Archive for 2011


A memorable visit to St James’s Palace

5 years ago
by guest

 

Lady Cynthia Zissman and Sir Bernard Zissman meeting HRH The Duke of Cambridge

Last month my wife and I attended a unique gathering at St James’s Palace, the London home of the Prince of Wales, the Princess Royal and Princess Alexandra – a kind of Royal multi-occupation you might say! The occasion was a dinner to support the National Memorial Arboretum at Alrewas – just up the road on the A38, about 40 minutes from Birmingham – an organisation of which I am a member of the Appeal Council.

St. James’s Palace, built in the middle of the 16th century by Henry VIII, has been the setting for some of the most important events in Royal history: in 1588 Queen Elizabeth I directed the English fleet against the Spanish Armada; in 1649 King Charles I spent his last moments before being executed; and Queen Victoria was married in the St James Chapel. The State Apartments also contain an interesting range of Royal portraits from the time of Henry VIII, including important works by Mytens, Van Somer, Michael Wright and Wissing; portraits of military and naval heroes painted for George IV by Reynolds and Hoppner; a portrait of George IV by Lawrence; and important battle pieces by Wootton and George Jones.

It was in this most elegant and historic environment that we were to meet the Patron of the NMA Appeal, HRH The Duke of Cambridge and his lovely Princess, HRH The Duchess of Cambridge. I was honoured to be asked to introduce “my group” of guests and as we enjoyed some laughter with the Duke, their presence – and the Duchess’s captivating warm smile – lit up a gathering of some 120 guests already dressed in its best and excited to meet our newest Royal Bride and Groom.

The food was superbly served, the wine very acceptable and the table company hugely interesting. It was a relaxing evening and the short speeches from Appeal Chairman, Major General Patrick Cordingley, HRH Prince William and a moving address from Jacqui Thompson – the widow of a serviceman killed in Kandahar and left with five daughters – inspired us all and brought tears to many eyes. There was even some entertainment with a short recital from violinist Nicola Benedetti.

A memorable evening, a unique location and an inspiring occasion, it was a privilege to have been present.

 


Saab hits the wall

5 years ago
by guest

 

Like me, motoring enthusiasts across the country are this week coming to terms with the news that Saab, one of Europe’s most celebrated car manufacturers, is dead.

For those of us who follow the car industry with interest, though, this was an all-too-predictable demise that has been developing for some time. Saab’s collapse starkly echoes that of MG Rover, based just down the road from Rewired here in Birmingham.

The parallels are startling. Both Saab and Rover were quirky brands with a limited, but not insignificant, target audience (Saab owners are statistically more likely to have a PhD than any other brand of car, fact). Both brands were bought by major players – Rover by BMW, Saab by General Motors – who failed to seriously invest in new products, and cut their losses when it became obvious there were serious problems. 

Buyers of each brand dabbled with ill-fated motorsport dalliances in a bid to raise funds and interest; Rover’s stablemate MG went rallying and introduced a halo product, the £65,000 XPower SV: a car so miserably contrary to what they should’ve been developing that only 82 were ever sold. Saab’s new owners, Dutch sportscar manufacturer Spyker, took part in one unspectacular season in Formula 1 which placed such a financial strain on the group that its one profitable arm – the whole sportscar bit – was later sold off in a fruitless bid to prop up Saab.

Here we can learn something: channelling money into grandstand projects is suicide if you don’t do the everyday stuff really well. Sadly, neither Rover nor Saab did this.

When Rover collapsed, its would-be volume sellers included the 25, a supermini that had been on sale in various guises since 1995 and never a class-leading product, even when brand new.

Over at Saab, its entry level car, the 9-3 compact executive model, was introduced nine years ago. Charged with replacing a car which could trace its roots back to 1978, the 2002 9-3 didn’t need to be cutting edge to represent a massive step forward – so it wasn’t. The prospective BMW buyers Saab coveted also realised this when the motoring press gleefully highlighted the 9-3’s humble Vauxhall Vectra underpinnings.

