Thursday, 27 November 2014

Thorpe Park MBA Consulting Challenge 2014

Jack DuPile crew room briefing

The other half !

MBA students from Royal Holloway University of London enjoyed an end of season visit to Thorpe Park, one of the highly dynamic and successful strategic business units that makes up one of the 105 global attractions that is the Merlin Entertainment Group.   

Jack's Education Thrills Workshop

Consultancy Briefing Note taking

MBA students have been given four live and meaty marketing questions to test out their enhanced team working and consultancy skills.

Queuing satisfaction is a key success criteria

Wet & Wild - even in late October

Capturing the youth vibe

Ancillary spend ?

Evolving from UK thrills capital to wider family appeal

Target market 8+

Angry Birds Land:  Widening the family appeal

Finding the Fun/Fear Edge

Partner sponsorship opportunities

Swarm 'crash site' theming

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

#WobbleHopping #MontyThePenguin

#WobbleHopping  Read how a marketing lecturers impressions of a flightless bird led to a p-p-p-pretty cool piece of media coverage.

The blogosphere appears to have gone flipping p-p-p-penguin crazy.

Stories of heightened sales of penguin related items are lighting up the web.  McVities reported a 75% spike in sales following the launch of #montythepenguin in a social first Christmas campaign from The John Lewis Partnership. Showing the tactical power of nimble digital executions (not tied into planned media buying schedules) and clever twitter amplification using this sweet creative, it might be even be seen as a form of ambush marketing. 

A certain marketing lecturer has been seen wobble hopping up lecture stairs whilst squawking about the Monty meets Mabel love story, brought to our screens recently thanks to our department store friends.  Is #wobblehopping trending ?  

Cola Cute, but geographically impossible
I've always been a big flightless bird fan, having visited real colonies in Chile and South Africa, and even lugged a life sized laminated penguin home as hand luggage all the way from Santiago. There is that conundrum that invites scrutiny of the story of a polar bear eating a penguin, which is only really feasible in a zoo, as artic bears are from the north and penguins restricted to the Southern Hemisphere.  Hopefully you were not visualising coca cola bears gorging themselves on p-p-p-p-pick-a-penguin chocolate flavoured coated biscuits.  The punchline of the well known joke says they can't do that because they can't open the wrappers !  

McVities clever 'social and caring' Penguin Fb site for penguin biscuits seems to offer the right blend (is it 3:1 ? ) of conservation and commercialism, with a smattering of inclusive competition giveaways.  One even asks if penguins live in the north, clearly they are posh southerners, unlike those northern bears that will bite your head off at a moments notice.  (Excuse any sensitivity: My car rear windscreen sticker proclaims "Sussex by the Sea")

Even hardened marketing types have been taken in by this consumer trend, unavoidably purchasing a penguin shaped, stained glass tree deco at the school fare, handmade by arty mum who was totally unaware of the #monty commercial opportunity.  Claudia promised to make more, at £7 each, for the next one though !

Puffin and Penguin Books, Linux open source operating system, even the Disney Club Penguin gaming community may benefit from becoming more fashionable this year.
Welsh furniture retailer Pieces for Places, showing that imitation is the highest form of flattery, have created a adult #SexyPenguin version of the John Lewis Monty video that looks likely to augment the already sizeable social media attention devoted to this years Adam and Eve/DDB creative.  It's good, if a bit edgy.

On a more serious note, and showing that you can't always anticipate quite how your viral campaign will get amplified, the news coverage noted the award animal protection association PETA gave to John Lewis to celebrate the use of computer generated imaged animals eating bread crumbed, processed fish fingers, whilst a week later another news story on BBC Radio Four noted that friendly Eider ducks should not be fed bread with fish and chips, a diet that lacks sufficient calcium and causes egg shells to fail.

Of course other service brands, like airlines, have been using aspirational air travel stories to manifest powerful feelings of psychological well being and emotional engagement for many years. This piece for Canadian airline WestJet is really amazing, follow the link to watch the 5 min video.

The marketing lesson appears to be that whilst the John Lewis ad formula is becoming less distinctive, as competitor retailers ape the emotional appeal, the high performing department store retailer has excelled on leveraging its engagement.  Using a mould breaking social media first strategy and a strong reputation for providing a stand out Christmas creative campaign sees the partnership based retailer at the head of the pack again.  Although, no longer for highly distinctive creative, featuring cute kids and cuddly animals portraying lovely stories to a remastered classic tune, but for being different in a good way for its appreciation of emergingly important social media platforms.


