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Hitting the ground running: The first 100 days
Hitting the ground running: The first 100 days

Archive for the ‘WA Corporate Communications’ Category

In Conversation with Oliver Gill, The Sunday Times – Five key takeaways

WA Communications was delighted to host Oliver Gill, recently appointed as Industry and Leisure Business Editor at The Sunday Times, for an in-conversation lunch with some of our clients and contacts. Oliver discussed the big stories shaping his brief, which covers the manufacturing, transport, travel, hospitality, and utilities sectors. He also shared some honest advice on how best to engage with Fleet Street’s finest. 

Here we share five key points raised during the session, including ways in which communications professionals can fine-tune their storytelling to connect with a range of audiences. 

1. Journalists are responding quickly to the changing political winds. 

The political landscape is and will continue to be a key influence on the kinds of stories journalists are looking for and how they report on issues across sectors ahead of the general election. 

Journalists are becoming increasingly aware of how readers and businesses perceive the effectiveness of the government and opposition and will continue to report accordingly. We can expect papers to declare their party allegiances much closer to the election, but the rule of holding power to account always prevails.  

2. Journalist’s preference is always to see something physical. 

With hundreds of emails hitting their inboxes on a daily basis, having physical evidence to present to journalists will help to elevate your pitch. Stories can take time to develop, particularly feature pieces, so being able to show them a tangible asset will help to sustain their interest. While this requires careful planning and coordination, it may be the factor that takes your story from pitch to press and will often form the basis of the opening lines. 

3. Readers are becoming more switched on to sustainability. 

The stories that appeal most to readers are those that resonate with them personally. When it comes to net zero and sustainability, the stories that cut through are the ones that have a direct impact on people’s daily lives. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible for businesses to get traction with their ESG strategies, but for media success, it pays to look for those real-world solutions that people can touch and feel. 

4. Engage with media yourself, rather than letting others take your space. 

When a business finds itself in the media spotlight, it is far better to engage than let others fill the narrative with negative comment. Organisations that are under fire are unlikely to be able to avoid coverage, but they can certainly influence the shape of the story if they do engage with journalists. A hostile response to a journalist inquiry is unlikely to pay off, as it implies you have something to hide – and the journalist may well keep digging until they uncover that uncomfortable truth. 

Offering compelling evidence that counters the journalist’s view will help you to regain control of the narrative or move the story on. 

5. A journalist’s favourite story will always be one they believe their readers are going to tell their friends at the pub. 

The most compelling stories are those you would tell your friends when you walk into a bar. That’s how journalists are trained. Comms professionals could do well to borrow from that rule of thumb.  These stories offer something new or a fresh perspective. Something that makes a journalist think “I hadn’t thought of that” is likely to have the same effect on their readership. 

 

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UK’s largest power generator, RWE, appoints WA Communications to lead integrated strategic comms brief

Energy giant RWE, which produces around 15% of the country’s electricity, has appointed WA Communications to lead a two-year-long integrated communications programme, following a competitive pitch process.

WA – ranked as one of the UK’s Top 3 Public Affairs agencies in this year’s PR Week’s Top 150 table – will be supporting RWE as they look to work closely with the Government to deliver on its energy independence, affordability and Net Zero ambitions.

With a diverse operational portfolio of renewables and gas, RWE is at the forefront of delivering the UK’s Net Zero transition – and leading the way in cutting edge energy technology such as Carbon Capture and Hydrogen.

The wide-ranging brief will cover both political engagement and corporate communications, building on WA’s experience in integrated strategic communications, and leverages the firm’s deep energy expertise – with RWE joining its extensive roster of existing clients across the sector, including energy storage company Eaton, and clean-tech innovator Enertechnos.

Commenting, Dominic Church, WA’s Managing Director said:

“Energy is in the political and media spotlight like never before, and the Government needs to show it is acting to address well-publicised energy security and affordability concerns of voters – while at the same time maintaining progress against Net Zero targets.

“This puts an enormous onus on the energy industry to be providing solutions now to the current Government, while Labour is increasingly eager for industry input to flesh out their ambitious green energy plans ahead of the upcoming election.