GM refreshed the model in 2007 but this was a largely cosmetic facelift which addressed few of the car’s shortcomings. Sales figures increased marginally as prices were slashed, but the model was still viewed as a leftfield choice by drivers.

Spyker had the chance to turn things around with the 2010 9-5, developed with GM support as the first all-new Saab in a decade, but this was rushed onto forecourts in a desperate attempt to generate sales and cash. Poorly received by a motoring press again critical of its Vauxhall origins, and introduced at a time when savvy buyers already knew the wheels were slowly coming off (pun wholeheartedly intentional), the 9-5 has failed to sell well. Now any remaining stock looks set to be sold at knockdown prices as shoppers warily inspect an after-sales package that may be totally absent in the light of this week’s news.

A really excellent, compelling new product could’ve saved them – Tata have demonstrated this with its impressive rejuvenation of Jaguar/Land Rover, ironically inheriting the dormant Rover brand in the process. In the absence of such a product, failure for Rover and Saab became inevitable. Rover’s owners took it to ruin in five years; Spyker oversaw the death of its $400m investment after just twenty-three months.

Other factors exist that have led to this outcome – not least GM’s blocking of an eleventh-hour rescue package for Saab to protect its own interests in the Chinese car market – but ultimately MG Rover and Saab paid the price for failing to get their bread-and-butter offerings right. As businesses plan for survival in 2012, when ‘that’ll do’ just won’t cut it, this is a lesson from which we must all learn.

 


Driving online activity home for Christmas

5 years ago
by tom

Alan

Clearly Bob Geldof doesn’t have any trouble when it comes to present buying during the festive season. Why else would he boldly claim: “it’s Christmas time, there’s no need to be afraid”?

He’s wrong. There is a need. A very real need. Like many offices across the country, we recently exchanged Secret Santa presents, unveiling gifts like the glorious one I received in the image above.

And, while at first I was hit by a wall of fear about what to buy for my lucky chosen colleague, I’m glad to say the whole team came away with some fantastic items.

For me, my own anxiety about what to buy was largely relieved by the use of my mobile phone and a particularly impressive Christmas gift stand in Waterstones, and it turns out I wasn’t alone.

Talking to the Rewired team, it seems we all made use of the Internet before opting to head to the high street to make our final purchases. Despite reports that last week’s footfall figures for the high street were down on last year, it’s a way of browsing that brands are recognising and incorporating into their online offering.

Google recently announced that shoppers are using their mobiles a lot more to search for last minute Christmas gifts and store locations. The search giant estimates that this year 44% of searches will be made on mobile rather than desktop, more than double the 20% for the same period last year.

It means that the link between online and offline will hopefully aid footfall in high street stores in the run up to Christmas.

This style of shopping can be seen in the recent campaign from Argos which centres on a television advert featuring the voice of Bill Nighy. It demonstrates how shoppers can choose what they want from its online offering first and then go in store to collect it, and includes a mobile version for use on the move.

It’s good to see, especially when some articles suggest online and offline can’t work together, as was reported last week.

For me, I think we’re seeing some exciting developments for mobile and retail which will continue into 2012 – and anything to aid my buying experience and conquer my fear of Christmas shopping is fine with me.

 


‘Tis the season for the office Christmas party

5 years ago
by guest

So, the decorations are up, the German Market has rolled into town and the city centre is abuzz with frenzied shoppers carrying armfuls of presents – this can only mean one thing – Christmas is fast approaching and with it the office Christmas party. 

Rewired kicked off its party season last Wednesday by co-hosting Christmas drinks with Kevin Breese at Harvey Nichols. The evening consisted of bubbly, canapés and a host of familiar faces, and was the perfect way to begin the season’s festivities.


