Surrounded by sales!

Selling things, tangible and intangible is something I am good at. However, I keep it a bit quiet as I do not want to be a sales person, per se. Don’t get me wrong I like working in sales, some of the sales jobs I have done, I have in fact loved! I love helping people get what they want, have a conversation with someone I would never have talked to if it wasn’t for the fact that I had this product/service to discuss with them in the first place.

I have done sales in stores, at hotels and in telemarketing. Out of these three types the hotel was the one I liked the most. There is a thrill in helping people organise their dream holiday, for an example book them on helicopters and enquire about a dogsledding tour.

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Source here

My all-time favourite sales is not on that list though! When I moved back to Iceland from the Middle East at the end of 2014, I had no flat, no job but two kids I had to shelter, feed etc. I have a great friend that let us stay in her small, one bedroom flat, which she already shared with her 3-year-old son. Quickly I sorted out a flat. As I had sorted that out and of course promised the lovely landlord I would always pay on time etc. I had to find a job to be able to do so.

I applied for a few jobs. Got a few offers and a few turndowns. One of the jobs was the least reliable and I knew very little about what it entailed but it had some pull I couldn’t resist.

It involved selling spaces on a website, an information website. In Iceland we have a big database called ja.is where one can go online or call their number and get addresses and phone numbers of the people and companies in Iceland. One can also enquire about opening hours etc. Ja.is has been on the market for a long time, alone. The company I got hired to work for wanted to challenge that company. Come in as start-up, as a competitor. So that is what I did. I booked meetings with CEO’s, marketing people etc. all over Reykjavík and sold them spaces on our site as well as “search words” and banners.

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Source here

When I started the girl that was supposed to train me refused to do so. Said she was too shy. She was always the one with the highest sales figures and I believe she wanted to keep it that way. Therefore, my boss told me that I seem to have “balls” and asked whether I was okay with jumping right in and figure it out on the go. My salary was result based so I wanted to get going and said yes.

There I was, selling something I didn’t completely understand and doing a job that didn’t really resemble anything I’d done before.

I booked my own meetings and as I have a knack for sussing people out, I quickly learned how to “hook” which characters to get then to agree on a meeting. With some I had to be ballsy and witty, others needed information, some I had to be very formal with, others I had speak very calmly to and then there were the ones that didn’t want to know I existed.

I used Thursdays and sometimes parts of Fridays to book meetings, people tend to be happier and more open minded towards the end of the week.

I loved going for these meetings! I got to dress up and get in to a certain role. I would get to meet people in very different businesses all over town. I would talk to a guy that ran his own framing shop/service and then go straight to a meeting with a marketing person from a big law firm.

The fact I was always one of the highest sales people made it even more fun!

Achievement

So….now I’ve told you how much I love sales and have written passionately about it at the same time as I tell you I try not to share this information with other people and I tell you I do not want to have a career in sales.

Well that’s what I thought! Even though, I have done this job and many different versions of it, until recently, I failed to see how broadly it can be applied!

Corporate Snakes and Ladders

First off, we had a game of Corporate Snakes and Ladders   at a class in Corporate Communications and Reputation Management. Casilda Malagon and Stephen Welch introduced the game to us and let us have a go. It was very interesting and in a way I found it frightening as I didn’t score as high as I would have wanted. They also took the time to sit down with us when we had our seminar sessions and talks about the comms industry and did their very best to answer any question that was thrown at them.

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They also shared a little about leaders with us and how they influence people successfully and it was there I saw how relevant the sales person is. Amongst the influencing styles they mentioned were:

  • Connect: When I worked for that Start-up, we would often use this, when it was the right audience. We were taking on the giants and needed support from companies in Iceland. Everybody would win if there was competition.
  • Inform: I had to use this one a lot and to be honest I use it on myself (and my family members…what a hoot I must be to live with!). Here you hit them with data and facts, might use three-fold reasoning, price, traffic on site etc.
  • Picture: Using imagination and connecting on an emotional level, I believe I mixed this one with the connect method. We hardly had anything to show the people we got meetings with as we were just starting the company, we were asking them to buy space on a website we told them we believed (and we convinced them so did they) would be big.
  • Exit: Step aside and have a think. Has to be followed up. Most meetings ended on this note. People had to think and maybe talk to more people at the company. I would always make sure to do follow up calls and even follow up meetings, sometimes with other members of staff. (Just as a fun fact, the company is still running and in a competing position with ja.is)

(You can read all about the Recipe for Success here)

I connected with the other steps as well but on a different note and in different situations. However, this part of their talk taught me how valuable it has been to have done sales, especially when it comes to communications as one really needs to adapt to their audience and make sure to listen and to be able to meet their needs!