“RWE sits right at the heart of this challenge, and we’re hugely excited to have been brought on board to deliver an integrated programme of work, as they look to navigate the turbulent months to come for the industry.”

Alice Barrs, RWE’s Head of UK Policy and Public Affairs said:

“We knew from the outset that we needed an agency that would take an integrated approach to the challenges RWE were facing as the UK looks to transition to Net Zero, and ahead of a General Election most likely next year.

“With its deep roots into Labour, and the team’s energy sector expertise – across both public affairs and comms – we knew that WA would be a great fit for this programme of work.”

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In Conversation with Steve Richards

WA Senior Adviser, broadcaster and journalist, Steve Richards and WA’s Head of Public Affairs, Marc Woolfson, provided their take on the latest developments in Westminster and Whitehall, and unpacked what this means for anyone seeking to engage with the Government and understand the potential priorities of a Labour administration.

This conversation is the latest in a series of discussions with senior political and media figures hosted by WA.

Yesterday morning, Steve shared his insights on the mood at No.10 before providing reflections on the Government-in-waiting and Starmer’s preparations to ‘take back control’ of the country.

We’ve outlined five key takeaways from the discussion below:

1. General Election still predicted for Autumn 2024

At the time of our conversation with Steve, the Privileges Committee had just released their report on how Boris Johnson misled the House. Following the resignation of Johnson and Nigel Adams over the weekend, Sunak now faces (at least) two challenging by-elections in Uxbridge and South Ruislip, and Selby and Ainsty. Amidst this upheaval, some in Labour are hoping for a snap election.

Steve, however, is still setting his sights on an election in Autumn next year. From his viewpoint, although there will be continuing challenges for Sunak arising from this event, Johnson’s exit from the Commons marks a significant diminishment of his political prowess and danger to Sunak.

Unless we see a significant closing in Labour’s lead, Sunak will likely delay the election in the hopes the tide will change by next year.

2. Zombie Parliament: Sunak’s five pledges

Beyond firefighting a constant stream of internal upheaval and scandal, Sunak remains focused – if not obsessed – on achieving the five pledges he set out in January (halve inflation; grow the economy; reduce national debt; shorten NHS wait lists; and stop the boats). Halving inflation by the end of this year is a must as Sunak cannot afford to approach an election with rising inflation rates.

As a result of this focus, there is talk of a ‘zombie parliament’ at Westminster. For the foreseeable future, activity in Parliament will mainly be used as a mechanism for building up to the election rather than to pass any weighty pieces of legislation. As an example, long-awaited proposed reforms to modernise the UK rail industry have fallen by the wayside.

Ultimately, there simply isn’t much legislative time available to the Government with preparation for the party conference in October, and long recesses pushing MPs back out to campaign in their constituencies.

Anyone seeking to engage with Government on legislation over the coming months may struggle unless it falls within the remit of Sunak’s five priorities.

3. Keir and Reeve’s cautious policy: Nothing without funding

Keir Starmer and Rachel Reeves are taking a cautious approach; every piece of policy is submitted to Keir’s office for scrupulous checking for any claims that might imply an increase in spending.

The party’s proposal to scrap ‘Non-Dom’ tax status – which Labour says costs the Exchequer £3.2bn – is increasingly the answer to almost any question about the viability of its spending plans.

But with Jeremy Hunt rumoured to be looking at announcing exactly this move in the Autumn Statement, effectively removing this potential uplift from Labour’s plans, Kier is especially nervous about any discussion on spending.

Labour is also being very quiet on their policy plans and recently rowed back on commitments in their green recovery programme and on universal childcare.

In line with this preference for fiscal responsibility, as well as Blairite influences at the heart of Keir’s team, Labour is driving their focus towards policies that symbolise change without spending money, including technology, innovation, and AI.

4. Labour and business: Now until Autumn is the prime time to engage with Labour

Between now and Conference is an important time for industry to engage with Labour if they are looking to shape the direction of policy.

Starmer wants Labour to look like the party on the edge of forming a Government by the time Party Conference comes around in October. Speeches will need to be policy-rich, trailing their manifesto, which is already being drafted.