It was really sad therefore to hear that many companies are looking at scrapping their Christmas dos this year and not necessarily just to save costs. Recent research has revealed that more than a million workers have taken time off in the past due to over indulging at their Christmas bash, leaving companies contemplating whether it’s worth it. This seems such a shame as yes, office parties can involve copious amounts of alcohol but as evidence suggests they can also be fantastic for team dynamics. 

Obviously, the economy is also playing a part in these decisions but even a small, low-budget Christmas party could turn out to be a great investment. Research shows that giving staff the chance to socialise is fantastic for team spirit, bonding and can lead to more efficient working relationships. Rewired will be putting this to the test on Wednesday as we head off to test our vocal skills at a spot of team karaoke. I confess that this isn’t our first karaoke experience and doubt it will be the last!

So, as there are only officially 13 days left until the big day the only thing left for me to do is wish all you lovely people a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!!


Sleeping out for St Basil’s

5 years ago
by Ruth Pipkin

St Basil's sleep out

On Friday night over 450 people took to the streets of Birmingham in aid of St Basil’s annual sleepout, to raise money for young people at risk of homelessness. It’s fair to say that sleeping rough for one night, albeit in freezing temperatures with an added smattering of rain, gives you only a glimpse of what a life living on the streets can be like, but it was an experience we’ll never forget.

Our thanks go to the team at St Basil’s who organised a fantastic event, and to everyone who sponsored myself, Tom and Sam. You have helped us to raise over £500 which will support the incredible work that the team at St Basil’s do.

Here’s to next year!


Thank you America!

6 years ago
by Ruth Pipkin

Thanksgiving Tray

Photo by trixiegirl31

A poll of America’s top 10 gifts to Britain was announced yesterday. Pulled together by US broadcaster PBS it featured firm favourites including The Simpsons, Levi’s Jeans and The Godfather films (but only 1 & 2….). In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I thought I’d give thanks for my favourite gifts from across the pond. My top 10 would have to include:

– Aunt Jemima’s pancake mix – for those lazy Saturday breakfasts with maple syrup and bacon

Alison Krauss & Union Station – the soundtrack to so many good memories

– Great TV drama: The Wire, 24, The Shield, the list goes on

Other, unashamedly low-brow favourites from the team include

Sam: “American sitcoms – I just love chilling out with an episode of Friends or Two and a Half Men (the Charlie Sheen episodes) and have complete box sets of both!”

Tom: “Steve Carrell, although we deserve thanks for introducing The Office overseas.”

Lucas: “Budweiser and McDonald’s Egg McMuffins. The cause of, and solution to, all of my hangovers.”

 

 


Do they know it’s a charity single?

6 years ago
by guest

When it comes to blogging I’m often teeming with ideas, until I actually need to write one: then I really struggle for inspiration. Predictably, as this week sees my name at the top of the rota, writer’s block hit hard. Then I switched on the radio.

“What is this NONSENSE?!” I hissed, before learning the drivel in question was this year’s Children In Need official single. So, cogs turning, I decided to do some research into the charity single genre. There is a definite recipe for success, but this also uncovered a group of songs which fail to make the grade: a ‘Collective’, if you will.

I name it this because no better example of ‘awful charity record’ exists than the latest offering from The Collective. The concept, I gather, was to create an urban supergroup which connects to disadvantaged young people in the aftermath of this summer’s English Riots.

However, The Collective is the brainchild of Gary Barlow, who is not a young person and is about as urban as a country manor. It misses the mark in fairly spectacular fashion, containing a stream of condescending nonsense lyrics spoken over the music from Massive Attack’s downbeat classic ‘Teardrop’. Witness the devastation for yourself:

This is not the kind of fun, happy, uptempo song that can be played over inspirational clips during telethons and on drunken dancefloors á la this, which is what great charity singles consist of. I met Pudsey Bear once. He was not ‘street’. He was cuddly.

This is really quite a bad thing, as Joe Public doesn’t buy it (in any sense of the word – The Collective has stalled at 24 in the charts) and this means less money for the disadvantaged kids Children In Need helps. 

