The weekend’s gambling review, courtesy of Google Glass

It is fair to say that Google Glass has had its short history punctuated by a fair amount of controversy. From identity theft, to people being assaulted for wearing them in bars, the news has been far from rosy for […]


24 Oct
by Aspectus PR

Barry OrrIt is fair to say that Google Glass has had its short history punctuated by a fair amount of controversy. From identity theft, to people being assaulted for wearing them in bars, the news has been far from rosy for the technology’s fleeting lifespan. Another problem with Glass is that it still seems akin to a pipedream. Working in and commuting through central London, I have spied the Glass once, which is probably something to do with its current £1,000 price tag. However, this tally doubled over the weekend.

I had scored myself discounted tickets to the QIPCO day at Ascot, the final day of the racing calendar. In the company of mum, dad and a tie pin I was convinced had been designed as an early stage dietary aid, I found myself sampling the delights of the racecourse on the Saturday. In between the first and second races (minimal losses, honest), I glanced up at the big screen, and instead of the usual interview with a DJ from the ‘after party’ or the winner of a new Mini courtesy of the sponsors, I was confronted by a man calmly surveying the course while periodically checking his Google eyewear.

The tech fiend within me stirred, and I began to pay closer attention to the interview taking place. The man was Barry Orr, a spokesperson for Betfair, who was explaining that while he was taking in the temperamental weather, he was also looking at the best current odds for the upcoming races alongside non-runners. Old school punters alongside me seemed suitably unimpressed, grunting and returning to the Racing Post, but something about Barry stuck with me. Has he found a Google Glass niche? As I slalomed through the myriad independent bookies and their sputtering, mobile LED boards looking to turn 7/1 into 8/1, I began to think that Barry could well be the unofficial saviour of Glass.

Technology needs to have a clear application in order for it to maximise its market potential, and using Glass within the betting industry is one of the best ‘practical’ applications for the technology I’ve seen so far. Take BlackBerry as an example. For all its email power, long battery life and encryption software, if it hadn’t been marketed as a business phone, then it could have faltered for being a little dull. In a similar communication space, if Bluetooth headsets hadn’t been specifically tied to hands-free for drivers, then the novelty of walking along with ‘I take myself too seriously’ plastered on the side of your face may well have been lost to a huge number of eventual users.

This focus can extend to businesses and their communications strategies. Approaching PR with a scattergun approach to letting the world and his dog (neigh horse) know about what you can do means that many companies’ messaging lacks vigour. A focused approach, targeting specific verticals and industries with a clear message of what’s in it for them, allows your company to make a lasting impression on potential customers far more than spreading a generalised message in a haphazard way. Think cannonball rather than confetti.

This was the first time I had seen Google Glass being used for a specific task that suited it, and the middle-aged man standing in the drizzle made far more of an impression on me than a dozen glossy Silicon Valley ads. And if I’d picked a winner, perhaps I would have even been able to buy a pair of Google’s web-enabled eyewear.


Planning, hacking and measurement at Measurefest 2014

Returning to London’s learned university district for its second year, Measurefest boasted expert talks from the world of data analysis, digital marketing and communications. In this post, Aspectus runs the rule on three talks demonstrating Measurefest’s assortment of riches. Mark Fassbender […]


23 Oct
by Aspectus PR

measurefestReturning to London’s learned university district for its second year, Measurefest boasted expert talks from the world of data analysis, digital marketing and communications. In this post, Aspectus runs the rule on three talks demonstrating Measurefest’s assortment of riches.

Mark Fassbender – User-centred web design

Following an introduction by Phil Haslehurst that examined a variety of applications for heatmap technology, Mark Fassbender (@flashbender) took to the podium to discuss planning and executing a future-proofed website development project.

The importance of the website as a digital home typically sees it redeveloped every few years to keep pace with advancements in technology and trends. Naturally, this means large amounts of resource and cash goes into website development – and all too frequently for many companies.