Selling the vision of me

When this dawned upon me I started noticing other things where my sales skills came in handy. To be honest I don’t know where I would be today if I couldn’t sell. If I couldn’t sell my case and most importantly, couldn’t sell MYSELF!

Selling self

Okay, not in a dirty way!

However, I have come to believe that my skills in selling has got me pretty far. For an example I got accepted to do the equivalences of A-level after a phone call with the admission person at the school I went to. The thing was, I was missing quite a few important credits, which were required to get in. I spoke to this person for a while. I told her WHY I wanted to study, HOW I was going to do it and WHY it shouldn’t matter that I hadn’t finished everything. In the middle of the phone call she said: ”Congratulations, you have been excepted to Keilir!” I was over the moon!!

Last year I contacted her and thanked her for the chance she gave me and told her that since then I had finished a BA and that I was planning on going to the UK to do a master’s degree. She was over the moon on my behalf but at the same time she told me that she used to have a system where she would let in one “wild card” and I had been it. I must have done a pretty good work in selling myself as a person to have achieved that! (unless she just wanted to get off the phone!)

As I wrote this blog entry I realised I also sold myself as a person when I got that landlord to bet on me with the flat. He knew I didn’t have a job yet. He had many other applicants (there is a shortage in housing in Reykjavík and just while I had a look so did 3 other applicants). He never had to regret it as I always paid on time and returned the flat spotless, but he didn’t know that beforehand, all he had was my word and my story!

Ice to Eskimos

Last weekend I was reminded I haven’t lost my selling skills as I went to Mothercare to look for a buggy/pram to fit my 20-month-old in and the one we are expecting. I had read a lot online and watched videos and I had my eyes on a certain brand. I just wanted to see it, feel it and drive it around a little. When we got there we were greeted by a lovely sales lady. She has 10 kids of her own! She said she had originally had her eyes on the same one but ended up going for another one. She showed me the other one and told me all the benefits of it. I then took her back to the one I had my eye on and explained what the benefits of it were and why a few things might seem like a downside to it but why they really weren’t. Once we had talked for a little while she told me I had convinced her and she now wanted the same as me and was regretting her decisions! I laughed to myself as I had basically sold the sales person the idea of her own product!

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Me as a product

These days I am thinking a lot about what happens ones I finish my studies and my maternity leave. As I have said before this pregnancy wasn’t planned and threw a bit of a spanner in the works. I started telling myself I had made myself so unemployable with all these kids and two of them under the age of three (Very unfair thing to go through, especially as men very rarely have to think this way, but that’s material for a whole other blog on its own!).

Once I realised what kind of a conversation I was having with myself I stopped and though “No Heiða, you must be able to use this to your advantage!”

  • First off: You are done! There is no danger in hiring you and you going on 4 maternity leaves, been there done that!
  • Secondly: You have a proven track record that shows it takes a little more than children, pregnancies, work, school, miscarriages etc. etc. for you to drop a ball! You can juggle it all and that’s one of your strongest assets!
  • Third: You have support from your fiancé who actually realises it’s a 50/50 thing (which I know from past experience is not a given!). You also have a live-in babysitter, so you should be covered!
  • Fourth: You are clever, fun and quick and adapt very easily. Not everyone has that.

Yep, that’s me selling myself to myself! I know the time will come when I have to sell myself to a future employer and I will. I will do it well as lately I have gone over my strengths every once in a while, and I have quite a few. I am not perfect, don’t get me wrong! I don’t try to tell myself that or anyone else, but I believe I will be a good asset in the working environment and I am convinced I can make a future employer believe that as well!

So, lets change the beginning of this post! I love sales, I am good at sales and I am willing to share it with the world as selling is an important skill in so many situations in our lives!

