The moment we’ve been waiting for – our zest for PR is celebrated at the Petroleum Economist Awards

Never in my three and a half years at Armitage Communications have I experienced such a build-up of emotions in such a short time. Over the last three weeks, there’s been an underlying tension building. Will we, won’t we? It’s been pushed back slightly from the forefront of our minds as our client’s projects maintained front and centre stage, but all along the suspense was rising in the background. We’d learned of our nomination for Energy Consultancy of the Year (PR).

At the beginning of the month an email was circulated telling us the good news – Armitage Communications had been nominated by the Petroleum Economist to be independently judged by a panel of industry experts. Completely anonymised, our approach to marketing digitalisation to the oil and gas sector would be evaluated by judges from the International Energy Agency (IEA), the organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies (OIES). The people that really know their stuff when it comes to energy, oil and gas.

We knew it would be a challenge to impress the experts but something told us we were in with a decent chance. Our strong engineering roots and capacity for thorough research means that all of our campaigns are based on accurate and useful information which will genuinely benefit the sector, such as how to meet new safety regulations and lower production costs. We decided it was worth shouting about the nomination, taking time to create an e-signature which encouraged our clients and suppliers to begin to root for us too.

We spread our news on our social media pages as well, using gifs to illustrate both our enthusiasm…

 

…and growing anxiety.

 

Before long the evening we’d all been waiting for had arrived. Suited and booted and glammed up to the nines, the Account Directors made the trip by taxi from our PR hub Mill House in Beddington, Croydon to One Great George Street in Westminster. Upon arrival the guests were treated to glasses of champagne before retiring to the Great Hall where a scrumptious feast of seared tuna with lime and ginger dressing, followed by braised lamb shank and a dessert of elderflower mousse, was served. Soft jazz music was performed on stage to quieten the nerves of the awaiting audience.

I waited restlessly at home for the news.

Around 9.45pm, Helen Robertson, Managing Editor for the Petroleum Economist took the stage to introduce the awards presenter of the night, Stephen Sackur. Presenter of HARDtalk on BBC World News, Stephen Sackur had just returned from Libya and cycled his way to the event in a black tie. “I am very committed to phasing out the combustion engine. Is that a terrible thing to say at a Petroleum Economist Awards Dinner?” he joked, breaking the ice.

As the awards began to be read out, the Account Directors were almost falling off the edge of their seats in anticipation. Ed couldn’t contain himself any longer and began eating all of the chocolate on the table to try and calm down.

My phone was silent for a few minutes as I stared at the blank screen.

Then the news broke…”Energy Consultancy of the Year (PR) goes to…Armitage Communications!” followed by loud applause and our exuberant team jumping up in excitement. David Armitage, Managing Director and Tim Haines, Account Director, took to the stage to receive the award – a proud moment for both men as they started the company together over thirty years ago.

 

I saw the tweet posted by @PetroleumEcon shortly before I received the many texts from my colleagues and an image of the award itself. Screaming with joy, I was just as thrilled as if I had been there sitting at the table with the team. A great moment for us – a fantastic night for a company that has worked together closely, using its understanding of automation, instrumentation, electrical, control and telecommunications technologies to communicate and raise awareness of the benefits that these technologies can bring to the world.

In other words, we are champs.

It’s not often that we sing our own praises but I think in all fairness, we deserve to make the most of this one.

And our story doesn’t end there. We have also been nominated for Comms Team of the Year at the Energy Live Personality Awards. Taking place on the 7th December, we’ll be sure to keep you updated. ;)

Got a new technology which could transform the industry? To find out how we can help you get your message across to the people who matter, email [email protected] or tweet us at @ArmitageComm.


Our fave five tools for marketing digitalisation to the O&G industry

A world without oil is a world without transport, buildings, laptops, cosmetics, clothing, medication and more. Vitally important in our day-to-day lives, oil has become the most important source of energy since the mid-1950s. Yet prices fell dramatically in June 2014.

This poses a problem for the Oil & Gas (O&G) industry as a whole – with prices remaining so low, how do these companies maintain their competitiveness?

The answer is with increasing difficulty unless they embrace the new technologies which support better insights, quicker decision-making and greater efficiency within day-to-day operations. Such advanced technologies allow operators to manage performance remotely and will transform the productivity of oil and gas plants around the globe.

But just how many O&G companies are prepared to change? How many are willing to embrace digitalisation?

Solution providers are embracing the challenge of turning O&G companies from technology-shy to committed participants with our help. 30 years of experience serving some of the world’s biggest blue-chip companies have given us an in-depth understanding of a range of technologies from automation and robotics through to telecommunications. Our experience has also taught us the best ways to reach the right customers, those who are likely to benefit from those technologies the most.

This experience has led to a number of successfully executed campaigns for a leading O&G supplier over the years and, most recently, to our nomination for Energy Consultancy of the Year (2017) in the Petroleum Economist Awards, alongside PR giants Edelman and Hill + Knowlton Strategies.

As an expression of gratitude for this award nomination, we have decided to share with you our favourite five tools for marketing new technologies to the O&G sector:

1) Whitepapers: A whitepaper engages the audience due to its rich, substantive content which educates the reader about the challenges and how the client’s products can overcome them. This leads the customer to grasp an understanding of their need for the product which proves far more effective than a direct sell. Combining innovative ideas with thought leadership on issues which are highly relevant and timely resonates with the reader.

Tip: Whitepapers must be thoroughly researched and planned. Without taking the time to do this, whitepapers simply won’t be effective.

Our O&G whitepaper has been referred to as the ‘Bible’ on digitalisation for the industry. It received substantial downloads via our client’s website and through advertising in industry leading titles. Why? Because we spent time extensively interviewing and researching the subject with clients, their customers and industry experts. Readers need only turn to page three to find pull quotes from an O&G player and a specialist in digital technologies.

