Tag Archives: PR

Turning school sponsorships into great PR

As a social enterprise, one of Paperight’s main priorities has been to get essential educational materials to students who need it. The entire business model has been structured to cut out as many obstacles as possible to make this aim simple to implement.

paperight-sponsors-guide_20131113In this vein, we chose to actively search for under-resourced schools that we could arrange book sponsorships for. We also approached profitable businesses and copy shops themselves offering a means for them to fulfill their business CSR (corporate social responsibility) objectives.

We paired three schools with sponsors in 2013. The partnerships were:

  1. Silverstream Secondary School in Manenberg, sponsored by Minuteman Press Cape Town
  2. Imizamo Yethu High School in George, sponsored by Blitsdruk George
  3. Kwamakutha Comprehensive High School, sponsored by DES-ign (licenses), and ITEC and Transforming Minds & Futures (printing)

Yazeed did most of the leg work pulling these projects together and Nick initiated the Kwamakutha/DES-ign sponsorship.

All three sponsorships were arranged with the promise that Paperight would generate PR to match the value of the sponsor’s donation. In all three instances, we delivered on this promise.

Businesses were able to offer invaluable support to 2013’s matric classes that could give the students the confidence and means to achieve access to tertiary education. In the meantime, the sponsors would achieve their CSR objectives and receive great press for their input. All three sponsorships were arranged with the promise that Paperight would generate PR to match the value of the sponsor’s donation. In all three instances, we delivered on this promise. I put together press releases about the sponsorships and sent them off to carefully chosen media contacts, specifically community newspapers.

Community newspapers are particularly interested in stories like this, for obvious reasons, and are the best place for businesses to be seen helping the community around them. Of course, this PR has helped Paperight reach more potential customers too. So everybody wins!

In addition to the three school sponsorships, Yazeed also managed to build a strong relationship with Mr Cader Tregonning of Pelikan Park High School in Pelikan Park. Together, they arranged that Pelikan Park matric students could purchase a comprehensive pack of past matric exam papers from Minuteman Press in Cape Town. The pack would cover all of their essential subjects and they would simply have to order a copy to be printed and delivered in the first term of 2013. To see more about this story, head to the Paperight blog.

This official endorsement from a school has been an invaluable addition to our growing list of supporters and has helped us to show registered copy shops that it is possible to build a sustainable business relationship with local schools. Once a school starts using Paperight and sees the positive results in their pupils, the relationship will be set.

To preserve evidence of our work with the schools close to home, we sent Shaun (our awesome video intern) along with Yazeed to speak to the Silverstream Secondary School and Pelikan Park High School principals. Admittedly, the rest of the team didn’t know the remarkable nature of the relationships Yazeed had built and the following videos really brought home why an idea like Paperight needs to exist in the world. For all our flaws, we have definitely done something right.

The videos have been uploaded onto the Paperight YouTube channel, and linked to from the Paperight blog and Facebook page. They have also been released to media contacts as supporting evidence of what Paperight is about.

Pelikan Park High School

Silverstream Secondary School

In early 2014, we hoped to work with Pelikan Park again to initiate a Paperight Sponsored Brains programme. We aimed to sponsor two nominated matric students with all of their necessary materials for the year and name them as official Paperight ambassadors. They would keep us up to date on their studies and over 3 intervals (roughly May, September and a final update in January 2015) they would produce a piece of writing about how they are doing and what their concerns/interests are at that point. These updates would help us to generate content for news stories about what today’s matrics really need to thrive. In addition, we would also arrange 3 training sessions on subjects of the students’ choosing, for example, personal finances, applying to universities, writing a great CV, career choices etc.

However, this project was abandoned due to the large volume of work required to bring the #textbookrevolution to life.

#authorsforaccess Campaign

2013-10-08_1381246610The aim of this campaign was to initiate an ongoing, online conversation for book authors to join, debating the need for open content and increased access to book content of all kinds. This campaign was spearheaded by Tarryn as a mechanism for gathering support to assist in negotiations with publishers for book content.

I drew up a Twitter conversation plan comprised of engaging quotes and statistics, as well as a list of useful, outspoken contacts to approach for input, such as Neil Gaiman, Margaret Attwood, Lauren Beukes, Cory Doctorow and Chuck Wendig – as suggested by Tarryn.

Unfortunately, this campaign was shelved due to a change in tack at Paperight HQ to focus solely on the varsity campaign, which became known as the #textbookrevolution campaign, during the crucial buying cycle at the beginning of 2014 (roughly end of January to the beginning of March).

