A J Engineering buys Lochaber company

AJ Engineering take over Fort Willian firm
AJ Engineering managing director Alan James (centre) has signed a deal to take over Fort William company NEWCO. He is pictured here with owners Ron and Denise MacLennan. Picture: Marc Hindley, Chit Chat PR

A MORAY engineering and construction company has expanded its business operation by taking over a Lochaber firm.

A J Engineering and Construction Services Limited is celebrating after buying out Fort William-based Northern Engineering & Welding Co (NEWCo).

Alan James, managing director of AJ Engineering said he was delighted with the acquisition which took place on October 1: “This was an important move for us as a company and I know that my existing firm and NEWCo will complement each other very well.

“Structure wise nothing is going to change. The NEWCo name will stay, the staff will remain as they are and apart from one of our Forres team going to Fort William to run things down there alongside NEWCo’s production manager, it’s business as usual.”

Alan James set up the fabrication company in 1999 and it has grown steadily to become a respected provider of specialist fabrication and engineering services to the construction, railway, renewable energy and water treatment industries through Scotland and the Islands.

In 2012 the company which has 62 staff carried out a £600,000 expansion of its premises giving it the capability of competing for larger contracts.

Two of its most public projects include the steel fabrication work for the Firth of Forth replacement and gantry work for the Kessock Bridge.

Alan James has bought NEWCo which has 13 staff members from husband and wife team, Ron and Denise MacLennan who have been leading the company since 2000.

Alan said: “Ron and Denise have been very active in the company and to smooth the transition they are still going to be on hand to help. They have a great business and with AJ Engineering behind it, we will be able to develop it further.”

He added: “NEWCo have a great client base, in fact we share some of the same clients. However some of their customers need more engineering support which until now they have been unable to offer. We have bigger facilities in Forres to help with the manufacturing. I have no doubt that this new set up will work well, we have the same ethos and philosophy. The acquisition can only work well for both locations and of course the clients.”

Ron and Denise took over NEWCO in 2000 in management buyout although the company was established in 1985.

The production facility in Fort William encompasses welding, rolling, shearing, punching, bending, plasma profiling facilities and machining. They are suppliers to a wide range of engineering based industries in both the large scale industrial sector and private sector.

Ron said: “We took over in 2000 as we saw prospects in the company. We were sure that we could go places with it and that it would have a bright future. However, we both feel that we have taken it as far as we can.

“However, we are not simply walking away, we will be on hand to help with the transition and as Alan says, it will be business as usual.”

Denise added: “We really feel that NEWCo will go further being under a bigger entity. The industry is changing so much and as smaller business, we are struggling to keep up and be able to fulfil certain criteria. AJ Engineering has all of these requirements in place already. It seems a perfect fit and we have no doubt that Alan will be able to take NEWCo even further.”

Making the most of the ‘two-way street’

I previously wrote about how engaging with a PR firm is a two-way street.

two-way streetPR won’t work unless we form a good relationship with the companies we work with. We also need our clients to engage with us and tell us their news, updates and developments and equally we need to be shimmying them along to make sure we are teasing as much info out of them as possible.

But how best is this done? Here are a few tips to get you started.

Communication is vital

Whether it be by email, face-to-face meeting, phone, text, carrier pigeon or Morse code, you have to be communicating with your client and them with you. Nine times out of 10 it will be the PR exec who initiates the contact, as they are the ones that have the time – that’s their job after all – but as long as you are speaking in some way, you will get the information you need to make the best PR decisions for and with your client.

As a client, be prepared to do some work. Your PR rep cannot be a guru in every topic on the planet, so guide them with your expertise. For example, if you want a blog post on brain surgery because you happen to be a brain surgeon, but you are no Harper Lee or George Orwell, hand it over to your PR person but expect to give some bullet points.

It’s a marathon not a sprint

Don’t expect your business to boom the minute you send the first cheque to your PR firm.

PR can be instant depending on what your story is, but more often than not, it’s a slow burner with your PR firm chip, chip, chipping away in the background to make sure that all the different PR cogs there are, are turning simultaneously together ensuring your brand has longevity. Don’t tell us how to do our jobs and we won’t tell you how to do yours. You are spending your money for our advice – listen to us – we know what we are talking about.

