Lessons we can learn from January 2021

This lockdown has been hard.

I’m not even going to try to sugarcoat it: it’s been tough. The dark days, relentless Mancunian rain and withering boredom have reduced me to the stage where I’m looking back in envy on the banana bread days of Lockdown 1.0.

Yet brighter times are on the horizon. The vaccination roll-out is well underway (my grandparents both had their vaccines last week – hurrah!) and I’ve just read that in two weeks’ time, there will be an hour more light per day (double hurrah!). I’ve even tentatively booked two weeks off later on in the year in the hope that we’ll be able to venture more than a walk away from our houses.

January may have been one long ‘takeway-walk-Netflix-repeat’ mantra, but it delivered more than its fair share of on-screen entertainment and high drama, as the media continued to bring more huge, belief-defying, reality re-setting events into our living rooms. Trump was finally silenced on social media and ousted from the White House after a terrifying assault on the very cornerstone of democracy, kitchens became classrooms after schools shut and – the biggie – apparently KimYe are getting divorced. Devastating.

In fact, media events revealed some key learnings last month, so here are three marketing and PR lessons we can learn from the highs and lows of January 2021.

Event: JLo at President Biden’s inauguration
Lesson: Don’t shoehorn your brand in at every given moment

Jenny from the block was given a huge role to play at Biden’s inauguration, singing a mash-up of ‘This Land is Your Land’ and ‘America the Beautiful’ to the millions of people watching across the globe.

Yet, towards the end of the song, JLo threw in part of her 2000 hit ‘Let’s Get Loud’. The audacity.

Just because you’ve been given a platform, it doesn’t mean you have to blatantly plug your product or services, especially in situations which don’t warrant it.

Your audience will be left confused by the shoehorning in of your brand into the narrative when it doesn’t fit, resulting in your credibility taking a dive.

Event: Matt Hancock being interviewed on Good Morning Britain
Lesson: Be prepared in interviews for tricky questions – and don’t ignore the question

We cringed watching the video of Matt Hancock being grilled about voting down free school meals by Piers Morgan and Susanna Reid.

Then we cringed again half an hour later when we remembered it.

Media interviews provide great exposure, but – and we cannot stress this enough – you need to be prepared. There may be times when journalists ask tricky questions you don’t particularly want to answer. Do not just answer a completely different question a la Matt H – it not only says to the viewer/reader that you’re being evasive, but it also annoys the interviewer. They’ll either be like a dog with a bone and will interrogate you further or the following question will get even tougher.

Instead, be prepared for any potential bear traps, practice a line should a question come up and then figure out the best way to link back to the original topic of conversation.

Event: The rise of the sea shanty
Lesson: Keep an eye on Gen Z habits

So who had ‘viral sea shanties’ in the 2021 bingo? No, me neither. But thanks to Gen Zers, it happened. And I’m here for it.

Scottish postman Nathan Evans first posted his version of Wellerman on Gen Z-led TikTok where users across the world made it go viral. Its popularity resulted in a remix hitting number three in the UK charts, followed by TikTok using the song in its TV ad. Even Jon Snow (the news presenter, not from Game of Thrones) joined in and sang along.

So what does this have remotely to do with B2B?

The older members of the Gen Z cohort have recently entered or are soon entering the world of work and are becoming an emerging audience for your product and services. As the editor-in-chief of Teen Vogue said, “they’re really influential because they’re willing to make changes, hold brands accountable and require a sense of transparency.”

Look up their likes, dislikes and habits and see how you can apply it to your marketing strategies. After all, if you want to attract these buyers and futureproof your business, you need to embrace their way of doing things. Even if it involves channeling a pirate and singing a sea shanty.

COVID confusion syndrome

I admit it. I have it. I’m a sufferer. So much so, I no longer know if I should be eating in or drinking out to keep helping out or abandoning food altogether and dosing myself up on the nutrient loaded, virus busting, immunity boosting food supplements that are flooding my social media. Talk about jumping on the bandwagon and capitalising on people’s insecurities. I can’t work out if this is genius or sly, unethical marketing.

I also have no idea if I can visit my mum, the pub, the zoo, the cinema or if I’m allowed to get my legs waxed but not my eyebrows.  And I’m totally baffled why one of my children is in 2-week isolation (deep joy – working and home schooling again said no parent ever!) while the other can still go. Surely I’m not the only one who needs a Pandemic PA to give me a daily bulletin – a do’s and don’ts list.  A concise summary of should nots and must nots.

A tuned-in content creator could flood my social media with this useful list? And savyy marketeers could use outdoor media to promote it on bus shelters, train stations, bus rears, streetliners, taxi sides and ablaze it across every 48 sheet or digital billboard available. Then we’d all be in the know.

We’d all get the rule of six. We’d get if it applied to indoors or outdoors or both. We’d understand if outdoors means our garden or the local park. We’d all feel confident booking a table for six from two households without the fear of being inadvertently ‘caught out’. We could all happily plan our half term staycation or arrange to visit family from a different region or go to the pub with a friend from a bubble, safe in the knowledge that we were being good, law abiding citizens. Simple pleasures which we once took for granted now need planning with military precision. And hours of research.

