult to achieve!   This is, of course, easier said than done, as I have mentioned on several other occasions, but with the business environment starting to bubble a little bit now, we all want to try and get a piece of that bigger business cake.  And if you want to ensure that you are the company that a potential customer comes to rather than one of your competitors, then they need to know about you!

From our own PR agency perspective, if we had three Christmas wishes, they would be:
  1. To have clients that empower us to do a good job – there is nothing that an agency likes less than a client that wants to micro-manage every little detail and force us to do things ‘their way’, with the end result that we simply carry out an administration – and take the blame if the exercise doesn’t work!
  2. To never, ever, be asked again if we have good contacts in the media….. come on everyone!   That’s like asking a law firm if they know about the legislation or a construction company if they know any architects.  But just because we have contacts, it doesn’t mean that we will get you on the front page of Hospodarkse noviny every day!    We still need you to provide us with the content, which means something that is really newsy and relevant that we can present in a skilful and suitable format…. (so don’t write it for us…!!).
  3. To communicate with US!   No PR or marketing agency can achieve results for you (or in-house person for that matter) if you don’t give them any information to work with, don’t respond to queries from journalists on time and/or forget to inform us about what you are up to!   The more you give your PR and marketing people to work with, the more they can do for you.
And, just to cheat a bit, a fourth one – love your PR and marketing agencies or people!   The more we are stroked, the more we will do for you… marketing people don’t tend to work by the hour (even if we are supposed to!), and the more appreciated we are, the more the creativity will flow!

Wishing anyone that is reading this a great Christmas and a successful New Year!