2020 – A Year for PR to Shine. Here’s my favourites

2020 – A Year for PR to Shine. Here’s my favourites

This year there has been so much loss, hardship, and struggle. We have witnessed the world go into lockdown, the loss of so many lives and the struggle of our healthcare systems around the world – it’s now normal to wear masks and stay two metres away from each other, to have no idea what the future holds. Nobody expected this, least, not businesses.

The uncertainty has been crippling, however, on so many occasions I couldn’t help but be inspired by how the world has reacted and reminded why I picked a career in the marketing/PR industry.  

Businesses all around the world have adapted to the most challenging circumstances with excellence. I truly believe that anyone who has experienced this pandemic will never think the same way again. In many ways, I feel privileged to have been exposed to such innovation, creativity and resilience this year, at a time in my life where I will soon be a young professional challenged to think of new ideas and ways of working. I also feel lucky to have spent six months of my placement year working from home during a pandemic, as it taught me more than 12 months in the office ever could have.  

Now, don’t get me wrong I didn’t love going into a lockdown shortly after my 21st birthday, missing a holiday with my friends or doing my final year of University online, with absolutely NO parties to see off my student days.

BUT

COVID-19 has taught me a lot, personally and professionally.

Here’s a roundup of my favourite examples of reactive and creative COVID-19 PR:

  1. Guinness

Simple yet effective. Guinness replaced the foam on top of the pint with a sofa, driving home the seriousness of the message whilst bringing a smile to people

2. KFC

KFC, the fast-food chain famous for its fried chicken and provocative marketing communications dropped the Finger Lickin’ Good from the well-known slogan to encourage people not to touch their face and align with the public health message. They also ran a competition, challenging its customers to make their own fried chicken and kept a scoreboard.

3. Netflix

Referred to as “Notflix” ads, Netflix encouraged people to stay home by using Out-of-home advertising to display spoilers of different shows featured on Netflix. Brilliant!

4. Nike

When I first saw this message it gave me goosebumps, Nike put a twist on its usual aspirational messaging to encourage people not to venture outside and suggesting those who stay at home are like sporting heroes. This is such a strong message as it reminds us we are playing for something bigger than just ourselves, we are all a team playing for eachother to keep people safe.

5.) Emily Crisps

Many brands who had already booked outdoor space during the lockdown took a creative approach. I loved this!

6.) Ikea

It might just be the easiest set of IKEA directions you will ever come across! Instructions to stay at home – all you need is a key, a lock and 100 rolls of toilet paper.

  • McDonalds and Volkswagen

Like many others, McDonalds and Volkswagen adopted their well known logos to encourage social distancing

  • Gymshark

With Gyms closed, Gymshark dropped the Gym from their name and replaced it with ‘Home’. This was an incredibly effective message from a brand who has a majority following of young people. Great move!

Crisis communication is challenging, and the rewards for getting it right are huge and the consequences of getting it wrong are just as big.  During COVID-19, good PR has been vital to brands, to continue communicating effectively, businesses must always remember:

  • Keep your message simple and human-centred
  • Take advantage of higher levels of engagement on Social Media
  • React Fast
  • Be genuine – how can you help?
  • Sometimes giving back can grow your business.

Improvise. Adapt. Overcome.

Words to live by? I think so.

Cliodhna Donnelly is a final year BSc in Communication Management and Public Relations student at Ulster University. She can be found on LinkedIn

COVID-19 UK: How social media has affected communication during a pandemic.

COVID-19 UK: How social media has affected communication during a pandemic.

Back in March 2020, if I told you I’d be writing a blog on how communication was affected during a worldwide pandemic and through national lockdowns that saw millions of us in the UK forced to stay at home, you wouldn’t believe me. 

Unfortunately that is the reality and I will be assessing how the coronavirus pandemic has affected how we utilise social media particularly here in the UK.

A platform to share and consume information

Never before has this been more essential to have instant, digital communication straight to our device, as people were seeking ways to keep in touch as physical communication became increasingly difficult and illegal in many ways. Such Information helped to inform us on what was and still seems like “the unknown”. We gathered information on how best to protect ourselves and the more vulnerable in society.  However, social media was a breeding ground for misinformation and of course disinformation in a time of widespread panic and uncertainty. People in a panic can be exploited when exposed to misleading information – particularly during a time when no one is really sure what is happening. One conspiracy theory that gained ground over social media that you may remember is the theory that was spread about 5G and how it was harmful in that it helped the spread of coronavirus. Many believed the virus travelled on radio waves and coronavirus was accelerated in speed by the introduction of 5G. It gained so much attention that it caused Michael Gove to officially refute the claims. 

A platform to entertain

Social media has been a source of entertainment for years, but, in particular 2020 was a year when we found more time to ourselves at home and therefore spent more time online. According to Ofcom (2020), Adults spent record 4 hours a day online in April at the height of the pandemic. The social media platform “TikTok” dominated social media during the pandemic – many users made light jokes of the virus, many helped spread (largely useful) information and others (including myself) consumed these videos for hours on end. 

