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CSR Crash


First Published at The Guardian.

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) used to live down the hall from brand, with less budget, influence and, frankly, less friends. It was OK though, CSR didn’t mind, CSR had all the integrity and soul that brand had sold years before to win all those friends.

Distance suited these close cousins, suspicious as they both used to be of one another’s intentions and many believed never the twain should meet. Many were wrong.

Today, any brand that hasn’t embraced it’s purpose, and the notion of a multiple bottom line i.e. that brighter businesses measure success by more than just margin, deserves the insignificance that one day awaits them.

Social innovation amongst brands will be as much of a ubiquitous business moment as the steam engine, the internet and signs that said you don’t have to be mad to work here but… But, as the marketing of leading brands becomes more enlightened, and the overlap with social innovation greater than ever, does the power of marketing represent real benefit for social issues, or will brands’ need for ‘ownership’ drive a CSR crash?

Brands are ‘competing’ in a broad landscape of social issues from well known body-image-beauty-brand-backed campaigns to how-did-that-happen hedge planting lager promotions, but there’s no better area for brands to make a difference than youth.

Youth issues represent a rich, on-trend seam for brands, from employment to ex-offenders, but can they hold their nerve if that turns to unemployment and re-offenders, and with a surplus of choice, and a deficit of coordination. But a CSR bubble is forming, and just like the finance crisis, it could lead to a CSR crunch. Telco’s, ISP’s, retailers and many more are committing marketing spend into youth issues, some have KPI’s, some are content investments, but all are creating brand value, and social value. However, with short term public cuts in young people’s services creating massive long term costs in young people’s futures, and a government non-strategy of relying on a bigger society, well meaning marketeers could find themselves with bigger challenges than increased sales.

And worse, when the brand police get militant, if the return on investment is unclear, if sales cycles don’t align with life cycles, we could see a CSR crash, amongst brands who can’t dominate the ‘category’ of youth issues retreat leaving a greater vacuum of social inequality.

There is a perfect balance of meeting business, brand and social objectives, that’s what we do at Livity. But the starting point for success is simple: brands need to recognise their role in young people’s lives as not just an opportunity, but also a responsibility.

The High Street is Dead


First published at:


The heart attack of the high street isn’t just about the public passing away of HMV, Jessops, Woolworths, KFC and the others who’ve had to close their stores, the truth is that it’s the retailers who passed the best before date, the killer is the context, not the customer, and we have to make sure the victim isn’t the high street.


We still buy the same photography, movies, music and random old odds and sods that we did, we still share and shoplift these things, and in greater gazillions than ever before, but now it’s via Instagram, Itunes and Amazon. And with respect for the dead, they aren’t like for like replacements for our dearly departed high street heroes, they’re a vast improvement.


But because a few high profile companies couldn’t keep step with changing times leaving a few shareholders out of pocket, that doesn’t for a second mean the high street has had it’s day, in fact, it may be that it’s day is yet to come. Keep the wax off those property developers moustaches for just a moment more, don’t turn the old Blockbuster into luxury lifestyle accommodation just yet, there might be an answer around the corner.


Around the country, as you read this, ‘dead’ spaces on the high street have been opened up and are under the control of local young people, who are hacking the high street, rewiring retail and reimagining what it means to be at the heart of the high street.


They’re already organising workshops, performances, exhibitions, markets, dance off’s, Zombie Apocalypses, installations, creativity, inspiration and fun. Young people are the store managers, young people are the staff, young people are curating and creating the content in each store, and every store is selling out fast.


Our high streets don’t need saving from their own mortality, but they do need protecting from their mortal enemies, Pawnbrokers, Chicken shops and Bookies can’t resuscitate the faltering heart of our high streets and their ‘death’ is not diagnosed through corporate failure. The high street is the beating cardiac muscle providing social glue for our communities, giving us places to come together, share, experience and enjoy our lives together.


When the intricate connective tissues of our communities are weakened the risks of social exclusion are the result, for families and for young people, this is well trodden territory, we know where it leads, and we can’t afford to accept to let it continue.


Somewhereto_ Re:store might not be all the answers in a one stop shop, that would take away the fun of perambulating the high street anyway, but in our store lie clues, that can be shared up and down high streets across the land.


So let’s not just listen to the 80% of young people who are asking for a voice in the future of high streets, let’s hand them the keys.


The high street is dead, long live the high street.




P.S. I know KFC isn’t a major high street retailer to have shut down, but if we’re going to re imagine the high street of our dreams…

The World Wide Dressing Up Box


When I jet-packed into the kitchen, aged nine, and announced that I’d just watched the sun go Super Nova, learned how to walk in space and applied to be a spaceman, my mum made supportive noises and packed me out the door.