2) Animations: Compelling content tells a story. This may seem simplistic at first and a more appropriate tip for a journalist, but the same rules apply when marketing to businesses. Animations provide the easiest visual way of accomplishing this. They enable us to get the message across within the right context and, when scripted correctly, provide a thorough understanding of a product’s features and benefits. It’s also worth noting that 90% of information transmitted to the brain is visual, and visuals are processed 60,000 times faster in the brain than text (Source: Hubspot). Many people prefer the quick and easy method of absorbing information through video rather than words.

Tip: Write the script first and then decide the images that you want to use to promote that message.

Our animation maps the upstream oil and gas plant and the digital technologies which, applied to each area, enable plant managers to maximise production and uncover hidden profits. Shared across our client’s website and social media platforms, the animation has received a total of 23,065 views and 119 likes on YouTube.

3) Positioning documents: A positioning document communicates exactly how a client’s product fills a consumer need in a way that its competitors don’t. For example, our client needs to convince the oil and gas industry that their products and services are going to support the transition from industry 3.0 to industry 4.0.

Tip: Use persuasive techniques such as emotive language and personal pronouns as well as graphs, flowcharts and imagery to engage the reader.

The opening pages of a key positioning document we developed keep it simple. ‘Turning chaos…into clarity’ provides a strong juxtaposition of the industry’s potential before and after digitalisation. From ‘dumb data’ to ‘analytic intelligence’ and ‘growing complexity’ into ‘simplified processes’ the highly contrasting language positions our client as the leader of the pack.

4) Infographics: Sometimes new technologies and their applications need to be communicated in a visual way to explore the benefits which are found at each stage of the process over the coming months and years. In this way, customers gain an insight into the long term advantages and improvements of installing our client’s products and services within each area of the plant.

Tip: Where possible, use real-life success stories explaining the products in action at existing customers’ businesses.

An infographic we created, available in static and interactive form, maps the journey from the upstream oil and gas pollution plants through to the downstream petrochemical plants. Mapping the benefits of digitalisation at each stage using case studies from ‘lowering costs by up to 30%’ at a FPSO to the control of ‘1850km of Europe’s gas demand’ at a natural gas pipeline gives the prospective customer a more in-depth understanding and belief in the success of our client’s solutions.

5) Microsites: As an agency we also endeavour to understand the most complex topics affecting today’s oil and gas operators. For example, Functional Safety, whereby analysers and instruments perform demands which prevent hazards occurring, has often confused industry participants.

Tip: Express your expertise loud and clear to position the client as a thought-leader.

In order to ensure that operators understand the role that our client’s products play in maintaining process safety, we created a dedicated online resource. This microsite includes information about our client’s safety management and training services as well as many PDF downloads for guides explaining the many aspects of Functional Safety from safety requirement specifications (SRS) through to industry good practice. Encouraging prospective customers to visit this website as a reliable source of educational information, not only promotes a growth of trust in the brand, but increases the likelihood that it will be our client’s products that the operator chooses to purchase when the time is right for them.

Our fave five tools for marketing to the O&G industry can, in theory, be applied to any other business market. Executing a marketing strategy which uses in-depth industry analysis as a foundation for content is a sure-fire way to get products and services in the limelight. The next challenge is to decide what mixture of collateral to use. We believe our multi-channel approach, such as the promotion of whitepapers, positioning documents, animations, infographics and microsites, linked with aligned traditional advertising methods, is the only way to ensure that your prospects are reached at all levels.

To find out more about how we successfully market new technologies, simply drop us an email at [email protected] or tweet @ArmitageComm.


Will Brownies be our future tech queens?


Collecting badges was as exciting as collecting insta likes.

For the first time in a while I’m wishing that I was ten again. Most of the time I enjoy my young adult life but more recently I’ve been reconsidering my hobbies.What can I enjoy for free? And possibly make a little pocket money from at the same time? I know that some bloggers get fantastic perks – free clothes, free meals out at restaurants, and even all expenses paid trips if they become Zoella-level famous.

I have a confession to make though. I’m not highly skilled at HTML coding, a talent which is useful to have if you’re a blogger.

Last month the news broke that the Girl Scouts of the USA have rolled out badges in Robotics, Engineering and other Science, Engineering, Technology and Maths (STEM) subjects. At home I have a sash from my days as a Brownie. I was one of the Elves and my first badges included a broom (House Orderly), a tea cup (Hostess) and a spider web (Craft). I greatly appreciate how these skills have helped me in my young adult life but I seriously doubt whether the Boy Scouts were told it was crucial that they learn how to make a sandwich.

Today’s Girl Scouts will be encouraged to develop their skills in areas such as cyber security which have traditionally been perceived as male-dominated. Our 2015 blog ‘The STEM of gender bias’ examined how toys are colour-coded so as to differentiate between the boys and the girls. It’s about time that belief systems were disrupted – encouraging girls as young as five to understand concepts such as cyber security will help lead the way.

According to Assistant Professor Vanessa LoBlue, young children’s initial concepts about gender are flexible. It is only when children reach the age of around five that concepts around gender begin to be developed. Children then begin to actively seek out gender-related information. Faced with a world which encourages girls to play with dolls and guys to play with trucks, it’s no wonder that many girls grow up to believe that they’re not suitable for jobs in IT, or in mechanics or engineering.

 

"My badges are better than yours, boy."

Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg knows a thing or two about what it takes for a woman not only to become a C-level member of staff but to compete with the male candidates for a job at one of the world’s most valuable tech companies, Facebook. Rated by Forbes magazine as number 10 in the world’s biggest tech companies, Sheryl worked hard to get where many women wouldn’t even dare to dream, but she wasn’t without her insecurities in the process.

Reading economics at Harvard, Sheryl Sandberg explains to Kirsty Young on Desert Island Discs that she struggled with self-doubt. “We know that women more than men suffer with the imposter syndrome and systematically underestimate their own performance. Every test I thought I was going to fail. When I did well I thought I had fooled them.”