A platform to stay “social”

In a time when social distancing is in place to fight the virus, we stand together on social media to stay connected. Never before did the UK think they would have to talk to their elderly parents over Zoom or have “lockdown quiz nights” on Houseparty with friends.

Social media can often be viewed as a negative platform for users to express hate and a place that we spend too much time browsing. However the pandemic has highlighted the importance of a safe space to create, share and communicate in unprecedented times.

Aveen Moore is a Communication Management and Public Relations final year student at Ulster University. She can be reached at Twitter

COVID-19. Which brands got it right?

COVID-19. Which brands got it right?

Whilst we are all too aware of the havoc that COVID-19 has caused, it literally cancelled EVERYTHING, but we’re nearly 10 months in and we’ve just adjusted to our new normal, but are we all aware of the brands coming out on top on this pandemic, the brands that are emerging as leaders coming through with strong and effective marketing messages?  

PR and Communications through Coronavirus back in March was tough, the world had just basically stopped, for businesses? …this time Google didn’t have the answers! Did consumers want to hear their favourite brands talk about that dreaded C-word?

Interestingly enough, only 30% of consumers voted that they didn’t want to hear their favourite brands talk about Coronavirus, whilst 75% of consumers voted that brands should address COVID-19 and send out socially responsible messages.

While consumers still expected brands to advertise during this time, it was important for brands content to strike the right tone, to go hand in hand with the current mood and emotional needs of its consumer. Brands response to the almighty challenge posed by COVID-19 meant that many planned campaigns were replaced. Replaced with messages of solidarity, empathy and commitment to stick by their people, now was the time to put their core values into practice.

Guinness, being one of the first brands to address the Virus ran a St Patricks Day message pledging $500,000 to help those affected by the pandemic, which elicited a strong positive response from its consumers. The message Guinness wanted to get across in its video was that we’re all pretty tough when we stick together, and that everyone should raise a glass to that because ‘we’ll March again!’ … This powerful video really hit home, and stuck a cord with its viewers, with its uplifting themes of unity and resilience. Well done Guinness, an emerging leader in times of crisis.

Coca Cola emerged in the early days of COVID-19 crisis too, by urging the world to respect social distancing, with their clear message ‘Staying apart is the best way to stay united’ Drawing on the emotions of their audiences in an attempt to get them to act, this message from Coca Cola was displayed in Times Square in NYC. Coca Cola was savvy in their message of trying to urge publics to social distance by having their normally tightly connected logo spaced out, in an attempt to draw attention to the importance of social distancing. Did consumers react well to this attempt to educate from Coca Cola? Some were critical of Coca Cola’s efforts as they ran the AD before they announced any response efforts.

In times of crisis, is humour a good tool to use to get messages across to your audiences? … Nandos thought so, but it’s sure to grab more attention when it’s a dig at a competitor too! This tweet the company sent out on March 18th just after competitor KFC had to pause their advertising for ‘Finger Lickin’ Good’ Having received 163 complaints because of hygiene standards, KFC announced they were pausing the use of the ‘Finger Lickin’ Good’ slogan … after all is promoting your product as ‘Finger Lickin’ Good’ in a global pandemic going to work when the world was frantically washing their hands in a bid to rid the ‘Rona’?

Nike, was another global brand striking the balance with its response to COVID-19 yet keeping in line with its brands purpose. A master in its trade of ‘Emotional Marketing’, Nike with its theme of eliciting emotion from its consumers with themes of determination, inspiration and performance created a campaign ‘Play for the World’. This carefully crafted campaign was to reinforce the message that we were all in this together, but we all ‘must do our bit, and play for the world’ as well as to unite us all in our ‘new normal’

The campaign latest ad ‘You Can’t Stop Us’ with images and video footage of their consumers working out in homes, with a few famous faces thrown in such as basketball star LeBron James, the message was to reinforce the sense that we are all in this together. The campaign message was particularly clever from Nike, as it still highlights their brands core purpose; to inspire consumers … even in the midst of a global pandemic!

Google was another global brand, who took immediate action whilst the rest of the world was trying to come to terms with what was going on in the world. The rapid action Google took was to ban all ad’s that mentioned Coronavirus, in a bid to curb profiteering of the back of COVID-19 also with spreading any false information. Instead, it focused heavily on providing its consumers with the most accurate and up to date information about anything COVID-19 related.

So whilst COVID-19 has thrown the world into disarray, several brands have successfully pivoted their PR and Comms strategies to avoid appearing insensitive to the current world we find ourselves in, but this is our ‘New Norm’ for now so we must keep going. As Guinness rightly states  … ‘We’ll March Again’

Alanna Slane is a final year BSc in Communication Management and Public Relations studentat Ulster University. She can be found on LinkedIn

Shifting my job role due to a Pandemic.

