Me, a sea of smiling faces, a pair of old boots and a little imagination...

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If you’d have told me this time last year that I would be giving a talk at a WI meeting I wouldn’t have believed you. But it’s funny what a difference a year makes, and how simply helping at the school summer fair can lead from one thing to another.

Last summer I made quirky planters out of children’s wellies and sold them at my daughter’s school summer fair to raise money for the school PTA. Little did I know that one of these wellies would be bought and given as a gift to a member of the local WI and the rest, as they say, is history.

I had never been to a WI night before, so I had no idea what to expect. I was a little apprehensive - I certainly don’t speak in front of large groups of people regularly, if at all. I also felt like a bit of a fraud, as even though I had been asked to take the talk, I wouldn’t ever describe myself as a professional in ‘quirky planters’!

Of course I was made to feel very welcome, and quickly realised I had no reason to feel nervous. After singing of a verse of Jerusalem and some WI business, I was up!

I briefly introduced myself and then dived straight into a demonstration of planting a boot, which a fellow RKHer had kindly donated and that I had already painted. I discussed the fact that another lovely aspect of these creative projects is that it gives a new lease of life to something that you may be thinking of binning. With quirky planters you’re only limited by your imagination!

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The ladies then had a chance to create their own quirky planters with items that they’d bought in from home. They did a superb job and went home thrilled with some fantastic new additions to their doorsteps and gardens!

Despite my apprehensions, I left feeling really glad that I’d done it. It was a great experience and I was so glad I took myself outside my comfort zone for the evening.

The Facebook Pixel: what is it and why do you need one?

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It may have felt the effects of some less-than-perfect press recently but there’s no denying that Facebook is an important way for businesses to listen to and interact with their customers. If you’re currently advertising on Facebook, or even just thinking about it, then a Facebook Pixel will be all kinds of useful to your business.

From helping you get to know your audience and the kind of content they like, to making use of retargeting adverts, it will help you sail through the often-perplexing landscape of Facebook advertising, giving you more insight whilst saving you advertising budget along the way.

So, what exactly is a Facebook Pixel? How does it work, and why should your business make use of one? Let’s get started!

A Pixel is basically a short piece of code that Facebook gives you to put on your website. Every advertising account on the network has access to one and don’t worry, it won’t require a degree in computer programming to get it set up. Facebook will guide you through everything.

Even though Facebook only gives you one Pixel, you can target different audiences and different actions thanks to the way it’s structured.

Made up of 2 parts, the Pixel will give you:

  1. A Base Code, which identifies your advertising account and is placed across every page of your website. This code will never change.
  2. A Standard Event Code, which is the part that specifies the action you’re tracking, such as purchase or email sign ups, for example. This code will sit on individual site pages because you only want it to be triggered when someone completes the action you’re tracking for. Looking to measure sales? Then add this code to the confirmation page that only people who have completed a purchase will see.

Once your Pixel is up and running, you can begin delving into some pretty nifty insights…

Start tracking your conversions (AKA making sure your advertising budget is being spent wisely)

A purchase, a subscription to your mailing list, or an enquiry all fall under the same metric category: they’re conversions - actions that a person has taken on your website. Now, Facebook will already tell you how many people have landed on your site because of one of your adverts but what good is that if you don’t know how many conversions you’re making whilst those people are there?

Step in the Pixel. There to tell you how many people converted, the cost for each one of those conversions, and the total spend.

Let’s say you own a t-shirt business with tees selling for £20. Your current adverts work out at around £2 per click and you’re getting 100 clicks to your site. That means you’re paying £200 for 100 clicks. Sounds pretty good, right?

But with Facebook Pixel now in your arsenal you’ve learnt that actually, out those 100 clicks to your website, only 3 have converted into t-shirt sales. That means it’s costing you £200 in advertising to sell £60 worth of product.

Hmmm, not so good now. Based on this Pixel-led insight it sounds like it’s time to review your adverts and targeting.