Labour is sincere in its claim that its door is open to business. Industry interest in the party serves as a reassuring recognition that they are viewed as the next likely candidate to form a Government. If Starmer wants to realise his mission to get the economy growing faster than any other country in the G7, Labour will need close relations with businesses to achieve this ambitious goal.

Jonathan Reynolds (Shadow Secretary of State for Business and Industrial Strategy) is expected to announce further details of Labour’s industrial strategy at Conference, formalising their goodwill towards industry.

However, if in power, relations may be more strained as Reeves seeks to fill her funding gap, with the potential for businesses to face new ‘stealth taxes’. Industry will benefit from putting in the groundwork now, during a period when Labour is reticent to reveal any tax rises that may make headlines during the pre-election test period.

5. Public sector and unions: The challenge ahead for a Labour Government

Winning the election will only be the first hurdle for Labour. Should they win, they are set to inherit a challenging landscape, especially in the public sector.

Unions present a considerable challenge. Labour hopes relations will improve through greater goodwill and by restructuring who is involved in negotiations. However, as New Labour did in 1997, Starmer plans to stick with Conservative spending plans for the first two to three years, so will not have the money to meet the pay demands of the unions.

On the NHS, Labour’s plans have been ambitious but vague. Although they highlight scrapping non-dom tax status as a means to pay for recruitment into the NHS, internally, Labour knows this will not be enough. Moreover, Wes Streeting has asserted his ambition to ‘reform’ the NHS but has not defined this ubiquitous term. Internally the party is divided on their position over the use of the private sector to meet capacity.

Starmer is also acutely aware that he has U-turned on many of his leadership pledges, including plans to abolish university tuition fees. At present, the current model for higher education would not see much change, however, if in power, university schemes and the graduate tax are areas Starmer may revisit.

The theme of the first term of a Labour Government will be dominated by one question: where’s the money coming from?

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What do the Bank of England, dog food and Percy Pigs have in common?

The answer is that they have all been in the news in the last few weeks thanks to a piece of external communications. You would be forgiven for missing these stories though as all too often we focus on ‘bad’ corporate communications, we forget what ‘good’ looks like.

As the following brands have reminded us, a proportionate or well-thought through comms strategy is the difference between making headlines for the right or wrong reason.

Marks and Spencer v Fabio’s Gelato

It’s a classic David and Goliath story.

When a Hertfordshire-based ice cream parlour decided to create a ‘Percy Pig ice cream’ decorated with the swinish sweets, Marks and Spencer quickly contacted the owner demanding the ice cream was renamed.

It would have been easy for the retailer to go in guns blazing with a cease and desist letter as many brands have done before – after all, they own the trademark for ‘Percy Pig’ and are legally entitled to protect it.

But M&S have clearly learned lessons from their public spat with Aldi on the discount retailer’s take on the infamous Colin the Caterpillar cake. The legal battle finally ended earlier this year with an out of court settlement but the issue remains a popular social media meme.

This time the high street retailer wrote to the ice cream parlour asking them to change the name in a letter that even its owner branded ‘polite and fair’. The light-hearted letter explained their reasoning, offered some alternative names and was even accompanied by some free Percy Pigs.

While this is an appropriate approach – after all, a local ice parlour is in a different league to one of their main competitors – this shift in tone is telling. And M&S have clearly demonstrated that free treats will always help sweeten the deal.

Sorry seems to be the hardest word

Earlier this month the Bank of England’s chief economist, Huw Pill, sparked headlines for his comments that people in the UK need to ‘accept’ they are worse off and stop trying to maintain their real spending power through higher wages or passing costs on to customers. Widespread backlash from small businesses, consumer groups and unions duly followed with his comments branded as ‘out of touch’ and ‘outrageous’.

He has now apologised for his comments, admitting he should have used ‘less inflammatory’ language and that in the future he will use ‘different words to describe the challenges we all face’.

While this apology does not change what he said, it shuts the story down and means the Bank of England can move on and regain its credibility as a leading voice in the finance sector.

Interestingly – and perhaps even intentionally – although Pill acknowledges he misspoke, his most recent comments double down on his original warning about the economic challenges the UK is facing.

