Work in PRogress – Issue #10 – Shaun Hill

My Work in PRogress this week is the hugely talented Shaun Hill, who is the Head of Content at iProspect.

Shaun is one of those people that I’ve looked up to and followed since starting out in the industry. Always sharing tips, tricks and threads of his favourite campaigns, Shaun is always open to sharing his wealth of knowledge about all things SEO, content and PR, and a must-follow for anyone working in the industry.

In this issue, we chatted about Shaun’s legacy campaigns, the topics that are hardest to ideate for and how to come up with your best ideas…

What is your ultimate shower song? (The song you can give a 10/10 Grammy-worthy performance of in your shower on a Saturday morning)

This is such a tough question. I have a “bangers” playlist and it has got Dire Straits, Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon, Toto, Neil Diamond etc. on it and I tend to sing these around the house.

So, it would be one of these tracks. So, although it is probably a very cliché answer I am going with Fleetwood Mac, Go Your Own Way.

It was genuinely between this and Robyn’s whole discography because she’s one of my favourites.

What are your top three favourite campaigns that you’ve ever worked on?

I have two answers for this, so there are the three campaigns I’ve loved to watch develop from the team here at iProspect and the three I’ve personally loved working on. So, with that in mind, I’ve picked two that I personally worked on which I will always love and then secondly a campaign the team delivered.

Travelodge – Evolving Cities

Cast your mind back to 2015/16, Digital PR wasn’t really established as a “thing” at this point. I was maybe six months into my role at iProspect and like most agencies we were pretty much just doing Blogger Outreach. We had a sick offering at that point called Talented Talkers and in the summer of 2015 we started to talk to clients about Digital PR.

Travelodge were one of the first brands who gave us some freedom to do some work so we started to create a series of city comparisons, going back 100s of years of a city to what it looks like now. We created sliders of famous scenes of UK cities and the series was called Evolving Cities.

Sadly, the campaign pages have disappeared but here are the very simple blog posts introducing them:
https://www.travelodge.co.uk/blog/featured/evolving-cities-watch-liverpool-changed-since-beatles/
https://www.travelodge.co.uk/blog/destination-guides/birmingham/evolving-cities-see-how-birmingham-has-changed/

For Liverpool, we tied a Beatles anniversary to it so we could get coverage in music titles and with Birmingham it was due to the opening of a new build and to celebrate the new area around the Library and Bullring. I remember at the time being incredibly nervous because we had spent A LOT of money on the dev and for this client we were very used to do Blogger Outreach (hotel stays etc.) so this felt like a big thing for us.

We managed to secure coverage in Lonely Planet, NME, Shortlist, Birmingham Mail, Liverpool Echo etc.

John Lewis – Adverts Reimagined by LEGO

This was my legacy! Ha. I remember being so excited to start working with John Lewis, at the time we had such a strong account team made up of just a big group of mates. We’re all still mates and of the people that started out on the account six of us still work within the network and 5 of those are still within iProspect. Halcyon days. The campaign was simple, recreate the John Lewis adverts from LEGO. We polled and picked the most famous scenes from six John Lewis adverts and turned them into LEGO creations.

This was at the time (end of 2016) something that not many clients were doing lots of. We had a lot of struggles getting this one over the line, signed off and don’t talk to me about getting the LEGO actually into the Oxford Street store. I met our client contact at 6am at the Oxford Street store to get the LEGO all set up, pre-opening. I waited around until opening time and just watched people’s reaction to it. It’s like no other feeling I’ve had in work. Genuine human delight at these LEGO creations. So many people asked if they could buy them, which was incredible.

Coverage wise, I think we got something like 65 pieces, and it spanned so many titles such as Metro, Time Out, The Independent, Gizmodo, House Beautiful, The Drum and more. We refreshed the campaign the year after too and made Moz the Monster into a “Take & Make” workshop for the first 200 customers in the John Lewis store. Dream stuff.

Sadly, the campaign page has been taken down (against our advice…) but I hope the following pieces give you a glimpse of the project:

The Body Shop – Vegan Hub

This one is the one to date I am most happy and proud of. For a few reasons, but mostly because it was a big team effort. We’d gone through a big overhaul of our product focus in 2018 and our team had changed lots. This was for many in the team right now their first big Digital PR project and it went live on January 1st 2019 and was a huge success for us and The Body Shop.

We secured some great pieces of coverage from sites we’d never got coverage from before for The Body Shop. But it was also part of a bigger content hub around Veganism and supported something I care greatly about (animals). I guess for me it was something I felt personally invested in but the team who worked on it carried through so much enthusiasm and energy into it that I think it’s what made it so enjoyable for everyone.

We’ve since won a couple of awards for this because of our approach to the whole content hub and not just the link building page. Coverage (into many of the hub pages too) was widespread from big regionals, Vice, Glamour, Harper’s Bazaar and so forth. A great wholesome campaign executed by some awesome people. Perfect!

In your opinion, what are the top ingredients for a perfect content campaign?

We (like many others) have an idea validation process we use to see if an idea ticks all of the boxes. But I would say the following areas really help:

The Idea

Talking Points – basically, does it provoke a reaction, or would you tell your mate about it in the pub? Could you see people debating one of the angles and if so, great. Does it make you FEEL something?

“When people are talking about an idea and you can see discussions getting heated/excited/laughed at you have to think that’s something which will resonate with the consumers, and if people want it, the media will want it too.”

I am going to put this out there, if you come up with something that has been done before, don’t stop there. See how you can make it different or twist it. If it was done before and it did well, that is a good sign. I’ve had a people say you should ignore ideas which have been covered before but sometimes it’s a good proof-point!