This plan may be resurrected in the months to come.

SAPA National Conference 2013

The South African Principals’ Association (SAPA) hosted their National Conference at Emperor’s Palace in Gauteng between the 7th and 9th of October 2013. The overall goal of the conference was to bring together figures in the education sector to tackle the year’s theme of Education on Track. I attended the conference to represent Paperight, make contact with fellow exhibitors and sell the Paperight service to school principals. We partnered with Realm Digital/Snapplify to take a stand.

My initial feeling after the conference was positive that sales and useful contacts would come from my attendance. However, in hindsight, I don’t believe that this event had the rewards that I anticipated. We have not tracked any sales to come directly from the conference and no schools have signed up in the period following the event. Despite handing out many flyers, as well as my business card, no attendees acted on these takeaway reminders of what Paperight offers.

I believe the reasons for this failure are a combination of the following:

  • an over-complicated brand introduction*
  • an unwillingness on the part of the principals to consider using a paper option for the students in light of all of the pro-digital sentiment that has been bandied about, particularly at the conference
  • despite their best intentions, a lot of the principals are not technologically clued up enough (or simply doubt their own ability) to use the Paperight site
  • a snobbishness on the part of some of the principals who seemed to be very interested in getting free stuff in order to secure their attention
  • my failure to push for principals to leave their contact details
  • the delegates may have been overwhelmed by the enormous volume of new information over the course of the event
  • Paperight does not offer enough material for primary school children

*By an over-complicated brand introduction, I mean to say that when consumers see the Paperight brand for the first time, there are so many options to use the service that some may be driven to inaction. For example, schools can sign up themselves OR head to their local copy shop OR lease a RISO machine that comes with a Paperight.com account.

Knowing what I know now, I would not advise visiting the SAPA conference again unless we have the resources to bring in memorable gimmicks or free samples to help us sell the idea of Paperight and leave a better lasting impression. Unfortunately, this is not an accommodating environment for small, cash strapped start ups.

Al dente and lessons learned from early public relations

In November 2012, we started work with Nicole Sochen and her company, al dente PR. In the light of our SAB Innovation Award Seed Grant, she was to advise us on and establish our initial media collateral, such as a boiler plate, company info sheet and company profile, as well as compiling a media list, and to help us send out and follow up on our first press releases.

We started work together even before she was contracted to us, as we thought that we needed to spread the word about our matric exam campaign as soon as possible. We drafted our first proper press release – one with contact info, a personalised cover letter for each recipient, and so on – and dispatched it to the contacts in our small media list. From then on, we decided on quite a busy schedule of releases, media interviews and other things. While it looked like a lot of PR from our inexperienced perspective, it was actually quite a tame schedule. We could have, and should have fitted more in, especially seeing as many of the things we had planned, such as our two-city media roadtrip, never materialised. (Having complete control over PR, like we did when Marie joined the team in April 2013, would have helped us accomplish that far more easily.)

We also signed up for a Newsclip contract to monitor our media mentions. It was indispensable, but I would warn Newsclip that they better hope a good competitor doesn’t come along. While their staff were always courteous, the service was halting and unreliable. At the end of our contract with them, for example, in January 2014, they completely dropped the ball: they neglected to send us any media reports, and even forgot to tell us that our contract had come to an end.  Another frustration was that, during the six months we worked with al dente, Newsclip forwarded all of our media mentions to al dente, and not to us. As such, there’s unfortunately no real way to be sure that we saw all of our media mentions ourselves, unless, I suppose, we trawled through the University of Free State’s online media archive.

Over the course of al dente’s time working with us, we discovered a few, very important things:

Paperight has a very sellable story, but requires careful messaging in order to get the nuances of the system across. There were many things that could have been – and were – misunderstood by journalists covering us. An example of this was the Daily Dispatch journo who made enough errors in her piece for a reader to get the wrong impression about the terms of our service – specifically that it was meant for individuals to use – and have a letter printed in the paper the next day, accusing us of “false advertising”.

We also discovered that having “.com” in our logo gave people the impression that it was a website to be used by individuals, and not by copy shops for individuals, and that it was a consumer-facing website. Taking away the “.com” from our logo and company info tended to dampen those assumptions.

We needed to control our own media list. PR companies, al dente included, consider their media lists to be their intellectual property, which is fair enough, considering that it constitutes the core service of their business. For our purposes, however, it would have been better for us to control our media list ourselves, so we could have a better idea of where our releases were going, what the feedback was, and if we needed to follow up.

