Can you solve this secret Christmas conundrum?

I receive more apologies than Christmas cards at this time of year.

“I’ve just not been able to get organised, Donna,” is the response I get as I put a glittering red envelope in their hand.

That’s ok. Seeing the smile on their face as they read my ‘Donner the reindeer’ pun is enough for me.

But, Christmas cards aren’t just all Santa Clauses and Snowmen. A couple of years ago Hammersmith and Fulham Council issued its residents a bogus card reminding them not to get behind on their rent. There’s the spirit!

So it’s good to see that this December, UK spy agency GCHQ is celebrating the festive season for the right reasons. Director Robert Hannigan has got people thinking with a teatime teaser Christmas card.

Those who fancy themselves as a brainy Bond can try their hand at the grid puzzle and submit their answers before the end of January for a chance to win a mystery prize (which suggests that not many people will even qualify!)

As it’s the season of giving, GCHQ is also aiming to raise money for the NSPCC – encouraging people to donate as they attempt to crack the code.

Have you seen this secret Christmas puzzle?

The PR-friendly stunt has gone down really well with the press – securing coverage on BBC News, Sky News, City AM and The Telegraph to name a few – so it’s good to see the charity is capitalising on this marketing moment through its Twitter profile too.

Using social media to reach out to its 178,000+ followers, it’s taking time out to personally respond to donors – adding value to new supporters’ charity experience.

However, it does make me wonder how much planning went into this stunt. Was the NSPCC given much involvement? Or has it had to react to the news like the rest of us?

There seems to be little strategy behind its approach (e.g. no hashtag, no web story and few calls to action to download the puzzle etc.) Meaning, at a crucial time on a charity’s appeal calendar, the NSPCC is potentially losing money and online conversations because it’s failing to make the ‘story’ shareable.

But, the puzzle’s flaws don’t stop there. When I try to access this far from festive campaign on GCHQ’s website, all I get is a broken link. Traffic jam or unfortunate tech glitch? Either way, it doesn’t sell the idea of a forward-thinking and visionary spy agency.

Perhaps it’s all just a test and I, a pathetic puzzler, have fallen at the first hurdle.

Thankfully for these organisations there’s a second chance to raise their profile, recruit spies and reel in funds when winners (if there are any) are announced at the start of February. Watch this space.

Have you attempted the Christmas conundrum yet? Leave a comment to let us know how you get on!

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