Blog : Brainiacs

Kick-off transfer deadline day with a donation to the Homeless World Cup

Kick-off transfer deadline day with a donation to the Homeless World Cup

As the clock ticks down on what is set to be another record breaking transfer window, you’d be forgiven for getting caught up in the hullabaloo of the modern day football circus.

After all there is little escape from Sky Sports’ rolling news coverage and its perpetual scenes of reporters jostling for a glimpse of a club’s new multi-million pound signing in the latest transfer exclusive.

But over in the Norwegian capital, Oslo, an eight day football tournament with a difference is well underway and this year is set to be bigger than ever.

This year’s Homeless World Cup will see 570 homeless men and women from 54 countries across the world compete in a celebration of street football.

Connected by their love for simply playing the game, the tournament uses the power of football as a force for good to tackle homelessness. It has always amazed me how sport has a transcendental quality to transform lives for the better. The direct impact of the Homeless World Cup has on people’s lives is nothing short of remarkable.

An astonishing 94 per cent of players surveyed after the tournament last year in Glasgow said the event had a positive effect on their lives while an estimated £10m in social capital was generated from helping people off the street and into employment.

If you’re wondering how football can bring about positive change there are many benefits for a person who is homeless getting involved with the sport.

As well as developing relationships and learning to trust teammates, street football can also improve aspects of a person’s life such as regaining self-esteem, improving health and well-being and reconnecting them with friends and family.

The impact of this year’s tournament will also be far-reaching.

Not only are an estimated 3 million people set to tune in to the tournament which is being streamed live on YouTube, an innovative Fairtrade partnership between the Homeless World Cup Foundation and sports co-operative Bala Sport will ensure that an often forgotten army of men and women making footballs in Pakistan will also benefit by receiving fair rates of pay, safer working conditions and access to union representation.

This year Stripe is proud to be able to lend a hand to the Homeless World Cup Foundation supporting the charity to raise the national and international profile of this inspirational event.

So next time you refresh your Twitter feed this transfer deadline day to see if your club has bought anyone half decent, instead why not take the time to see how your nation is performing in the Homeless World Cup.

For more information or to donate and help to change the lives of homeless people around please visit www.homelessworldcup.org.

Craving experiences

Craving experiences

Last month, Madame Tussauds London launched Alien: Escape, a terrifying multi-sensory experience, developed with one of the most genius creative companies in the world – Creatures Inc. When we first began working on Alien: Escape, I didn’t know what to expect. Isn’t that the beauty of working in PR though? You start a project with no previous knowledge and by the end you’re an absolute pro – whether it’s a video game, a food product, a documentary, or an experience inspired by a popular film franchise.

Alien: Escape is a multi-sensory experience, which follows the release of the critically acclaimed blockbuster film, Alien: Covenant and challenges guests to navigate a trail of blood, gore, chaos and danger. The mission is simple: Run. Survive. Escape. It is also the most terrifying experience Madame Tussauds has ever worked on, with a recommended age of 15+. If you don’t believe us, you can see how terrifying our celebrities rated it at the launch event.

Madame Tussauds London introduces Alien Escape
Michael Fassbender Alien Covenant

But why do we need them? Are we craving new experiences more than ever before meaning that we no longer need material belongings? Not really. In my opinion, we are still very much a commodity focused society. We love our products and we definitely like to show off with them even if we don’t admit it.

And because we love our products so much, they have been made much more accessible for us. In Western societies, it seems almost unreal to own an iPhone with a model starting below the number 5. No really, who has iPhone 4 anymore? The market is overly saturated and since we all use similar brands and products, we have changed the focus and become much more ‘spiritual’. We’re frantically looking for things to do, because we have everything.

Certain brands have realised this social trend and have adapted accordingly. Snapchat and Instagram are all about experiences – capturing places, people and things we have seen. Facebook has added a permanent “Feeling (happy, excited, tired, sad etc.)” to our status updates.

Any forward thinking brand that seeks leadership in its sector has to realise the potential in triggering some sort of emotion – whether this would be comfort, loyalty, excitement or fear. Madame Tussauds London has definitely raised the bar with getting its audience to show fear with their horrific new Alien: Escape.