Fassbender therefore suggested that as a means of improving the long-term efficiency of running such a vital resource, website development should entail at least five ‘rounds’ of planning and refinement prior to money being spent on aspects such as coding, programming and supporting technology.

planning-refinement-development-monitoring

The idea, said Fassbender, is that a combination of stakeholders can be involved from the beginning, and throughout the process. For larger organisations, this could include project managers, website designers and developers, company executives, and even customers and website users if possible.

Such an approach can also help decisions about what is really needed on a website. Crucially, these sessions can help achieve a better balance between the needs of the business and those of the customer. As Fassbender said, it’s important to always remember that “people are not on the web to enjoy your web design, but to get something done.”

Ela Osterberger – Don’t be afraid of APIs

Data hacking is not normal activity for communications professionals, yet much of the recent industry chatter (not to mention an official government survey) suggests that IT-based roles are currently the most in demand in the UK. One could therefore argue that there is an advantage to be gained in understanding how the various pieces of software and technology that permeate the web work.

Ela Osterberger’s talk successfully showed that taking something scary sounding like an application programming interface (API) and extracting its data can be achieved in as little as three minutes and thirty seconds, as her video demonstrated. Furthermore, one slide entitled “curiosity over skills” seemed to go down well in the room, possibly because many members of the audience were not from programming or ‘coding’ backgrounds.

To take a specific example, Osterberger showed how it is possible to use one of Google Analytics’ APIs to extract data and create a report that can alert recipients when something is above or below a specific range, which could have a direct impact on business decisions.

For communications professionals, it is worth thinking that in a web environment awash with data, there are myriad ways of getting hold of, and using data, to the advantage of clients and businesses alike.

Elayne Philipps – Measuring behaviour change in government

This talk probably had the closest bond to the communications industry, primarily due to the fact it was by Elayne Phillips (@LayneyP), Head of Strategy, Performance and Evaluation at Defra Communications. She outlined an interesting example and framework that can be applied to the main goal of any comms strategy: getting people to do something.

While meaningless acronyms are much maligned, public-facing government communications must adhere to the EAST (easy, attractive, social, timely) structure, said Phillips. Simply put, all communications need to be easy to understand, attractively presented, ‘social’ in that they are easy to share, and timely in order to be relevant to peoples’ lives.

The example given in the talk was of an initiative to encourage dog owners to get their pets microchipped before it becomes mandatory in 2016. The campaign included information on how, why and where dog microchipping can be done. In addition, Defra partnered with the charity Dogs Trust, enabling widespread promotion over social media using the hashtag #chipmydog to encompass the main message.

The campaign was measured using frameworks set by the Association for the Measurement and Evaluation of Communication and endorsed by the Cabinet Office, CIPR and PRCA (more on this here).

Measuring the effectiveness of the campaign, Defra found that 500% more dogs were microchipped in 2013/14 compared to 2012/13.

There were plenty more thought provoking talks at Measurefest and its focus on practical advice is one of its strengths. Perhaps the overriding message of the day was that while data and analysis may be superficially incongruous with communications and marketing, it is frequently a useful place to look not only to prove the value of these activities, but also as a place for creative inspiration.


Advertising technology takes flight at Adtech

Following my morning at #adtech_London today, my head is, quite frankly, in a spin. And not just at the cost of a cup of coffee (£3.40, in case you’re wondering). But aside from having to get a mortgage in order […]


22 Oct
by Aspectus PR

adtech_london_tech_prFollowing my morning at #adtech_London today, my head is, quite frankly, in a spin. And not just at the cost of a cup of coffee (£3.40, in case you’re wondering). But aside from having to get a mortgage in order to feed my caffeine addiction, my other key takeaways from the event were:

