Irish Examiner: Human robots prepare to take on customer service

With robots able to gobble up data and spit out answers more quickly than humans, they have already been hired to take up roles in customer support.

A study by Oxford University and Deloitte found that UK jobs in customer service were one of the top 50 occupations at risk of becoming automated by robotics.

But even as bots break into the mainstream, humans are still needed to deal with customers, according to Liam Keegan, a content marketing specialist at XSellco, an Irish company that offers help desk and repricing technology to online retailers.

“At the moment, bots are good at cutting out the really basic, low-hanging fruit in customer support… Basically, bots are just a fancy version of automated responders on telephones,” Mr Keegan says.

They are good at dealing with mind-numbing, repetitive customer queries. Where they fail is in their ability to process empathy and “the human stuff”.

If the customer is angry, an automated response is not going to appease them for long.

Add any degree of complexity and automated responders won’t work, Mr Keegan explains.

“There are a lot of semantic technologies being developed to make machine learning better, to make artificial intelligence better, to understand human language. But we’re nowhere near that being applied in a business situation,” he says.

Humans are still much better at dealing with complex queries. It’s likely to stay that way for some time. Large companies are, however, investing heavily in the potential for ‘chat bots’.

Facebook rolled out a bots service in its Messenger app earlier this year. And Mr Keegan believes that smaller companies will also dabble in “bot life”.

These firms could be a testing ground because the bots could work for them in dealing with repetitive tasks such as maintaining a presence on social media.

If bots work for firms at this level, they could start using them more widely across their business.

The process is likely to be slow, however. “Once we have a template that works across the board, I think you’ll see it become more prevalent across small and medium sized businesses,” Mr Keegan says.

Tom Richards, group product manager at Intercom, the Irish tech start-up that creates live chat and marketing services, says using bots will not necessarily replace human interaction.

Bots could help humans to put their “best foot forward” and resolve issues more quickly.

“I think that interactions with customers can be a really complex workflow. Before you have any of theses interactions or while you’re trying to juggle loads of them at once in a customer support context, you have to learn a lot about the things that are happening in that customer’s life that leads them to the question they have. Bots are going to be great at being able to set that context for humans,” Mr Richards says.

“They’re going to be able to give humans a real leg-up inside the support tools they use while talking to customers, so they can focus on the conversation rather than the administrative tasks,” he adds.

Professor Barry O’Sullivan — the director of the insight centre for data analytics at University College Cork and the incoming vice-chair of the European Association for Artificial Intelligence — says that though artificial intelligence is developing at a fast pace, the process is still slow.

“One of the very early innovators in artificial intelligence and winner of the Nobel Prize, Herbert Simon, once said that ‘Machines will be capable … of doing any work a man can do.’ I believe that Simon was right, but we’re several decades away from this,” Prof O’Sullivan says.

There are already a number of systems able to carry out many semi-professional and customer-facing jobs.

But he warns to expect “a fundamental change in the nature of work over the coming years”. The social effects will need to be carefully assessed.

This article first appeared in the Irish Examiner on August 2, 2016.

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Irish Examiner: Marketing gurus catch a ride on Pokémon Go craze

Marketers will have to catch ‘em quick if they want to capitalise on the Pokémon Go craze.

Savvy retailers have already taken advantage of the game’s augmented reality function, where digital graphics are viewed in the real world through a smartphone camera.

In a bid to entice gamers to congregate at their shopfronts and boost footfall, businesses can use “lures” to increase the number of Pokémon characters in an area for a set period of time.

But simply dropping lures and hoping for the best is not enough for small businesses, according to Ellen Ryan, managing director of Yellow Machine, a communications firm specialising in the 18 to 35-year-old demographic.

“Create a bit of a buzz in your store with an event. You might have discounts around the store and have some goodies to give away. There is a small spend through the app, but you can really leverage that yourself and drive it to the next level by doing these incentives.”

