Reality Check: What if we told you that your memories were wrong?

The strange phenomenon known as the Mandela Effect has a thing or two to say about memory, truth and what ‘real’ really means. Dan Michael Jones, The Royals’ resident explorer of the surreal, reports from somewhere down the rabbit hole.

Man reflected in puddle

Nelson Mandela died in 2013 at age 95. It was the end of an iconic life for the freedom fighter and Nobel Peace Prize-winner who lived primarily in the public eye – even when he was locked behind bars. Obituaries mourned the loss of a statesman who made lasting change for the betterment of mankind.

But when he died, a whole bunch of people around the world were really confused. Because they’d already seen Mandela pass away. They’d already seen his televised funeral. They’d already read obituaries after he died during the 90s – never able to take his rightful place as the head of a free South Africa.

English Alive, 1990: writings from High Schools in Southern Africa; K. Heugh, A. Kennet; Western Cape Branch of the South African Council for English Education, 1991.
English Alive, 1990: writings from High Schools in Southern Africa; K. Heugh, A. Kennet; Western Cape Branch of the South African Council for English Education, 1991.

And they were all convinced that they hadn’t just remembered it wrong. They were sure things had happened that way in their reality, and their reality had changed. One of them was US researcher Fiona Broome, who coined the title “The Mandela Effect” for the strange phenomenon she and others were experiencing.

But it’s not just about Nelson Mandela. The phenomenon has permeated politics and popular culture, and gone beyond the “are you kidding me?” factor. It says a lot about the nature of memory and its ability to be blurred, influenced and reshaped.

I Feel A Change Comin’ On

Google turns up hundreds of other examples of Mandela Effects, and a huge number of people who are convinced of their legitimacy.

In 2015, a Vice article titled The Berenst(E)ain Bears Conspiracy Theory That Has Convinced the Internet There Are Parallel Universes got people outside of the web’s dustiest corners thinking about the phenomenon.

You might remember reading the Berenstein Bears books or watching the cartoon when you were a kid. You might have read the books or watched the series with your own kids. Are you 100% convinced Berenstein is spelled s-t-e-i-n like Einstein? Turns out in this universe we’ve been spelling it Brenstain (with an “a”) all along.

Then in 2016, New Statesman published an article about people convinced that there were two films in the 90s about kids befriending genies. Both starred tall dudes with one-word names that start with an “s”. Both have a “z” in the title. Kazaam, staring the NBA star known as Shaq was real. Shazam, starring the comedian known as Sinbad wasn’t.

But New Statesman spoke with Mandela Effect-ed fans of Shazam, including Don, who worked at his uncle’s video store as a teenager in the 90s:

“I had to handle the two copies we owned dozens of times over the years. And I had to watch it multiple times to look for reported damages to the tape, rewind it and check it in, rent it out, and put the boxes out on display for rental. It feels like a part of my childhood has now been stolen from me. How does a movie simply vanish from our history?”

Fiona Broome suggests that these aren’t simple errors in memory. Rather, they’re reconstructed incidents (or sequences of events) from the past.

“They exceed the normal range of forgetfulness,” she says.

And she credits the multiverse for these shifts. As in our universe is just one in an infinite series of universes in which every possible combination of events and outcomes can and will happen. Sometimes they just meet at the edges and bleed into each other a little.

Further Down The Rabbit Hole

Mandela Effect theorists and fanatics (and there are plenty) have taken Broome’s initial hypothesis a whole lot further. They place the blame squarely on CERN – the European Centre for Nuclear Research – and the centre’s famed Large Hadron Collider.

The planet’s largest and most powerful particle accelerator and the largest machine in the world, the Collider is housed in a 27km circular tunnel beneath CERN’s headquarters on the Franco-Swiss border just outside Geneva. And it’s there to try and replicate the conditions of the Big Bang, the event that led to the creation of the universe.

Many who believe in the Mandela Effect say that every time the Large Hadron Collider is used – ie. every time the conditions of the birth of the universe are recreated – it shifts our reality a little.

That shift is not enough so that the fundamental nature of life itself is changed, but enough so that one man’s death occurs differently, or one of the two B-grade 90s flicks about tweens palling about with genies phases out of existence forever.

So that’s the exciting explanation. And it’s a conspiracy theory that supporters attempt to justify with real science about particle physics, gravitational waves, string theory and cosmic inflation. But an accurate explanation might be a less sci-fi and more Freudian than anything Broome et al suggest.

Because truth is, us humans are fallible creatures with imperfect sensory functions that only get worse at their jobs as we age. Our cognitive systems are easily led astray. And our memory centres aren’t high-performance hard drives, they’re biochemical processes that reconstruct past experience into vague representations of “what really happened”.

Losing The Memory Wars

Elizabeth Loftus is a cognitive psychologist at the University of Washington. And she’s an expert in reconstructive memory who has provided expert testimony about the falliabily of recall in a number of high profile court cases – including the O.J. Simpson murder trial, the trial of the LAPD officers accused of beating Rodney King and the litigation of Michael Jackson for child sex charges.

In a study Loftus undertook during the 1970s, she asked participants to recall details of a simulated car crash they were shown by asking half “How fast were the cars going when they hit each other?” and half “How fast were the cars going when they smashed each other?”. And that small change in wording made a big difference in the results.

