£5 Charity Shop Secret Santa

£5 Charity Shop Secret Santa

Unfortunately, Christmas is well and truly over and 2017 is coming to an end. However, it is only 361 days, 6 hours and 41 minutes to next Christmas so it’s never too early to start dreaming of Christmas 2018! When you are planning the festivities next year, give some thought to this, as it is my favourite family Christmas tradition of all time and it could be yours too!

I am sure everyone has heard of the normal ‘Secret Santa’, well our family take a slight twist on this! A few years ago my sister came up with the idea of ‘£5 Charity shop Secret Santa’, as she had taken a fascination with charity shops and thought it would be great fun on Christmas day. How right she was, as years later, it is still one of the most anticipated activities over the Christmas period amongst my family.

In our house, Christmas really is one of the most wonderful times of the year. Everyone comes home to spend time together, the fridge and cupboards are filled with food, and the wine glasses and cheeseboards never seem to empty!

On Christmas day my family of seven either host my godmother’s family of six or we head up to Fermanagh to join them, so there is a total of thirteen of us in totally taking part in this novelty Secret Santa.  Some of us are studying at university, some of us are living in England so it is the one time of year where we all come together. As this is a rare occasion, we use a website called ‘DrawNames.co.uk’ to generate everyone’s Secret Santa through email. We do this three weeks before Christmas, and then the fun begins as you spend time thinking about what absolutely hilarious item you are going to go on the hunt for.

The general rule of thumb, is the funnier, the better. The more random, the better. The bigger, the better. Therefore everyone is trying to outdo each other with hilarious finds they have come across in the charity shop on their search for the perfect present. Everyone has had a few drinks in them whilst exchanging gifts, so we probably think we are ten times funnier than we are, and the Snapchat and Instagram stories go overboard!

Over the years there have been some absolutely hilarious presents.

My brother Dermot got my auntie a guitar (that is in perfect condition) for £5, so that in her retirement she could ‘work on her music career’… I don’t know how promising this will be!


Two years ago my daddy got my sixteen year old brother at the time, a pair of hilariously hugely oversized cricket shin pads, with the reason being, “he has to start learning how to use protection soon” … Cringe for my little brother but absolutely hysterically funny for the rest of us!


(My sister Lisa having great fun with them instead!)

A few years ago I got my youngest cousin Grainne, who would be known as the ‘baby’ of the house, but also as a completely spoilt ‘princess’… So I got her lots of children’s toys, a child’s princess handbag and tiara. This year my brother got her a pony, as apparently she has been begging her daddy for one for years!!


This year my Daddy thought he absolutely hilarious. He got me a toy chair with a big sign saying ‘The Naughty Chair’, apparently for all the badness I get up to partying in The Holylands!!


There is also some very dodgy wrapping along the way. My youngest brother Dermot wrapped his up in a bin bag and I ran out of paper along the way..


I was in a charity shop with my friend this year explaining to her what the tradition was whilst searching for a funny present, when one of the women who worked in the charity shop approached me. She apologised for listening to our conversation but she was truly amazed at this idea, she said she had never heard of anyone doing this before! She loved the idea so much that she wants to incorporate it into their Advertising and Public relations strategy next year. She explained they had quite a low budget for this, but thought this would be a really effective message to target people in the lead up to Christmas next year!


It would be amazing if more families got involved in this and made it one of their own traditions. As each year we raise a small sum of £65 for charity shops across Northern Ireland, but throughout the years it has been hundreds of pounds. For example, if ten families of five were to do this every Christmas, that is £250 raised for charities, so imagine if hundreds of families did this!

Here’s a video of what everyone got a few years ago.

Oh and YES, my family are slightly crazy if you haven’t guessed that by now!


Helen McAleer is a final year BSc in Communication, Advertising and Marketing student at Ulster University. She can be found on LinkedIn on linkedin.com/in/helen-mcaleer-6b1221b4 and on Twitter: @Helen_McAleer30

‘Home Alone’: The Boston Edition

‘Home Alone’: The Boston Edition

It’s been a while since I had time to sit at my laptop and write a blog, but since Aer Lingus have decided to charge ludicrous prices for their flights back to Ireland ($4,000 return), it seems I will have all the time in the world as Boston has pretty much shut its doors for the Christmas holidays.

