Tuesday, 3 December 2013

WSM students take a Leaf out of PR veteran's book

PR veteran and author Robert Leaf
Over forty-five PR and business students on the University of Chester’s Padgate campus attended a guest lecture from Robert Leaf, former International Chairman of Burson-Marsteller, about public relations this week.
Robert entertained and informed students about his varied career in ‘perception management’, from bringing PR to the Soviet Union during the Cold War to setting up the first official PR firm in China. Throughout his 55 year career in public relations, Robert has set up offices around the world and worked with clients such as Rocco Forte and Robert Maxwell.
The American PR veteran, who is listed in ‘Who’s Who in the World’, has published memoirs about his career in the book ‘The Art of Perception’. He told the Warrington School of Management students about some of the defining moments of his career and provided them with career advice, based on having conducted thousands of interviews during his time at Burson-Marseller.

Professor Lawrence Bellamy, Associate Dean of the Warrington School of Management, says ‘We were delighted to have Robert as a guest lecture at the business school. Students not only enjoyed his talk but went away with first-hand insight regarding International public relations and some great tips about job seeking and preparing for interviews. The business school actively seeks visiting lecturers of Robert’s calibre to provide students with inspiration and industry knowledge.’


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Register now for free business help

Small and medium sized businesses across Cheshire are invited to make an early New Year resolution and register for a free programme of business support at the University of Chester, starting in January

The Knowledge Action Network (KAN), which is part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund, has already helped more than 25 Cheshire businesses in the past year.The project brings together local businesses and University expertise to encourage creative approaches to innovation and growth.
Business owners are asked to take a critical and objective look at their companies with support from specialist speakers, University experts, individual business coaches and business peers. Recruitment has now started for a new group of businesses to take part in KAN during 2014. The latest programme will include workshops, business diagnostic sessions and networking opportunities with other KAN groups in Cheshire, Manchester and Cumbria.

Kay Kent, University Project Co-ordinator, said: “KAN provided an exceptional opportunity for small and medium sized businesses to work with the University and with a network of like-minded businesses on a fully funded business support programme.”
She added: “Do get in touch with us to find out more and register your interest, as places on the 2014 programme are limited to ensure we can give individual support to each business.”

Delegates at the first KAN session in July 2013
At the first KAN event in July Professor Lawrence Bellamy, Associate Dean of Warrington School of Management, commented : “At the University we know that small businesses are at the heart of the UK economy with creative, innovative and entrepreneurial ideas. However, we also understand that setting up and developing a business can create obstacles and challenges. Through our work with small businesses we have found that when business owners work together to share, support and network, it sparks creative and innovative thinking which is a catalyst for growth.”
Businesses interested in joining the Knowledge Action Network should contact Catherine Theobold on 01244 511177 or email mailto:c.theobold@chester.ac.uk for a programme brochure.


Monday, 2 December 2013

What are the issues that really matter to your business?

Dr John Risk, Senior Lecturer and Programme Leader at  Warrington School of Management, University of Chester discusses the challenges faced by today's businesses and how to rise to them.


There is never an easy time to run a business, especially for people leading small to medium sized enterprises. The challenges are many and changing all the time; some are closer to your business and you have the time and knowledge to sort them out to survive, make a profit and grow. Meanwhile, external and international factors are impacting on your business, demanding response.
Few businesses are immune from global impact. Something happens unexpectedly across the world and the shock reverberates. Whether it is natural disasters or new competitors and ways of providing your product or service, conditions are changing.  This is what academics call “the business environment” which in the modern world is highly dynamic. These challenges for businesses of all sizes have to be addressed and anticipated so you can spot business opportunities and keep ahead of the threat of competition or substitution in the market.
There are certainly plenty of these challenges around. You need to know your market and your customers and where the industry is heading, competition is fierce. That alone keeps you on your toes but then there are all the factors more outside your control and uncertainty abounds.

Economic Challenges
Economic cycles rise and fall for varying lengths and time periods. The economic trends are currently on the up after four to five of the most difficult years for nearly a century, especially within the financial sector.   As recent problems and scandals have exposed, the banking system is still fragile. Interest rates remain low and the Bank of England’s forward guidance indicates that this will be so for a while. However, the necessary loans for investment (and in some cases survival) are still not properly feeding through to small businesses, who are seeking alternative solutions.  Maintaining investment in Research and Development and managing innovation are crucial to business growth, not just for global firms but also for many small to medium sized enterprises.
Closer to your business, cash flow is a perennial issue, with late payment of debt by customers, especially larger ones, a problematic concern.  You have taxation matters to address and all the regulations that surround your business and the Chancellor and Government seem always keen to change these as in the recent Autumn Statement and the Budget in the spring. More locally, there are business rates to consider, with a particular potentially negative impact for example for high street stores competing increasingly with out of town and on-line trade.  
Regulations (red tape) local, national and European will abound in your field and all this takes time and resources away from your key business priorities. Some regulations may seem well founded for example within health and safety; but with others, seemingly pointless detail takes over, grows and becomes an excessive burden for business.  Indeed, regulatory and legal issues and constraints are generally growing in the aftermath of the corporate governance problems of recent years.
Corporate Social Responsibility
Increasingly too businesses of all sizes wish or seem expected to show customers and stakeholders their ethical and environmental credentials. Some of this makes good business sense for example in reducing utility costs over energy and fuel usage and potentially improves the organisation’s image with the public. At best this can be a “win, win” for both business and good causes.
Infrastructure issues such as road condition, congestion and future transport development are vital to varying degrees. This is even before we consider the pros and cons of longer term issues such as the proposed HS2 rail development and all that means; not least to business and residents close to it but not necessarily feeling the full benefits.  There are more local business issues such as parking or Planning Development, Transport Plans, crime levels and access to local contract opportunities.
You need, through workforce development and training, to maintain and develop the skills and qualifications of both yourself and your workforce in order to have the skills to meet global challenges and changing markets. Education has a role in providing you with people with the aptitudes, skills and right attitudes for the workplace, and in developing and training your staff. With an increasingly knowledge based economy this is all the more crucial.  IT and information systems are changing all the time. Many industries are experiencing technological change of unprecedented proportion and a flexible and appropriately skilled workforce is essential. 
There is your own work life balance and trying to fit in family time, your own education requirements and training, as well day to day operational matters and strategic planning for your business. Not yet to mention your own long term financial concerns or pension provision.


Look Ahead

Before you start reaching for the blankets and pulling the bed covers over your head, in many ways all these issues challenge you to lift your head and look to the future direction of your business.
How far ahead you look and plan is a matter related to your own business and sector. Not many take the view of the likes of companies like Shell who look ahead 30 or more years given the long term nature of their markets, investments and projects. For you the timescale may be far more modest and relatively short term but still crucial. Whatever your planning horizons may be, market opportunities are changing.

In taking a strategic view, business organisations and networking opportunities through the likes of Warrington School of Management are a resource to be harnessed, helping you meet new customers and suppliers, develop new ideas and take a wider view. There are lessons to be learnt by keeping in touch with business networks and knowledge bases in anticipating the changes in your industry, market or sector and positioning your place in it for the future.

The team at Warrington School of Management
Dr John Risk is Senior Lecturer and Programme Leader at Warrington School of Management.

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