Create retargeting adverts to lure customers back

We’ve all been there, searching for flights to your next holiday, minding your own business. Then, without so much as a single hover over the ‘Book Now’ button your Facebook feed is suddenly full of adverts for travel deals at that very same destination.

These are retargeting adverts and they’re a powerful tool for your business to have at its disposal.

Retargeting adverts achieve a 10x higher click-through rate than regular adverts. Retargeted customers are also 70x more likely to buy from your business than those who have only seen your ad once. And if that wasn’t incentive enough, those same customers spend on average 5x more than a singularly-targeted customer.

Retargeting works by showing adverts to audiences who have already been to and interacted with your website. You can also dig a little deeper into what they did whilst they were there, like whether they added a product to their basket but didn’t end up buying it. With this information you’re then able to remind them - through the medium of a great-looking and creative retargeting advert - to come back and finish making their purchase.

So how does a Pixel fit in to all of this? Using a person’s Facebook ID for reference, the Pixel will spring into action when they complete a chosen conversion, such as adding something to their basket. Your retargeting adverts will then begin to show in their feeds based on that ID.

Show your adverts to the right people, in the right place

Based on all of the information that the Pixel will have picked up on, Facebook will begin to automatically improve your advert placements and delivery, showing your ads to not only more people but the right people. Those people who are most likely to subscribe to your email list, make a purchase, or complete whatever other conversion you’re looking to achieve. So if more people are clicking your advert when it’s placed in their newsfeed as opposed to down the right-hand ad column, then that’s exactly where Facebook will put it.

Hands up then, who wants a Pixel?

Like we’ve mentioned, you don’t need an otherworldly amount of tech knowledge to get a Pixel up and running. You simply need to activate it and this can be started by clicking through to your Facebook advertising account.

Getting down into the details of what makes an advert great, and to who, is a bit of an obsession for us here at RKH and we’re always up for a new challenge. So if you want to get set up and running with adverts and Pixels on Facebook but aren’t sure what to do first - or if you’re looking for help refining your advertising efforts - be sure to drop us a line. We’d love to hear from you.

Swap 'til you drop

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We all have those items hanging in our wardrobes - unworn pieces that still have tags on, expensive dresses worn once for an event and never to see the light of day again, or things that are just no longer our style or size.

So in the spirit of having a good wardrobe spring clean and raising some money for a good cause whilst we were at it, we decided to hold the first ever RKH Swap Shop in aid of a local charity close to many of our hearts, LOROS. In the process we managed to raise an impressive total of £1,512, which will help LOROS continue to provide invaluable care for terminally ill patients in Leicestershire.

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The Swap Shop started off as a simple idea to recycle our unwanted clothes, but quickly grew into a bit of an event. Alongside the rails upon rails of clothes, shoes, accessories and makeup, we also put on a raffle and a silent auction with a variety of amazing prizes up for grabs. Delilah Deli, Ragdale Hall Spa, Holland & Barrett, Phoenix Cinema, Argento Jewellers, Burleighs Gin Distillery, Leicester Gin & Rum Festival, Set, 200 Degrees Coffee, Exchange Bar, Kibworth Shooting Ground, Everards and Boden all kindly donated prizes for the raffle. And for our silent auction we had two wonderful experiences donated, a 7 course taster meal and wine flight for two at John's House, and a spa day for two at Champneys Springs. With so many exciting prizes to win there was definitely a lot of friendly competition and tactical ticket buying going on in the run up to the draw!

Body Shop at Home representative, Sam, was also on hand throughout the evening to give complimentary facials or hand and scalp massages and talk through her range of goodies, with 10% of all sales being donated to LOROS.

So how does a Swap Shop work?

To keep things fair, there were a few key rules to follow. First, each person who wanted to take part had to bring in at least 3 items in good, wearable condition. We then put a stamp system in place to make sure those who brought in more expensive items were rewarded fairly.