Other brick and mortar businesses could use the game to attract attention and showcase their services too, she suggested.

“There are an awful lot of brands looking to capitalise on it,” said David Hayes, director of social search and performance media at digital agency, In The Company of Huskies.

“A lot of people want to just piggyback on something to make themselves look relevant. It’s like any major event. People will see through that.”

He argues that because Pokémon Go is a location-based app, brands that are somehow connected to mobility, such as businesses in the leisure, tourism or retail sectors, will benefit the most.

“One of our clients is Fáilte Ireland. We would be suggesting proactive pieces around [the game] because we think it is applicable to tourism.”

The Youth Lab, part of Thinkhouse youth marketing agency, has also explored opportunities Pokémon Go offers to brands, especially those looking to reach the coveted millennial market through “nostalgia culture”.

Speaking to the Irish Examiner, Claire Hyland, director of insights at The Youth Lab, explained young people have this sense of sentimentality “because we’re in such a fast-paced, instant, everything-now world.

“Things are fleeting in so many ways that young people can actually have a nostalgia for something that happened six months ago or a year ago.”

She said that Pokémon Go’s ability to project the game into real-life scenarios makes it similar to the image messaging app Snapchat, which is largely associated with the youth market.

For advertisers, in-game promotions are certainly not a new concept but has largely consisted of pop-ups, that tend to irritate players.

It is hoped augmented reality will help solve this problem: Snapchat recently filed a patent for an ad-overlay system that turns messages into ads. For example, if a user takes a picture of their latte, a coffee brand’s logo will appear as a suggested filter.

With Pokémon Go and other augmented reality games, big brands should look to reach people using similar techniques that don’t intrude on the overall experience.

“The key thing is that [advertisements] don’t take away from the game,” said Eddy Danielsson, Gamestop’s director of merchandising, marketing and e-commerce for Northern Europe.

This article first appeared in the Irish Examiner on July 25, 2016.

Yes, pray, but also travel for Nice

France is yet again in mourning after the horrific attack in Nice on Bastille Day, which left at least 84 people dead and 200 injured. One Irish man was left in a critical condition but has since stabilised.

The motive for the attack is still unclear, even though ISIS has claimed that it inspired it.

There have been contradictory reports about the assailant, Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, who is not thought to have been radicalised. So far, there is nothing to verify that this was an extremist attack. His intention was to kill as many people as possible, but probably not on behalf of any militant organisation.

Regardless, his actions will be a cause of alarm for security officials. Even in France’s state of emergency, which has been extended by at least three months, the nature of the attack was unprecedented. Weaponising a truck infringes grossly on our freedom to travel and celebrate public events in other countries.

Security will become more of a hassle than it already is for tourists, with heightened levels of anxiety and more pressure on already overworked gendarme and military officials. Armed police will have a more visible presence, which will unsettle some visitors. It will be enough to convince many people to defer their travel plans and stay at home—even Irish citizens, who are among the most well-travelled in Europe.

But who benefits from that kind of reaction? We must defy barbarism by properly evaluating risk. We should not let fear unnecessarily dictate our freedom to explore the world.

Around 200 Irish people die abroad each year. Even in light of Thursday’s awful tragedy, travellers are still more likely to die from things that would have killed them at home anyway, such as underlying heart conditions, rather than murder.

We should travel with the same amount of precaution as ever: Follow travel advice given by the Department of Foreign Affairs; be aware of local laws and customs; have an emergency contact for the nearest Irish or EU embassy; and make sure you have bought travel insurance.

Be wary, as well, of reports from mainstream media. Many outlets were quick to report the attack as an act of terror, even before there was enough information to verify the assailant’s motives.

According to UNWTO figures, France is the world’s most popular travel destination. And rightly so. There is so much to love about France, so why should we let an act of hate control our desire to visit it?

Irish Examiner: Cork has potential to deliver growing space for startups

Co-working has become an attractive alternative to traditional offices, but entrepreneurs say that there is a need for development of the practice in Cork City.