Shifting my job role due to a Pandemic.

After completing a placement year in my third year of University in which I worked with a Boutique Wedding Fair company, Quirky Weddings as their lead Social Media Marketer, I secured a job as a Personal Stylist for Topshop. I decided to apply to differ from the last year of my degree as this role was multifaceted and encompassed many elements of my ideal career. The role was a sales-driven role that involved fashion promotion, events management and an opportunity to work with a leading UK fashion brand in their marketing. Unfortunately, after a somewhat successful first 8 months within in this position, the worldwide Coronavirus outbreak happened. Due to this, my new job role was unable to be fulfilled as all retail had to close for the nationwide lockdown, leaving me on furlough from March 2020 until the present.

While furlough meant that I had financial security, I didn’t want the pandemic to interrupt the progress I  had made in my career nor, did I want to waste my time off from work. So I sat down and mapped out what I could do to put the time to best use, how I could transfer my skills from both my work experience and university studies into something fruitful. I decided to take my digital and social media marketing knowledge and reach out to work with small businesses on promotion and sales while restricted by the lockdown. Primarily, I reached out to several businesses that had to pivot their whole business model due to the restrictions. I worked with hospitality and e-commerce businesses to utilise the likes of Instagram stories, newsletters and visual branding to define their brand message and increase sales. For example, restaurants that had to close but were now doing deliveries, new e-commerce brands that had recently launched online and many businesses in general that had realised that they wanted to expand into the marketing world of social media. 

Working with a variety of local and small businesses was a chance to expand my knowledge of marketing different content subjects and help these businesses flourish in the face of adversity. Digital and social media marketing can be such an intimidating whirlpool of information and requires an ever-shifting well of knowledge that some business owners do not have initially and often don’t have the time to learn once launched. Especially when it comes to influencer marketing, I had seen so many new and established businesses investing in influencers with no return. With the lockdown restrictions, this was a great time to explore this form of marketing with businesses as it was an excellent online tool to spread the word of new products and services. 

One example was when I worked with a well-known cafe based in Ards that are famous for their ice-cream and due to the restrictions were now offering deliveries of the ice-cream to your front door. As it was excellent weather for this product this was an ample time to get creative with the offer of this service. I helped the cafe select the most relevant influencer’s suited to their products and services, organising with them a PR package to send that incorporated the cafe’s value’s, key message’s and what they wanted to promote. This package was received and promoted on the influencer’s Instagram page resulting in an influx of sales and follower’s for the café. It prompted many customers in the local area to order similar package’s as they were not aware that the café was offering such services. This was an instance that really highlighted the fact that word of mouth and traditional marketing had not necessarily been enough in that circumstance. Which was an amazing result to achieve a through a simple shift in marketing strategy. 

Similarly, I had this experience with a few other of the small businesses that I worked with to enhance their digital presence. Simply looking at how brands could improve their visibility through engaging social media posts, engaging with their customers on a more personal level and building stronger relationships with these customers. As the lockdown restrictions were so hard on so many local businesses, it was great to use my skill set to help them in such unprecedented times. I found this experience encouraging and that the pandemic may have been a time for me to reevaluate what it was that I wanted to do within the PR and Marketing industry. 

Maria Macfarlane is a final year BSc in Communication Management & Public Relations student at Ulster University. She can be found on Instagram and Twitter.

Arsenal Football Club vs. Mesut Özil and Gunnersaurus: A Relationship Gone Sour.

Arsenal Football Club vs. Mesut Özil and Gunnersaurus: A Relationship Gone Sour.

You may have heard recently that Arsenal Football Club have made the decision to relieve club mascot ‘Gunnersaurus’ of his duties, after 27 years of being with the club. As Arsenal are one of the biggest football clubs in world with an incredible amount of financial backing and turnover, this decision did not go down well with Arsenal fans or the general public.

How can a football club spending £350k a week on a player who keeps the bench warm justify sacking a fan favourite mascot, who would be on a much more humble wage packet? That player in question, is German World Cup winner Mesut Özil and this is where this story gets very interesting, going much deeper than it initially seems.

Mesut Özil joined Arsenal from Spanish giants Real Madrid in 2013 and immediately made an impact on and off the pitch. As well as being recognised for being world class on the pitch, Mesut has been praised for many of the things he has done off the pitch as well. He boasts 25 million Twitter followers and 22.2 million followers on Instagram. This is in comparison to Arsenal, his employer, which has 16.4 million followers on Twitter and 18.4 million on Instagram. His social media presence is massive, and there have been many occasions which he has used his large platform for good causes.

