Rock Kitchen Harris

Brett takes the RKH bowling crown

On Tuesday the team headed down to Hollywood Bowl for our first bowling social of the year. With the coveted RKH bowling trophy and a golden bottle of prosecco up for grabs, our competitive sides came out to play and everyone was determined to be crowned the new office champion. 

Reigning champ Kyle got things off to a strong start, convinced the digital team would be hanging on to the trophy. He was soon overtaken though, and before long it was obvious that this was going to be a close-fought game between our top 5 players. 

Will started to take the lead during the second game, with an almost clean streak of strikes and spares. But after a premature victory dance, his over confidence got the better of him and he messed up his final bowl, narrowly losing out to Brett by just 2 points.

Instead of the usual 1st, 2nd and 3rd place we decided to award the remaining prizes to those who came 5th and 10th. After it became clear who was in the running for the top spot, the rest of us resorted to playing tactically in an attempt to score ourselves the chocolates! There were plenty of ‘accidental’ gutter balls thrown and careful calculations, but in the end Kyle and Iain scooped the prizes. 

Huge congratulations to our new champion Brett, until next time! 

Thoughts on social media in 2015/2016 from the Guardian Masterclass

Back in November, I attended a ‘Social Media Masterclass’ courtesy of Tom Szerkeres and Jemima Garthwaite from London-based agency This Here. With brands constantly searching for new and creative ways to stand out on social media platforms, courses like this offer a chance to recap what has happened in the past year, review what strategies do and don’t work, but more importantly explore what the major changes may be in 2016.

A recap of Social Media in 2015

Overall the user is back in control. With devices becoming ever more powerful in terms of what media users can both produce and consume.

Here are some of the major changes, advances and key learnings from 2015.

1. AdBlock changes online advertising

AdBlock (a content filtering and advert-blocking extension for web browsers) is an increasingly large issue for online publishers who rely on advertising to produce and host free content. This has created a huge push for media to be directed through social media channels such as Facebook, a platform which is has shifted from an earned media platform to a paid one.

So unless you are a big brand with a large following, you're going to have to pay to be seen online.

2. Targeted advertising is now even more powerful

Targeted Facebook advertising is nothing new, but the amount of information now shared on Facebook allows advertisers to segment their audience more precisely than before. Facebook’s consumer behaviour researchers analyse a broad spectrum of qualitative and quantitative data based on profile activity, to understand people’s emotional drivers. So do you need to target men, university educated, who live in the South East, listen to Nickleback, have seen them live in concert, are early adopters of technology, have just been married and have an iPhone 6? Facebook has you covered.

Twitter’s addition of Lead Generation cards also offers a helpful way of increasing email signups by allowing you to collect user emails in one click and sign them up to a mailing list in two.

Make sure your social media advertising is taking advantage of targeting options to show your message to the right audience.

3. Quality/engaging content becomes crucial

As users are bombarded daily with content online, yours should be immediately identifiable. If you post through social media whilst on the go, branding your content is now easier than ever. As video is increasingly the content of choice on social media, applications such as Hyperlapse and Boomerang allow you to create captivating videos, at a small file size, and share it online with ease.

There are a few key things to consider to ensure your content gets through to your audience: be recognisable, create posts with engagement in mind and include video content where you can.

What’s likely to change with
social media in 2016?

"Messaging is one of the few things that people do more than social networking" - Mark Zuckerberg, 2015

Brands are now beginning to handle their customer services through messenger applications. Users will soon be able to communicate with companies through apps such as Facebook Messenger to help answer their needs and gain near-instant responses. This has already been trialled in China, being met with a positive reaction. Brands will benefit by moving customer service away from their public social media  channels and users will receive a more personal and instant means of communication.

Another development set to be big in 2016 is buying on mobile devices. Services such as Apple Pay have removed the need to enter your card details when shopping online. As a consequence, 2016 is set to become the year of the “Buy Button”, meaning shopping on your mobile phone and directly from social media posts will be even easier.

What happens when you put 150 copywriters in a room?

 

 

For someone who deals primarily in the written word, that’s a pretty disheartening thought. Are you not hanging on my every syllable, wondering what witty turn of phrase I’ll be offering next?