For what it's worth, my personal favourite of the season (winter, but not actually Christmas) is the Sony 4K frozen bubbles ad, below.  You will notice a remarkable similarity in style to the John Lewis portfolio (also Adam and Eve/DDB).  The story telling is too subtle for me, (I'm watching in HD, not 4K - it looks good to me) but there are no computer graphics, it is just a natural phenomenon.  Amazing.  Filmed near my old ski haunt, Whistler in British Colombia.  Unfortunately, like much of the clever global creativity used for Asian technology brands, in my view it fails to hit the mark for sophisticated UK consumers.  Too bland.  And not enough penguins.

Monday, 24 November 2014

London MBA

So you want to study for your 
MBA in London ?

England is lucky to punch above its weight in the international education market place, with large numbers of well regarded universities spread all over the country attracting foreign students each year, in spite of recent government initiatives to reduce immigration. But if you want to study for an MBA in London, surprisingly the choice is rather more restricted than you might first think, with leading global brands such as LSE, which started teaching management in 1930's, not offering this experience hungry general management masters degree. Although Bradford lays claim to being the UK's first Business School (1963) government funding concentrated on the Universities of London and Manchester, who were the first institutions to offer the MBA in UK. The London Business School, benefiting from a long history and patronage is now positioned as one of the leading European MBA providers. The Cass school at City is a clear choice for those interested in a financial focus and Imperial has a strong appeal thanks to its outstanding reputation. Applicants to premium priced, leading brand MBA programmes often face highly competitive entrance requirements beyond academic and language skills that can include a so-called aptitude test such as GMAT, that in my experience many working students find unappealing due to the additional time and cost requirements this places on them. It does offer, however, a consistent yard stick to select the strongest candidates and to make scholarship offers.

School of Management, Royal Holloway

So how do applicants choose a London MBA provider?

Clearly price and reputation play an important role, as intimated above. Other key factors appear to include accreditation, campus location and the cohort, as the MBA curriculum tends to offer an ab initio, broad, general management education that is not enormously different across the range of providers. Because the MBA is considered an ideal qualification for those who have not previously studied management at university, but possess a number of years of workplace experience, differences are more obvious in the B-school personality, teaching team and elements of the physical services cape. 

Intriguingly, in some countries quality accreditation is very important (e.g. N. America, EU), whilst in others perhaps that are more agent led, it is absolutely not. The three main accrediting bodies are AACSB, EQUIS and AMBA, with the latter the only body strongly focussed on the MBA itself. We have found that few schools can justify the high costs and time commitments required for multiple accreditation. Being open and confident enough to allow external auditors to review programme paper work in detail and to speak at length with faculty, alumni and current students is probably a good indicator of quality, and a desire to offer an ever improving student experience. Although smaller and newer programmes may struggle to resource accreditation because of its significant staff time implications and financial costs. My own institution, Royal Holloway, chooses AMBA accreditation for its MBA and MSc International Management portfolio, which appears to be the leading choice amongst quality UK business schools. 

Discussing programme selection strategies with a number of students over the years identifies that many use the various forms of media rankings to develop a short list based on programme fees, reputation and accreditation. A London location can be very attractive, it delivers unequivocally to the question "Where did you study for your MBA ?" because everyone knows London and the collegiate structure of University of London helps provide a slightly fuzzy, halo effect on the variety of institutions operating in this space. I note several continental European, particularly French and Spanish, institutions have adopted acronym monikers, few, I proffer, have sufficient global reach to overcome this loss of a clear sense of location that helps ground a service brand. 

Campus vs. City centre

Bright lights and the city vibe are a clear motivational factors for many, although you might expect to burn a bigger hole in your savings to fund more costly accommodation and general living costs. I find my cash just evaporates when I visit central London, as I drop in on Starbucks and eateries with gay abandon. With exciting entertainment options on your doorstep and amazing shopping, personally I am glad to have opted for campus student experiences, but I understand the lure of the city.
Are these my kind of people ?

A number of suburban London campus programmes are offered, including Brunel, Surrey, Reading, Kingston and my own Royal Holloway University of London. All offer decent, cheap and fast access to the metropolis via public transport, but also provide a pleasant learning environment without the city hassles. Perhaps the best of both worlds ?

Whilst the outside space and building exteriors are important in the early weeks, post graduate programmes and particularly the high intensity MBA (ours students attend 610 hours of class, with group work in addition) sees students very involved with their peers and the learning programme. Gone are the days of relatively carefree undergraduate study peppered with frequent late night visits to the students union. Our MBAs are more likely to be undertaking group study in the library at midnight than partying, although clearly a balanced approach is encouraged, social soft skills are important, after all. Thus perhaps solid advice would recommend that applicants take additional steps to understand the nature of the student body by asking detailed questions of the course team and taking up opportunities to speak with current and alumni students. The tribal, instinctive question "Are these my kind of people ?" is rarely addressed in the euphemistically bland, corporate speak that is found on many formal university programme descriptions. I have tried to address this need with a post on my MBADirector blog titled "Will I fit in ?" and by encouraging applicants to undertake serious research across a number of MBA providers, I really do not want students on our programme whose expectations are better met elsewhere. 

