TOFT: The promotion of local shops, which are not all exactly models of professional retailing, is not the most exotic brief for a London agency which handles high-profile brands and people. Why are you so personally enthused by it?
TWIGG: We are one of the most diverse and culturally vibrant countries and the local store, the local post office, the local pub and community centre are all huge contributors to what we call community – I don’t want to lose them.
I also happen to like straight talking, honest and passionate people – such as the retailers I have met through MSYS. We should all cherish community in whatever form we perceive it to be.
TOFT: As a newcomer to our sector, are you surprised that local retailers, with some exceptions, are slow to promote themselves in their local areas when in reality they frequently have something to pass on to their local media?
TWIGG: I am not surprised. Independents are busy people. But they need to be educated in many instances on how to contact their local press, radio or TV stations. It really isn’t rocket science and it’s worth their while taking time out to formulate their own PR programme and methods and getting to know local journalists.
These stores are at the heart of the community. They know what’s going on indeed that is why local media will want to speak to them and develop a relationship. I started my career as a local reporter – local shopkeepers were always fabulous people to have in your contacts book. Independents should exploit that!
TOFT: Around NID this year we achieved about £1.5m worth of publicity for local independents in the national and regional media. You managed this stream of news and views to the media through Nexus. What’s the secret?
TWIGG: The test with my team was – can we provoke debate on Radio 4’s Today programme – but importantly can we also strike a chord that will get talked about round the dinner table or down the pub? We also had to be bloody well organised and tenacious.
TOFT: Yes, very good, but tell me in language wholesalers will understand how you did it
TWIGG: Back at the ranch we have some very good people who have a wide range of media contacts and experience. We evaluated the stories, identified the meaty bits,then structured a programme of facts, figures and human interest which we then fed into the big media machine to digest.
You all saw the results on your TV screens and in the papers. My only regret is that I had to get up at 5am to be interviewed by the BBC – I really don’t look my best at 6.15am darling!
TOFT: Is it that simple?
TWIGG: Unfortunately, no. At Nexus my colleagues and I compete every day with hundreds of other agencies and news sources sending out their stuff competing for the same air time and print space.
So we have to be that bit smarter. We sift out the best story lines and people stories to transmit to the media in a context that we believe will be more interesting than the other stories they are weighing up that day.
TOFT: Tell me – what is the one biggest single selling point that the local independent sole trader or family business has which differentiates him or her from the giant multiple c-store manager?
TWIGG: That’s easy. I would say it is a genuine local relationship and like any strong relationship in life, what comes with it is understanding. Independents living “over the shop” have a unique stake in their local communities just as their customers do.
The larger multiple stores can parachute in a manager from anywhere in the country and tell him what to sell. They are nice people, super-efficient and professional BUT they do not own the shop and cannot work to the values that ownership brings.
TOFT: At the risk of bringing a blush to those well-defined Scottish cheeks, you brought the eye of an “expert outsider” into our sometimes halting but always enthusiastic driving forward of MSYS.
In an ideal world, what should we be doing to make the asset called MSYS sweat to the maximum? Can we turn the tide?
TWIGG: Wholesalers are sitting on a very valuable property in the form of MSYS which some industries would give their eye teeth for. But I realise there are budget constraints.
Ideally, the budget would provide for two or three NID type celebrations every year with PR assaults on the media. We need to continue doing the great job that wholesalers are doing, but we need a year-round presence – people need to know we are passionate and here to stay.
I would like to see more activity. This would begin to encourage more footfall in wholesalers’ customers’ shops. There’s no question, it would begin to happen. Shoppers will not stop using superstores, but they can be nudged into using the local independent shops more than they do at the moment.
TOFT: That sounds like you’re drumming up business.
TWIGG: Your cynicism soon rises to the top … but with a through-the-year co-ordinated generic umbrella promotional programme, under which individual wholesalers supply their retailers with their own dedicated promotions, you would begin to see the tide turning.
MSYS has proved that it can achieve £1.5m in consumer “hits” on virtually one day. There’s a window of opportunity now to take advantage of public scepticism and political backlash against high street cloning.
Your industry needs to get its message to the shopper more often. It’s not rocket…..
TOFT: But some wholesalers say that if the OFT eventually puts restrictions on Tesco and the rest in some form, then they will be sitting pretty.
TWIGG: The political lobbies are important. FWD has been at the forefront aggressively calling for regulatory action to curb the growth of the superstores. If it happens it will be helpful but no more than that.
The consumer is king. Wholesalers will still be required to remind the shopper of the value of the local independent shop. You can bet Tesco, if it is shackled by the OFT, will be promoting Tesco Express like fury. The threat does not suddenly disappear.
TOFT: How do you see MSYS developing?
TWIGG: Wholesalers now own a very serious brand in MSYS which has proved it can produce meaningful media PR impacts on the shopper – to an extent that would make many blue-chip brands jealous.
This has been achieved in only two years – amazing! You know this Alan, but I have always said look to year 4 and 5 for real impact. We are ahead of the race in that respect and I am proud of that fact for everyone involved. I would hope the leadership of your industry appreciates what they now own.
MSYS should be the generic motivational footfall umbrella. It’s just not cost-efficient for wholesalers to woo the shopper direct. Wholesalers would be focusing 110% on their customers’ needs for goods and services while MSYS would focus on the consumer – that’s the theory in the round. It’s turning it into a reality that I believe FWD will want to focus on.