With the exception of a few places, which will have their doors wide open for everyone alone this Christmas. Homeless Shelters. The homeless situation in Boston is something that has struck me as nothing short of an epidemic since arriving here in July. I have always felt that giving someone a dollar on a side street was insulting, and not really helping the situation. So when realising I was going to be alone during the holidays, I had an epiphany. How’s about spending my day volunteering? My usual Christmas consists of eating copious amounts of turkey, stuffing and cocktail sausages… and nicking the last Yorkshire Pudding off my da. So why not switch it up?

Norbella have an amazing ‘Norbella Cares’ initiative which offers us employees the opportunity to help out at various charities around Boston, and one of our most recent charities was Pine Street Inna homeless shelter in the South End. It was a perfect alignment of the gift of giving over the Holidays.



25th December 2017

After a FaceTime call home, I got up to leave my house in Dorchester to go to the shelter. To make this Christmas just a little bit more special, I was met with a Winter Wonderland – a real White Christmas.

The snow was heavy and unforgiving to those without a roof over their head, and it made what I was on my way to do that little bit more important.

The work itself took no effort. The phrase “too many cooks spoil the broth” couldn’t ring more untrue in this scenario. Witnessing families, including grandmothers and grandchildren leave the comfort of their home to come together and help the Boston community was incredible.

I met numerous people who Pine Street Inn have taken off the streets as a part of their training program, to help rebuild their lives with a proper structure supporting them.

When leaving Pine Street, a fellow just after getting fed turned to me and said,

Thank you for doing that, I really needed it this year. Housing problems.

How one year, to the next, this man had a house, and then he didn’t. It broke my heart.

From Belfast to Boston, homelessness is universal. Recently there was #SolidaritySleepout at home, helping to tackle the very real problem across Ireland. In some ways, it was those gaelic players who took time out of their life to raise awareness, who encouraged me to do this for my Boston community. You can still donate here and make a difference in your own community.


Shannon Quinn is a 3rd year student on the BSc in Communication, Advertising & Marketing at Ulster University, currently doing her placement year with Norbella Media in Boston. She can be contacted on LinkedIn at https://uk.linkedin.com/in/shannon-quinn-556236132 and on Twitter @ShannonQuinnPR.

Battle of the Christmas Adverts

Yes, it’s that time of year again when every major retailer in the UK battles it out to become the nation’s favourite Christmas advert. Our TVs are flooded with emotional ads guarantee to tug at your heart strings or in extreme cases make you cry.

But there’s really no point trying to avoid them because there is no let-up or escaping it. That’s just a fact of life! As soon as that last firework on Halloween night goes off we are bombarded with festive adverts being thrown at us from every direction.


It’s not enough anymore for brands just to have a TV advert. They throw everything apart from the kitchen sink at these campaigns. Taking advantage of merchandising opportunities, charity partnerships, and spin-off digital campaigns. It is certainly an expensive business, but has terrific PR attached to it, if it’s done well.

Once an area dominated by John Lewis has quickly become fair game.

With each year we have more and more retailers spending millions on multi media campaigns to stand out from the rest – with good reason. If done well and done right retailers can reap the rewards and spin off merchandise could be the most sort after toy that Christmas.

I’m sure we all remember the 2014 John Lewis Christmas advert? It told the story of Monty, a penguin who dreams of love at Christmas time. This emotional advert  was said to have ‘won Christmas’ and got the whole country talking about a fake CGI penguin. People become obsessed and when John Lewis released a £12 toy model of the penguin, which to no one’s surprise sold out super quick. People completely freaked out and bought this toy on eBay for up to £400. Its safe to say that people can get a little crazy during this time of the year.


Whilst the TV ads are the main attraction, the ads usually go above and beyond by creating something for almost all multimedia platforms. John Lewis jumped on the Snapchat bandwagon with their own ‘Buster the Boxer’ filter in 2016, whilst Waitrose released an online interactive experience of the Robin’s journey, as well as a book available to purchase sold in-store. Brands at Christmas time are slowly creeping there way into every part of our lives.

A35  A36

We can’t forget about the music that feature in these ads, because it plays a huge part in this battle as well. We are starting to see more often these songs that accompany the ads climb the music charts even hitting the number 1 spot sometimes. For example, in 2013, Lily Allen sung a cover of Somewhere Only We Know for the John Lewis Christmas advert. Her version surpassed the success of the original in the UK, topping the Singles Chart and staying at number 1 for 3 weeks whilst selling over 600,000 copies.