Band Aid kicked off the genre in 1985 with ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’ and provides a snapshot of the 80s’ musical zenith, featuring Bono, Sting, David Bowie and many others. It has stood the test of time well. By contrast, The Collective is a damning indictment of modern British music. Who is Dot Rotten, anyway? Even Wikipedia hasn’t heard of her him.

Generally telethons are quite good at this kind of thing, so there are slim pickings to be had in terms of properly awful records. Grange Hill’s ‘Just Say No’ gets an honorary mention because there’s nothing I can stand less than singing kids; also included is the questionable taste involved in putting ‘Irreplaceable’ by Beyoncé on the Songs For Japan earthquake appeal album – a tune which includes the bleak lyrical reminder ‘Everything you own in a box’.

Of course, this is atypical; even if they’re cheesy and awful, the failings of most charity singles can be overlooked because they are for a good cause. 

Among the better offerings, Gary Barlow did much better in penning Geraldine McQueen’s NSPCC Christmas fundraiser, ‘Once Upon A Christmas Song’, which is possibly the best new festive record since the 90s.

We can only hope that next year Children In Need gets back to winning ways with a song that everyone wants in their collection… 

 


The girl behind six who became the girl in front of 32,000

6 years ago
by guest

 

This week, Twitter gameshow hostess @GirlBehindSix revealed her true identity: ‘Wendy’, of American hamburger chain Wendy’s.

The account was created as part of an elaborate stealth marketing campaign to launch Wendy’s new medium-sized ‘W Burger’. Firstly, let’s gloss over the description of this meaty behemoth as, in any way, ‘medium-sized’ (next they’ll be calling it a vegetable); what’s more impressive is the rapid – and wonderfully cheap – way that the marketing scheme has operated.

The Twitter handle refers to the vacant space 6 on Wendy’s menu boards and, aside from a few carefully-placed ads along Sixth Avenue and on New York City’s 6 subway line (see what they did there?), the campaign’s only paid-for advertising was a one-day Twitter promoted trend bought by Wendy’s.

GirlBehindSix described her activities as a ‘140-character gameshow’, in which she challenged her followers to complete various tasks in exchange for prizes like mopeds and voice-activated robots – with six of each to give away. A spokesperson from the ad agency behind the campaign said the prizes were imagined as “things you wanted, but would never buy for yourself”; quite what this is supposed to say about the W Burger I’m not sure, but he’s quite wrong about the voice-activated robot. I have my credit card in my hand.

The gameshow concept obviously struck a chord with Twitter users – over 32,000 followed the account in a little over a month since it appeared with no outward affiliation to the burger chain; its speeding from 0 to 72 on the Klout scale of online influence is testament to the campaign’s success. This is all very impressive, especially as it’s taken me the best part of two years to amass 1500 Twitter followers and a Klout score of 45, and a comparable campaign for Wendy’s Baconator in 2009 (where do they get these names from, honestly?) gathered half the latest campaign’s number of followers in double the time.

The GirlBehindSix and Wendy’s now face a greater challenge: how to herd those 32,000 across to the Wendy’s account. They’ve started by relocating the gameshow to the chain’s official Twitter feed and limiting entries to those following the Wendy’s account. Uptake is, perhaps unsurprisingly, relatively minimal.

What may have been a better idea would be to keep the GirlBehindSix account going as some kind of secondary Wendy’s persona by renaming it (finally possible, thank you, oh Gods of Twitter) – perhaps as the voice of Wendy herself, chronicling her fictitious weekends and using humour to ingratiate the brand with its already amassed followers. At the moment, the hard work is unravelling as tweeters recognise the gameshow as a short-term ploy to bait their hearts and flee in their droves.

No doubt the W Burger will be a success – in my time living Stateside, I never met an American who didn’t love a burger – but I can’t help but feel what was an almost-perfect campaign has ended up a missed opportunity.