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Dissertation distress

I am at a point in my studies where I have to consider what my final dissertation should be about.

When I did my undergrads it was fairly simple. I had the motivation of wanting to see if all the voices around me were right. Are PR practitioners unethical? What kind of ethical framework do they work by etc. I have covered this topic before. I conducted this research by collecting secondary data and theory regarding ethics and ethics in PR. I also interviewed four PR practitioners in Iceland.

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Now I have to decide what to write about as my final dissertation in my masters.

As I mentioned in my last blog I have just started the communication part of my studies. I find it very interesting but I feel like I need more before I make up my mind on a specific topic for the dissertation.

I sat a class in Corporate Communications and Reputation Management last week where the topic was Performance, Behaviour and Reputation. It advocated the employees being brand ambassadors and touched on how to encourage them to support and strengthen the corporate reputation.

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This caught my attention. Having been someone at the bottom of the pyramid for years, being uneducated, on minimum wages, I have often wondered why the people higher up the ladder don’t value and see the potentials and wealth in their employees on the floor.

Unfortunately, the mentality in many companies back home is “if you don’t like it, find something else to do”. Everyone at the bottom is replaceable, which to me seems short-sighted and counterproductive in a company that is trying to create revenue and a good reputation. People talk and people talk about how it is to work in certain places. In a country like Iceland word travels even faster than elsewhere.

I did a course in HR in my undergrad and in that course we were told about the worth of employees and how much training can cost, the process of hiring new people etc. We were also told about the assets each employer brings with time spent within the company. The insight people gain etc.

This is something I think managers at different levels sometimes fail to see. They fail to value the knowledge the people on the floor bring by working with customers, using all the processes put in place etc. When someone works with customers all day that person gets to hear what they want, what information they need, what they are satisfied with and what they are unhappy about.

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So, in this class last week we were told about how to encourage employers to express themselves and how communications should flow both up and down. People should feel comfortable about expressing themselves, feel valued and listened to.

I am a fairly straight forward person and I use to do that. I used to express ideas, I used to talk about how processes might be made more efficient and what could be done better for employees, also with regards to customers. I would also talk about what was positive and try to make people smile and feel embraced at work. As a person on the floor I soon discovered this was not well received. I got the feeling the people higher up than me were thinking: “What the hell does she know?” or even “How dare she say that/suggest that?”. It drained all ambitions out of me and in the end, at these different places I worked at I just did my job. Nothing less, nothing more. I saw this happening to so many talented people that I came across while working in these jobs.

Sadly, if ideas from myself or other people on the floor were actually listened to, they would result in someone at managerial level getting all the praise, without us even getting a pat on the back let alone something more.

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The weird thing about all this is that it was not like there weren’t any communication processes in place. There were almost always thick HR booklets on how to do this and that and they would cover how happy one should be at work, how communications within the company should be and that people were encouraged to express themselves. All well and good. On paper.

However, in practice it didn’t seem to work. Out of all the places I have worked at I believe employees opinions and voices were truly valued at two places.

Due to all this it came to my mind whether that could be something to cover in my dissertation. As I said there are processes in place but for some reason they seem to just be there, not actually practiced. Therefore, I thought it might be interesting to talk to someone at a managerial level and quiz them about the communication processes within the company, ask about satisfaction with the processes etc. and then get to talk to other employees at different levels and get their opinion and understanding of the same. Once that would be done I would see if there is a gap in the communication plan/process etc.

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However, as one of my professors pointed out, it might be difficult to get managers to agree on me conducting such a research within their company, unless, maybe, I would do a project rather than a dissertation. Still it would be very sensitive information.

So, I guess I am back at the drawing board. Giving that I am only into my fourth week of this semester and the fact I have already come across one thing that triggered interest gives me hope there will be more.

All I know is I want to do interviews rather than big questionnaires and it HAS TO BE interesting as then the writing will come easy, as it is fun, something I will enjoy writing about.

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Studying PR abroad

The reason I am doing my masters in the UK is that there is a total lack of masters studies in Iceland when it comes to Public Relations. As a matter of fact, I was in the first group that graduated in the field at a bachelor level.