Lily Allen | Somewhere Only We Know (John Lewis Christmas Advert)

The increased popularity of the Christmas advert in recent years is no doubt down to social media playing a huge role in heightening the campaign. With brands including hashtags in their videos social media users being able to take to twitter or Facebook and voice their opinion on the different Christmas ads retailers throw at them.

Whither you love them or hate them they are here to stay, and brands will no doubt have bigger, better and shinier campaigns in store for us next year.


Niamh McNally is a final year BSc in Public Relations student at Ulster University. She can be found on Twitter at @Niamh_McNally or LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/niamh-mcnally-7a7079120/

Christmas, Christmas and more Christmas

It’s not a day past Halloween, we see more and more of the red, the gold, the Santa’s, the Mrs Claus’. Its creeps into November and we begin to hear Fairy Tale of New York on the radio, in store and on TV, it’s everywhere.

By the beginning of November, every shop we go into has Christmas music blasting, decorations in their window and Christmas trees at the entrance and advent calendars in before the pumpkins sell out – commercialization at its finest. It is, the “Modern day Christmas.”

People line up for hours on end to get the most popular toys, shoes, clothes, new releases and to meet the “Real” Santa Claus. Everywhere we go we hear a strained mother or father whispering to their children “Santa’s watching” to get them to behave.

Today, Christmas has become writing the longest wish list, sharing videos on YouTube watching young children telling their friends “What I got for Christmas” stating they’re “trying not to brag” and let’s face it, everyone has access to YouTube now.

What happened to the days when we sat by the fire, watching Christmas movies in our pj’s with the family, everyone got one or two gifts and all were happy?

Christmas has become more than this, its parents posting to Facebook on Christmas Eve pictures of their children’s toys on the sofa for other parents to see. It’s a competition of who got what and who’s is better. Whether we like it or not, it is reality.  It’s no one’s fault that this commercialization has happened, but it has and now many parents are feeling the pressure – after all, no one wants to let their kids down on Christmas day, especially not due to dry funds.

It’s supposed to be a time when families come together, not to talk about the presents our partners, our kids or our parents got us, but to talk about all the fun times had in the previous year and to plan the fun times in the year ahead, it’s spreading the festive cheer and making each other smile.

The thought of Christmas for some fills them with fear and anxiety, but for others, it is a joyous, fun and exciting time of year.

Being someone who has worked in retail at Christmas for over 3 years now, I have heard and seen it ALL. From rude and abrupt customers complaining about 5p for a bag to those requesting something “more expensive” or something “a lot cheaper” it is evident to say that, for the fortunate ones, Christmas can be a fun time for giving our loved ones what they want and deserve but for others, it’s not just so simple, its saving up all year to pay off last year’s Christmas debts, it’s the worrisome sleepless nights, the lack of funds for even the essentials.

Just remember that those serving you at Christmas have been working long shifts with neither barely a toilet break nor a bite to eat – it can get warm, repetitive and exhausting and sometimes we don’t want to smile when you complain or ask stupid questions. We are human, but again, that’s all part of it…

Not only is it ques upon ques, with wild eyed customers glaring waiting for your attention, it is long shifts, crowds, repetitive playlists of Christmas music, stockrooms brimming to the full, its 12 hours of fake smiling and conversation.

I may sound like a scrooge, but please, do not be fooled! I love Christmas, the cold nights around the fire and the Christmas songs on the radio, it’s cheery, full of bargains and after all, it’s time dedicated to spend with family and friends!

Christine Murtagh is a final year Bsc student in Communication, Advertising and Marketing at Ulster University. Find her on Twitter @Cmurtagh95, and Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/christine-murtagh-413409b9/


‘Twas the week before Christmas.

The run up to Christmas is a funny thing. People complain about how early Christmas adverts appear on TV and how shops are already selling Christmas stock straight after Halloween. But Christmas day still manages to creep up on you suddenly. Through my years working in retail I have concluded that there are two types of Christmas shoppers; 1) Those who remain calm and finish shopping weeks in advance. 2) Those who leave it to the last minute and panic buy. Which one are you? If like me, you are the latter then you will understand the sheer panic and chaos that occurs the week before Christmas. It is now just over a week before Christmas day and I haven’t bought as much as a card. The dread I have knowing I only have one available day, ONE, to buy all my loved ones the perfect gift.

