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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

ScottishPower appoint Stripe to UK PR and communications brief

ScottishPower appoint Stripe to UK PR and communications brief

Fantastic news! We’ve been appointed by ScottishPower to support its PR and communications across the UK.

Following five years of working closely with ScottishPower, we will continue to provide strategic campaigns to promote ScottishPower across CSR, sponsorship, retail, SME, renewables and SP energy for the next two years.

Simon McMillan, Head of Media Relations at ScottishPower, said: “We operate in a competitive marketplace so it’s essential that ScottishPower stands out. Stripe’s commitment to matching our requirement for excellence in supporting all our campaigns has again set them apart from the crowd, and we’re looking forward to continuing our relationship with them.”

Juliet Simpson, CEO and Founder of Stripe, said: “We’re thrilled to have retained such an important piece of business. It is testament the strong relationship which we have worked with ScottishPower to develop that they have shown their continuing confidence in our values and approach. As leaders in delivering sustainable and greener energy, this is an exciting time for ScottishPower and they have a strong and differentiated narrative platform for us to work with. We’ve really enjoyed working with the team over the past five years and are looking forward to the next stage of our journey with them.”

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…?

From hack to flack: Jumping from journalism to PR

From hack to flack: Jumping from journalism to PR

That’s that then;  week one at Stripe done and dusted, week one of being in PR at all for that matter done and dusted after 20-plus years as a journalist.

I loved working my ticket round the weird and wonderful world of newspapers and news websites for longer than was probably healthy, so how has it been then ‘jumping the pond’ and landing in Scatter Cushion Corner?

I’m not really sure how to describe it; ‘challenging’ doesn’t cover it, ‘bewildering’ certainly comes close in parts, but perhaps the best parallel I can find is that I feel like Karen in the wedding scene in Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas  –  overwhelmed by a new life in an alien world, spinning around in a sea of sensory overload, but in a good way, still smiling.

Not that I’m comparing my new colleagues to The Mob, or myself to a blushing bride;  I knew from the get go that things would be different here than the newsroom.

Up until now my first week in any new job has pretty much consisted of being told where the kettle is and how to turn the computer on.

But as my first monthly team meeting ended and the clapping stopped and we all headed off back to our desks, loins girded, enthused, focused on the job ahead, I took a moment, looked around, and said to myself ‘Toto, I don’t think we are in Kansas any more.’

On the way back to my desk, ever so-slightly shell-shocked, one of my new colleagues smiled and leaned in and said: “You aren’t quite used to the whole clapping thing eh?”

It’s not that I’m not used to meetings, I’ve been to plenty, all sorts.

Like everybody else, memories of most of them have evaporated into a sludge of meaningless doodles, secret shared raised ‘oh aye?’ eyebrows, indecipherable notes, and forgotten action points.

But there are some meetings I remember more than others,  the ones ending with scrunched up news lists being hurled by an irate editor and bouncing off the back of hapless news editors’ heads, or worse, the bear-pit ritual humiliation of a colleague.

That doesn’t appear to be the Stripe way. This first meeting saw the senior managers sitting down with the whole team,  laying out the bones of the business in the weeks ahead, all of it, and publicly acknowledging success (hence the clapping, they’re not Moonies). They invited questions, no matter how prickly, and set proper, clear goals for the days ahead; I wasn’t used to any of that, maybe it’s like this in every PR agency, but I suspect not.

They say that first impressions are important, in this game perhaps more than most,  so here are my first impressions – I’ve clearly joined a motivated, dedicated team of very bright people who are all working incredibly hard. No time for scatter cushions here.

Since day one it has been a whirlwind of meeting new colleagues and clients, trying to learn the ropes, doing my best to get up to speed with the ways of working round here, of trying my best to add value to the whole enterprise, but mostly simply trying not to make any mistakes.

I know I am out of my Comfort Zone; an old friend who also now works in PR after a life in journalism put it beautifully when she said that I was clearly in The Google Zone. When I admitted after a few moments, sheepishly, that I had no idea what that was, she laughed and said:  ‘that’s the whole point, you have to go to the toilet and Google things every five minutes. You’ll be in The Google Zone for a good while yet’.

Stripe is undeniably fast-paced and dynamic – the energy in this place could have it connected to the National Grid –  and it has been a breath of fresh air; give me the Google Zone over the Comfort Zone any day.

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.