“Who are you wearing?” (Hilton. P, 2017)

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Just over 3 years ago, my 18-year-old self, boarded a one-way Aer Lingus flight to London. As I sat in my overpriced seat I was confident, more confident than I had ever felt in my entire life. I had just left my Mum, pretending to cry into the sleeve of her jumper, outside WHSmith in Belfast International Airport to pursue my dream of working in Television. Fast forward 3 years, I return, to the same sight of my crying mother, with my tail between my legs and my bank account £1000 overdrawn, having failed to secure Holly Willoughby’s daytime slot.

Living in London introduced me to a great concept, I previously had not heard of, called ‘growing up’. I would have voted myself, the least likely out of my undergraduate course, to pursue a Master’s Degree, however, somehow, I have found myself back in Belfast, learning about this concept of “public relations”. Image may contain: night and outdoor
As interesting as I find myself, I have learned to find PR even more interesting, since starting my MSc. My only real experience in the field of PR stemmed from my part-time job in a restaurant, dealing with the public all day, every day. I learned more about ‘people’ waiting on tables in that small restaurant that I had in the previous 18 years of my life. If I could take one thing away from the customer service industry, it would be the idea of “giving the people what they want”.

Like Jade, in the iconic “Bratz” movie, I have a “passion for fashion”. Growing up, when most boys my age were idolizing Gary from Geordie Shore, my only interests were the panel of judges on America’s Next Top Model. The fashion industry is ever evolving, and this week, the biggest piece of news in the industry was Gucci’s decision to stop using real fur in their designs.
Fur in the fashion world has always been a controversial topic, however, it is an issue I have always remained relatively neutral on. Recently I have begun to think, is fur really necessary in the fashion industry? For years, organizations such as PETA have campaigned against the use of fur in the industry, but why now in 2017 has such an iconic brand such as Gucci decided not to carry on using real fur?

I recently was reminded in my Strategic Marketing module, of this idea that you should “give the people what they want, not what you think they want”. Which perhaps is what Gucci’s CEO Marco Bizzari is now beginning to do. In PR, we learn about the idea of ‘publics’, does this mean that Bizzari has decided that his customers do not need real fur anymore?

Ingrid Newkirk, founder of PETA said “The writing was on the wall: Today’s shoppers don’t want to wear the skins of animals who were caged, then electrocuted or bludgeoned to death. Until all animal skins and coats are finally off the racks of clothing stores worldwide, PETA will keep up the pressure on the clothing and fashion industry.” (Holt, 2017)

Gucci, along with other brands such as Ralph Lauren or Stella McCartney has been able to adapt to ‘give the people what they want’ which is becoming refreshing, seeing as other brands such as Versace, stick to the conservative idea of ‘tradition’. I said previously, that I have always remained neutral on the issue of fur within the fashion industry, however, after Gucci’s decision of taking fur off the catwalk, my opinions have swayed. The fashion industry and current trends change season by season but the issue of fur has been a long-lasting battle. Should other brands now follow in Gucci’s footsteps?


Before enrolling on this course, I would have never thought about issues like these in this way, however, my eyes have been well and truly opened to the world around me. In the PR industry, likewise with marketing, I have learned that we cannot sit on the fence. Opinions are a great thing, and questioning others’ opinions, is also great.

This time next year, I hope to sit again on a flight to London. Although this time, I am not after a seat on the “This Morning” sofa.

Jordan Spry is studying for an MSc in Communications and Public Relations with Advertising at Ulster University. He can be found on Twitter and Instagram: @jordanspry_

Survival Guide to University – From a Final Year to a First Year.

This is a guide to help prosperous first year students get the low-down on all aspects of university life.

Let’s start with what you already may have figured out by now – no one is here to hold your hand! Probably the most difficult adjustment I felt when joining university was the strange feeling of being left on your own. For example, on my first day I was clueless about the documentation needed to register, or registering in general.

Of course I wasn’t alone, several friends were as oblivious as I was, if people tell you they know what they’re doing within the first two months – they’re lying… Most people are generally as clueless as you are, they just hide it better!

There may be guides to help you, but they disappear after the first week, the second semester rolls in and just when you think you have a handle on life at the Poly, block 21 appears on your timetable. Don’t bother standing in the mall, ferociously scanning the Jordanstown map with minutes to spare, you’re not going to find it. FYI – it’s in the Dalriada building.

You might think, “Why would a PR student need to venture to a medical building?” Well Freshers, welcome to Jordanstown’s wonderful, questionable, layout; the gift that keeps on giving.