We needed to have someone working on our marketing and PR who was part of our team and shared our ethos, and didn’t just think we were a nice client to have in their portfolio. While al dente was a good collaboration, there didn’t seem to have much emotional buy-in above and beyond professional obligations. As al dente wasn’t integrated in our offices, there wasn’t a chance for them to keep close track on changes in our company and with our messaging, and we’d forget to keep them informed as things changed from day to day. As such, they were often two steps behind the game. In a fast-paced start-up setting, flexibility is important, and both the nature and structuring of al dente’s business model – whereby we were only one client out of many – meant that they often couldn’t keep up with our changes.

Specialised PR companies are expensive for start-ups. It might be more time-, effort- and cost-effective to hire a dedicated marketing manager.

Marie-Louise starts at Paperight

My introduction to Paperight happened fairly haphazardly, as all fantastic things do. While helping out at a book launch for the Bay Bookshop in the Cape Quarter, I was having a well earned glass of wine and chatting to a librarian from the Cape Town Central Library and a creative writing lecturer from UCT. Both were inquiring about my next career step- as everybody seems to do with young people. Admittedly I had no idea, although I managed to say that I might be interested in finding a job in publishing. Paperight was mentioned as this great new publishing start up and once I did some research, I was sure that I’d found the best place to really test my mettle.

The interviewing process was nerve-racking only because I’d already made up my mind that I wanted to be on this team. Nick and Yazeed made my first interview incredibly welcoming, but sitting in the meeting room in front of 7 people and trying to be the best ‘me’ possible (while balancing precariously on an exercise ball) made me very anxious.

But in the end, I got the job!

My role at Paperight started as a Marketing and PR Intern with my main priorities being to assist Nick and Yazeed with their burgeoning workloads.

I would have to describe my plunge into the deep end as both exhilarating and utterly frightening. The sheer number of programs I needed to download, along with online apps that I suddenly needed to learn to use left me feeling intimidated and wondering if I may have bitten off more than I could chew. However, I coped and eventually learned to type my queries to the team through Skype instead of asking them out loud (a real challenge) and started to wrap my head around what a company wiki is and how to use the back end of WordPress.com sites- among so many other things.

My first assignment was to collate a media list for Paperight to take over their own PR output from Nichole Sochen of Al Dente PR. I started by downloading a .pdf copy of the Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) media list before copy-pasting useful contact details into a Google Docs spreadsheet while also coming up with a system for housing this kind of information. I also backtracked through the Paperight record of media mentions to gather contact details of journalists and publications who had already featured Paperight’s work – the Paperight fan club, if you will.

The initial brief was to fill five separate categories of media contacts, namely Technology, Entrepreneurship, Education, Books and Literature Pages, and Human and General Interest. After trying to work with these categories for the first 2 months or so, I found them wholly useless and have abandoned using them since. However, I can imagine they would be helpful to those encountering the media list for the first time and not the umpteenth. :)

For every press release, a copy of the master sheet is made and all details of the release are recorded, for example who it is sent to, the date and which emails come back as undelivered. All of this information assists with follow ups and maintenance of the contact list.

From Nick’s side, I took over the responsibility of drafting most of our written output. This included, the weekly newsletter, blog posts, press releases and cover letters. My drafts would then be handed onto Nick for final editing to benefit from his keen journalistic eye and seasoned understanding of Paperight’s distinct brand image.

From Yazeed’s side, I assisted with the on-boarding process of new outlets (welcoming them, advising them on how to use Paperight.com and adding them to the outlet map), follow-ups with and support of old outlets, as well as initiating a small number of new outlet sign-ups.

These responsibilities became regular, weekly tasks over my first three months with the Paperight team. Specific projects during this time have been split into the months they occurred so read on to find out more!

Big month, and a big sponsorship sale

In March I exhibited and presented Paperight to matric students and teachers of Cravenby Secondary School alongside leading publishers, such as MML and OUP. The students were very interested in my exhibition and showed a keen interest in my presentation on the Paperight Young Writers’ Anthology.

After months of correspondence, I managed to arrange a meeting with the Head of the Cape Town Library Services alongside Arthur. The aim was to see how Paperight could work with the Library Services with the possibility of integrating into their SmartCape internet service. The meeting was a success in that we impressed them but, the process has come to a standstill due to bureaucracy inherent in government institutions. The possibility of a partnership remains open for the future.