When the researcher asked the question using the world “smashed,” participants recalled that the cars were travelling at higher speeds compared to when Loftus asked them with the word “hit.” The word “smashed” caused eyewitnesses to recall broken glass at the scene even though none existed. Their memories changed due to the changing of one word in a question.

This work can help explain many examples of the Mandela Effect as simply contaminated or distorted memories. Like the way – spoiler alert – Darth Vader’s line in The Empire Strikes Back has been misquoted over and over as “Luke, I am your father,“ even by the character’s voice actor James Earl Jones (for those playing at home, the actual line is “No, I am your father.”)

But this wasn’t enough for Loftus, who was convinced it is possible to implant entirely false memories in people. She developed the ‘Lost in the Mall’ technique during the 1990s. Participants of a study were each given four short stories describing events from their childhood, supplied by their family members, and later asked to try and recall them.

What participants weren’t told was that one of the stories – describing a time when the subject was lost in a shopping centre – was false. The fake narrative incorporated plausible details provided by the relative. In this initial study, 25% of the participants reported to be able to remember this event even though it never actually happened, and many were able to provide embellishing details that were not supplied to them.

Fake is the New Real

“This is a dangerous time. Moving forward, we need to be more vigilant with what we trust from the internet,” says Barack Obama in a powerful 2018 PSA about the mind-bending potential and inherent risks of AI-driven deepfake videos.

Barack Obama
Still from You Won’t Believe What Obama Says In This Video!, BuzzFeed Video

Only it’s not Obama talking. Sure, it’s his face, but the mouth and the voice are a spot-on impersonation by Get Out director Jordan Peele. In a world that’s divided by “fake news” and “inconvenient truth”, we need to be more vigilant about who and what we choose to trust.

The Mandela Effect shows that not only are our brains and memories fallible, they’re highly susceptible to influence. And as fakes get more and more lifelike thanks to machine learning and AI, the implantation of false memories will only get easier and easier.

Recently, a deepfake video of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi – a stringent critic of Donald Trump – made its way across the web. The video was an obvious fraud, slowed down and then pitch-corrected to make it look and sound like Pelosi was drunk and incoherent at several news conferences and public events.

But despite being faked, Twitter and Facebook declined to remove it. Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani shared the clip, and then the President himself sent out a “PELOSI STAMMERS THROUGH NEWS CONFERENCE” missive which embedded the video and was pinned to the top of his Twitter feed.

Scary stuff. And perhaps scary enough for us for all to rekindle our long-term relationships with the truth once and for all. Otherwise, I’m moving to Geneva. So that next time they fire up the Large Hadron Collider, I get Mandela Effect-ed over into another timeline.

– Dan Michael Jones

Sidewalk stories of Sydney

Sydney photographer Juli Balla’s Mad Men-esque style launches the Sydney office edition of The Royals’ art gallery.

Juli takes us back in time with this striking image from her personal series Where The Sidewalk Ends. Through meticulous craft and attention to detail, she manages to transform Sydney into a Mad Men-esque set straight out of the 1950s. Every image draws you in and tells its own story. The casting, location, wardrobe, hair and styling are all highly considered and evoke a strong sense of time and place.

Juli Balla - Where the Sidewalk Ends
Juli Balla – Where the Sidewalk Ends

This piece is featured in The Royals’ Sydney office as part of our rolling art gallery, which aims to showcase creative talent that we admire and work that inspires us.

Juli’s European background has “made a mark on [her] personal style.” She is influenced by art and cinema, and her creativity is constantly fueled by travel.

“I feel it is very important to create a distinctive mood in my editorial work. I strive to create images that will stand the test of time, transcending the current trend of the day. In my personal work I aim to create a form of visual poetry.”

Both of Juli’s parents were photographers and she graduated from Canberra Art School in the late 1980s. Her commercial clients include Qantas, David Jones, Mercedes benz and Nivea.

“While working on commercial projects, I find it most satisfying when my team and I follow the client’s brief, and I can also infuse the work with my personal style. I especially love making use of the serendipitous during location work,” she says.

Juli’s bio:

I have worked as a fashion and advertising photographer based in Sydney for 24 years, and also regularly work in Europe, the USA, Singapore, China and Japan. I have photographic representation in: Sydney, Milan, Beijing and Shanghai. My work consists of magazine editorials, advertising, fashion and cosmetics campaigns and portraiture.

I work for magazines such as Grazia Italia, Elle in South East Asia, UK and France, Vogue Australia and Britain, Harpers Bazaar, Marie Claire worldwide.

I also enjoy my celebrity portrait commissions. My recent assignments include international celebrities such as: Rachel Weiss, Cate Blanchett, Hugh Jackman, Tony Colette, Olivia Newton John, Abbie Cornish, Miranda Kerr, Rachel Ward, Richard Roxburgh, Miranda Otto, Portia de Rossi, Terence Stamp, and Priyanka Chopra.