In 2014, Mesut Özil was announced as an ambassador for the ‘Big Shoe’ initiative which uses the FIFA World Cup as inspiration to fund operations for young people around the world. The 2014 World Cup took place in Brazil, and while the tournament was ongoing and Mesut was on the pitch winning the World Cup for his country, he funded 11 operations for children in Brazil the host nation. He promoted this project across his social media to raise awareness of this charity and the cause. Most recently, he has helped 40 children get life-changing surgery in Myanmar, Southeast Asia through this charity. This charity work gave Mesut lots of good publicity and was well backed by many football fans online who praised Mesut for his generosity.

However, this story begins to turn sour when in December 2019, Mesut used his platform to raise awareness of a much more different issue, the mistreatment of the Uighur Muslims in China. He released a statement across all of his social media accounts to raise awareness of this issue and was quoted as stating that the Uighur Muslims in China were “warriors who resist persecution”. Mesut himself is a Muslim and this was an issue clearly close to his heart, however this did not go down smoothly with the Chinese population or his employers at Arsenal.

China immediately reacted by pulling one of Arsenal’s games from the state TV schedule and some Chinese fans even burnt his jerseys in protest. The most significant statement however, came from Arsenal who made it clear that these were the views of Mesut and not of the football club by stating the club “always adheres to the principles” of not getting involved in politics on the Chinese social media site Weibo. Arsenal’s statement was an attempt to keep China on their good side as at the end of the day, Arsenal are a business with millions of Chinese fans and to cut off that revenue stream would be quite idiotic from the outside looking in. However I believe there comes a time to stand up for what is right and in this instance, Mesut is in the right. This is a crisis I would not have been aware of if it were not for the Germans statement and I was not alone in the view that Arsenal’s “statement” if you can even call it that, was very disappointing.

This all coincided with Özil dropping out of the team as the club took on a new first team manager. It’s widely accepted that this is due to his lack of form when he was playing, however is it worth questioning whether or not these public disagreements off the pitch has contributed to his lack of playing time? I think it’s possible, especially as this PR battle did not end here.

We are all now well aware of the shocking events that took place in America in which George Floyd was killed by an American police officer, which resulted in the more prominent promotion of the Black Lives Matter movement. The Premier League and all of its clubs backed this movement by displaying Black Lives Matter on the back of jerseys and players taking a knee before each game as the league kicked off again during the Covid-19 pandemic. Arsenal were very vocal in their support of this movement with lots of content on social media tagging #BlackLivesMatter.

All of this left Mesut scratching his head as when it came to the Muslim crisis in China, why was he was left on his own? Özil was supportive of the BLM movement and this is something him and the club agrees on however it must have been bittersweet to think that after their reply to his statement in December, they’ve now got involved in this as heavily as they have. He did an interview with sports outlet The Athletic and was disappointed in Arsenal and was quoted as saying “I have given a lot to Arsenal, on and off the pitch, so the reaction was disappointing. They said they don’t get involved in politics but this isn’t politics and they have got involved in other issues.”

This brings me onto the most recent news and the latest in this PR battle between the high profile star and his football club, beloved mascot Gunnersaurus. The man in the suit is called Jerry Quy and has held the job of being Arsenal’s mascot for 27 years, however he is the latest Arsenal staff member to fall victim to the Covid-19 sackings. He along with 55 others have found themselves redundant as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. These redundancies have not been received well by football fans as this is a football club who can afford to pay around £1 million in wages to players and coaches each week, but can’t afford to keep low level staff who are on much lower wages.

The latest and most high profile sacking however was Gunnersaurus. This already was giving the club a bad name, but then Mesut Özil decided he needed to do something about it. A day after the news broke, Özil released a statement on his social media “offering to reimburse Arsenal with the full salary of our big green guy as long as I will be an Arsenal player so Jerry can continue his job that he loves so much”. A very classy move by Özil which was applauded by many across football including young superstar Kylian Mbappe.

However, how bad does this make Arsenal look? Having a player cover the cost of your mascot’s wages? And of all players, it’s Mesut who has publicly has disagreements with the club before? It does not shine Arsenal in a good light at all, once again. Some may be of the opinion that Özil is doing this so publicly as a way to embarrass the club as payback for the previous issues between himself and the club. There are rumours that Arsenal did plan on giving Jerry his job back once fans were allowed back in to the stadiums and this had all been blown out of proportion however there has been no official word of this as of yet.

A relationship that started so rosy between Arsenal and Mesut Özil has soured in recent months and has the potential to end as a PR battle between both parties with Mesut’s contract due to expire in 2021. So far I would say that Mesut has won this battle of the statements as his bravery to use his platform to speak up on these issues is to be applauded. Arsenal may not have come out of this looking the best that they could, but they could still have the last say on this if they decide to bring Jerry back. At the moment it’s all up in the air about Mesut’s future at Arsenal Football Club but I also doubt that this is the last PR war the two have against each other.

Phelim Sweeney is a final year BSc Communication Management and Public Relations student at Ulster University. He can be found on LinkedIn.