No, because you’re reading this online. You’re busy and impatient, and probably want to get back to looking at pictures of cats. Don’t worry, that’s perfectly normal (in fact, after writing this I’ve got a hot date with Procatinator).

So what does all this mean for copywriting and its wonderful, talented practitioners?

Gone are the days when people had hours to read beautifully crafted copy (unless you’re on the tube that is, and even then it’s probably just a distraction from your neighbour’s poorly positioned armpit). But rather than lamenting the tides of time, we should be embracing the huge opportunity on offer.

Good copy has all the power it ever had. In fact, as online grows, so does the value of the written word. Ever bought a product from a website with no words? I thought not.

So it’s hardly surprising that the 2015 conference embraced the digital age. David Levin’s entertaining opening talk focussed on the power and potential of Twitter, Laura Jordan Bombach explored how copywriters can adapt to the online world, and Doug Kessler even shared some impressive stats on the geographical use of swear words by US social media users.

The overriding message, however, was that copywriters can’t just cocoon themselves in and think only in terms of their own discipline.

As David Levin pointed out, Twitter is the ideal space for the writer. With a character limit that rewards clever copy, it’s the go-to place for the wordsmith. But it’s also tailor made for eye-catching images and entertaining videos. To get the most from the social network, writers need to team up with talented photographers, videographers and designers.

And the same goes for websites. We can’t just drop in, draft some copy and leave the rest to the web developers.

In a brilliant breakout session, Tim Fidgeon gave an insight into the world of UX (or user experience to the wider world) and what it means for copywriting. As website visitors we take in text in a completely different way; we won’t read all that much, we won’t remember all that much (especially if we’re viewing on mobile) and we expect a certain amount of consistency.

In spite of all this, the art of good writing remains. Today’s world may be well and truly digital but persuasive copy is still king.

Taking inspiration from some of history’s greatest orators, Andy Maslen explored how emotion is at the heart of persuasion. To make a sale, we need to convince customers that they want something, not simply that they need it. One of the best ways to do that? You guessed it, good copy.

If you’re like the majority of web users, you’ve probably skimmed a lot of the above and landed here at the bottom of the page. That’s cool - thanks for taking a look. And if you’ve read it all? Well, you’re my new best friend.

So what’s the secret to brilliant copy in 2015?

The same as always - don’t forget your audience. Their needs and expectations may have changed but they’re still there and they still matter.

5 reasons why businesses should go bravely into the Google Adwords light

Long gone are the days of searching through printed directories or classified ads to find a product or service. Consumers are increasingly heading online for advice and guidance on purchasing decisions, so it’s hardly surprising that advertising budgets are following suit.

But how do you know where’s best to invest? The options are almost endless - banner ads, SEO, retargeting campaigns, search marketing...

There are many wise ways to use your budget (and some foolish ones) but Google AdWords is one platform that, we believe, you shouldn’t ignore.

1. Your customers are there
(and they’re there a lot)

Google has dominated the search engine world for a number of years and it just keeps getting stronger. So far in 2015, Google has seen almost 66 per cent of the market share for desktop searches - a seemingly impressive total until you realise that the figure rises to more than 92% for mobiles and tablets!

Plus, 3.5 billion Google searches are made every day. Now we might be able to put a fair few of those down to cat videos, hypochondria and questionable relationship advice, but it’s safe to say that your customers are using Google and they’re using it a lot.

2. It’s good on a budget, any budget

Your marketing budget may be rather limited or it could resemble the GDP of a small country. Either way, AdWords can be a cost-effective method of driving traffic to your website.

As it’s a pay-per-click service, you won’t waste money on advertising to people who don’t end up seeing what you’ve got to say. And you control the spend, so there’s no danger of going over budget.

3. It's black and white

Tracking the effectiveness of an advertising campaign can be a challenge. After all, how can you really be sure that your beautiful, eye-catching adverts have really led to greater awareness or an increase in sales?

With AdWords it’s simple. You can easily assess the response your ads are getting and set goals, such as a user downloading a form, clicking a link or making a purchase. Whatever the purpose of your campaign, AdWords will help you to track it.