Someone needs to sort out the comms so that COVID confusion syndrome, if not COVID itself can be cured.

Communication let me down

And I’m left here. Like Spandau Ballet, I’m confused and a bit bewildered. In the world of PR and Marketing, informed and accurate communication is key. And loyalty is everything.

That’s why I find the lack of COVID clarity so frustrating. And the mixed messages so annoying. I’m a planner. I’m a wife. I’m a mum.  So being organised, forward-planning, spinning plates, multi-tasking and juggling information overload is in my DNA. I can handle my four-year olds tantrums about why she can’t keep a pet snail in her bedroom.  I can manage my husband’s inability to remember what time staggered school time starts and ends.

But COVID comms have defeated me.

Keep your COVID cohort converts

Consumers have become more confident switching brands and trying new products and services during this pandemic.

As COVID-19 feels like it’s here to stay for the foreseeable, brands and business will have to up their game in their comms strategy and content generation if they are to keep their new COVID cohorts happy and their old customers loyal.

As lockdown forced many consumers online, they shopped with shops that shouted loudest about what they wanted to hear. They used brands that made themselves addictive, available and accessible. They switched to businesses that communicated with sincerity and empathy to our new-found situation.

Being forced to work from home forced the absence of habit. From making us more creative in the kitchen, trying out new sports or tapping into wellbeing apps to being more attentive to our homes, becoming more inventive with kids entertainment and being hugely appreciative of our gardens, neighbours, local shops and open spaces. And a new-found appreciation for businesses that made our lockdown lives that little bit easier.

While many businesses have been forced into long-term hibernation or extinction as a result of lockdown, others have welcomed a swell of new customers.

With many ‘autopilot choices’ no longer available, consumers have been forced to buy substitute brands, try new services or introduce new products into their brand repertoire. I’m guilty of being enticed into the world of Hello Fresh and Gousto home meal deliveries – driven by the lack of inspiration and motivation to prepare 3 meals a day, 7 days a week when the pubs, cafes and restaurants were shut. Will I continue to use their services when a COVID cure is found? That remains to be seen. That will depend on the power of their persuasive PR and compelling ‘come back’ comms.

Working from home also means that communicating with colleagues and clients via Zoom and Teams has replaced coffee machine chats, boardroom brainstorms and business lunches. Dynamic storyboards delivered by conf-call have replaced the theatre of face-to-face creative presentations. And work do’s have become a virtual wine tasting or an online quiz. Who would have believed that would be a thing a year ago? Expect the unexpected is the new norm.

While we continue to suffer from COVID and COVID confusion syndrome, baffling and blindsiding brand communications won’t cut it.

Consumer and B2B PR and Marketing campaigns need to be more authentic, trustworthy and timely than ever before. Content needs to be accurate, honest and empathetic.

We don’t work in politics after all.

Five of the most inspirational marketing campaigns by tech companies

With the right skillset, anyone can develop technology. But not everyone has the creative inspiration to develop technology solutions that people really love and want to use.

MarComms professionals face a similar challenge. Devising marketing campaigns that really succeed calls not only for sound strategy, but for the summoning of creative juices to trigger that ‘big idea’.

Here we bring you a selection of some of the best campaigns executed by tech companies to help fuel your marketing inspiration – and to encourage us all to continue pushing the boundaries of what can be achieved.

Braintree: ‘Speaking in code’

Mobile payments service Braintree, owned by PayPal, saw sign-ups increase by 92 per cent after embarking on an ingenious campaign targeting software developers.

Developers can be notoriously difficult to market to, and so Braintree decided that they needed to speak their language.

The company embedded hidden messages within the source code of popular tech sites, such as TechCrunch, and followed this up with cleverly designed billboards painted in black and white code, strategically located in areas such as San Francisco’s South of Market, to attract the attention of developers.

And Braintree didn’t stop there. It then offered to pay for their lunches by using computer code on Twitter and on signs outside coffee shops frequented by programmers.

This inspirational campaign took pride of place on BuzzFeed’s ‘23 Things That Could Only Happen in San Francisco’.

Cisco: ‘There’s never been a better time’

Demonstration – not proclamation – sits at the very heart of effective marketing.

B2B networking giant Cisco recognised this and launched a multi-channel campaign back in 2016 to demonstrate how digitisation and connected technology can be a great catalyst for positive change.

Rolled out almost simultaneously in 42 countries and 86 languages, ‘There’s never been a better time’ became Cisco’s tagline, supported by real life stories to explain what it is that there’s never been a better time to do.

Ambitious efforts were made to engage storytellers from Cisco’s global teams and channel partners, and a wealth of stories were generated from across this ‘ecosystem’ to demonstrate the social impact of Cisco technology.

People learned how it was helping to transform entire industries and countries. It was helping bring water to those who don’t have it, for example, making jobs safer, cities smarter and even saving the lives of people and animals.

One particularly powerful storyline – ‘there’s never been a better time to save the rhino’ – told of the company’s achievement with partner Dimension Data in helping create a haven for rhinos against would-be attackers. Rhinos were brought to a reserve in South Africa and electronically tagged, while rangers in the region connected to a digital network. In the three years that followed, not a single rhino was lost to poachers.