As both my parents were photographers, I couldn’t help but fall into the profession. In 1980 I emigrated from Budapest to Australia, and graduated from Canberra Art School in 1987 with a major in photo media. I have been creating personal work since the beginning of my career, and have exhibited in solo shows as well as in numerous group exhibitions from 1986 to the present. and @juliballaphoto

The Dark Side Strategy

I recently watched a Netflix documentary called ‘The Great Hack’. Some of you will probably have seen it or at least will have been presented it in your feeds – thanks algorithms. For those that haven’t, it’s an excellent and gripping film about Cambridge Analytica and their nefarious dealings in social manipulation for Trump and Brexit.

The doco takes you behind the scenes and into the lives of ex-employees and whistleblowers, as well as revealing the extent of their data enrichment programs and behavioral change capabilities. It’s nothing short of fascinating and terrifying all at once.

The Great Hack: Netflix
The Great Hack: Netflix

Beyond the data though, there were the far more disturbing strategies that sat behind the technology; the manipulation and behavioral tactics these agents use to swing elections and influence voter mindsets.

The documentary, for example, features a case where social media was used to create an anti-vote movement amongst Trinidanian Youth – this powerful uprising tapped into an apathetic generation and quickly swelled.

In the film, Cambridge Analytica says it worked for “the Indians” – implying they worked on behalf of the majority-Indian United National Congress (UNC) party. According to the film, the inaction of this voter segment meant a 6% swing was achieved in what was considered to be a neck and neck race. This weakness was exploited through an anonymous Dark Side strategy that exploited fake news, privacy data and misdirected public sentiment.

These, of course, are the tools of politics, the Dark Side strategies that political strategists employ to not only activate advocacy amongst supportive bases but to also disrupt and nullify oppositions. These are the same forces that influenced Brexit, and Trump’s win.

Which got me thinking about advertising. Because from where I sit, it seems that the majority of advertising strategy is what I would call ‘Light Side’ or tactics and messages designed to persuade apathetic or casual buyers to buy a brand over another. There is very little by way of Dark Side strategy, actively discrediting another brand or rendering their audience impotent.

There are of course some exceptions and even some famous public stoushes, but for the most part, I think advertisers play a pretty fair and above board game. There are few instances I could readily think of where Dark Side strategy is central to a brand’s ongoing strategy or if they do exist, there’s a very good reason they are invisible.

I would suggest there are some examples of ‘Grey side strategies’ about; the famous Mac v. PC comparisons, for example, which threw shade at a competitor in a funny way. Or much more seriously, the infamous research and medical propaganda of the tobacco industry, which for years waged war against the medical community and its warnings about the dangers of smoking.

So why don’t more brands consider Dark Side approaches?

There could be a number of reasons. Perhaps brands don’t want to be seen as manipulative or risk brand damage. Maybe marketing leaders are inherently good and not Dark Side inclined or perhaps budgets don’t allow the exploration of concurrent strategies. And there’s one more possibility, maybe those responsible for strategy have just not yet really considered it.

I’m open to the Dark-Side (at least as a thought experiment).

Andrew Reeves, Communications Director, The Royals

Up in lights

Melbourne artist Tom Adair’s neon style kicks off The Royals’ rolling art gallery.

It greets you as you finish your hike up the stairs to The Royals office in Melbourne – the neon glow of two art pieces by the super talented Tom Adair, that is. Mixing the subculture of the local graffiti scene with architecture and encased in perspex, the works use neon lighting to set off strangely familiar Australian scenes.

Artwork by Tom Adair

The artworks are the first to be shown as part of The Royals’ Rolling Gallery, which came about after a bunch of Royals starting chatting about inspiration in the workplace. With everyone being so busy so often, it can be tricky to take a breather and actually find a moment to think bigger. That’s where our Melbourne and Sydney galleries come in. Every quarter, The Royals will take a vote on who they would like to see featured from a selection of creative folk. Tom is kicking it all off.

We chose to launch our Royals Rolling Gallery with the Melbourne artist’s work for two reasons: firstly, we love Tom’s use of layering with airbrushing and neon – the specialist framing really tops of the dynamic aesthetic. Tom works with a hugely varied range of materials from Dibond, neon, timber and HDP foam to metal and glass, which gives his work a unique vibrancy.

The second reason? We wholeheartedly believe in supporting local artists and Tom’s studio is just down the road from us.

The idea for this type of work came from Tom’s push to work out his own style, something that wasn’t the “done to death”, in his words, stencil or graffiti on canvas. His first five or so years in the studio combined his love of seeing printed images on canvas, with graphic design and photography. But it was an old high school memory of Howard Arkley that got Tom back onto airbrush work.

“About eight pieces later I wanted to add another element, and I had some spare neon sections lying around so I screwed them to a finished piece. From there I knew the combination of techniques and mediums was something I could call my own,” he says.

And he wants the work to communicate the need for us to be less judgemental and more accepting in a life that is forever pursuing happiness through consumerism and the house we own or the car we drive.

“The architecture of scenes I depict in the halftone pattern is a motif for the relationship between what you see from the outside or from a distance versus what reality really is,” Tom says.

“When we (the viewer) get a little bit closer the perception (or image) deteriorates and its imperfections are exposed. In this way my work changes depending on where you view it from.”

Tom’s Bio:

Tom Adair’s work comes from an urban landscape where the spray can is king, and speed is most certainly your friend. His ability to make immediate, aesthetically strong paintings was honed in the world of graffiti.