Stamps were given to each swapper based on the value of the items they brought in, and those pieces were then available to ‘buy’ for the same number of stamps. For example, a piece from Primark earned and cost 1 stamp, Topshop was 2 stamps, Reiss was 3 stamps and designer pieces were 4 stamps. You get the idea. This not only helped to encourage everyone to bring more than 3 items in, but also to bring along more good quality pieces, allowing them to earn more stamps to spend.

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The whole evening was such good fun, and it was lovely to see items which had been sitting unworn in our own wardrobes being excitedly snapped up by the other girls. Everyone that got involved took home at least one new piece they really loved (though, it was more like a bag full for most of us!) and couldn’t wait to do it again. At the end of the night, all of the items that were leftover were bagged up and donated to LOROS, meaning they’ll all get another chance to be worn again or recycled.

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Oddworld: Abe’s Origins Kickstarter campaign

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Calling all indie gaming fans. Do you remember Abe and his Oddworld adventures?

If you were into video games in the late 90s, the chances are you’ll have played the original video games, Oddworld: Abe’s Origins and Oddworld: Abe’s Exoddus. Or maybe you missed him the first time around. Well great news, he’s back!

Delve into the backstory of your favourite Mudokon with this exclusive new book Oddworld: Abe’s Origins. Our Lead Creative, Dominic Palmer, has been involved in designing the layout concepts of the book and it’s a true celebration of Abe, his world and his adventures.

Dom created concepts for the cover design and internal pages that have been used to showcase the book on crowdfunding site Kickstarter. Backing for this project was achieved in only a couple of days and has gone way beyond the £45,000 goal. The amount pledged is now £115,000 and rising.

“Abe's Oddysee was one of the most iconic games to be released for the original PlayStation console so getting the opportunity to work on this project is a real honour,” said Dom. “The character drawings and concept art we’ve seen are stunning and we’ve only just scratched the surface.”

“The speed at which the project has been funded on Kickstarter shows how much excitement there is for an artbook of this nature, I certainly wasn’t expecting to send my congratulatory email to the client less than 48 hours after the campaign launch!”

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The book will include freshly unearthed concept art and design documents. It will also feature brand new interviews with the game’s creators, Oddworld Inhabitants. All presented in a lovingly-crafted, premium hard copy book that Dom will be helping to design.

It is being developed by the creators of the critically acclaimed Independent By Design, which Dom had the pleasure of being involved with too.

If you fancy getting your hands on the book, simply pledge £30 or more to the Kickstarter campaign. By contributing £60 or more, you’ll also receive the Oddworld: Abe’s Origins Game Collection, featuring the original games on PC-DVD.

What’s more, the name of all benefactors will be listed in the book, giving backers their very own slice of gaming history.

Check out the Kickstarter campaign for more information and to pledge your support.

Festive Chocolate Truffles

Calling all chocolate lovers - you need these chocolate truffles in your life!

I’m a self-confessed chocoholic. I love chocolate so much that pretty much all of the desserts I eat have to contain some form of chocolate. Belgian chocolate cake, chocolate digestive biscuits, Nutella milkshakes, Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Fudge Brownie Ice Cream… Is your mouth watering yet?

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Well, I have a recipe filled with yummy chocolate goodness for you, so prepare to have your cravings satisfied!

I like to bake every so often and these chocolate truffles are my favourite things to make. They satisfy my sweet tooth, fulfill my chocolate cravings and they are so incredibly easy to make, whilst looking pretty impressive too - even if I do say so myself! Plus, they are perfect for the upcoming festive party season.

We thought it would be a fun lunchtime activity to make a batch of truffles and then devour them to get us through the afternoon. They definitely did not disappoint, they didn’t even make it back into the fridge before they were all gone!

So, here’s everything you need to know to make them yourself, whether you’re in the office with colleagues or at home with your family.