MailChimp: Did you mean MailChimp?

Email marketing platform MailChimp has a history, it seems, of people mispronouncing its name. This was highlighted back in 2014 when it was mistakenly pronounced ‘MailKimp’ in one of its audio ads, run as part of a sponsorship of crime podcast ‘Serial’.

The mistake inspired the company to create a series of fake brands that sounded very similar to MailChimp. MailShrimp, for example, was a short film about seafood sandwiches, NailChamp was an online nail art competition, SnailPrimp was an anti-aging beauty treatment, while WhaleSynth was a musical app for creating compositions from whale song.

Promo videos and websites were created for the fake brands, and all were actively promoted through printed ads, billboards and social media.

When anyone searched for them on Google, however, the search engine would ask if they meant ‘MailChimp’. All the while, the fake brand websites subtly redirected visitors to the official MailChimp site.

The multifaceted campaign led to 988 million earned media impressions and 67 million organic searches.

Lockheed Martin: ‘Generation beyond’

Because B2B marketing is invariably focused on targeting the work personas of business customers, it can be considered dry and serious in some quarters.

However, this needn’t be the case – campaigns for B2B companies can be as fun and inspirational as their B2C counterparts

Global security and aerospace company Lockheed Martin proved this when it put immersive virtual reality (VR) at the heart of ‘Generation beyond’ – a campaign devised to inspire the next generation of engineers, innovators and explorers.

The idea stemmed from the belief that today’s young students could very well be among the first to reach Mars. 

A ‘Mars experience’ school bus used VR to make it feel, when you looked out of the windows, as though the bus was driving on the planet’s surface.

This awe-inspiring, experiential educational campaign also included a ‘Hello Mars’ app and an interactive microsite with a variety of additional content, including everything from hands-on learning tools and a curriculum for educators, to videos and fact sheets about Mars and Lockheed Martin.

Mobile billboards and Snapchat advertising helped promote the campaign, while social media engagement saw it trend on Facebook and reach audiences across more than 50 countries.

Jennifer Whitlow, Senior Vice President Communications of Lockheed Martin, has spoken of how the campaign successfully merged the company’s brand marketing with its STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) education outreach strategy.

Inmarsat: Connected Air

Inmarsat Aviation, a UK satellite communications provider of mobile and data services to airlines, also tapped into the virtual world to promote the commercial version of its GX Aviation in-flight wi-fi solution.

Time was of the essence, with market intelligence highlighting a 24-month window during which airlines would be looking to invest in passenger connectivity.

Trade shows were identified as the best opportunity to reach and demonstrate GX Aviation to a small, hard-to-reach audience of industry decision-makers and influencers. Using augmented reality and interactive videos, the company created the ‘Connected Air’ exhibition to allow event attendees to ‘board’ a virtual cabin or cockpit and experience the connected airline of the future.

Supported by a press and social media campaign, Inmarsat managed to arrange vital face-to-face meetings, secure contracts with leading airlines and saw a significant uplift in its share price.

Dominic Walters, senior director marketing communications and strategy, Inmarsat Aviation, said: “Instead of customers and prospects asking us “who are you?”, they’re now looking to us for thought-leadership and partnership.

“We’re now regarded as true industry innovators.” 

Social media winners and losers during COVID-19

The social media platforms that have performed best – and admirably – during the coronavirus pandemic

When lockdown rules were imposed, we retreated in our droves, mentally and physically preparing ourselves for months of social isolation, away from family and friends.

One thing we could be thankful for during these turbulent times was the fact that we are now living in a technological age, where interaction is just a click away. 

Social media has proved a godsend during the pandemic, with millions of us turning to our smartphones, laptops and tablets to stay in touch with our loved ones, seek solace and distract ourselves from the uncertain world outside. 

Indeed, engagement on social apps has soared during the pandemic, with users logging in to consume news, share content, live stream, video call and mobilise communities. 

Here, we look at how the social app giants reacted and adapted to the ‘new normal’ created by the coronavirus pandemic. 

TikTok

The undisputed winner in lockdown has to be TikTok, with everyone from teens to baby boomers now acquainted with the video-sharing app. 

The 15-second clip videos first gained popularity amongst teenagers, showing off their latest dance routines or pulling pranks, but TikTok came into its own during the pandemic, offering much-needed escapism to all the generations during a period of doom and gloom.

Although a relatively newcomer to the social space, in Q1 2020, TikTok generated the most downloads for any app ever in a quarter, accumulating more than 315 million installs, according to Sensor Tower.

TikTok is estimated to have now surpassed two billion lifetime downloads – a meteoric rise by any standard. 

Rather than emulating the primped and preened content of Instagram, TikTok is about finding humour in the darkness and giving some light relief to both the creator and the viewer through absurd jokes, quirky dance moves and funny skits.

Unlike Instagram, with its emphasis on glamourous, envy-inducing luxe-living, TikTok can easily be filmed in a bedroom or in the garden – making it accessible and perfect for lockdown living.