Daniel Ramamoorthy— founder of The Treehouse, an organisation that offers co-working space and advice to entrepreneurs in Dublin— helped set up the Revolution Workspace in the Penrose Wharf business centre.

“Cork is actually a hotbed of incredible innovation,” Mr Ramamoorthy said, and “is leading the charge in Ireland in areas like synthetic biology, in particular.”

Mr Ramamoorthy, who advised the former government on policymaking for entrepreneurs, said that “there is a need for more co-working in Cork” to capitalise on these innovations.

“I get emails from people all the time who are in Cork and want to move to Dublin because they believe their business will grow faster there,” he said.

“I think it’s because they don’t see a good landing space in Cork. I think that if there was a more visible landing space for startups, more Cork startups would stick around because there would be a resource for them to continue growing.”

Without a major co-working hub, a number of smaller spaces have opened across the city. Fergus Murphy, manager and founder of the Plus10 space, became a co-worker by accident.

“Myself and another crew were developing a travel software site,” Mr Murphy said.

“We needed space for a couple of programmers. When we went looking, all that was there was very expensive stuff for short-term [use].”

Mr Murphy had access to a building on South Main St and decided to make it his base. After a while, one of the developers on his team suggested opening up the space to other startups.

“It just kind of grew from there, to the point where we have 17 desks occupied most of the time,” he said.

‘Cork is behind the curve. The culture is different. The startup scene isn’t as vibrant.’

One of the benefits of operating out of a co-working space, Mr Murphy said, is discipline.

“The idea of working at home is very practical initially,” he said, “but it’s very hard to work in isolation.”

The social side of co-working helps entrepreneurs avoid being “captured by your comfort” and overlooking flaws in their business, he said. The open space allows them to bounce ideas off other workers and share problems or worries.

“There’s a pool of different talents and skills there,” he said.

Mr Murphy, who spoke at last year’s Co-working Europe Conference in Milan, believes Cork lags other European cities in development of co-working spaces.

“Ireland is a bit behind the curve,” he said. “Cork is significantly behind the curve. The culture is different. The startup scene isn’t as vibrant.”

Mr Ramamoorthy agrees, but believes Cork could become one of the top 10 startup cities in Europe.

“Ireland in general ranks very high as a startup hub,” he said. “Cork as a city is not yet. But I think it’s fast on the heels of becoming that, specifically because of the collaboration between investors, accelerators, the local enterprise office and the universities. I think that network is absolutely important in building a good startup ecosystem.”

But it is not just startups that are attracted to co-working. Established companies have learned that the practice is not just about physical space, but a culture that promotes entrepreneurship and creativity.

“We have mature practices that have been much bigger in the past and had to scale down,” said Patrick Creedon of Magee Creedon Kearns architects, which set up Gate Design House on North Abbey St.

“They’ve discovered now that they don’t have to have the big overheads of taking on a whole space by themselves and yet they have a sense of scale in terms of the shared space.”

Both Gate Design House and Plus10 have been approached by large organisations, some of which already have substantial offices in Cork, looking to rent their spaces.

“I’ve had cases where big companies have been working on a project but maybe they wanted some lateral thinking,” Mr Murphy said.

“They want to come out of the office environment and into a more creative environment.”

As work becomes more flexible, Mr Creedon predicts a rise in demand for co-working. “One or two individuals can do so much more now than five or six individuals could do in the past,” he said.

Companies “don’t want their hard-earned cash going into bricks and mortar. They do want to be in an environment that is pleasant and attractive and buzzy.”

This article first appeared in the Irish Examiner.

5 steps to building your own brand newsroom

 

Just so we’re clear, I absolutely believe that there should be a clear distinction between journalism and advertising.

But as branded content comes back in vogue (the practice has actually been around for quite some time), I think PR and communications teams should think seriously about how they communicate their messages.

