Freedom of Information requests – anyone can ask to access information recorded by public organisations and they’re a great way to gather new research, garner interesting industry insight and tap into business and consumer sentiment. All with no need to fork out on commissioning your own study. But, on the other hand, they can be a little complicated, potentially very time consuming and not to mention that rather overwhelming influx of confirmations and replies into your inbox. Luckily, we’ve found out about the website, WhatDoTheyKnow, which hopes to make the whole process a lot easier, quicker and hassle free.

All you need to do is click to make a request, choose the public authority you wish to contact, input your questions and send. It’s as simple as that. The site will also keep you updated when you receive a response, so there’s no chance of missing anything and no need to trawl through your emails.

Not even sure where to begin or who you can approach? No worries, the website lists all the UK public authorities that can be sent FOI requests and, if it’s wider European organisations that you’re interested in, then just pop over to its sister site asktheEU.

Someone may have even done the asking for you. Not only does the site help you to make a new request, it also publishes all the requests and responses to other users –  the information you need may well already be there, ready to use. Or, if you’re hoping for something a little more exclusive, it’s an easy way to check if someone else has beaten you to it and submitted a request for the same information.

Last month, we visited the news:rewired conference and gained some valuable insights into how news and journalism is developing. One of sessions, hosted by Leila Haddou from the Sunday Times shared a list of the great tools out there for the media industry and amongst them we found some goodies. Our favourite and henceforth our Tool of the Month has got to be OpenRefine.

One of the most tedious jobs in the creative industry has got to be data crunching tasks, especially when the data you’re working with is all over the place. Small errors like extra spaces, misspellings and varying abbreviations often go unnoticed in large datasets and you may be missing out on vital stats.

With OpenRefine, the tool can pick up these inconsistencies in the file, so you have a fully reliable dataset ready to crunch. OpenRefine can also transform the format of the data. So, if you were looking at a set of data in a list and you wanted it in table, OpenRefine can do that for you too. Data cleansing has never been so easy!

As much as we love content writing at Firefly HQ, we understand that to really make a piece pop, you’re going to need some killer stock imagery.

Pictures are important in helping to boost those engagement stats. Adding images to your tweets can generate 150% more retweets than those without, whilst Facebook posts that include pictures will receive twice as much engagement than text-only posts.

We’ve all been there, trailing through pages and pages of Google images under the search terms “edgy marketing pictures” or “abstract artsy photography”, wasting hours of time we don’t have and what’s the outcome? You can never find the right image; the photo looks like it’s been taken on a Nokia 6120 or you have to ask permission from the photographer to use it.

Luckily, there’s a solution! Enter, Pexels: a stock image website which allows you to search through over 30,000 stock images, all in high quality. And the best thing about it? All of the images are free to use! Whether it’s for your client’s blogpost, website or Facebook cover photo, all images on the site are covered under the Creative Commons Zero (CC0) license, so no attribution is required (although Pexels like it if you mention them).

Just like Google Images, you can use the search bar if you have something specific in mind or you can browse through a plethora of categories, including my favourite, photos organised by colour.

Perhaps you need a bit more inspiration? Pexels also has a chrome extension to transform and brighten-up your chrome browser with a different stock image every time you open a new tab.

Whatever your preference, Pexels probably has it!

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