Keen to take advantage of this video sharing trend, the UK government has jumped on the TikTok bandwagon, with health secretary Matt Hancock uploading TikTok videos urging people to stay at home and the leadership running health ads on the app. 

There was also the #stayathomechallenge, where NHS workers and TikTok creators urged users to stay indoors and shared exercise routines or cooking tips to pass the time.

Although not primarily a source of news, the app has introduced a range of in-app features, notifications and safety measures specifically designed to elevate credible and accurate information from trusted sources. This demonstrates that although light humour sits at the core of the app, its creators take their responsibilities seriously and understand the impact of their influence. 

Twitter

It has been a bit of a mixed bag for Twitter

According to Twitter’s Q1 2020 results, the platform saw a strong start to the year, with global monetizable Daily Active Users (mDAU) up 24 per cent from 134 million in the first quarter of 2019, to 166 million in Q1 2020. Total ad engagements increased by 25 per cent year-on-year.

However, coronavirus has hit Twitter’s ad revenues, with advertisers pulling back their spending as they brace for the pandemic’s financial fallout.

Twitter is famous for its ‘stream of consciousness’-style musings, which is arguably less relevant during this time of crisis and not in keeping with the public’s growing need for a sense of community. 

The platform is also known for being a breeding ground for fake news and misinformation, and, with the sheer volume of real-time conversations being had, this can be hard to vet. 

Twitter is taking action, however, and recently announced it would begin adding labels to some tweets to combat misinformation, beginning with tweets about the coronavirus pandemic but eventually about other topics. 

Although tweets would not necessarily be taken down, users would be presented with verified information from the World Health Organization or other medical experts.

Facebook

With its video functionality, Facebook was poised to do well during lockdown, with the brand holding its own against newer apps, such as Zoom and Houseparty

At the beginning of lockdown, total messaging on Facebook and sister app Whatsapp increased by 50 per cent in some of the hardest hit regions, and video calling doubled in some markets.

However, as these services are not monetised, this uplift in engagement did not translate into increased revenue, and, like other businesses and platforms, Facebook was hit by a decrease in digital ad spend. 

But as the dust settles, brands are starting to cautiously resume their advertising activities. 

Facebook has been one of the social app giants to have adapted quickly to the changing situation and has leveraged its reputation as a community-driven platform during this time.

It also launched the Covid-19 Information Centre, which is an expanded adaptation of its ‘community help’ function.

The Information Centre prioritises conversations in the user’s general area, and includes local information on the real-time numbers of coronavirus cases and deaths, latest news on the virus, links to authoritative bodies’ websites and pages, and coronavirus prevention tips.

Community spirit and social responsibility are two positive things to have emerged from the pandemic and the platform’s ‘offer and request help’ function has helped to facilitate community action.  Stickers and ‘empathy’ emojis also drive home that message of Facebook being a caring, community-minded platform. 

Instagram

The pandemic served as a sharp shock to many Instagram influencers, as brands pulled back on their sponsorship campaigns.

Sponsored posts on Instagram fell from representing 35 per cent of influencer content in mid-February to 4 per cent of creator content in mid-April, according to a report from the marketing-analytics firm Launchmetrics.

The reaction of some influencers to a drop in their revenue left a bad taste in many people’s mouths and reputations were somewhat tarnished, with an initial backlash against the ‘out-of-touch’ influencer culture. 

Despite this, forced hibernation has meant that engagement has been climbing during the pandemic and the platform continues to perform well. 

When it comes to stopping the spread of misinformation around coronavirus, Instagram is one of the most actively responsible platforms. As well as prioritising verified information from authoritative bodies, the platform is down-ranking posts and stories that have been flagged as false, removing non-credible accounts featuring coronavirus related content from recommendations, and banning misleading ads.

Stickers and hashtags have also been popular and helped to promote a sense of community and shared experience amongst the Instagram audience.  These include the ‘Stay Home’ and ‘I Stay Home For’ stickers and hashtags, to encourage self-isolation and support health workers, and the ‘Support Small Business’ sticker, which helps to promote smaller businesses and encourages users to show their support by ‘shopping small and local’.

Where next?

Social media platforms may be a place of downtime and social interaction for the majority of us, but they are also large corporates with a responsibility to their investors and shareholders to stay afloat during this turbulent period.

Social media users can be fickle. These platforms have had to adapt quickly to keep the attention of their audience and not lose them to a more switched-on or forward-thinking competitor. 

The new features and functions that have been developed gives us insight into how we, as a society, have been shaped by the pandemic, with our need for community, verifiable news, and sociability becoming ever stronger.   Ultimately, it is a numbers game and by catering for the needs and wants of users, social media apps can hang on to their audience for that little while longer.   

Top 5 ads which demonstrate that it takes more than COVID to crush creativity

There’s nothing like a big global event to get creatives fighting in a frenzy to come up with that one campaign – the one that gets everyone talking – or laughing – or crying. And most importantly these days, going viral. Oh, and putting a smile on the face of the brand manager as the sales come rolling in. Not to mention the accolades, awards and bonuses to boot.