I’d made most of it up, sat in an inflatable spaceship, with a cardboard space helmet protecting my overactive imagination. But I really had written the job application to NASA, in crayon, and posted it first class.


Sadly for space exploration, I never heard back.


It is my overwhelming professional view that children who are allowed to explore beyond boundaries are encouraged to view their world the same way, to believe in their own limitless opportunities and potential. And they, in turn, will fear less and achieve more in life.


Conversely a limited view and sense of geographic territoriality has a massively detrimental effect on children’s future chances.


Broadening a child’s horizons broadens their imagination, which fuels aspiration, which translates into success.


Not everyone can fly their children around the seven wonders of the eye-opening world, but you can use an iMac and a mouse mat and show your children a flying carpet and a Tardis.


If, for example, your homework is the Battle of Hastings, the top three (non-sponsored) results in YouTube are exciting video re-enactments of bloody battles with as many historical facts as there are suits of armour!


Compare that with the same top three search results on Bing… Or don’t, because the results are just as boring as it was when I sat in Mr Lancaster’s history class twenty years ago.


There’s a reason YouTube is the number one search engine for the young people I work with, even over Google. It’s because there’s definite benefits to being told stories in videos over being just told anything.


There are likely to be infinitely fewer children imagining themselves as a Knight of King William’s as they plough through Wikipedia than there will those getting fired up waging war themselves, playing 1066, the C4Education online game, a testament to innovative education and the number one organic search result for ‘1066’.


Before secondary school, it’s quite normal for children to play at being knights, doctors, nurses, spacemen, princesses, pop stars and make-believe made-up characters.


If they haven’t fallen in love with a possible future (or five) by the moment it’s time to take study seriously, our children will be less equipped to make the decisions that might fulfil their journeys to infinity, or beyond.


When we still had a careers service in the UK, 40% of state school teenagers said they didn’t know anyone in a career they would like to work in. Please mind the massive inspiration gap.


The major failing of the UK careers services (other than that they fail to exist anymore) was to not bridge the imagination gap so that the fantasy and fun of children’s play could be translated into the ambition-setting and decision-making needed as teenagers.


And if that decision-making part of life were even partly inspired by a developmental time when our children still believed they could be anything, do anything, try anything, pursue the things they liked the sound of when they still wanted to be a lion tamer… then their decisions might be braver, broader, bigger and more ambitious than the generation graduating in a jobless vacuum now.


And there is no better place to find out what a possible future might be than the greatest playground of possible futures ever invented, The World Wide Dressing Up Box.


If I were nine again, sat in my inflatable spaceship, cardboard space helmet in place, iPad in hand, one google search of ‘be an astronaut’ and three clicks later I’m reading astronaut Cady Coleman’s Twitter updates from Space, with regular updates, pictures of Mars and excellent videos of space robots. I could read her witty pre-launch blog and watch her TED Talk live from space.


It’s not meeting her in person, or two weeks’ work experience on Mars, but it’s a pretty mind-expanding experience that no careers advisor, job site or dressing-up box could achieve on its own.

One more search would take me to the NASA guidelines, including simple advice on the subjects to take at school and building up teamwork skills as it turns out “no Astronaut works alone”. Of 195 NASA astronauts, 126 honed their skills in the Scouts.


Mum tried everything to get me in the Scouts, but it just never seemed relevant to my space rocket ambitions. I wish I’d known – maybe I’d be writing this from Orbit.

I believe it’s to all of our benefit if our children get to play in the World Wide Dressing Up Box, to explore fantasies of their future and go on adventures to inspire their imagination. Who knows what they might do, who they could be, or just how far they could go?


In fact, writing this, I’ve got the crayons out to update my own application letter.

Sam Conniff



This was the long, unedited (and let’s be honest unused) version of an idea I wrote up for CLUB PENGUIN’s Guide to the Wonderful World of the Web.