Initiatives like those of the Girls Scouts where young girls can now receive badges for developing programming, coding and cyber security skills will hopefully encourage more young girls to consider themselves capable of leadership roles in large technology companies such as Facebook. Women are largely underrepresented in these fields, an issue that I believe will change as more and more young girls are introduced to these subjects from a young age.

Girl Scouts, I salute you. I only wish that I could join. Is 26 too old?

Image 1 Credit: Finished my #Brownie & #GirlGuide badge quilt! Juststarting leader training with @girlguidinguk too... by Sarah Joy

Image 2 Credit: Brownie and Cub compare badges by Girl Guides of Canada


Did technology kill the journalist star?

It's been over a week since Gavin Sheriff and Darryl Smith shut up shop for their last ever Friday at the Dundee-based Sunday post in Fleet Street. As the last Fleet Street newspaper takes it final bow, we examine how changes in technology over the decades have had a direct hit on the way we receive our information and the professionals who provide it.

How times have changed. When the first British newspaper the Daily Courant was published in Fleet Street in 1702, news was printed using plates which had been engraved with the story before being inked and pressed onto paper. The newspaper consisted of a single page with advertisements on the reverse. As the century wore on newspapers were printed as little as once a month and government taxes were imposed to attempt to control the spread of information. After all, knowledge is power and the leaders of the country were unlikely to welcome any oppositional views. Nevertheless by 1767 the number of newspapers sold in Britain stood at 11,300,980.

 

By the 19th century there were 52 London papers and over 100 other titles with The Times beginning life in 1785 as The Daily Universal Register. Despite rising taxes, the tone of many newspapers was fiercely revolutionary and the productivity of newspapers increased greatly as steam powered the printing process. The speed of reporting also changed with the telegraph system in the late 1800s transmitting messages from across the country, easing the accessibility to breaking news and giving journalists a brisk writing style that is still used in news reports today. 11,300,980 English newspapers became 122,000,000 by 1854.

Radio gaga

By the 1930s over two thirds of the population was estimated to read a newspaper every day whilst the onset of radio broadcasts meant that the nature of journalism was to change again. Radio provided the fastest and most up-to-date coverage as stories developed. Journalists had to speed their reporting up and an audience that was used to getting yesterday’s news today would have access to breaking stories for the first time. Long-distance broadcasting furthered the globalisation of media coverage at a time when the planet was in the grips of the Second World War.

 

“Today’s news will be tomorrow’s fish and chip wrap!”

Of course, not long after radio came to the fore did television become the next big thing with actual faces on a screen reporting the news. The BBC’s Richard Baker broke the first daily TV news story about French troop movements in Tunisia.

 

For a time, newspapers, magazines, radio and television lived in relative harmony. Of course journalism was adapted to suit either medium but there was an established reliance and trust on these formats to provide the world with need-to-know information.

News 4.0

As the internet dial-up tone rang in homes across the country in the late 1990s print journalists should have heeded the warning. Before long instant access to news stories online via PCs, laptops and mobile phones via broadband and 4G saw newspaper sales drop astronomically. Print advertising revenues fell by 15% during 2015 and a further 20% drop is predicted over the course of this year.

 

Add to this the dormant mistrust in media corporations left resonating in the wake of the phone hacking scandal of 2011-12 and we’re left with an empty Fleet Street – or at least a journalist empty Fleet Street.

 

Cheeky tip – you can still visit the El Vino wine bar which was the first famous journalists’ drinking establishment and it still looks the same as it always did.

Journalist watering hole El Vino banned women until 1984

Where are they now?

Journalists still exist but today they have to be super dynamic. News has to be readily adaptable and available via a number of platforms such as YouTube, social media and personal blogs with televised coverage often spliced into videos that can be streamed online.

 

Journalism has also become anybody’s game. The ability to generate and self-publish news is now in the hands of anyone with an internet connection and digital reporters have to listen to the audience conversation to inform their next decisions. The audience decide what’s considered news-worthy, what tone to adapt and what issues and trends are going to receive the biggest surge in traffic to boost online advertising sales.

 

The problem with this is that there’s now a profusion of news content online, some of which is terribly written and falsified just to get click-throughs. We can always rely on traditional news websites such as the BBC, The Telegraph and The Independent for reliable insights into current affairs but how long will it be before the nature of journalism metamorphosis's again?

 

Will the rise of virtual reality (VR) mean news broadcasts where the audience is immersed directly within the warzone? How will audience participation work in this format? When does the multitude of new stories become just too much news?

 

Is the digital world becoming, dare I say it, just too noisy?

 

I for one love to indulge in the quiet of a back-to-basics reading of The Evening Standard from time-to-time, don’t you?

Redefining UK engineering: why UTCs and businesses must collaborate

Andy Osborn, Head of Engineering at UTC Central Bedfordshire

Ask any kid what they’d like to do when they grow up and the chances are the response you’ll get will be astronaut, firefighter or popstar. Little do they know the full spectrum of career choices out there, specifically within the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) fields.

In fact, if you want to be an astronaut, it’s advised that you gain a bachelor’s degree in Civil or Aerospace Engineering. But what’s on offer for students prior to higher education to get them suitably engaged in such studies?

Thankfully, there are now colleges devoted to steering the younger generation towards more technical subjects. UTCs or University Technical Colleges provide 14-18 year olds with the knowledge and hands-on training they’ll need in today’s UK industry. But with little government funding, marketing budget and a desperate need for more support from local universities and businesses, are UTCs being fairly recognised for the difference that they’re making to filling the UK skills gap? And could the difference be even greater if there was more collaboration?

We interviewed Andy Osborn, Head of Engineering at UTC Central Bedfordshire, for his perspective.

Tell us a bit about the UTC Central Bedfordshire.
Firstly, let’s get to grips with what a UTC is because not many people are aware of what they actually are. UTCs teach students aged between 14 and 18 years a number of mandatory GCSEs; however, instead of accompanying these with humanities, languages or art, they study whatever the UTC specialises in, typically technical and scientific subjects. We specialise in mechatronics, manufacturing and automation.

