Somewhere Over the Rainbow?

Rainbows, they mean different things to different people, and for thousands of years have been celebrated as a sign of hope overcoming adversity – light breaking through the clouds after a storm.

Whether the Abrahamic references to Noah’s covenant with God, or the many other non-Christian religions and mythologies — Bifrost bridge to the Gods anyone? Repeatedly stories emerge of rainbows representing peace and hope in the face of adversity, respite after conflict.

The LGBTQ+ community too has embraced the rainbow as our symbol, ever since it was incorporated into a flag by the pioneering openly gay activist, Gilbert Baker in the 1970s.

Baker’s initial design contained eight stripes and intended to have specific meanings;

The initial colours of Baker’s pride flag
and the characteristics of the LGBTQ+ people they were designed to represent.

However, at the time there was a scarcity of the hot pink fabric which led to a seven-striped version (without the hot pink) and then latterly in 1979, the Turquoise was removed to create an even number, as the flag was going to be used to flank the Pride march route – resulting in the iconic, ubiquitous six-stripe flag based on Baker’s design;

The Rainbow Pride flag as of 1979

Since 1979, this six-striped version of the Pride flag has been a popular and iconic symbol for LGBTQ+ and its distinctive colours have been adapted into clothing, signs, sidewalks, steps, tattoos and badges either as a signifier of an LGBTQ+ person or an ally. This included a revolutionary scheme in UK to roll out rainbow NHS badges to foster inclusivity into healthcare (which historically has on occasion had a problematic relationship with health providers and anti-LGBTQ+ stigma, for more on that and the scheme please read this great blog).

NHS rainbow badges were first launched by Evelina London Children’s Hospital in an award-winning scheme.

Following the COVID19 pandemic in the UK, children and families have begun painting rainbows on pieces of paper and displaying them in their windows as symbols as hope – which is a touching and completely understandable movement. This seems to have gathered new meaning and morphed into a message of support for key workers and NHS staff. Just to be clear, I do not — nor do I know a single LGBTQ+ person who is uncomfortable about that gesture.

However, as a consequence of this many organisations have seen fit to either sell rainbow Pride flags as “thank you NHS flags” or just treat the design as clipart for their own marketing and messaging. A few weeks ago on a run, I was so shocked to see this banner that I stopped and took a photo of it and posted my frustration, unease and confusion to social media;

And more recently Plymouth City Bus bragged about “rebranding” their Pride bus to show support for NHS workers. While I’m not claiming that this was the intention of the team behind it, they have effectively reduced a bus which was designed to celebrate and show support for LGBTQ+ people to just a multi-coloured commodity —

Myself and several others have criticised this not only the move itself and its messaging but also the clumsy and insecure apology ‘we are sorry if it caused offence’.

For me, for more than half of my lifetime as an openly gay man, seeing the rainbow Pride flag or its colours has made me feel; welcome, safe and amongst my tribe (LGBTQ+ people and allies). From when I was bullied at school Even as recently as February, seeing the rainbow Pride flag in Brussels made me realise I’d stumbled by happy accident into the vicinity of the LGBTQ+ neighbourhood by following the restaurant recommendation of a friend.

The rainbow Pride flag is ubiquitous, and a symbol which is recognised across the globe, including in countries where it is displayed with enormous risk owing to human rights atrocities against LGBTQ+ people. To be frank, I find it insulting to see it treated as stock template that organisations and companies can appropriate without any consideration for the marginalised community for created it for themselves.

In recent years there have been calls for the flag to be updated (particularly in the West), to better represent marginalised groups within the LGBTQ+

The progress flag which calls for better representation of Trans and POC within the LGBTQ+ community.

I respect that there are extremely good arguments for the updates in the revised design above and the individual denominations or variants of the flag which different groups within the LGBTQ+ community have created for themselves over time, just some of which are included below;

However, I personally feel that it is not the original flag that has failed, but rather the more privileged members of the LGBTQ+ community (cis white gay men like myself predominantly) who have failed to uphold it. We need to do more in order to protect, support and represent our marginalised POC, Trans, Bi and Intersex family. If the new flag was adopted globally in a heartbeat without the necessary changes it would simply be as callous a rebranding exercise as th­e bus one outlined above.