Set a budget. There is a PR strategy for every budget – it’s helpful from the off to know how much money you want to spend as we can give you a bespoke PR package tailored to your needs.

If you use these basic guidelines you can’t wrong.

Highland Spotlight

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It has to be a two way street

one_wayPublic Relations can be many things for a client. It can be sourcing a sponsorship deal, identifying a news story, supporting a client with their digital needs or writing fabulous awards submissions which can be a great way of generating their own publicity. It can be all of the above and so much more.

What is cannot be is a one way street.

Good PR will only work, when the client and the PR executive are working harmoniously together.

Sometimes this is easier said than done.

Often when we first meet with clients – usually those that have opted for one of our retainer packages – there is a great vibe and lots of buzz and excitement. They have chosen us to work on their brand and they are trusting us to help raise their profile, get them more business and generally make their companies or brands more successful than they have ever been.

They often have a list of things they want us to work on, but to their surprise, quite often so do we. What sometimes people don’t realise, that certainly at the start whilst our relationship is tentatively growing, they will have to work just as hard on the PR as we do.

You see the thing is our clients vary from hotels, sportsmen, cosmetic producers, B&Bs, festivals, windfarms, and micro renewables.

And as much as we research a topic or field of expertise, with the best will in the world, we cannot be an expert in every topic and we certainly would never pretend to be as clued up as our clients about their own firms.

Sometimes working in PR is a learning curve for both us and client. We have to learn very fast about a subject which is totally new to us. They have to catch on pretty quick as to what might help boost their brand.

It can be a juggling act. We know the ways to get our clients the publicity, but it will only work if they are giving us the ammunition to use. We have to become experts in teasing out the information we need to turn something into a story, or give us a hook for an advertising campaign or blog idea. Our journalism skills come in to their own here, but I sometimes wonder if a degree in psychology or even counselling wouldn’t go a miss too.

PR will only work if we know what’s going on and it’s up to us as the PR firm to keep those lines of communication open. Just by chance today, I was speaking to one client about a particular avenue we are going down, when they happened to mention something else, which unknown to them would make a perfect little blog post.

Our clients are not daft. They are all highly intelligent people, running their own businesses, but that’s sometimes the problem, they are so darn busy securing their own clients, dealing with their own accounts or staff, or any one of a million other things that having your own business means, that the PR aspect sometimes gets left on the bottom of the to do list.

We have the same problem at Chit Chat, except it’s our own PR that keeps getting bumped to the bottom of the pile. We are so busy doing PR for everyone else that we barely have time to do our own. Numerous times now, Marc and I have scheduled a meeting to work on our own brand only to have to cancel so we can help one of our clients. We are not moaning – that’s what we are here for – the advantage is, we get it. We know how busy business owners are, because we are business owners ourselves

Making the switch

Claire and Marc at the door of Chit Chat PR
Me and Marc at our new branded office

IT’S funny as I never went looking for work in the world of public relations, it just kind of happened.

And I certainly never expected to be launching my own PR firm but here we are – almost five months later.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m delighted to be one of the co-founders of Chit Chat PR. However, moving into this new role was a double whammy for me.

Firstly I never thought I would want to be in public relations at all and secondly I never thought of myself as being a businesswoman – I am not sure that I do yet – even now when I hand out a business card, or have to do something official for the business I have a wry smile at the thought of me running a business.

My background is journalism – specialising in local print. I spent over a decade working at one local newspaper, dealing with several PR people on a daily basis. I remember numerous times uttering: “I could never work in PR,” or, “I never want to be a media relations manager.” In fact, I was as strong as to say: “I will NEVER work in PR.” It was just never on my radar.

Switching ‘sides’

Yet here I am on the ‘dark side’ as many journalists refer to PR work.

When I was a hack I was always about finding the story and getting it out there. I was never a digger, I worked hard to cultivate good contacts who would dish the dirt, but I still held a naïve opinion that most of the PR folk I was in touch with had something to hide. I never wanted to be the one hiding, I was always the seeker.

