Best of Brum at Spring Fair 2018

I’ve attended various events at the Birmingham NEC over the years – for both journalistic and digital marketing purposes – but none so ginormous as ‘the UK’s largest home and gift show for the retail industry’ held earlier this month.

In stats… Spring Fair 2018 featured 14 show sectors, 19 exhibition halls and 2,500 UK and international exhibitors. It’s so big they added Autumn Fair a few years ago to help spread the load. Personally, I got a whole lot of exercise  in – clocking up 18k in Fitbit steps – just by visiting those exhibitors based in or around Birmingham

I wanted to do a pick of the Brum-related products that may be appearing in a store (or zoo or Birmingham art gallery) near you in 2018, and to make a few local connections and contacts. Here it is – I have to say I love the randomness of the products and stories on offer…

1. Bloom and glow

Electric flowers won’t be to everyone’s taste but the Blossom Collection’s products were surprisingly nice to look at. The company launched following a sourcing visit to China and has blossomed (!) ever since. If you have a black wall in your house (I have two), it’s the perfect backdrop for glowing roses, tulips, orchids or Blossom’s best-selling calla lilies.

2. Puns to make you cry over your chopped onions

I’m a little chilli but do nut worry…  Why oh why can’t I get a job writing food puns for chopping boards?

I was excited to meet Zodiac, a kitchen equipment company based in near to me in sunny Selly Oak, but a bit disappointed to find out that they are actually the UK arm of a Chinese company and not a local family business. But, hey, Cadbury’s…

As a content marketer, I have to say Zodiac had one of the slickest sites of all the Spring Fair exhibitors I visited, with related recipe and other support content around the kitchenware, an up-to-date news section, a listening/feedback area and a busy CSR section.

Tasty marketing chops.

3. An elephant memento never forgets

“It started with an elephant,” Kiran Chohan of Wildtouch says of his business handcrafting souvenirs, gifts, jewellery and other accessories for zoos, aquariums and other heritage sites around the UK.

The original elephant went to Twycross zoo and the company has since grown into a niche business supplying zoos and other leisure attractions with animal souvenirs from meerkats to monkeys, clown fish to killer whales.

Kiran also has his own range of jewellery and the firm is based in Birmingham’s famous Jewellery Quarter.

4.  Hanging tin

Jo Willis co-started Red Hot Lemon in 2014 after working as a sales manager at a metal sign firm that closed. She says the array of licensed metal signs attracts the rare  male buyer demographic with the VW Campervan one of their bestsellers. They have also expanded into selling a range of other tin products with that ever-popular retro-vintage feel.

5. Made in Sunderland (for Brummies)

My World may be based in Sunderland but Brum is their biggest client with a range of regional cards, prints, mugs and fridge magnets sold in BMAG, the Town Hall and the Library of Birmingham. Pretty surprised Brummies didn’t corner this market, though, especially since Created In Birmingham shop surfaced a lot of local artists a few years back. But it’s all fine and the Birmingham skyline print is a winner.

6. Cactus drinks jar for your mojito?

MD of KitchenCraft Matthew Canwell explained how the design and development (alas not the manufacture) of more than 4,000 kitchen and homewares products is done in Birmingham.

The company has been in Brum for 168 years and was founded by a local man named Thomas Plant on Edgbaston Street. The name only changed from Thomas Plant to Kitchen Craft in 1996 and the company has since grown to become part of Lifetime Brands inc, a global kitchenware provider supplying leading department stores and 80 countries worldwide. Another slick website – kitchenware is the place to be for content marketing.

7. ‘Winter is coming’ – fill your goblets!

AE Williams is possibly most famous for supplying its pewterware goblets to Game of Thrones but, says Stephen Johnson, a partner in the firm, there just isn’t room to show them at Spring Fair. In the absence of a GoT goblet, this whisky decanter stood proudly as king of all the Digbeth-based manufacturer’s exhibits

8. A subtle celebration of your memories

Charlotte Lowe graduated in 2009 and this is her seventh year at Spring Fair, showing jewellery made in her workshop in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter. I like the way she encapsulates personal memories (pets, children, simple moments, photos) into items of bespoke jewellery that are obviously personal to the individual but not at all sentimental in their design.

9. A perfectly potty invention

I liked Pot Pal because it represents the dream of being an inventor – and bringing a product to market. Pot Pal is a vertical plant holder that evokes narrowboat paraphernalia with its colours and design. It was invented by Brett Cattlin, who started out making pet products in wood. Recently he partnered with Firstpress (Plastic Moulders) Limited of Ladywood, Birmingham to design, manufacture and distribute ‘Pot Pal’ products in a lighter, more cost-efficient plastic. The product has only been out since January ready to catch some spring/summer buying.

