How PR is like Connell’s chain from BBC’s Normal People

It’s safe to say that the breakout star from BBC drama Normal People is Connell’s Chain. After premiering in late April, the curb chain worn by the lead character has not only gained its own Instagram account, with over 160K followers, but actor Paul Mescal’s (Connell) personal chain is currently being auctioned off for charity and has already raised over £14,000 (yes, we have bid more than once). Nobody could predict that a simple silver chain would cause such a stir, and become the most talked-about feature of the entire show - but here we are, drooling over a necklace. 

In this blog, we explore the parallel between the enigmatic power of Connell’s Chain and the world of PR. 

Shareability/getting people talking 

Just like the chain, one of the most important aspects of digital PR is shareability. In simple terms, our job is to find the ‘Connell’s Chain’ and put it at the heart of a campaign to get people talking. Sure, it wasn't easy to predict the chain’s fame, but it’s all about future-gazing. Social media is your best friend when it comes to finding your next big viral PR idea; it’s so important that we are monitoring the trending topics and conversations people are having, as there is no point in pitching an idea if nobody is going to talk about it.

Whether it be creating a custom Twitter hashtag for your campaign, briefing and pitching your brand spokesperson to offer comment on current topics, or executing quick sales data from your brand and sharing with the media- PR is the shareability, virality part of your marketing strategy. This is how we earn people’s attention, and then respect.

Adds value throughout

It can be said that the chain had a consistent role to play across the entire series, acting as the complementing feature to Connell’s character throughout the beginning, middle and end of the storyline. Similarly, just like the chain provides value throughout, digital PR has a role to play across all layers of the Purchase Funnel, acting like the rocket fuel to your entire marketing strategy and amplifying your efforts at the awareness, consideration, and conversion stage.

Traditional thinkers may see PR fit squarely into the consideration stage, sometimes crossing over into the awareness stage. However, the dynamics of digital channels mean that PR can now have an impact at the conversion stage too. Take for example a campaign based on partnerships with social media influencers. This can be used to drive referral and affiliate sales, plus, with the rise of shoppable social, it’s an area that offers huge potential for PR. Campaigns that generate opportunities for shoppable social can benefit all stages of the funnel. PR adds value throughout.


Just like the chain connects around Connell’s sleek and muscular collarbone, the chain has also connected the nation during this worldwide pandemic. You could also say that PR is the ‘connecting chain’ in your marketing strategy. Traditionally, PR has been focused on media relations, including crafting strong relationships with journalists for your client. More often than not, clients separate PR and marketing activity.

But, it’s essential that brands understand the connection between marketing and PR, as separating them often leads to missed opportunities. PR and marketing perform much better when we work together and create a brand strategy that will work on both sides.

In short, something as unassuming as a silver chain on an (unquestionably) handsome man’s neck has connected the nation, and PR can be harnessed to do the same for your marketing strategy.



Recognising kindness for Mental Health Awareness Week

Fanclub has always recognised the importance of being kind and it’s rooted in our company value of ‘playing nicely’. Kindness has also been chosen as the theme for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week. The positive impact that being kind can make on both our physical and emotional wellbeing is extraordinary; everything from protecting your heart to reducing stress and anxiety - kindness has it covered. In these uncertain times a small act of kindness has never been more powerful. With this in mind, in this week’s blog we felt that it was worth highlighting the acts of kindness we’ve witnessed in our own lives recently to share the kindness around.


I’m part of the not-so-lucky bunch that’s been forced to celebrate their birthday in lockdown. While at first it seemed dull, I’m lucky enough to have some brilliantly creative friends that helped me celebrate from the comfort of my own home. My friend Liddy, a graphic designer, has been creating ‘Stay at Home’ inspired prints, designing and sharing one-a-day since lockdown was announced, and she created a special birthday edition print for me that really put a huge smile on my face! Check out her prints, they’re sure to make you smile too.


I think we all know how awful the pandemic has been. So rather than indulging in my usual pessimistic thoughts - who doesn’t like to complain? - I’ll instead focus on one of the biggest positives the coronavirus has brought us; community spirit. Despite my extremely approachable resting bitch face, you’ll be surprised to learn that I haven’t ever really engaged with my neighbours beyond doing an awkward nod in the street in their direction. 