Even with a clear focus of wanting to study for a London MBA, it is apparent that a blend of key decision factors should be considered, from the cognitive accreditation measures to intangible social dimensions, each given a very personal weighting. Is there an App for that ?

Justin O'Brien, MBA Director

Royal Holloway University of London

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Bolour Gharibi, Royal Holloway MBA 2013/14

"The Royal Holloway MBA was a truly wonderful experience." reflects recent MBA graduate Bolour Gharibi.    

My cultural up bringing, in a close family setting in Iran, made me quite shy and very concerned about the well being of others.  From peers on the MBA programme I learnt that I perhaps took too much of a back seat and needed to put myself forwards and sometimes make others listen to me.  

Bolour Gharibi 

Justin, in his role as MBA Director, had a unique brand of cool and funny offering helpful support, planning and advice throughout the year. I don't think any of us will ever forget the MBA Director with all those colourful shirts, most of the times with flowery patterns.   The jokes, patience and invigorating positiveness made a big impact on my MBA experience.    

International study visit trip to Stockholm, Sweden was awesome. It couldn't have been better for me. I really enjoyed it, and learned a lot there.

Overall I learned more than I could ever have imagined.  I think I changed every day during the year and I am now more independent, efficient and less shy !

I wish I could study this MBA again, because I really like the very new recent edition of me !

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Two nations divided by a common language

The UK-USA relationship is often described as a 'special one' (from the eastern side of the Atlantic in any case), perhaps a function of historical cultural links, high profile political co-operation which manifests often in the all to frequent civil and regional conflicts and a common shared language.  In the study of management an Anglo-Saxon model is often used to describe the pro-competition, small government, individualistic approach that might reasonably describe both Great Britain and America, that is different to the socio-democratic model of high tax, big government, benevolent societal orientation found in many European mainland states.  My son rather amazed me recently by talking about theocratic and dictatorial leaderships that are often implicitly over looked in a rather blinkered 'democracy is best' western orientation perspective I often adopt subconsciously.  (I used easternisation to try to capture the idea of Asian demographic and economic development and the relentless but gradual world power shift that engulfs us this week, which is not recognised in my electronic dictionary, unlike westernisation.)  
Cultural Gaffe 'Ooooh !'

When blue passport carrying American citizens are prized kidnap victims, used horrifically as power pawns to counter the US military might, British subjects are next up in the queue.  However culturally, the transatlantic alliance is sometimes described using the well known refrain "Two nations divided by a common language" to highlight that whilst rudimentary communication is straightforward, there are highly complex and nuanced differences between the nationalities.   One of the more obvious examples is the the Webster inspired Simplified Spelling Board of 1906 seeing American English shed a number of illogical (no longer relevant ?) spelling conventions that my Apple dictonary picks up on quite regularly, e.g. colour/color, programme/program and the s/z seen in analyse/analyse.     Another being the red/blue colours representing the main political parties, with the socialist leaning UK Labour party using red whilst the US sort of equivalent Democrats use blue.  My pet hate currently is the stateside expression 'to reach out' which has begun to permeate UK business jargon, meaning to contact, call, speak with, not the literal arm extension idea that is invoked in my mind.

I often think Brits (along with a number of other nations) have a bit of a chip on their shoulder when it comes to Americans.  It cannot be down to the hapless red coated army getting ambushed by American independence movement over taxation, representation and salt water tea, this was too long ago.  Possibly the hit ITV drama series Downton Abbey (part of the Xmas special was filmed at Royal Holloway) sheds some light on this, as the wealthy English upper class, who inherited their money and position, look down on the 'self made' Americans who demonstrated dynamic business skills in a fast growing and innovative marketplace that led to the Pax Americana period.  Of course, with Pax Sinosa now beginning, it will be interesting to see how this era unfurls.  Other cultural cousin tensions exist, England vs. Scotland, Ireland & to some extent Wales, US and Canada, Australia and New Zealand and Taiwan vs. China.

Andrew in full flow

This year I have had quite a bit of fun conversing with MBA student Andrew Arnold, who having grown up in an English family living in NYC, was used to some of the nuances. He said, when he started applying for jobs after undergrad, the US titles for graduate positions would use program, instead scheme like in the UK. Problems like Ponzi schemes and pyramid schemes gave the word a negative connotation in the US, forcing a change in the lexicon for titling positions. Other little business changes, like real estate brokers being called estate agents, or lawyers being called solicitors, make a seemingly similar world different. Of course, he describes the least consistent piece to be idioms, having had many instances in both countries where people just looked at him funny for saying something that he thought made perfect sense.

