Today as many will be aware is ‘Blue Monday’, reported to be the most depressing day of the year.
Falling on the third Monday of January, the term was first coined in 2005 and has since been used to denote the sense of fatigue that lingers at the start of the year. The concept is said to have taken-root in the national psyche thanks to a travel company press release aimed at inspiring people to purchase a holiday in order to stave off the so-called January blues.
It is based on a hypothetical formula that combines a range of factors — including weather conditions, debt levels and failing resolutions like broken diet plans — since the start of the new year.
Post the festive rush and excitement of Christmas, and as employees shuffle back to the daily grind in gloomy weather and credit card bills loom, reality often comes crashing down around us. Such an intense change in a short period of time from December to January has the propensity to impact a person’s psychological state, knocking them into depression.
Putting aside that there is no real scientific evidence to back today as being ‘Blue Monday’, use it to start a process to lift your mood and turn any day into a great day.
Some top tips you may want to use include:
Get moving — lots of people struggle to get exercise into their day however exercise is proven to release endorphins which naturally make your feel happier. It doesn’t have to be lots of exercise, but simply getting outside for a 20 minute walk today at lunchtime.
Plan to do something your enjoy today — perhaps tonight plan to watch a favourite film, spend some time on a hobby you enjoy or spend time with friends and family.
Have a word with yourself! — focus on all the things you are grateful for and want more of in your life, not the negative. As you go about your day, stop and notice 5 things you are grateful for. As soon as you start to focus on being grateful you’ll find your mood improves and the more you look for, the more you find.
Look after you! — eat foods you know help you feel energised, have a lovely bath to relax, get an early night to re-charge or perhaps plan something nice for later in the year, something you can look forward to.
Let me take you back a decade. A journalism student sits in a tutorial as the lecturer discusses a very pressing and modern issue facing the profession: “is the weblog a threat to traditional journalism?”
Weblog. How many young bloggers today even know that is what the word “blog” is short for? Back when the full term was still in use, I was writing essays on whether bloggers would overthrow journalists to become the principal news reporters and commentators as people looked towards other sources of news.
Fast forward ten years and things haven’t turned out exactly as predicted. While there has indeed been an increase in alternative news websites (admittedly not all of them telling the truth with fake news being shared indiscriminately across social media), many of us still look to established media outlets (albeit their websites increasingly more than their print editions) for updates on what’s happening in the world around us. But for feature writers, it could be argued that bloggers and social media influencers are indeed challengers with an increasing number and variety of brands turning to them to spread the word about their goods.
From food and drink products to tourist attractions, fashion accessories to cultural events, I’ve worked on PR campaigns in these areas that have targeted bloggers and influencers as much as journalists. Even a finance client once asked me to engage with vloggers to promote the value of their offering to students. Bloggers are now rubbing shoulders with journalists at press previews and launch events, high-end lifestyle influencers are being chased by luxury brands desperate to be connected to them and niche hobbyists tweeting or instagramming about their pastime are being sent samples by brands looking for an endorsement.
While it seems that everyone is keen to get in with bloggers and influencers and are prepared to pay for it wherever necessary, it is worth considering that the recently published PRCA Digital PR and Communications Report 2018 found that budgets in the areas of blogger outreach and social influencer outreach have decreased by 9% and 12% respectively. The cut in budgets isn’t necessarily down to a decrease in blogger and influencer engagement activity or a lack of client confidence in the area but instead could be attributed to a rise in the so-called “micro influencer”.
Micro-influencers are influencers with a smaller number of online followers than their big-name counterparts (around 10,000 followers or sometimes even less). They don’t charge as much for their services usually because blogging isn’t their fulltime job – sometimes even just a few freebies of your product will suffice. A smaller number of followers means that these micro-influencers are more likely to be engaging directly with them, finding time to respond to comments and building up stronger trust and relationships. The fact that micro-influencers are more contactable and relatable is the key and therefore when their followers see them talking positively about a brand or product, they are more likely to listen and understand why they would like it too.