When looking into people working in communications in Iceland what you notice is that the practitioners either got their education from abroad, or which is very often the case; used to work in media.

My undergraduate degree consisted of a lot of politics and philosophy. We also did some creative writing, some media courses and ethics and laws regarding that field.

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Photo by Wendy van Zyl on Pexels.com

We did one course in public relations which was taught by a guy that has been working in the field for many years. We had the options of doing some economics and marketing as well and I did a little bit of both. Therefore, even though I scored a very high average for my bachelors I didn’t feel like I knew enough about public relations and communications. The students I studied with talked to the dean in our university about these concerns and he said we were still equipped with so much knowledge about other things that it would amount to a good PR practitioner as one would have to have a diverse knowledge about society (the politics courses) and be able to build up a good argument (I guess the philosophy came in strong here). He made a decent argument himself, but I was sure I could get a deeper understanding and be able to learn more about the tools PR practitioners use. I was sure I should be able to gather enough knowledge in the field to feel comfortable about diving into the profession of communication. At that point I must admit I did not feel like that. I spoke to the tutor that advised me on my dissertation and told him how I felt. I told him that early on in my studies I honesty felt like I was about to conquer the world, but as I was getting close to the end I felt like I knew so little. There was so much more out there. He smiled and told me not to worry. He said that was a confirmation off how much I had actually learned. The way I understood him it meant I had learned to be humble and realised there is always more one can learn.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Last semester at Leeds University we have mostly been focusing on marketing courses as my degree is a masters in “Corporate Communications, Marketing and Public Relations”. As the communications and public relations part of it was the biggest attraction for me, I must admit I am really looking forward to this semester.

The future

In Iceland we do not tend to have internships or graduate jobs. It’s each to their own and sometimes who you know seems to help. I do not know people that could pull me into a nice, convenient job so I know I’ll have to make it on my own and believe that my character and knowledge will get me to where I need to/want to be.

Many of my course mates at school are talking about graduate jobs. I do not see that as an option for me. I have obviously worked for many years. I started working at the age of 16 (part time at that age) and have worked since then (apart from the few years I took off when I had my 2 older kids). Most often I did two jobs as one simply wouldn’t cover the bills. Most of these jobs were service jobs and jobs at kindergartens. I believe that experience should help me when in comes to my future career as once you have worked in service you have dealt with people from all classes and with all sorts of needs and preferences. Even the kindergarten job and being a mum must have prepared me as it involves a LOT of communication and at times clever negotiations. One has to be resourceful and tailor messages according to the audience!

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The other and maybe more obvious reason why I cannot really picture myself doing a graduate job is the fact I simply can’t afford it! I have a family of five, soon to be six, and the main reason I went through university at this (st)age in my life was to be able to leave the struggle behind, along with having to do two jobs and being treated like a doormat, as I wasn’t high enough in the chain.

We are hoping to stay in Leeds as we like it here and we can have a better standard of living here than in Iceland. According to my teacher in Iceland practitioners in Public Relations get a very decent pay, however, my fiancée will always be “a foreigner” in Iceland. He is from the UK and he does not have an education. However, he has years of experience which doesn’t seem to get him anywhere back home. While we lived in Iceland, he did long night shifts in service jobs where the pay far from covered the bills, it took student loans and me doing two part time jobs to be able to get by. On top of that we had to share housing with other people as rent is really expensive in Iceland. You do what you need to do but we both agree that giving our age and family size we like it things as they are now, just us, living together as a family. Over here he has a good job he likes and that actually pays the bills.

So, what initially was a temporary move to a foreign country to study something I couldn’t master back home might become a more permanent arrangement.

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Desk doctors

Communication is always important and has a big impact on how we view a company, whether it is through their promotion or direct communication with someone from the company/organisation. Unfortunately, sometimes it seems like training in communications seems to be lacking. Companies sometimes seem to forget that people on the phone or at a desk are often the first impressions one gets of a company.

This is a topic that could be discussed back and forth and different examples could be given. However, to explain what I mean I am going to focus on communication in the health care system, as I feel like that is a place where people should, more than anywhere, be trained in basic human communication. They should be trained to treat everyone equal and show sympathy when needed.