A decade after leaving the brick and concrete walls of the streets for the studio, Adair’s work is an investigation of architecture and popular subculture.

Tom is far more interested in us, our relationship to the environment, and how a thirst for evolution and technology has changed us.

His hand drawing with the airbrush is fluid yet stripped back – a technical linage to Howard Arkley. The use of neon as a drawing tool abstracts and illuminates at once, literally electrifying the picture.

Tom works as a local artist in Cremorne (Dover St/Studio Sixnine) and lives in Richmond.

What I learnt about recommendation engines when I built my own

Streaming platforms like Netflix seem to know what you should be watching before you do. To better understand how and why, film buff and The Royals’ data scientist Dr Paul Vella built his own recommendation engine.

Netflix devotes a staggering amount of time, money and computational power to keep me happy, content and watching. But why do they think they know me so well? Every time their algorithm makes a recommendation, there’s a risk I might not like it and will consider switching to Stan (psych!).

But according to a 2017 article published in Wired, more than 80 per cent of the TV shows people watch on Netflix are discovered through the platform’s recommendation system. And Netflix are definitely not alone in being a recommendation-obsessed content provider.

Formulas have been implemented across Spotify, Amazon, YouTube and other platforms to recommend anything and everything. You could say they’re as common as Game of Thrones spoiler alerts on social media.

So why do these companies think I would like the songs, books and films they recommend? How did they reach those conclusions about me?

Man sitting in gallery viewing blank art work.

To satisfy my curiosity, I decided to try my hand at building a film recommendation system and see for myself how content providers arrive at their conclusions. The point was not to build a proper model per se, but to understand the inner logic of these systems and their potential use.

There are many different techniques for building recommendation systems. And approaches involve NLP (natural language processing), vector factorisation, nearest neighbour clustering and similarity indices.

Stay with me.

Because if you take a step back from the ‘technique’ and think about the methodology (or purpose) of these approaches, all of them are trying to do one of two things:

  1. Recommend items that people who are similar to you like (called collaborative filtering)
  2. Recommend items that have similar attributes to others you like (called content-based filtering)

A third, hybrid filtering approach combines these two, then applies weighting to reach a recommendation. And the logic behind each can be set out in a relatively straightforward way:

Collaborative filtering

  1. Aaron and Bob both like Jurassic Park (1993)
  2. Aaron also likes Ready Player One (2018)
  3. Bob hasn’t seen Ready Player One
  4. Recommend Ready Player One to Bob

Content-based filtering

  1. Aaron likes Jurassic Park (1993)
  2. Jurassic Park is an action movie and so is The Meg (2018)
  3. Bob hasn’t seen The Meg
  4. Recommend The Meg to Bob

Hybrid filtering

  1. Aaron and Bob both like Jurassic Park (1993)
  2. Aaron also likes Ready Player One (2018)
  3. Aaron 14 and Bob is 36
  4. 30-somethings aren’t into Ready Player One (2018), they like The Commuter (2018)
  5. The Commuter and Jurassic Park are both action movies
  6. Recommend The Commuter to Bob

To give an example of how this works on a larger scale, let’s look at Spotify. Their algorithm is pretty complex, and takes in data about what you’ve listened to and how long for, what you’ve liked or added to playlists, and more granular elements of the songs themselves like genre, tempo and duration. It also pays attention to what others who have similar preferences to you have listened to or liked.

The model I built in a Google Sheet is based on a much simpler collection of information. It recommends films from a list and tracks just two variables: when I last watched a film, and how much I like the genres the film fits into.


The logic behind tracking the date I last watched a film is pretty simple:

  • Films that I’ve watched most recently shouldn’t be highly recommended.
  • Films that I haven’t watched should be highly recommended.
  • The longer it has been since I last watched a film, the more highly it should be recommended.

The viewership score is therefore just a count of the number of days since I’ve last seen the film. This puts less importance on films I’ve seen recently and more on those I haven’t seen for a while.

To get a viewership score for films I haven’t seen, I simply take the maximum number of days from the films I have seen. This means films I haven’t seen in a long time and films I haven’t seen at all are equally weighted.

Genre Preference

I also kept the logic behind the genre preference score simple:

  • Films can be classified in many categories. Avatar (2009), for example, contains elements of science fiction, futuristic, fantasy and adventure films.
  • Giving a film a rating (out of five stars) counts equally across all genres (attributes) of the film.
  • The genre preference score is therefore the sum of ratings given to all films in that genre.

Table of genre preference scores

This simple calculation reveals I prefer sci-fi and action films over drama, which is true.

Getting to a Recommendation Score

Since both variables are integers and there’s no logically necessary reason to place more importance on one or the other, I simply add the scores together to arrive at a recommendation rating (the higher the score, the higher the recommendation):

Table of recommendation ratings data

The Data

Now you know the mechanics behind a relatively simple content recommendation system, let’s see how good it’s been at improving my movie nights.

I have around 1,016 films in my database. And I’ve given a rating to 712 of these. I’ve watched 165. Given I can watch one film a night – well, two, if the first one was terrible – it took roughly six months of data collection before the system was recommending films I’d actually consider watching. This is evidenced by how strongly it kept recommending Eat, Pray, Love (2010). Ugh.