So, what are the things that make you and I dread the thought of shopping a week before Christmas? Well first of all the crowds, the dreaded crowds. Shopping at the best of times is enough to drive the calmest of people up the walls. Add in Christmas and panic buying and it’s a recipe for disaster. People rushing to get the last descent items on the shelves with no regard for the other poor souls standing in their way. That brings me to the second most dreaded aspect, stock. All that is left is stock that no one would want to buy. The usual gift and novelty sets that sit out the back in warehouses and are only used to fill the shelves. Trust me I know from experience! And where are all the good offers? You see, it is my belief that organisations know about us panic buyers and use this to their advantage. They know that at some point we silly fools need to buy gifts for our loved ones and here is when they put their items back up to full price. Why can’t black Friday be everyday in the run up to Christmas?

As I am some what of a pro of last minute Christmas shopping I have complied a list of my top 3 tips that makes the process a little less stressful-if that’s even possible.
1. Lists, lists and more lists.A5
Before stepping foot into a store, I do a search of their website to see what they have to offer. Then after selecting the gift I check to make sure it is still in stock. This process might take a while though as most items are out of stock, so allow yourself plenty of time to do your research. And don’t forget to pick backups in case your item is out of stock by the time you go to the store. Then and only then will I begin my shopping.

2. Be practical
I know most people like to go shopping and make a day of it, go for lunch maybe a drink or two. And that’s fine, but remember to always dress appropriately. Don’t wear your finest high heeled boots-think comfort. Panic buying is essentially a sport and you wouldn’t turn up at the tracks in boots, skirts and form fitting trousers would you? Oh and the heat. You wrap yourself up in layers of material, scarves, hats and gloves only to walk into a store and BAM, 50-degree heat smacks you right in the face. This makes for uncomfortable shopping and angry, fed up shoppers. Not a good combination.

3. Take in reinforcements
Having an extra pair of eyes (and hands) can make all the difference. I usually take my mum with me who comes in handy for my indecisive moments. Mums always have the best advice, right?

And done! You can then come home, put your feet up and wait for grateful faces of those close to you as they open their presents. Oh, and swear that next year you will be more prepared and start your shopping in October. Never happens! Only 365 days left until the next panic buying. Now pass me a mulled wine…..


Lisa Corrigan is a final year student on the BSc in Communication Management and Public Relations at Ulster University. She can be found on Facebook @facebook.com/lisa.corrigan.372  


Greggs Advent Calendar – Genius PR stunt or Risky move?

Greggs Advent Calendar – Genius PR stunt or Risky move?

Greggs recently caused a media frenzy by replacing baby Jesus with a sausage roll in the nativity scene in images to promote their £24 Christmas advent calendar. Each door in the advent calendar reveals festive scenes with a Greggs twist and a voucher to use in store.

This prompted outraged reactions from Christians who did not see the humorous side. See my mum’s reaction below as an example.



Was it smart to replace ‘saviour’ with ‘savoury’ in the nativity scene? You could say the campaign worked well as my mum had previously not heard of Greggs but it got their name out there through increased media coverage. This is an example of how bad publicity can raise awareness of previously unknown brands. However, she is apparently now ‘boycotting Greggs’.

The advertisement was a risky move by Greggs, especially when religion is involved they may end up alienating a lot of customers. Jesus was Jewish, so replacing him with a sausage roll in the manger is inappropriate as Jews do not eat pork, therefore in that sense it is understandable why some may find it offensive. Would other religions, such as Islam be mocked publicly in the same way? Unlikely.

Greggs quickly apologised for the image and said in a statement, “We’re really sorry to have caused any offence, this was never our intention.”

It is often said in PR that there is no such thing as bad publicity. Greggs possibly knew this, as it is likely advisers in the company realised the risk and potential backlash from using this image, especially when religion and Christmas is involved. Could this be the reason why Greggs issued a statement to the backlash so quickly – was it just a planned controversial PR stunt to gain maximum publicity for Greggs?

