Festive fun at CMA15
At this week's Annual Kier Marcomms conference I was asked to give an update on what we've been up to in the digital team. I believe that if you really want people to remember your presentation then you need to tell some stories. So, given the time of year, what better story to frame my presentation around than Dicken's Christmas Carol? With this is mind, I thought I'd do the very same with this blog post!

The Ghost of Christmas Past

Our big external campaign this year was #KierHeroes which comprised 22 individual minute long videos interviewing key personnel throughout the business. As I have mentioned before, this is something which Kier has not previously tried and we were delighted to be shortlisted at our first ever Construction Marketing awards event which took place on 9th December at the Radisson Blu in Portman Square.

The Kier Marketing Team (L to R),
Claire Savage, Me, Paul Humphrey,
Kristy Myrie
The team all headed down to London, after what had been a particularly busy week, to soak up the Christmas atmosphere, enjoy some good food and drink and network with like-minded individuals (I was particularly surprised to bump into my old boss!) Although we didn't win, we got a really good idea of how marketing in construction works as we were the only nominees who weren't with an agency. It was also a real privilege to get this far in an industry in which I am still relatively new. Roll on next year when we'll come back bigger and better!

The Ghost of Christmas Present

Our use of Trello continues apace and I have now trained the entire team which means we are up and running with it as a project management system. Even I am surprised with how well it is received and it's taken our productivity to a new level. Some of the advanced tools such as filtering (allowing us to see which of our own tasks are most urgent and real-time project progress) are really coming into their own and some team members have even started using it to plan their Christmas shopping!
Mock up of our new interactive map

We have also begun the complete rebuild of our new offices map. This is in unison with our offline brand audit and will contain dynamically updated and filterable content. The benefits of which cannot be underestimated seeing as our 105 office locations are the most searched for thing internally and externally. Watch this space for more details in the future...

The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come

As a central team one of our main responsibilities is to provide the business with tools to assist them to win work and to communicate the brand. Therefore, our first task for 2016 will be to build a central online 'hub' where all of our services can easily be accessed in one place. We have just begun the mapping stage and this will comprise of services which we manage such as graphic design, promotional goods and film and photography.

The two main interactive elements will be a briefing form whereby colleagues can request one of the above services for it to be piped through to the relevant supplier. The benefits of this being that we can automate the tracking of requests and ensure that when briefs are submitted they contain all of the required detail.

I have also been looking into digital solutions to assist with communicating our brand and have found an excellent service called Frontify. With this we can upload all of brand guidelines and allow them to be searchable, shareable and downloadable in all required formats.

As 2015 draws to a close I can truly say that it has been, professionally, one of the most exciting years yet. I still feel like I am always learning and I've really welcomed the many social events of this festive season to help reassure me that we have a fun and creative bunch of people working in our team. However, a combination of late nights out, a young family, and a busy job, definitely means I'm more than ready for the Christmas break to recharge my batteries for what is yet to come...

Our stand at Highways UK
'Tis the season to be busy! These last few weeks have seen a number of diverse activities being undertaken by the Kier Central Marketing team. In order for us to support a business of over 24,000 employees there is a constant need to not only oversee group-wide initiatives but also to ensure that the business is joined up, becomes manageable and is not operating in silos.

Nowhere can this be more evidenced than in our recent involvement in supporting events. These have included attendance at Highways UK, Scotland Build 2015 and our annual drinks reception at Lincolns Inn. With pre-event event communications, AV requirements, promotional goods and  marketing collateral all overseen by us we have been putting in a lot of overtime!

Tote bags from the North!
My main responsibility was overseeing the stand for the first ever Scotland Build 2015 conference at the SECC in Glasgow and to kill two birds with one stone I also used the opportunity to deliver some social media training to our Scottish colleagues. The ease of jumping on a plane from Luton airport meant I was door to door in less than two hours and satiated my desire for an airport visit (duty free is a great place for Christmas shopping!)

The Expo itself was extremely well attended with over 250 visitors to our stand on day one. This served to further highlight how well regarded Kier are in the industry with the large majority desperate to get onto our supply chain. I'm glad I'd managed to tuck away a full Scottish breakfast to sustain my energy levels throughout the day!

The Great Hall at Lincolns Inn
Another big event we've been involved in was the annual reception at Lincolns Inn in Holborn. This is a truly breathtaking building where Kier kick off the Christmas season by inviting clients past and present for drinks and an address from our Chief Executive. My team were tasked with ensuring our latest videos were on show and it was all hands on deck to hand out name badges, greet guests and network with our high profile guests. I lost count of how many times I was asked to take photos of people on the red carpet!

By managing all of these events centrally it really helps to add continuity to the experience of those who engage with Kier. All of our messaging can be made consistent and we especially gain comparable analytics from our pre/post event communications. By building in a robust model and program in our email sends at the beginning the data we collect is then key to following up any leads and providing a professional and customer focussed experience for all attendees.