Now a number of years on, my naïve opinion about what being in PR means has been somewhat changed and now at the start of something big and exciting, I realise being a PR consultant is more than about hiding the truth – much more.

So how did I end up here?

As I said, I was a journalist – it’s all I ever wanted to be since I was 14 years old.

From trainee to editor’s seat

I did work experience at my local paper, I went on to do a degree in journalism and then got my first job working for a local newspaper. I loved every minute of it. I moved up the ranks from trainee to chief reporter and also deputised for the editor when he was off.

It was rubbish money, but I loved the rush of getting a story, or trying to get people onside to be pictured and quoted and believe it or not there is something very exhilarating about working to a tight deadline. I loved and still do love the excitement of getting a front page exclusive.

But how did I get from the newsdesk to running my own business? Like many women, it was a decision based on family – I was working 9-5 Monday to Friday with two wee boys who I missed like crazy. There was no flexibility and I would have to battle to get a day off to make a school play or sports day. Leaving journalism behind for me was hard – it was my first true love, but it was not as hard as having to tell my sons that I wouldn’t make this event or that. Eventually something had to give, and my need to be a mum won.

However, whilst I am a good mum, I am not a yummy mummy who bakes, looks pristine all the time and has the patience of the saint. What makes me a good mum is having something that keeps my brain ticking over and gives me some satisfaction – which what brought me into PR.

Leap of faith

I freelanced for a while and eventually picked up a reasonably big client of my own – this was the drive and confidence I needed to make the leap from freelance to PR business owner.

I contacted Marc a former colleague of mine who has his own web marketing firm who I had done some freelance work for and together we set up Chit Chat PR.

It was scary for me, but I can safely say that all these months on, it was the best decision I have made and I won’t look back.

And the best thing about it – I’m not on the dark side at all. All these things that drove me in my journalism all exist in my PR work, it’s just now I am driven by the client.

The rush now is getting somebody through your door, who has a story to tell but isn’t quite sure how to get it out there. I love the look on people’s faces when I can easily tell them that yes, I can fulfil their needs and make sure they get the coverage they desire. I still get the buzz from chatting with people, I still get the fix of writing the story and we still get that high feeling when I can tell my client that we have succeeded in getting their story out there.


Soccer Sevens scores new sponsor

Forres Area Soccer 7s sponsored by local firms
Forres Area Soccer 7s have secured a three-year main sponsorship deal with local businesses Chit Chat PR and Canary Dwarf.

FORRES Area Soccer Sevens got underway at the weekend after the summer break and has scored a fresh sponsorship deal with two local firms.

And the community group has several other sponsorship opportunities available for businesses too.

Chit Chat Public Relations and its sister company Canary Dwarf are now the joint main sponsors of the sports group which has been operating since 1993.

Chit Chat and Canary Dwarf have taken on the deal from Capita who supported the Soccer Sevens for three years.

Local PR and digital expertise

Shaun Moat, Chairman of the Soccer Sevens said: “We are really pleased to be working with Claire and Marc. To have the expertise of a local PR and digital marketing company is really great for the club and will help us make the club bigger and better.

“As Chairman of the club, with the help of vice chairman Kev Skivington we have been working in the background setting up this sponsorship deal. It’s great to have a local company that is already embedded in the community on board. Claire and Marc have already been a huge help and are getting really involved in the club. They are currently helping us to design a new website. It’s great to have them as part of the team.”

Claire added that the decision to take up the sponsorship with the club was a no brainer for her and Marc.

Forres Area Soccer 7s sponsored by local firms
Forres Area Soccer 7s have secured a three-year main sponsorship deal with local businesses Chit Chat PR and Canary Dwarf.

Claire said: “Since launching the business in February we have been looking for an opportunity which will benefit the local community we are situated in, but that will also help promote our own brand – after all that’s the business we are in. The deal with the Forres Area Soccer Sevens ticks both boxes. We are delighted to be working with the team of volunteers who make sure the training and matches go ahead throughout the season week in week out.”

