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From the Queen’s Speech to the next election: what now for the government’s agenda?
From the Queen’s Speech to the next election: what now for the Government’s agenda?

Archive for the ‘PR’ Category

Natasha Egan-Sjodin wins Mark of Excellence at the CIPR Awards 2022

We are extremely proud of WA’s Natasha Egan-Sjodin for winning the Mark of Excellence award in the Outstanding Young Communicator of the Year category, at last night’s CIPR 2022 awards ceremony.

 

 

The highly regarded award commends the outstanding work of young professionals in the industry who are making a valuable contribution to the organisations they work for and show considerable promise in their future career.

Natasha’s triumph is recognition of her many work-related achievements, hard-fought campaign wins, and her contributions to the wider industry – a well-deserved win!

We thoroughly enjoyed the evening celebrating excellence in the UK’s PR industry and offer our congratulations to all the winners.

 

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COP26 – What you need to know

At the end of the first week of COP26, Naomi Harris gives her top three takeaways and looks ahead to what next week holds.

Corporate communications haven’t quite gone to plan

The comments by Shell CEO Ben van Beurden that investment in the technology necessary to transition to net zero could only be financed by oil and gas revenue led to questions about the viability of the Anglo-Dutch giant reaching its own 2050 target. Greta Thunberg walking out of a panel on carbon offsetting, arguing that it was just another method of ‘greenwash’ by business illustrated yet again what happens when the corporate world, which is moving – but more slowly than Greta would like – collides with activism. We look to see whether such risks are better managed over the next few days.

The UK (and the UN) are trying to create a drumbeat of announcements but not all the pledges are in tune

More than 130 of the 197 countries attending have so far pledged to reach net zero by 2050, but fewer than a third have pledged to phase out coal. You’d be forgiven for scratching your head and wondering how that circle will be squared. Carbon capture and storage is an option, but the technology and its take-up will have to move on leaps and bounds. Critics argue it won’t and so the net zero pledges of those clinging to coal aren’t worth the paper they are written on.

National political tensions are playing out on an international stage

The Indonesian president committed to halt and reverse deforestation within his country’s borders, but before he could enjoy the warm glow of international approval his environment and forestry minister backtracked by saying Indonesia ‘can’t promise what we can’t do’. The minister added that the country’s natural resources should be used to support development and zero deforestation by 2030 would be ‘unfair’.

Expect another week of wall-to-wall news coverage

The week ahead will touch on the role of innovation and transport in decarbonisation as well as what action needs to be taken across the world’s cities to keep us on track towards net zero.  Going beyond the headlines, WA is conducting primary research to understand what impact COP26 has had on how people engage with the climate debate, how they view business and what this could mean for how organisations choose to communicate.

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The year of opinions: corporate communications strategies post-pandemic

Despite prophesies of demise for many years, the sales of traditional newspapers continue to make a tentative recovery, helped almost certainly by a news agenda that shows no sign of slowing down, with crisis after crisis plaguing the worlds of both politics and business. Set against this turbulent backdrop, what does it mean to communicate well in 2021 and how can strategic communications support your wider objectives?

‘If it’s not Covid, it won’t make the cut’ was the oft-quoted refrain of 2020 when it came to the media landscape. For businesses who weren’t prepared to shoehorn their agenda to fit this brief, corporate communications teams were dealing with a real challenge – how to engage with the media amidst the toughest news cycle for a generation? This wasn’t just a question of news volume; news outlets the world over were forced to furlough staff, merge teams and make widespread redundancies as advertising revenues collapsed.

However, amongst widespread print media decline, national broadsheets weathered the storm remarkably well as businesses and consumers alike turned to traditional media for expert opinion and advice. 2020 saw the launch of Times Radio and a host of new broadsheet-led podcasts, as editors sought to make the most of the public’s desire for expert commentary. With the launch of GBNews on the horizon and broadsheet subscriptions continuing to soar, this need for hard-hitting opinion and insight that informs the national conversation isn’t set to disappear any time soon.

This means that for businesses looking to communicate effectively during this period of national recovery, there are a few points to consider:

Clarity – and brevity – of message is essential

Many leaders are clear in their own mind about what they want to say, but often struggle when forced to articulate key messages to external audiences. Even those that feel confident in their messages to clients and internal stakeholders are often left flummoxed when faced with communicating the same thing to a journalist. Too often, spokespeople become embroiled in sector language and forget the need for simplicity when communicating key asks or messages externally. The reading age of most national papers is around 12 – this means distilling complex issues into a few easy-to-read sentences should be a crucial part of any communications plan.

Add to the conversation

To be respected as an industry expert in the media, your industry knowledge should be front and center of any communications plan. It is not enough to repeat the same lines as your competitor or industry journalist; thought leadership should be about leading the conversation, not following it. If you are not saying anything new, it’s probably not worth saying at all.

Back up your message

Once you know that what you’re saying is new, you should be thinking about the strength of your position. This means backing up strong opinions with evidence and data, and using language that resonates – in today’s media landscape, opinion sells, but it still needs to be evidenced to be authoritative.

Actions speak louder than words

If the past few months have taught communication professionals anything, it’s how plans can go spectacularly wrong if not backed up with action. You can have the best strategy in the world, but if this is proven to be nothing more than words, the reputational damage can be immense.

Communicate with purpose

A clear, robust and insightful message is a great starting point when it comes to simple brand awareness, but if you want to be moving the dial on influencer opinion, you need to be clear in the objective for communicating in the first place. Is it brand awareness, is it sales, or do you have a policy or regulatory objective you are trying to achieve? Being able to articulate at the start will inform the rest of your communications strategy.