4. It can help to show you where you’re
going wrong

It might seem like your AdWords campaign is going swimmingly. You’ve picked the right keywords and you’re getting lots of clicks, but for some reason the sales just aren’t there.

One of the beauties of AdWords is that you can connect the platform to Google Analytics and all of the investigative power that brings. You can track the journey a customer takes from landing on your page, right through to purchase. Are they dropping straight off your website or do they get through to the shopping trolley and suddenly leave? Analytics will help you find out.

5. You’re not just throwing everything at it and hoping something will stick

Traditional advertising puts your brand in front of lots of people who may or may not be interested in what you’ve got to sell. AdWords is completely different.

You’re not only targeting people who are searching for clearly defined, relevant terms; you can also decide exactly who sees your advert. Whether you want to find people in a certain location, within a particular age range or speaking a specific language, it’s all possible.

So whether you’re already a PPC pro or you’re just starting to consider online advertising, don’t overlook the value of Google AdWords.

 

6 Tips for a Less Stressful HTML-Email-Building Experience

Let's be honest, you have to be bit of a sadist to to get into the HTML email building game. As anyone who has been responsible for doing it in any kind of capacity before will attest to: email is a tricky beast. All of those email clients, and all of their quirks and limitations. What seems like the simplest thing can often result in hours of fist-clenching, swearing-under-the-breath frustration. And the techniques used to put an email together seem a million miles away from typical web development. How did things even end up in this state?

But, the fact remains: Email is still a valuable, cost-effective way for companies to engage with their customers. And its popularity as a marketing platform is only set to grow, especially with the rise of smartphone use and "anywhere" internet access. Whining about it will aide us not a jot. Being precious about dirtying our hands with “tables-within-tables-within-tables” HTML will change nothing. Our only choice as developers is to roll up our sleeves and crack on - hopefully finding a way to achieve results as painlessly as possible. 

With this in mind, below are 6 tips for a less stressful HTML-email-building experience. There are a lot of basics I won't be covering, largely because other people have done it so much better (check out htmlemailboilerplate.com if you haven't already, or the Campaign Monitor website for a more comprehensive guide on good practice). I'll also not be going into any great detail about responsive email design, because there's simply not enough room in this post to do the subject justice. Maybe next time?

1) USE A CSS IN-LINER

We know that CSS is an incredibly useful and essential tool when we work with HTML normally, but we also know that styles have to be applied in-line if an email is to stand even a remote chance of looking good in most email clients. But what if you could build an email using all of the time-saving benefits of standard CSS, and have something else cleverly take care of the in-lining part for us? Well, that's exactly what Campaign Monitor (in my eyes, the definitive pro of the HTML email world) allows you to do here, for free: http://inliner.cm/

Using a CSS in-liner means that you can avoid a lot of the soulless repetition normally associated with putting together emails, letting you spend time on more important things. Having all your core styles in one place also means that updates are much easier to make, and your HTML code will be much more lightweight and easier to sift through.

Whether the email is meant as a one-off or a reusable template, and whatever the sending platform might be - I ALWAYS start with a lightweight (non-in-lined) version first; only running the email through an in-liner once everything is signed off. I can't tell you how many hours this has saved me.

2) USE HANDY CONVENIENCE CLASSES TO REALLY TAKE ADVANTAGE OF CSS

Before I start with the actual HTML, I always take a few minutes to create some convenience classes in CSS, to help with font and colour application. For each key colour in the design, I create a class that sets the text colour to that colour, and another that sets the background colour. I'll also name them something incredibly simple/obvious, so that I can use them in the design without having to remember which class to use (e.g. white_text, white_bg, green_text, green_bg)

If the email has a couple of key fonts, I'll also create a handy class for each font style (usually limited to '.serif' and '.sans'), which will apply a sensible font-family stack, font-size and line-height wherever it is needed. Or if the design uses a single font, I’ll create a single 'type' class, that I'll use in the same way. In my experience, creating classes to set individual font sizes barely turns out to be useful, so wherever I need to override the default font-size, line-height or anything else, I find it best to resort back to adding styles in-line (like in typical web development, in-line styles on your elements will take precedence over the general CSS when the in-liner works – smart eh?).