Turing Fest 2017 – PR vs SEO

Turing Fest 2017 – PR vs SEO

Last week, Stripe attended Scotland’s largest tech gathering, Turing Fest to further submerge ourselves into the world of digital marketing for a day, with talks from international leaders in the field.

We were glued to speakers such as Rand Fishkin, Wil Reynolds and Lisa Myers on SEO; Laura Crimmons who gave us an important lesson in connecting with people whether it be clients or colleagues; CMO of ClassPass, Joanna Lord, who talked about the different levels of growth in business and how to achieve it and Purna Virji who discussed marketing in a conversational world, taking a closer look at the use of chatbots.

As someone who comes from a very PR background, the opportunity that lies with digital is fascinating and is something that has increasingly become part of my portfolio of experience as clients look for more than just those traditional pieces of media coverage, but integrated campaigns. The key takeaway for me from Turing was the similarities and crossovers between PR and SEO and how ultimately they can organically support each other.

PRs and SEOs both aim to achieve coverage through compilation of content and media outreach with the difference being that while PRs strive for the highest reach through calculations of readership, followers and unique user figures, SEOs aim for coverage in the form of links, ideally having authoritative sites such as the BBC or The Huffington Post including a link to the client’s campaign web page in their coverage of the story for example, which in turn would help improve the search engine rankings of the brand’s website.

As a comms consultant always upskilling in more digital disciplines, it made me realise that us PRs are already pros in a lot of practices involved in SEO – more of us just need to realise the digital value to our clients of incorporating something so simple as a brand web page link into content and highlighting the importance of that link being included in coverage of the story to our media contacts and voila… we’re on our way to being SEO practitioners.

Having had my eyes opened at Turing Fest to the world of SEO, I’m looking forward to seeing how the disciplines of PR and digital marketing will continue to merge, as clients continue to operate further into the digital space with campaigns and coverage KPIs.

Virtual reality: friend or foe?

Virtual reality: friend or foe?

Limitless experiences and fantasy becoming reality are two of the most exciting prospects for us all. Imagine being able to be anywhere, with anyone, at any time – it’s a dizzying prospect.

Well, we may just be in luck. Tell our ancestors 100 years ago that come 2017 we’d be able to make video calls in real time, track friends’ whereabouts on portable screens and that flying cars are actually going to be a thing? The would say flying pigs would be more likely.

At the moment Virtual Reality (VR) is a phenomenon that seems more talk than action – merely a tease, or a medium inhabited by the hardcore gamer. Devices such as the Oculus Rift, PlayStation VR and the HTC Vive provide a VR experience that is pretty much accessible by all. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has already pounced on its potential and has described it as a social technology in addition to a gaming one, which is probably a fairly good indication of its future impact.

It seems this is just the beginning of what will be an almost unbelievable human experience, and many brands and entertainment bodies are getting familiar with how it can intensify experiences in unbelievable ways.

Last year, Biffy Clyro fans could immerse themselves in the performance experience by being on stage with the band in a virtual music video, which toured festivals around the UK.


In tourism, VisitScotland recently utilised the technology by offering prospective visitors a ‘try before you buy’ approach.


Traditional media have also started to get on board – providing 360 imagery on their platforms, trying to keep up with what consumers are excited by and taking them closer to a story by giving it a completely different angle (literally).

It’s all very cool, but if you’re a fan of shows like Black Mirror, you might share my futuristic concerns; it’s not hard to see how there could be a more sinister, totally weird side to its development that could replace the beauty of real experiences. Can you really re-create or better the high of being on someone’s shoulders in a sea of people belting out your favourite band’s song, or bombing down a hill on a set of skis with the wind in your hair?! I can’t help but imagine this is the start of our devolution back to some prehistoric sea creature with no capacity for human interaction. Dramatic? Maybe.

Nevertheless, VR is just at the beginning of its journey. Experts are already exploring its scope for the treatment of conditions such as depression and phobias. It might also improve quality of life for the ill and immobile, giving them the chance to explore the world, or cycle from Land’s End to John o’ Groats. It’ll let people play or dance on stage alongside their idols at Glastonbury, and maybe inspire the next generation to pursue a particular education, career or lifestyle after giving them an ‘almost-real’ taste of what something is like.