As well as the importance of getting out and about, meeting colleagues, and getting an understanding of the different challenges of the regional businesses, I've been developing workflows to help us manage our channels more effectively. These focus on shared goals across the business and I feel that this is where digital can really add value to coordinate and monitor the great work being done nationwide. The whole ethos of digital is to test and learn and by creating an environment where employees are not blamed for failure we can improve with each activity.

Hello Trello!
There are some great tools available to marketers to draw content out from the business (such as Gather Content) and I have spoken before  about the benefits of Trello to manage projects and content flow. It is with this in mind that I have setup a group content strategy calendar that all of the regional businesses can add to. By having assigned people in each area this flags up who has accountability for adding content and where the gaps exist. I've also used Trello's labelling to colour code each region so that at a glance I can see in the calendar that all areas are represented with a full spectrum of assigned colours.

All of this work is essential to curb the silo mentality before it begins. By planning far in advance the danger of no lead time, time for collaboration, and mistrust is avoided. Trust is the most important part of any relationship and by having everything out in the open a healthy form of competition emerges with a greater transparency about the goals and motivations that drive each team.
Everyone who has worked in digital marketing must at some time or other failed at a task or campaign. The entire ethos for all good digital marketers is to test and learn and make evidence based decisions and therefore these failures, just like in real life, can teach you more than the successes.

With this in mind, the best thing we can do is mitigate the risk of failure by ensuring all of our activities are as planned and well executed as possible. For example, at Kier we run a company blog which has seen a fair amount of success and has definitely met our original objectives. Without these objectives (an integrated approach, increased organic reach and an improved amount of positive mentions against our competitors) we would have no idea if this task was worthy of our valuable time.

I have seen so many social media accounts simply die a death due to no clear strategy and whilst they are given a lot of focus early on (or as part of a campaign) they are then just left to rot and in the long run actually do more harm to the brand than they ever did good. A neglected social media account says a lot about a company - usually the date the person previously maintaining it handed in their notice!

My latest analogy (those who have worked with me will know I love an analogy!) is that all digital activities/websites are like gardens. Unless you are prepared to continue to build, weed, cultivate and monitor them then there is little point having one in the first place.

In filming one of our #KierHeroes videos with our Kier Living team I was interested that their philosophy is to not only build the houses but also to regularly check back to ensure there are no problems and oversee any maintenance. This can also be applied to setting up any new online channels - the continued maintenance is as important as the build.

It's easy to neglect a lot of very important tasks early on and no doubt we have all been guilty of some of these either through misguided leadership, time and budget constraints:
  • A Google Analytics account with no goals/conversions
  • Social Media accounts with no objectives, content strategy or monitoring
  • Email campaigns that are not integrated into the marketing plan or followed up
  • Google AdWords campaigns that are not regularly checked and don't link to a bespoke landing page
  • Print adverts with no performance measurement or call to action
Google analytics flatline!
This could be a very long list and it is our job to ensure that nothing goes out the door that isn't part of a wider marketing plan. Sometimes it may mean asking some difficult questions but without some of the above our efforts will have little chance of the success being measured, being optimised to the maximum valuable insight being gained to prove we have not wasted our time and money.

I'm pleased to say that I have now reached a stage in my career where I am able to drive a campaign forward with a clear vision and objectives. Of course, some may not have the impact which was originally hoped for but if we can learn something from this the end result may be better than if it had worked. For example, we have learnt from trial and error that the best time to post our B2B social content is 3pm - 4pm (there's obviously a dip in workplace energy at that time) and for our B2C content a 7.30pm - 9pm slot works better (people are clearly multi-screening at home). Without some of our content falling on deaf ears this would not something we could have discerned.

The importance of learning from your mistakes cannot be underestimated as this is the best way ensure you constantly evolve and innovate.
'Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently' - Henry Ford
Another day, another awards shortlist! However, for the first time ever this is in a completely different sector to what I'm used to! Previously we've either been recognised in education (in my previous role) or individually for this blog. Therefore, I'm very proud that the hard work has paid off and we've been nominated at the Construction Marketing Awards 2015 for Best Social Media Campaign and Best Use of Content Marketing for our #KierHeroes campaign.

Originally the main purpose of writing frequent awards entries was to primarily focus efforts when planning/analysing campaigns and to gain much needed internal buy-in for our efforts. However, recently I've noticed that I don't seem to need to do as much  internal hard sell on the importance of digital. An increasingly number of staff and executives seem to get it - and more often than not when I present it is to a room of nodding heads.

The challenge comes when, having been given executive support, this is not backed up by a strong strategic direction. There is simply just a vague vision stating that digital is vital to the company's success but this is not backed up by any real details, support or extra resources. Whilst the importance is acknowledged there is very little understanding to make recommendations.

Digital = approved!
These executives are no doubt very intelligent and this lack of a strategic outline is really not their fault. They have extremely high pressured roles and so they cannot (and should not) delve into the intricate details of everyday operations. They have set the agenda and it's down to the workforce to make it a reality. If this doesn't happen there is a real danger it will fall at the first hurdle for two reasons:

  • It is just a vague mission statement that fades before it takes root
  • It gets highjacked by people attaching their own agenda to an executive directive - Therefore it turns into an excuse to either acquire a new IT system or staff for the marketing team
It's down to us digital professionals to stop this occurring and to immediately take action as a team to use this as an opportunity to instigate company-wide changes. In order for this directive to change working practices it will mean concentrating on any barriers that may stop this happening and thinking about how to overcome them.

