12 May 2015

Can your brand 'Go Monkey?'

Marketers today are surrounded by fire and brimstone 'end of days' preachers. We're constantly being told that the future is digital, that demographics are over and traditional advertising media are dead men walking.

So you'd be forgiven for being confused by the seemingly retro move which appears to have become the most esteemed weapon in the marketing arsenal of big consumer brands. Barely a week goes by without another company announcing a cuddly toy giveaway of their brand mascot.

Whether it's a miniature Brian the Robot, Neil the Sloth or, of course, Aleksander or any of the extended meerkat family - the great British public are seemingly putty in the hands of any company who offers a free toy in return for their investment in insurance, living room furniture or frozen peas.

It all began 14 years ago with Monkey, created by London ad agency Mother to promote ITV Digital alongside comedian Jonny Vegas.
Pic http://www.virginmedia.com/tvradio/galleries/classictv-ads.php?ssid=4 

Anybody signing up to the broadcaster's digital service received a free monkey toy and customers went, well… bananas. Monkey toys began selling on eBay at greatly inflated prices and even knitting patterns showing how to make your own monkey were exchanging hands for cold, hard cash. Monkey was undoubtedly a huge marketing success - not successful enough to stop ITV Digital from going to the wall within a year but good enough to transcend the brand he had been created for.

Years later, after a protracted legal battle between ITV and their ad agency (who retained the rights), Monkey popped up in a new series of ads for PG Tips and has gone on to become an instantly recognisable advertising icon.

Fast forward a few years to 2006 and ad agency VCCP took 'going monkey' a step further and in doing so transformed the fortunes of struggling price comparison site, Comparethemarket.com with the introduction of Aleksander the Meerkat.

The campaign, now in its sixth year, has seen market share increase from about 5% to 40%. A stat boosted by the 2011 introduction of cuddly toy versions of Aleksander, and various other members of his mongoose mob, for customers taking out an insurance policy through the website. 
Pic from http://www.comparethemarket.com/meerkat/the-toy-collection/
With more than five million meerkat toys now delivered, there is no doubt that this simple giveaway has proven to be massively successful. And it says a huge amount about the place marketing can have in the modern world when consumers are literally cuddling up to brand symbology.

While we marketers are all nodding along to the latest research about consumer engagement on Snapchat (and while we're at it, can we have a moratorium on the word 'engagement' please?), it's easy for marketers to forget the awesome power of a simple giveaway.

Research from the British Promotional Marketing Association found that 34% of consumers had changed their choice of insurer or comparison site just to get hold of a meerkat toy.

In these days of hyper targeting and marketing automation software, never forget that sometimes the oldest tricks in the book are still the best.


(This article previously appeared in the first edition of the re-launched Belfast Telegraph 'Business Telegraph' on 12th May 2015)

Martin Byrne is an integrated marketing consultant at Morrow Communications

14 April 2015

Team Morrow is running the Belfast City Marathon!

An artist's impression of Mencap's Children and Families Centre
A few of us are lacing up our trainers and logging lots of miles in preparation for the Deep River Rock Belfast City Marathon on Bank Holiday Monday 4th May 2015. We have entered a relay team to raise money for Mencap and its Big Step Forward Appeal.

Mencap launched the Big Step Forward Appeal in October 2014 to raise £1.7million to open its new Children and Families Centre. At the heart of the new centre will be the relocated Segal House nursery for 2 to 4-year-olds with a learning disability, autism and developmental delay. The new building will be on the site of the former Newtownbreda Primary School.

Morrow Communications provides PR support for Mencap's Big Step Forward Appeal, so we have seen first-hand just how special Segal House is to the children and their families. They have inspired us throughout the whole campaign and we can’t wait to see the finished building as we know it will be an amazing resource for families in Belfast and the rest of Northern Ireland.

You may already be committed to a charity of your choice but if the work of Mencap strikes a chord and you're interested in supporting our fundraising efforts, visit our Just Giving page.

For more information about the Big Step Forward Appeal, visit MencapBigStepForward.org.

1 April 2015

DotEveryone Anyone ?