Nick and I had worked closely on many tasks and we reached a stage where we required someone to bridge the gap between Nick’s position and my own. The aim was to improve communication to outlets, customers and the public at large. Having learned many lessons from our experience with the PR Consultant, we had a relatively clear idea of what we could achieve PR-wise.

Seeing her become, what I consider to be, the most productive member of the Paperight team has been amazing to experience.

The discovery of Marie-Louise Rouget is one of my proudest moments at Paperight. Marie-Louise had no marketing or PR experience to speak of but, she demonstrated a clear passion and drive to contribute positively towards society – something we could all relate to at Paperight. Seeing her become, what I consider to be, the most productive member of the Paperight team has been amazing to experience. I believe that Marie-Louise has discovered talents within herself that she may not have realised that she had fearlessness and a determination to get things done.

When I realised that we required more creative ways of selling Paperight products, Arthur gave me the opportunity to enrol in an “Effective Selling Strategies” course by LMI and facilitated by Chalwyn Vorster of TMF. The course allowed me to improve my time management, organise my sales pipeline and most importantly to give me the confidence to sell whilst maintaining my own morals and values.

Pelican Park High informed me that they would like to place an order for their learners who wish to purchase past exam packs. I collected the order form, delivered it to Minuteman Press Cape Town and received payment from Pelican Park High. When the books were printed and ready, I collected four learners from Pelican Park High to accompany me in collecting the books from Minuteman Press Cape Town.

Nick met us there to take photos for a press release that we had planned. The press release was circulated in the Minuteman Press internal franchise newsletter which led to several Minuteman Press outlets in South Africa signing up with Paperight. Upon collecting the books, the owner of Minuteman Press requested that we assist him in identifying a needy school in the Western Cape that he could possibly sponsor in some way.

When I got back to our offices, I googled “worst matric results in cape 2012.” I found a newspaper article that identified Silverstream Secondary in Manenberg as a poor performing school in 2012. I contacted the school to find that the principal had left the school and an H.O.D. was acting head of the school. I met with the H.O.D. to discuss the situation of the school and their needs in order to determine if this is the type of school that Minuteman Press Cape Town would want to sponsor.

I determined that they are a needy school and deserving of assistance, so I contacted the owner of Minuteman Press Cape Town and arranged for him to meet with the H.O.D. at the school personally. After this meeting took place, we determined which books would be sponsored and how many according to the budget that was available for the sponsorship.

Nick becomes Head of Communications, and the start of PR

I stayed on at Paperight after the end of my two-month internship, which surprised me as I wasn’t expecting to prove myself indispensable. Initially, we weren’t too sure what my title would be. We bandied around “Resident Storyteller”, “PR Head” and other things, until one day, on the phone to the Cape Argus, I improvised that I was the “Head of Communications”. That stuck, and so my job profile was built around that. My functional authority for this time, from May 2012 until roughly August 2013 was to:

  • Plan and execute external communications strategies
  • Create design and copy that sets us apart
  • Build our archive of media assets

My functional authority was rather easy to fulfill for the first few months. My weekly routine included designing a poster, completing a few blog posts and trying to put together a media list. I found I wasn’t terribly good or tenacious at putting together a media list, so it came in good time when Arthur delivered a talk at TEDxCapeTown and got the attention of a PR agency, Atmosphere, who wanted to work with us.

We went to a meeting in their plush offices at King James in Woodstock, and although it was a fruitful meeting, we simply didn’t have the budget to work with them. They recommended that we get in touch with Nicole Sochen, the founder of al dente PR, who would be more in line with our budget.

At about the same time we were invited to attend the second round of the SAB Innovation Awards. As Arthur’s wife Michelle was due to deliver their child at the same time as the SAB workshop and adjudication in Kyalami, I traveled by myself to attend. There was some stiff competition. Luckily, Arthur managed to come up for the last day and aided me with the presentation to the judges. We, unfortunately, did not make it to the final six, but we were informed in November that we had won a seed grant of R100 000. We finally had the money to put together, we thought, a sustainable PR strategy.