I personally found the image funny and quite smart, especially for sausage roll lovers! With many of the main media outlets covering the story, there was reports that Greggs had apparently sold out of sausage rolls following the week of publicity it received. (13 November 2017).

On Twitter #greggsnativity trended for two days after the advertisement was released, giving them maximum unpaid-for publicity. This proves that sometimes provoking a reaction can gain maximum publicity for a brand.

The advertisement also made those who saw the funny side, get involved and create hilarious user generated content in the form of memes on the sausage roll, which was again maximising publicity for the brand.




Considering Greggs released 500 calendars, only available from 17 stores in the UK, means they were limited and in high demand thanks to the publicity received.




Time will tell how the sales went, however considering the increased demand for Greggs sausage rolls on the week it was released from the heavy amount of media coverage they received, shows that bad publicity, isn’t always a bad thing!

Elizabeth Owens is a final year BSc Communication, Advertising and Marketing student at Ulster University. She can be contacted on Twitter @eowens12_ or LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/elizabethowens32/ 

Persuasion at the heart of Christmas

As it is Christmas, I have been brought back to this time last year.

Firstly, a bit of background to what I was actually doing this time last year would help.

Whilst studying Communication, Advertising and Marketing there is a year free to complete work placement. I chose this route within my four years at Ulster University. To cut a long story short, I completed a placement year with Randox Laboratories. This was one of the biggest learning curves I have probably ever experienced. Coupled with worries, stress and a feeling of thinking I wasn’t capable enough, it ended up I was.

(Worrying doesn’t get you anywhere, I promise)

By Christmas time, I eventually came out of my shell and began contributing a lot more than I had been before, merely due to my lack of confidence when starting. To be honest, if I were to give any advice, speak up – sitting worrying what your about to say being wrong is useless, it doesn’t matter. It is much more beneficial to be yourself and act confident, even if your not… (Rich coming from me)

Just before Christmas time in Randox is always very busy with the close of business looming. For most of us we just can’t wait to get everything finished up and enjoy festivities. However, around this time it is essential to make most of the festive fun and incorporate something a little more exciting into your work. Why not!

As many of you may know, Randox is a global market leader in the in vitro diagnostics industry. Within the organisation there are many divisions and I happened to be placed in the RX series. The RX series is a range of clinical chemistry analysers for high quality semi-automated and fully automated testing…what a mouthful I know!

Before starting with Randox I was very unfamiliar with this field but by the end I was dreaming about these analysers in my sleep.

If you would like to know more about Randox, click here.

With this in mind I wanted to try and give the RX series an emotional and persuasive appeal, after all it was Christmas.

Especially around this time of year the public are easily persuaded when purchasing gifts, whether we like it or not! May it be for family, friends or even yourself a little bit of persuasion makes it slightly more justifiable. In this case, I tried to persuade a lab into buying an analyser. I’m sure you are asking how might this work. (I was at this stage too)


giphy (2)


What is persuasion?

Some may argue that PR itself is based on persuasion.

Persuasion is associated with influencing behaviours, raising awareness and educating the public. (Messina, 2007)

Adapting this definition to the campaign I completed at Christmas last year, I tried to accomplish just that. See below.

Day 1


Day 2


Day 3


Day 4


This campaign was aimed at lab staff being ‘persuaded’ to gift their laboratory this Christmas with an RX altona. To be fair, if I were a scientist, it would be pretty great!

A growing number of studies highlight the necessitous demand for visual imagery when persuading. This can therefore trigger emotion. Whilst basing this campaign on persuasion, incorporating a ‘humorous’ aspect was critical when ‘luring’ the customer in. Simply, analysers are not a fun, tangible piece of equipment (unless you are a scientist and reading this). Therefore practicing theoretical elements of public relations to any type of work can instantaneously result in a more effective outcome.

As Aristotle notes, there are three modes of persuasion; Ethos, Logos and Pathos were at the heart of this Christmas campaign.



In summary, persuasion is a very effective way of communicating to the public. Especially at Christmas time, I don’t know about you, but I tend to blame all my buying habits on the use of great persuasion. (This doesn’t stop at Christmas unfortunately!)

Lets just hope some laboratories did too.


Katy McGuigan is a final year BSc in Communication, Advertising & Marketing student at Ulster University, Jordanstown. You can reach her on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/katymcguigan1/ and on Twitter @KatyMcGuigan2.