The beauty and value of the internet was not lost on me when, due to the latest in a long line of sick children incidents, I missed the first airing of the annual Dimbleby Lecture on BBC1.  Appropriately it was to be delivered by Baroness Martha Lane Fox of  www.lastminute.com fame about the power and importance of the internet to all our futures. All was not lost however and with the excellent BBC I-Player delivered on the very internet platform which was the subject of the lecture, I was able to catch up on what was a stimulating and well considered debate about the potential for the UK to be a global digital powerhouse. Not that long ago, that simple act would have been unthinkable and I would have had to hold out hope for a potential late night re-run on BBC2 some months later. The speed of change that the internet has facilitated across all parts of our daily life is breath-taking and as the lecture suggested we would do well to keep up.

Martha Lane Fox's central focus was to espouse the creation of a new institution  with the sole purpose of making Britain brilliant at the internet. Her belief is that we need a new national institution to lead an ambitious charge – to make us the most digital nation on the planet. She believed that we are currently going too slow, being too incremental – in skills, in infrastructure, in public services and that we need to be bolder. She readily admitted that most would think another 'institution' was hardly the best model, given the necessity to take chances and move swiftly. But her vision is for a body that would be an independent organisation that is given its power by government but has a strong mandate from the public. We will all be setting its agenda, we will be informing it and taking part in it - hence the proposed name DOT EVERYONE.

Her campaign would set out to help educate all of us, from all walks of life, about the internet and to tackle both skills and infrastructure deficits. The internet is the organising principle of our age, touching all our lives, every day. As the late activist Aaron Swartz put it, “It’s not OK not to understand the internet anymore”.

Secondly, she argues that DOT EVERYONE must put women at the heart of the technology sector, pointing to the fact that there are fewer women in the digital sector than there are in Parliament- which as we know is not very many.
Finally, she recognises that the internet is not without its risks and that we should aim for a much more ambitious global role in unpicking the complex moral and ethical issues that the internet clearly presents. For example, what are the implications of an internet embedded in your home appliances? Do children need online rights? What is an acceptable use of drones?

As if to make the case, she held up the BBC and the NHS as examples of what globally significant 'institutions' we have been capable of in the past and argued "let’s not have a poverty of ambition – we can and should be inventing the definitive public institution for our digital age."

Much of what Baroness Lane-Fox argued rang through with a recent report from Fujitsu called the Digital Inside Out report  which suggests that we’re on the cusp of being a Digital First Nation. However, these concerns around a perceived lack of skills and education remain a critical issue which needs to be addressed, leaving exciting opportunities yet to be fully realised.

In fact, Fujitsu found that 39% of people want to see Britain moving faster towards a digital future, whilst a staggering 73% of UK employees believe digital is vital to the success of their organisation.

It is hard to disagree that organisations that put digital at the heart of everything they do will be the ones to prosper in the next ten years. Her suggestion for a grassroots movement to enhance everyone’s understanding, access and skills around the web should improve this massively.

I can't help but think that as a devolved nation, here in Northern Ireland we too should be taking the lead here, investing in our skills and infrastructure to ensure that we are at the cutting edge of this digital revolution. Just as the broader UK vision DOT EVERYONE aspires to, we need joined up thinking and long-term focus and collaboration between the private and public sectors. Sadly the recent evidence of government cuts to STEM Education as outlined in a previous post on this blog, would suggest we still have important lessons to learn. One thing the internet has done, perhaps more than anything is levelled the playing field when it come to business, industry and commerce on a global scale. Where once the barriers here were oceans and languages or cultures, today with the aid of the internet, the only real barrier is our mindset.

If by chance you miss the 28 day deadline for the I-Player content, fear not as you can find a copy of the speech on the DOT EVERYONE website. You can even sign a pledge to show your support for the initiative - yet another demonstration of the power of the internet to harness the power of many.

27 March 2015

If we don’t build it they won’t come !

The ‘it’ we are referring to is Northern Ireland’s skills base. Now with the very real prospect of an attractive rate of corporation tax in Northern Ireland, following the news that Royal Assent has been granted for corporation tax varying powers, it is important to remember it is not a silver bullet for the local economy. Equally important is the need for a steady flow of skills and talent to meet the needs of a modern knowledge based economy.
To date, much of the focus has been on corporation tax powers and while there is still more work to do on the eventual implementation of the powers, at face value it represents a great addition to our economic armoury. Those involved in GROW NI who have championed the cause deserve great credit.  On its own however, it is not enough and you have to question the efficacy of current government planning and whether there is joined up thinking - especially when you see where some of the budget cuts are now falling.