For example, at Kier we have a big emphasis on offering training to other employees to support the digital first vision. I've also spent a lot of time on our digital strategy which outlines the return on investment for these activities and covers which work is the most important with all key milestone clearly mapped. Chiefly it sets the digital agenda from the outset to ensure the business understands what digital first means in practice. It is then a matter of presenting this back to senior management and leaving it up them to decide if this is a solution which they are happy to support.

Share the knowledge!
Therefore, rather than being thrown when support and backing is offered it is up to us to drive this strategy forward. With both the continued internal buy-in (from ongoing training, one to ones and workshops) and analytics to support our constant testing learning from any campaigns, we as a team can take charge of the direction in which our digital efforts are headed.

It's with this is mind that I was delighted to discover this recent blog post analysing all of the big players in the construction industry and their social media strategies. We get a glowing mention (particularly for our company blog, LinkedIn and Integration) which shows the plans we have put into place are really starting to drive forward the external reputation of the company.

Being given this green light to move the company forward by executives is an opportunity that is too good to miss. It's up to us to grab it with both hands and to start shaping the solutions ourselves.

'Who needs customers when you have
friends, fans and followers?!'
It's been a week of imparting knowledge for me as I continue to tour the business to deliver our social media practitioner day course. Last week I had a great time presenting to the new students of our Highways Academy in Wyboston Lakes training centre. What's encouraging is that there is a real appetite from people to learn more and one common theme that is agreed on by all is that for business Social Media is a no-brainer - even if you're only just listening.

However, I have noticed an increasing number of people deciding that on a personal level it is something in which they no longer want to partake. I think that one reason for this may be that the popularity of Social Media grew so fast many people didn't realise the far reaching implications of what they had signed up for. This education of how the internet is still changing our world needs to be emphasised at a young age, and as a father myself, I feel it is my duty to really ensure that my children are discerning enough to correctly understand what Social Media (and the internet in general) is and how it can be used/abused.

Far from simply demonising Social Media education on the subject cannot be underestimated to ensure we are not ignorant of its evils. You would not expect someone to be able to drive a car without extensive training and a certain level of maturity so why should the use of the internet be any different? It is an increasingly large part of our modern world and simple avoidance is just not possible as anyone with a computer, mobile phone and internet connection is vulnerable, either at home or work.

In my training I begin by putting social media into context and stating that I believe we are currently in the biggest period of expressive human capability in history. There have been four significant periods of this in the last few centuries with the invention of:
  1. The printing press
  2. The telegraph/telephone
  3. Recorded media - photography, audio and film
  4. Radio and television 
This is the landscape every one of my generation grew up with and as soon as they were invented there were people using them for good and sadly, as is human nature, abusing them. As the technology increased so did the propensity for evil. What these all have in common are that there are limitations in that the ones that were good at creating conversations (i.e. telephone) were bad at creating groups, and the ones which are good at creating groups (i.e. television) could only address everyone with the same message. The invention of the internet was to take this to another level...

Suddenly this became the mode of carriage for every other media (e.g. eBooks, Skype, YouTube and iPlayer) meaning that all of the above existed right next door to each other. By this occurring the usage and possibilities were quadrupled and so were the dangers.

However, the real change is that each consumer who joins the internet is also a producer - they can write a blog, upload a video, even broadcast live to the world. This is where Social Media comes in as by having a WiFi connection in your home you're allowing ready access to anyone’s opinion to be piped directly in uncensored. It goes without saying that careful monitoring and effective blocks are essential.

It has taken a while for people to wise up to this but essentially the internet is more powerful and dangerous than any communication medium before it. The dangers are many, some of which have been well documented in the form of cyber-bullying, copyright infringement, impersonal communication and screen addiction. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are really just the tip of the iceberg with other channels such as Snapchat, Periscope and Ask.fm potentially being much more sinister propositions.

What I have taken from this is that I want to bring my children up in a way where they fully understand the implications of what they do online and can make intelligent choices on how they decide to engage with it and encourage an open and honest relationship where will can talk about it together. I am massively thankful that some of the immature and stupid things I did when I was young are not documented anywhere! As human beings one of the most powerful and hard ways to learn is through our own mistakes and despite its many uses the internet/social media is a perilous place when used ignorantly and casually.
Kier's Mersey Gateway project as
featured in our 2015 annual report
It's been a particularly busy week for me at Kier as I have been responsible for the online publication of our annual report. As am I yet to be in the job for a year I'm still learning the key milestones and dates for our preliminary results, employee roadshows and reports. I've tried to improve on what has come before and instead of simply publishing a downloadable PDF I've created a bespoke highlights page which pulls out the key points and makes the contents much more readable and SEO friendly. I have big plans for next year too...!

This summer has definitely been my favourite for the last few years as being out of education has meant I didn't have to be forever present for Clearing and could holiday when I wanted! It also meant that I wasn't a slave to Google AdWords and the constant monitoring it has demanded in the past.