Experiences of being a student and keyworker during Covid 19

First experience of lockdown:

When the announcement came out about the nationwide lockdown back in March nobody really knew what to expect. At the time I was in week 8 of university and had a 12-hour contracted parttime job in a Eurospar. Within a week of that announcement coming out I was given a 40-hour contract and was working 9-5 most days. In that first week of working during the lockdown the first thing I noticed was the mayhem people were creating by buying stock in the dozens. Because of this the shop had to put a limit on almost every item to two per person. In the following weeks there was the introduction of capping the shop to ten people in at the one time, this meant that someone had to stand on the door and keep it to ten while also handing out sanitiser and cleaning down trolleys and baskets. I was given this job at the start and continued to do it until mid-August. At the time I really enjoyed the job as I thought I was being a great asset to the people of Dromore, but a couple of months in I began to get a bit fed up with the job. At this stage it was my primary job from 9-5, five days a week so it was getting a bit tedious, as well as this people began to somewhat stop caring about the whole procedure and walked in anyway which eventually would land me in getting a talking to by staff in the shop. 

Start of changes:

Over the months of April and May there were more changes implemented within the shop, there were arrows directing people in a one-way system, the introduction of screens put up at the tills and the deli. Throughout the pandemic the one thing I noticed was the difference between the people in April and August. In April the customers were very cautious and respectful to me working on the door and the staff inside, compared to in August where people almost seemed fed up with the whole queuing up system which is understandable. 

Adapting:

While I was still working fulltime, I still had university work to finish from my second year, so throughout the month of May my whole weeks consisted off finishing work then proceeding to work on my assignments for the majority of the night. This being my lecturers really helped with giving me extra days in order to finish the assignment to the best of my ability which in the long run was greatly appreciated.

Getting back in the swing of things:

With the sudden abrupt ending of university back in March it was five months since anything university related happened. The process of moving from working continuously five days a week to having to start thinking about university was harder than expected. In my opinion the hardest aspect of university being online is losing concentration far easier compared to actually being a lecture room. It takes a lot more motivation to get up for the early lectures when you know that you won’t be leaving your room and took the first couple of weeks to fully motivate and prep for the lecture ahead.

Struggles of Uni Online:

Another factor of learning from home was leaning how to navigate and use the online class software, which turned out to be harder than expected. As well as that, with many companies working from home my stepdad was one of them which made my already slow Wi-Fi even worse. However, once these obstacles were overcome online lectures began to go a bit smoother. 

Conclusion:

All in all, my experience of being a student and a key worker during Covid so far has been a mixed bag. It is somewhat getting back to normal now with my hours being put down closer to my part-time hours and with university being back it gets me back into a schedule. It will be interesting to see how this year plans out.

Rhys Neill is a final year BSc in Communication Management & Public Relations student at Ulster University.

The Christmas Shopping Experience: 2020 Style

The Christmas Shopping Experience: 2020 Style

Shop ‘Til You Drop – Christmas Edition

Despite the bright light displays and festive decorations, most of the time Christmas shopping isn’t as idyllic as we hope. We all know how Christmas shopping creates madness and havoc every year as people flock to the streets on the hunt for the perfect gift. Whether you’re the calm and collected type who always has a list to hand or the type to start your Christmas shopping in the days leading up to Christmas (or the day before). Never the less, this time of year is usually characterised by overwhelming crowds and people queued out of the shop doors.

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Despite how much we try to avoid it, last minute Christmas shopping is inevitable. We always find ourselves running to get finishing touches and according to Mintel, 76% of people in the UK continue to make purchases right up until Christmas. Despite all the stress, UK consumers love Christmas shopping! In reality, our arms are heavy from dragging around shopping bags and it’s never a successful Christmas shop unless you come home completely exhausted. However, our Christmas shopping experience will be very different this year.

Expectation vs Reality…

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Keep Calm, Christmas is Coming

2020 has been a difficult year for everyone and according to Mintel, 77% of consumers believe that it’s more important than ever to have a good Christmas this year to make up for the events of 2020. This increases the pressure to give the perfect gift this year.

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The announcement that restrictions will continue until 11th December means that many consumers will opt to shop online. However, the potential reopening of stores may promote a Christmas rush, which is dangerous for consumers and retailers. Postal services have slowed down during the pandemic, which creates issues for last minute shopping. To add to this, during Christmas, postal delivery times are often unreliable, which may urge consumers to take to the shops in the run up to Christmas. Consumers who don’t use technology will also suffer as they’re not familiar with or don’t have access to online shopping.

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How to Avoid The Nightmare Before Christmas

There’s something about the obligatory shopping trip to Belfast at Christmas that unleashes your Christmas spirit. Walking around the shops and seeing the Christmas displays, decorations and lights that just adds to the Christmas build up. You also cannot forget to pick up a sweet treat and hot drink (or something a little stronger) from The Christmas Markets. However, shoppers are urged to shop early this Christmas to avoid the Christmas rush and increased COVID19 cases.