10. ‘Mini me’ tweeds

The husband and wife team behind Chand Textiles were lovely and we chatted for ages about everything from Tamil Nadu to digital photography. Based in Highgate, they were showing their range of tweed jackets, gilets and peaked caps for children that are perfect for a country set ‘mini me’.

11. A fluffle of bunny goods

Kate Sproston from Nuneaton – that counts as greater Birmingham, right? – drew me in with her range of rabbit-embroidered goods, including a Rabbit Egg Cosy shortlisted for Gift of the Year 2018. Kate also has a number of equally lovely collections that aren’t about rabbits but the law of small animal owners is that all talk must revert to pets so I introduced her to Profession Bunminster Fuller, Clementine Bundango and Joy (yes, we our pets have a website) and in turn she told me about their guinea pigs Frankie Valli and Alan Turing (from Hutch 6). Top punnage there.

12. See this cat? He’s a bestseller

Wolverhampton-based Dean Morris has the honour of being regularly demonised by the tabloids for his low-brow comedy cards (cries of irony!) but ‘smut, filth and swearing’ just sells so very well to the great British public (as any tabloid fule kno). Dean has been keeping it rude since 1999 and was the first to offer ‘Keep calm and carry on…’ cards. This one took me back to my days working for Moonpig just as they launched in 2000. Cards are a competitive business so fair play to Dean for his success.

Fiona Cullinan works as a digital content producer, editor and copywriter mostly for B2B clients. For further information, please visit The Subs Desk.

News from my blogs

Having different blogs for different subject areas means that I am a slave to them all. So if it’s quiet here on my central hub then it’s probably because I’m over on one of my other workday or spare-time blogs. As a quick roundup, here’s what I’ve been posting elsewhere of late:

31 Destinations in Time – because it’s not just about the place but the era in which you visit it. I’ve just posted number 11 in the series on Dumaguete City, capital of Negros Island, in the Philippines in 2007. The series also includes Bali, Iceland, Venice, Jordan, Slovenia, Paris, Gili Trawangan, Austin, Texas and San Francisco.

Subs’ Standards – lately in my sub-editing blog I’ve been picking up on a few funnies that have made it through to publication. I also published my first guest post – from multimedia journalist Andy Bull on the subs-friendly art of curation and live-blogging. I’m now thinking of asking other sub-editors to write about their experiences of digital subbing.

Debauched Teddies – rounding up bad teddy bears from around the world. There are LOTS.

Katchooo Mix – a scrapbook of stuff that is relevant to my interests.

Flickr news – fresh up are holiday pics from Llangollen canal and the Isle of Purbeck, plus shots from Mostly Jazz Festival weekender who kindly gave me a photo pass.

Grant Thornton Thinking blogs – I help write and edit four blog channels for Grant Thornton UK on/about: business leaders and entrepreneurs, the high net worth community, international markets and boardroom issues. Recently I’ve researched online business networks in China, live-curated the UK Budget and set up a Scoop.It for female finance directors. I’m lucky in that the firm’s online channels are open to exploring new ideas for business and financial content.

The Firehead blog – I’m also blog manager for this European content and comms recruitment company. They let me post LOLcats among the more serious business content. This makes me happy.

Dancing Dads vs Trojan Mice

(Aka a comment on corporate social media strategy.)

I’ve been working my way through some Do Lectures – a sort of British version of TED talks but given on Welsh farm – and just enjoyed Euan Semple’s talk on Why social network mess can benefit your business. Here it is – it’s about a 25-minute talk.

As I blog and web edit for a large corporate more than half of each week, I was interested to hear Euan Semple’s take on the barriers to engagement and also how to help organisations approach social media.

Basically, he uses strategic storytelling (see Prof Jay Conger’s short video on this) to come up with a couple of great analogies about Dancing dads and Trojan mice.

To paraphrase rather than transcribe:

Corporations are having social media done to them, employees are being told to take up Twitter, lots of CEOs are being told they have to blog. But this is like watching your dad dance at a disco: you’re proud of them for having a go but really wish they wouldn’t do it. Time for a visual… (Apologies to whoever’s Dad this is.)

More fun from Kyle and Dad

The alternative to that is employing the Trojan Mice principle – do little, inexpensive, unobtrusive things that you don’t need a lot of permission or budget for but once you set running they begin to find a life of their own. Keep it worthwhile and you achieve growth (engagement) by advocacy rather than diktat.

