Constantly Curious

Our Thoughts and Insights

Will virtual reality be a force for good or bad in our lives?

Graduate Scheme, Innovation, Technology

With the pace of technological change, virtual reality is rapidly turning from fantasy to a big feature of our own lives. It offers incredible opportunities for people to experience entertainment in a new and more accessible way and will transform industry, healthcare and the military. However, society has struggled to overcome the issues of technology in reality, let alone virtual reality.

With the pace of technological change, virtual reality is rapidly turning from fantasy to a big feature of our own lives. It offers incredible opportunities for people to experience entertainment in a new and more accessible way and will transform industry, healthcare and the military. However, society has struggled to overcome the issues of technology in reality, let alone virtual reality.

This new frontier has the potential to be a powerful tool and a force for good that represents the next step in our connected mobile lives. But it also raises many concerns about its impact on young people and our interactions with the world around us. Hopefully, it will not face the same backlash that has been suffered by its sister technology – augmented reality.

The use of virtual reality for entertainment is slowly becoming mainstream. 360° videos have been introduced to Facebook and YouTube that let you move your phone or mouse around a full panoramic video. This is impressive enough, but add a virtual reality headset for under £100 and it becomes a breath-taking moment. I have worn an Oculus Rift in Edelman offices and been transported to the edges of space and plunged down a rollercoaster.

Virtual reality has captured the imagination of the consumer, as seen in this viral video of an elderly grandmother’s reaction to using a virtual reality headset for the first time. Developments currently in the works include tours of museums, live gigs and interactive games. Some hotels and airlines have even started to allow guests to order VR experiences to their rooms and seats.

Importantly, this space offers many useful opportunities for brands to interact with audiences. Mobile has a big disadvantage in that its users are often distracted, skimming different apps, multi-screening and giving more than a cursory interest only to the most engaging branded content. However, virtual reality could offer an entirely captive audience whose sight, hearing and movement have been entirely taken over by their media.

Brands have already begun to fill the need for virtual reality content with experiential marketing campaigns that have engaged early adopters of the technology. Nike used the 360° functionality of YouTube to put the viewer in the shoes of top footballer Neymar Jr as he dribbles past players and scores, finishing with a gallery of their products and some moments that people may have missed.

This technology should not be perceived as a gimmick. Many industries are excited at its potential for serious uses. Manufacturers have used it to develop their products, such as in Ford’s Sensory Lab where ideas are tested before expensive prototypes are produced. Virtual reality has been used in many sectors for a long time. For example, the military have used it to train soldiers before they enter the field and healthcare practitioners for almost 20 years to treat patients with symptoms of pain and post-traumatic stress disorder. The future is being anticipated eagerly across most forward-thinking industries.

Nevertheless, there are some concerns that must be addressed for this technology to be widely accepted by consumers. Price and quality will be refined over time. There are deeper concerns about its impact on the next generation. It is because virtual reality involves such compelling experiences that it could be a problem for young people. Screen time is already an issue and a survey by Action for Children found that 23.1%, almost 1 in 4, parents have struggled to limit their children’s screen time. This contrasts with traditionally difficult challenges such as just 10% struggling to get kids to do their homework and 17.5% to see them off to bed. Of course, these three issues inter-connect and more virtual reality screen time could deeply affect the other two. Indeed, researchers from Cambridge that studied 800 14 year olds found that an extra hour of screen time each day was responsible for substantial falls in GCSE performance. Whilst these concerns should not override the progress of this exciting technology, brands should use it in a socially responsible way.

Anyone who has worn a high quality headset will tell you how impressive the visual quality is. This raises concerns that violent or controversial content could have a significant impact on impressionable people and cause more problems than it resolves. It could even de-sensitise us further to impressive sights and make it harder for brands to engage consumers with their content.

There has already been a backlash to augmented reality technology. Products like Google Glass have been criticised for stealing away people’s attention from their immediate surroundings and letting technology control everyday life. This is underlined by two conflicting trends. We are increasingly connected through wearable technology, multiple devices and the Internet of Things. However, there has been a growing appetite for disconnection from technology, including mindfulness, simple offline activities such as adult colouring books and travel.