New session

The new session got underway on Sunday and will run every week until October. The club is run purely by volunteers but as Shaun explained they are looking for some new helpers.

“At the moment we need a treasurer and also some people to help with the Development 4s which is about getting children aged four and five just playing football.  During the sessions, the children are split into small groups and play three or four drills before ending their hour session with small 4-aside games of football. The volunteers don’t need to have an experience just the desire to help and the commitment.”

Shaun added: “We are halfway through the session now and looking ahead to next year. The challenge we have is to renew or source nine new sponsors. We are currently putting together some appealing sponsorship packages.”

To find out more about sponsorship at the club contact Shaun by email at shaun.moat@forres-soccer7s.co.uk and to get involved with the development 4s contact Paul Lynch at paul.lynch@forres-soccer7s.co.uk

Don’t drop the PR ball

We all saw David Beckham steal the limelight in the Wimbledon Doubles Semi-Final yesterday. He was in the right place at the right time when the bright yellow ball came pinging out of the court and into his personal space.

Without a hair moving out of place he reached out and did what Maradona never could have got away with.. he caught the ball.

You had to see it to believe it, so if you didn’t, here’s the replay.

Don't drop the ball

Don’t drop the ball

‘Don’t drop the ball’ is a phrase we use when impressing on our clients the importance of grabbing an opportunity and making the most of it.

It’s a phrase that comes from ball games where play stops if a player dropped the ball, and although your business is not a game, you definitely don’t want play to stop.

keep-calm-and-dont-drop-the-ball-3People often think PR is about covering up bad stuff, but it’s equally, in fact more often, about amplifying the good. That’s what we call ‘picking up the ball and running with it’.

It’s a great analogy for business and whether you employ a PR agency or not, it’s good advice to highlight things that improve your reputation, whether it’s helping customers, innovative new ideas, employing staff etc.

Most of our clients employ us on a retainer basis because this is a perfect way for us to be playing ‘keepy-uppy’ on your behalf. Not dropping that ball.

We become part of your team. We look for those opportunities and boy do we run with them.

Now, anyone for tennis?


Sponsorship – brands team up for great rewards

Forres Area Soccer 7sChit Chat PR is now the proud sponsor of the Forres Area Soccer 7s and it was a move that was a no brainer for us.

We are a new business and our PR is just as important to us as our clients’ is and sponsoring an event, team, business, even a person can be a great, economical way of getting your brand out there. It’s tried and tested – believe us, it works as a PR and marketing strategy.

Sponsorship deals can be worth millions

For example at the peak of his career, David Beckham signed an endorsement deal with Adidas that saw the sportswear company pay him $160 million, with half of that sum paid up front.

But becoming a sponsor is not just for the big players with loads of cash to splash. Getting involved in a local event of some kind can be worth its weight in gold and it doesn’t have to cost the earth.

Here are Chit Chat’s reasons for why sponsorship in the right place can make sense and be good PR and how your business or brand could reap the benefits by investing.

  • Gets you in the limelight: Being the sponsor of an event gives you a noticeable edge over your competition. It gets your brand out there and adds to your credibility. Just becoming a sponsor in itself can lead to media coverage which alone could be worth more than the equivalent advertising value, and has so much more impact than an ad.
  • Audience: You have to make sure you are sponsoring the right event, group, person etc. We are lucky in PR as we are so versatile in who we can help with our services. Our sponsorship deal puts us in front of hundreds of parents of the young players week-in week-out during the soccer season. Most of these people will work for companies or have their own businesses who may one day need our PR or marketing services. Or they may know people who do and our name sticks in their mind. They are all potential clients, customers and influencers.
  • Cheap as chips: Well it’s not quite as cheap as chips, but in our view it’s a better and more efficient way to spend money than say traditional means of advertising which can be pricey. There have been loads of events going on in and around Moray and the Highlands where sponsorship deals can start from as little as £50 right up to £10,000. The options are endless and there really is something for everyone’s budgets if you know where to look
  • That fuzzy feeling: The type of event we have chosen to sponsor is maybe not traditional for our line of work. You could argue that we would have been better sponsoring a one-off corporate conference where we would have had the spotlight on us in front of hundreds of businesses. However, whilst there may be some weight in that, it would not have left us with a smile on our faces. Between us, the Chit Chat directors have five kids. We live in a small community and we like to think we are heavily involved in that community. This was another way for us to support our local area and do something positive for some young people, and a club who in our eyes are doing something positive too. Ahhhh!