So, while bloggers haven’t become the hardcore news reporters predicted in my university journalism seminars, relentlessly seeking the truth and reporting the facts to the masses, they have become an integral part of PR campaigns in certain sectors. For many of Orbit’s clients though, the audiences that matter are still reading and listening to the established media outlets or trade publications associated with their fields. This is likely to remain an important part of the work PRs do for a long time to come. But if your brand has a product to sell to a specific consumer then engaging with relevant micro-influencers and bloggers to be featured on their channels can be a powerfully effective PR and marketing tool.
Last week I had the pleasure of taking part in an event organised by PRCA Scotland to mark the launch of their new report on Digital PR. The report itself was remarkable for the insight it provided on dwindling in-house staff resources for social media activity, contrasted with the realisation amongst that paid-for content is now the only realistic way to achieve a real impact on social media. The latter is certainly something that Orbit and other consultancies have been trying to convince clients of for some time.
For me, whilst the information in the report will undoubtedly shape way in which Orbit engage with Digital PR in the future, particularly around content creation, the thing which struck me most was the need to remember that Digital PR is only likely to be effective by not forgetting some other communications basics at the same time. Specifically, that the purpose of any campaign must be clear from the start and well-planned with clear messages and measurements of success. Only then can a PR team ensure that each lever pulled to the right extent, at the right time, with the right content and, crucially, targeted at the right audience to meet whatever the objectives agreed at the outset were.
There is undoubtedly more work to be done by consultancies and in-house teams on how to use the new tools we have at our disposal but we must also ensure that they are used in-line with fundamental principles of engagement to ensure that we deliver the outcomes not only that our clients want, but the ones that will help them drive the goals and objectives of their wider business.
Finally, I would like to thank my fellow speakers, Thom Watt and Ruth Lee for certainly adding to my own knowledge and education around the future of Digital channels and how they can be put to best use in the future.
Earlier this month, we jointly hosted the latest in a regular series of roundtable events in central London with our colleagues at SCDI. The focus of the latest event was the Scottish Government’s 2018 Programme for Government and implications for the Scottish business community.
Unveiled by the First Minister on the 4th September, the Scottish Government’s 2018 Programme for Government focuses on a number of key economic priorities. These include helping Scotland to make the transition to a low carbon economy, investing in Scotland’s infrastructure, protecting the Scottish economy from the perceived negative effects of Brexit and encouraging more Scottish businesses to export goods and services in larger volumes.
Featured prominently among the ‘low carbon’ headlines: A commitment to invest £15 million in the installation of 1,500 electric vehicle charging points, a substantial increase in low-carbon transport loans and ultra-low emission vehicles in public sector fleets, a reconfirmation of a commitment that Scotland will become a carbon neutral country by 2050 and action on plastic waste including the setting up of a deposit return scheme and a ban on plastic-stemmed cotton buds.
On the infrastructure front, the programme includes a commitment to close the infrastructure investment gap between Scotland and other G7 countries by the end of the current parliament, a £7 billion increase in investment over current plans. Also unveiled with much fanfare was a proposal to set up a new Scottish National Investment Bank, providing ‘patient finance for ambitious companies’.
Following the recent defeat by a unified front of Holyrood’s opposition parties of John Swinney’s proposal to introduce standardised Primary 1 assessments, education is likely to continue to be a major political battleground during the year to come.
11 years since first taking power, opposition parties are keen to portray the SNP minority administration as one that has run out of steam and ideas. They also point to the 15 bills introduced as part of the 2017 programme, of which only two have so far passed into law. The Conservatives in particular accuse the Scottish Government of pursuing an ‘anti-business’ agenda and are likely to set out their stall on that front with attacks on taxation policy and perhaps also the least popular aspects of the Barclay review of non-domestic rates. They have also greeted proposals for a Scottish National Investment Bank with a large degree of scepticism.
Meanwhile, Labour has made clear its intention to outflank the SNP on the left, accusing the Scottish Government of lacking ambition or the radical vision needed to tackle inequality.