  1. Ben Fennell, CEO of BBH, gave an inspiring keynote. Having spent seven months immersed in the re-pitch for BA, he is a man who knows a thing or two about what the agency of the future might look like. And for Fennell, it’s about celebrating and respecting specialists, then providing a collaborative environment for those specialists to work in. As he put it: ‘collaboration between hybrid teams equals magic’ (more about this later in the week). And he had plenty of examples of this magic at his fingertips. However, I have to say that I thought this Ikea video was taking the Michael out of Apple, whereas actually it’s about the back and forth between the physical and digital world. OK…
  2. Fennell also recommended this book – Creativity, Inc., which looks like a goody. And it has Buzz Lightyear on the front. In this case, I think a book should be judged by its cover.
  3. Next up was Kenny Jacobs, CMO of Ryanair. Did you know that in the UK, after eBay and Amazon, Ryanair’s website gets the most hits? I’m serious. Jacobs addressed the fact that as an industry, travel has been slow to adapt to the possibilities presented by new technologies, but Ryanair believes it is now making good headway. Jacobs is also a man with a plan to improve the customer experience and sees ad tech as key to that. For those of you wondering if this plan will lead to cabin crew having an attitude makeover, they start their ‘always trying to be better’ training in two weeks…
  4. ‘Programmatic’ was a big agenda item at this year’s show, and the seminar on mobile programmatic by moPub and StrikeAd provided a really good overview of the growth areas within mobile, and how programmatic is helping companies to drive relevancy through better targeting. If the Net-a-Porter case study that they flashed up on screen is anything to go by, the programmatic industry is likely to not only meet but exceed its projected growth targets.
  5. In the ‘Next Big Thing’ section was Sliide, a really interesting company that has come up with a novel solution to the tricky to crack/target/engage 18-25 demographic. It works by serving up content to the lock screen on your mobile. If you want to read it you swipe to the right, and if you don’t then you go to the left. Or is it the other way around? Either way, my joke suggestion that it was modelled on the Tinder ‘accept or reject’ model didn’t go down too well. Interestingly, it loops in users by sharing its commission with them, very much putting the person in control of what messages they receive and from whom.
  6. Did I mention the cost of the coffee? Oh I did…

Unfortunately I missed the main event – Sir Martin Sorrell – but still came away with plenty to think about. Looking forward to next year!


How drilling for resources will create the next frontier

Drilling has long been an integral part in expanding the US frontier. In the 1850s, it enabled the California Gold Rush and bought about the Texas oil boom in the mid-nineteenth century. The ability to extract valuable resources encouraged mass […]


10 Oct
by Aspectus PR

1015-water-moon-more-than-thought_full_600Drilling has long been an integral part in expanding the US frontier. In the 1850s, it enabled the California Gold Rush and bought about the Texas oil boom in the mid-nineteenth century. The ability to extract valuable resources encouraged mass migration, as US citizens moved to seek their fortune from these resources. Now, the pursuit of new resources and usable lands has moved into space.

This week NASA announced that it has established a set of projects to study how to mine resources from the moon. The projects – aptly named Lunar Flashlight and Resource Prospector Mission – are due to commence in late 2017 and will assess the possibility of drilling resources from the moon to establish a sustainable outpost on the satellite.

The projects will first assess the locations of water on the moon. Then, NASA intends to design a model for how an outpost could be put on the moon, which will host the drills that will extract the water. The water will be used for both consumption and separating hydrogen and oxygen for the creation of rocket fuel. But NASA is not the only institution eyeing up the moon’s resources; a number of private enterprises – such as Moon Express and Shackleton Energy Co. – have set their sights on mining and using the moon’s water sources to create fuel.

This is exciting news and will undoubtedly be the next step in the hollowing out of the state. But why are we in PR excited? A project as large as trying to mine the moon for energy resources, and the establishment of an outpost, requires a huge public relations campaign to garner civilian support and taxpayer money. At the same time, it creates yet another new frontier for an energy industry so rapidly breaking with the conventional.


Tower blocks, heritage and the art of persuasion

How do you make a horse that is good for glue seem like a stallion? As with most conversations about the use of language and perception, the majority of people would say: by employing the art of persuasion. And this […]


08 Oct
by Aspectus PR

Balfron Tower beforeHow do you make a horse that is good for glue seem like a stallion? As with most conversations about the use of language and perception, the majority of people would say: by employing the art of persuasion. And this is exactly what the National Trust has done with a 1960s tower block in London’s Tower Hamlets. The concrete tower is getting a new lease of life as tourists are told that it is an architectural marvel, symbolic of the glass-plate designs of the yesteryear.