Execution

Assets – don’t have an interactive full-page takeover if you don’t need it. But, do make sure there is something on site which the journalist HAS to link to as a source, or to cite data. So many times, I see campaigns or links to homepage and I am always digging around the site to find a related page to the campaign.

Distribution

Widespread appeal – how expansive can your media list be? Will regionals love it? Can you use it to get links from ac.uk or .gov sites?

Evergreen status – can it be refreshed and outreached multiple times? Does it add considerable value to a client or the media?

Similarly, when do you come up with your best ideas? What advice would you give to people who are struggling to get into a more creative mindset?

This is tricky because everyone is so different. All teams are also quite different, right? I think a lot of agencies work different depending on their hiring strategy.

For us, we have really enjoyed the virtual brainstorms for these reasons:

 It’s better for anyone in your team who is introvert as we have house rules on idea sharing (i.e. brainwriting) and our icebreakers have got WAY more creative in lockdown which has been very fun
 We’ve been strict on coming to the ideation sessions with ideas already (which everyone is following)
 Easier to document ideas (we use virtual whiteboards or brainwriting)
 We use the comments section in our Team chat of the ideation session to provide comments/thoughts/feedback/inspiration. Now for me, this is so much easier than someone saying to me in a brainstorm “What about doing this?” or “I’ve seen something, I’ll send it to you”.

This is my personal process and one I think works well for brainstorms:

  1. Receive a brief ahead of the brainstorm, this includes campaign info, inspo and thought starters (topics to think about)
  2. Do independent thought – I draw out the topic in a mind map and then try and get as far away from it as possible
  3. Underline the areas that lend themselves to campaigns and then from there generate ideas
  4. Go do something ~different~ or just not work focused, a shower, a run, a walk, sit in the garden etc.
  5. Bring these ideas to the brainstorm and write them up in a sheet
  6. “Pitch” them to the rest of the team
  7. Review ideas – this includes really scrutinising them and just trying to “break” them as much as possible

“Honestly, the best ideas do not come from a brainstorm, but a brainstorm allows people to bring ideas together.”

I think about it as sparks in your brain meeting with someone else’s brain, which creates something special. But the ideas come from the following:

 Running / physical exercise

 Sleeping / not thinking about the campaign

 Daydreaming / looking out the window, walking and thinking about nothingness

 Commuting / my best ideas were coming from my commute but now they’re from solo bike rides I do

 Relaxing / being in the pub

It has been proven by studies that our best ideas are when all of the above happen because for many of the above, dopamine is released, we’re distracted, and we have a relaxed state of mind. WAY better for coming up with ideas. I would say this is probably a cliché thing to say but I will often wake up with an idea and then I must quickly write it down!

In the old days I would have a notepad next to my bed but these days I just quickly grab my phone and write up the musings of a madman! The next day it usually makes no sense but sometimes it does.

What are your favourite topics to ideate around? Which (if any) niches do you think are harder/more competitive to build links in?

Good question, I really love coming up with ideas around Travel, Pets or Culture. They are all things which I love so it’s natural I want to be involved in those sessions! We had a few clients in 2018 where I was always coming up with football ideas and that was also fun. But came up against so many issues around using trademarks… so that bit was less fun (later on that in a second).

But in terms of Travel, Pets and Culture [are my favourite topics to ideate around], the reasons are partly selfish coz’ I love those things, but I also think they’re the ones you can do the most with.

“Travel allows you to really talk about almost anything. Travel = family, food, culture, art, movies, TV shows, beaches, scenery, mountains, activities, cycling, and the list is basically endless!”

I think that insurance is a competitive space for link building, and we’ve had a few clients in the past where we’ve really tried to “stretch the brand” within this space and sadly compliance or legal get in the way. So, I think this makes things tough as it often has to go back to the brand/product and then it becomes too advertorial or branded.

I guess any niches which are somewhat controversial or heavily regulated is super hard to a. come up with ideas and b. get sign off. So, I think that is probably hard.

I really love the stuff Verve, Digitaloft and Rise at Seven do in this space though. So creative!

Finally, what does being a work in progress mean to you?

For me, it’s constantly reviewing myself. No one is perfect. I really like it when anyone in my team gives me feedback on myself as a manager or team lead. I make mistakes and that’s cool because that’s how you learn. Again, it’s a thing we all say, but you learn way more from more challenging scenarios than things you find “easy”. I like to push myself to do things I would dread and to me, professionally, being a work in progress is understanding my weaknesses and areas of development and proactively trying to improve them. Additionally, we’re all intelligent thinkers and doers but sometimes we get tunnel vision if we’ve been doing the same thing for so long so I personally love it when new people I’ve never worked with before review my work or thinking. It makes me think differently.

Personally, I am a busy-minded person. I am always thinking about new things, new interests to investigate.

“I am an obsessionist. I’ve probably made that up but it’s the best way to describe me. Once I get interested in an area, I will research it until it’s no longer possible to know more.”

I like to set goals and challenges which are extreme so that I am always working towards something. Lockdown has been hard for this because most of my personal goals focus around fitness or travel… but instead I’ve been, and here’s the obsessionist example, researching and discovering the history of EVERY pub in Portsmouth (recently moved here). I’ve got a book on it and I’ve been doing lots of weekend research on the history of certain pubs and documenting the fronts of the pubs via a dedicated Instagram account to Pompey’s Pubs.


You can keep up with the brilliant Shaun on Twitter here, and LinkedIn here.


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