How else are UTCs different from normal secondary schools? What do they offer that normal state schools don’t?
They place emphasis on one area of study. Often students like UTCs because they offer specialist courses taught by teachers who specialise in that field. Similar to a university, no-one teaches outside of their area, whereas at a high school, a humanities teacher may also teach English - there’s a fair bit more juggling involved. Students also enjoy the excellent resources we have. At UTC Central Bedfordshire, we work with local employers to find resources such as PLCs, HMIs, robots and conveyor belt systems to really give the students some context for what they’re learning. The upshot is that they receive the training they’ll need to take them directly into an engineering role.

Local businesses seem to be supportive then?
Local employers provide their time in terms of training the staff to use the equipment correctly in order to effectively teach. The payback for supporting businesses is that it raises the talent pool in their sector. They can come and select the brightest students and fast track those who demonstrate the highest skill set to a job within their business. Lockheed Martin, a global aerospace company, and MJS Group, a medical electronic devices company, are two local companies we’re partnered with. They come in to see the students and educate them about typical roles at their companies, send previous apprentices in to present what can be achieved and set projects for the students to sink their teeth into – projects which reflect the typical applications they would have to deal with on the job.

Tell me a bit about your role as Head of Engineering.
Now you’re asking! As an engineering college, my role encompasses everything from employer engagement through to setting and certifying the curriculum, as well as ensuring the offer is kept fresh and relevant to satisfy the perceived local need. Of course I also teach as well, specifically sought after skills such as PLC programming, HMI and robotics engineering.

What kind of equipment do you have at the college to aid the students in their courses?
A large industrial robot, two table top robots, an industrial conveyor system and PLC Lab. We’d like to have a lot more but UTCs rely on industrial partners for donations as we simply don’t have the budget to afford the various types of equipment which would help us. I spoke with one robot supplier and they gave a price which was miles out of our range. In the end I went to a second hand refurbishers who have donated a robot so we could promote the technology in that area. Most robot manufacturers and automation companies are looking for robot programmers. If we had the equipment in place to train then this would feed back into the vacancies in robot engineering.

I think that most UK businesses need an appreciation of the bigger picture. If a student trains using equipment manufactured by a particular company, then that’s what the student will know when they go into the workplace. Then when they’re asked, ‘What HMI should we be using?” naturally they’re going to recommend the manufacturer that they trained with. The challenge is getting people to see that in the short term.

A joint venture between Unipart and Coventry University, the Institute of Advanced Manufacturing is a great example of what's possible when business and education work together.

Have you any examples of how Central Bedfordshire UTC has developed students into workplaces or universities where they are likely to continue on a STEM career path?
We’ve never had anyone leave here NEET. But don’t worry, we don’t mean our students leave here looking like a scruff, NEET stands ‘Not in employment, education or training.’ Thirty percent of the year group about to leave have university offers, thirty percent have apprenticeships approved and the others are going through the university or apprenticeship selection process, all still within the STEM field.

In your opinion, are UTCs valued enough by the government in light of the STEM gap?
No. Coming back to my first point - nobody really knows what UTCs are. One of our main battles is marketing to the public. Yet once the students come through the door the conversion rate is as high as 75%. Students see the resources and if they want to study engineering they stay.
It’s difficult to persuade people to come out of the mainstream education sector. However, normal colleges and sixth forms won’t have the facilities for STEM subjects that UTCs do. If you want to study plumbing, woodwork, motor mechanics, electrical installation etc. then yes, I’d advise attending a regular college but if students want to engage in a technical specialism, then a UTC is the best place for them.

But are there enough apprenticeship schemes?
There are a lot more apprenticeship schemes than there were ten years ago when I first started teaching. The college had two engineering apprentices, nowadays it has around 100. Employers have recognised they have an ageing workforce, so they are coming to UTCs and further education colleges to source their employees. I’m a bit concerned about how the Apprenticeship Levy will change things though. Apprenticeships used to be fully funded by the government with no cost to the employer. Now there’s a cost which has unsettled things, and the exact nature of that cost to the employer is still not finalised. Apprenticeship schemes are also popular for micro-businesses and SMEs, and the worry is that any funding changes may make them no longer viable for this size of company.

How do you think careers in STEM are perceived by the younger generation? Is the stereotype changing in any way?
The students don’t really know what engineering is when they come, there’s still a typical ‘oily rags’ perception. There needs to be an overall change in the perception of where a career in engineering could lead. Engineering isn’t just in a workshop working on metal or wood, although these are still valuable skills. There’s a plethora of engineering roles out there from nanotechnology right through to aerospace, so what students need is a detailed explanation of the different sectors. The exciting thing about engineering today is that there are new roles being created all the time. At UTC Central Bedfordshire we’re educating students for jobs that don’t exist yet. We provide the underpinning knowledge that will secure them a job in the future. However, we do rely on local industry to keep us abreast of their technological needs.

As part of the #EngineeringFacelift campaign, we aim to spread the message about just how broad the spectrum of career opportunities there are for both men and women within the engineering sector.
The educational awareness needs to come through a collaborative effort. Employers are always looking for recruitment opportunities. It makes sense for businesses to go into a school with a working example of what they do. Imagine taking a working robot into a school hall – the students would become hooked. Then as UTCs we can go in after and say “Remember when such and such company came in, this is how you could work with that equipment every day when you’re older.”

Do British parents also have a role to play in negative connotations of STEM careers?
The difficulty with most UK parents is that they also latch on to the ‘oily rag’ idea because they don’t fully understand what engineering is – again it comes back to education and spreading the message. Often engineering students tend to come from engineering parents. I’m not being sexist, but often the dads are the engineers, and they have more appreciation of what we do. Occasionally our students have mothers in STEM roles, but this is far less common.