These concerns will probably erode as the technology becomes more useful and an accepted part of our everyday lives. The incredible potential for interactive 360° life could transform entertainment, manufacturing, services and education. However, it will also face hostility from people that want to detach from the images of virtual reality they saw in science fiction when they were in a less technologically advanced time. It is a force for good as long as the virtual does not replace reality.

Ciaran joined Edelman on the Edelman Graduate Scheme in 2015, and wrote about Virtual Reality following his time with our technology specialists. The image above was taken at the Edelman Graduate Scheme Launch Party, where graduates had a chance to try out VR for themselves.


Government Affairs, Trust

Edelman Ireland were delighted to be joined by The British Ambassador to Ireland, His Excellency Dominick Chilcott (@DChilcottFCO) at the launch of Edelman Ireland’s 2016 Trust Barometer. On a day when British Prime Minister David Cameron addressed MPs on his plan for EU reform the Ambassador gave a very insightful speech on the relationships between Ireland and the UK in the context of the EU referendum and Ireland’s 1916 centenary celebrations.

Edelman Ireland were delighted to be joined by The British Ambassador to Ireland, His Excellency Dominick Chilcott (@DChilcottFCO) at the launch of Edelman Ireland’s 2016 Trust Barometer. On a day when British Prime Minister David Cameron addressed MPs on his plan for EU reform the Ambassador gave a very insightful speech on the relationships between Ireland and the UK in the context of the EU referendum and Ireland’s 1916 centenary celebrations.

The full transcript of the Ambassador’s speech follows.

Thank you very much for that introduction and thank you to Edelman for giving me the opportunity to talk to this well-informed audience about trust in British-Irish relations and about the issue of Britain and Europe.

For most of the 20th century, and the centenary of the Easter Rising this year gives us plenty of opportunity to think back over the last hundred years, relations between Britain and Ireland could not be said to be characterised by a high degree of mutual trust.

The Rising, the war of independence, the civil war, the economic war of the 1930s and Ireland’s neutrality during the Second World War– to name but five episodes – may each have been justified in themselves – and I’ll leave that for historians to debate – but, and I don’t think this is controversial, individually and in aggregate, such developments did not generally promote good relations and trust across these islands.

The Provisional IRA’s armed campaign in Northern Ireland in teh 70s and 80s and the British government’s response to it caused, at times, further friction in our relations.

For those of us who like anniversaries – and I confess to being one such – yesterday was the 44th anniversary of the burning down of the British Embassy in Merrion Square by an angry mob, outraged by the Bloody Sunday shootings in Derry/Londonderry of a few days earlier.

Yet we’ve gone from those dark days, characterised by wariness and sometimes hostility, to our present era of friendship and mutual respect, where our two governments are cooperating across the waterfront of issues wherever it is in our common interests to do so.

As the Taoiseach and Mr Cameron were able to declare in March 2012: “The relationship between our two countries has never been stronger or more settled, as complex or as important, as it is today.”

What brought about this change? You can point to– as Spike says in the film ‘Notting Hill’ – a combination of factors.

Firstly, there are the myriad of people to people links, which have constituted a network of connections between us even when government relations were poor and the news invariably grim.

These human links of kith and kin are the product of migration between these islands, flows of people in both directions across the Irish Sea, which have been happening over the centuries.

Some of the most trusted people are people like us whom we know well. So there have been hundreds of thousands of advocates for better relations in both countries – people who knew at first hand that the other place wasn’t so bad.

Just on the numbers, we reckon that there are about 500,000 Irish citizens living in Great Britain. In addition, we estimate that about another 5 million Brits who have or had an Irish born grandparent, which means that there are more people living in GB with the right to an Irish passport than live in the Republic.

To quote Mr Kenny and Mr Cameron again: “our citizens, uniquely linked by geography and history, are connected today as never before through business, politics, culture and sport, travel and technology, and of course family ties…These vital human links are nowhere more evident than in the presence of a large, confident, valued and integrated Irish community in Britain and in the increasing number of British people who now live and work in Ireland.”

These links always existed. But celebrating them was often not easy.

We’ve been remembering the great life of Sir Terry Wogan this week. One of his huge contributions to British-Irish relations was to be a much-loved Irish voice in British homes at a time when IRA terrorism was a daily reality in the UK.