As odd as it might seem for a heritage institution such as the National Trust to try and protect something that many people would think is best forgotten, it is actually quite common. The United Kingdom is littered with impractical, outdated, and physically unsymmetrical buildings that have been deemed beautiful and wonderful because of how certain institutions believe they reflect an era. A nation so obsessed with its history has its understanding of the past defined by what powerful and wealthy bodies consider worthy of being preserved and remembered (or forgotten and abandoned).

Some great examples of beautiful buildings that have historical importance and yet have been forgotten because heritage institutions did not think they are worth restoration include Canterbury Castle, Wilton’s Music Hall, and BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir. On the other hand, the Barbican Centre and the Lloyd’s building have been granted listed status by English Heritage.

Thus it rings true that buildings do not have a guaranteed longevity because they are beautiful or historical. They have a ring-fenced future if a body of individuals think that it is worth protecting and promoting to people. This is the PR side of engineering and architecture coming through. Selling people a marvel does not rely upon beauty or importance alone, but an idea and a campaign to promote it.

Due to the paradox of many important and beautiful buildings being left to ruin whilst unimportant and aesthetically lacking constructions gain protection, it is hard to tell the difference between a dead horse and a show jumper. And such, I conclude that PR does not make a horse that is good for glue seem like a stallion, for there are no standard measures for what determines beauty and importance in architecture. Instead, PR defines whether a building remains a mere construction, or if it gains legs and the chance to be revered as a thoroughbred.


#CPC14: A lesson in sticking to your core messages from an Aussie

Tim Focas explains how B2B agencies can take a leaf out of the book of the political comms world when it comes to articulating key messages From TV interviews, to fringe meetings, and booze fuelled evening events, the presence of […]


07 Oct
by Aspectus PR

Tim Focas explains how B2B agencies can take a leaf out of the book of the political comms world when it comes to articulating key messages

From TV interviews, to fringe meetings, and booze fuelled evening events, the presence of a certain Australian communications strategist loomed over Symphony Hall in Birmingham last week. “Securing Britain’s economic recovery” was the buzz phrase at #CPC14, and it is the brain child of one man, Lynton Crosby, AKA David Cameron’s answer to Alastair Campbell.

While only a Conservative majority will justify the Crosby way in the eyes of disgruntled backbenchers, from an agency comms perspective, it was fascinating to see his plan in action. The Cabinet stuck rigorously to his brief, regardless of the questions thrown at them, and the art of bridging was very much on show. It was easy to lose count of the number of times Cabinet ministers would deflect tricky questions around sex scandals and party defectors, and get back on to the “long term economic plan”. But this wasn’t just in evidence when the camera was rolling. From Twitter to the blogosphere, the economic message was front and centre of everything.

The Crosby approach reinforces the importance of clients focusing on just a few key messages. This advice seems obvious, but is often forgotten during the interview pre-briefing process. It never does any harm to spend that extra time ensuring that briefing documents explain points such as when and how to bridge, and that thought is given to exactly what the message should be. Also, that all important pre-brief call to a client before he speaks to the Financial Times. For this alone, comms professionals – regardless of the sector they work in – could do worse than take a few tips from Cameron’s wizard of Oz.


The UK trade in political insults

Tristram Hunt, the shadow education secretary, was obviously deeply angered by David Cameron’s accusation of hypocrisy. Certainly it was personal. In his Conservative Party Conference speech, the prime minister suggested that Mr Hunt had had a privileged upbringing and was […]


06 Oct
by Aspectus PR

conservative-party-conferenceTristram Hunt, the shadow education secretary, was obviously deeply angered by David Cameron’s accusation of hypocrisy.

Certainly it was personal. In his Conservative Party Conference speech, the prime minister suggested that Mr Hunt had had a privileged upbringing and was therefore being hypocritical by opposing the government’s free school policy.