This leads in nicely to our next question. In terms of gender roles, do you feel that girls are encouraged to pursue different paths?
Since I started teaching engineering 10 years ago the percentage hasn’t changed, which is a shame. There are 80 students at UTC Central Bedfordshire, 4 of whom are female. However I will say that the female students are always very good, perhaps they have to fight a lot harder to compete. Employers are always on the lookout for female engineers to act as ambassadors for their company. Again, it could come back to the common perception of engineering, and family background.

What extra-curricular activities could motivate young children to consider STEM as a career later in life?
I know HTML coding is now part of the national curriculum, perhaps this could be developed into an application based activity. Rather than just watching graphics move on a screen, actually making a piece of equipment do something. There’s plently of accessible, affordable kit available such as the Micro:Bit, RaspberryPi and Arduino. The important thing is to give the students freedom to make something – it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t work – giving young people the space to have that creativity will inspire them to think more about how the world around them has been made.

Do you have any advice for any young people who are keen to become engineers?
Find out as much as you can about engineering and think big about where it could take you. Consider that UK industry has to bring the workforce over from abroad and pay them silly money because there are no local skills available. With a qualification in engineering you’re guaranteed a job and it can be just as lucrative a career path as medicine or law and certainly a more realistic one than being a pop star! There’s also a lot of flexibility – start researching the many different engineering roles out there and you’ll soon discover how varied, exciting and progressive modern industry is.

I know a young person who may be interested in attending a UTC. How would they go about applying?
Students can join a UTC in Year 10 or Year 12. The first step is to attend a UTC open day or event to get a feel for the school and its courses. You can find your local UTC and what its specialisms are here but I’ve also provided a full list of all of the UTCS nationwide below. Once you’ve decided upon the right UTC for you, application is as simple as visiting the website, downloading and filling in an application form and sending it back to us via email.

What are your thoughts? Are you a parent who feels that there’s not enough emphasis on STEM careers in secondary education? Or are you a UK business that feels the government should be doing more to help education and industry work together? Get in touch by clicking the Twitter button below or tweet using the hashtag #EngineeringFacelift.


Redefining UK engineering: why the rockstars of the future will need to study STEM

Naomi Climer, IET President
Naomi Climer, the first female president of the IET

As a company whose clients range from suppliers of automation through to manufacturers of electronic components, we are on a self-imposed mission to do all we can to help shrink the UK STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) gap.

Furthermore, many of us have engineering backgrounds and, despite our current roles as content writers, graphic designers and creative directors, we know from first-hand experience how exhilarating a career in STEM can be.
Take for example, the glass-bottomed swimming pool which will be suspended 10 storeys above south London. How would you like to have been involved in the architectural design of this ambitious project? Or, imagine being the next scientist to find a cure for cancer or a cryptologist working for MI5 to solve complex cyphers written by terrorists.

These are all jobs that can be had by science, technology, engineering and mathematics graduates. Yet young British adults display a distinct lack of interest in these courses. Why?

 
A person with some interesting answers is Naomi Climer, President of the Institution of Engineering and Technology, the IET. We were fascinated to hear her experiences of the engineering industry on the Radio 4 programme ‘The Life Scientific’ as well as her opinions on how what needs to be done to promote engineering as a ‘cool’ career choice in the UK.
As the first female president of the IET, Naomi has an insight into what it could take to get young people, and particularly young women, into the profession. According to Naomi, being an engineer can and ought to be ‘as cool as being a rock star.’
Naomi is a driving force behind the IET’s Engineer a Better World campaign to get more young people and girls to think of engineering as the career for them and today we are pleased to present her ideas on how we can all help achieve this worthwhile goal.


Why does engineering in the UK have such an image problem?
My career has enabled me to spend a few years in California where engineers are treated like rock stars. When comparing this to the reality of how engineers are talked about in this country, it makes me wonder why the image of the industry is so drastically different here.
Recent IET research used to mark our Engineer a Better Worldcampaign proves that there is an outdated view of the industry, often held by parents. These perceptions are clearly not up to date with the modern landscape of engineering, and are also, albeit sometimes unconsciously, being passed down to children.
Across the pond, the French say ‘ingénieur’ which sounds like ‘ingenious’; now contrast that with Blighty’s ‘engineer’ which sounds like ‘engine’. The word in English has the potential to give the stereotypical perception that engineers are down in the boiler room – fixing stuff, which, for most, I imagine, doesn’t accurately convey the artistry, creativity and innovation that France’s ‘ingénieur’ has the power to conjure up.

How can we change this perception?
The media is a powerful tool which has the potential to influence how we think and what society values. The IET is one of the organisations playing a huge role in educating influencers and parents through the media to help change impressions about engineering. I’m honoured to be leading the IET’s Engineer a Better World campaign which aims to inspire the next generation of engineers and technicians by encouraging young people and their parents to nurture their curiosity and think differently about careers in engineering.

Additionally, one of the activities is Engineering Open House Day which is running again on Friday 29 July this year and is the perfect way for engineers to communicate and celebrate their roles, face-to-face with the UK’s parents and children.

 
Are there positive role models in the media for young people in general and girls in particular to follow?
I’d like to think I am a positive role model for engineering. I’m the IET’s first female president and have made it my personal mission to shout about the diversity in the sector and challenge perceptions in the mainstream media. There are a growing number of other role models in the media, including some of the IET’s Young Woman Engineer Awardwinners and finalists such as Roma Agrawal who have an increasing presence in the media. Unfortunately though, there’s still not enough.

In a broader context, gender equality and celebrating professional women has become more of a media norm. With this in mind, now is the time to inspire and empower women about the rewarding career options in engineering. And, we most definitely need to make sure the momentum remains and that national conversations continue to ensure people know about the fantastic accomplishments that our engineers – both men and women – achieve. 
 
What is putting off girls and young women from entering the engineering professions? And, how would having more women involved in engineering benefit their employers and society in general?
I’m aware the industry is, according to stats, painted as a male dominant arena, but women should not be put off by this – although I can empathise why they would on a surface level. In my experience, being a woman within the industry has not been an issue – and has often been an advantage, helping me to stand out and make an impression. It’s proven that organisations with a diverse workforce in the form of different backgrounds, upbringing and sexes are more likely to come up with ideas and innovation that will be relevant to a broader range of society.
 