In these peaceful times, thank goodness, the Brits no longer need a national treasure like Terry Wogan to be reminded of how much we enjoy the company of our Irish neighbours. Which doesn’t mean we are about to give you back Graham Norton.

I was very amused during the State Visit of President Higgins to the UK when, at the ceiliuradh at the Royal Albert Hall, Olivia O’Leary told the mostly Irish audience, amidst scenes of general celebration and joy, that it was official, it was alright to like the English. It was funny. But Olivia O’Leary was also marking a moment of catharsis.

A second factor that has brought our two countries and administrations together has been our common membership of the European Union.

At an important psychological level, our status as sovereign nation states, subject to the same rules and regulations, participating in the same European institutions on an equal basis, makes our relationship much more balanced.

The UK’s size and weight are constrained, in a good way, by the EU’s framework of structures, processes and regulations. And smaller member states like Ireland enjoy a voice at the table and a significant influence over developments, as well as the support of institutions like the Commission to safeguard their interests.

In short, being in the EU gives greater confidence that the relationship between us will be better channelled and better managed.

Just as importantly, our both being members of the EU has meant that ministers and officials, over the years since we joined, together in 1973, have formed the habit of working with each other on European questions.

Speaking the same language, having a similar sense of humour, coming from a shared culture, and often adopting a similar liberal, free market, business friendly approach to issues, we find comparing notes and working together in Europe comes naturally.

Our administrations are no longer strangers to one another as we were before we joined the EU. Au contraire, we are close friends in Europe and like-minded on many of the big order questions, such as improving the EU’s competitiveness, extending the single market to cover services and digital retail, and promoting trade agreements with other countries and regions of the world.

A third factor has been our willingness to put aside the baggage of history and work together to bring peace to Northern Ireland.

It was often hard pounding in the 1980s and early 1990s. But even in those years, Dublin and London managed to reach important agreements.  Margaret Thatcher and Garret Fitzgerald signed the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985.

John Major and Albert Reynolds agreed the landmark Downing Street Declaration of December 1993, which paved the way for the first IRA and Loyalist ceasefires.

But it was the work of Tony Blair and Bertie Ahern that achieved the breakthrough of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

The experience of bringing peace to Northern Ireland forced our two governments to pull together, to concert tactics and to work in tandem for the same outcome.  That built trust.

The ending of the dreadful drumbeat of terrorist violence in Northern Ireland also made a huge difference, of course. Cleansed of violence, the political environment was ready for a major change of sentiment.

But there still needed to be a catalyst. And that catalyst, as you will know, proved to be the two recent state visits.

The Queen’s visit here, nearly five years ago, in May 2011, and President Higgins return state visit in April 2014 enabled the leaders of our countries to signal to our peoples, through their words, actions and evident enjoyment of each other’s company, how we should view each other – with respect and friendship – and that we shouldn’t allow our contested history to inhibit our naturally friendly relations.

As Professor McAleese said, as the Queen’s hostess at the banquet in Dublin Castle: “We can’t change the past. But we have decided to change the future.”

It would be a mistake to take this much happier state of affairs in British-Irish relations for granted. International relations, like equities, can go down as well as up.

We need to continue our close cooperation on Northern Ireland in a spirit of compromise and openness.

We need to maintain the momentum of our programme of bilateral collaboration, which we initiated in 2012.

That programme engages all departments in our two administrations and encourages them to work with their counterparts on the other side of the Irish Sea on issues where working together promotes the general good.

Twice a year we take stock of progress. Secretary Generals meet in the Autumn, while the Taoiseach and the PM hold a summit in the first half of the year.

Neither Britain nor Ireland has a structured programme of bilateral cooperation of this scale or intensity with any other country. It will be important that we continue it.

Equally, I believe it is very helpful for both our countries to be members of the same international organisations, where possible. And an immediate challenge to this general rule comes from the UK’s referendum on Europe.

In some ways, trust lies at the heart of the European issue in the UK.

Who do we trust to make the laws that govern us and to enforce them fairly? Who do we trust to keep us safe from the dangers of our modern world – disease, climate change, unwanted immigration, threats to our economy from out of control institutions, terrorism and so on?

Philip Stephens in FT last month quoted President Roosevelt’s Secretary of State in 1944 who said that the British would always be uncomfortable in any club that they did not lead.