From a World Cup comeback or a Wimbledon washout to a celebrity wedding or a royal birth, creatives thrive on the opportunity to jump on the bandwagon of a big newsworthy and sales-worthy event. It’s like a gift – a dream brief handed over on a golden plate with a big stash of cash to play with.

But what happens when that big event causes worldwide pain and suffering and an economic crisis like no other? What if that big event changes the way people work and play – and virtually puts a stop to travel and commuting making cinema and some outdoor and ambient advertising null and void overnight.

What do creative agencies do when there are no more location photo shoots or filming commercials in exotic far-away destinations? When clients cut budgets faced with an uncertain post COVID future, do creative teams stamp their feet and take their marker pens and Macs home? Do art directors bury their heads into safer, less emotive, less controversial stimuli?

You bet they don’t.

Although lockdown has produced some predictable, quick-fix, budget-busting ads featuring home videos and conf call montages and ads cobbled together from the archives of past glory, it has also delivered some brilliance. Some even worthy of Cannes Lions 2021 if lockdown limitations are lifted in time for the revered red-carpet creative awards.

Many creative teams have grasped the opportunity to produce campaigns with heart, spirit and empathy – and an undeniable dose of creative genius. Working from cluttered spare rooms or dining tables surrounded by screaming kids and unwashed laundry has undoubtedly brought out the best in our industry – and coming up with good ideas is what makes our industry great.

But some of the best work hasn’t even been big budget brand advertising or direct response integrated campaigns. It’s been half-price meals and clothes for key workers, free taxi rides and hotel accommodation near hospitals for exhausted NHS workers and charge waivers on overdrafts for people struggling to make ends meet. Just good ideas doing good.

A global pandemic may not the right time to sell your products, but it can be the right time to make your brand relatable. Consumers remember and feel. Consumers react and retaliate. Show the compassionate, human side of your big corporate machine and make customers remember you for the right reasons with ads that make them think, smile, laugh out loud, question, donate…or simply re-wind and re-watch.

As the world looks forward to life behind a face mask, we look back at some of the good stuff to come out of lockdown – proof that it takes more than COVID to crush creativity.

Women’s Aid – The Lockdown

While the nation followed the government’s advice to stay safe at home, Women’s Aid revealed ‘The Lockdown’. This chilling campaign pointed out that victims of domestic abuse were not ‘safe’ at all following these instructions – their abusers always have and always will ‘work from home’.

Lego – Be a hero

So charmingly on brand and on brief. By using a toy to communicate the power of ‘no play’ as the core message, this is a perfect example of how to turn exceptional circumstances into an exceptional ad.

L’Oréal – Home hair colour tutorials

Renowned for celebrity endorsements in glamourous settings with stylists, make-up artists and wind machines, L’Oréal really took a step backwards to go forwards with this one.

Eva Longoria and Holly Willoughby in their own homes doing their own roots is the most convincing ad they’ve ever produced. So simple. So sold out.

SEAT – Moving is what we do

SEAT has seamlessly developed it’s long established ‘Start moving’ brand message to ‘We’ll get you moving again’ when the time is right. The advert is a beautiful production combining nostalgia, fun, humour and relatable people and places. 

KFC is back

This tongue in cheek ad uses images from its #RateMyKFC social media campaign where customers attempted to recreate their own KFC during quarantine with the earworm soundtrack ‘All by myself’ by Celine Dion.

The ad ends with KFC reassuring consumers that they will “take it from here”, ‘cleverly positioning them as THE original and best when it comes to fried chicken.

So while lots of brands are clumsily trying to be relevant and acclimatise to these uncertain times with contrived and cliched ways of saying ‘we’re all in in together’ and shoe-horning ‘new normal’ into every campaign, others are unprecedently standing out.

Now onto the toughest brief yet: find a vaccine.

Feelgood films to get you through the coronacoaster!

There’s nothing like a film debate to unite or divide the office or get families feuding over the remote for Fight Club or Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. 

These days, there may not be any office banter by the water cooler or coffee machine to debate the merits of Cooper over Gosling or Theron over Streep while we are denied our regular popcorn and pick-n-mix filled Odeon trips.

But family, friends and colleagues are Teaming and Zooming for work and pleasure – with film fanatics sharing their must-watch bucket lists to fill lockdown free time.

But tastes in films can be as varied and divisive as marmite.

While some swoon at the sway of the Swayze hips, others switch off the minute she mutters the immortal and infamous watermelon line. Love or hate it, Trainspotting hit the headlines and became a cultural and box office phenomenon.

But two hours escapism with a good film is just what we need right now. Since the pandemic began, people have experienced a rollercoaster of emotions from financial anxiety to appreciation for the heroic work of the NHS, emotional stress and loneliness to optimism for a more caring future.

So, switch off your laptops, turn off the (bad) news, grab some popcorn and indulge in one of these lockdown oldies but goodies – there’s something to suit every mood and taste. 

Here are the Cameron Wells top 10 films to get you out of your COVID slumber. Don’t judge us!

Feeling financially fractious?

Debbie recommends a dose of The Wolf of Wall Street to take your mind off your own money worries for a few hours. See how these top earners bounce back from financial ruin in Martin Scorsese’s story of New York stockbroker Jordan Belfort played by Leonardo DiCaprio who is living the American dream thanks to a life of excess, indulgence, corporate greed and corruption in the late 80s.