Do we need to attract individuals who would otherwise go into the more ‘creative’ industries? 
Careers in any STEM subjects are competing with what people may associate as more creative career paths such as sports, drama or music. For example, as a young girl I desperately wanted to be a cellist when I grew up. Fortunately, my father steered me into a STEM career where I found my passion for engineering. However, my passion for the arts has still been allowed to progress in my engineering career by seamlessly blending the two with each other through Sony projects such as broadcasting live theatre, music and sports to audiences in cinema.
 
Is part of the problem that the word ‘engineering’ has become too narrow to describe everything that can be achieved using today’s technologies?
The industry is forever expanding and engineering is much more interdisciplinary than before – similar to other industries such as healthcare, education and marketing. All sectors of the industry play a part in what makes the core of engineering so important, and I would not say it’s too narrow a term, people just need to be know more about the exciting world of engineering.
 
Do you think that schools could be doing more to broaden the appeal of engineering? 
Teachers often come under scrutiny by perhaps not giving pupils enough problem solving work or not having enough knowledge about engineering themselves. However, it’s unfair to expect teachers to have the broad knowledge that is needed to fully capture the excitement of the industry. The curriculum should be revisited to allow room for engineering related activities to be weaved into other core subjects such as maths and science. Mandatory work experience for pupils would also help to introduce students to the exciting world of engineering.
 
How is the profession changing – is it evolving in a way that would make it more attractive to female entrants?
One of the most exciting things about a career in engineering is that it is always evolving – especially with technological advancements. I also think, however, that the contribution of some really inspiring women is getting more attention which I hope will act as an encouragement for young girls across the UK.
Putting gender discourse aside for a moment, everyone should see engineering as stimulating. It’s literally all around us and affects our cultural worlds in a huge way. Take a look at the mobile phone which you may be reading this on or is sat next to you on your desk – it’s extraordinary, complex and a feat of engineering that most of us rely on continuously. Technology has become a totally integrated part of our lives and will only become more so in the future. And, as our lives continue to evolve alongside technology, we cannot allow for this life-affecting technology to be designed and built without the input of half the population, and for so many talented people to miss out on the opportunity to play a key part in developing and innovating within the UK. 
 
To find out more about the Engineer a Better World campaign and Engineering Open House Day, visit: http://www.engineer-a-better-world.org/.
 
 

Will self-checkouts ever speak like Michael Jackson?

It’s been over a quarter of a century since Marty McFly stepped into the DeLorean time machine to pay us a visit on October 21st 2015. However, things haven’t gone exactly to plan – or the way that Marty experienced it the first time round.

There really aren’t many people using fax machines anymore – instead the go to of communications technology is of course mobile phones. There’s also sadly nowhere to eat where a virtual Michael Jackson will take our order for fajitas. In fact, many of us still prefer to be served by a person at the supermarket rather than wrestle with the self-checkouts.

So how would Marty McFly feel about the technological innovations that we have made? As a technical PR company, we’re always researching and marketing the latest gadgets – we’re desperate to know what brilliant inventions the future will bring to our desks. We guessed that now is the ideal time to find out, and managed to catch up with Marty before he disappeared into an explosion of lasers, fire and smoke.

Ed: Hi Marty McFly, it’s a pleasure to meet you and thank you for coming back to the future to meet us.
Marty: It’s a pleasure to be here. Again.

Ed: Quite. On that note, let’s start by asking, is 2015 how you remembered it?
Marty: No way. It’s way different. Where are all the flying cars and the self-tying shoes? I was looking forward to seeing Jaws 19, so I was gutted to see that it finished at Jaws Revenge – what happened to the rest of them?

Ed: We’ve moved on….
Marty: You call Sharknado progress?

Ed: Ahem. Maybe not. What else is different?
Marty: What happened to all the hoverboards? I at least thought you’d have those by now!

Ed: Well, we’ve got the Swegway…
Marty: Yeah, but you’re not allowed to actually ride them are you? Did you see that story about the cop who got busted for riding one in London, England?

Ed: Very true. We see you’ve discovered hyperlinks though. You completely didn’t see the Internet coming when you first came back to the future did you?
Marty: Yeah, you’ve got me there. I have to say this Internet thing is neat. Much better than the dust-repellent paper the first time I came to 2015.

Ed: You missed out on mobile phones too…
Marty: True, but we did have flying cars, self-tying shoes and hoverboards. Did I mention that?

Ed: You might have. OK, so what DID you actually get right?
Marty: Well, we had something very like your Google Glass devices, with things like built-in cameras and even something very much like your Interweb…

Ed: It’s Internet…
Marty: Yeah, Internet. Plus we also had plasma screen TVs, 3D movies and even video calls, which I think you guys call Skype? As I’ve been here once already, I’ve had a good 25 years to teach my parents how to use it. 

Ed: Useful. So apart from flying cars, self-tying shoes and hoverboards, what one thing are you surprised we don’t have in our version of 2015?
Marty: Well, I think automatic dog walkers were a pretty great idea. And self-drying jackets, which would save you guys a fortune on tumble-drying. There were also remote control litter bins that could empty themselves.

Ed: Aha! Now that we might be able to do. There’s a plan to use the Internet of Things in Milton Keynes so that dustbins can tell the local council when they need emptying.
Marty:  Err yeah, that’s great. Real cutting-edge stuff. Let’s hope you find some other things to do with it too.

Ed: Like what?
Marty: No idea. Hey, how about I go find out and come back and tell you in 25 years.

Ed: Any room in that time machine for a passenger?
Marty: Nope. Sorry. Flux capacitor is taking up all the room. Cheerio. See you on 21st October 2040.