As he also pointed out, history, geography, political culture and self-image all help to explain why we take a different view of Europe from many other member states.

Europe is not existentially important for the UK, as it is for most others.

For the original six member states, the deep fear of another major European conflict fought over their territory means that faith in the European project is almost unshakeable. They trust Europe to keep the peace between them.

For Spain, Portugal and Greece, the EU has been their salvation from and safeguard against the return to a fascist past.

For the central Europeans, the EU protects their young democracies and prevents them falling back towards command economies and intolerant one party politics. And it helps to keep Russia’s baleful influence away.

For Ireland, EU membership has been key to the country’s modernisation and, as I have argued, remains important for a mature, balanced relationship with Britain.

But the EU does not have the same existential importance for Britain.

Our political institutions survived the two world wars and emerged, if anything, stronger for having been tested in the fire of global conflict. We were never occupied. So our fear of another European conflict is less visceral.

The EU did not modernise us. It does not guarantee our democracy. If anything, it slightly dilutes it.

Going further back, for most of Britain’s recent history we did our best to avoid getting entangled in the affairs of the continent so that we could get on with trading and building and maintaining an empire. So an arm’s length approach to the politics of Europe is, to some extent, in our national DNA.

So in Britain, you do find an inherent exceptionalism. The EU has to prove itself on more prosaic grounds. Is it providing greater opportunities for business? What benefits do individuals get from membership?

The pros and cons appear more in balance to many British people without an overriding need to belong to the EU.

Another aspect of trust is that the British people feel, for too long, successive British governments have not trusted them to have a direct say over our position in Europe.

The UK last had a referendum on its membership of the then EEC in 1975. The organisation has changed hugely since then.

Tony Blair promised a referendum on the European constitution. It was expected to be held in 2006 but, after the no votes in France and the NL, the referendum was dropped.

There is a feeling in the UK that a referendum on our membership is overdue.


Moreover, there is a lot of disquiet about developments in Europe.

Immigration. This is the issue which resonates most on the doorstep and perhaps it merits a little explanation.

Net migration to the UK reached 330,000 in the year to June 2015, which is an all-time record and over three times the government’s target.

That figure – the difference between the number entering the country and those leaving – is significantly more than the population of Belfast.

Not all those people are EU citizens, of course. But a great many are.

Net migration of EU citizens in the same 12 months was 180,000 – about the size of Middlesborough or, closer to home, almost the size of Cork.

None of this is to deny that the vast majority of migrants work hard and pay taxes. But there is a rate of immigration above which a society cannot readily absorb all the new people joining it. And many of those immigrants receive in-work tax benefits to supplement their salaries, which puts pressure on our welfare system.

And Europe is not standing still. It seems clear that those member states which have adopted the Euro, in order to improve the functioning of the currency, will need to integrate further and faster than those outside the Eurozone.

So the UK’s qualms about our EU membership risk being exacerbated by our being drawn into further centralising steps, for which there is little support in the UK and whose purpose is to bolster a currency which we are not part of.

In these circumstances, is it surprising that support for EU membership is, to use David Cameron’s phrase, wafer-thin across the UK.

UKIP, Britain’s Eurosceptic party, got 4 million votes at the last election and it’s no secret that many Conservative supporters would like Britain to leave the EU.

This is the political challenge David Cameron faces on Europe.

He has decided to address it by seeking reforms in the EU which should benefit all member states, renegotiating the UK’s status and taking this package of changes to a referendum in order to have our EU membership reaffirmed.

The aim is to keep the UK in a reformed EU.

We are looking for reform in four areas. You may be familiar with them so I’ll only mention them briefly.

Sovereignty and subsidiarity. Remove the UK from the objective of an “ever closer union”. Give a bigger role for national parliaments to ensure laws are made at the appropriate level. National where possible, European where necessary.

Economic governance. The EU should recognise the reality that it is a multi-currency zone. Countries outside the Euro area should not be disadvantaged or lose their influence in policy areas, like framing the single market rules, that apply to all member states.

Competitiveness: reduce the regulatory burden on SMEs; extend the single market to include services, digital and energy; supercharge negotiations for ambitious trade deals with the US and others.

Migration: crack down on abuse (eg sham marriages); change our welfare system so that it is not an artificial draw for people to come to Britain (4 year residency requirement for qualifying for in-year benefits).