Jim Stewart, Chairman of Sentinus,  the leading educational charity which delivers Science Technology Engineering and Maths (STEM) engagement programmes to over 60,000 pupils across Northern Ireland, has said that recently announced “Budget cuts to STEM education will have a detrimental effect on our ability to attract young people into the sector and in turn severely hamper the growth of the local knowledge economy.”  He has a very valid point. Calling the cuts "short- sighted” he argues strongly that they run entirely contrary to core government strategies designed to build a knowledge economy and attract additional foreign direct investment  - central to which is an attractive rate of corporation tax. Following the logic,  if corporation tax does indeed make Northern Ireland a more attractive place to invest, we actually run the risk of creating unrealistic expectations with inward investors which down the line we can’t fulfil. They will only come if we have the right talent with the right skills – and we know increasingly that in a knowledge based global economy that means STEM based skills.

Sentinus and others in the STEM education space have had major cuts to their relatively modest budgets which have resulted in some popular school programmes having to be shelved. This is despite clear evidence that the work they do delivers significant return on investment and are a vital part of engaging with the next generation of engineers and broader knowledge economy talent.

They and others operate at the critical early seeding stage, their work designed to encourage more of our young people (and their parents) to see the value and critical importance of STEM subjects for modern economies.  Even with current funding they struggle to meet demand – and that is with the schools which are already engaged and which have already bought into the strategy. There are many other schools which aren’t fully engaged and which still need to wake up to the necessity of a STEM educated workforce. This would suggest we need more STEM advocacy and promotion in our schools – not less.  
According to Sentinus, the latest cuts are already affecting our young people and their educational experience in the important STEM subjects. They are convinced that unless these cuts are reconsidered, in the long run they will severely hamper our aspirations to grow a knowledge economy and our ability to service the demands of future inward investment.  It’s hard to disagree.

If that wasn’t bad enough, other cuts proposed in third level and higher education are likely to also impact negatively on our skills offering and again seemingly contradict other elements of our economic strategy.
We understand that the Ulster University Economic Policy Centre is currently working on a skills barometer which might bring some much needed focus to the potential gaps in our strategic thinking. The need for investment in skills and the benefits derived from an educated workforce have been recognised for a long time. However, it is clear that the appropriate information is not available to assist young people to take well informed decisions about their future careers or for  industry to highlight their changing needs. Hopefully it will also prove useful to our local decision makers when they are considering future economic strategy and prioritising budgets.

An analysis of economic activity per head in each of the 12 UK regions and the levels of qualifications in those regions shows a very clear correlation between these two factors. While London is the clear ‘winner’ unfortunately Northern Ireland is one of poorest performing regions. This makes a very strong case for further investment to deliver a strong skills base in Northern Ireland. If we build it, and offer an attractive rate of corporation tax, investors and jobs will come.



13 March 2015

Is an Export Food Marketing Body for Northern Ireland finally on the Menu ?