Many shoppers usually opt to shop in-store to benefit from professional help as experienced staff are on hand to give advice. This is a feature that online stores cannot fully replicate. Help from a sales advisor makes choosing a gift easier and is less overwhelming, compared to the wide amount of choice available online. Another advantage of shopping in-store is that consumers are able to feel and test the quality of products. This is important for gift shopping as consumers want to see the product before they buy to prevent unnecessary returns. Security online during the Christmas period is particularly important as scammers try to take advantage of consumers.

To avoid any mishaps, it’s important to be prepared this year. By shopping online, we can shop at our own convenience, from the comfort of our homes and avoid long queues. Primark in Belfast has been criticised for crowds gathered outside, before further COVID19 restrictions are introduced. Online shopping prevents this, whilst providing a safe platform for consumers during the pandemic. Consumers can save money in the run up to Christmas by shopping online as it’s easier to compare prices. Online retailers also offer discounts and sales which aren’t available in-store. By shopping from a department store like Debenhams, consumers can purchase all their gifts from the same place, saving on delivery costs. If you’re a Christmas procrastinator, then click and collect services are perfect for you! They limit the time spent in-store whilst still receiving your gifts in time for Christmas.  

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Save Time and Money – Splash the Cash on Black Friday

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If you’re shopping online this Christmas, it’s useful to get involved in big sale events like Black Friday and Cyber Monday. They’re a great way to avoid the Christmas rush whilst getting guaranteed Christmas delivery. The US tradition has become increasingly popular within the UK in the last 10 years, and is continuing to grow each year. According to Mintel, 70% of Black Friday shoppers use the event to purchase their Christmas presents.

Shop Local This Christmas

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We tend to shop at large chains for convenience reasons however, they’ve benefited from the pandemic unlike small local businesses. There’s been an emphasis on social media to shop local this Christmas by supporting local retailers. Small businesses often make personalised, hand-made gifts that come from the heart, with extensive time and effort put into making the gift. Why not create a gift hamper, filled with products from local businesses. You can create a unique gift that’s heartfelt and has an extra personal touch. Christmas is known as a time of giving back, so by shopping local, you can help small businesses to survive, whilst supporting your local community and creating jobs.

Support Local NI has been set up to encourage NI consumers to shop locally. Click here, to view their gift guide which is useful to find exactly what you’re looking for.

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Lauren Campbell is a final year BSc in Communication Management and Public Relations student at Ulster University. She can be found on Instagram and Linkedin.

A puppy – not just for Christmas nor lockdown, but for life.

A puppy – not just for Christmas nor lockdown, but for life.

How much is that doggy in the window?

As panic buying continues, toilet roll, pasta and hand sanitiser are among the many things that have consistently flew off the shelves throughout the duration of the Coronavirus pandemic, however, a dearth of puppies wasn’t among the shortages expected as a result of the health crisis. With millions working from home and being placed on furlough, the demand for new furry friends to keep us company throughout the dreary days of lockdown has soared dramatically and it is understood that this has led to prices for popular pooches such as Cockapoos and French Bulldogs now being quoted at double their usual price. According to Pets4Home, £829 is the average price a buyer would usually pay for a designer crossbreed cockapoo pup, however, there are now cockapoos being advertised on their site for over triple this price at £2,800. That is over £1,000 more than the average monthly salary in the UK!

Cockapoo puppies are now being quoted at triple their usual price

These extortionate prices don’t seem to faze many as ‘waiting lists’ have very much become a thing in the puppy market with many potential owners enquiring about an estimated date for future litters and puppies being ‘sold’ before they are even born.

According to research conducted by the Kennel Club, 38% of those who have bought a puppy during the pandemic did so because they were spending more time at home. With Christmas fast approaching, the demand for puppies is only expected to increase further which has caused concern for puppy welfare among dog charities. Owen Sharp, Chief Executive of Dogs Trust, recently explained that puppies could suffer from separation anxiety when their owners, who have been furloughed or working from home during the pandemic, return to their place of work if they have grown used to their owners being with them 24/7 and giving them a lot of attention. Sharp has also stated that there have been a large amount of reports of owners already wanting to return dogs because they are returning to work and urges buyers to consider their long-term plans when searching for a furry companion.

The Danger of Puppy Farms

Due to the high puppy demand, it is more important than ever to carry out proper research into where we are purchasing our puppies from. The Kennel Club reported that a quarter of new owners admitted they bought their dog after doing little research and the scary reality is that an increase in demand of puppies will subsequently lead to an increase in puppies being bought from puppy farms. If you aren’t aware of why this is so scary, keep reading.