The Greens, having brokered agreements with the SNP over the past two years since the 2016 election to allow the annual budget bill to pass, have declared they will not countenance entering negotiations this year unless the Scottish Government shows real commitment to meaningful reform of local taxation. Finding any kind of majority consensus on a replacement for the council tax has eluded the SNP before and they are unlikely to want to go down that road again, which may mean that they cast about for another partner to get this year’s budget through.
The Lib Dems perhaps? They accuse the Scottish Government of administrative ‘meddling’ on education and have shown an ongoing commitment to campaign hard on issues including mental health. Their campaign priorities might point the way to potential grounds for a Scottish budget deal this year.
Clearly, this year’s programme for government has been unveiled against the backdrop of Brexit and the prospect of a potential second referendum on Scottish independence. On the latter, Nicola Sturgeon continues to play a waiting game and has urged party activists to be patient. Initially lukewarm on the idea for fear of creating an unhelpful precedent for Indyref2, the First Minister has latterly expressed her support for a so-called ‘People’s Vote’ on the final Brexit deal.
Although polling around various Brexit scenarios currently shows only a modest shift in opinion towards independence, it is still possible that Scottish public opinion could shift much more radically in the event of a hard Brexit or a no-deal scenario actually happening.
The political arithmetic of Brexit and Indyref2 in Scotland remains complex. For instance, almost a third of Scots who voted Yes to independence in the 2014 referendum went on to back Leave in the 2016 EU referendum. This goes a long way to explaining why, fearful of splitting the Yes movement ahead of any second independence referendum, the First Minister has been so deliberately vague about the process for an independent Scotland potentially rejoining the EU. Would this require a further referendum for instance?
The SNP also face another paradox in that the seemingly easiest route to independence might lie in Brexit going ahead but then proving to have a disastrous impact on Scotland’s economy. That scenario could do fatal damage to the case for the Union between Scotland and the rest of the UK continuing and arguably do the most to bolster the case for independence. This raises questions within SNP circles as to how actively they should be campaigning to stop Brexit from happening when going through with it could provide the best chance of building majority support for independence in Scotland.
With so much political uncertainty currently in the air, there appears to be no prospect of a second independence referendum taking place very soon – despite all of the pressure being placed on Nicola Sturgeon from her activist base, she remains pragmatic and very much alive to the risks of calling a referendum too soon.
A lot will hinge on what actually comes to pass on the 29th March next year, the official deadline for the UK formally leaving the EU. With much of the talk at Westminster currently focused on prolonged transition periods, it may yet take a lot longer for the Brexit fog to clear. Whatever the outcome, it seems likely that the timing of Indyref2 will continue to be fraught with challenges. Brexit is also likely to continue to dominate political debate at Holyrood as much as at Westminster – all of which could hamper progress on this year’s Programme for Government and mean that the backlog of un-passed legislation in the Scottish Parliament gets even longer.
The Scottish Government has recently set out plans to expand mental health services and with a primary focus on young people – adding funding of up to £60m for schools to support 350 extra counsellors and the provision of 250 school nurses. Since hearing this proposal I have been thinking about mental health and education and what could change.
I have been reflecting on my own experience as young person going through standard Scottish secondary education (as long ago as that was) and wondering if there is anything I would have changed and if those changes could in anyway better my mental health for the future. I don’t think more support staff would be the answer. In fact, if I knew anything about younger Kyle, I know I would have been oblivious or refusing to admit I had a problem with anxiety.
Yes, extra funding for young people is always good and having more counsellors and nurses available to pupils will always be beneficial. But in my opinion, this is not tackling the root of the problem – why are such a high number of young people suffering from depression, anxiety or other mental health issues? And is there a way to reduce this?
My attitude changed when I went into college for an Introduction to Graphic Design NQ. I discovered my education experience was missing true creativity and self-expression, which would in time better my mental health and improve my confidence. What started as a way to get me out the house and have a little bit of independence with student loans (thanks Scottish Government!) turned into a gateway to self-expression and belief. This course encouraged creative thinking, daydreaming and exploring solutions in your own way. The programme was structured and managed with short projects but how you came to the solution would be a journey for yourself.
Is it possible to have this same approach in schools across Scotland so can we encourage more self- expression and creativity, improving the mental wellbeing of children?