If I arrange my film ratings by date from Jan 1, 2018 to Apr 1, 2019, a simple linear regression reveals a slight positive trend in my ratings (it is a five-point scale after all, so any positive trend has to be small). So, there’s some evidence the films I’m watching more recently are getting better ratings – and therefore my movie nights are more enjoyable.

So what did I learn about recommendation engines?

  • I can trust my spreadsheet’s recommendation more than a friend’s opinion

Anyone can build a recommendation model, and it will probably improve your choices. The system I designed doesn’t include any Python code or API calls, just a few fancy spreadsheet formulas and some stats know-how.

An element of DIY is probably better, anyway, because I can classify films the way I like. For example, I can break down ‘sci-fi’ into 10 micro-classifications (futuristic, time travel, zombies, etc) I am interested in, giving more accurate recommendations than just using ‘sci-fi’ on its own.

The more you can describe the elements in a set of choices, the better the model can be at recommending things you might like. Harvard’s cognitive psychologist George Miller famously published research back in the 50s that showed we can only hold about seven items in our short-term memory (or in this case, make a choice from around seven films).

And how many elements of those can we compare? Because a recommendation model can make suggestions based on hundreds, thousands or millions of elements.

  • You can uncover patterns in your decision making you didn’t even know you make

Since I was tracking the order I watch films and their genres, it was possible to build a database of which genres I would tend to watch next by finding patterns in my preferences.

For example, if I watch a crime film, there’s a moderate association (0.29) that the next film will be a fantasy film. And if I watch an action film, there is a negative association (-0.15) that the next film will be a superhero film. That’s probably because my wife will want to watch something else!

  • My feelings still play a part, they’re just quantified

It may come as a surprise, but recommendation engines are entirely reliant on the way a person feels. All the data and analysis in my film recommendation engine comes from two variables: my ratings of the films (how much I liked them), and when I last watched the films (was interested enough to act).

Netflix does the same thing, just in a more complex way. Its recommendation algorithm considers what you’ve watched, when and how long for, the order you watch films or series, your ratings, and the ratings given by other members who are similar to you.

The more descriptive these algorithms get, the better their recommendations are – to the point of factoring in ‘hyper-specific micro genres‘ I’ve proved to be at least curious about. Even the artwork of their content is displayed based on what I’ve engaged with in the past.

  • You can flip the system to make predictions

Probably the most interesting take-away from building a recommendation engine is the possibility of extracting the importance scores or average ratings to make a prediction of how much I might like movies that aren’t yet released.

There are 13 films in my database that fall into the space, action and adventure genres, and they have an average rating of 3.15 stars. Does this mean I’d give Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker three stars when it comes out at the end of the year? Will I be disappointed?

I’d probably have to use something a lot more advanced to get a more accurate prediction, something that might work out the part-worth (choice-based conjoint analysis) or standardised beta coefficients (stepwise linear regression) of individual aspects of films (actors, directors, release year, genres, etc) which could be used in as inputs in a model of my film ratings.

I could then use this model on a list of films being released over the next year or so, to filter them down those I’m most likely to give five stars to, all without the need to rely on other people’s opinions.

But first, I’m off to watch Hot Fuzz (2007), because an algorithm told me I’d like it.

– Dr Paul Vella

Proud and honoured to be recognised for our People and Culture


Royals Frey Fest 2019

Culture has always been important to us here at The Royals. We believe it affects everything we do – from the ideas we generate for clients and the insights we uncover, to the final product we deliver and everything in between. It determines our success as a company and shapes how we are perceived in our industry and the broader business community.

We believe this emphasis on our culture was a significant factor in our awards success over the past 12 months, which saw us winning Independent Agency of the Year 2018 at both Mumbrella and AdNews awards, the People & Culture Award (Under 100 employees) at B&T Awards 2018 as well as being highly commended for the Culture award at Mumbrella.

For our people, these wins represent important industry-wide recognition of the commitment and hard work that goes into building a successful agency, and an opportunity to pause and acknowledge what we have achieved together.

The Royals’ culture, built around our desire to be “the most interested agency in the world” lives and dies by our people. It’s one of passion, revelry, audacity, inquisitiveness and camaraderie.

Over the past 12 months we’ve been more committed to cultivating Royals’ curiosity than ever before, delivering on this promise through the launch of The Royals Academy, our all-new Learning & Development Program, designed to enhance the personal and professional growth of every Royal.

We’ve also reinforced our commitment to working side by side – never in front or behind – with pay equality, flexible work, respecting different points of view and celebrating what makes us unique as well as what makes us the same.

We’ve run our third annual engagement survey through Culture Amp to listen to what matters most to Royals, sent some lucky Royals to SXSW, welcomed 45 new Royals (as well as four Royal babies into the world) and we are preparing to take the agency away on our fifth annual three-day Royal UNconference, to spend quality time together away from our daily jobs.

Above all else, we believe in a culture that is human – one that’s filled with humanity, empathy and compassion for each other.

Our flexible work options are available to all staff – to juggle family commitments, studies or passion projects. We have 100% return rate among Royal mums with positions tailored to their individual needs. We also celebrate significant life events together (birthdays, weddings, new babies) with personalised care packs from every Royal, and support each other through tough times, offering unlimited compassionate leave for grieving colleagues, sharing the workload until they’re ready to return to work.