In need of a holiday with fine food and wine?

Claire would escape to Provence with Russell Crowe in A Good Year. Ambitious and ruthless broker Max Skinner moves to Provence to sell the vineyard he inherited from his late uncle. But of course he falls in love with the breathtakingly beautiful Provence and local barmaid and decides to settle into this intoxicating new chapter of his life, as he comes to realise that life, like fine wine is meant to be savoured. Santé!

Are you mad about missing music?

Our own Manc musician Mano would re-watch 24-hour Party People to escape the lockdown lull. Spanning the 1970’s to early 1990’s, this is the story of the Manchester music scene. After witnessing a concert by an unknown band called the Sex Pistols, Tony Wilson, a local news presenter persuades his station to televise one of their performances, and soon Manchester’s punk groups are clamouring for him to manage them. Riding the wave of a musical revolution, Wilson and his friends create the legendary Factory Records and the Hacienda Club.

But if you’re not quite cool enough for the Madchester scene then why not head to Catskills with Claire for some Dirty Dancing. Filled with as many feel good tunes as gyrating hips and cheesy one liners, it’s a guilty pleasure for many fans – in and out of the closet.

Are you feeling anxious?

If you need to switch off and escape to a life where everything is full of shiny happy people, lose yourself in Greece for a few hours. Cara reluctantly admits to enjoying a bit of a sing-along to Mamma Mia. Let’s face it, we all know the words…so get out the Baklava and feel the beat of the tambourine. Oh yeah.

Desperate to be friends reunited?

Then join Jen in NYC for some Sex and the City. You’ll laugh at the one-liners, be jealous of the clothes and shoes, be warmed by the genuine love between these 4 friends who seem to be constantly shopping, eating out and falling in and out of love – and drinking Cosmopolitans like water.

And for the boys missing their mates, Anthony relives his misspent youth with The Inbetweeners following four geeky high school friends who set out on a wild, sun and booze-filled holiday. Packed with outrageous antics and laddish banter, these 4 nerds will help you forget your new norm as they head for a notorious Mediterranean clubbing hotspot to try to break their lifelong losing streak with the ladies.

Have you missed out on a wedding?

Cara had to cancel her Italian holiday for her best friend’s wedding. Not quite compensation but Bridesmaids is a funny and smart yet audacious take on the ups and downs of being a lady in waiting. Unlike many rom-coms, this film is all about the women’s relationship with each other – not with men.

To rebalance the gender karma, The Hangover is about a blowout Las Vegas stag do that turns into a race against time when three hung-over groomsmen awaken after a night of drunken debauchery to find that the groom has gone missing, and attempt to get him to the alter in time for his wedding. Grab a beer and order a kebab…

Need motivation to fight back and get fit?

Anthony would recommend Rocky every time – but the original of course. Follow Sly Stallone’s triumphs and tribulations in and out of the ring. This comeback story of a down-on-his-luck amateur boxer is thoroughly predictable but thoroughly addictive with an ear worm soundtrack that’s as famous as his battle cry ‘Adriiiiiiaaann’!

Top 10 local business heroes showing kindness through COVID

We salute our local businesses across Manchester and the North West – many facing their own financial plight – who have been pulling out the stops to help their local communities during the coronavirus pandemic.

For PRs and marketeers, it serves as a reminder of the power of positivity and the importance of empathy through the bad times as well as the good.

1/ From theatrical costumes to NHS scrubs

The Royal Exchange Wardrobe and Costume Hire team members have been helping to make scrubs for our front line doctors and nurses.

Joining the national effort, the Exchange team are part of a passionate Greater Manchester Hub with around 36 makers, all co-ordinated from TV costume designer, Scott Langridge’s front room.

The first delivery from the Manchester team has already landed at Manchester Royal Infirmary with a further 250 earmarked for the Nightingale Hospital.

2/ Animal-themed masks to help the fight

Trafford-based print company Grafenia has designed and developed a range of facegaitor masks to help stem the spread of coronavirus – with all sale revenues going to the NHS.

Grafenia, a company that normally manufacture print and exhibition displays, have been increasingly making floor graphics, sneeze guards and other social distancing tools.

They’ve now switched their sewing team at their factory on Trafford Park into making designer face masks.

3/ Manchester doughnut drive-thru for key workers

The Krispy Kreme drive-thru in Trafford Park has been gifting NHS, police and fire service staff with a complimentary hot drink and glazed doughnut 3-pack.

Richard Cheshire, CEO said: “With this small gesture, we hope to bring a little bit of joy to these amazing people to show them we appreciate everything they are doing right now.”

4/ Gin makers provide hygiene products

Manchester-based Didsbury Gin has switched from production of gin to alcohol-based hand sanitiser.

One million bottles of sanitiser were produced in the space of seven days to supply key public service providers across Greater Manchester, including the NHS, Great Manchester police, local fire services, and other care providers, including homeless shelters.