VR is almost its own worst enemy as the technology enabling it is evolving so quickly that people don’t even know where to begin. A bit of scepticism is healthy, but for society, the media and brands in particular, the opportunities it presents are worth exploring.

Stripe backs communications industry ban on AVE

Stripe backs communications industry ban on AVE

The Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) has announced plans to ban its members from using AVE (advertising value equivalent). Communications practitioners found to be using AVE next year may face disciplinary action.

For those who aren’t long in the tooth, AVE is an old fashioned way to evaluate PR coverage as though it’s paid-for advertising content. Using column inches you would measure the size of an article and multiply it by a financial value provided in an advertising rate card.

Nobody pays full price for advertising when it’s bought as a package, so the AVE metric became more and more unreliable – especially when digital news and social media became increasingly important for measurement, as it simply couldn’t be measured accurately. I once saw someone using a wooden metre stick to measure online coverage on a computer screen. That was the final straw.

Stripe stopped using AVE about four years ago. At the time, we decided that providing an antiquated and inaccurate evaluation metric wasn’t right for us – we’re totally transparent in our reporting and measuring AVE isn’t a transparent process. As a quick fix, we provided CPI (cost per impression) and CPM (cost per thousand) which gave clients a financial value to track.

Since then, we’ve introduced advanced social listening services, developed an Influencer Index to measure influencer engagement on and offline, and worked in partnership with a range of data provider partners to develop our measurement approach. Our evaluations are focused on demonstrating the real-world value of our work, so we base our strategies on insights, invest in tools to help us measure in-depth, and ensure evaluation is built into our work right from the beginning. Measurement should never be an afterthought.

That’s why Stripe has a team of evaluation specialists running Stripe360, our in-house measurement and evaluation service. They use a suite of qualitative and quantitative measurement tools to provide 360 degrees of communications evaluation – from stakeholder influence and social analytics to media awareness and behavioural analysis. Their top priority is tracking real-world impact.

Banning AVE won’t affect Stripe or our clients – we don’t use it. However, we back the CIPR decision to change industry standard. Evaluations that hoodwink clients are completely unacceptable and banning deceptive metrics encourages communications practitioners to look for ways to properly measure their work with actual real-world impact.

For more information or to discuss our evaluation services, you can contact us on 0131 561 8628 or hello@stripecommunications.com.

McDonald’s misses the mark

McDonald’s misses the mark

It came as no surprise when McDonald’s announced this week that they were pulling their ‘Dad’ TV advert. In the wake of significant backlash from the general public and bereavement charities, it seemed the only sensible option.

Just how McDonald’s, usually such a solid performer in the world of TV advertising, had so badly missed the mark may be less down to the advert’s content, but more about  failing to establish a credible link between it and the brand.

For those not aware of the latest installment in the burger chain’s advertising campaign – one that’s previously included a clever dig at the ‘hipster’ coffee scene – the basic premise focuses around a young lad struggling to find a common link to his deceased father. Unlike his dad he’s rubbish at football, has different coloured eyes and is terrible with the ladies. Things are looking desperate until he takes a bite into the Golden Arches’ very own Filet-o-Fish, which just happened to be the old man’s favourite, and voila! – it’s tartar sauce all round.

There is no doubting the sincerity of what’s being played out here. Take the looming ‘M’ logo out of proceedings and it’s a genuinely touching and well-crafted 90 seconds of film. Where this advert appears to have struck a particular nerve however, is the lack of any genuine association to the advert’s content and McDonald’s as a brand.

The use of bereavement and loss is nothing new to the TV advertising world, regularly used by charities as a hard-hitting tool that strikes right to the core of their key message and ultimately shapes their aim and purpose. McDonald’s however, appears to have hijacked this tactic for the simple aim of promoting their brand and products, with no real connection to the theme.

Sainsbury’s sailed close to the wind with their Christmas advert in 2014, commemorating the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War. The desperate scene of trench warfare made slightly more bearable by a bar of Sainsbury’s chocolate sent from home.

