“I got a detention for refusing to write a personal statement; now I work for Microsoft.”

In my role, I have the privilege of learning from young people. Working in a university, I’m surrounded by success stories: students starting their own business, landing £40K salaries on their placement years and getting positions at super trendy companies like Google or Microsoft.

My colleagues and I celebrate and admire these achievements, whilst simultaneously kicking ourselves for not doing something similar. Not that we had the option – our schools and parents sent us down a very narrow route to university without placement years or work experience. That could wait until after the fact.

How ridiculous does this sound now? In a world of students packing their summers with internships and purchasing billboards to land their first job. It’s why I’m so impressed by Katie and the story I’m about share. Here’s a person just starting out professionally and already wise enough to see through advice that would be detrimental to her career.

Mentors and why I look to the young

A previous line manager suggested that I get a mentor, but I’m yet to take the advice. Typically, a mentor is someone older, more experienced who can help you avoid the common pitfalls that befell them in their career. Good stuff, but not quite what I’m looking for.

I’ve noticed that the older I get, the less open to change and risk-taking I am. Having a mortgage, sanding down walls at the weekend and talking with my colleagues about the intricacies of finding a good plasterer, are certainly not the most fertile breeding grounds for innovation.

This is a generalisation, but I’m looking at patterns and trends, rather than stand-out cases. The majority of us aren’t entrepreneurial, we do great things and make positive changes in our organisations, but we look forward to going home in the evening. This is why I turn to young professionals.

For me, an essential ingredient for career development is to be inspired (a lot) and career hungry students and graduates, ready to sacrifice sleep to get a foot on the ladder, are the sort of people I want to be associated with. I think sometimes the youth of a generation can teach us far more about the future of work than established thought leaders. After all, it is rarely those at the top, the authority, who disrupt the status-quo.

See also: The origins of Facebook

See also: This rise of Snapchat

See also: The next big thing to come along.

Introducing Katie

I first spoke to Katie when I was working on a campaign promoting degree apprenticeships. The purpose was simple: show how freaking amazing they are. I’ll do a follow-up post on this, but essentially a degree apprenticeship is when you study and work full-time, get paid and graduate without debt.

My. God.

If degree apprenticeships had been around when I was reading Heart of Darkness on the back seat of the 153 bus, I would have thrown the book out the window and written my application in blood.

Katie is a first-year Chartered Manager Degree Apprentice at Microsoft’s campus in Reading. At just 19 years old, she is already flying around the world, networking with the company’s top executives and dominating the Xbox Room during her lunch hour. Here she is (pictured front) with a couple other apprentices.

‘I was bored of a classroom environment,’ says Katie candidly, ‘I think the turning point was when we were forced to write personal statements in college. I sat there, none of us knew what we were doing but everyone was just writing. It’s like my friends were on auto-pilot.’

Research by student-focused website The Student Room shows that young people are waking up to the university alternative: 61% of prospective students are now interested in apprenticeships with 48% believing that apprenticeships do not lead to low employment, a viewed perpetuated by previous generations.

Apprentices at microsoft

Detention, detention and detention

Katie (right) laughs when she recalls her own lightbulb moment, ‘At the end of a personal statement session, a teacher came up to me and asked, “Where’s your work?” I tried to explain that I wasn’t interested in university and was exploring other options… I was given a detention. DETENTION! My first ever, for not writing a personal statement.’

Surrounded by fellow rebels, she used her time to research alternatives to university, ‘I searched apprenticeships online and found two I wanted to apply for. Microsoft and another company that took my fancy. I prepared draft applications for both.’

As the detention ended, her tutor asked again about the absence of a statement. ‘I was pretty nervous, but I shared my research and the companies that were offering these new kinds of apprenticeships.’ Katie’s gamble paid off. ‘The tutor didn’t look too put out. From that moment on, things started making a lot more sense and I felt a lot happier about the way I was heading.’

It’s absurd that a teenager, willing to be enterprising and think of career-first, would be punished. A detention for not writing a personal statement? It’s a pretty extreme case, but perhaps not too unexpected. If teachers and schools are judged on how many students they channel through UCAS, rather than meeting student aspirations, then this will continue to happen. University professionals have a responsibility to ensure that careers advisors, parents and teachers are well-informed about the options available to young people.

When I visit schools to talk about degree apprenticeships, the audience always looks like they are hearing it for the first time. The teachers included. It’s 2018! We’ve had the global financial crash and huge youth unemployment, all within the last 10 years, yet education still privileges the three-year, campus-based degree. It’s madness. Universities and apprenticeship providers must be open, honest and share the great news about work-based courses. For example, Aston’s degree apprentices actually outperform (both academically and professionally) its traditional, campus-based students. It shocked me too. Somehow, these apprentices are working full-time, doing a degree and still getting exceptionally high results. It’s worth shouting about.

Katie and her life as a degree apprentice at Microsoft

Working at Microsoft isn’t just a job, it’s a lifestyle. The company is consistently ranked amongst the world’s top employers across pay, development opportunities and how it values its people. ‘It’s sort of like that film The Intern that follows the life of newbies at the Googleplex.’