 


Rewired is taking part in St Basil’s Big SleepOut

6 years ago
by guest

Yes, that’s right you heard correctly, this December three members of the Rewired team will be braving the winter weather and sleeping rough for a night to raise money and awareness to support St Basil’s charity, which helps prevent homelessness.

From 6pm on Friday 2nd December all the way through to 6am the next morning myself (Sam), Ruth and Tom will be huddled in our cardboard boxes, and considering the arctic temperatures Birmingham experienced last December we think that’s worth some sponsorship, don’t you?!

Still need tempting, how about some cold hard facts?
o    St Basils helps 4,000 homeless people each year and can accommodate 400 young people per night.
o    St Basils works with young people aged 16-25 who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.
o    St Basils can offer accredited Life Skills courses to young residents and has extensive Learning, Skills and Work Programmes.
o    In order to keep up all this amazing work, St Basils needs to raise at least £500,000 per year.

Now in a further attempt to encourage you into sponsoring, I just want to point out that our dwelling for this cold winter evening will be a cardboard box and a plastic bag! I will however, also be wearing as many clothes as physically possible!

If you would like to help support the Rewired team then please visit our Virgin Money Giving page – any donation would be greatly appreciated!


Going for gold as savings options dwindle

6 years ago
by guest

‘Look after the pennies and the pounds will take care of themselves’ has been a mantra which I have long lived by, but is this really the case?

2011 has been a rather busy year for me so far. A wedding to plan and a house move has meant that there hasn’t been a weekend which hasn’t been spent planning or packing, or my least favourite activity, looking at budgets and ways to save for the aforementioned.

Despite figures released this week which demonstrated inflation had slightly dropped in October to 5%, down from 5.2% the previous month, rates still remain way above the Bank of England’s target of 2%. And although there has been a fall in the price of food due to supermarkets’ ‘price wars’, and moves by MPs to urge the government to cap increases in the price of petrol, this figure doesn’t look like it’s going to drop dramatically anytime soon.
 
This prolonged period of high inflation has meant that those people who want to save and look after their pennies are struggling to make their money work for them.

According to the Moneyfacts financial information service, there is currently no standard savings account which allows people to make sure their savings keep up with inflation, after tax is taken into account. The past year has seen the number of savings accounts that beat inflation for basic-rate taxpayers drop from 91 to none, leaving savers like me in a bit of a tricky situation.

Moneyfacts say a basic-rate taxpayer would now need to earn 6.5% interest on their savings to keep pace with inflation. But with the average savings account paying a pitiful 1.1%, things don’t look good.

Yet HSBC research suggests things were very different during previous inflation peaks. When the rate hit 5.9% in 1991 savers were still getting 9.7%, on average.

Fast forward to today and the amount UK savers have put away has soared, up from £360bn in 1991 to £1trillion now. However, while ¬savers pocketed £34.6bn in interest 20 years ago, record low rates mean today they will earn just £11.4bn this year.

There’s lots of advice out there on how to try and beat inflation; various bonds and index-linked saving schemes, but I’m thinking I should maybe take a different approach this year.

Hide cash under the mattress or simply go out and spend it (I’ve heard the cost of air travel is pretty good at the moment) are options.

However, after a recent trip to Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter I was shocked to learn the price of gold.

Recent research from insurance provider Esure has suggested that many Brits over the past year have invested in gold but not in the bank; not surprising given the above stats.

The research revealed one in ten people in the UK has more money in gold than cash savings, while 38% surveyed believed investing in gold was a better option than putting their hard-earned cash into a savings account.

And if you look at how the price of gold has soared over the past decade, you can see why people are taking an interest in this precious metal. The price of gold has risen by 300% in the last ten years, which is why many see investment in gold as a way of beating the rising cost of living.

Only time will tell if the banks respond and start offering more competitive saving options, but in the meantime I quite like the idea of this gold business. And, considering Rewired Towers is based in the infamous JQ, I won’t have to splash out on fuel to get there!