Since the lockdown began, I’ve joined the local community WhatsApp group, sharing local things to do and resources we’ve found online to help with pandemic-induced anxiety. But the best part of it all is my next door neighbour. At least 3-4 days a week she’ll share home baked goods, her first attempts at maki rolls and even strawberry daiquiris! Unfortunately, my house’s culinary skills leave something to be desired, so in return we’ve been helping her on shopping trips and bought her a hamper of snacks and wine. 

So to Yasmin; thank you! And may the pandemic leave behind this brilliant sense of community spirit. 


Stories of people’s little kindnesses have been endlessly uplifting during these past two months, and I’m lucky enough to work on a client that rewards its own employees for the kind ways in which they help their customers. Every week I write a summary of these actions for the client newsletter and am always warmed by the various acts of kindness. One that sticks out in recent memory are the two employees who made sure that one woman, isolating alone with her vulnerable elderly mother, received not only a full food shop but also flowers and chocolates for Mother’s day (unasked for)! 


Since being stuck at home, I’ve relished the doorstep bundles of pick-me-ups and support from kind friends and neighbours. I’ve had all manner of useful, edible, fun and sentimental gifts dropped at my door in times of emotional and practical need- from cake, to boardgames, to potting soil; most have been unsolicited. Knowing that people are thinking of you and are kind enough to go out of their way to show it, even if they don’t know you well at all, has literally made all the difference to my mental wellbeing over these last few weeks


Watching the pandemic unfold was nothing like the movies. In the main, there was no rioting in the streets; no overbearing policing of lockdown; no ‘iron fist’ of governance. Instead, we were stood on our doorsteps applauding key workers.

 The spirit of generosity and collaboration to ‘get through it’, extended to the corporate world. It’s been uplifting to see companies step up the COVID challenge, whether that be by re-allocating resources to create ventilators or hand sanitiser, providing free bikes to NHS workers or countless donations of time and goods.

In the 1950s there was a management theory called ‘Stakeholder Capitalism’. Its protagonists put forward a view that companies should serve society as a whole, rather than its shareholders. 70 years later, the one positive thing that could come out of this pandemic is a kinder version of the economy. And after centuries of wrecking ourselves and the planet to serve the old economy, boy do we need it. 

Jack Welch, the former CEO of General Electric said it best when he said, “On the face of it, shareholder value is the dumbest idea in the world”. Life in a pandemic has provided a glimpse of a smarter and kinder way to live and work.


My mum is a teacher in a West London primary school and when lockdown hit it quickly became clear that the school had many already struggling families where parents had now lost their jobs, with nothing to fall back on many of the pupils faced going hungry within the week. The school sent out a plea for help and within 3 days we had gathered enough donations from our friends and neighbours to fill our car twice over. The generosity of people towards complete strangers was overwhelming and it’s amazing to know that what may have been a small act of giving for one person made a huge amount of difference to someone else. 


I live in South East London not far from Lewisham Hospital and the speed at which the local community galvanised behind the vulnerable and key workers has been nothing short of amazing. 

More often than not it has been the local independent retailers and restaurants who had to shut up shop that gave their time and resources for free.  From the florist delivering free bouquets to the self-isolating elderly, to the Indian restaurant that has cooked and delivered over 1,800 free dinners to frontline staff,  this has truly been a time where neighbourly spirit has been reborn.


Since moving to London from Canada 3ish years ago my parents, who still live in Canada, every year embark on a journey across the pond to visit me in the Big Smoke. Unfortunately this year, due to Covid-19, they had to cancel their travel plans. Being in lockdown, this has been particularly hard on me as at the moment I don’t know when I will be able to see them again. 

In usual parent fashion, when my parents do visit they usually bring me a load of Canadian goodies, which can be chocolate, chips (yes chips, not crisps), cooking products, etc. We tend not to send other large items in the mail due to the high costs involved- but as they knew I was feeling a bit down they thought they would surprise me with a little package from home to cheer me up! The package included my favourite ranch dressings, seasoning salts, and cheezies (a better Canadian version of a wotsits). Needless to say, I will be stocked for a while. 

So, to my lovely parents - thank you for brightening my day and hopefully we will be reunited soon! 

SABRE In2 Awards EMEA honours ShareThyme

A chance supermarket encounter between a 79 year old Bangladeshi woman and a 32 year old techie became the inspiration for our work with ShareThyme, a digital platform to help combat loneliness.

Since its launch, it’s attracted a community of enthusiastic supporters and united young and old people through a shared love of cooking.

