Five Things I’ve Learned before Graduating

As my final semester with Ulster University and the stress of final year continues to loom overhead, the end is almost in sight. However, as I was procrastinating from my assignments last week, I stumbled across an interview between pop star Taylor Swift and Elle USA to mark her thirtieth birthday. The article is titled ‘30 things I learnt before turning 30’, with Taylor providing life anecdotes and advice from friendships to family. Whether you’re a fan of Taylor Swift or not, I highly recommend reading this article as I instantly felt motivated after reading it. You can read it by clicking here.

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Although I’m only 22, this article inspired me to compare Taylor’s anecdotes to my own life, and compare it to all the things I’ve learnt before graduating. It allowed me to reflect on how different I am now compared to the 18 year old girl who stepped foot at Ulster back in September 2015.  Therefore, I’ve been inspired to write this blog about 5 things I’ve learnt before graduating university. Although everyone is feeling the heat and is eager to finish, I couldn’t help but think of all the positive things that have happened since beginning my journey at university.

 

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  1. Positivity is key: Failing and rejection is normal

As clichéd as it is, and I know we hear it all the time, failing is a part of life that will never cease to exist. I remember being so afraid of failing things at university. I was very academic in secondary school, and I didn’t want this to change in university. I’d been warned by my older sister of how different university marking/grading  is compared to school, and I remember in first year receiving my grade for my first ever assignment and feeling slightly disappointed.  I’d predicted in that moment that I was failing my degree and that I wasn’t cut out for university, but in reality I was completely overreacting. It’s easier to focus on the negatives, however it’s how we deal with those negatives is the game changer. From constructive criticism on your style of writing, to improving your interview technique or even receiving criticism from friends, it’s always beneficial to use this to continuing improving and bettering yourself.

I’m a very big fan of the quote: “what’s for you won’t go by you”, therefore failing helps facilitate the opportunities that are meant for you. A positive outlook can go a long way, and you’ll never stop failing in life, so keep continuing on your journey.

 

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  1. Be involved: Take interest in your degree

I can only speak from my own experience, but to get the most out of university and your experience at university is down to adopting a pro-active attitude. Due to the nature of my degree, I discovered from first year that it is important to have an understanding of what’s out there in the industry, whether that is local agencies or companies and learning more about the work they do. The university is excellent for introducing us to key notable speakers from Northern Ireland and beyond, as well as putting us in contact with successful past alumni of the university. I’ve really enjoyed attending these sessions, and yes, although it may mean staying in university that extra bit later, it’s a great way to network and meet people in the industry. This is a brilliant way to help secure contacts for your placement year, or for later in life.  There are a number of competitions/ opportunities available through our degree. In first year I took part in the PANI (Publicity Association Northern Ireland) and had the opportunity of working with local advertising agency, Ardmore Advertising.  Fortunately, our team were lucky enough to win this competition, meaning that our campaign for local charity Shelter NI went live across Northern Ireland in September 2016. Not only did I get the experience of working with a local agency; I also got to meet new students I wouldn’t normally have been in contact with, as we completed the competition with two graphic design students from the Belfast campus.  Small things like that not only enhance your university experience, but allow you to find your feet within the industry.

  1. Getting the right balance between work/play

Undoubtedly, there is a massive jump between secondary school life and university, as well as a massive jump from first to second year in university. Especially in first year of university, I found myself with a lot more free time than I did in secondary school. I didn’t know what to do with my new-found freedom. I always found it extremely important to get the right balance between work and play when managing my time. For many, this means finding the right balance between partying and studying, but I saw this free time as an opportunity for personal development. Free time allows you to indulge in new interests. For me, I decided to use my free time to work on gaining more experience in fields relating to my degree, for others it meant taking up a new sport/hobby. As I am in the final stages of final year, it’s truly opened my eyes to the importance of having a balance between work and play even more than before. There’s always going to be an assignment you should be doing or a journal article you need to read but spending time with friends over a cup of tea, going to the cinema in the evening or going on a night out with friends shouldn’t make you feel guilty (although I know I’ve been there). It’s so important to not burn the candle on both ends, but instead enjoy everything in moderation. A motto that I’ve found myself adapting in university is: “At the end of the day, I’ll get it done.” – and you will.

 

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  1. “I need a dollar, dollar, a dollar is all I need!”

One of the best days in the life of a student is when they receive their student loan installments. I have thoroughly enjoyed these days, and I’ve even had count-down apps on my iPhone counting down the days until I receive the next installment in my bank account. (Sad, I know) The opportunities available for using your money are endless, and a new-found sense of generosity kicks in; both to yourself and others. “Shall I buy every item in my ASOS basket?” “I’ve had a long day, I deserve this Dominoes.”  “I’ll pay for the taxi, you can pay for the drinks inside!” – (this is NEVER the case).