3) REPEAT, AND REPEAT AGAIN

There's still no shortcut for some things when it comes to putting together emails, but you can definitely lessen your chances of display issues by always setting border="0", cellpadding="0", cellspacing="0", and a width on every <table> element you add. You'll also want to add an align attribute to any <td> that has text or anything else inside it. 

4) APPLY ALL STYLES AT <TD> LEVEL  (AT LEAST) 

In order for most styles to work across the board, you need to apply them to the <td> that your content is sitting in. Anything applied to the <table>, <tr>, or the <td> the <table> is sitting in, just isn't specific enough, and will be ignored by a lot of major email clients. Think of every <td> as a blank canvas that needs any styles applied to it directly. This goes for background colours/images, fonts, and font colours. 

If you want to cheat, and not have to apply a class to every cell, you can be smart and use class inheritance to apply styles to <td> elements within a <table> with a certain class on, but this will often end up affecting cells that it doesn't need to, making the final code more bulky than it needs to be. You also risk getting yourself into a bit of a pickle with certain styles overriding each other when you didn’t mean them to. In my experience, applying classes at <td> level, when you need them, is much more reliable, and gives you a greater level of control.

5) GOODBYE SPACER IMAGES, HELLO SPACER CELLS

I remember a time where I thought spacer images were the only way to enforce layout. Thank heavens those days are behind me! All you need is empty table cells – completely empty, to be precise. Don't worry about adding non-breaking-space characters to stop them from collapsing, because it’s not necessary. The trick is to always add a width attribute to set the width on each spacer cell (even if the cell spans multiple columns, or you think the width is implied some other way). You can also create vertical spacer cells, but you need to apply both a width and height value to them. Use this technique and you should have nice, reliable spacer cells that work across all major email clients. Give it a whirl and see for yourself!

6) BACKGROUND IMAGES... YOU WILL GO TO THE BALL

For years, email building folk like myself have been a little bit unsure about what is and what isn’t possible with background images in emails. It’s often that case that a background colour fallback just won’t cut it, or it’ll just look more consistent to somehow break the image up, and arrange it into a table in a way that gives you a flat-coloured area in the middle to put your text or image. What a kerfuffle!

But, the future of using background images in emails just got a whole lot brighter! Using an extremely clever combination of CSS, VML and fallbacks to produce a solid, reliable result across most major email clients (even Outlook)... say hello to Bulletproof Background Images: http://backgrounds.cm/

The technique isn’t without its limitations, but I’ve found it incredibly useful for reliably applying repeating patterns, textures and gradients to large areas. By all means, have a play around yourself.

BONUS BACKGROUND-IMAGE TIP:

If you’re upset by background images looking less than okay on devices with retina displays, you can create 2x (double resolution) versions of your image, and use a media query in your css (in the <head>, not in-line) to target retina displays, and override the in-line background-image value to the 2x version (using the !important declaration). An example:

@media (-webkit-min-device-pixel-ratio: 2),(min-resolution: 192dpi) {
    #image_bg_cell { 
        background-image: url(bg_image2x.gif) !important;
        background-size: cover !important;
    }
} 

You might have also noticed that I’ve used the ‘background-size’ property to make sure the image scales down to match the width of the cell it’s sitting in. If you have a repeating pattern tile, or need to position the image some other way, you may need to play around with that.  Although background-size is a pretty new CSS3 attribute, pretty much all email clients that are advanced enough to support media queries will support background-size too, meaning it’s okay to use here. You can check which devices support media queries in email here: http://www.campaignmonitor.com/guides/mobile/#mobile-support

The bees & the beekeepers

We've been living with our 30,000+ black and yellow neighbours for a few months now, and I must say, they've been super busy.

They seem to have settled in and adapted to their new neighbourhood well, they keep themselves to themselves and haven't upset anyone (we know about).

We check on them regularly and are happy to report that the honeycomb building is well underway. The weather has been pretty conducive to pollen and nectar collection so we could be on track for some City Hive Society Honey as soon as 2016.

Why great packaging design helps make the world go round

We all have to buy stuff, that’s a fact, but there are things we need and things we just desire.