At Kier, we've primarily been concentrating on improving our organic reach and as we have historically not had a robust strategy for online, the content we are now seeding is working great. Our brand mentions, following and sentiment are all on a steady rise so until we start to see it plateau advertising in general is not in our strategy. We have the luxury of being one of the biggest names in the sectors in which we operate.

This got me thinking as to the future of paid advertising online. With it becoming increasingly easy to block adverts will we start to see a decline in the revenue it generates? In the past only the tech-savvy people would happily boast of their latest browser plug-in, host file or proxy that would make their browsing advert free. However, with public perception and legislation all now aware of online privacy, consumers are beginning to exercise their options. The app store now offers 'content blockers' which are easy to setup and make most ads disappear from the pages you visit with ease - Hooray!

But how should we feel about this? If someone approached me to advertise on this blog and I was comfortable with their product offer it would definitely be an incentive to post more regularly. However, I am definitely one of those people who gets annoyed with the same advert running before I watch any YouTube video!

On a basic level, without adverts certain apps and websites would not exist. It's how they make their money and by blocking the adverts you could be said to be essentially stealing the content. If I want to play 'Words with Friends' for example, it's reasonable to accept that the developer needs to find a way to monetise my using it. However, in this example the method, format and currency of exchange have been chosen for me.

Another type of consent is demonstrated by the ubiquitous 'we use cookies - opt in/out' warnings we get on most UK websites. Although ridiculous and annoying this highlights that there's no way you would have chosen to consent to the company now tracking, retargeting and sharing this data with others just by visiting their website. By carrying on the floodgates are open and the form the advertising now takes is basically that of someone shouting at you to try and distract you from what you're doing but hopefully in a targeted manner! Hence the increased popularity of ad blockers - advertisers push so we push back. In the end we'll either look somewhere else for our content or further develop our 'ad blindness'.

The main issue is that in my experience ad-serving sites/apps are targeting the users who are looking for only momentary distractions. The content they offer is not unique so the reader goes elsewhere to find what they want without a myriad of annoying popups. These sites are facing a crisis entirely of their own making as they defined their terms of engagement and value right from the start. I've already seen some more agressive tactics coming into play such as blocker-blocking and self-hosted ads.

Hopefully, I won't be diving back into that murky world in the immediate future...
This past week has been extremely eventful both in outside of the office. I really enjoy it when professionally I feel as if things are moving in the right direction for me and I've also spoken in the past about the importance of the company for which I am working to be one which is making a difference to the world in it's own way. This week these have both been happening on a grand scale.

Kier site team meeting the Royals
Kier have been lending a hand on the BBC show DIY SOS by providing free labour and materials to their latest project up in Manchester. This is their largest one yet and the idea is to redevelop an entire street for retired veterans. From my point of view, the majority of this work is being covered by our PR team with regular 5am starts and by ensuring we are making the most of it on social media. I have been called on to monitor the sentiment, amount of activity and assist with any planning that is needed. However, this went into overdrive on Wednesday following the arrival of two very special guests...

Both Princes William and Harry visited the project meaning the amount of coverage we had went into overdrive making the national news. As far as 'celebrities' go you can't really get much bigger than the future king and his brother so I have been pulling everything together to gauge the affect on us as a brand. It's all great news and we're expecting more of the same when the show airs in mid-October.

On a personal level this has also been a big week for me too as I won a Silver award at the first ever Hertfordshire Digital Awards for this very blog!
The day began with an excellent networking breakfast at Knebworth Barns hosted by fellow nominees (and eventual winners) Labrums Solicitors. I really enjoyed chatting digital over a fry-up with such beautiful surroundings and it meant that come the awards night later I'd  see some familiar faces. 

Knebworth Barns proved a great
location for some networking
What struck me was that the majority of nominees were quite small agencies with decent sized contracts. This shows that big companies are happy they are getting a professional service outside of the usual London establishments. Where I was unique was that I was nominated for this blog (which is maintained in my spare time and not as part of my day job) and that I was the in-house expertise for work that is still generally being outsourced.

My wife and I rolled up at the Holiday Inn Stevenage at 7pm for the awards ceremony where a judging panel consisting of industry professionals from other big companies such as Maserati, Warner Music Group and Sky Sports had made their decision on the best local talent. I definitely felt I had been at this game a while as I got chatting to people with whom I had worked in the past over a bucks fizz. Of the 14 categories I was to be up first (I'm guessing it was alphabetical) so at least I was spared the wait!

Another award for the
After a delicious two-course meal, and some entertainment, it was announced by host Robin Bailey that the Gold winners were to give a speech! At least I was spared that impromptu embarrassment as I walked up to accept my plaque and to have my photo taken for the Hertfordshire Mercury.

Overall, it was a great day celebrating my achievements in digital with so many like-minded people. Regular readers of this blog will know that I love an awards evening and there's no doubt that being a part of this has helped me to elevate my own profile (and that of my company) in my home county of sunny Hertfordshire.
Having recently embarked on a project to rebuild our company website I've been giving a lot of thought to not only how we structure the site but also how we can design it to stand out from the crowd. Looking around the web for inspiration I've come across some truly beautiful examples of modern web design (Media Queries is a good place to start).