Mice in a Mug

I’ve been sort of employing this tactic after a talk at SXSW Interactive in 2009 put it another way – be like a small SWAT team, do things under the radar then build on their successes as a way to deal with large organisations’ inevitable inertia. The result is that a couple of the ideas I’ve suggested on the corporate blog have got some traction and seen take-up from other areas of the business. Here I am on a Segway.

Swategway

Sort of.

I guess 2011 is about finding more of that overlap to encourage the companies I work for to take up the social media / blogging call for themselves.

As for money and ROI, Euan talks about how IT departments are often Business Prevention Units that ‘have been fleecing corporations for years’, before finishing on the Scotman’s tip for ROI – keep the i small and no one will give a s^*t about the R.

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Original photo by 24 Oranges NL on Flickr

Right, that’s my strategy sorted then.

Magazine thinking, content strategy, inspiring talks and other link goodies

For the whole of December I’ve had a ton of tabs left open to read because they’re too interesting to bookmark. I keep doing this. Why?! Whatever the reason, a new year is demanding that I clear them:

On journalism
Fact-checking, Wikipedia and basic journalistic credibility
Adam Tinworth on why reporters should check their facts, not rely on Wikipedia and, I would add, not rely on sub-editors to do all their fact-checking for them.

Who Cares About The Front Page?
Ditto on Adam’s frustration of journalism being defined as stuff what is done by national newspapers. No no no. My own background is magazine journalism and sub-editing since 1987, then later client publishing and now blogging. All potential career avenues for J-schoolers. Journalism is not dying but national newspaper print may well be. Speaking of magazines…

On magazines and applying their thinking
Magazine Thinking – by Chris Brogan
“If you actually look at a magazine, there’s a formula for each of them. There’s a cover feature, a few larger stories, and a whole lot of bits and tidbits. There are columns (that’s what I do for Entrepreneur Magazine), and of course there are ads and all that. What do you have to think about to make a magazine? Content. Community. Marketplace. The point is this: if you look at this kind of framework for your projects, it becomes clear what kind of magazine you’ve created or not created with your content. It becomes obvious that you do or don’t have a community. Without the first two being fairly solid, there’ll never be a chance at the marketplace. ”

Exploring Editorial Strategy
Your website is not a magazine – but it should be! Presentation plus video from Jeff McIntyre.

On editorial calendars
How to Put Together an Editorial Calendar for Content Marketing
A really good how-to for those in search of publishing production skills.

On KPIs
How should you measure the success of a digital team?
Agencies need to become more critical in reviewing what they offer. There’s a nice list of KPIs to borrow from.

The right metrics for the right business objective
Interesting survey of marketing objectives (led by brand awareness) and the fundamental flaws in their measurement.

On SEO and keywords
Top SEOmoz Posts of 2010
I must brush up on my SEO, link building, etc. If only because good content deserves not to be let down by bad headlines and metadata fails. Many onward links here.

7 highly effective keyword research tactics – Step One: Start Broad
I have to do one of these as a blog I work on gets a rethink.

On personas
CMI on personas
Also have to create some of these for the first time.

On case studies
5 Steps to Craft a Case Study’s Content Strategy
In a nutshell: Define Target Audience; Conduct Discovery Work; Choose Relevant Subject Matter; Identify Objectives; Research Priority Keywords. Useful for some blog content I’m trying to make more interesting to the reader and more relevant to the client.

On content strategy
9 Must-Have Elements for Company Blogs
Thankfully, I’ve just completed a content strategy doc that encompasses just about all of these good points. Reassure yourself that you are on the right track with company blogs with this article.

The Two Career Paths of the Corporate Social Strategist. Be Proactive or Become ‘Social Media Help Desk’
Jeremiah Owyang helps put my career back on track…

All the content strategy presentations from CS Forum 10
Are here.

Content strategy templates to download
From the Google Knol.

Why WebContent2010 gets my conference budget
A designer with an eye of cutting down client copy-and-paste atrocities. “I have enough difficulty getting clients to pay for copywriting, so convincing them to pay for content strategy is a whole ‘nother hurdle. But it must be done at the beginning. It is always the first question you ask a new client anyway: Why do you want a website? The answer to that question lays down the foundation of your content strategy.”

Content Strategy and the Dying Art of Execution
Junta Joe on why perfectly good content strategies die on the vine.

Interesting talks
The Do Lectures
Like TED talks, except with a British bent and based on a farm in Wales. 🙂

The Impact Of Strategic Storytelling
A 4min video by Professor Jay Conger.

And finally… to catch a thief!
Software that helps you recover your stolen Mac
Tech revenge is sweet for $49.