The argument for a single focus export food and drink marketing body for Northern Ireland has never been stronger. The recent endorsement by the DETI Minister for its creation is hopefully an important step in the right direction. As always however the proof of the pudding will be in the eating.
We just have to look over the fence at our near neighbours in the Republic of Ireland and Scotland if we are in any doubt about its importance. Under the banner of Scotland Food & Drink, their single minded focus has paid dividends. In 2012 the industry’s turnover hit £13.9 billion – representing the largest increase in turnover of all growth sectors in Scotland, even out-performing oil and gas. And they keep growing; initial growth targets were smashed a full six years early and, not surprisingly, they have now set their ambitions even higher.  
Our other Celtic cousins have also reaped the benefits of a focused and well-resourced marketing strategy, led by Bord Bia. Their latest figures show a 4% increase in exports for 2014 to reach a record high of almost €10.5 billion - the fifth consecutive year of export growth representing an expansion of 45% or €3.2 billion since 2009. And remember this was against the backdrop of some of the most challenging economic times for a generation.
Northern Ireland clearly enjoys many of the same ingredients which have led to that success. Just like Scotland and the Republic of Ireland we are blessed with some of the world’s most amazing natural resources. Our land, our water, our seas – all provide the foundation for the raw materials that underpin our strong tradition of quality food production.  Supply chain integrity is a key credential, as is a newfound hunger to exploit our potential. We also have a wealth of quality food and drink producers at all levels. Consider the amazing success of our artisan food companies at the recent Great Taste Awards in London, where 99 NI companies took 264 awards, far beyond any other region of the UK - a clear demonstration that we are able to compete with the best.
But we are missing one vital ingredient that both our neighbours enjoy: a focused and well-resourced export food marketing strategy, delivered by a single body which can take these inherent strengths, package them and present the ‘Northern Ireland Food and Drink’ stall to global markets.
The opportunity is now truly global. The world’s population is expected to increase from 7 billion today to 9 billion by 2050. It is estimated that 12% of the world’s population - 842 million people - don’t eat enough to be healthy. And by 2030, the world is expected to need 40% more water and 30% more energy. There is also pressure on our resources like never before. Globally, food is, and will remain, a critical issue.
The Northern Ireland Food & Drink Association (NIFDA) has long argued that an export food and drink marketing body should follow the Scottish and Irish model and be a new NDPB funded by both government and industry to fulfil a range of tasks. These would include encouraging closer working and collaboration between the industry and government, and within the industry itself, as well as developing a more strategic approach to identifying and exploiting key markets and opportunities. To do that we need a body which can help develop critical mass in key markets and provide a range of services to accelerate external sales growth with specific market expertise, knowledge and access support.  That all makes perfect sense and should be the final destination, even if we have to bite off a bit at a time.

Our unique geographic and political position represents a distinct advantage, but only if we play our cards right. GB is a large market and a net importer of food. Our very close proximity and same food standards, legislation and currency is a major plus. The presence of major UK retailers in NI and our ability to label our products as British gives us a distinct advantage compared to other EU competitors including the Republic of Ireland.

Meanwhile, the developing economies – BRIC, Africa, Middle East – have a much higher rate of growth with a growing population and increasing wealth, and they are also net importers of food. Here we need to establish our supply credentials  of quality and product integrity, and ensure we have the necessary market knowledge as well as meet the necessary import qualifications/quotas.

In the EU & USA markets, while there is likely to be relatively low growth there are still huge opportunities for Northern Ireland producers due to these consumers’ affluence, cultural awareness and affinity with the island of Ireland, and the reputation we enjoy for quality food production. Just as the Republic of Ireland has done, we need to develop a distinct USP and build on that reputation.  

Many will now watch with interest to see how Ireland takes advantage of its position as the first European country to be granted full access for its beef in the US market after the ban on European beef imports was lifted in January this year. The ban had been in place for almost 16 years, since the BSE crisis in the 1990s and should now provide a multi-million euro boost for the Irish beef industry. No doubt we will see a significant marketing push on the benefits and USPs of premium grass-fed Irish beef into the lucrative US beef market. It may start niche, but a slice of the US beef market is still big business.

While the export potential for NI is very clear, we now also better understand the importance of a vibrant food and drink sector to the local tourism offering. Just as Scotland and the Republic of Ireland have discovered, it is increasingly a key consideration for visitors.  A recent survey for Scotland revealed that 49% of visitors cited ‘trying local food’ as one of the top activities, whilst 66% thought that the quality of food is important when choosing Scotland as a destination.

There is no doubt that the Agri-Food Strategy Board has brought a renewed focus to the importance of our food and drink industry and has spelt out the scale of the opportunity both home and abroad. We now need a step change in activity if we are to achieve the targets set out in the ‘Going for Growth’ report, specifically if we are to raise exports by 75% and create the 15,000 new jobs projected.

EU-backed programmes such as Access 6 are a credible start: bringing together NIFDA, IEA and Scotland Food & Drink, it aims to increase export sales by £19million across 90 regional food and drink manufacturers over a three year period.  But sales need support and we must now prioritise the promotion of Northern Ireland food and drink in export markets to realise our full potential. The risk of doing nothing will leave us at a distinct disadvantage compared to our closest neighbours and competitors.  Let’s hope that the powers that be have firmly put the creation of a ‘Northern Ireland Food and Drink’ export marketing body on the menu and are prepared to pick up the tab.