Attack of the clones
However, after a while, the majority of websites blend together in my head and I've come to the conclusion that actually a very large proportion all look the same (three columns, a big homepage image, a left hand navigation) This is definitely true of a lot of the premium themes which you can purchase for Wordpress etc.

This got me thinking is this is actually a bad or good thing. With the current emphasis on having a responsive website to work on the myriad of devices now available this does definitely mean there are certain compromises and simplifications necessary to the design. As the web has developed the days of just two browsers (good old Netscape Navigator) is long gone and trying to accommodate the eccentricities of each is a big task. The same is also true once the site hits a certain size and needs to sit on a content management system with lots of editors with different levels of editorial rights and the current monopoly in search from Google means that we are all slaves to how they index our websites.

Designing websites is definitely less free form than it was in the days of Flash when you used to have to hunt about to even find where the navigation was! As with all design there comes a point when humans are less involved in the process and instead the machines take over to make things quicker, cheaper and more automated. When these are done so cost effectively and efficiently (such as in the case of frameworks like Bootstrap or platforms like Squarespace) then why spend more time trying to achieve the same results?
This is also a sign of the times with all businesses further monetising their offer. Where a website used to be a nice to have it is now an essential resource for all companies and is designed not just to showcase their products and look pretty but has to prove it's worth by achieving real sales conversions. The fear of being different and standing out is a risky strategy which many web committees (and clients) do not want to chance.

A new chapter begins
for the Fryer family...
My middle son started school last week and my wife and I have been having the struggle every morning to get him into his uniform (he's very young for his year!) This got me thinking further about the merits of uniform to break down social class etc. so that instead of being judged on looks people can be judged on what they say and do. Maybe the fact that most websites conform to a certain style is actually a good evolution...

Are we supposed to invent five wheeled cars as four wheels are too mainstream? If designs are proven to work then why deviate. Most shops on the high street all look similar so that it's easy for customers to find their way around and feel comfortable, and the web shouldn't really be any different.  Books don't wildly alter their layout for each new publication either. Essentially it's all about the content.

It's clear I've got some interesting times ahead on settling on a new design for our website but whilst I work hard on implementing the final product, and spend my time at home empathising with my son's new found love of an imminent weekend, I'll also bear in mind that it is human nature to try to conform.

Way back in January one of my predictions was that 2015 would be the year of online video. With the amount of video being viewed and uploaded on a daily basis this seemed an obvious choice, but of course there's more to brand strategy than just filling a YouTube channel.

The measure of online success for our ongoing campaigns (#KierHeroes and #KierClients) is primarily increasing brand recognition for our myriad of services with the hope of generating positive user stories and comments. By telling the stories of our staff, audiences can look behind the facade of our company and get to know the people on the ground. Whether it is the man who fixes the bridleways or the woman who works on big projects like Crossrail these stories humanise our organisation and they let potential customers know who will be looking after their needs.

What has been an eye opener for me is how this seems to have followed the same pattern both with our internal and external audiences. Whenever I'm out and about they are a talking point and staff are proud to say they know the project or person featured in the video. This highlights how no medium can communicate the personality of the brand, or stir up emotion, quite as effectively as video.

Alongside this we've been increasingly creating new customer testimonials (with a number planned into our strategy). These are intended for potential clients/staff to feel less like they are buying a product and more buying into a community.

In order to properly seed this content we have been careful not to neglect social media and to ensure we are promoting across multiple channels - to fully utilise video's potential (and justify the time and cost spent) it must be easy for users to find and share it. With this in mind we have a weekly content strategy with every channel listed and the optimum timings listed for each based on what we have tested and learnt to date.

These weekly videos have also been carefully planned around internal and external factors to attempt to gain maximum exposure. This could either be the writing of an internal bid or a more national event such as National Walking Month.

It's also important to engage stakeholders for brand authenticity. For example we have a large contract with the Canal and River Trust. This is a subject in which many people are passionate so affiliating ourselves with them online means a much wider audience for our content. Relationships with joint ventures are important offline and exactly the same can be said online:

One part of this campaign I was really happy about was when we spotted the below Tweet from the daughter of one of the stars:

Not only does this bring the campaign extra authenticity and shows that Kier people are human too, it also adds some extra emotional depth by telling the story of a proud family member!

No digital campaign can be without regular testing and learning leading to the initial strategy being tweaked. Below are some examples of the metrics we are using to monitor the campaign's effectiveness (taken from the first few weeks):
  • 2,622 individuals have viewed a video (comparable with Blog)
  • 305 are staff (8%)
  • 668 individual visitors to website landing page
  • 450 have visited website after watching a video (via social media)
  • 218 clicked homepage banner and then watched a video (within page)
  • 89% have then viewed another page (56% have looked at our job site)
With proper benchmarking in place we can therefore monitor the uplift and if video really is becoming more powerful. On current trends and if it were two years in the future, there is every chance you would have watched this post instead of read it...
One of the big challenges of working at such a large and diverse company as Kier, is being able to showcase all of our services in one place and collate content from the many different divisions and offices in a way which gives them equal importance. We have offices all over the country (many of which I have already visited), and abroad, and part of my remit in the central team is to provide the tools for the regional teams to show off what they, and Kier, can do.