Rest assured there will be days you will sleep in for your 9am lecture after a complete rager with your culchie housemates in the Bot, followed by a house party on Rugby Avenue. Do not do as I did and assume a taxi will take you there promptly – it won’t. In fact you’ll end up 30/40 minutes late and £15 poorer and the taxi will more or less drop you off at the lough and expect you to walk the rest of the way. Speaking of transport, if you’re planning on getting the UniLink, be sure to be there early, the first few weeks are when everyone tries to make an effort, meaning the queue for the bus will be packed.

In your first few weeks of class, suss out who the rich kid is, who has (luckily for you) decided to bring their car, lives in the Holylands and thinks they’re a cut above public transport. They are your first class ticket to free, comfortable journeys to class every day, and save you from the misery of a horrible hangover surrounded by people at 8am on a Goldliner.

Essential side note – when you’re hungover the Spar sausage rolls and a Starbucks caramel latte will be your almighty Saviour.

The final and most important tip to university is to say yes to every opportunity that presents itself, unless it’s people trying to sell you roses outside the Bot on a Wednesday. You will never be as carefree and have as little responsibility as you have now. HAVE FUN. No one looks back at their time at university and thinks about all those golden weeks (it is a fantastic achievement though).

First year is all about going on pub crawls around the big smoke, trying new things, meeting different people, and waking up to go to the Hatfield at 11.30am (another one for the culchies). P.S. The Hatfield is not the place to showcase that snazzy pair of Nike trainers you bought when the loan came in, trust me. A half zip and a lanyard with the keys to your swanky new dungeon in Damascus will suffice.

Annie
Purchasing Hatfield merchandise is always a good idea.

P.P.S. – when it comes to the end of the year and house inspections are looming, if you have a bedroom door off the hinges, a light fixture in the kitchen ripped from the ceiling and a broken fire extinguisher, (or any other household damage) the Holylands Handyman Jimmy and some trusty old superglue will save your dignity and of course, your deposit. Thank me later.

Annie

Annie Shivers is a final year BSc in Public Relations student at Ulster University. She is on Twitter @ShiversAnnie and LinkedIn https://uk.linkedin.com/in/annie-shivers-9085b810a 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ribs, Bibs and Blackboards: In At the Deep End

I started classes for my Masters in Communications and PR in the University of Ulster on the 26th of September and one of the first things I’ve learned so far is that jokes about domestic violence are a terrible way to sell ribs.

That’s going to need a little context. Ribs n’ Bibs is a small restaurant in Belfast owned by a man called Malachi Toner. On the 27th of September images started doing the rounds on social media of their advertising blackboard:

 

 

Eesh. A “joke” in really poor taste that is deeply offensive to victims of domestic abuse. It did not go down well.

First things first, if anyone reading this has been a victim of domestic violence, here’s a link to Womens Aid NI. A lot of smarter and more eloquent people than me have written about why domestic violence jokes are so horrible, for example.

This blog isn’t about the joke itself but about how the company reacted and what I think they should have done. It’s going to be a bit of an experiment to look back after my Masters and (hopefully) have much better ideas and be able to back them up with way more knowledge.

When the image above started circulating on social media, there was an immediate call from some users to let Ribs n Bibs know how out of order the joke was in the easiest way possible; by leaving 1 star reviews on their Facebook page. A company like Ribs n’ Bibs lives and dies on its Facebook reviews. If you’re visiting Belfast and looking for somewhere to eat, you check online. You also  avoid the places with one star reviews.

Within a matter of hours, the restaurant had received approximately 200 1 star reviews, dragging its overall rating down to 1. As of writing there are currently 756 1 star reviews and 98 5 star reviews. It’s overall rating is currently 1.5.

Ouch.

The restaurant’s first reaction, or at least the first reaction of whoever was running their Facebook page was this:

 

 

I have a three month old niece. She’s the most perfect baby who has ever lived, but her entire communication skill set consists of staring, the occasional grunt and crying when she’s hungry.

I am certain that she could have come up with a better response than the one above.

The next morning the owner, Malachi Toner, did the rounds of the local Talk Radio shows to try and undo the damage. These will be on demand if you want to listen back. He apologised (which is good) and talked about training and fund raisers (also good) without any actual details (not so good). It didn’t go down as well as Mr Toner would have hoped. Many people online accused him of deflecting, of trying to paint his staff and himself as victims.

What Ribs n’ Bibs  have ignored is their conversations with their customers are two-way and symmetric. I gave it a bit of thought and came up with a three step process to try and deal with the problem. I like to think my 3 step programme is a) the right thing to do and b) helps the company resolve a difficult PR problem.