There was criticism, observers pointing out that the atrocities of war should not be used to promote what was ultimately the run-up to the festive period and the busiest time in the retail calendar – those turkeys and Brussels sprouts weren’t going to sell themselves, etc.

However, Sainsbury’s had been cute and received an endorsement from the Royal British Legion, with proceeds of a special edition chocolate bar going to the charity – I should know this, I bought three. This provided a link, albeit tenuous, so the viewer could understand the narrative behind the advert and why Sainsbury’s was using it in this way.

Would all this controversy for McDonald’s have been avoided if they had arranged to donate profits to a bereavement charity? Probably not. However, viewers would have been able to make a tangible link between the core message of the advert and its purpose. As Sainsbury’s showed, by developing a credible link to support your advert’s key message, you can come out relatively unscathed.

For McDonald’s, it’s back to the drawing board. Anyone got Ronald’s number…?

Stripe back on campus to talk PR at Northumbria University

Stripe back on campus to talk PR at Northumbria University

Ten years ago I graduated from Northumbria University a bit of a crossroads. With a degree in English Literature and Film Studies, an empty wallet and a C.V. which included a variety of trades, from meat-packing to tea-towel printing, you could say I was a little confused about what to do next.

However, rather than selling my soul to become a prodigious blues guitarist, instead I decided to train as a broadcast journalist – before swapping a career as a hack for PR and marketing. The rest as they say, is history.

So when I was invited to deliver a presentation to MSc International Sport Management students at my old university stomping ground, it felt like I had come full circle. Having been asked to share my insight and experience of what industry best practice looks like, I jumped at the chance to hop on a train to Newcastle.

Inspiring future industry talent

The private sector has an important role to play in sharing advice with young people on the key attributes and skills they need to enter the workplace. While I get the sense there is still more work to be done in this area, positive strides are already underway.

Stripe is an agency committed to developing the next generation of communication professionals. As well as regular visits to present to students at Edinburgh University and Queen Margaret University, we continue to hire young and dynamic talent through our graduate recruitment programme, Stars and Stripes.

Each year we take on bright and enthusiastic grads to join our ranks and be part of Stripe Academy, our training and development programme. Now in its eighth year, the programme has kick-started the career of 25 outstanding graduates.

My presentation was focused on providing students with a better understanding of the value of PR, and its effectiveness for delivering impact as part of a brand’s integrated marketing strategy. As well as demystifying the industry, we discussed strategic thinking, campaign planning, media relations, community management, measurement and evaluation, agency life and what brilliant work looks like.

Andrew presenting to Northumbria Uni studentsPR presentation

Of course a sport-themed lecture wouldn’t be complete without some career highlights, and a few sporting anecdotes from a portfolio that has included sponsorship activations and event management, from football to mountain biking. I was delighted to wax lyrical about some of the projects I’ve enjoyed working on recently, such as the IRN-BRU Cup activation with A.G. Barr and the SPFL, Strathmore water’s Do More campaign and the UCI Fort William Mountain Bike World Cup.

But the key takeaway I wanted to share with students was that while the rules of engagement may have shifted over the last decade, the fundamental principles of communication are as relevant today as they always will be.

For me building strong relationships, no matter what industry you work in, will always open new doors and spark fresh opportunities. While creating deep and meaningful stories will always be the difference between a good campaign and a memorable one.

But if you’re thinking about a career in PR, here’s some of my top advice to get you started:

  • Writing wizardry: From drafting media releases to crafting sticky social content, excellent writing skills are an essential tool for PRs. Starting a blog, writing for your local newspaper or simply keeping a diary can help improve your tone of voice, spelling and grammar.
  • Confident communicator: While sending and replying to emails is a daily job, PRs are not keyboard warriors. Starting conversations is what we do best – so make sure you have great set of social skills and enjoy talking to real human beings!
  • Stay informed and be curious: As a PR it’s important to stay on top of current affairs and the wider news agenda. We work closely with the media and speak to reporters every day. With the rise of fake news, it’s best to go straight for quality journalism and pick up a newspaper.
  • Organise work experience: There really is no better way to learn about PR than gaining first hand industry experience. Why not apply for a week placement with an agency, or in a brand’s marketing department. I’d also encourage getting in touch with your local paper, TV or radio station.
  • Make a good impression: Showing interest in the job is a no brainer, but don’t forget to be passionate and enthusiastic about what you’re doing. If you get the chance of work experience, it’s your opportunity to make your mark.
Crisis Communications: Is it too little, too late for United Airlines?