The campus is made up of four buildings, each containing quirky workspaces. One moment you could be sitting on swings and surrounded by grass, the next you could be working from your laptop in the Minecraft Room. Each space is designed to get the best from its people – no harsh strip lighting or 70s cubicles – everything is open, even the meeting rooms. The culture reflects this too.

This all comes, of course, with one condition – you work your ass off. Katie explains, ‘The first year of my apprenticeship is designed to give me an all-around understanding of the business. I’m working and studying full-time. It’s not for the faint-hearted, but it is extremely rewarding.’

As Microsoft’s first degree apprentice, Katie has helped organise a technology conference in Washington, led on an internal communications project and ticked off (optionally, as part of a module) the infamous ‘three peaks’ challenge – all within months.

Creating super-human young professionals

‘The beauty of a degree apprenticeship is that you can immediately apply what you learn to what you do. It’s better than learning a module and using it three years later. That wasn’t going to work for me.’

Katie will graduate in 2019 with three years global work experience, a bachelor’s degree, full Chartered Manager status and no debt. ‘I guess when you put it that way, it sounds pretty cool,’ she says ‘It’s hard work though!’

Katie’s advice to 2018 students is to ‘think beyond the subject you want to study’ to the kind of future you want to have. Keep yourself open to possibilities – even if it means a detention or two.

Next time someone tells you that your idea ‘isn’t very us’ tell them to watch an advert for a bank

Yet another high street bank has smashed it out of the park with their latest cute piece of advertising. Santander’s ‘Piggy’ ad is so perfect that I immediately googled ‘how do I get a Santander piggy bank’ and was all too happy to share the video far and wide.

If you didn’t hold up your hands in horror at 0:23 then you’re not human. I tested it on my partner (who is usually ironclad with this sort of stuff) but even she started crying around 15 seconds in.

This got me thinking, why do we identify with this lost pig? Why do we care? Is it the sad human-like eyes; the superb anthropomorphic animation against a backdrop of heart-wrenchingly sad music; or is it something deeper – a human need to protect the weak and be the hero of the story? Whatever it is, this piece of advertising is a masterclass in pathetic fallacy and manufacturing empathy. I want to jump in, give the kids at 0:20 a stern talking to and welcome that pig into a loving home.

You wouldn’t think this advert comes from an organisation where  ‘consistent and growing profitability, as well as a strong balance sheet’ are top of the strategic agenda. If anything, the ad pushes against this, opting for a deeper emotional connection – we’re here for you, trust us, we’ve got this.

Banks: Where creative advertising lives

Every time someone tells me that an idea ‘doesn’t fit with our image’ or isn’t ‘the Company X way of things’ I immediately point them to a bank’s YouTube channel.

Since the 2008 financial crash, I’ve seen some brilliant and risky positioning by banks to rebuild trust and loyalty with customers. More recently, I’ve seen banks like Halifax – previously famous for the awful ‘who gives you extra’ – do an about face and target the younger generation, who now, despite all odds, are trying to get on the housing ladder.

Can you imagine the reaction to this video when the concept was first unveiled in the boardroom:

“We’re going to use Top Cat as the new face of Halifax – Tip Top! We’re going for millennial home buyers who want extra!”
*A man in a suit faints*
“It’ll be fine. We’ve got Scooby Doo and Wizard of Oz lined up for next quarter.”

It doesn’t stop there. Halifax are also using recognisable shows like the Flintstones and Thunderbirds to sell savings accounts. It’s awesome and fun. I don’t believe it’s simply a publicity stunt, the depth and breadth of the creativity points to a slight repositioning of the bank – the tone of these cheeky assets running through the top pages of its website, and down into sub-content on ‘saving tips’ presented by Brains himself.

The irreverence and playfulness of the ideas will attract new customers. Turning your homepage into a cartoon is risky business – not very bank-like? – yet these assets will continue to resonate with their target audience, the bank trading on the nostalgia factor for years to come.

Think of the audience, not your history

Universities are terrible at taking risks. Watch a university ad and it won’t take long for you to see a ‘green campus’ at the heart of a ‘culturally diverse’ city. Yawn. The bulk of universities are youth brands. Surely this permits greater risk-taking than that of Halifax or Santander?

The challenge is communicating to senior stakeholders that a departure from standard positioning, isn’t a departure from core values.

Top Cat may be talking ‘mular’, but the advisor is still determined to ‘give him extra’ where other banks perhaps won’t. It’s the same with Santander’s Piggy – not what you would expect from a global investment bank, but a perfect use of emotional marketing to make the target audience sit up and listen.

Player 2

The best decision my father ever made (other than impressing my mum with fast cars) was to introduce me to Super Mario Bros. I was four years old when I first picked up a Nintendo controller and I’ve been a part of the brand’s story ever since.

The generation who grew up playing Mario, now have to deal with the realities of living at home longer, paying massively high rents and finding a job that isn’t part of the ‘gig economy’. For me, it feels natural to speak to my peers in pixels, a style associated with a much simpler story  – 2D planes, scheduled television and summers that lasted longer than School terms.