A puppy farm is essentially a factory farm, but with dogs. These dogs are treated as nothing more than products being manufactured, purely for profit! Puppy farmers continue breeding from a female dog until she physically can’t have puppies anymore. The mothers often die due to the enormous strain on their bodies or are abandoned when they are no longer deemed useful for breeding. The puppies are not properly socialised with other people and are often separated from their mothers too early – because of this, these puppies are more likely to develop behavioural issues. Puppy farmers also tend to breed dogs that are closely related which results in poor puppies suffering from serious health complications and being sold to buyers as perfectly healthy dogs. Some pups die before or even after they are purchased by a buyer as a result of poor health and the conditions they are kept in but puppy farmers DO NOT CARE about the welfare of these dogs. They care about one thing; the cash in their pockets.

Below is a link to an episode of BBC show Panorama which shone a light on Ireland’s biggest puppy farmer; Ray Cullivan, back in 2016. Cullivan’s farm features in the video from the 8th minute on and exposes the horrific truth behind the farm, which is based in Cavan and was recently rediscovered online as ‘Dogs.ie’, advertising two large breed litters; Retrievers and Doodles.

Although there are laws against puppy farms and the illegal sale of puppies, they are very much still in existence. Many buyers miss the red flags of puppy farms, with one in four pandemic puppy owners saying they might inadvertently have bought their pet from a puppy farm. But how do you know if you are buying from a farm or a legitimate breeder? I have placed some tips below on how to spot and avoid puppy farms.

5 tips on how to spot and avoid puppy farms:

  1. Perform a Google search of the phone number listed on the puppy advertisement. This will allow you to see how many other ads are associated with that number. Puppy farmers also often copy and paste descriptions on advertisements so the details will be kept to a minimal and used for several different litters and breeds of dog.

  2. If the puppy you want to buy has a passport, there is a huge possibility your puppy has been imported from a country where there are little or no breeding laws. Only puppies over the age of 12 weeks should be able to get a passport, so sellers claiming that very young pups have passports is a red flag.

  3. Ask to see health certificates from BOTH the puppy’s parents and make sure you ask plenty of questions about the breed of dog. A genuine breeder will have extensive knowledge about the breed they are selling.

  4. Puppy farmers might try to persuade you to meet in a public place such as a park and ride or a supermarket car park to “reduce your journey”. Instead, make sure you are able to see the puppy at it’s home with the mother present. This may be more difficult due to COVID-19 restrictions, but it is essential when buying a puppy. If the buyer makes an excuse about why you can’t see the mother, do not buy a puppy from them. NOTE: Puppy farmers may expect you to ask about seeing the mother and will try to pass off a healthy dog as the mother of the litter so make sure to watch how the mother interacts with the puppies. Take notice if she has teats or is watchful and connected with her pups – does the puppy feed from her?

  5. Puppy farmers quite often use generic photographs of healthy dogs to attract buyers and dupe them into buying a different puppy. Take the advertisement photograph with you when visiting the dog to ensure it is the same dog being advertised.

If you think you have encountered a puppy farm, do not buy from it! I have encountered a farm myself so I know how difficult it can be to walk away from a puppy knowing it is probably not receiving the care and attention it deserves and needs. It is normal to want to remove the puppy from mistreatment but buying from a farm will only put more money into the farmers pockets, allowing them to continue to mistreat more dogs and puppies as a result. If you found the puppy advertisement online, report it on the website and to the RSPCA or if you directly witness cruelty to any dogs or puppies do not hesitate to ring the police.

If you would like to contribute to the fight against puppy farms and help end the illegal sale of dogs in Ireland, please take a minute to watch the Dogs Trust ad and sign their #soldapup petition I have placed below.

Thankyou.

Link to Dog’s Trust Petition: http://dogstrust.ie/soldapup

Katie McKeown is a final year BSc in Communication Management and Public Relations student at Ulster University. She can be found on Instagram and LinkedIn.

Student Life in the ‘COVID-19 Era’

Student Life in the ‘COVID-19 Era’

Whenever I signed my lease for my student house in January – I did not think this is how my final year of University would have started. As we all know, we are living in ‘unprecedented times’ and the rules and restrictions are always being adjusted and revised to ensure the ‘R level’ in Northern Ireland does not become overwhelmed.

Anyway, I’m sure everyone’s sick of reading and listening about COVID, so let’s talk about how student life has strayed so far away of what it once was a year ago. At the start of this year, my friends and I decided that we should get our student house sorted early this year so that we had the best options to choose from – little did we know 10 months down the line, our houses occupancy has went from 5 down to 2. 3 of my housemates have not yet lived down for more than a night in a week as student life just isn’t what it once was.

Obviously, the restrictions on bars, restaurants and indoor/outdoor gatherings have a massive part to play in the student lifestyle but there is so much more to it than just this. The closure of the university and the implementation of online classes has really made me lose the ‘uni atmosphere’. What I mean by this is that I miss the socialising and studying with friends, procrastinating in the library when I should be writing an essay and even running to the other side of the building to catch the bus home.