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Ingredients

  • 300g of chocolate (white, milk or dark - the choice is yours!)
  • 300ml double cream
  • A knob of butter
  • Toppings of your choice (try dessicated coconut, nuts, crushed biscuits, cocoa powder...)
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Method

  1. Prepare the chocolate by breaking it and adding it into a bowl.
  2. Pour the double cream into a saucepan and simmer on a low heat.
  3. Once the cream begins to boil and bubble at the edges (around 2-3 minutes) remove from the heat and add in the butter.
  4. Pour the butter and cream mixture into the bowl with the chocolate and stir together until the chocolate has completely melted and become a thick, glossy mix.
  5. Place the mixture into the fridge for about two hours, or overnight if you have time. Once chilled, the mix should be of a thick rollable consistency.
  6. Use a spoon to take out a small amount of the mixture and roll it between your palms to create a ball in the desired size for your truffle.
  7. Roll the truffle ball in the topping of your choice, and repeat until the mixture is gone.
  8. Enjoy!
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The loneliness of the long distance writer

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Writers are funny creatures. 

They walk around with whole worlds building steadily in their head, the words of imaginary people echoing in their ears, and examining every situation to see if they can steal any of it for their fictional creations.

They spend hours locked away on their own hammering at a keyboard or scratching away at a piece of paper with a pen, only to descend into a world of self doubt and delete or throw it all away.

It’s a solitary vocation and one that is ridiculously hard. They say that everyone has a book inside themselves, but in my opinion it’s just not true - writing a book requires a strange mind and a singular commitment.

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I say this from personal experience. My first novel, The Zoo, came out in April 2015 and I’ve been working on my second ever since. I’ve just finished the first draft and am now ‘leaving it to breathe’ before going back to start the editing process.

Writing requires peace, quiet, and time to concentrate - three things which aren’t conducive to having a one year old daughter and helping to run a business.

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So in order to get it over the hurdle of the first draft I recently hid myself away in a writers retreat at The Clock House, part of the Arvon Hurst centre in the Shropshire Hills. Set in the grounds of the beautifully renovated home of the celebrated playwright, John Obsbourne, the Clock House is made up of 4 apartments specially geared up to help writers work.

I stayed there for 4 days; waking early each morning for a walk in the woods behind the house, before writing right through until the evening, when I could enjoy a glass of wine and read a book in front of the fire in the cosy lounge.

It’s a rare thing nowadays to be able to experience complete tranquility - no wifi, no TV and no work emails - but the Clock House is perfectly set up to allow this and consequently encourage creativity. I fully intend to repeat the experience next year.

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If you’re so inclined, you can find out more at Arvon.

Bulgarian embroidery and its influence on modern design

In my role as a web developer and front-end designer, the languages that I use such as HTML and CSS, transform written code into websites. These hidden tags, their groupings and the order in which they are placed create their own individual patterns and meanings which together produce a visual structure. Just like Bulgarian embroidery, these graphical elements can be carefully studied to uncover their hidden meanings.

 Handmade vintage Bulgarian embroidered shirt from  Made In Bulgaria

Handmade vintage Bulgarian embroidered shirt from Made In Bulgaria

Bulgarian embroidery is part of the traditional Bulgarian folk costume, and it harbours symbols and meanings that were established far back in time. Traditionally the embroidered patterns are combinations of geometric shapes, which form together to create stylised images. As a child at home in Bulgaria, I remember being impressed by my mother’s traditional costume, which had been inherited from her great grandmother. In awe, I analysed the patterns and tried to redraw them on a sheet of paper, colouring them with markers. As I got older, my mother taught me how to embroider these elements onto fabric whilst she told me about the meanings behind the symbols.

Though you may not have heard of Bulgarian embroidery, it is likely that you would recognise it, as modern design pulls inspiration from both the design and technique.