Roadmap, Dec 2012 to Feb 2013

We’re going to be focusing on:

  • Marketing and PR: Promote the Young Writers Anthology into the new school year, secure ongoing media coverage from active PR (several leads already in place with major magazines), and run a few narrowly targeted promotion campaigns in partnership with copy shops and publishers
  • Software: Complete phase-2 development of paperight.com, including important improvements to UI based on user feedback and refined messaging, and more document automation to speed up the addition of new content
  • Revenue: A risky but important move coming in Jan: we’re going to start charging outlets a small service fee for most our content that used to be free. This will be to test potential self-sustainability revenue models and measure outlet expectations.
  • Outlet feedback loops: A key focus we’ve neglected is active outlet surveys, triaging and acting on the feedback. These surveys and action in response will be a major focus for the next three months.
  • Partner projects: We’ll publish a beta version of our Guide for UNISA students in partnership with Together We Pass; make the most of a promotional partnership with national reading campaign Nal’ibali.

Our roadmap, last quarter of 2012

As the Paperight team, our aim is to recycle some of the marketing tactics that seem to have worked (among many that didn’t) over the last six months. Mostly, this means focus: helping very specific outlets sell very specific books to their target markets.

We’ve engaged a PR company to help us plan and execute a promotional strategy for six months. So, assuming we like what they propose, planning with them will be a key highlight.

I’ll lead the development of new features on the website that will greatly increase our speed and greatly improve aspects of our service over the coming months.

Zakes Ncanywa and Peddie

About a month into my time at Paperight, we hired three outlet managers, Zukisani, Zimkita and Yazeed. Their job was – and in Yazeed’s case, still is  – to promote Paperight to photocopy outlets and to support them in their Paperight-related operations.

One day, Zimkita met an old friend by chance while visiting an outlet. His name was Zakes Ncanywa, and he had, until very recently, worked in a Big Pharma company. When Zakes asked Zimkita what she was up to nowadays, she explained that she was working for Paperight, and looking for outlets to sign up. Zakes was on his way back to his hometown of Peddie, in the rural Eastern Cape (a good couple hours’ drive from any major city), to set up an internet café/computer store, to serve what he saw as a huge, untapped demand for technology in the town. He bought old computers in Cape Town, had them refurbished, then brought them back to the Eastern Cape to sell for affordable prices.

We all met in Arthur’s kitchen one afternoon to discuss how we might help him set up a Paperight outlet. There were problems, however: there was no Telkom interchange in Peddie, and where his house was didn’t fall under a 3G coverage zone, so a USB dongle was ineffective. We thought that this would make a great success story if we could make the outlet work. We made tentative plans for me to meet up with him.

In May 2012, I was scheduled to go to Grahamstown to meet with some outlets and see if we could set up a pilot Paperight project at Rhodes University. While I was there I thought I would go through to Peddie to meet with Zakes. He agree to take me on his rounds – selling computers, visiting schools, and the sort – one Wednesday. I borrowed my girlfriend’s car and drove on the windy N2 for an hour and a half until I came to Peddie. Zake’s house was across a still-being-constructed highway, along a network of very confusing dirt roads and over some worryingly steep hills. I arrived at his house a little worse for wear after getting stuck on a steep incline near a field of very skittish sheep. He stayed in large rondawel connected to his mother’s home. Inside was the most eccentric collection of electronics and materials: computer towers stacked ten-high, photocopiers, CRT monitors, and stacks of Paperight matric exam packs.

Zakes-in-PeddieFrom there we traveled to a school, Nathaniel Pamla High School, where the teachers seemed overworked but received us relatively warmly. Zakes chatted to them about matric exam packs, and I explained Paperight. I don’t think they really understood what I was explaining – my fault more than theirs, as I was tripping over my words – but they seemed enthusiastic. They wanted to buy a computer from Zakes, too, so Zakes and I travelled back to his house, brought a computer back and set it up for them. They explained they were promised a computer lab from the local government, but it never materialised. He figured that, in the meantime, the school could buy some computers from them.

Afterward we went into Peddie’s small town centre to have a look at some potential premises. I was shouted at by an elderly man for taking photographs inside an arcade. There were many Chinese shops, selling the most bewildering ranges of foreign bric-a-brac. It was a strange experience. Zakes and I we chatted more about technology challenges in the rural Eastern Cape, and then I went back to Grahamstown.

On my return back to Cape Town the following week, I started writing up the experience as a wiki post. I had the idea to pitch the story as a feature on rural technology and entrepreneurship to the Mail & Guardian – and they took it. My piece, which backgrounded Paperight and focused more on deficient ICT infrastructure and Zakes’ own tenacity, was eventually published and made a good impression. So much so that a certain South African weekly magazine plagiarised it, but that’s another story.