Crisis Communications: Is it too little, too late for United Airlines?

Just a couple weeks after a public outcry following United’s refusal to let two children board a flight as they were wearing leggings, the world looked on in horror as a video went viral showing a 69 year old man being dragged bloodied and seemingly unconscious from an airplane – for no other reason than refusing to give up the seat he had reserved and paid for.

What unfolded in the following 72 hrs will no doubt go down in history as how NOT to handle a crisis situation. The reputational damage to United Airlines is already huge with many individuals and businesses threatening a boycott, Chinese media accusing racism and questions asked at the White House press conference. Whilst United’s share price was not initially hit on Monday by close of markets on Tuesday it had lost 4% equating to around $1.4 billion in market capitalisation. If you add to this the cost of long running legal proceedings and the accompanying negative media coverage the damage will run deep.

From a communications point of view the ill-thought-out response from United and its CEO, Oscar Munoz, is unfathomable. The initial statement from Munoz completely lacked any humanity, centred around United not the affected customer, was not a proper apology, didn’t accept responsibility and used a combination of corporate and legal language guaranteed to ostracise the average consumer.

United_meme_2

Talking about the incident as ‘upsetting’ to ‘all of us’ at United immediately focused the statement around the business rather than the individual. The phrases ‘re-accommodate’ and ‘reaching out’ were immediately seen as corporate euphemisms completely lacking in any compassion for the customers involved and the company has been widely derided on social media.

The statement was followed by a leaked email from the CEO to United staff in which he said “I emphatically stand behind all of you, and I want to commend all of you for continuing to go ahead and beyond to ensure we fly right” and described the passenger as “belligerent” this compounded the crisis into an even worst scandal scenario.

By Wednesday morning, a new statement had been issued with much more conciliatory tone (maybe the lawyers had finally let the PR people into the room?) and the CEO did an exclusive interview with ABC News. However this could be viewed as a bit too little, too late, although there was an admission of guilt, an apology and commitment to never let something similar happen in the future there were a few slips into corporate language and phrasing that would certainly grate with a UK audience. Munoz refers to “my messaging” (classic PR jargon), United staff as “our family” and the incident as “a bad moment” and a “systems failure”. Perhaps most revealingly was the very long pause after the interviewer asked him whether the passenger was at fault before Munoz said “no”. If United truly want to resolve this situation they not only need to say they are sorry but be seen to really mean it.

If nothing else, this whole incident is a good prompt of some of the basic rules for handling a crisis situation:

  • Time is of the essence
  • Express empathy
  • If you have made a mistake – own up and take responsibility
  • Don’t submit to the urge to be defensive – blaming others gets you nowhere
  • Talk as if talking to your grandmother – in polite plain English
#Legsit – Is national outrage actually what the Daily Mail wanted?

#Legsit – Is national outrage actually what the Daily Mail wanted?

This morning’s “legs-it” headline is shocking and has, quite rightly, caused a wave of condemnation from every sphere of the UK. The throw-back to 1950’s everyday sexism has shocked even the most ardent Daily Mail detractors with the first edition seemingly unabashed by its adherent headline, and the second edition trying to soften the blow by saying it was columnist Sarah Vine’s “light-hearted verdict on the big showdown”.

In the minutes and hours since it hit our newsstands a lot has been written about how this is an objectification of women; how demeaning it is and how two of the, arguably, most powerful women in the UK have been reduced to shallow comments about their bodies detracting from the extremely important constitutional debate they were discussing.

The centuries-old tradition of British journalism is to distinguish ‘fact’ from ‘opinion’, to investigate and analyse as cornerstone of our democratic society. Whilst there is a tacit understanding from the public that certain papers reflect differing political views, the expectation is still that the news is reported. The Daily Mail seems to have completely forgotten this, devoting two whole pages to writing about how the two leaders looked rather than what was discussed.