Ed: Give our love to Jennifer and the kids. And say hi to Doc for us. Oh, you’ve gone…

It would seem that Marty wasn’t all that enthralled with the advances we’ve made or perhaps he was feeling slightly bitter that he didn’t predict the rise of smart phone technology and social media…

If you’d like to experience just how far we’ve come since the decade of Back to the Future’s conception just take a look at how clunky the original Macintosh was in 1984 and then take a look at your iPad. Weighing 16.5 pounds, the original Mac had just 128k of memory and was cited for user-friendly developments such as its pull down menus, mouse and icons.

The first mobile phone also made its debut in 1984, weighed nearly 11 pounds and needed a car to be charged. We like things much lighter in 2015, and with the average memory of a smartphone at 16GB (that’s one thousand million bytes in comparison to the original Mac’s one thousand) we can only begin to imagine what the capabilities of mobile technology will be in another 25 years’ time.

In fact, the closest way of experiencing the destabilising effect of time-travel is to visit the National Musuem of Computing in Milton Keynes. Here you can awe at the size and mass of the first laptops as well as the first stored-program digital computer of the 1950s, the ‘WITCH’. We highly recommend a visit, but in the mean-time we’ll be waiting here patiently for Marty to come back and report from the future.


Weaving a tale for ABB Drives & Motors at Brintons Carpets – the story behind the story

Whether it’s a holiday abroad, a restaurant or the latest smart phone, the value of a word of mouth recommendation is well known when it comes to finding new customers. Nothing reassures a potential customer on the brink of making a purchase more than letting them see a colleague, friend or family member enjoying a positive experience with that same product. It’s no different when it comes to the industrial marketplace. With end users quite rightly expecting value for money when making a purchase, any evidence highlighting how one of their peers benefitted from doing the same can be a powerful tool in helping to close a sale. 

 

At Armitage Communications, we specialise in helping our clients to generate buzz around their products and services through the creation of thoroughly researched, conscientiously-written and well-delivered case studies. With the array of marketing channels open to us, we are able to make sure our client’s projects are promoted to the fullest extent, from a write-up in the trade media through to ongoing use as videos on YouTube.

That case studies are a valuable tool in helping to demonstrate the value of a company’s products or services is supported by a recent study by San Francisco-based content production specialist, Eccolo Media. Eccolo recently published a survey which found that 25% of technology consumers would be most likely to consume a case study over other collateral such as white papers, e-newsletters and videos.

This is just as well, as putting a case study together can be hard work. Ask any marketing or PR executive and they’ll tell you just how many hours of telephone calls are expended in trying to get in touch with end users, organising interviews, establishing approvals and getting hold of images. With many companies also operating a blanket ‘non-endorsement’ policy, putting together a case study can often be something of a labour of love.

Threading the needle

So when we heard how delighted famous carpet manufacturer Brintons Carpets was with ABB’s products during a recent electric motor upgrade project, we were quick to get underway with organising an interview and photoshoot at the customer’s location in Telford.

Dave Evans, Electrical Coordinator, Brintons Carpets

The story started with ABB Drives and Motors receiving notification through its Authorised Value Provider, Sentridge Control, of the successful performance of its AC motors at Brintons Carpets. In this way, a thread of communication was established between us – the agency, the product integrator – Sentridge, our client – ABB, and the end user – Brintons Carpets. Our next task was then to weave this thread into a full story, being mindful at all times of how the case study represented all parties, carefully gathering information from all parties, and gaining collective approval before the final version could be distributed.

The scope of the story lent itself to a face-to-face interview with the end user rather than a telephone interview, and so, with their permission, we organised a day on which we could visit the premises with a photographer in tow.

Stitching the tapestry

As an agency, we like to think we know what makes a good story. The process starts with a list of carefully-crafted questions, aimed at getting the information we need without unduly wasting the time of the interviewee, who we fully appreciate will have a thousand more pressing things to do.

On this point, it’s important to try to be balanced. Though we’re writing primarily for our client, it doesn’t have to all be ‘me, me, me’. It doesn’t hurt to give their customers a little free publicity as well, especially where they have an established heritage or interesting product. For this reason, we always throw in some questions asking end users about their company and what they do. This not only helps to make the experience more rewarding for the interviewee, but also gives us some useful added-value information that we can use when promoting the story, especially via social media.

For example, we discovered that Brintons is a truly British manufacturer, boasting a history dating back to 1783, the same year that Britain signed its treaty with America to end the American Revolution. Since this time the company has notched up some impressive accolades, including the granting of a Royal Warrant in 1958 and the reunion of the Spice Girls on a Brintons carpet in London’s revamped St Pancras Hotel in 2012, a nod to their first video which saw them performing on the staircase of the same building prior to its redevelopment. We’re certainly excited about what social media content we can curate with that info.

Once we’ve established some context, we ask what prompted the end user to get in touch with our client in the first place. In the case of Brintons, the company’s previously installed DC motors were obsolete and required regular maintenance. For Brintons this meant time and cost were incurred from disruption to its production process and the need to keep constantly repairing the motors. For this reason, they decided to switch to AC motors, which not only save on energy but increase production capacity.

Money talks

At the end of the day, we recognise that the best stories are the ones with good hard evidence, particularly when it comes to numbers. A business runs on money after all, and statements such as “a two year return on investment” or “£20,000 savings per year” help to grab a prospective customer’s attention like nothing else. We will always ask the end user if they have any idea of what savings they’ve achieved, in order to make the case study business-led.

Writing a case study is like weaving a carpet

In this instance our client’s products resulted in 19% energy savings, a return on investment of just
2.6 years and estimated savings of £40,000 per year.

Once we’ve pieced together a narrative for the end user, we will go back to our client to get their perspective. A simple quote is all that is needed to conclude the content, and touch on any key benefits or technical details which the end user may not have mentioned.

Finally, we will send the finished case study to all parties to gain their approval before we distribute and publicise.

Publicising case studies

To effectively engage our target audience we’ve established long-standing relationships with key industry journalists who we know will give our case studies the exposure they deserve. The Brintons case study is scheduled to appear in the trade and technical press in the coming months, so keep an eye out and let us know if you spot it!

