Monday, 18 January 2016

Experience marketing - English Premiership Rugby

Royal Holloway MBA students joined MA Marketing peers studying the term 2 Services Marketing elective were offered the opportunity to attend a thrilling eight try festival at Harlequins, one of Englands top class club sides whose players regularly feature at international level including current internationals Joe Marler, Chris Robshaw and Mike Brown.

Harlequins Rugby Football Club play at the Stoop, literally just over the road from Twickenham, (& pictured in the background above) England's national rugby stadium, offering a near campus experience allowing highly motivated students to test their theoretical knowledge in the real world. 

Elite professional sporting events offer a wide range of marketing dimensions, from specialist rapid batch service Guinness beer pumps, in stadium wifi based enhanced reality aimed at galvanising ongoing support and a plethora of creative advertising and sponsorship offerings (e.g. Hoardings, shirts, B2B focussed executive entertainment in premium seats) targeting both the stadium and television audiences.

Although the weather had turned chilly, with an early morning snow fall, students were rewarded for braving the cold with a thrilling match that ended with the home side winning 34-26 against the visiting Welsh side Cardiff Blues. For many Royal Holloway students, who hail from all over the world, this was the first time that they engaged as spectators at a rugby match. 

As part of the MA Marketing degree programme serious rugby fan Justin O'Brien requires students to analyse a range of service encounters to identify satisfying and disatisfying factors by collecting reports in a diary.

Aside from the typical winter weather (heated seats needed ?) students noted that quite a lot of the action took place at the other end of the pitch, which helps explain why Dublin's Aviva stadium seating is laid like a rugby ball, the best seats that command the highest prices are to be found along the sides around the middle point. Sitting behind the posts you hope that at least some of the action takes place at your end. A couple of disatisfyers logged for their end of term assignment no doubt.

Thanks goes out to MA Marketing and MBA programme administrator Michelle Casey for sharing some of her photos from the match.  

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Research Proposal: The Jigsaw Metaphor

Starting out on a dissertation or individual business project may feel like being presented with a 1,000 piece jigsaw with no reference image to work from.  

The training, mentoring and other forms of support offered to students during this form of "sustained, independent research project" hopefully helps scholars identify a range of techniques and critically a process so that they are able to complete the picture themselves.  Ok, let's be honest, sometimes with a good dose of painful iterative learning-by-making-mistakes in the mix too.  

Key here is not to be overwhelmed by initial (typical) feelings of confusion and anxiety.  Parents, older siblings and university graduates in your family social network can often be very useful and cost effective resources. Don't be proud, some will be delighted that you asked for their help. Overcome your fear of talking to members of the wrinkly generation, their experience of having climbed this mountain before can be very, very useful.  

Dissertation Proposal 'Jigsaw' Metaphor

Image source:

Playing jigsaws children often learn short cuts from experienced adult puzzlers, like 'find the corners', 'separate out all the edges', 'put pieces in groups of similar colours and patterns' that might suggest colocation.  Whilst making sub-piles from a big pile is not really making progress in building the jigsaw picture, it can give powerful feelings of achievement and provide a sense of direction.  Sometimes momentum and generating positive feelings can be instrumentally powerful.  Small steps and all that ?

Through experience we learn that dividing the tasks into sub-sections and focussing on sub-elements can help focus and motivation on a difficult roller coaster ride.  Bite size challenges that measure progress one piece at a time can usefully distract the researcher from the overwhelming disorder that surrounds the project and potential feelings of hopeless disorientation.  Here a plan of actions can be very useful, keeping a tick box record of achievements helpful in rewarding hard work that might not seem to be progress.  

So why the weird structure ?

At Royal Holloway we usually invite students to submit a research proposal that contains;  (1) summary introduction, (2) the beginning of a literature review and (3) an outline of the methodology.  It is assumed that this will also include an extensive bibliography, although often a big problem is that the initial 'deep research' that indicated 'reading around' is severely limited to a handful of sources (far too narrow !!).  Gasp - four double spaced pages of bibliography is a good start here.

As markers we look to see if the title, theory and research methods line up - can this question be addressed using this primary research and academic theory ?  Often topics are too broad, the question too big to answer given the researchers available time and skillset.  I recommend using a lego style title structure that clearly communicates all key elements of the research project.  