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When it comes to doctors I have discovered they vary when it comes to the communication part. Understandably, as they are human just like you and me. However, they often have to tackle difficult problems and meet people at stages in their lives that they probably wished they never had to come across.

I have had some great doctors that really went beyond what is expected of them. Two of which gave me their private numbers as I lived in small villages where one should only need the help of doctors between 8 and 4. As they knew I had things going on that might bother me outside of office hours they actually offered me their mobile numbers and told me to contact them directly if that was the case.

When I had just become a single mum of my two older kids I also experienced the most amazing good deed. I don’t think it was because he is a doctor, I think it is just because he is a nice person that cares for others. I had just gotten settled in mine and the kids first flat as a family of three. I didn’t have a job as I was still on a very low budget maternity leave (at this point my daughter was 3 years old and my son was only 7 months) and I was quite lost in life. I had seen my doctor to talk, to get an outlet for my emotions and feelings. He listened and was trying to figure out ways with me to get me back to school so I could make a decent life for myself and the kids. One night I was in my cosy little flat and my kids were asleep and the phone rang. This wasn’t unusual as most of my social interactions were  by phone as one can get quite isolated when they are parents of young kids and lack the net of people around them to babysit every once in a while, etc. What was unusual, however, was that I didn’t recognise the number. I answered the phone and on the other end a voice said:

“Heiða?”

“Yes?” I replied.

“Hi, this is your doctor X (I am not going to put his name in here, to respect his privacy).”

“Oh? Hi!”

“This phone call is a little unusual and you are probably wondering why I am calling…”

“Yeah…” I answered quite confused.

“Well the thing is me and my wife bought a lot of meat to process straight from the farm. We have been spending this afternoon cutting it down and packaging it. Some for us and some for our kids.”

“Okay?”

“Well there’s way too much! My wife suggested that it would be nice if we knew anyone in need that some of this would be helpful to, I instantly thought of you. Don’t worry though!! I didn’t disclose your name.”

“Oh, wow!”

“Yes, so I was wondering if you might want some minced beef an if so, how you’d like the proportions to be?”

When you are a single mum with no extra cash to spend you can not afford to say no to such a nice gesture so I ran and had a look in my freezer to look at the proportions sizes I got at the supermarket and said to him: “I would love that, thank you so much! Maybe around 500 gr. in a bag?”

“It might be 400-500 gr. I hope that’s okay?”

I couldn’t help but laughing and told him I could live with that.

Later that night he showed up wit 5 kilos of minced beef! I took it from his hands with a lump in my throat! He sorted out 10 evening dinners for me and my children and probably a little more as we would make loads out of the 500 gr. proportions and then be able to have left overs the night after. I thought it was so amazing that someone had had me in mind like that and whenever I have been in the position to help others I have tried to do so as I know how much it can mean for the person on the receiving side of it, even though it may seem small to me. Pay it forward kind of a thing.

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I’ve also had really funny encounters with doctors. One has to understand that Iceland is a VERY small country with the population of around 350000 and the chances of a person you meet in the street knowing someone you know are huge!

Once I had to go for a check-up at the gynaecologist. He turned out to be the doctor that delivered me when my mum gave birth to me. While he had his head between my legs taking a swab he said, just like it was the most normal thing in this position: “You look just like your mum!” I wasn’t sure what exactly he was talking about!

Another time I went to another gynaecologist. I was prepared to have a swab taken. Stretched out on the bench, legs in the appropriate handles and all. He then opens a cupboard above his head. He closes it again and opens the one next to it. The same happens and he went through a few cupboards and as he opened more of them I noticed he was getting a bit stressed. He then smiled awkwardly and said: “I am SO, SO sorry! This has NEVER happened before but I seem to have run out of the sticks I use to take the swabs with… BUT I do have a box of them in my car. If you would only be so kind to wait, I’ll just run out and get them!”

“Right…okay..” It wasn’t like I was going to leave with out having what I came for. However, we were on the 5th floor and this would take him a little while. Being in Iceland, in a rush he put a scarf and coat on and popped out the door, 2 seconds later his head popped back in and he said with an awkward smile: “You just try to be comfortable while I run out!” Any woman that has lied on one of these benches knows there is nothing comfortable about them!    