This is why I have felt it important to go out in person and talk to everyone who is involved in selling our services - so we can discuss what challenges we all face whilst looking at ways to share knowledge and content. I've even taken to documenting my travels with a bit of office spotting on my Twitter account to serve as an aide-memoire!
This has been a really positive experience and has allowed my team to use the feedback gathered to produce a powerful tool mainly for use by our business development managers. Entitled the 'Kier Showcase' it's exactly that, a showcase of our full range of work we can provide clients which supports our Vision 2020 to help grow the size of our business by aiding cross-selling across divisions.​ As well as being a useful sales instrument, Kier Showcase also helps colleagues to improve their knowledge of Kier, allowing everyone to get a good understanding of the services we offe​r.

This interactive presentation works on either tablets or laptops and can be talked through with clients or anyone else interested in Kier. We've also developed a quarterly schedule to update it and it includes all of our case studies by region and our growing portfolio of videos.

From a technical point of view I had to ensure that this was working on all senior managers tablets and computers but that it was easy to update for the regional teams. To achieve this we actually built it using Powerpoint but used some more sophisticated tools such as embedded videos and  animations in the navigation. Rather than then paying costly hosting fees to Apple etc. to put it on the app store I was recommended another excellent tool called iSpring. This is a Powerpoint plugin that allows us to export the finished 180+ page presentation in a variety of useful formats (.exe, Flash or HTML5). So for PC we use the former and then export an HTML5 version for hosting on a web server. From here the user just downloads the iSpring viewer app, visits the web address of the presentation and it automatically adds itself to their tablet for viewing offline.

As I always say, the technical bit was the easy part. Getting all of the content from the various business units was the most time consuming but the results have been so well received that even the people who were initially skeptical were eager to send us their updates for version 2!

In other news, this blog has made another awards shortlist! This one is particularly close to home as I've been nominated in the Blog category at the first Hertfordshire Digital Awards. I'm extremely honoured and excited to be able to be there with the best digital practitioners in the county and it also means there's only a short journey home from the ceremony in Stevenage! Tickets are booked (out of my own hard earned money) and there are six of us in the category meaning a 50% chance of a gold, silver or bronze. However, the really fun part will be being able to enjoy the night with my wife by my side as my +1.

Watch this space to see how I get on...!
Having worked in digital and on websites for over 10 years it's fair to say that I've come across a number of problems that don't seem to have any technical solutions. This has involved me searching around for ways to achieve what I need to do and trying a number of different tools.

The list below contains some little tips and tools which have been extremely useful to me in the past. They're not all particularly new, powerful or advanced but they have definitely got me out of a tight spot once of twice and are FREE!  I've regularly recommended them to friends and colleagues so thought it was about time I collated a few on them into one useful blog post. Here comes the list:

1. Unroll.me: Cleanse your inbox

Whenever I run email training sessions I give this a little mention and people shake me by the hand with gratitude! Basically it solves that familiar problem of hundreds of daily spam emails. Just visit Unroll.me from your browser, login to your email account (e.g. Gmail) and see a list of everyone who is sending you spam emails. Then just uncheck the ones you no longer want to receive - it's as easy as that to cleanse your inbox! You can also consilidate all of your sales emails into one daily digest to ensure you don't get bombarded but still receive those all important offers.

2. Savefrom.net: Download any YouTube video

Download any YouTube video and save it to your machine! This works for absolutely anything and is great if you no longer have a password for your account or need to grab some footage to test how it would look on your edited video. It really is as simple as adding two letters to the URL - just add 'ss' before ' youtube.com' (e.g. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qUAPdRhxtRM becomes https://www.ssyoutube.com/watch?v=qUAPdRhxtRM) and choose your file format and size.

3. YouTube to MP3: Save any YouTube video as a music file

This is a great free tool for saving the sound of YouTube videos as MP3s that go straight into iTunes. All you need to do is paste the URL of the video into the program and the download begins. Some nice little features are that it keeps the description etc. and saves them as the ID3 tas and it also cuts out any unwelcome silences.

4. Handbrake: open source video transcoder

This is one of my old favourites as it's so quick and easy to use. Just choose the video file you want to convert to any other format and away you go! There are loads of presets for different sizes and encoders but one of the best things about it is it also rips DVDs and puts them straight on your desktop ready for editing. 'Put down that cocktail' and get using it!

5. Chimpfeedr: RSS feed aggregator

This is a fun little one and solved the problem for me of trying to get multiple RSS feeds, from multiple sources, to all plug in either to the same website or digital screen. All you need to do is plug them in ('Feed them to the Chimp') and he chompas them all up into one feed.This is actually a little offshoot from Mail Chimp so allows you to then use these feeds in RSS to email campaigns. 'Chomp, Chomp!'