Please do not dismiss myself or any of my friends who are concerned at how readily our symbol has been co-opted into a new context.

We are entitled to feel frightened and unhappy at the ease and speed at which this has happened. While I hope that the updated flags become increasingly prominent over time, I think it is insulting to the heritage of the rainbow Pride flag created by Gilbert to throw it under the NHS bus so to speak, and pretend it doesn’t still have value to a great number of LGBTQ+ people globally.

I am more than happy for a loan of the pride colours to show support for NHS staff and key workers but…personally, I feel that proper pay, PPE and the respect they all deserve at every level would be much more meaningful than clapping and borrowing our colours ­– which to my mind are merely token gestures to assuage guilty consciences.

As brilliant, iconic and popular supporter of queer people, Dolly Parton famously once said;

The way I see it, if you want the rainbow,

you gotta put up with the rain.’

That’s true.

But we queer people have been rained on for centuries, with ignorance and persecution, we’ve earned our right to own our six-striped rainbows and its variants.

** update the BBC’s brilliant LGBTQ+ correspondent Ben Hunte has also written an article on this topic for the BBC which you can read here **

Art For The Players

In my role at Kings Road Publishing had the enjoyable experience taking a rough idea for an official licensed series (book and app) all the way from pitch, to finalising a deal, then working with a whole host of talented creatives and leading studios to create a first – Art For The Players (available from most book retailers) an official games console based colouring book which celebrates the incredible heritage of  Sony PlayStation’s unique entertainment experiences.

As you can see from some of the brilliant press coverage and the official trailer below, colouring and consoles can create something beautiful…

 

#ColourTheMagic

On Thursday 1st September, I commissioned and led a unique interactive colouring event #ColourTheMagic to celebrate the Harry Potter film series and the bestselling Harry Potter Colouring Book series, which is published in the UK by Studio Books (one of the five imprints I work across at Kings Road Publishing).

After coming up with this brainwave, selecting the creative agency partner to finesse its execution and many weeks of meticulous planning three free standing canvases were set up with carefully drawn images depicting iconic images from the films which feature in the colouring book series.

The campaign was enormously successful with over five thousand members of the public taking part in colouring the magic and sharing their messages of love for all things Potter, we also had an unprecedented social media reach of 6.1 million impressions on our hashtag #ColourTheMagic on 1st September.

Here’s a trailer showing some of the results on the day…

And below is a gallery showing our three finalised colouring designs – thanks to the dedication of thousands of Harry Potter fans for helping us #ColourTheMagic.

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This project is a personal highlight of my year – it was wonderful to conceive, plan and deliver something so magical with a brilliant team!

Mischief Managed!

 

Interview with the Innovation Enterprise

I’m due to speak as an industry leader at The Innovation Enterprise‘s Digital Publishing summit #DigiPub #LDN 19th–20th October, taking place at London’s ExCel Centre.

Ahead of the event I sat down with Stuart Found to talk all things digital publishing, from recent trends to future opportunities. Here’s a copy of the interview, which originally appeared on the IE’s website here.

SF: How have you seen the digital publishing industry change over the last year?

Kings Road Publishing is recognised in the book industry as a leader in digital innovation. Our approach has always been iterative – and while we’re continuing to grow and consolidate our digital comms strategies, our approach remains experimental. My goal is to take readers’ experience beyond the words on a page and as content consumption is always changing, it’s important to keep an open mind.

SF: What could the industry be doing to better meet consumer expectations?

Clear communication to consumers is always key, even more so in the fluid digital space. Industry brands need to react more quickly with the right level of information, particularly when there is an issue damaging consumer experience.

SF: How much of a place – if any – do you think personalisation has in digital publishing?

There’s been some very interesting work in bespoke personalisation of content by book publishers, but a lot of these don’t seem to have quite hit the mark in consumer expectations. I think this will grow into an important niche of the industry but it is harder to execute it well.

SF: What are in your experience the most common mistakes made my digital publishers?

Personally, I think that a reliance on broadcast messaging and ‘the known’ strategies can dilute brand potential. We have to be bold and do things differently in order to outsmart the competition.