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Unfortunately, I have also had some bad experience with doctors. When I miscarried for the first time I was 22 years old. I was at home and all of a sudden I started bleeding. I got really worried and didn’t know what to do, still I hoped maybe it wasn’t all that bad and I was reading to much into it. I called the doctor on call in my village and grumpily he said: “It’s simple! You’re are miscarrying, it’s gone, all done! There is nothing we can do!”

With that he hung up. I felt horrible. These news were devastating and I felt so disregarded as I would have thought he wanted to see me and check up on me. It was dinner time and I got the feeling I interrupted him while having his evening meal. Half an hour later he called back and was a little more sympathetic and actually asked me questions and explained the procedures if this was the case. Once I got over the biggest shock, I imagined his wife had heard him and told him off for talking to a woman in this position the way he did. That probably wasn’t the case though, he must have realised afterwards that he’d been a bit hasty. And I do take my hat off to him for actually calling back and kind of making amends.

Another time I miscarried and was sent with an airplane to a hospital to be monitored. The morning after a gynaecologist examined me. He brought a student with him and didn’t ask if it was okay with me that he was present and I didn’t say anything, I probably would have said yes, but one should ask. He then examined me and spoke “doctor” to his student, pointed at the screen and never said a word to me. The two of them then disappeared behind a curtain where they had a computer and they kept “talking doctor”. After a few minutes I had worked up the courage to ask: “Can I put my clothes back on?” The answer was a short, annoyed yes and then they kept talking amongst themselves. For a while I stood there like I didn’t belong and felt like I shouldn’t be there. However, I ended up asking “I am sorry… Is it gone? Have I miscarried?” This specialist sneered back: “Yes! That is if you were ever pregnant!”. With that I left.

Having doctors that talk to people in situations like this, communicating like that is horrible. Afterwards I felt like I didn’t only have to deal with the shock and sorrow of miscarrying but also this treatment. To be treated like a second-class citizen.

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In England I have come across what I would class as very unprofessional behaviour. Not from the doctors themselves but the first person one has to go through before getting to the doctor. The receptionists. Desk doctors as I have started referring to them as.

In December, when I discovered I was pregnant I looked on NHS’s website to see what the procedures are here, as I have never been pregnant in the UK before. It said if you have discovered you are pregnant you should contact your local clinic and get an appointment with a midwife or a GP. Which I decided to do, especially with my history, I knew I wanted it on record in case of worst-case scenario. Therefore, I called my local clinic and asked for an appointment. They have appointment slots every day which they only fill in on that day. So, you are supposed to call in the morning and get allocated an appointment later that same morning. I told the lady on the phone I needed one of these walk-in appointments (this is something they have just started and came instead of the walk-in hours, to avoid people coming in and having to wait for hours). She told me they didn’t have walk-ins. I tried to explain I needed one of these same-day appointments and she told me they only had appointments next week. After going back and forth explaining to her what I was talking about she said: “Oh you are talking about (insert the official name of the appointments)”. I told her that was correct. She then asked me what the problem was, which I am not used to as in Iceland it’s the doctors business not a receptionists. I told her I had just discovered that I was pregnant and as the NHS website stated I wanted to see a GP. She told me that had nothing to do with the GP and that I needed to see a midwife but only if I was around 10 weeks pregnant. I then explained to her that first off I wasn’t sure how far on I was and then I told her I had had 7 miscarriages and needed the support and assurance of a doctor. “I don’t know what  he’s supposed to do for you! But I’ll book you in any way!”. I felt like she had been rude and couldn’t believe her last snappy answer as I had just shared with her my history and explained that I was very nervous. There was no sympathy, just cynical remarks.

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I told the doctor about the answers and comments I had received. She apologised and couldn’t believed how I had been spoken to. She said the reasons for my visit were none of the receptions business and if I wanted to see a doctor, I should get to see a doctor no matter what it was for. She then told me she would send a request for me to see a gynaecologist at the hospital so I could be monitored. I should also book an appointment at the reception for a meeting with my community midwife. When I got to the reception the “lovely” receptionist from the phone was there. I told her I needed to book an appointment with a midwife. Very loudly (so loudly that everyone in the waiting room knew exactly why I was there) she asked me how far along I was. I told her I wasn’t sure but was about to see a specialist to get that clarified as I didn’t know. Loudly, again, she said: “You don’t know!?!” I felt really embarrassed and like I had failed in filling out my sexual encounter diary to make sure to have exact dates and records. Again, I told her I was sorry but I didn’t. She told me the only appointment she had was at the beginning of February and I accepted that. Again, she stressed that the midwifes REALLY wanted to be sure of how far along women were when they saw them. I just looked at her awkwardly and said: “Well, I don’t know.” She booked the appointment and murmured: “Well you should be around the correct time by then anyway…” I wondered how on earth she knew more than me!