Food fund puts cash on the table for Grantown 250


Regality Food Fair – Grantown 250
Time for food – festivals organiser Bill Sadler (left) and treasurer Peter Holland welcome a £6000 cash boost for the Regality Food Fair.

Organisers of the Highlands’ biggest birthday party are savouring a slice of funding that will help them serve up a tasty event.

Grantown 250, the Strathspey Seven Festivals, has received £6000 from the Community Food Fund (CFF) to help them host the Regality Food Fair as part of a week-long celebration of the town’s 250th anniversary.

As part of the Scottish Government funded three-year Think Local Project, the CFF supports projects and events around Scotland that encourage people to appreciate and access local produce.

Food Fair organiser Bill Sadler said: “We are delighted to receive this boost in funds for the Regality Food Fair which will showcase the range and diversity of food and drink in the area and how it has evolved over the past 250 years. The Community Food Fund’s criteria was a good match for our event which will focus very heavily on local produce.”

Twenty four food and drink initiatives around Scotland benefited from grants totalling £135,820 from the latest round of Community Food Fund (CFF) applications, the largest sum given out so far by the CFF.

Scotland’s Cabinet Secretary for Food Richard Lochhead said: “I’m delighted to confirm that more local food and drink initiatives are benefiting from this latest round of Community Food Fund awards. This is the most money ever given out in a single round of CFF awards – taking the total amount of funding awarded to £739,476, distributed among 109 initiatives.

“We had 39 applications overall during this funding phase – the most we’ve had since CFF began – which is extremely encouraging as it shows more communities are working towards getting access to, and enjoying, the fresh, seasonal, nutritious, and local food and drink we produce here in Scotland.

“During the Year of Food and Drink it is particularly essential that people take advantage of our fantastic natural larder in order to achieve our ambition of becoming a Good Food Nation. Congratulations to all initiatives that have received an award in this round.”

The Regality Food Fair takes place on Wednesday 24 June from 11am to 4pm. More details are available from www.grantown250.org


Green energy superheroes take to the streets to raise cash for kids

Directors and staff from Green Moray Renewables in Forres don superhero suits to raise money for MFR Cash fo Kids
Directors and staff from Green Moray Renewables in Forres don superhero suits to raise money for MFR Cash fo Kids

A MICRO renewable company has used its superpowers to raise money and awareness for a children’s charity.

Green Moray Renewables came to the rescue of Cash For Kids and donned Teenage Mutant Ninja Hero outfits to take part in the cause’s Superhero Day on Friday (May 15).

Graham Meacher owner of the firm based at the Greshop Industrial Estate in Forres explained why they wanted to take part in the event: “We have been in business for almost two years now and we have been looking at opportunities to do some work with the community. We thought as a starting point this is a great charity but also good fun. We are a small family-run business and Cash For Kids struck a chord as I have children, so could easily identify with what the charity does and who it is aimed at.”

He added: “We like that the money raised from the event will also stay within this region.”

Cash For Kids provides a helping hand to disabled and disadvantaged children around the Highlands, Moray and Aberdeenshire.

On Friday morning, the team from Green Moray Renewables worked from their base and were visited by MFR’s breakfast host Ginno Conti and Allana Mackay, Cash For Kids charity executive.

In the afternoon they hot footed it round to the Forres branch of Tesco and Costa to entertain shoppers.

Graham in true Ninja style said: “Kowabunga baby, we don’t yet know what we have raised as MFR Cash for Kids will do the counting, but it was a great afternoon. The shoppers were digging deep and seemed amused by our superhero presence. Thanks to Tesco and Costa for letting us use their premises.”