I can’t speak for everyone when I say this but for me personally, I feel like I’ve lost somewhat of my motivation for my future. Unemployment levels are increasing every month due to businesses struggling to cope in this ‘COVID-19 Era’ and one of the hardest hitting groups has been young people aged 16-24 where there is now 156,000 fewer 16- to 24-year-olds employed, compared to three months ago according to BBC. I’m a very optimistic person and I understand that circumstances can change very quickly – Im hopeful that in some stage in 2021, (or preferably sooner) we can create a vaccine so we can all get back to our lives and hopefully bring this economy back to it’s one great self.

With new restrictions imposed by the Northern Ireland Executive for lockdown, it has meant that my housemates and I will not be living down in our student house as there is just no point. The 5 of us will be left to pay our monthly rent whilst only staying there about 5 nights within the month. Obviously this is not the landlords, governments or even our fault. This is something that nobody expected but I feel I need to vent the frustration somewhere, right?

Although we’re living in crazy times and possibly a future 20 mark history question, things will get better and COVID is just a pitstop in our lives. I have to give credit to my lecturers – nobody expected that this year would have been remote learning and I must say, they are making it a lot easier for us than I expected. I feel that classes have lost that interaction between the student’s and lecturer but they do try to make it more interactive as it make’s the lecture a bit more exciting for everyone.

Hopefully by the time graduation comes round, normality will be resumed and we can all get on with our lives without having to worry about COVID.

Luke Johnston is a final year BSc in Public Relations & Communication Management student at Ulster University. He can be found on LinkedIn.

2020: The Year That Changed Consumerism

2020: The Year That Changed Consumerism

With 2020 drawing to a close and Christmas around the corner, it is now more evident than ever how significant an impact the Covid-19 pandemic has had across the world, affecting every aspect of life including how we shop. With ever changing lockdown rules that are seemingly unending, people have been changing how they spend their hard-earned cash.

Back when lockdown first hit in March consumer spending dropped to an all-time low with shoppers surviving on the bare essentials. As we begin to transition back to normality people are torn between supporting local businesses and giving in to the convenience of online retail giants like amazon. With next day delivery and even same day delivery in certain parts of the UK that trip to the shops is becoming a chore that people no longer need to complete. With a phone and access to internet you can have something ordered within five minutes and delivered to your house by the following morning.

It is already very clear that the high street will look very different in the coming years as retailers’ transition to online stores and weaker players begin to disappear. However, these impacts are not limited to smaller stores as even the likes of Arcadia along with its brands Topshop, Topman, Dorothy Perkins, Burton, Wallis, Evans, Miss Selfridge and Outfit have collapsed into administration. With 444 shops under their belt heading into town for a look around the shops may become a thing of the past. Unfortunately, Arcadia’s retailers have fallen out of fashion in recent years, as it failed to respond to increasing competition from younger firms such as Asos.

Simon Geale, senior vice president of client solutions at Proxima said “There are now other brands that are cheaper, more convenient, and have greater variety to their ranges. These are the brands that are winning the battle.”

This shift in buying habits creates a new wave of challenges for businesses as they need to evolve to keep up with competition and implement effective marketing strategies in order to stay relevant in the eyes of the consumers. Over lockdown there have been no shortage of examples of brands embracing lockdown and coming up with clever campaigns to market their products and services but a personal favourite of mine came in early November.

With further lockdowns being imposed on the UK, the fitness industry retaliated, insisting they be deemed as essential in order to help the public’s physical and mental wellbeing during these tough times. Grenade (a sports nutrition company) jumped on the band wagon in an attempt to further the cause by driving a bright orange tank carrying James Haskell and Paul Olima through central London before parking up outside parliament. Not only did this create great PR for the company but also helped raise over 566,000 signatures towards a petition to keep gyms open.

These are unsettling times for businesses, with a recession likely to be on the way it can be easy to neglect marketing strategies and instead focus solely on survival. This would be a huge mistake as implementing marketing strategies has and will continue to be a huge part of a business’ survival. This is not a time to play on people’s fears or run a tone-deaf campaign that ignores what’s going on in society but instead a time to utilise strategic marketing campaigns with the consumer at the heart, highlighting brand values and making the best of a pretty grim situation.

Although Covid-19 is still a threat, people are trying to get on with their lives and so, brands need to continue to market to their customers. The businesses that disappear out of the public eye during these times will face huge consequences just like Arcadia. The businesses that continue to adapt and persevere alongside the public, implementing creative strategies and maximising customer engagement will flourish and continue to do so as we come out the other side of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Joshua Van Loggerenberg is a final year BSc in Communication Management & Public Relations student at Ulster University. He can be found on: LinkedIn and Instagram.