Cue one understandably furious Tristram Hunt.

But it took him several days to come up with a suitably savage riposte. He obviously gave a great deal of thought to the matter. After all, he needed an insult so foul that it would breach the prime minister’s notoriously thick skin and really hit the man where it hurt.

But on Sunday, when Mr Hunt’s devastating reply was finally delivered, it was a little baffling.

Mr Cameron, he said, was just a “low-rent PR man.”

Well, speaking as a reasonable-rent PR man of some experience, I have to say that I never realised that my occupation could be deployed as a term of abuse. Low-rent politician, however, does have rather a good ring to it.


What the future of written content means for PR

A recent article in The New Yorker touched on a new piece of academic research into the psychology of the reading process. Two groups of students were given an identical text to read, the only difference being that one group read the text […]


03 Oct
by Aspectus PR

pr-communications-contentA recent article in The New Yorker touched on a new piece of academic research into the psychology of the reading process. Two groups of students were given an identical text to read, the only difference being that one group read the text on a computer screen. The results – anecdotal as they were – showed that those who read online remembered far less than their book-bound counterparts.

Of course, the written word is a fundamental cornerstone of the PR and communications industry. Arguably, it always will be.

In the last decade however, content has become increasingly diversified. From videos and webinars to infographics and presentations, the PR industry has more tools at its disposal now than ever before. How this new wave of content can be used to its optimal potential is cause for much industry debate.

But while a picture may paint a thousand words, the actual message is often clearer in print. This is of particular relevance in the financial services industry, where the messages we’re communicating comprise complex concepts that must be disseminated to an (albeit highly-sophisticated) audience.

Written content – at least in the financial world – isn’t going anywhere. Yet the radical changes in its form are changing the ways in which writers work.

Think back to the turn of the century. Older heads can still remember when press packs were distributed by post and coverage was tracked by going out and buying the newspaper with your fingers crossed. Fast forward to today and those practices are almost impossible to relate to – the world of PR is moving much, much faster.

This speed is accompanied by increased volume. The amount of material distributed and the number of outlets through which that distribution takes place has risen – and continues to rise – at an astronomical rate. The advent of Twitter is a case in point, as is the development of speed-reading technologies such as Spritz. With the increased speed and volume, the nature of written content has also changed dramatically. Tweeting forces the user into unbending, 140-character concision, while Spritz, which prioritises efficiency over all else, could reduce reading to a rapid download of information – and as such make writers forget their stylistic verve.

The experiment outlined in The New Yorker shows that how we read – and the way in which we digest what we read – changes dramatically from print to online.

As the divide between book and screen is examined more closely, certain trends will emerge – trends that PR can use to get its message across more effectively. Eventually, it will come down – in part – to science. We’ll know what size print to use, which font is the most appealing statistically, and how long lines should be to keep the reader reading.

But – and writers can breathe a sigh of relief – the development won’t all be scientific. What will matter in equal measure, as indeed it matters today, are the ideas behind the words and the skill with which they’re harnessed. As more media channels emerge, so the volume of written content will increase. Part of the writer’s – and the PR team’s – skill is getting their content to stand out. And it’s only going to get more difficult.


Skills versus attributes: What Aspectus PR’s head of tech looks for in her team

Written by Sophie Hodgson A client recently asked me to give a training session to the wider business on PR. As part of that training, she asked me to outline the skills needed. This part was trickier than I thought. […]


02 Oct
by Aspectus PR

pr-careers-skills-attributesWritten by Sophie Hodgson

A client recently asked me to give a training session to the wider business on PR. As part of that training, she asked me to outline the skills needed.

This part was trickier than I thought. After all, I don’t head home and think ‘what a lot of skills I’ve used today’. It is much more likely that my thought process revolves around where and when I might be able to get my hands on some wine.