The career ladder of a graduate in 2008

Career ladder of a graduate in 2008

 

Rejection letter

Rejection letter

 

Pokemon player 2

Pokemon player 2

Education, education and education

Education education and education

 

Living at home

Living at home

 

Super player 2

Super player 2

You gave us language and we’ll take it away

In the late noughties, it was particularly tough for young people to get a foot on the career ladder and the poorest were priced out of the market with the explosion of free internships – industry’s answer to the global financial crisis.

You gave us language and we’ll take it away captures the mood of a ‘lost generation’ moving between gigs, forced to live at home and always in limbo, at the cusp of starting their own lives, yet always just missing out.

Happiness

Happiness-poem.jpg

Happiness:
A shiny happy place relaxed
animated with the imaginary
insatiable in its optimism
in love with being in love
a flat pack kitchen maison
everybody perfectly happen
like everybody else.

Lost Generation

Lost-generation-poem.jpg

Lost
G    ration
gen      ion
os              a
rat
ener
L  s   g
g            ti
t  g
n          on
st  g
n     ation
Lo
Er
st generation
gene
L                         n
t    n
Lost          ra
o      e   e a   io
L  st g  n   r  t   n
Lost generation.

Education

Education-poem.jpg

Chunky radiators
wet play, scissors and glue
we talk
stencil out an existence on rough paper
trace elements of our childhood to
shock corridors, repetitive lines
collapsible classrooms
with foldaway walls
this place was a labyrinth
with a one-way system
twist               rewrite           shake it out
punch a hole in the glass ceiling
hang its credentials
from the sky
a constellation of fine philosophies
new leaves
an orchid league
degrees worthy of plinth distribution
bright eyes
scribling out the dark
filling in the blanks.

Aston University: VR Headset

Aston-University-Logo

Results Day is an emotional time. Forget the pictures in local newspapers, students holding up little pieces of their future, just imagine (or recall) that feeling of finally knowing what was happening with your life in September after months of waiting.

Now picture a campaign that rides of the back of that high. That celebrates your emotional moment of getting into university and gives you a glimpse of the fun, unscripted times ahead.

Working with Aston University, I managed the creation of a branded VR headset that was sent to all new Aston students on Results Day. Additionally, I scripted and storyboarded a 360-degree video to accompany the device.

The headset was packaged with a small postcard, including a link to a video explaining how to use it:

You can also watch and learn more about the creative concept for the VR video in the project: Say Hello to Aston in 360.

Aston University: Email marketing and content creation

Aston-University-Logo

A major part of Aston’s conversion journey is email marketing.

Having worked with stakeholders to map out their student journey, I created a suite of communications to connect with their audience at key parts of the conversion process.

My philosophy was to simplify communications around clear calls to action and produce content with an emphasis on adding value to improve engagement.

The first example below was sent to post-16 students during their summer exam period. It features a video on how to beat procrastination, as well a downloadable guide (produced by myself) on how to own revision with zero motivation.

how-to-ace-revision-for-exams-email-content.jpg

The second email below was sent to Law offer holders. It contains a student success story, helping these particularly hot leads ‘picture’ themselves on campus and, better yet, securing an aspirational legal placement.

Student-story-in-an-email-format.jpg

To date, I have produced over one-hundred emails for Aston’s conversion journey.

Aston University: Learn here. Earn more.

Aston-University-Logo

One of the perks of working in marketing is creating something that resonates. Sure, first comes the strategy, positioning etc. but eventually you get to the fun part: messaging and creative.

My task was to take the statistic:

Aston is ranked 2nd in the UK by the Economist for boosting graduate salaries, graduates earning, on average, within £3000 more five years after graduation.

… and turn it into something campaignable.

After a little wordplay and tapping into key themes, I arrived at the messaging:

Learn here. Earn more.

Direct and simple, it mirrors Aston’s reputation of being ‘business-like and getting things done’, as well as speaking to the ‘ruthless ambition’ of the students it attracts.

The campaign used graduate success stories to back up the messaging, which was further reinforced by the credibility of the Economist statistic.

The creative was bold, direct and put the stars of those stories on billboards and across a variety of outdoor media in the Midlands. The campaign was supported by a suite of digital communications, which included stories, written by myself, and video.

Creative execution and placement

Thomas Street, Birmingham

Out of home ads created by Kyle Campbell.jpg

Generic out-of-home network

Outdoor display ads in Birmingham.jpg

Bullring

Ads produced by Kyle Campbell in the Bullring.jpg

Ad on the Aston Expressway

Ad on the Aston Express Way.jpg

Birmingham City Centre

Specsaver.jpg

 

The Student Room: What you need-to-know about the conversion journey

The_Student_Room_Group_LogoI love the Student Room. The team are easy to work with and they provide an unrivaled service to students all over the world, helping them find the right course and dealing with really tough topics like stress and anxiety. But that’s not all that they do.

The team also provide resources to university marketers, aiding them in their quest to remain relevant to young people. I jumped at the chance to write an article for this group, sharing my knowledge of student conversion journeys and the first steps marketers can take to create their own.

I was commissioned to write a two part article for www.tsrmatters.com, starting with part 1 below.

Commissioned article on the student room