One thing that I’ve learnt from university is the importance of budgeting money. University for many introduces a list of bills/payments, from paying for rent to buying groceries for meals. If you’re struggling to keep on-top of your spending,  simple things like creating budgeting plans or giving yourself a weekly allowance can help keep your spending in check. Just don’t go too wild with your overdrafts…

  1. If you need help – ask.

This relates to a series of problems. If you’re struggling with the workload and unsure what you’re meant to be doing on an assignment, your course director and lecturers are more than happy to answer any of your questions via email or meet in their office hours. I’ve never been someone to shy away from asking questions, as ultimately the only person you’re disadvantaging is yourself. University can be a tough time for many people, as it’s an opportunity to fully embrace independence and finding your feet in society. For many, it’s described as the best years of your life; however there is an unspoken pressure that you must be enjoying yourself and having fun 24/7 which is unrealistic. If you feel that you need to talk to someone professionally, the university has a ‘Mind Your Mood’ campaign on their website and work closely with Inspire to provide one on one counselling.  If this isn’t something you think you need, even talking to a friend and venting out your stresses will make you feel a lot better. A problem shared is a problem halved, even if the solution isn’t always clear.

In conclusion, I’m excited to see what the next stages of my career will be; however, I’ve had the best couple of years at Ulster University both on placement and with an amazing group of people in my class – I couldn’t have gone through university without them.

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Abigail Foran is a final year BSc in Communications, Advertising and Marketing student at Ulster University. She can be found on Twitter: @abigailforan ; LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/abigail-foran-755800118/

The evolution of Barbie: The brains behind the Blonde

The evolution of Barbie: The brains behind the Blonde

Like many young girls, growing up I was a typical ‘Barbie Girl’ (it’s almost impossible not to sing the famous line by Aqua in my head when writing that!). I loved everything pink and I proudly owned an army of Barbies, as well as all necessary accompanying accessories such as: the Barbie Dream House, the Barbie horse and carriage, the Barbie Beach Hut – the list is endless.

To my surprise, I discovered that this year on 9th March, Barbie will be turning 60 years old, with a not a wrinkle in sight. She really does live up to the saying: “Life in plastic, it’s fantastic!”. 

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Ruth and Elliot Handler co-founded Mattel Creations in 1945 and 14 years later in 1959, Ruth Handler created the Barbie doll. However, it’s no surprise that more than one billion Barbie dolls have been sold since she made her debut at the American Toy Fair in New York on 9th March 1959. The Economic Times commented that despite fierce competition in the toy industry, 58 million Barbie’s are sold each year in more than 150 countries. In a growing generation of children’s obsession with iPads and tablets, Barbie has cemented herself as a staple toy for children and come a long way since her first model, pictured above.

Despite her years of success, Barbie has found herself under scrutiny for negatively influencing girls and portraying negative body expectations. Since her creation, it has been debated that Barbie is an unrealistic image of what the ‘average’ girl should look like, as well as failing to represent differences in race and colour. There is no need to question whether Barbie’s body shape is unrealistic. Researchers have reminded us that her proportions would occur in less than 1 in 100,000 adult women and that her waist is 20cm smaller than a reference group of anorexic patients. Most shocking of all, research also argues that if Barbie’s measurements resembled an actual woman, she would not be able to menstruate or even hold up her head.

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Mattel claims that the proportions were created for ease of dressing and undressing the doll, not replicating an adult figure. However, there is no such rationale for the very thin representation of Barbie in her TV show, movies, books, and range of online games. In all forms, Barbie represents a completely unattainable figure for adult women; leading parent’s to debate Barbie’s credibility as a role model. Negative connotations of ‘blonde’, ‘bimbo’ and ‘air-head’ also are associated with Barbie. Teen Talk Barbie in 1992 said phrases such as “Math class is tough”, with many arguing that Barbie discouraging young girls from academic ventures.

Now ask yourself this: how can Barbie represent and be relatable to the twenty-first century girl? Since 2000, Mattel have worked to keep the Barbie brand as relevant as ever to represent woman and remain on-trend. Although the typical ‘Barbie’ style consisted of blonde hair, blue eyed dolls, the first black Barbie called Christie was created in 1969, with Mattel showing exclusivity and diversity. The Barbie franchise today represents more than 40 different nationalities.