There are already passionate individuals working towards a more creative education system. Orbit employees have recently chatted with Helena Good, a design tutor at Edinburgh College, who also founded the Daydream Believers program, which was setup to promote creative thinking, creative problem solving and ‘daydreaming’ in the high school curriculum. This programme has been made possible by the collaboration of different creative agencies around Edinburgh, all of which come into the classroom or welcome students and teachers into their studios.
As well as chatting, we have recently taken on Love Learning Scotland as a client. Love Learning work very closely with education systems and organisation and uses innovative ways to engage people in learning. Working from the ground level to improve the school system for all. Here is what Lynn Bell from Love Learning had to say about the topic:
“When I was young my report cards always said “Lynn is a daydreamer or could do better” … Now that daydreaming creates a 1000 solutions within my career and businesses and I realise it’s my greatest talent. It helped me create LLS where we believe that children should have access to ‘strength based learning’ regardless of their circumstances. We help children to manage their minds, create strategies for learning and how to be happy in an environment that works for them.”
My memory of high school was that of a very formulaic system which you either thrived or failed and were left behind with the non-achievers. Even the more ‘creative’ subjects like art, music and drama were focused on routine and structure and if you strayed too far away from the norm it would be not be deemed as ‘passable’. I found this pass/fail way of learning incredibly de-motivating and on reflection it would only help to create a low self-esteem and ‘can’t be bothered’ attitude I adopted in high school.
Breaking up this structure in some way to allow self-expression and creative thinking could play an important part in improving the mental health, wellbeing and motivation of young people, not only good for them, but for society as a whole.
The Scottish Parliament will come back from its summer recess next week for a short 5-week session taking it up to half-term and the Party Conference season but what issues will we see dominate the political discourse after a typically frenetic summer.
Although looming over everything in the UK at the moment, the issue of Brexit is unlikely to be at the forefront of a lot of MSPs mind when they come back to work. Instead a few issues already widely trailed are likely to dominate and all of them in the policy areas of most concern to the public.
Prime amongst those will be transport with a battle for the political narrative already under way. On railways, the Scottish Government is attempting to keep the focus on the future of the railways, with the announcement that public sector companies will be able to bid for the ScotRail franchise in 2025. At the same time September is likely to see the role out of refurbished High Speed Trains (HSTs) on key city routes across the country. Although not delivered by the Scottish Government expect Transport Minister, Michael Matheson to be prominent in the pictures and interviews. One topic Mr. Matheson and his colleagues will not wish to discuss in those interviews will be the seeming U-turn regarding the merger of British Transport Police (BTP) with Police Scotland. These proposals has been controversial in the past couple of years and opponents will point to the policy change as evidence of government more concerned with centralisation and symbolism that delivery meaningful change.
Second, education reforms are likely to rear their head with the parents of children just beginning their school lives realising that Primary 1 children will face tests (sorry “assessments” as the Scottish Government prefer) during their first year. Education Minister, John Swinney, has already been taking to the airwaves, press and social media to emphasise the informal nature of the exercise. But teachers representatives have expressed their concerns concerning the effective of these measures and there appears to be confusion amongst parents as to their rights, or not, to remove their children.
With other policy issues such as business rate reform, consumer protection, NHS waiting times, future supply of energy, health & social care financing likely to have their place in the sun, albeit for less time, it is hard to imagine a more challenging set of policy debates, particularly for the Scottish Government, in the run-up to the conference season.
For the SNP, the only party in Scotland to hold its main conference in the autumn, there will be other more deeply political issues to content with. For the First Minister, this will primarily be focussed around the vexed issue of a second independence referendum. Noises are growing within the rank and file for Nicola Sturgeon to at least develop a timetable or possible scenarios for a second vote, particularly as the uncertainty and potential risks of a ‘No Deal’ Brexit are being spelled out by the UK Government. In addition, she must face the deeply personal issue of allegations of sexual abuse against her friend and mentor, former First Minister Alex Salmond. Thus far, the First Minister has navigated both issues with her usual skill but, on the referendum in particular, it feels as though some more definitive path or direction may have to be set over the autumn.