Our AdNews, B&T and Mumbrella awards have taken centre stage in the trophy room (aka the boardroom) and they bring a smile to our face every day. With 2019 now well under way, our focus at The Royals remains on all the improvements we can make to ensure our culture continues to thrive and grow with our people.

Here’s “cheers” to that.

The Royals, AdNews People and Culture Award Finalist

This excerpt originally appeared in iknowho and has been shortened for length.

Kings Valley UnConference

Early 2018 saw in the AdNews People and Culture Award, founded by iknowho. We wanted to sit down with returning finalists The Royals and hear more about their consecutive nomination.

As Dan Beaumont, Managing Partner, says: ‘Culture is everything at The Royals, it’s genuinely at the centre of who we are.’ We caught up with Dan and Kristy Camarillo, Talent Manager at The Royals to discuss their motivations, challenges and initiative successes.

What motivated you to enter this year’s People and Culture Award?
Dan – Our culture is our number one priority in the business. We know that if we get that right, everything else flows from there. If you haven’t got that right, I would argue that it’s more difficult to do great work for clients, win business and build a great agency.
It’s important for us to establish a reputation of valuing our culture and our people. We need to signal to the market very clearly that The Royals is a great place to work and we value people, irrespective of ethnicity, gender or age. That’s why we enter culture awards.
Kristy – Ultimately, awards not only attract clients but also talent. I think being recognised for something we’re heavily invested in, which has been our People and Culture, has allowed us to attract the right talent and to retain those people.

Being finalists 2 years in a row has shown consistency from your People and Culture initiatives. How do you stay on top of your game?
Dan – It’s consistent because we haven’t changed our priorities. The way we manage the agency is like an operating system; a little bit like the operating system on your smartphone. We upgrade our OS constantly; we fix bugs, add functionality and make the system operate better – that’s how we approach The Royals. So when it comes to our culture, the way we have managed it evolves and we strive to ‘get better at getting better’.
Kristy – Our engagement surveys measure the strength of our culture & drive our our employee initiatives for the year ahead. These come from the bottom up, not the top down. We want to ensure that the voice of all of our Royals is represented, listened to and considered.

Which People & Culture initiative do you think has created the biggest impact to the business?
Dan – Lots of little things we do have a big impact on our business. We have an unwritten rule particularly with the five partners: we give before we take.

A Christmas draw
Every Christmas we throw a name in the hat for every year each person has worked at The Royals. We draw a name and that person gets and all-expenses paid trip to SXSW Festival in Austin; this is a real celebration of the staff.

The UNconference
The unconference is an away weekend, which is 3 days and 2 nights across both offices, Sydney and Melbourne. We have been to Hobart, Byron Bay and last year we all climbed to the top of Mount Kosciuszko, where we had our first values awards presentation. We have 3 values – Audacity, Camaraderie and Revelry. Nick, our Creative Partner, has created patches for each of these values, and we award them to people who demonstrate those values. The unconference is a chance for all of us to get away together and do something we have never done before. This year we went glamping in King Valley and enjoyed everything the vineyards there have to offer, and then some.

Mount Kosciuszko

Monday Morning Assembly
Every Monday morning we have an all-staff meeting with both offices connected across video conference, where we talk about the week ahead. It’s about transparency, where staff can ask questions about what is going on in the business, then we have a presentation on something that is inspiring and interesting – staff members are responsible for this. It’s a big part of kicking off a successful five-day sprint in the agency.

Most Interested Day
It’s easy to get caught up in our busy day-to-day work so each month we give one Royal the day off, to get out of the office and take part in an ‘interested’ activity – it might be an advanced driving course, trapeze lessons, how to manage a beehive. The aim is to change up people’s daily working days and stretch them a bit – get them out of their comfort zone.

So it’s not just one initiative but all the little things, and everything contributes to our daily working lives and the overall culture of the business.

The Royals are known for looking for talent from a range of backgrounds, what impact has this diversity had on the business?
Kristy – We do not have a separate diversity policy, it’s just ingrained in everything we do. A lack of diversity in our business is a lack of relevance. We have people from a range of backgrounds – a marine biologist, lawyers, accountants, military psychologists, individuals from 15 countries that speak 12 languages and span three generations. Bringing such diverse perspectives and experiences to our work allows us to create better, more effective work for our clients and it drives our business forward.

As The Royals have offices in Melbourne and Sydney, what challenges do you face for the culture spanning two locations? How do you overcome these challenges?
Dan – The rivalry between Sydney and Melbourne is very much alive, not just at The Royals. We move people around a lot as they work in projects in each office. This facilitates our single agency mindset; we called it ‘1 egg with 2 yolks’. We don’t enter NSW or Victorian Agency of the Year for that reason. Some publishers try and pull us apart, but we have one P&L and that’s how we manage the business across the board. Operating as one agency/ one culture means we don’t need to duplicate services in both cities.
Kristy – We share resources, we cast projects appropriately (based on skills and experience). We try to come together as much as possible – face to face, Hangouts, phone to maintain collaboration – which is a cornerstone of The Royals.

Thank you to The Royals for another great award entry. Check out what was discussed in last year’s interview here.