One campaign in particular that stood out for me in the evolution of Barbie occurred back in 2010 with American PR agency Ketchum West and Mattel. Mattel, along with Ketchum West, harnessed Barbie’s brand power by having the public choose her 126th career, with her past occupations including president and princess. However, over a million people voted for Computer Engineer Barbie in a campaign mixing the public’s love for Barbie with the movement to empower girls. In an inspired touch, the Society of Women Engineers and National Academy of Engineering helped create the doll’s look.

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Michelle Chidoni, VP of global brand communications at Mattel, said the company knew giving consumers a voice and delivering a doll they requested would drive earned media and create a conversation around the lack of women in STEM. “The conversation was extremely positive and underscored the brand’s purpose,” she noted. “When a girl plays with Barbie she imagines everything she can become.”

This campaign broke down the negative stereotypes associated with Barbie, emphasising that Barbie was more than just a fashion doll, but more so a positive role model for young girls. Blonde or brunette, slender or curvy, black or white, princess or president, Barbie is a forever favourite for young girls, and this campaign has helped influence future PR campaigns for Barbie. This includes the most recent campaign, Dream Gap, in 2018 which taught young girls to believe in themselves, and not to buy into sexist gender stereotypes. It also helped to influence the unique range of dolls made for Barbie during International Woman’s Day in 2018, with the release of  15 new dolls which are “role model” dolls crafted in the likeness of real iconic women across the globe, for example Nicola Adams OBE Box Champion from the UK.

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With careers spanning from president to astronaut, Barbie can also add ‘Social Influencer’ to her long list of attributes. In the new era of social media, Barbie has remained on trend by having her voice established across a number of social platforms, allowing her to connect with her new digital fan base. The @BarbieStyle Instagram account has 1.5 million followers and looks more like an Instagram account for a celebrity than a doll. Through the success of this account, back in 2016 Barbie was photographed at an event for Dyson’s new supersonic hairdryer, and posted the picture to Instagram. This was the first sponsored post for Barbie, but with over 51,000 likes, it won’t be her last. This emphasises the dynamic nature of the Barbie brand, which refuses to be limited to the category of simply a toy.

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Barbie also stays connected with fans through her own YouTube channel, with an impressive 5.5. million followers. Her channel includes a ‘vlog’ style series, which is designed to mimic some of our favourite YouTube stars, yet tailored to provide Ted Talk style videos to young girls regarding a number of issues such as: ‘Feeling blue? You’re not alone’ to the importance of having your voice heard.

Barbie has exceeded her previous stereotype, and has paved the way for a generation of new Barbie lovers; it really is no surprise that she’s remained a universal brand for the past six decades. With talks of a live-action Barbie film starring Margot Robbie, there really is no stopping the Barbie brand.

All that’s left to say is: Come on Barbie let’s go party – here’s to the next 60 years!

 

Abigail Foran is a final year BSc in Communications, Advertising and Marketing student at Ulster University. She can be found on Twitter: @abigailforan ; LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/abigail-foran-755800118/

 

My Top 5 Favourite PR Campaigns of 2018

As we enter 2019 bright eyed and hopeful, it is almost impossible to not reflect and reminisce on the year that has just passed us. For me, 2018 marked the end of my placement year working as a Regional Communications Content Intern at the Walt Disney Company, Ltd. in London, but also saw my love for all things PR heighten. Living in London and working in Communications exposed my mind to some absolutely amazing and absurd PR campaigns/stunts. The creativity and detail is second to none, and taught me a lot about the logistics behind creating/brainstorming PR campaigns to seeing them gain viral success. From small scale PR stunts or wide scale events, the process behind creating an idea or event and the entrepreneurial nature of PR is something that I strive to be involved in.

On that note (and in no particular order), I think it is only fair to showcase some of my absolute PR favourites from 2018:

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  1. The One with Deliveroo recreating Rachel Green’s infamous ‘Meat and Sweet’ trifle from FRIENDS

Like the majority of the population, I truly am a FRIENDS fanatic (especially now that it graces our screens via Netflix!) so this campaign immediately caught my eye. Back in May, Deliveroo cleverly saw a perfect opportunity to optimise on the 14 year anniversary since the last episode of FRIENDS aired on television. Created by Talker Tailor PR and paying homage to this iconic moment from the show, the £6 trifle is a duplicate of the iconic desert (a concoction of lady fingers, custard and beef) , which saw character Rachel mix-up two recipes stuck together in a cookbook.  FRIENDS fans were able to order the trifle via the Deliveroo app for one day only, or get a taste of the action at the Regina Phlange pop-up shop.

In the words of Joey Tribbiani, “what’s not to like? custard, good. jam, good. beef, GOOD!”