Is the research method proposed thorough and feasible, neither too trivial or huge ?  I use two metaphors here to communicate key content, the upside down tree root decision tree that justifies the choice of research method (using the often dry research methods texts) and writing up the steps to making a pancake  recipe as a science lab test (so others can exactly follow your steps and re-create your findings).  

In addition to showing the theoretical areas covered in the inverted cone,  the partial literature review enables the supervisor identify if basic Harvard referencing conventions are understood, appreciate the depth of research thus far undertaken and assess the authors ability to write critically, that elusive objective academic tone that is best honed by extensive engagement with academic journal reading (or at least wide skimming) many students seem often reluctant to undertake.  

The big jigsaw metaphor reveal

For me the image below as a metaphor is what a research proposal seeks to achieve, not a complete picture, but an indication of the shape and size of things to come.  With corners marked and most of the edges in place, some of the central connected and unconnected linkages have already been put in place, whilst others sit in less clear groupings awaiting more attention later.  

The idea of the picture is beginning to come across (literally in this case an elephant like animal surrounded by green bushes and some blue sky).  It has some clear form and there is evidence of a systematic approach.  It is far from complete, but you can see that success is likely with a bit more effort.  

Image source:

Where else to go for help ?

I like Stella Cottrell's writing style, her academic skills books benefit from student friendly pricing too !  Too few students invest in Stella's books.  My own, modest, free and concise blog based dissertation guide may also be useful ?

The inspiration for this jigsaw metaphor post came, perhaps not unsurprisingly, whilst in discussion with a dissertation student.  I would like to recognise my undergraduate BSc (Hons) Management mentee Natasha, whose enthusiasm for this jigsaw metaphor has inspired me to author this post.  Thank you Natasha.  

Crafting an Executive Summary: Are you fit for business ?

Booted and suited: Royal Holloway MBA students Rodrigo and Hannes

Crafting an Executive Summary: Are you fit for business ?

So what is an executive summary ? 

Introducing a problem or opportunity, it is likely to summarise the skill and hard work that demonstrates credibility of the author (detailed analysis in the report body) and provide an unequivocal hard sell of the benefits vs. risks offered through a single, clear recommendation.

A page or two long, designed for the C-suite executive speed reader, it should "include news you don't want anyone to miss"

Why ?

In business the skill of writing concisely is an important skill.  Engaging functional summaries are required in many different communications formats including infamous elevator pitches and one liner email title headings.  The ability to get a clear and complete message across efficiently is very important.

On an industry focussed programme like the Royal Holloway MBA or my wider marketing teaching in the School of Management I believe it is very important to  challenge students to develop a full range of communication skills.  In my view writing short is under taught at schools and universities, but a critical skill for business.  Long is lovely, but short has impact.

How is it different from an traditional essay introduction ?

Whilst an academic essay introduction might seek to engage, surprise and entertain the reader using an evocative quotation or two, the odd metaphor and a hook to snare the reader to want to read on, and on, and on....... 

An effective executive summary should quickly establish a meaningful problem and show how it is going to be resolved, identifying costs, risk and a clear measure of successful business impact.   

A traditional essay might leave the big reveal (the answer or recommendation) until the end in the results or conclusion, hoping that the reader has not given up the ghost or topped and tailed the report (reading the first and last pages, skipping the rest).  

Essentially with an executive summary you are bolting together a summary of the introduction, conclusion and recommendations in as few words as possible.  

When do you write it ?

Whilst a essay introduction might be written first, sign posting the structure of the document, effective executive summaries should be written last.  Remembering that essays, unlike reports, require full prose and no headings.  

In many ways the executive summary is an elongated abstract, that concise and highly functional summary of an academic journal papers content designed to quickly answer the readers question "Is this useful to me ?"  

Tips ?

MBA Director: Justin O'Brien

(1) The executive summary should not be rushed, even though it is last on the to do list.
(2) It is your most important shop window, thus it must be written in flawless English. Check and double check for grammatical accuracy, flow and meaning. First (& only ?) impressions really count.  

(3) It should be concise, less is definitely more. It should carry only the most important details.  

(4) Read a range of academic journal paper abstracts and try to craft a 90 second elevator pitch to identify the bare essentials.  

Have you noticed how clipped this blog post is ?

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