The patterns of Bulgarian embroidery can be traced back at least 3500 years, to the Bronze Age of Thrace. Though their origins remain obscure, due to an absence of written records, it’s clear the Thracians left a lasting mark on the development of European culture and beliefs, having influenced both the Greek and Roman cultures. It is also thought that the Thracians were responsible for creating the oldest golden treasure in the world, dating back to over 6,000BC, which was discovered near the city of Varna, Bulgaria.

Bulgarian embroidery is not just used for beautiful decoration. It also serves as a narrative, a symbol of status and provides coded information. The position of triangles and other basic shapes, and how they slot together, can tell different messages and represent ideals such as nation, family and kinship. Some of the oldest motifs come from the skulls of Bulgaria.

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The colours that are used also carry their own symbolism, and heavily influence the meanings behind the designs. Associated with the Tree of Life, the colour green represents eternal life and resurrection. Red, is the symbol of maternal blood and life expectancy, and is often found used alongside green. White, as in many cultures, symbolises purity and innocence, but also joy, grandeur and beauty. Today, contemporary designers adopt on-trend colours to recreate these folkloric elements in modern design.

There are a variety of symbols, but one of the most important is the rhomb, which represents the feminine being. Different combinations of rhomb produce different shapes and messages, and each position has an individual meaning. Traditionally, the shapes and colours of a woman's clothing will be used to communicate her social status, for example, whether she is married or where her family came from.

 Handmade embroidered earrings based on traditional Bulgarian motifs from  Kitna

Handmade embroidered earrings based on traditional Bulgarian motifs from Kitna

Contemporary designers often draw their inspiration from an array of sources, both modern and ancient, to express their ideas in new and unique ways. Bulgarian embroidery has provided inspiration to many designers over the years, from fashion design to jewellery, graphics and interiors. The Italian fashion house Valentino used elements of traditional embroideries in classic wine reds for the houses’ 2015 Spring/Summer couture collection.

Bulgarian embroidery is a modern enigma, which houses deep-seated embedded technology and ancient unbreakable codes.

Learning Lithography at Leicester Print Workshop

A few weeks ago we went along to a short evening course at Leicester Print Workshop to learn the basics of photo-plate lithography. Our tutor for the evening was the talented Emma Gardner, an independent printmaker herself, she is also currently an Artist in Residence at the workshop.

Armed with our chosen photos, we gathered around the table to learn more about the history of this technique and the process behind it.

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Before we began, we were given a run through of the each of the steps - expose your plate, gum it, ink it, press it, clean and repeat. Sounds simple enough, right? Not quite. As we started to ink our plates, and things started to go wrong, we quickly realised that it wasn’t quite as easy as we all thought! Emma made it look so effortless, but getting the right amount of ink on your plate, and in the right places, takes real practice to master.

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Although it took us all a while to get used to the technique, eventually we got the hang of it and were able to produce some pretty impressive prints. Some turned out better than others, but in the end we had so much fun in the process that it didn’t matter.

Huge thanks to Emma and Leicester Print Workshop for having us, and for helping even the most lithographically-challenged of us to create some prints we’re really proud of.

 

“Wait, I know that guy, where have I seen him before?”

You’ve said that or similar plenty of times right? There are some faces that you recognise everywhere.

Well I know one face in particular who I see all the time. Although he’s not actually real I’ve met him many times, in many different contexts. He is ‘older-natural-looking-white-business-man-smiling-with-arms-crossed’ and he is a legend in the stock photography world.

If he’s not selling me an investment account, he’s advising on my tax affairs. Of course with that suit and salesman posture he also makes a great estate agent, an insurance broker, a recruitment consultant and a tax advisor. He can even sell you appropriate eyecare or advise on legal queries.  