If someone is going to advertise to me, I want to be offered something of sustenance, not just a command to buy a product or a lifestyle. And I should know exactly who has paid for that content—slap a big advertorial banner on top of the piece.

With that in mind, here are my five tips for building a brand newsroom:

1. Hire the talent—or mine it

There is an increased demand for information and quality content. In order to generate meaningful stories, you’ve got to have a team of cracking storytellers with a nose for news and a sense of branding.

Unfortunately, we don’t all have the luxury of hiring a batch of journalists, but that doesn’t mean you can’t give your current PR team a shake-up.

Be bold—create a new role as chief storytelling officer and make that individual responsible for keeping your brand narrative on-track and on-trend.

2. Find your content crossover

Look for the crossover between what your brand wants to say and what interests your audience. All of your successful stories exist in that space.

Look at your area of expertise, find a topic of interest, then own it. Just like mattress start-up Casper launched Van Winkle’s and owned the topic of sleep. What topics does your team knows better than anybody else? Remember, anything can be interesting if you find a way to make a good story out of it.

3. Connect creators with your sales team

Branded content does not necessarily have to create a direct revenue stream, but aim to generate a sale or make some kind of connection with every story your brand newsroom shares.

Your content team should liaise with your sales team throughout the week. See what leads the sales team is trying to attract and generate content that will entice them to your brand.

4. Have a ton of ideas ready to go

At the beginning of each quarter, put together a host of story ideas that reflect your sales target for the period.

The walls of MediaHQ’s newsroom is covered with post-its with clear, concise headline ideas. That way, our team can peel one off the wall and knock out a 300-word post in the half an hour.

5. Look for openings

Don’t underestimate the power of traditional media. Syndication will help generate brand recognition. Write an op-ed on behalf of your company’s CEO and submit it to a Sunday paper. How about offering an insightful listicle to an industry magazine? Why not pitch a package to feature on a radio programme or podcast?

Your brand newsroom should act as a wire service between established media and your organisation. If you can offer them quality content—not god-awful ad copy—they will gladly give you the publicity.

A version of this article first appeared on MediaHQ.com.

5 magazines that prove print ain’t dead

This article first appeared on MediaHQ.com.

With our researchers constantly updating our database of over 7,500 journalists, the MediaHQ team watches Ireland’s media landscape evolve day-by-day—literally.

While there are some people who relish in the demise of print—perhaps a touch of schadenfreude for hacks who scoffed at the rise of online media—we still have a soft spot for good old-fashioned ink on paper.

If you’re looking to brighten up your desk with a stack of mags, check out these five beauties.

1. We Are Dublin

we are dublin, magazines

Popping off the press every three months, We Are Dublin showcases a mixture of long form features, fiction and poetry, coupled with beautiful photography “dedicated to the city”.

We Are Dublin has been described as “a new breed of travel magazine”, it explores undiscovered parts of the city—and sheds new light on familiar places like this essay on the M50.

The magazine is available in select stockists around the world or you can buy online.

2. The Gentlewoman

the gentlewoman

A celebration of the modern woman, The Gentlewoman “offers a fresh and intelligent perspective on fashion that’s focused on personal style”.

The biannual magazine has a distinct voice that we just love, which creates a feeling of being part of a welcoming club, with enlightening conversation and inspiration.

A dash of glamour and oodles of edge, The Gentlewoman is a joy to peruse and always dons a striking portrait on the cover (Kirsten Dunst features on the spring/summer 2016 edition) . You can pick up the latest copy here.

3. Zeit Magazin

zeit magazin international

If you somehow manage to get your hands on the English-language version of Zeit Magazin, cherish it. This is not an easy find.

A collection of translated articles originally published in Die Zeit’s weekly supplement, as well as a few exclusives thrown in for good measure, Zeit Magazin offers intelligent content and clever design.