As strategic communications professionals, our approach to campaigns is always rooted in this key ask, and then we build bespoke programmes from there, using a blend of political, media and influencer engagement to achieve your goals.

If you want to find out more, feel free to get in touch.

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The Government’s messaging machine needs tuning if it’s to reconnect through recovery

This blog first appeared on the PRCA website.

When Boris Johnson was elected by a sweeping majority in 2019, his ability to connect with people beyond the Tory heartlands was critical to his success. His optimistic language and charismatic, if bumbling, communication style was able to gain cut through with the electorate. What no one could have predicted at the time, though, was the impending global pandemic and the communication challenges it would present alongside this.

With both an unprecedented health crisis and economic downturn, Johnson’s 2020 communication strategy quickly became a matter of life and death. However, a natural people pleaser, Johnson has found it difficult to communicate the often-difficult decisions needed through the pandemic, preferring Churchillian rhetoric over well-timed messages grounded in detailed knowledge of the facts.

U-turns and confusion

The Government’s communication approach throughout the pandemic has been marred by policy U-turns, confused messages and increasing backbench unrest – and trust in Boris has plummeted sharply as a result. YouGov research showed that just 32% of the public thinks the government is handling the coronavirus crisis well.

Equally, the support base garnered for Boris throughout the Brexit negotiations seems to be dwindling – recently published stats from thinktank BritainThinks shows that the number of ‘die-hard Brexiteers’ has dropped from 35% in February to 25% at the end of the year, while a YouGov survey showed that only 24% of the public thought Boris was handling Brexit well as 2020 drew to a close.

Is the government out of step on issues the public care about?

Already in 2021, lockdown fatigue and mistrust in government messaging is seeing adherence to coronavirus restrictions falling away. So, as the government looks beyond the pandemic, clear messaging around the issues the public and businesses care about will be critical – both for the recovery of the country, and the reputation of the government.

For this to work, there must first be understanding of what these priority issues are. WA’s recent report, which polled MPs, businesses and members of the general public, found a government that may find itself out of step.  For instance, levelling-up – the much-vaunted flagship priority of the government – has had a lukewarm reception. While 25% of Tory MPs view the levelling up agenda as a key priority, only 6% of businesses and 7% of the general public agreed with them.

At the same time, a perceived increase in the cost of living is a concern at the forefront for the public, yet is at risk of being overlooked by MPs, according to the research. After the three areas of broad alignment – managing Brexit, unemployment and the economic downturn – it is the next highest concern facing the public and businesses alike (24%/19%).

However, this is failing to resonate with MPs, with not a single Conservative MP surveyed choosing it as a top three priority.

Interest in the government’s other focus on skills and training is also at an all-time low, with no Conservative MPs surveyed picking it as a main priority, and only 3% of Labour MPs highlighting it as a key focus for 2021, although a larger slice of the business community (10%) does see this as a priority.

Three areas of universal agreement

There are, however, three areas on which there is universal agreement between MPs, businesses and the general public alike: managing Brexit, economic recovery, and the unemployment crisis.

With four years left to run, this government still has time to reconnect with voters. If it can clearly communicate that is has listened and is addressing these priorities, the country’s collective memory of a faltering crisis communications campaign might yet be erased.

 

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What ever happened to trust?

One of the oldest anecdotes that PR professionals roll out when media training senior executives is the impact of the Kennedy-Nixon Presidential debate in 1960. It was the first televised Presidential debate and while the radio audience called it a draw, the television audience decisively called it for the younger, healthier-looking and simply more televisual senator from Boston, shifting the tide of the election and ultimately the result.

Kennedy had looked and sounded presidential – in appearance, tone and content he had demonstrated he was made of the ‘right stuff’ and the public could put their trust in him.

Fast-forward nearly sixty years from Kennedy-Nixon, and we rolled onto last night and the latest edition in the long running series of candidate television debates, the Johnson-Corbyn match-up; and how things have changed.

While the pundits are divided on which candidate edged a close debate, they almost unanimously refer to the wider issue of whether either of the candidates met that most basic of expectation of voters by telling the truth.

The reason why media trainers reference the Kennedy-Nixon debate is to emphasise the need to come across as authentic, truthful and trustworthy. Messages are to be delivered clearly, backed up with evidence and proof points. Businesses and business-leaders rely on consumer trust and when this trust is proven to be unfounded, the company can face the sort of crisis that can destroy the brand.

Imagine for one moment if the CEO of a confectioners told a series of demonstrable falsehoods about their products and their rival’s products. Further still, imagine this CEO kept on saying them despite protests, so much so that a cottage industry of consumer groups was created in repudiating and pointing out this ‘fake news’. Then imagine that business deciding to set up a fake consumer group to attack their rivals or the evidence in front of them.

We have been here with the tobacco industry, who have been labelled as the pioneers of fake news, and other industries seeking to dissemble or cover up. Modern business practices, however, embrace engagement, transparency, clear values, fiscal prudence, demonstrable action and truthfulness, as they search for the goal of strong brand trust from consumers, policy makers and opinion formers.

The striking thing about this election campaign is the extraordinary decision of both major parties to ignore these fundamental building blocks of trust. When you have a situation of record levels of public doubt in the democratic system and our leaders, you don’t double down on the very things undermining that trust, you change your approach.

It is probably about time that our political parties looked to the playbook of modern business practices and corporate communications if they are to rebuild the trust between the public and our democracy.

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