That said, Andrew found the Americans more affable, where as the British have been more reserved. Friendly almost to the point of superficiality, and outspoken, the American’s bring a piece of their culture into the business world. This can clash slightly with the aloof nature of the British, who seem somewhat taken aback by strangers asking them how they are doing and commanding them to have a nice day. Apparently there are more differences than which side of the road one drives on and senses of humour.

Thanks to Andrew for his perspectives here.

MBA Alumni Xmas events

School of Management at Royal Holloway University of London

MBA Alumni Events – 11 & 13 December

Join us for the MBA Alumni Christmas Lunch on 11 December in the Picture Gallery and an MBA alumni gathering in central London on the evening of 13 December.

Limited places available. For more details, please email

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Why LinkedIn's University Rankings Matter ?

Why LinkedIn's University Rankings Matter ?

I am a serious fan of big data and am becoming more excited with the new web interface tools that offers powerful, free analysis enabling a surge of brilliant data visualisations and info graphics   

I have been intrigued by the Google search analysis that has provided some meaningful user behaviour based rankings and at the heart of this piece the LinkedIn profile trawling that starts to plug a material gap in relevant output related "success" measures for those researching a university degree programme.

I stumbled across this piece in the telegraph that digs up a story from 2013 and is an interesting example of how these freely available tools can be used to generate some interesting findings.

A short post - giving a blatant plug to my latest piece in the that comments on LinkedIn's new university rankings that uses profile data mining.  Currently I'm sitting in sixth place in the Royal Holloway ranking of contributors 'hits' to the, an exciting journalistic interface that seeks to raise the media profile of university academics.  Check it out !

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Royal Holloway: somewhere between central London and Narnia

Somewhere between central London and Narnia ?

Saturday morning football dad Julian chose to study maths and management at Royal Holloway because it promoted the idea of being London's green campus.  And the three to one dominance of women.  Unsurprisingly he met his future wife during his degree studies, which is certainly a modern fairytale.  Staff and graduates like Jules are entitled to get married on campus, where the chapel is awe inspiring, even to those with out a religious faith.  Others, like Albert and Elena just magically met under the turret shadows, and then got married happily ever after.  

Having opened the imposing campus walls to all decades ago, recent data suggests that the 1886 college built for Victorian ladies has close to gender parity across its student body.  A pleasing equality trend that is mirrored on the MBA programme, which typically see a 2 to 1 male:female ratio in other institutions.

Gok Kwan:  How to Look Good Naked

RoHo's insiders nickname for the red brick chateau Founders is Harry Potter inspired 'Hogwarts' and described in degree finding websites as one of the world's most stunning university buildings. The Telegraph named Royal Holloway as one of the most beautiful campuses in the world. The popular science open day picks up on this child friendly concept by bringing in a beautiful collection of owls that seem just to fit in naturally.  Film crews are no strangers inside the campus walls, with Basic Instinct 2 using the stunning Oxbridge like setting.  TV series like Gok Kwans dressing up show, How to Look good naked: with a difference, hit historic drama Downton Abbey and Brian Cox's star gazing.  

Abnormally Funny People, a group of stand up comedians with disabilities performed their sets at the 400 seat Windsor auditorium and in describing the college on a hill nestled between the  Wentworth estate, Englefield Green and the Runnymeade meadow that saw the Magna Carta sealed, the line "somewhere between London and Narnia" was cracked, much to the appreciation of the young crowd.  I wish I had originated this attention grabbing phrase, and have been determined to use it as an inspiration for a more creative post.  I hope I have done such a good hook justice.

Polar Bears savaging Franklin's shipwreck

Rather than Azlan the Lion,  Holloway celebrity associations are with bears; the Franklin ship polar bears and stuffed grisly popular as a prank stunt double until its mysterious disappearance, that gives its name to the American football team.   Even the MBA students got in on the act with this costume bear stunt.

The 135 acres of woodland peppered with formal gardens, sports fields and lawns it is not uncommon to see deer wandering around, as well as scientists studying bees and biodiversity on the green roof that tops the Gower wedderburn student flats.  It would not be a surprise to turn a corner and to find pink flamingoes playing croquet in the quad.

With rose red and white domino checker patterns inside the two quads and a stunning hillside of sun coloured daffodils might evoke a feeling of Alice in Wonderland.  Having glugged a Starbucks espresso in cafe Jules the very human scale of the campus can transform you into the feeling of being minuscule under the shadow of founders, but yet standing on the shoulders of giants in the former chemistry lab that is now the ultra modern home of the School of Management.

Visit the place and you are just intoxicated.  I have numerous visit requests from friends and business contacts who have driven by, unable to resist the captivating chimney roof line that stands teasingly over the security of the campus perimeter walls, gagging for the chance to walk around this amazing heritage site.

"Pinch me, I have fallen out of the back of a wardrobe !"