The latest edition celebrates 70 years of Die Zeit newspaper, one of Germany’s most respected broadsheets.

Of course, Zeit Magazin didn’t exist 70 years ago, so the editors decided to imagine what the magazine would have looked like had it been published in 1946.

They went whole-hog on this one—even the crossword are time-relevant. A brave and creative idea, brilliantly executed.

4. Rabble

rabble

Okay, so Rabble isn’t a magazine, it’s a newspaper. But there are still lessons to learn from the publication.

With a clear political agenda, Rabble is a bold, raucous and colourful freesheet put together by a community of volunteers.

The paper’s mission is to “create a space for the passionate telling of truth, muck-raking journalism and well aimed pot-shots at illegitimate authority”.

It may not be to everyone’s liking, but it is always refreshing and wonderfully illustrated.

Find back issues here.

5. Delayed Gratification

delayed gratification

Proving not only that print isn’t dead, but also that long form journalism is very much alive, Delayed Gratification—a brilliantly clever title, by the way—completely dismisses the concept of a breaking story.

Revisiting news stories that have disappeared from the mainstream agenda, the slow journalism magazine values “being right above being first”.

You can learn all about Delayed Gratification’s slow journalism movement in editor Rob Orchard’s TED Talk.

What are your favourite magazines? Share them with us—@mediahqnews.

MediaHQ.com is Ireland’s largest and most dynamic media intelligence company, with contact details to more than 7,500 journalists in Ireland listed on our database. Since we started in 2009, we have helped Ireland’s best known brands connect over 100,000 stories with the media.

Mediaflash 24: Storytelling & Unlocking Creativity

writing-1170138_1280

On Episode 24 of Mediaflash, we are joined by Sara Bennett of Fighting Words.

Co-founded by Seán Love and Roddy Doyle, Fighting Words is a creative writing centre for children and young people. It also offers programmes to adults with special needs and people who have experienced homelessness or prison.

The aim of Fighting Words is to make creative writing accessible to as many people as possible.

Sara talks us through what makes a compelling story and tells us how to make time for creative writing in our hectic lives.

She explains how the skills taught by Fighting Words can be applied to brand storytelling.

Also on this week’s programme, the award-winning MediaHQ blogging team sits down to reveal some of their blogging secrets and they share the five key ingredients needed to concoct the perfect post.

Listen below and to hear more of our podcasts, click here.

Be your own editor: Smarten up your copy in 5 steps

smarten up copy

Behind every great writer, there is a great editor — someone who ruthlessly hacks away at the text until it is fit for print.

Unfortunately in the the communications game, we don’t always have the luxury of a second pair of eyes to cast over our content.

Never fear. Here are five ways you can smarten up your copy and be your own editor.

1. Use active verbs

Sentences are weakened by passive verbs — see? Wouldn’t it have been clearer if I had said “Passive verbs weaken sentences”?

Sentences written in the active form are usually much snappier and make your copy easier to read.

Remember, if you are issuing a press release, you have to grab the journalist’s attention immediately, so you don’t want them to get bogged down in clunky sentences. Speaking of which…

2. Shorten those sentences

A rule of thumb is to create a new paragraph for each new idea and for quotations.

Broken-up text is much easier to read than text that is presented in long, uninterrupted blocks with excessive use of commas.

If you find a paragraph is running on for more than three sentences, see where you can create a break and turn it into two paragraphs.

3. Pull the plug on extra punctuation

Writing that is littered with punctuation doesn’t flow well and can distract the reader.

The best way to clear out any excessive punctuation is by ending a sentence or starting a new one.

4. Bye-bye big words

One of the golden rules from Strunk and White: Omit unnecessary words. Three words that good communicators should live by.

Jargon and big words don’t make you sound smarter. They make it sound as if you don’t know what you are talking about and you are deliberately trying to confuse the reader.

See how the media chastises politicians for polluting their debates with jargon.

If you want to make your point clearer, use familiar words and find shorter words in a thesaurus.