6 March 2015

Blown Away to Stornoway....

Jane Watson, Events Director explains how and why she ended up in Stornoway for 3 days in March….

Following the hugely successful British Ports Association (BPA) conference in October 2014 on behalf of Warrenpoint Harbour Authority, Morrows were approached in January this year by the Stornoway Port Authority (SPA) who are hosting the 2015 BPA Conference to assist them with event logistics, planning and delivery.  Ports are the lifeblood of the towns and communities in which they are located – importing and exporting supplies & freight, employing local people in operations and transferring ferry and Cruise passengers visiting the area.  This is true right across the UK (and Ireland) – from the southern shores of Dover who host 2016 to the Outer Hebrides where Jane found herself.

“Contemplating my trip to Stornoway focussed mainly on BBC News’ weathergirl Carol for the few days before, who often highlights the Islands in the daily forecast – and as suspected snow and rain was in the picture. (Nothing we’re not used to, no sweat I’ll pack my wellies just in case).  The journey from Belfast was pretty good, after a short de-icer delay in Belfast within 4 hours of leaving the office, including a short stop in Inverness departure lounge (where I mistakenly picked up a bag of Haggis & Cracked Black Pepper crisps and burnt the bake of myself!) courtesy of Flybe and Loganair, I was there. 


Flying over the snow-capped ‘Harris Hills’ (separating Harris and Lewis – 2 ‘Isles’ with 2 kings, but no water in between) it was like a winter wonderland but stepping out of the plane reminded me of the last scene in the Bond film – Skyfall – miles and miles of low lying, rustic brown moorland and I even saw two Stags on the roadside (apparently they only come out in the rain, but my host Magda hadn’t seen them very often – really?). 

Magda Choluj is Marketing Manager with SPA, originally from Poland but has lived almost everywhere (she has a motorhome with her Tasmanian partner Bo), but settled in Stornoway for over a year.  Magda had a jam-packed recce planned for us in the space of 48 hours….

The Conference venue is An Lanntair an arts centre and creative gallery space which is fully funded through their commercial activities and grant applications – they have excellent facilities for the BPA conference, and overlooks the Harbour. 

The Cala Hotel group operate three properties on the island - The Royal, The Cabarfeidh and the Caladh Inn and we have already booked out most of the bedrooms on the island for BPA. The Royal Hotel overlooking the marina was my abode for 2 nights – a traditional style hotel which is well equipped with a big telly, plug beside the bed, and wifi on every floor – the breakfast was good too with personal and attentive hotel staff wherever you went. 

During the BPA conference, day trips are planned for guests joining the BPA members – this is really the best way to explore the island which can be done from 1 end to the other in about 4 hours. We’ve planned a trip to a Harris Tweed factory, Whisky & Gin distillery (set up by Village residents), Standing Stones, Black Houses, Beaches, Ancient Churches, Craft Workshops and breath-taking viewpoints. There really is a lot to offer the discerning tourist, cyclist or hiker in Harris & Lewis and you’ll be made to feel very welcome. It’s customary to wave to passing drivers letting you through the single track roads and bridges – Just like you do if you’re from ‘the country’. 

Perhaps the most special part of my visit was squeezed in at the end – after meeting with the Local Council or “Comhairle” – we managed to sneek a peek at the newly restored Lews Castle and Museum Centre which is due to open in July.  Sitting high above the Harbour, the Castle had many former lives including a hospital, school and home to Lord & Lady Mathieson before lying derelict for many years. Approximately 18 months ago Heritage Lottery, Highlands & Islands Enterprise and Council funding was agreed and our very own Graham Construction were shipped in (no pun intended!) to restore and rejuvenate the Castle to its former glory.  BPA Delegates will have the opportunity to enjoy traditional Gaelic entertainment at the finale dinner in beautiful surroundings. 

On the way home, my case was over the 20kg limit, but the check-in clerk didn’t seem to mind (it was the wellies and the extra hotel toiletries that ‘fell into my case’!) The hangar style airport and 40 seater propeller jet planes from Stornoway reminded me of the ‘way it used to be’ in Belfast City – who else remembers dropping your bags at the foot of the steps?  I was even offered a free cuppa and a biscuit from Flybe – a free lunch does exist after all. 