Given the effort we expend in every case study we write, we are keen to ensure we use each one to its full potential. The Brintons case study will not only appear on the ABB Energy website, but will be rewritten into a blog format for the ABB Energy Blogspot. Although informality may seem initially inappropriate for B2B, the short-form, casual style of a blog lends itself well to end users who are strapped for time, and may not subscribe to any of the print publications where we’ve placed the case study.

Another advantage of blogging case studies is that their usability extends across to social media. Platforms such as Twitter, Google + and Linked In are all frequently used by Armitage to engage prospective customers, and drive traffic to our client’s blogs and/or website.

Marketing automation 

Case studies will prove even more useful in the near future as they are worked in to our digital marketing campaigns. With the help of marketing automation, case studies can be used as engaging links with the aim of helping to gather extra intelligence on customer preferences by encouraging visitors to other content.

Once a prospective customer has been added to the database, they will be sent e-shots on a regular basis which will be customised to their particular interest, job title, and industry. In this way, lead nurturing becomes a strategic yet automatic system. Once the initial campaign is designed, the software will respond accordingly to our client’s customers, and give our clients the best chance of building new relationships and, ultimately, securing a sale.

We look forward to using the Brintons case study to weave an automated campaign and tell an engaging, persuasive, and, most importantly, valuable tale to our end users.

Would you like to know more about how we use case studies as key collateral in content marketing campaigns? Do you have a customer that would be happy to tell their story? Contact us on 0208 667 2210 or email [email protected] to find out how we can help.


Filling the STEM gap with the Micro:bit

As more and more jobs centre around digital technology, and the 'internet of things' becomes less of a buzzword and more of a reality, the pressure is growing for the education system to ensure the next generation of employees are prepared for the developing demands of the workplace.

We blogged about 'Technology, the frenemy of tomorrow's workforce' back in November 2014, but in the last few weeks, one of our clients has been involved in a project to 3D print a steel bridge over one of Amsterdam’s famous canals using robots and Autodesk software. The software is a project in itself.

The project will see the robots working autonomously on-site in much the same way as human construction workers, with the aim being to demonstrate the applicability of the technology to larger structural projects. If successful, the project could radically transform the face of the construction industry, with robots becoming a regular feature on future building sites.

The software used to run the robots is just one example of how the future of making things is dependent on people having the necessary STEM skills to lead these innovations. This reminded us again of how important it is for generation Y to be engaged in technology in both a creative and stimulating way.

In June of this year, Cisco CEO and life science graduate Phil Smith told the Telegraph, "The internet of everything is going to change the world. We'll have pills that can monitor how the body is absorbing them and cars that know when it is going to rain. We'll see a sweep of digitisation throughout every aspect of life, which means that if you know how technology works you're going to find it much easier to understand almost any industry in the future."

There has been much in the media about how the UK education system is failing to encourage its students to engage with STEM subjects, and thus hindering not only their future employability but also the UK's ability to compete on a global stage. Thankfully, there have been a few projects initiated by corporations recently, such as Barclays' Code Playground, and 'Make it Digital', the latest idea from the BBC which will see pocket-sized computers called Micro:bits provided to millions of UK students aged between the ages of 11 and 12.

This is the BBC's most ambitious education initiative since the 1980s, when the BBC Micro introduced children to computing for the very first time, some of which have gone on to be pioneers of programming. Take, for example, David Darling, who started coding games at home on the Micro and now runs Kwalee, a smartphone game developer. Another, David Braben, co-developed Elite, a space trading computer game which has now evolved into the highly popular Elite: Dangerous. David Braben is also co-founder of the Raspberry Pi Foundation, a charity founded in 2009 to promote basic computer science in schools.

In much the same way, the BBC Micro:bit will enable today’s students to code, customise and control, spark their creativity and allow them to bring their digital ideas to life. Students will be able to create something that gives instant gratification, whilst the computer has the potential to handle much greater complexity if students wish to develop their skills further.  Head of BBC Learning, Sinead Rocks explained in May, "There's no real way to tell you what it does - because that will be entirely dependent on how the children who get one choose to program it."

With a wide variety of features such as 25 red LEDs, an on-board motion detector, and Bluetooth Smart Technology, the Micro:bit is able to interact with its surroundings, such as phones, tablets, and cameras. It can be programmed from a computer, tablet or mobile phone via the BBC's soon-to-launch Micro:bit website.

Other tools in the Make It Digital scheme include the Technobabble "digital maker kit" which allows children to create their own computer games. The Make It Digital tour will also run throughout the summer, visiting 13 locations across the UK and providing opportunities to learn more about the digital world and coding.

We're excited to see how the Micro:bit and the Make it Digital initiative from the BBC will encourage the digital geniuses of the future, and hope the pocket-sized device lands in the hands of the next Justin Mateen (the inventor of Tinder), Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook) or Leah Busque (TaskRabbit).


Why the ‘ matters

A reader’s letter to my local newspaper caught my eye this week. It came from a 10-year old girl complaining about the incorrect use of an apostrophe in a headline.

Is this just a precocious schoolgirl pointing out a minor error, or does it highlight a deeper lesson for many grown-ups? I ask because just days earlier a senior engineer in a large company was telling me that with the prevalence of so-called text-speak, it doesn’t matter if a company’s communications contains the odd spelling or grammatical error – people will understand the meaning anyway.

But even if that is true, it misses the point. What kind of a professional image does a company convey if it has no eye for detail in its communications? Customers will (rightly) think the same attitude permeates all its operations. Such a lack of rigour can damage a business.

Great B2B marketing content is well-written and well-targeted. It addresses the customer’s needs. It educates and informs. It focuses laser-like on the customer, not on the company doing the marketing. And its meaning must be crystal clear, without errors.

Sometimes the young can teach valuable lessons to the more mature. Well spotted schoolgirl!

Oh and for some insight into how not to use apostrophes, there’s even a website devoted to the topic with hundreds of examples.