The new Royals VR Induction Experience

You’ve probably experienced multiple workplace inductions before; the introduction to the kitchen, location of the toilet, finance processes and latest office gossip. But what if you could be inducted in a fun, interactive virtual reality experience instead?

We recently set out to create just that – a virtual reality experience we could immerse new employees in. The objective was to steer clear of the conventional workplace induction training video, and create a sense of The Royals culture and values in a dynamic, engaging environment.

Using virtual reality provided an opportunity to create a highly immersive, interactive and other-worldly experience not possible on other mediums. We chose the HTC Vive as our virtual reality device, favouring its room-scale tracking and reliable controller interactions. Starting with a limited knowledge of Unity3D, I eventually implemented fun, unexpected interactions with 3D assets, created a large customisable terrain with a height map, and programmed the ability to teleport through the terrain. We also explored combining mediums within the experience; adding a two-dimensional video to be watched within the experience, and recording a radio piece to play in the background.

Creating the experience wasn’t without its challenges. Some aspects of Unity present a bit of an uphill battle, and designing for a virtual experience was complex and intertwined in many disciplines. Similarly, testing the experience constantly resulted in more testing, as it seems no two virtual reality tests are ever the same.

The final product is a polished, engaging virtual reality experience providing new employees a fresh, interesting start to life at The Royals. If there’s anything here for you, you might get to see it!

Sarah Jackson

Here’s are some more shots of the experience:

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My SXSW: An interview with Chrissie by Chrissie.

I’ve been asked a lot of questions about my recent trip to SXSW. Many involve just a fleeting “How was it?”, while others invest a little more with  “What’s the coolest tech you saw?”, while others get quite pointed “Did you find BBQ?”.

It’s tricky to give a decent response to these types of questions over the coffee machine. So, here is me breaking it down to be about the questions I wish I got asked about my trip to SXSW 2018 (self-tailored to be about my favourite sessions, gigs, comedy acts or masterclasses).

What was the idea that you wish you’d thought of?
Sickboy. It’s a podcast by three Canadian mates, one of whom looks like the lead singer of Maroon 5. That guy has cystic fibrosis. That guy is also very funny. So, he thought it would be a great idea to breakdown the complexities of serious illness and all the complex foreign terms that are thrusted at you when you’re diagnosed using humour and by removing all pretentiousness. On this day of recording they were interviewing the strongman Andrew Palmer who was suddenly diagnosed with very acute Leukemia. This recording was aptly names Leukemia Sucks:

Sickboy is just a really good idea stemmed from the insight to break taboos, raise hope and build a sense of community via the power of positive thinking.

What was the question(s) you wish you’d asked?
Sometimes a conversation, sometimes a talk, sometimes with presentations, sometimes without. Every time though, there was question time at the end. It’s incredible for these speakers to answer questions on the fly. Some hard hitting, some people just wanting to share their appreciation.

I snuck into the Spike Lee masterclass about appropriating film for a Netflix series. It was so interesting to hear from a community that had been so touched and influenced by his 1988 film ‘She’s Gotta Have It’. The most interesting Q&A was how he’s tweaking his original script to reflect today’s current dating/love/sex and young adult culture to ensure it is relevant, if not as provocative as his original was.

Esther Perel, the relationship therapist and successful podcaster of ‘Where shall we start’ was asked “how do I make sure I don’t lose my identity in a relationship?” A question that was instantly rewarded with an applause before Esther could even respond. SHe then referred back to what she had said all along, that “the quality of our relationships determines the quality of our lives.” These days we seem to put so much pressure on our partner to provide the emotional and physical resources that we actually need a community to provide. That community should include friends, colleagues, sports, arts, music ets so that we don’t need to rely solely on one.

Then there was a bright spark after a NASA panel (of 3 boss female scientists) who asked “Is there a risk that when you send anything to space that you are in fact contaminating the area in which you land?”. *Mind blown* why had I never thought of that? Of course the answer is that there is a very very slight risk that they may have free loading microorganisms that hitch-hike their way but to date they have not. It’s definitely something that they’re cautious of and very wary to avoid as best they possibly can before launching.

As you can imagine, no-one leaves when the questions begin as there’s potentially still so much to learn (or snigger at).

What was the wankiest term you heard over there?
LOCALVIST. It was on day one, in the first session I heard. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t worried about what this whole thing was about. This term is not only painful to say, read and use… but most painful is that we should all become familiar with it.

The localvist is a community warrior. They believe in local activism, possess a distrust in large institutions, buy local goods and services because they want to make an impact in their world. They don’t believe in storytelling, want brands to stand-up for something and love (the idea of) cryptocurrencies because they can track the beginning to end of every transaction.

For me the advertiser, this audience is such a great challenge and makes us ask so many new questions like how can we create a genuine brand that stands-up for issues that affect them? How can we serve their community? How can we work with BitPay?

What was the most surprising talk?
To my surprise it wasn’t a NASA talk, or Spike Lee masterclass or hearing from the head of activations at Louis Vuitton or the Irish PM. For me, my mission for the trip was to not go to anything that I would find familiar. So I went along to hear Janet Echelman, an artist who I had never heard of. Janet specialises in turning public spaces into desirable places because “a public space is only a space without an engaging experience.” What is so interesting about her techniques are the materials she utilises which are the same fibres of NASA spacesuits which are weaved and knotted like Balinese fishing nets and are formed off data from within the local area for example on the movements of the wind or clouds or timely sunsets or foot traffic.