Progress to date?

Things are moving fast.

The EU referendum act has passed into law. There will be an in-out referendum on our EU membership before the end of 2017.

The government is making it clear that it will be a one shot referendum – i.e. no second chance if the people deliver the wrong answer.

Negotiations are going well in Brussels. Yesterday, Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council circulated a set of draft texts which, if agreed by the other member states, would constitute the deal we are seeking.

The goal is to reach a deal, if possible, on 18/19 February at the European Council.  But getting the substance right is more important than the timing.

In Davos last month, David Cameron said: “If there isn’t a good deal, I’m not in a hurry. I can hold my referendum anytime up until the end of 2017.”

If the deal is done in two weeks’ time, we could be on course for the referendum to be held in June.

Public Opinion?

Hard to measure as most people are not thinking about the EU. We know from our general election that they way people vote can be different from what they tell pollsters.

Last month, a poll by Survation of 1017 people online recorded a 4 point lead for leave. 42% Leave. 38% Remain. 20% undecided.

But opinion is soft. 48% said that the outcome of the renegotiation would have some impact on how they decided to vote. And 46% said that a package which curbed benefits for EU migrants, reduced red tape for business and provided safeguards for Euro-outs would be a good package.

In a similar vein, YouGov polling from December showed that having greater controls on immigration from the EU and putting limits on the benefits EU migrants are eligible for was seen as the most important areas for reform.

As of today, if the draft deal is acceptable to our 27 partner countries in the EU, it feels as if this referendum is very winnable.

Irish dimension

Those countries which are our closest neighbours and with which we have the richest and most complex relations would be the most affected by Britain leaving the EU.

Ireland is, by almost every measure, at the top of the list of the UK’s closest and most important neighbours. And the consequences of a change in Britain’s EU status would likely be felt profoundly in Ireland.

Various Irish think-tanks and commentators have argued that Northern Ireland could have the most to lose from the UK departing the EU.

The NIAC of the House of Commons announced last week that it was going to hold an inquiry into the consequences for Northern Ireland of Brexit. This is a very welcome addition to the debate in Northern Ireland.

Another aspect of the Irish dimension is the number of Irish people or people of Irish descent who will have the right to vote in the referendum.

There are about 1.3 million people in Northern Ireland with a vote. There are several hundred thousand Irish citizens resident in GB who are eligible to vote. To say nothing of the 5 or 6 million people of recent Irish descent.

The Irish government is making its position of support for the UK to remain in the EU very clear, while at the same time emphasising that the issue is one for the people of the UK to decide on.

I imagine that people in the UK who have an interest in good relations between the UK and Ireland will be listening carefully to what the Irish government and other Irish organisations and prominent people say.

One final thought, I expect many of you will know British nationals who are resident in Ireland. Provided they have lived and been registered on the UK’s electoral roll in the last past 15years, they have the right to vote in the referendum.

Do remind them of this when you next see them. Registration is done on-line and is pretty quick and easy.

The more eligible people vote in the referendum, the greater the trust we can all have that its result will reflect the settled position of the UK on the European question.

Thank you.















Trust Barometer 2016: Money where your mouth is - Marrying business strategy with communications approach

Corporate Reputation, Trust

With corporation tax once again hitting the headlines, business leaders may well be wondering if there is any way of communicating the contribution they are making to the economy and to society without inviting criticism – especially in an era when businesses are under more scrutiny than ever before.

With corporation tax once again hitting the headlines this week, business leaders may well be wondering if there is any way of communicating the contribution they are making to the economy and to society without inviting criticism – especially in an era when businesses are under more scrutiny than ever before.

The answer is that public statements – especially those about red-hot topics such as tax, workplace diversity and CSR initiatives – need to be supported by genuine action rather than just words.

In fact, despite the pitfalls obvious in a number of recent high-profile cases, businesses that do succeed in demonstrating that they are supporting the UK (as opposed to just talking about it) are likely to reap commercial, not to mention reputational, benefits. Edelman’s 2016 Trust Barometer revealed that the two biggest factors driving the general population’s trust in an organisation are whether it produces economic growth and if it ‘contributes to the greater good’. Unsurprisingly, consumers are more likely to buy from companies they trust, pay more for products and recommend them to their friends and peers.