A Right Royal Honour

Dear Your Majesty, 

Michelle and I really appreciate you awarding us your Queens Award for Enterprise to Innovation, thank you very much.
We loved meeting your Lord Luitennant last week, on our 12th birthday, hope you like the pic, attached with some other updates, and particularly, we want to say thanks for the flag Liz, it’s Lulz! 
We’ve never had a flag, royal or otherwise, before and ones will be flyin’ it proudly with your emblem over the SW9 Skyline. 
The Queens Award means a lot to us, and whilst this is an email curtsey of thanks to you, we hope you don’t mind but we’re BCC’ing the people we really want to thank, our family, friends, colleagues, clients, cheerleaders, mentors, supporters and reporters who’ve been on this journey with us, without who’m we wouldn’t have been on this journey at all, and to whom we owe the lot!
It’s been a big 12th birthday, we began the year with the news that your Prime Minister personally selected Livity for a Big Society Award for 12 years benefitting the lives of thousands of young people from opportunity poor backgrounds. Last summer we won our first £7m sized contract. In late 2012 we picked up a DADI award for our creative work on the UK’s biggest Olympic youth legacy program.  As 2013 began we opened our second office in South Africa, now firing on all cylinders. 3 months ago we cleaned up at the Marketing Agencies Association Awards, amongst 4 trophies we picked up Best Consumer Campaign, Best Strategic Work, and Best Agency. And now with your award being the most prestigious business award in the realm, it completes a puzzle we set ourselves 12 years ago;
Can an agency tread the line between marketing and morals, can we harness the power of brands to truly positive effect, can we produce creative effective work for clients, by working with the communities we aim to benefit, can we align the business objectives of our clients with social objectives facing young people in the UK and most importantly can we fly the flag of both financial and social profit?
And, your Majesty, it seems, with a whole lot of help from our friends, we can, and we’ll fly that flag most proudly, (actual flag hasn’t arrived yet btw?) So please accept our heartfelt thanks, to you and to everyone who’s been on the journey with us.
Can’t wait for the Garden party, we’ve put in a request for a few +1′s but haven’t heard anything back, do you think you can give them a nudge for us please? Lolz!
Yours truly
Your humble servants, proud award winners, and 12 year olds. 
Sam and Michelle ;)

The art of winning and losing

My granny used to say to me, “Show me a good loser, and I’ll show you a loser”.

That said, she also used to tell me never to trust anyone with facial
hair, leather trousers or that doesn’t drink.

My update to her winning wisdom from across the ages is ‘show me a
good winner, and I’ll show you a great team!’
Best Awards: Livity
At the recent Guardian MAA Best Awards the best team won and I’d like to proudly and loudly,
without apology, thank the young people, old people, grown ups,
clients, believers, daydreamers, friends, foes and family who’ve been
part of our journey.

In 2001, the original hypothesis for Livity was to prove a win win win
model, that a marketing agency could deliver the very best, most
effective and creative work, whilst changing young people’s lives for
the better by 100% meaningfully benefitting the audience we serve, by
involving, co creating, co designing and collaborating with them.

We also thought it could be a win, win, win, because the traditional
marketing model seemed imbalanced and out of date and as we opened our
doors to our first clients, we also opened our doors to hundreds of
young people.

We believed it could be a win for our clients to connect with their
audience with depth and meaning, through genuinely co-created
campaigns and content.

A win for us as an agency thats always ahead of the curve by being
insight driven by 100 or more young people coming through the doors
every week.

A win for our audience, the young people we work with every day who
get an outstanding, unique and often life changing professional

A triple win model was always going to be a tricky one to pull off,
but last night, for the second year in a row, we won a full house of
the categories entered in the Marketing Agencies Association BEST Awards,
this year we bought home; Best Consumer Campaign, Best Campaign by
Agency Youth, Best Strategic Thinking and Best Agency.

I don’t know what my granny would make of our compelling content
creation strategies, our savvy use of social media or our deep belief
in co creation. But I know she’d be proud that we know how to tell an
honest  story, how to start a genuine conversation and most
importantly, how to create a human connection.

And today we’re proud and happy winners, thankfully receiving the
awards on behalf of the clients who believe in us the young people who
bestow us their insights and to who we dedicate ourselves to provide
life changing experiences and to our team who we’re so very proud to
work alongside.

And to this years losers… in your face!

Making tax efficiencies

Dear Financial Lifestyle Management Ltd,

Thank you for your letter of the 21st January 2013 offering me “future planning for tax efficiency”.

Whilst I appreciate the nature of your business is to target those you hope are wealthy enough for tax to have become some kind of avoidable annoyance, if you don’t mind I’d prefer to contribute to the cost of a civil society that I believe in.

Do you offer teachers free advice on “exposing tax savings”, do you contact firefighters with complimentary consultations on “reducing income tax” or do you target me because I happen to be a company director, did you notice I’ve been running a social enterprise for 11 years working with young people, or wasn’t that in included when you took the time to reassure me of the “thoroughness and professionalism of your approach”.

So thank you for your letter, I’m glad to hear you “won’t be offended by a ‘no’”, I imagine you’re completely legal, but I’m not sure you’re completely moral and I’m certain sure you can go to hell.

When the time comes, lets hope it’s you lot against the wall first,