Do you want to read what I’m reading? Then read on…

These links are relevant to my interest but have been sitting in tabs for the last two weeks. I will read them, I >will<. But after I’ve dumped them here. They make quite an interesting view of what has been taking up my time in the last little while. Links as diary entry?

I’m thinking of buying an Android phone…

  • HTC Desire review by TechRadar – five stars, looks good, please tell me if this review is all to cock in the comments though as buying is imminent via Top Desire deals. Or should I iPhone it like the rest of the world?

Festivals

  • CoCoMad is this weekend (July 3, 2010) in Cotteridge Park, South Brum. I have heard it is good. Here is the line-up.
  • I missed it (on purpose) but I’m glad it’s being televised. Here’s a rant about TV coverage, though: After the flags, the mud-slinging.

The garden

  • The garden has been battered into submission to my will. This rose was planted by my Mum and is the prettiest thing in it: Woburn Abbey floribunda. I heartily recommend this little try-hard. Lots of colours and it flowers repeatedly. All for a tenner. Thinking of getting another one.

Content strategy

UX / IA

Travel and photography

Copyright and fair use

What do the super-rich want to read about?

Memes

  • Know your meme: Jejemon:  “In the Philippines, Jejemon is an internet slang used to describe someone who typEs LyK tHIs.”

Blogging (and hyperlocals)

(and from a convo with Talk About Local’s Will Perrin in the pub…)

Want to become a company blogger?

Here are the quick links to my Blogger’s Style Guide, which I’ve posted over on my Subs’ Standards blog as a series of 10 posts.  This is the ‘how-to’ that I give to my company bloggers when they start writing posts for their employer’s blog. It acts as a support document for those who know their subject well, but know little about blog writing or publishing in general.

Blogger’s Style Guide

  1. How is blogging different?
  2. What readers like / ideas for your posts
  3. How to structure long posts
  4. Short or long?
  5. What does SEO mean for writers?
  6. Links are good!
  7. Five tips on tone
  8. Comments and feedback
  9. Writing a good title
  10. Don’t fall foul of your boss – or the law!
Of course, what happens after the raw copy comes in is a whole ‘nother series about content and blogger wrangling.

I’m also finding that this is overlapping with my Content Strategy work so I’m hoping to add posts on #CSforum10 here on this blog soon for those interested in the Content Strategy Forum in Paris last month.But I’d rather do it in context of my ongoing content strategy audits rather than just report back on the event so need to sort some permissions first.

RIP Sub-editing 1987-2008

My blog mentor used to say keep your posts short. One point per post. Three paragraphs should do it.

Well, here it is. The perfect post. Albeit leading to 3,000 >more< words of juicy goodness about a trade that is being eroded, outsourced and killed off as mainstream media declines. Over on Subs’ Standards, I’ve just posted up the final chunk of a three-part epic looking back over my 21 years as a sub-editor.

And here is it: RIP Sub-editing 1987-2008. Enjoy! Meanwhile check out these taster pics: of my old-skool kit and the changing size and shape of technology…

Typewriter, typescale, proof marks, reproduction computer
Typewriter, typescale, proof marks, reproduction computer
Typewriter vs laptop
Silver Reed vs MacBook

February in-tray & round-up

Despite having a lovely website since Feb 2005, it started to feel limited in the last year. So, it’s been on my mind to rebirth the site onto a WordPress platform to let me update more frequently and start to play with customisation and plug-ins. So, here’s the final post from the old site’s front page, for a bit of continuity and to find out, as Marvin says, what’s goin’ on.

January 2009 Latest news
New features up on allaboutyou.com on travel jabs, visas and 10 best wintersun destinations for 2009. Currently working on producing digital content for high street brands. I’m also sending myself to SXSWi in Austin, Texas, in March, filing stories for the Telegraph and writing an Austin destination piece for the Sunday Mercury.

Sept 2008 Turkey & Slovakia
From steamy 700-year-old hammam to snow room ‘sauna’ and -120degree cryotherapy chamber. Also feature up on solo women travellers at allaboutyou.

August 2008 Call me ‘Two Blogs’
In between copywriting and web-editing, I’ve squeezed in a couple of new blogs on both journalism and travel: Subs’ Standards, with tales from the subs’ desk, and What to Wear Where, featuring the start of ‘dress codes from around the world for your packing pleasure’.

July 2008 Trips, blogs & plans
Philippines 2007 trip – ‘world’s longest underground river‘ feature published in July (Metro). More recent trips include St Ives, the Scillies and Suffolk’s Drum Camp.