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  1. Gregg’s Goes Gourmet for Valentine’s Day

Although Gregg’s is an up and coming dining experience in Ireland, it is a fan favourite franchise in the UK. My colleagues were shocked and appalled that I had never tried the delicacy of a Gregg’s sausage roll or meat pie, so I took it upon myself to try this local cuisine whilst in London. After hearing so much about Gregg’s, it was impossible for me not to spot their Valentine’s campaign day (especially considering the campaign attracted a whopping 350 pieces of coverage).

For some people, love equals a fancy three course meals, to other it equals a meat pastry. Created by Taylor Herring PR, selected shops ranging from London to Newcastle were transformed into restaurants designed for romance. Complete with mood lighting, a cellist, roses, candelabras and white linen tablecloths – this was a Valentine’s Day date you could dream of, and all for just £15 for one day only. This limited edition menu included 4 courses, each with a Valentine’s Day twist.

This cheap but tasteful alternative went down a treat for millennials, struggling to treat their better halves to a romantic Valentine’s Day experience. The novelty of this PR stunt combined with the Instagrammable/ Snapchatable aspect was the perfect combination for a PR success story.

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  1. Marks and Spencer: The Royal Re-Brand

 Living in London (did I mention I lived in London this year?) it was impossible to avoid the wedding of the century, an utterly British celebration of the Royal Wedding between Harry and Meghan. As a quintessentially British brand, Marks and Spencer (with their own in-house PR team) became a royal wedding machine and utilised this special occasion to their full potential. Firstly, they changed a select number of stores names to: Markle and Sparkle. Although some describe the stunt as cringe-worthy, it allowed customers up and down the country to unify in the celebrations as the M&S’s website, social media accounts and store windows in the eight Royal boroughs re-branded to Markle & Sparkle to commemorate the brilliantly British occasion.

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As Harry was deemed the ultimate romantic by proposing to Meghan during a chicken supper (and who said love is dead?), M&S honoured him by changing the name of their roast chicken sandwich to ‘The Proposal’. Following the confusion over whether public guests attending the wedding will be offered food on the day, the supermarket has pledged to give away free meals to those fortunate enough to be invited. M&S proved that the simplistic details can go a long way in PR and resonate well with customers.

 

4. KFC (FCK) We’re Sorry Campaign

Although it may be deemed a PR disaster, this campaign was a personal favourite of mine and a prime example of the best way to handle crisis communications chaos. Chicken lovers across the UK and Ireland were distraught to learn that KFC experienced a chicken shortage, which was kicked off after KFC switched its delivery supplier to DHL. DHL blamed “operational issues” for a disruption in deliveries, causing the fast-food chain to close most of its UK outlets. How could KFC, a brand that incorporates the word chicken into its own name, recover from a chicken shortage?

Despite some negative traction from customers on social media, some decided to tackle the shortage with humour:

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Keeping with the humorous theme, KFC and Mother London PR created the following communications to combat their negative feedback:

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The print ad rearranges the letters of its name to spell out “FCK” on a chicken bucket, utilising chicken related connotations with their website sub-heading reading, “The chicken crossed the road, just not to our restaurants.” KFC’s honesty and humour throughout this crisis allowed them to retain their loyal customer base. They remained consistent with their own brand reputation, as a brand that doesn’t take itself too seriously. They took a risk, and as a result have set the standard for future brands experiencing a crisis.

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5. Banksy: “Going, going, gone…”

Described by the Drum as “the PR stunt of the year”, Banksy’s famous artwork “Girl with a Balloon” was the final item of the evening sale at Sotheby’s and was sold for £1,042,000 in October. It is well known that Banksy is not keen on his work being sold at auction. To combat this, he fitted a secret shredder within the paintings gold frame, on the off chance this piece would someday go on sale.

The stunt immediately went viral, leavings fans distraught at this iconic image being destroyed and wondering how this freak accident occurred. However, Banksy himself confirmed via his Instagram that the destruction was intentional. The artist posted a picture captioned: Going, going, gone…” as well as a detailed video explaining how he built the shredder in 2006.

Despite the picture failing to fully shred, it is believed the piece has now doubled in price, as well as being remained “Love is in the bin”. Banksy’s dedication to his secretive identity and privacy is admirable and keeps fans on their toes, in anticipation that one day he will reveal his identity.

I’m certainly excited to see what 2019 brings to the world of PR, both locally and abroad, and hopefully get involved in the action myself.

 

Abigail Foran is a final year BSc Communications, Advertising and Marketing student at Ulster University. She can be found on Twitter: @abigailforan ; LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/abigail-foran-755800118/