After this I waited for a letter which would tell me when I was to come into the hospital to see a gynaecologist. A week later my letter arrived but my appointment wasn’t till January so I called the hospital. When I got through to a receptionist, they told me I was just seeing a midwife for a normal check-up. I explained that wasn’t correct. That I was going to see a community midwife but needed to see a specialist at the hospital due to my history. She didn’t budge. After a while she transferred the phone to another person and I got the same thing. I ended up crying out of frustration and simply told her I was scared and I felt like no one was listening. Finally, I got transferred to a receptionist at the pre-natal care. This person had been filled in on why I was calling and once she got on the phone she asked what she could do for me. I started crying loudly and told her all I needed was to see a specialist and that was what I believed my doctor had requested but for some reason I was being told I would only get to see a midwife and that wouldn’t happen until January. As I was very emotional (and a “little”) dramatic by this point I told her I was doubting it all though and I felt like I didn’t understand anything and maybe it was because I was nothing more than a foreigner. She calmed me down and had me breathing in and out before assisting me.

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She booked me in, told me I’d see a midwife who probably would have a specialist do a scan on me the same day.

Once we arrived, I spoke to yet another receptionist. She told me to pee in a cup. I told her I believed I wasn’t supposed to as I might be going for a scan as I wasn’t sure about my dates and I knew a scan so early on require a full bladder. She hissed at me and told me I wasn’t booked in for a scan and therefore there wouldn’t be any scan that day and I should basically do as I was told. Quickly I sensed the fact she was not going to budge so, upset, I took the glass and went to the bathroom. When I returned my fiancée told me he had tried to talk to her but there was no way to get her to listen. For the first time in my life my blood pressure was measured quite high and I know it was only due to upset. Once I finally saw the midwife I felt better. She was caring and understanding. She understood my worries and as the specialist she normally would have me see was gone for the day, she wanted to book me in with him later but offered to have another doctor have a quick look then and there just to set my mind at ease.

This doctor was very cold. To begin with he saw the bubble the fetus should be in but couldn’t detect a fetus. The midwife held my hand and comforted me as tears ran down my face in silence. She asked him to do a more thoroughly examination. I had to remove my clothes and he did. He could detect a fetus this time but couldn’t confirm there was a heartbeat and told me that his file would therefore say there was a fetus but that there was uncertainty about vital signs. More tears ran down my face and he left. I apologised to the midwife for the crying and she asked me please not to apologise. Told me communications weren’t his strongest point which was why she was there, to translate his words into human interactions. Both she and my fiancée said they believed they saw a flickering and we would know for sure in a few days.

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As my readers know when I went back there was a heartbeat and we are now in our 10th week.

After this I have been treated very well but I am sure that there are notes on their system about communications with me. It has been frustrating and hard to deal with health care employees that treat you like any other number. That even make you feel like you are wasting their time. I know we all have bad days, but if you cannot mask them and your job is to deal with real people with real emotions maybe you should be doing something else.

These receptionists were my first impressions of the English health care system when it comes to pregnancy and I must admit I wasn’t impressed. I might have listened and not pushed for what I needed. If I would have I would have missed the amazing service I have had after getting passed these gatekeepers. I would have had weeks of wondering whether everything was going okay or not and I would still be waiting for the confirmation on it.

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What is the worth of a good reputation?

“If I was a CEO I would never pay my PR practitioner less than my lawyer, I would pay him even more!”

These words came from a friend of mine back in Iceland. She’s a law student, a mother and works as a team leader in a big production plant in Iceland.