5. Show redundancies the door

Don’t say the same thing with two words: “[Brand] new”, “[very] unique”, “could [possibly]”, “plan [ahead]”.

Cut them out or separate them with an “and”. Keep your sentences smart.

This article first appeared on MediaHQ.com.

MediaHQ.com is Ireland’s largest and most dynamic media intelligence company. Since we started in 2009, we have helped Ireland’s best known brands connect over 100,000 stories with the media.

5 things to quit in your PR pitch

quit in pitch

As the media evolves, so does the pitching process.

Shrinking newsrooms at traditional media outlets mean reporters are now busier than ever. That’s why it is important for savvy PR pros to smarten up their pitching techniques if they want to sell their stories to influential journalists.

Here are five bad habits to kick if you want to become pitch perfect:

1. Making your story too complicated

Journalists are likely under pressure for time, so you’ll have to really grab their attention. The most effective way to do that is to keep your pitch clean, simple and powerful.

Make your message snappy and include only what is necessary.

If you are pitching a complex topic through email, break the story down to its simplest form and use bullet points.

Avoid jargon because it is awkward and a journalist will dismiss it as marketing-speak.

2. Not researching a reporter

If you are pitching an exclusive to an individual reporter, make sure you know about their past articles and specialist areas. There is no point pitching an education story to a health correspondent (unless it is somehow relevant, of course).

Also, check that they haven’t already covered stories on your competitors and look into the media outlet they contribute to.

This will help smarten up your pitch and make it easier to establish a repertoire with the journalist if you already have some context about their career.

3. Not personalising a pitch

Rather than putting someone at the butt end of a mass email, personalise your pitch with references to past articles and connect with them through social media.

It’s possible to personalise media releases on MediaHQ’s system. You can learn more about that here.

4. Weak subject lines

If you are emailing a pitch, a snappy subject line is crucial.

Keep it short and write in vivid, simple language. Write it in the active verb form, and use the present or future tense.

Remember, the subject line is supposed to attract the reader and capture the essence of your story in a single sentence.

5. Being a nuisance caller

If a journalist doesn’t respond to your email or your Tweet, they certainly won’t respond to your call.

And if they have ignored your story idea, don’t hunt down their co-workers as well.

If you want to learn more about pitching story ideas, come along to our Pitch Perfect training course on March 8. MediaHQ.com’s managing director Jack Murray, an expert on pitching ideas, will teach you how to connect with journalists, build media lists and get your story heard.

This article first appeared on MediaHQ.com.

MediaHQ.com is Ireland’s largest and most dynamic media intelligence company, with contacts to more than 7,000 journalists on our database. Since we started in 2009, we have helped Ireland’s best known brands connect over 100,000 stories with the media.

A hard day’s night in Merseyside

The view across the Salthouse Dock towards the UNesco awarded skyline of Liverpool's Pier Head in January 2012.
The view across the Salthouse Dock towards the UNesco awarded skyline of Liverpool’s Pier Head in January 2012.

Virtually every bar, every hotel, every street in Liverpool claims some connection, however small, to the local tourist trade’s biggest asset, The Beatles.

Their legacy has helped establish Liverpool in each of its main markets —and across different generations, especially now that their hits are available to stream on Spotify and other services.

But the tourist board is keen to show us that there is more to Liverpool than just the sound of the sixties.

Down by the docks

Albert Dock is a great starting point for visitors to the city. Located on the city’s waterfront near Pier Head, it is home to a host of attractions, many of which are free to enter, as well as restaurants and bars.

It is easy to spend an afternoon simply doing a loop of the dock.

My first stop is Tate Liverpool, where the Constellations display joins together the stars of the contemporary art world.

You’ll find Grayson Perry alongside Paul Cézanne; Marcel Duchamp paired with Jasper Jones.

The exhibition spans multiple decades and movements, but it is possible to complete in less than an hour, so you can still get your cultural fix if you are tight for time.