6. Quick Sprout: Comprehensive website analysis

This is a very easy to use tool which gives a really comprehensive analysis of your website. It includes social media analysis too and can even show you how you're doing against your competitors. It's great for getting internal buy-in on projects or to get an overview of where you need to foucs your efforts. There's also loads of tips for SEO and speed and it gives nice feedback on how your site performs on different devices.

7. Firebug: Test live website changes

A great little browser add-on which provides the same functionality as the ‘Inspect Element’ right-click-menu option in Firefox and Chrome but with added power. You can fiddle with the HTML and CSS on the fly making it easy to find out what you need to do to the source code so the page comes out right. It’s also useful for demonstrating minor changes to  managers or the development team. You can also mess around with external sites and screen grab the results.

8. ColorZilla: Grab any colour instantly

Despite the American spelling this is another useful browser add-on. Need a brand colour quickly but don’t know the RGB values? No problem. ColorZilla lets you pick it straight from a web page and gives it to you in RGB, HSV, CMYK and Hex. This has saved me a lot of time in the past and means I can quickly work out which palette to use when starting a new project.

9. Google URL builder: Track everything

Every campaign I've run for the past five years has made use of this tool! It links seamlessly with Google Analytics and allows a very quick way of tracking all of the individual assets of a campaign in one place. One thing to be careful of though is that you ensure naming conventions are agreed in the team and adhered to but after that you're good to go!

10. Pingdom: website speed test

I've blogged about this before but there is no better free way to check the speed of your website and work out what is causing any problems (e.g no Gzip running or images are not compressed). There is also a paid version which offers a lot more functionality such as downtime alerts, SEO performance and server response time.

11. Twitter Fontana: Display Tweets

There are loads of nice free ways to display Tweets on a screen in a visual manner (Visible Tweets is an old favorite) but this is the best free one I've seen at the moment. You just login to your Twitter account and then add a search (either by term, account of hashtag), choose one of the many styles and add an animation and you have a professional looking Twitter wall. Great for events, but just remember that it's not moderated!
I've never been that good at saying 'No'. At work, my philosophy has always been to just be as useful as possible to everybody. That way you can quickly begin to add value to the team and even the people who don't like you won't make trouble if they realise you are helpful to them! With this in mind, part of our social strategy at Kier is to inform people that if they want their own account they can have one. We don't say 'no'. They just need to attend our course...

With so many joint ventures and specific projects happening many of our regional offices feel they would benefit from their own Twitter/Facebook accounts. This is why I've been travelling a lot lately, to present on what we are doing centrally, how staff can plug into it and to highlight the implications of managing their own social media account(s). Primarily this is educating people on what it is they are actually asking for and the implications. I always liken setting up a Twitter account to setting up a stall outside your office - you're basically putting up a shop front for people to come and moan at you! If you're willing to do something about what you hear then great, but if all you intend to do is broadcast and then hide under the table when challenged there is little point.

My training venue this week. They
make great tuna baguettes!
Strategy is also vitally important and the course we've devised covers everything from the basics, right up to proving ROI and governance. More often than not we mutually decide that tapping into our existing channels would be best for all concerned. This approach is as important for meeting people in the business, understand their needs and objectives and then working together to generate content to benefit Kier as whole and helps us to test and learn.

On Monday, I was pleased to be vindicated in this approach after hearing the Head of Digital Communications at BP present on their strategy at the Digital Marketing Dialogue in Ascot. They also have an attitude that is geared towards educating the business with an online course giving an introduction to Social Media for all staff. Where they differ, is that they then ask anyone who wants their own social account to fill in a form outlining their objectives, KPIs, out of hours and monitoring strategies. It seems not many people actually think this far ahead and when faced with these questions decide not to bother. That's one way of doing it!

The new online experience which
more customers are expecting
On the whole the conference was a great opportunity for me to get out of the office and hear from my equivalents at KLM, Sky, Monster, HP, More Th>n and Philips. I actually learnt as much about presentation technique as I did about other company's strategies and found the ones that resonated with me most were the ones which told a story. I also spotted a theme that was around the importance in providing an old fashioned and personal experience online. Human nature being what it is it's clear that where technology became the go to method for some to do their shopping it's now gone full circle and people are expecting the same personal experience they would get in person online (i.e. to be remembered, listened to and helped).

Probably the most useful part of the conference was the chance to talk with my peers around strategies that work best for them. I did find however that when I told people I work for Kier their first thought was "the car company?" This definitely shows that our plan to increase awareness of what we do through both our online and offline is a right one. I really hope that I can go back next year and prove I've done my job well by everyone knowing who we are!

So in conclusion there is nothing that beats human interaction. Whether it be at a conference or through a training course. No matter what shiny new toys are on the horizon having a dialogue in person will always be the most effective.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Commodore Amiga. For me, this machine was a large part of my childhood as it was our first ever home computer and probably my most loved Christmas present ever. I vividly remember unwrapping the box (in what must have been 1989) to find my parents had bought us the Amiga 500 bundled with the games Batman the Movie, New Zealand Story, Interceptor and Deluxe Paint 2. We plugged it in immediately and I was hooked...