We’ve been working with Red Badger and our agency partners 10x on this project and are proud that this picked up further recognition (after receiving an Honorable Mention in Fast Company’s World Changing Ideas 2020) as it has been awarded a Certificate of Excellence in the Best in Digital Brand Platforms category in the In2 SABRE Awards EMEA.

You can read more about the project on Red Badger’s website here.

How to inspire and foster creativity in the workplace

Whilst it’s easy to recall all-singing, all-dancing campaigns when asked about creativity in PR- Thames-floating, shock-inducing, tear-shedding ideas- creativity runs much deeper than that. It’s the foundation for progress and innovation- from pitching to ways of working.

Great PR has to have creativity at the core. Not only because it is a prerequisite to effective communication, but because PR is stepping up as a competitor to its siblings; marketing and ad giants have positioned ‘creative’ as their beating heart since their inception, and PR needs to do the same. And no, you don’t need a Creative Director to set that benchmark in your team (although it does help).

 Creativity unlocks an agile advantage because it demonstrates an understanding that innovation is fundamental to keeping up with how audiences and people change. In this sense, any agency worth its salt needs to foster an entire culture that inspires and supports creativity, in all its forms. That means acknowledging that not everyone’s creativity is nurtured and brought out in the same way- and investing in accommodating this.

 What might help, are the following tried-and-tested tips for what we have found to make the biggest difference.

 1. Start with a diverse team

Bringing a rich tapestry of experience, identity and talent together is absolutely your most powerful creative asset, and competitive advantage. The best ideas are informed not just by a rich set of data, but by diverse minds.

Diversity has long been an issue in PR and the wider creative industries, and the agencies will only fall short of the best work because of it.

This needs to continue beyond recruitment and into process. At Fanclub, we have a flat structure when it comes to creative ideation for campaigns. Everyone gets involved, together- from interns to directors.

 2. Workspace autonomy

 People need to have autonomy of their own workspace, schedule and way of working to accommodate the true definition of ‘creative thinking’: how people approach problems with solutions. This can depend on so many things, beyond personality and skill.

 Allow flexibility with working hours, where people work and their own day-to-day process.

 Don’t just allow flexibility, but support it. This can also make all the difference to retaining great creative talent- a lack of practical support to help balance work and family life, for example, can mean losing them.

3. Brainstorming: consider time and space

Our MD, Adrian, always says that his best ideas come to him in the shower. Each to their own, truly. Mine usually strike me a few hours deep on Reddit (I like to think of it as ethnographic research…).

 The point is that ideas are not always born inside the confines of a meeting room, in a pressured, time-constrained brainstorm. Plus, not everyone feels comfortable shouting out ideas. Let your team stew, think, ponder and be struck by inspiration outside of the office.

 For campaigns, you might not always be blessed with a decent response time (but that’s for another blog post), but encouraging people to take a walk, sleep on things and contribute in their own time and using their own format will lead to stronger ideation.

4. Always-on creativity and a culture of proactivity  

 Don’t just ask for or rely on creativity once you have a problem or a brief. Encourage an always-on approach to ideas-sharing and creative inspiration.

 At Fanclub, we hold a weekly Open Practice Brainstorm for the entire agency, in which we develop a brief for an existing client or prospective one, and develop ideas in pairs over the week. Not only does this mean we mix up collaboration across the team, but we’ve got a stream of creative sessions and ideas at any given time.

 We also have Slack channels dedicated to sharing creative case studies and thought leadership, as well as a weekly forum to discuss them.

5. Moving away from the pressure of big ideas

 Thinking creatively is not just about huge, integrated campaign ideas. Smart creativity is being proactive with smaller ideas, and not just for smaller campaigns; reactive opportunities, strategic copy, byline ideas, and suggestions for better ways of working are all great ways of demonstrating a creative mindset.

Fostering proactivity like this, for clients and the agency team, showcases the impact of always-on creative thinking and the power of creative solution.

6. Support self-identifying ‘non-creatives’

Everyone has met someone who says that they’re just ‘not very creative’. More often than not, this comes from people believing that to be creative means to strive to be a Creative Director, or simply an issue of confidence. But, as we know, everyone has the capacity for creative thinking in their role. And whilst some might think it can’t be taught, they’re wrong- it’s about exercising those muscles more and more.

Those who lack confidence can often end up sabotaging their potential. It’s up to managers to help them explore what it means to be creative, and help empower them with confidence to share ideas and platform their day-to-day creativity. 

Emily Barnes - Account Director at Fanclub PR