5/ Converting cask ale into meals for the vulnerable

The White Hart at Lydgate and Dinnerstone in Uppermill donated all their cellar stock to the Committees of Lydgate Brass Band Contest and Love Lydgate, and members of Saddleworth Round Table.

The beer was sold over Easter to raise money for providing chef prepared nutritional meals for the vulnerable in Oldham, distributed via AgeUK.

6/ Holland’s Pies supports F.C. United of Manchester to create food parcels

Pie baker Holland’s Pies and F.C. United of Manchester have joined forces to deliver food parcels across North East Manchester.

With matches on hold, volunteers from F.C. United of Manchester have been providing food parcels every week, including a selection of Holland’s Pies as well as crosswords and literature to support the most vulnerable during these difficult times.

7/ Florist gives away 16 floral arrangements to key workers

Chadderton-based florist Amelia Rose Floral Couture has given away 16 flower arrangements to key workers across England.

Amelia promised the hatboxes to 15 key workers that needed that little bit of extra motivation at the moment. With over 500 nominations on Instagram and Facebook, she picked 16 in the end.

8/ Cloudwater loves key workers

Manchester’s Cloudwater Brewery has been offering a 25 per cent discount on all its beers to NHS workers.

In addition it has been providing a chance for customers to chip in for a beer for an NHS staff member. Purchase a £1 token on the brewery’s online shop, and for every 50 tokens accrued, they’ll ship an NHS worker a mixed 12-pack of beer and soda.

9/ The Creameries cooking for NHS staff …and others

Mary-Ellen McTague was one of the first to close her restaurant’s doors, locking up The Creameries in Chorlton five days before the government ordered restaurants to close.

Insights from her sister, a doctor working closely with the disease, encouraged McTague to move quickly.

She then set about preparing and delivering food to those in need – from hospital workers to the homeless.

10/ M&S’s generous gesture for the vulnerable of Rochdale

M&S in Rochdale handed over an entire food hall to the town’s most vulnerable people.

Worth around £40,000, it is believed to be the biggest single food donation the retail giant has made.

Marilyn Jones, who founded Rochdale Soup Kitchen six years ago, said she had been ‘overwhelmed’ by the generous gesture.

Lockdown light through the darkness

We only have to look at the inspiring Captain Tom Moore, the 99-year-old veteran whose heroic efforts have raised more than £28m for the NHS, to see that positivity is not lost during the pandemic. 

Here, some of the Cameron Wells team share our favourite links to help take your mind momentarily off the mayhem.

Cara Cunningham, PR Account Manager

Our in-house hilarious historian, very happily married, Northern Irish exercise junkie

Filter out the fake news

We not only have to contend with fake news and misinformation during this crisis, but we are also inundated what we should do and what we should avoid to get through the pandemic with our emotional wellbeing in check.

In this age of information overload, it is hard to see the wood for the trees – and trying to de-stress becomes even more stressful.   

To make it simple, here is an easy-to-follow guide on how to stay happy during these trying times.  It is from the BBC so it is legit stuff and there is no hogwash.

Mano McLaughlin, Art Director

Our very own uber-talented musician with a love of the great outdoors, tequila and his two daughters

Back to the wild

Being confined to our homes is not the easiest, but let’s give thanks for our one hour of outdoor exercise, which some of our continental counterparts are deprived of.

Trudging up and down the same road every day can soon become monotonous – so, how can we make the most of our time in the fresh air?

Here is a list of things to do in the great outdoors to look after yourself and nature

With some extra time on your hands, why not build a mini nature reserve, or learn how to identify butterflies and moths.  Get the creative juices flowing!

Claire Wood, Creative Director

Cheese, wine and seaside-loving Gary Barlow fan with a guilty pleasure of kitchen dancing and tinned hotdogs with her two girls!

Three cheers!

The weeks are increasingly becoming blended so we have to differentiate between the weekdays and weekend somehow!

To ward off the boredom of having nowhere to go this weekend and no-one to (physically) see, here is a list of drinking games to play with you and your partner or virtual friends.

And for those who want to try something a little more sophisticated, here is a list of simple, three-ingredient cocktails that you can (hopefully) make by raiding your drinks cupboard.

Debbie Wells, Managing Director

Four-legged friend fanatic, yoga-loving foodie and intrepid world explorer – especially if there is a good glass of red waiting at the end of the trek!

Take time for you

With the anxiety of the unknown, the stress of being cooped up and strain of makeshift workstations, we are bound to be feeling tightly wound and tense – in body and mind.  

During these chaotic times, it is important to take a breather and to push the reset button. 

My favourite yogi star, Yoga with Adriene, does some fabulous short videos that combine yoga with meditation, so you can get your body and mind out of a knot.  You don’t have to be a yogi to do these – they are as much about pausing as they are about posing.  

Here are some suggestions which you may find particularly useful at this time:

Yoga for anxiety

Stress melt

Yoga for tension relief

Yoga for beginners – mind practice

Jen Lever, Account Manager

Our very own book worm, social media guru and fashionista who unashamedly loves Westlife

And relax… with a good book

Today’s tip is for all you bookworms – if you can find the time between working, home-schooling, cooking, cleaning and sourcing rather than gold dust toilet rolls.  