Defender of the Crown (1986)
This machine soon became how I spent a lot of spare time either playing games (Defender of the Crown  was a firm favourite), trading them with school friends or having them over for tea followed by some frenzied teamwork on games like Pang. However, the utility which probably had the most effect on me was Deluxe Paint. This was a graphics tool like nothing before it and was the little brother of Photoshop today. Some of the features within it were truly ground-breaking (such as the 'undo' button and the ability to create basic animations) and it meant I could be creative, have fun and engage with our home computer beyond just playing games.

Thinking back, this had a bigger influence on me than I realised and it is probably partly responsible for my choice of career. Being able to create something from scratch on a computer was just so immensely rewarding. Whilst I would like to say that my career has all been meticulously planned, instead I have been led into just following what I enjoy whilst ensuring that I am always learning. Obviously, there's a lot of hard work needed too but if what you do for a living is linked to tasks which you get satisfaction of from outside of work it can only make it easier.

For true job satisfaction I also think it's vital that you really believe in the service that the company provides. If you are going to work long hours and put in the extra effort, then you need to be more than just “in like” with the company. If you don’t feel the urge to tell others about the company then it’s probably not a good idea to join. But, if you can fall in love with the company and what they do aligns with your passions, then you will at least want to run hard once you are on board.

In a competitive job market many employers are also now focusing on personal interests to identify your individual talent, personality and creativity. Therefore it can be worth highlighting genuine hobbies that demonstrate an element of both your personality and your skills and how they will benefit the business. You may be keen on video editing but unless you show some initiative and evidence, such as filming a wedding video for a friend, you're not giving them much to go on.

Rocket Ranger (1988)
Linking your interests to achievements and capturing an employer’s interest can make them curious to find out more about you. The thing with hobbies is that, most of the time; it is all about being open to new experiences and showing some initiative. Being a hobbyist is much more than collecting stamps, it's about following your passions, learning new skills and above all, enjoying yourself. If an employer can see that, then you are halfway through the door.

So for me, maybe all of those hours playing Wings or Kick Off 2 in my bedroom weren't a waste of time after all as they showed me what I wanted to do with my life and set me on the path to a rewarding career which I enjoy. Although nothing can quite rival the sense of satisfaction I got on that Saturday afternoon when I completed Rocket Ranger!
Working in Digital Marketing means a lot of my working week is taken up with selling the benefits of digital to colleagues. in fact in the past two weeks I've traveled to Plymouth, Warwick, Loughton, London and Liverpool in order to do just that! Many of these benefits I've covered on this blog before such as tracking, testing, learning and engaging with the user in the place online that they occupy.

Keeping up with the latest tools and techniques is extremely challenging and maximising and evaluating campaigns is a lot of hard work. I also think that for many things digital will actually always be second best. For example, I have always found e-cards to be pretty much a waste of time. Whilst efficient for the business the impersonal and forgettable nature of them will never challenge receiving a real card which someone has bothered to hand write, buy a stamp for and walk to the postbox.

There are lots of digital things that are much easier and more efficient than their analogue counterparts – mail, music, networking, and socialising – but we still hold them in some disdain because they just don’t feel as good. One thing I find is that whilst people are documenting their day on social media through photos/status updates surely this shows that in fact they are not enjoying the moment - otherwise why break away from it to show the world what a 'good time' is being had? Digital formats deliver breadth, depth, interactivity, connectivity, and accessibility in spades – but at what cost?

There is a danger we become journalists reviewing our own lives rather than living them. I can be guilty of this myself as the creation of a digital layer of content for every real event enables greater access, more souvenirs, more connectivity (and a way to show the grandparents what the children have been doing!)

There is just something about the physical; the engagement of the senses, the presence, the effort, the humanity that impacts harder. It’s more authentic, and as the world grows increasingly virtual the actual becomes more and more potent. Ironically, it’s via the digital that we’re accessing more and more of those authentic experiences. Personally, I much prefer sitting down with a good book rather than a kindle.

There is now so much focus on the digital revolution, both in skills and budget, that there is a danger of more traditional skills being lost. If there's one thing I've learned from being married to a history teacher (and from publishing a book with her) it's that knowledge of the past is essential in order to focus on what is important for the future.

Over many years marketing is still essentially what it always was. People may be consuming media in many different ways and via many new channels but they are still the same people and human nature does not change. There may also be some new rules and tools are the marketers disposal but the importance of media planning, storytelling and emotional impact are no different.

I have noticed over recent months that digital marketing is maturing to a point where it is now much simpler and clearer. we know the big channels on which we need to concentrate and the differences between mediums is getting ironed out by the likes of video content. Of course it's essential I keep up with the changes and tools but essentially the online and the offline are now working increasingly seamlessly together.

Concentrating too much on the shiny and fast paced world of digital could mean that the next generation of marketers have not taken the time to learn the basics. What must be learned is how digital interacts with other media, how it supports and extends them, how the rules it plays by have been proven by science decades ago, and what makes it truly different and unique. This is why I see passing on knowledge as one of the most important parts of my job and do my best to always be helpful and approachable.
Next PostNewer Posts Previous PostOlder Posts Home