There are also regular lectures and activities in the museum, many of which cater for children and families.

Liverpool travel review
Tate Liverpool

Next door, the Museum of Liverpool documents the city’s social history, while the Merseyside Maritime Museum and the International Slavery Museum tell the story of the city’s trading history.

Mop top memorabilia

The Beatles Story charts the rise and demise of the aforementioned Fab Four through a series of elaborate replica displays and genuine memorabilia.

The tour is narrated by Julia Baird, John Lennon’s half sister, with snippets of interviews from key voices from The Beatles’s history.

Visitors can peep through the music shop where the boys bought their first instruments — and left producer Brian Epstein to pay off the £200 debt, the equivalent of thousands of pounds in today’s currency.

They’ll see George Harrison’s first guitar and John Lennon’s glasses, bent at the nose after he through them to the floor during a heated argument with Yoko Ono.

They can stand on a recreated Mathew Street, where the band played the famous Cavern Club 212 times.

Disappointingly, the “real” Cavern Club is in fact a replica itself. The original structure was foolishly demolished, meaning there are now two Caverns that both profess to be the first.

Razzle Dazzle ferry, livery designed by Peter Blake
Razzle Dazzle ferry, livery designed by Peter Blake

While you are down by the dockside, you should take the ferry on the Mersey. Dickens used to do when his visited the North “for the air”.

The current livery was designed by Peter Blake, the co-creator of The Beatles’ famous Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band album cover.

Back in the city centre, there are lots of opportunities to shop, especially in the enormous Liverpool ONE district, where the nightlife is legendary.

The aspirational market would enjoy a girlie or lads weekend away in the district, which is home to the Roja Pinchos bar, one of the city’s hippest drinking spots.

Liverpool is small enough to navigate by foot, so if you are looking to repent after a night out, you can take a walking tour to the city’s two cathedrals.

The enormous Cathedral Church of Christ, Britain’s largest, is magnificent with its high gothic arches.

There is a beautiful neon sculpture by Tracey Emin arced over the Great West Window, and the Lady Chapel offers solitude to the footsore traveller.

There are a host of interesting sites nearby that Beatles fans should check out, including the famous Philharmonic pub with its  and Ye Cracke bar on Rice Street. Both were often frequented by the band, who used to sit near the ladies’ toilets to catch sneak peeks of women in the various states of undress.

Arthur C Clarke’s mysterious church

Down the road, the Metropolitan Cathedral is the Catholic Archidiocese’s mother church — but it looks more like the mothership.

The mother-of-God ship
The mother-of-God ship

It reminds this writer of a spacecraft that Arthur C Clarke would have dreamt up for one of his science fiction novels — an interpretation of what the future would look like from a 1970s perspective.

The interior, on the other hand, is beautiful, with circular seating and marble grey floors. Visitors can slowly wander around the nave and explore the vast collection of sculptures and iconographies.

No trip to Liverpool would be complete without a visit to the Scouser’s holy ground at Anfield.

The stadium tour is worth taking, even if you’re not a fan — although it might be a bit of a stretch to expect an Everton supporter to enjoy it.

Tour groups must now to stick together — the week before, a wandering tourist triggered a security alert by veering away from his group. You’ll never walk alone indeed.

We’re told that there is a 20 year waiting list for season tickets, and thousands of punters are left ticketless at every home game. That’s why the club is building extra seats and corporate boxes, which cost £80,000 a year.

The 1989 Hillsborough disaster isn’t far from mind. Unsurprisingly, there is no reporter from The Sun on this press trip. Even the Irish edition is boycotted.

Conor McMahon travelled to Liverpool as a guest of Aer Lingus and Visit Liverpool. He stayed at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel, Liverpool. Aer Lingus flies Dublin to John Lennon International Airport 15w with fares from €19.99  one way.

This article first appeared in Travel Extra magazine.