  • Apologise. Do it soon. Do it sincerely. Ribs n’ Bibs didn’t get a proper “I’m sorry” out for over twelve hours.  The boss needs to take the heat and needs to do it with humility. The most important thing here is speed. Social media doesn’t sleep, the earlier you get involved, the more you can direct the narrative.
  • There are plenty of charities and organisations across Northern Ireland that provide help, advice and support to victims of domestic abuse. Contact one of them, explain that you realise the joke was deeply offensive and you want your staff to go through training to explain why it angered so many people and what they should do in the future. Set a date.
  • With this same charity organise a fundraiser. I don’t mean a vague promise, set a date. 

Once step 2 and 3 are done, put out a joint statement with the charity with details of the training and fundraiser.

By the time you go on the morning radio circuit, you have the chance to move the narrative from “Restaurant makes offensive joke” to “Restaurant quickly learns lesson, donates to charity”.

The very same people who get angry and go destroy your rating on Facebook are the same people who will actually reward you for attempting to right your wrong. This might have been turned into good PR exposure while also raising money for a good cause.

Or maybe not. It’s my first week.

 

Jason Ashford is studying for a MSc in Communications and Public Relations with Political Lobbying at the University of Ulster. He can be found on Twitter @jasonashford89.

 

Since my last political post faired out so well, I have decided to continue to include my own opinion on the going-on’s in Northern Ireland’s ever-changing political landscape.

If Facebook was invented during the Troubles, I can only imagine that the war would have been fought with a keyboard instead of with guns. As social media has grew in popularity, a steady decline of humility and feeling has occurred. This negative correlation showed itself to me firstly when Margaret Thatcher died, as thousands flooded my timeline to show their courtesy – yet simultaneous disrespect – to her death.

However, on 21/03/2017, I was genuinely shocked to come on to Facebook and Twitter, and see so many disgusting comments at the death of Martin McGuinness. A man without whom Northern Ireland would still be very much stuck in the 1980’s.

As Margaret Thatcher is the only person who comes to mind when trying to compare the two political giants’ deaths, I must remind you of the background of each character.

Baroness Thatcher came from a well-to-do family and grew up in a quiet market town in Lincolnshire. Martin McGuinness was raised in the Bogside of Derry City, which to those who haven’t studied an ounce of NI history (half of my Facebook timeline), was a highly deprived area where Catholics were discriminated against at the electoral polls and at the housing executive. He left school at the age of 15 and without the right education behind him to express his anger at the British Government through speech, he delved into the violence that was rife at that time throughout NI.

I found this tweet sums up a great deal of Martin McGuinness’ early years.

 

This is not a post to make excuses for McGuinness’ early years, when he was obviously under the influence of the romanticised Irish patriots of the 20th century, but instead a post to commemorate his final 20 years where he pushed for change for Northern Ireland.

The progress he made throughout his political career is unparalleled – being the chief negotiator for Sinn Fein and Irish republicans through the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, and staying with the power sharing Executive throughout its 19 year period. He too had to make compromises when dealing with the opposition who he fought with violence so vehemently just years previously. His warm and witty personality caught the attention of US President Bill Clinton, who spoke at his funeral.

The most poignant part of Clinton’s speech was when he mentioned Nelson Mandela. The South-African freedom fighter has come to epitomise peace and revolution – despite being involved in similar militant tactics as a young man. Clinton said that in a conversation with Mandela, Mandela told his people “if I can get over ‘it’ you can too, we have got to build a future”, which is exactly the attitude Martin McGuinness had when realising that until republicans and loyalist sides learned to move forward together, they wouldn’t move at all.

 

Queen Elizabeth II shakes hands with Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinnesswatched by First minister Peter Robinson (centre) at the Lyric Theatre in Belfast. Photograph: PA
McGuinness shaking Queen Elizabeth II’s hand. “If I can get over it, you can too. We have got to build a future.” – Nelson Mandela

 

If the Queen can shake Martin McGuinness’ hand although he was head of the IRA when her cousin Mountbatten was murdered by them – then surely everyone can pay respect to him (or perhaps not react at all), because after all he is a human being.

It is easy to judge someone when you only see them in black and white. But when I think of Martin McGuinness, his past reflects a rainbow of triumphs and turbulence.

Martin McGuinness “expanded the definition of ‘us’, and shrunk the definition of ‘them”

– Bill Clinton.

Image result for martin mcguinness funeral

 

Shannon Quinn is a 2nd year CAM student at Ulster University. She can be contacted on LinkedIn at https://uk.linkedin.com/in/shannon-quinn-556236132 and on Twitter @ShannonQuinnPR.