I recently found myself in a little corner shop in Southern Italy surrounded by a vast selection of products, everything from whole parmesan cheeses and local Grappa to washing powder and tourist postcards.

Being a designer, I can’t help but love beautifully designed things and this definitely includes packaging. I find myself drawn to packaging that enhances the buying experience, things that make me want to pick them up and take a closer look.

At its best, great packaging design can entice you to buy something you really didn’t need, in this case, toothpaste. Marvis and Pasta Del Capitano caught my eye and somehow ended up in my basket, they oozed Italian tradition and heritage. In my mind I imagine this packaging having been around for many years, firm family favourites in households throughout Italy, but in reality, they could be clever modern design made to feel traditional.

There’s a real trend for simpler, more personal, artisan packaging design, less material, less cluttered but with more provenance and tactility and that’s fantastic. So many of our buying choices are now made via a screen, it’s always refreshing to interact with great product and packaging design, even if it is toothpaste you really didn’t need.

Hive Society

An elite group of brave RKH folks have signed up for something rather extreme, they’ll be putting their lives in danger for the pleasure of others, they’ll dedicate moments of time honing their skills until they are rewarded with the ultimate prize - honey!

Yep, the crack team (aka Hive Society) have been busy constructing a collection of hives; now located in a secret rooftop location, in readiness for our precious delivery of bees.

Our very own designated Master Beekeeper, Matt Ots, will don his crisp white uniform and do what he needs to do to keep our bees happy. We’ll be having keeper days to share the experience and when the honey finally arrives, we’ll host another of our Handcrafted Evenings dedicated to the precious golden nectar.

 

Auntie T's chocolate pudding

I have no Auntie Tracey words of wisdom other than be true to yourself in all you do and have no regrets. But I do have a recipe for chocolate pudding that will make everyone smile.

I Can’t take full credit for this - originally a Rachel Allen recipe that I tweaked.  It’s very moreish and simple to make but so impressive everyone will think you’ve spent ages labouring away in the kitchen.

100 grams dark chocolate - at least 60% cocoa
2 large eggs - room temperature
75 grams caster sugar
3 tablespoons Chambord (raspberry liqueur)
250 grams mascarpone
150 - 175 grams fresh raspberries

This is supposed to serve six but that would be small portions so I serve four.

Prepare the bowls you are going to serve this in by putting an equal amount of the fresh raspberries in the bottom of each - saving a few to decorate the top of each dish.

Break the chocolate into small pieces and melt either in a heatproof bowl over boiling water or as I do cover a bowl loosely with cling film and microwave in 30 second bursts until the chocolate is melted (should take about 2 minutes max), then stir so chocolate is smooth.

Add the 2 eggs, caster sugar and Chambord to the warm chocolate and mix with an electric hand mixer until combined and the bowl has cooled down.

Then add the mascarpone and whisk until all combined, it will turn a pale chocolate colour - don’t over whisk.  

Divide equally between the four dishes decorate with the raspberries you’ve saved and pop in to the fridge for at least couple of hours to chill.

Serve with a wafer swirl or two and enjoy.

Lovely!

Ralph and the Milk Float

Sometimes incidents in life stick with you, when Ralph met the Milk Float in the 1980s it was one of those times for me.

Ralph, now sadly no longer with us, is my father-in-law. Ralph was great, we got on really well, he was retired and lived on a residential street in a large village. Most days he would drive into the the centre to the shops - and perhaps to have a little flutter on the horses. He got into a routine with this, about the same time every day back the car out, go into the village, return for lunch.

He didn’t need to think, it was always the same, reverse the car out of the drive, look left, look right, onto the road and off.

But one day it was different. Ralph reversed, checked left, all clear, checked right, all clear, on to the road, crunch, he hit the milk float that was right behind him. The milkman, according to Ralph’s argument, should not have been there, he was never there at that time of day, but this day he was. No one was hurt but Ralph was upset.

Ralph learnt a lesson that day and so did I. We all get into routines, we all assume that things today will be the same as they were yesterday and last week and last month. We all do it but we have to be careful and often in my business life now I think about Ralph and the Milk Float. 

Expect the unexpected, one day a Milk Float will be right behind you and if you don’t pay attention you’ll hit it.