In the lockdown, time can pass by in a flash and getting time to read a good book or two seems like an impossible task – but a well-deserved luxury.

So, with this in mind, I have done some digging and found a list of 50 must-read books under 250 pages.  

COVID countdown to sanity

I’m a working mum. A working mum in PR and marketing is the norm these days in an industry proudly dominated by the female species. Multi-tasking is a prerequisite of both jobs and I used to pride myself on my plate spinning skills. That was before the C-word and home-schooling was thrown into the mix. My COVID juggling skills have been tested to the max to avoid my life being transformed into a chaotic circus.

When the government announced that schools would close, I threw myself with gusto into a colour-coded daily school planner and signed up to every free online teaching app, read every blog and post about how to make fairy castles out of an old milk carton and like most mums around the country, I tried to force my kids into ‘doing’ Joe Wicks every morning. My plan was to shoehorn and share this workload with my other half – we would be like the Waltons, living and working in perfect harmony.

Working to a more flexible diary in my locked-down home, I also planned to get fit, lose weight, grow vegetables, clear out my size 10 wardrobe, declutter my chipped plates and unused kitchen gadgets, throw out all out of date medicine, put photos in albums, try yoga, drink more water, teach my girls to sew (not that I’ve picked up a needle since my disastrous peg bag aged 13), eat less cheese and add new meat-free recipes to my repertoire. And FaceTime friends and family with cheerful and uplifting anecdotes every day.

How naïve. How blindly optimistic. How ridiculous.

I have achieved none of the above in my ‘free’ time. Neither have I written a best-selling novel or learnt a new language with the exception of disguised, kid-friendly swearing. I still don’t connect with my inner or outer zen through yoga or meditation. My garden is vegetable-less and I have not written a million pound post-COVID business plan or even Marie Kondo’d my cutlery drawer. 

What I have done is desperately attempt to combine successful working from home with mediocre, haphazard home-schooling. Colouring by numbers and Little Mix dance routines are valuable life skills, right?

I’ve also plodded round the same park with 2 kids who moan like I’ve taken them to a sweet shop and made them eat kiwi fruit,  ‘cleaned’ the kitchen with baby wipes, cooked around 27 meals a day and worried about sourcing pasta as that’s all my youngest will eat. Now I know nursery lies when they tell me she asked for seconds of the vegetable tagine and cous cous. I’m also biting my tongue at how LOUD my husband types. Actually, I’m not biting at all. We really couldn’t be any less Walton-like.

Oh, and I mustn’t forget about keeping the family safe with anti-bacterial gel that I had to queue for 30 minutes for just 30ml of this caviar priced product. So, regrettably I have no available timeslots to hone my down-dog skills or bake bread. Like supermarket deliveries, I’m fully booked up for weeks.

In the meantime, all the motivational gurus who claim that we’ll come out of this quarantine with a new life skill, slimmer and fitter can quite frankly do one. And all the influencers and celebrities who are out-crafting, out-baking and out-meditating each other, please keep your tweets to yourself.  If you come out of this with your sanity, in my unwritten book you’re winning. 

Home, not alone

Coronavirus (Covid-19) has hit the world hard. Really hard. It has put a big, brutal spanner in our personal and professional works. The ‘new normal’ is anything but normal.

It’s unsettling and scary. The only certainty is uncertainty.

In a business context, we’re having to adapt to digital meetings and engaging over email. Office banter is now a Youtube link or a meme. Work colleagues, families and friends are separated. The daily commute is bedroom to dining room. Boardroom directors are finding out that controlling maverick marketing managers and budgets is childsplay compared to home schooling. Teachers have been elevated to hero status in most UK households. NHS staff to superheroes.

Which leaves us PR and Marketing professionals feeling humbled and in awe. But we still want to do our bit to help – to keep products and services selling and businesses surviving. We can’t throw in the towel onto a growing pile of budget cuts and furloughed out of office notices. And while we’re not saving lives or educating future generations, we can still do our bit to help businesses keep their employers informed and clients engaged – just with an added dose of sensitivity. We can also help them maintain a healthy-ish pipeline and new business leads for when all of this is over. And be ready with some much-needed positive news stories.

This pandemic has brought out the very best in people – and the very worst. But as stone blunts scissors, good blunts evil. Families, neighbours and business communities are closer than ever despite the physical distance – finding new and innovative ways to connect and communicate to fight the good fight.

Connectivity was the buzz word last year. We were all connected socially and professionally by thousands of webinars, podcasts, apps and social media – 24/7, 365 days a year. Success was measured by amassing followers and likes.

Success today is about survival.

And connectivity has taken on a new meaning. Nothing to do with tech. Nothing to do with big data, IoT or generating retweets or comments.

It’s about being truly connected to everyone and everything that truly matters – friends, family, clients and work colleagues who if you’re lucky, become friends and like an extended family. If you’re reading this – you know who you are.

Being connected in April 2020 is knowing everyone we care for is safe and healthy.

On that note, Cameron Wells will be connected at 8pm tonight to pay tribute and give immeasurable thanks to the real heroes who are giving up being physically connected to their families – so that we can take care of ours.