So, to get some pointers, I turned to everyone’s friend: Google. There were lots of ‘PR is the career for you if X, Y or Z’ type articles. The main points seemed to relate to being a good communicator. Well, who’d have thought it? Plus, I would argue that good communication is vital in any job, not just PR.

And that is when I realised that I don’t interview people and think about their skills. I am much more concerned about their attributes as a person and whether these can be applied within the team. As someone succinctly put it: “hire for attitude, train for skill”.

So, rather than the ‘good organisational skills’ fluff these career lists reel off, here are some of the attributes that, in my opinion, you need to succeed in PR:

  • Patience – they say it is a virtue and whoever ‘they’ are is bang on.
  • Diplomacy – oh the spats I’ve had to sort out, egos I’ve smoothed and disasters I’ve attempted to divert.
  • Tenacity – you get told ‘no’ a lot in PR. Whether that is a client saying no to an idea you were sure they were going to love, a journalist saying no to a story and so on and so forth. But if you actually accepted no for an answer, you’d never get anywhere.
  • Skin thicker than a rhino’s hind – this is in relation to the point above, but people can often view the PR pro as the whipping bod. Accept that you are never going to win and be sure that you can have a laugh at your own expense.
  • Genuine enthusiasm – if you aren’t sold on the idea, then why would your client, journalist or wider online community be?
  • Smarts – you’ve got to know when you are boring someone to death, when to push back, and when to push harder. You can call it emotional intelligence if you like, but for me it’s all about having the right instincts.
  • A nose for a story – like a good French fromage, you need to be able to whiff a potential story and whip it into shape pronto. We are, after all, the authors of our clients’ stories.

No doubt there are many more that I have missed off, but they’re what I’m looking for in my team. If you think you’ve got what it takes, let me know as I am always on the lookout for great PR talent  –  sophie.hodgson@aspectuspr.com.


Brands and reputation build bridges in London

Bridges are a big deal for London and always have been. Without the bridges to connect and hold London together, we would not have a full metropolis. We would be cut in two. They are physical monuments of London’s wealth […]


26 Sep
by Aspectus PR

london-bridges-engineering-prBridges are a big deal for London and always have been. Without the bridges to connect and hold London together, we would not have a full metropolis. We would be cut in two. They are physical monuments of London’s wealth and ingenuity; ever since 1176 and the creation of a lavish bridge to connect the north of the river to the road to Canterbury, they have symbolised the British pursuit of opulence and efficiency.

Today, bridges are just as important as they have ever been, and they need to retain their efficiency and good looks. With a mix of modern art represented with the Millennium Bridge, Victorian heritage with Hammersmith Bridge, and world renowned design with Tower Bridge, competition to be the most lavish is ripe. The high standards on the Thames pose a particular challenge and opportunity for Britain’s engineering firms. A company wanting to leave its mark on London will undoubtedly fight tooth and nail to be the next to erect a crossing.

With a need for a new bridge across the Thames, London-based news outlets have been assessing and stressing their opinions on the designs submitted by various engineers and architects. A wide and healthy variety of ideas has been posed since the late 1990s, and now it seems that the clear winner is Thomas Heatherwick’s garden bridge. But it has not been an easy journey for the design.

Heatherwick’s design has been in circulation since the early 2000s, and has ridden on the reputations of several patrons to get it pushed along. First off, it was going to be dedicated to Princess Diana. Then it had Joanna Lumley garnering its support. Recently, Heatherwick – the architect who designed the Olympic Cauldron for London 2012 – was recruited for the project. It seems that public support has not been generated by how it will be built, but rather who is going to back its construction.

Ultimately, building bridges is now a question of PR. Yes, there is the practicality and need to have a new crossing, but selling this need requires a trustworthy image, name and idea behind it. An engineering company cannot sell a bridge to Londoners if it is not beautiful, backed by high profile individuals, and buys into pre-constructed ideas of the values within London.

Just as a new bridge will connect the southern and northern sides of the Thames, it will also link the gap between engineering and the masses. A bridge cannot be made without the expertise of the engineering industry, and the engineering industry cannot sell its expertise without public endorsement.