As many people don’t really understand what it is a PR practitioner does they don’t understand the value they bring to a company. It can be hard to measure the financial value they actually bring, however, when a company doesn’t have someone to integrate their communication and respond professionally when a crisis hits, they can really feel the impact of not having someone trained in the profession at hand.

When I conducted my interviews with the PR practitioners in Iceland for my dissertation it blew me away how varied their job was. They were training CEO’s and spokespeople in how to speak in public, at interviews etc. and how to react when facing challenging questions. They were writing news releases, they were planning social gatherings for their costumers’ clients as even though they are not event planners as such. The whole look and execution of events has to echo the message they’re trying to send out.

An example of someone who would have benefited from some PR training is Barilla’s chairman in 2013 when he said on Italian radio: “I would never do a commercial with a homosexual family, not for lack of respect but because we don’t agree with them. []. Ours is a classic family where the woman plays a fundamental role. If [gays] don’t like it, then they will not eat it and they will eat another brand.”

Barilla’s slogan: “Where there is Barilla, there is a home” Became a target for a play on words for those offended by the comment. Posts like: “Where there is my home, there is no Barilla” and “Where there is Barilla, there is homophobia” surfaced on social media.

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One person commented this on the company’s Facebook site: “I’m Italian, I’m gay, I’m married legally to a man, I have three adopted children. I had Barilla pasta for dinner last night. Today, tomorrow and forever more I will choose another brand of pasta. Good bye Barilla! You lose!”

My brother is gay. He made sure I knew about this. Therefore, it’s safe to say it hit the company at a larger scale than “only” through its gay customers. People conscious of human rights also boycotted their products.

2 months after the comments Barilla pasta was on 25% discount in the main supermarkets in my home country, Iceland.  However, it is hard to find evidence of how hard the comments actually hit the company as its privately owned and didn’t reveal how the boycott hit their sales figures. But it’s not only sales figures one has to consider, it also has to do with the brand and the brands reputation.

Barilla did bounce back and learned from their mistakes. Only a year later they featured a gay couple in an advert, they were donating money for gay rights causes and expanding health benefits for transgender workers and their families. All very positive, however good news seem to travel slower than bad news and until I started researching the case further for this blog post I hadn’t heard about this turnaround. I only heard the negative news back in 2013.

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Another company that could have hugely benefited from having integrated communication plan is United Airlines. This is a case I covered in my dissertation as it shows how by not responding a relatively minor event can spiral into something huge.

What happened was that the musician Dave Carroll and his band flew with United Airlines. When arriving at their destination he noticed that airport staff unloading the plane threw bags between them, including the bands instruments. Once Dave got his Taylor guitar he discovered the neck was broken. For 9 months he tried contacting the airline to get some compensation, he tried many different ways of communicating with them but had no luck. After getting nowhere he wrote the song “United breaks guitars”. He uploaded the song onto YouTube and when this is written it has been watched 18 million times. He wrote two more songs about his experience and went onto radio and TV to talk about his experience. On YouTube people have written comments about the songs and their own experiences with the airline.

( You can see the video here )

If the company had responded and shown some empathy, things wouldn’t have had to go this far but with social media and power of the masses things can quickly spiral out of control.

In both cases there are other companies however that seem to be quick to realize opportunities, companies that are indirectly connected to the crisis in question.

Barilla’s competitors Bertolli Germany responded to Barilla’s crisis by publishing an advert which they had published 2 years prior, which featured a gay couple. They also posted a picture with the caption: “Pasta and love for all” on their Facebook site.

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While United Airlines didn’t seem to realize how important it was to respond to their customers’ needs Taylor guitars did, even though they weren’t prompted. They compensated him by giving him a new guitar and they uploaded videos onto YouTube about their repair services and on how to travel safely with their guitars.

This shows that having a communication/marketing team on their toes can hugely benefit a company as they will seize the moment and grab the chance of positive publicity when it presents itself. As these two examples show, it doesn’t even have to be expensive, just seen and acted upon!

So, going back to the beginning of this post, I believe my friend hit the nail on the head.

A good PR practitioner is worth their weight in gold. If they listen to the market, are responsive, creative and on point they can in many cases avoid major upheaval. At the very least respond to it in the most efficient way. They will also be able to spot potential opportunities when a crisis hits someone else.

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