Plus, have you ever heard of a piece of art being able to withstand a tornado? She has one in Phoenix that can do just that and it’s called “Her Secret is Patience”. It was tested in a gravity and wind simulator! Of course it’s not just Janet, she works closely with a team of engineers, aeronautical engineers, sculptures, designers, steel engineers and more to create her visions. It was so inspiring to see data come to life in such a beautiful as well as tried & tested way.

What’s some new music I should listen to?
Definitely ShamirTry and get the live version because the intro’s to each song makes it so much better because of the angst. The few that I remember went a little something like “This song is about the friend you never want to introduce to your mother because you know your Mum will hate them”, “This one is called dead inside, it’s an autobiography” and “This one is called straight guys because if you’re straight and a man we don’t trust you”.

All my favourite gigs were at Mohawks. If you’re ever in Austin be sure to catch a gig there.

After a whole day in sessions, a few hours at Mohawk’s, and a burger stop-off we found ourselves heading to an amazing theatre just outside of downtown Austin. Here we queued, as you do, for Max Richter. A modern composer. I was about 4 people from the front when one of the volunteers stopped the line to say “sorry folks you’ve missed out the beds”. At the time, I thought I was okay with that. That was until I realised I had walked into an 8-hour overnight performance called “Sleep”. This must be how the filthy rich sleep, with Max Richter playing them about 6 chords on repeat for 8 hours straight. Whilst the performance wasn’t for me, I’m impressed with the dedication to his art.

What was the security like?
The most dialled-up security I saw was for the politicians. The Irish PM and Senator Bernie Sanders. Leo Varadkar, Taoiseach, is one of the most progressive leaders in the European Union, if not the world. He’s a 39 year-old, half-Indian half-Irish Catholic man who is openly gay and is a medical doctor, with experience in that field. He thinks that career politicians are in trouble because of ongoing distrust from communities. Bernie Sanders touched on that too. Bernie’s number one mission ahead of the 2018 election is to get more people registered to vote because he believes that Americans are disgusted with the current political climate. Thankfully each time, the high level security wasn’t needed.

Can you riff some tidbits for me?

  • 17% of the Irish population were not born in Ireland.
  • Twitter isn’t dead.
  • Matte black,vegetarian meat, multitasking mirrors, animal alternatives (pineapple leather) will all be trending within the next 6-12 months.
  • The quality of our relationships determines the quality of our lives.
  • Ireland will stop using coal by 2025.

Would you go to SXSW again, and again?
Absolutely. This is the most inspiring and exciting festival I have been to. It brings people from all over the world who are so excited to be part of something with such scale and that is reflective of those that speak, present, act, perform and cook for all the attendees. The whole event is what you make of it and I think me and my crew (Zoe, Lee, Kenny, Antuong and the ring-ins along the way) covered some ground that helped fulfil my mind, soothe my itchy feet and renew my level of excitement to be #mostinterested.

By Chrissie Malloch and Chrissie Malloch.


Facebook is making major changes to the News Feed

You’re probably aware of the recent announcements about shifts in the way Facebook prioritises newsfeed content. Here we break down what it might mean for you, your brand and your brand’s social voice..

What’s happening?

After Facebook fake news seemingly had a very real effect on the 2016 Election and other recent political and cultural contexts, Mark Zuckerberg recently announced a shift in the distribution of content in your Facebook Feed. The platform is now encouraging users to share their personal stories and feelings to stem a decline in original writing/user posted content, and a gradual upswing in shared publisher content.

What it means?

Zuckerberg has announced that he will endeavour to ‘fix’ Facebook for both brands and users. How long will this policy remain in place? Facebook has been known to solve problems by discarding policies altogether. It will be interesting to see if after a drop-off in spend, Facebook persists with its new algorithmic priorities.

How it might affect your brand?

  • Measurement metrics will shift as we soon discover which audiences are most affected and how the new conversation-centric content resonates best.
  • Some brands will move their focus from a reach/awareness strategy to engagement heavy approach in an effort to spark conversations and move to the top of the feed as a trending topic (Remember: this means more than a ‘like’).
  • Tone of voice: more than ever, it will be important for our brands to appeal to their audiences on a personal level in language, content and formats.
  • Increase in use of Facebook as an ecosystem will rise. We anticipate brands to increase their utilisation of features where the conversation already exists including Messenger and Groups.
  • Formats: remember to play to the formats that Facebook favours. As an example, you might consider optimising stills with a slight animation to take advantage of a potential organic boost from motion.

Our opinion.

More than ever, it’s important for our brands to appeal to their audiences on a personal level. This generates amazing new creative opportunities to connect with individual accounts and spark conversation, media, and awareness of the voice behind the brand.

These changes also allow us to take advantage of Facebook Messenger to reach the public. We will continue to optimise video and other proven organic reach methods that are promoted by Facebook. We’re big on Facebook Groups and there is still a great opportunity for brands to speak to their audiences through influencers, crowd-sourced content and moderators.

We’re interested in the opinion of our community, let us know if you want to chat about any of the above.

Katie Morris & Chrissie Malloch.