As Edelman’s UK CEO Ed Williams said at the launch of the 2016 Trust Barometer, gaining public trust “can be about paying taxes, it’s as basic as that”. And, as you would expect, the less a company is trusted, the less likely it is to attract customers or their loyalty.

Thus, the real challenge for businesses is to find a way to communicate their commitment to bettering society without drawing the ire their predecessors attracted. In many cases, this rests just as much on the strength of a company’s internal communications processes as it does on its external communications team and spokespeople.

Fundamentally, businesses need to make sure that what they’re saying publically is backed up by what they’re doing behind the scenes. The Trust Barometer makes that crystal clear too: employees who believe their company supports the local community are more loyal. In hard numbers: employees who feel they work for a company which is addressing broader societal issues are 32 percentage points more likely to recommend it as a place to work. Think about what that says about the way your workforce feels about working there, and everything else that follows from it.

Change can be achieved by measures as simple as ensuring that what is being said to journalists matches what is being said to employees. However, smarter companies should be looking to put governance in place to ensure all significant business decisions are being made with consideration of their reputational implications – and this entails making them in partnership with their communications teams, rather than in silos.

Make no mistake, interest in businesses’ contributions to society and the economy is showing no signs of slowing down. And taking the time to marry business strategy with communications approach is crucial for organisations looking to capitalise on this appetite in the longer-term – and for those looking to build and foster the public’s – and their own people’s – trust in their organisation.

Trust Barometer 2016: Bad news is good news for traditional media

Media, Trust

Sometimes it can seem as if the writing is on the wall for the writer, that the craft will be consigned to a footnote in history along with chimney sweeps and lamp lighters, particularly when entire news stories can be cobbled together from comments on Twitter. Social media looks set to destroy values like research and a well-crafted story in favour of knee jerk reactions from the general populace.

Coming from the world of traditional media, by which I mean that old-fashioned stuff, words printed on paper, it is easy to be despondent about the future.

Sometimes it can seem as if the writing is on the wall for the writer, that our craft will be consigned to a footnote in history along with chimney sweeps and lamp lighters, particularly when entire news stories can be cobbled together from comments on Twitter. Social media looks set to destroy values like research and a well-crafted story in favour of knee jerk reactions from the general populace.

Paradoxically, moving out of the world of traditional media and into the one of communications marketing at Edelman has given me cause to hope that rumours of the death of ‘proper’ journalism have been exaggerated.

Just a few days after I started at Edelman, after a long career in consumer journalism that spanned everything from bench testing computers for Computeractive to stress testing my cat for the Daily Mail, the company held its annual to gaze into the future. I was heartened to see that one of the predictions for 2016 was a resurgence in traditional media and even a rise in print sales.

There was more good news in the recent Edelman Trust Barometer as it turns out that when times are tough and the world is plagued by bad news, people are turning to the trusty traditional media as an accurate and trusted news source.

The ‘informed public’, for which read better off, university educated people with an interest in current affairs, has never had more faith in traditional media. With 70% trusting this source as the most reliable, this is the highest level ever recorded the Trust Barometer.

As traditional media tie themselves up in knots over how to respond to the perceived threat of social media, it has been a refreshing change to move over to the so-called ‘dark side’ of communications where there is no such crisis of faith. While clients are always happy with mentions in social media, and no one would say no to an award winning viral campaign, what many still want to see is their name in print or on mainstream broadcasters.

It seems that this desire is spot on. For when it comes to putting trust in media as a source of information 70% of respondents to the Trust Barometer chose traditional media such as the FT, the BBC, ITV and Sky News. Conversely only 39% of the informed public trust social media.

Perhaps that is why it felt like a good time to make the shift from journalism into communications as my stock in trade has always been a way with words, the ability to weave a compelling story that will touch the emotions and prompt action. These are all very useful skills within the walls of Edelman, particularly given its growing commitment to developing specialist expertise to deliver excellence in all forms of content.

On a more personal note as a regular writer for the Daily Mail’s Femail, it is a delight to be valued for my abilities with words, not my capacity to attract many and varied comments on the MailOnline.

To view the findings of the UK Trust Barometer 2016, please click here.

Please update your browser.

This website requires Chrome, Firefox, Safari or Internet Explorer 9+