SF: How can digital publishers best respond to the overwhelming shift toward video content?

My view is that book publishers should continue to invest and innovate in this area, but that there has to be a narrative worth filming and compelling reason for consumers to watch it to create any kind of ROI.

SF: Where do you see digital publishing going next?

The enormous popularity of PokémonGO has been a surprise for some, whereas at Kings Road Publishing we’ve been waiting for a gaming leap with geotagging and AR for a while. Niantic has really broken the mould first with Ingress and now PokémonGO, I think that digital publishers will attempt to move into GPS experiences more in the future as there is so much potential for tailored content delivery.

You can hear more from me, along with other digital publishing industry leaders, at the Digital Publishing Innovation Summit in London this October 19th-20th. To see the full schedule, click here.

From the vaults: #CivilisedSaturday Publishing beyond parody

This article was originally published in an opinion piece on TheBookseller in November 2015.

“Christmas is coming.

We all know this, we’ve spent months finalising our plans for the festivities, picking our favourite gifts (books obviously!) and packaging them perfectly so that we get the kind of warm fuzzy feeling associated with sales at “the most wonderful time of the year” and that’s just the commercial side of Christmas.

But since Black Friday’s ever-growing popularity and presence across large retailers grows each year, this is apparently the week where consumers will kick-start or complete their Christmas shopping.

As The Bookseller reported earlier in the year Tim Walker, president of the Booksellers Association, issued a rallying cry to independent bookshops to fight back with the “antidote” to Black Friday – #CivilisedSaturday.

On Civilised Saturday bookshops around the country will be serving everything from mulled wine to champagne and serving up dignified discounts and recommendations to their patrons.

Now the question is, are we in 2015 or extras in a “Downton Abbey” Christmas special?

My initial reaction at reading this news was to cringe, eye-roll and choke back a laugh (a great look if you’re after one) – not because I don’t see the need for independents and smaller retailers to emphasise the virtues of hand-selling and make an event of it, but because of that awfully cultured name for it.

This industry has its problems, they are many and the struggle for smaller bookshops and other businesses to compete with large players (particularly the online ones able to price and promote aggressively) is very real.

But, for an industry increasingly notorious for its cosseted cultural snobbery, is Civilised Saturday a wise branding exercise?

The name implies that only uncivilised people partake in or appreciate the bargains associated with Black Friday. (Don’t tell the unenlightened shopping at John Lewis this Friday.)

We know we need more diverse books, we need more diversity in book awards and staffing. We also need more diverse book-buyers as books are competing with every other form of entertainment in the world.

For that reason, I dislike the air of smugness emanating from the Civilised Saturday campaign. It feels as though the book trade is determined to focus itself on isolating many consumers to favour its preferred, more refined audience.

This poorly named campaign risks alienating the masses and those slightly mythical creatures, the reluctant readers.

After all, I’m sure that even Dowager Countess Violet Crawley herself would agree that it’s rather common to tell everyone how civilised you are.

From,
A civilised gentleman.

Nick Coveney is Head of Digital and Social Media at Kings Road Publishing.”

CloudSpotter

In 2013, I led the project management, UAT and publicity on the CloudSpotter app for The Cloud Appreciation Society, an innovative app which enables users to learn more about the skies and huge plethora of weather effects which surround them.

This led to a unique collaboration with NASA sharing data on weather patterns for its CERES system.

This app received widespread acclaim and was covered by the BBC, BBC Breakfast, VICE Motherboard, DigitalSpy, the Wall Street Journal and TED.

There’s also a great video explaining the app and its functionality here.

All content © The Cloud Appreciation Society.

Let’s get started

I’m starting this site as a platform for me to share my experience, thoughts and insights on digital storytelling.

Since I joined the exciting world of digital product development I’ve had the enormous pleasure of working with some leading brands and content creators to generate internationally bestselling products.

Excuse the slightly spurious wisdom of the fortune cookie above but one of the things I firmly believe in is that passion and drive are an integral part of creating stand-out digital success.

I will be adding sections to this site over time so please let me know what you think using the contact form.

N