SPA are also celebrating their 150 year anniversary in 2015 and hosting the BPA Conference is quite a big deal, so much so that delegates will receive a bespoke gift made from their Anniversary Harris Tweed.   SPA and Stornoway itself are very proud to be hosting the BPA conference and along with other anniversary events this year, it’s set to be the ‘talk of the town’ for years to come.  Our job is to make sure it’s as easy as possible for over 100 BPA members and exhibitors to come to Stornoway, they have a great time and ensure the budget is break-even. 

So with the draft programme in place and everyone on the island lined up, the rest is over to us! Best get cracking…..”






12 December 2014

Jingle Ball Rocked!

Belfast’s Odyssey Arena was rocked by almost 8,000 screaming pop fans this week as our long standing client Cool FM brought their one night pop extravaganza ‘Jingle Ball’ (sponsored by Little Big Shot Energy Drink) to town. The event included a roster of top pop talent with some of the hottest acts in the UK. Paloma Faith and headliners McBusted took to the stage to deafening screams from the assembled crowd of teens and tweens in the largest multi-act pop concert Belfast has ever seen.

Our own pop Svengali Marty Byrne was backstage throughout the event, keeping control of a media room packed full of Northern Ireland’s best showbiz reporters, photographers and bloggers. Every act called in for photos and quick-fire questions from the press pack before going on stage and Marty had his hands full liaising with the acts, artist management and the media throughout the event.

The full line up included; Leah McFall, Hometown, Neon Jungle, Elyar Fox, Fuse ODG, Sigma, Labrinth, Paloma Faith and headliners McBusted.

Cool FM brought the Jingle Ball to Belfast for the first time in 2012 and Morrow have been involved in negotiating successful media partnerships and press coverage for the event since the beginning.

A limited allocation of tickets for Jingle Ball 2015 have been released for any pop fans wanting to be among the first to secure their place at what promises to be another of Belfast’s biggest music events of next year.

Check below for some photos from the event (courtesy of Johnny Frazer photography)

11 November 2014

Morrows Voted Best in Class in UK

It's always great to have your hard work rewarded and recognised, especially when it comes from your peers. Morrows was recognised as Best Agency Conference Organiser in the UK at the inaugural Association of British Professional Conference Organisers (ABPCO) Excellence Awards held in London last week. The award capped a great week for the company as we were also highly commended in the Marketing Agency of the Year category in the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) Ireland Marketing Excellence Awards 2014.

In London's landmark OXO Building, we were voted the best agency PCO by our industry peers for the design, delivery and marketing of the International Business Women’s Conference (IBWC) 2014 hosted by our client Women in Business NI in Belfast in May.

A particular emphasis of the ABPCO awards was the broadening of the PCO’s role to include the promotion and wider communication around such events and IBWC2014 was the perfect platform to showcase all of our skills to deliver a very successful conference for Women in Business NI.

Anyone involved in the industry will appreciate the huge amount of work and effort that goes into a conference of the scale and ambition of IBWC 2014. The fact that this recognition was awarded following a vote from industry peers makes it all the more rewarding and is further evidence that we in Northern Ireland can compete with the best.

 We received a number of ringing endorsements too from our client as well as Visit Belfast. Safe to say we couldn't be more pleased !

 Roseann Kelly, CEO of Women in Business Northern Ireland said;

“IBWC 2014 was a first for Northern Ireland, a first for Women in Business NI and a first for Morrow Communications. High levels of energy , passion and vision were required and Morrows shared this journey with us. Morrows input was a key element to the great success of IBWC and their success at the Association of British Professional Conference Organisers Excellence Awards is no surprise and very well deserved.”

 Rachael McGuickin, Director of Business Tourism, Visit Belfast, which supported the IBWC2014 conference commented;  

“Belfast is now competing with the best cities in the world to host major international conferences and events. To be successful in this market, it’s not only about first class event delivery, it’s also about coming up with innovative solutions and that’s exactly what Morrow Communications delivered for the IBWC14 in Belfast. I am thrilled that the vision, dedication and hard work of the Morrow Communications team has been recognised at the highest level in the UK. To have secured the endorsement of APBCO is an important achievement and Visit Belfast looks forward to working with Jane and her team to build on this latest success as we continue to strengthen Belfast reputation as a world-class conference destination.”