Perpetuating the myth that a female’s self-worth is based on her looks and the continual sexualisation of women is something the media has been striving to address, however it seems every couple of steps forward is matched by a step backwards.

So what fuels the Mail to run a headline like this? Is it an alpha-male fear that there are now more and more women in positions of power and are taking decisions which will impact all of us? I doubt it.

What motivates Sarah Vine to opine on other women in this way? Woman are frequently reminded of the damage done by passing judgement on their fellow females. Does she genuinely believe it or is it just a case of self-publicity for the Vine / Gove household? She’s been on record saying “that you shouldn’t judge people by their clothes, or where they live, but by who they really are” surely this should also apply to judging people by their bodies.

As much as we might all be disgusted by the views pushed in the Mail, it can’t be denied that there are some intelligent people working there, the proprietors of one of the UK’s biggest newspapers didn’t send it out last night without realising there would be a backlash. Could this all be a cynical marketing stunt? In an era where traditional media consumption is falling, the motivation to drive publicity is immense. More people are talking about the Daily Mail today than they were last week, it has been discussed relentlessly on TV, the radio, other newspaper websites, on Twitter and elsewhere. The ‘Daily Mail’ brand is being amplified and its controversial reputation is being promoted nationally.

With the old traditions of journalism at risk, the rise of extremist views and provocation for the sake of clicks, is the media on the dawn of an even more perilous time than we anticipated?

Modern Dating: Time to show it some Tinder loving care

Modern Dating: Time to show it some Tinder loving care

If you have ever asked your parents how they met, you might be met with some romantic story about how they spotted each other in a bar and one of them plucked up the courage to start a conversation. Maybe your dad later found the courage to pick up the phone to give her a call, all the while praying that it wasn’t her own dad that picked up the landline first. Fast forward to 2017 and it’s definitely changed in terms of how our means of communication has evolved.

Now, when our kids ask us about how we met our significant other we might be relaying stories of how we both swiped right on Tinder or that daddy saw mummy on Instagram and sent her a DM.

Okay, the hopeless romantics of you might hark back to a more Hollywood approach involving rose petals and grand acts of romance and bemoan the impact modern dating apps such as Tinder, Happn and Bumble have had on our propensity for showing some sort of romantic inclination. Yes, there has been a big change in how we approach dating in the modern era. People do still meet strangers in bars and ask them out on a date but it’s more than likely that they have already ‘stalked’ them in some way on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or LinkedIn. Romance is still alive, it’s just now publicly documented on our Facebook for us all to see. I mean, how many proposals and choreographed first dance videos have we all watched?

The undoubted shift in this change of attitudes has been driven by technology. However, there is a certain snobbery surrounding dating apps and online dating. There is often a stigma attached to those who use them but those attitudes are changing. In 2000, around 100,000 people had online dating profiles in the UK. Fast forward to 2015, that number had reached 7.8m. It has been claimed that there are 26 million matches a day on Tinder across 196 countries. With the ‘Tinder economy’ worth almost £12bn to the UK economy, who are we to look down on those that use it?

Unsurprisingly, following the rise of digital, the number of couples who met their partner online has skyrocketed and was the third most popular way of meeting your romantic partner in 2009. What is most refreshing of all this is that the boom in online dating has helped more and more same-sex couples meet. In the US, 70% of same-sex couples admitted to meeting their partner online.

On some dating platforms, there is a certain degree of anonymity that means there isn’t that fear of being outed and you can meet someone who is in the same situation. Dating apps may not have the romance of meeting your partner at a farmers market as you both reach for the last punnet of strawberries and your hands brush against one another but online dating and dating apps have undoubtedly helped a generation find love.

So technology has broadened the dating pool. We are no longer limited to meeting someone on a random night out. It’s why a peely-wally Glaswegian boy can meet a gorgeous girl from Cincinnati, Ohio and no one will bat an eyelid. People will complain that there is no exclusivity in modern dating but it means people can be more bold and adventurous. Dating apps might lack a certain romance but they have empowered a generation. The great success of modern online dating is that it has helped people find love in the most unlikely of places.

Dating apps and online dating may come with a certain reputation but it is time to embrace dating and technology and show it the tender loving care it deserves.