He suits all of these professions because he looks the part. In the uninspiring world of stock photography this guy appears natural where so many others appear fake. He’s a genuine professional but not a city slicker. He’s an older gentlemen, but not too old. He’s not the stereotypical caricature of an frail geriatric or a retiree living life to the max. Let’s face it, he’s no ‘silver fox’. He’s just an average guy, but his smile is genuine and his posture is natural. He’s totally believable. He looks like he's worn that suit before, it didn't cost him £2,000, he probably got it from Marks & Spencer or Next. You could imagine meeting him when opening a savings account at the bank or when applying for a mortgage. You can trust him, he's not a big city banker or a used car salesman. He truly is a man for all seasons.

He's so commonplace that you must have seen him about yourself right? Or maybe you've never noticed him? And herein lies his issue. He's so versatile, so obviously leant to a multitude of adverts, annual account covers and bus depot hoardings that he's almost invisible due to his blanket blandness. He fits the billing so well that's he's used everywhere, whenever designers have needed to reach for that older, smiling, professional yet natural looking businessman kinda guy.  

Stock photography is a necessary evil in the design world. Not every job can afford a photoshoot, but for those projects where the extra budget is available, bespoke photography rewards that investment. Photography that is unique to your brand is always more genuine and you’re not likely to bump into the same posed individual moonlighting for another brand! The stock industry however, has come on leaps and bounds in recent years and there are many millions more images to choose from compared with five or ten years ago. This probably means the days of  ‘older-smiling-natural-looking-white-businessman’ dominating the marketing world are coming to an end.

Goodbye ‘older-natural-looking-white-business-man-smiling-with-arms-crossed’ I wish you the very best in retirement and in your future endeavours.

How to get your first job in PR and social media

How brands communicate with their customers and where we get our news from has changed massively over the past few years. Public relations (PR) and social media today is more important than ever in helping brands manage their reputation and get their message across clearly to the people who matter.  

It’s an exciting and rewarding job, and one that many people are drawn to. This makes PR an extremely competitive field to get started in, so you’ll need to be highly capable, a real people person and have solid social skills to succeed.

Here are a few of our best tips to help you get started in PR and social media.

Be confident

You’ll be working with a wide range of people and personalities, so you’ll need to be calm under pressure and know how to project confidence in any situation. Whether that’s picking up the phone, presenting to a room full of people or talking through an idea in person, it’s important to be positive and self-assured no matter what the day throws at you.

Know how to get things done

Working in PR, you’ll be responsible for juggling a number of different clients and tasks all at once. Tight deadlines, a constantly changing media landscape and the fast paced nature of the job, means your finger needs to be firmly on the pulse at all times. To keep a grip on your sanity, you’ll need to know how to effectively prioritise your time, be incredibly organised and able to switch between different tasks at a moment's notice.

Try it out

Try contacting agencies for work experience, an internship or even a coffee to find out more. Experience really helps you show potential employers your knowledge and understanding of PR and social media. Having spent even a little time working in the industry helps show you know what’s expected and give examples of how you can immediately make a difference. 

Develop your writing skills

Strong written skills and attention to detail are essential if you’re looking to build a career in PR. Understanding how to use the written word to craft different styles and tones is an important skill to master, and one that requires practice, so start now. Having this nailed will allow you to create copy that best reflects each client, their unique personality and the message they are trying to get across.  

Watch the detail

When applying for roles, check and double check to make sure your covering letter and CV are perfect - typos just aren’t acceptable!

Work on your digital skills

When you’re starting out, a great way to gain experience is to start a personal blog. Choose a topic you’re passionate about and really immerse yourself within the community.  

This can help to develop your creativity and written skills, as well as a solid understanding of social media. It’s also a good way to pick up experience of SEO, email marketing, online advertising and influencer marketing, which can all give you a huge advantage when applying for jobs.

A few more things to keep in mind

  • Research the industry and which area of PR you’d feel most at home in. Are you more B2B or B2C? Do you know the difference between consumer and trade press?
  • Learn how to build good relationships.
  • Be a real people person, or learn how to be.
  • Work on your telephone manner.
  • Get some experience, to show you can handle the high-pressure environment.