The stark reality is that the Bank of England has a tough job ahead to settle the economy, but when it comes to such a sensitive issue as personal finances, words matter.

Pets before profit

“It may sound weird to be actively selling a product that we hope gets discontinued, but that’s part of our purpose… because we want to make a difference.”

So started a BBC interview with the marketing director for dog food business, Wilder Harrier. The Canadian firm’s ‘Sustainable Fish’ dried dog food is made from an invasive species of fish called silver carp, which has destroyed native fishing stocks in the USA’s Mississippi River.

By capturing silver carp to sell as dog food, the company is tackling what one Canadian province is calling ‘the most severe threat’ to their waters – while building strong brand loyalty with more than 10,000 bags sold to date.

Wilder Harrier’s approach to actively pursuing ‘a diminishing supply of [the product’s] main ingredient’ is refreshing, and a clear example of putting the natural world before profit.

In a communications world increasingly drowned out by greenwashing,  it is more important than ever before for brands to have a clear social purpose.

To find out more about how WA can support with ‘good’ corporate communications, contact Associate Director RachelFord@wacomms.co.uk

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E-scooters at a crossroads

E-scooter manufacturers, providers, schemes and riders have been left waiting for certainty on their future.  

After last year’s Queen’s Speech, Ministers confirmed their intention to legislate on e-scooters, moving beyond the time bound and limited role e-scooters currently have. Two Prime Ministers and 3 Transport Ministers later, the future of e-scooters is back up in the air.  

The Transport Bill – that would have been the vehicle for legalisation and legislation – has been a casualty of upheaval at the heart of government. Now Ministers and officials are left having to bid for parliamentary time again, with even fiercer competition for time in the last King’s Speech of this government before an election.  

Despite the transformational role e-scooters could play for travel, particularly in urban areas, there is a risk that new decision makers have lost track of e-scooters’ congestion busting, cost saving and carbon cutting benefits. The Ministers, advisers and champions that secured the announcement from government have moved on, and the new crop have yet to make a full throated endorsement.  

In the face of this challenge, WA’s latest transport temperature check polled public attitudes to e-scooters to analyse the challenges in the road ahead.  

Whilst there is still a route to legalisation and legislation, we have found that more of the public is opposed to e-scooter legislation. It means advocates start on the back foot, and need to both convince the sizeable number of ‘don’t knows’ (one in four people) and address the concerns of opponents. Safety risks to other road and footway users is the most commonly cited reason for opposing legalisation, driven by persistent coverage of dangerous incidents.   

If these and other concerns are not addressed, the case for legalisation will diminish. Ministers, advisers and officials will either be unwilling or unsuccessful in their bids for time to act in the King’s Speech later this year, with Number 10 instead deciding to focus on less controversial and easier to deliver policies. 

In turn, Labour has been able to stay largely silent on the e-scooter debate. There is a narrow window to ensure Labour’s transport team prioritises e-scooters, to keep pressure on the government now and ensure it does not drop off the agenda completely should they win. 

The next 6 months are critical if the industry wants to escape the legal limbo it is in. Only by delivering a gear change in engagement can the industry secure its long term future and make sure that the key political decision makers in both the Conservatives and Labour understand the benefits e-scooters will deliver for their agendas.  

Doing so will help build a new consensus on the future of e-scooters, but missing this opportunity means the wheels could fall off completely.

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How not to do crisis comms: a Beeb masterclass

‘No-one mishandles a crisis quite like the BBC’ – so said one anonymous source in yesterday’s Sunday Times. This comes as a Tweet from the W1’s best-paid presenter, denouncing Government immigration policy, left the Corporation floundering amid its biggest communications crisis of the year so far.

The BBC has been suffering from a well-documented ‘brain drain’ for several months, losing top billers Emily Maitliss, Jon Sopel and Louise Minchin to private rivals – leaving an unsettled company culture it its wake. This perhaps explains why a scandal of this magnitude was a long time coming, playing as it did, into both the culture wars, and the BBC’s own wavering sense of identity.

The first mistake made by the corporation was to overlook the core pillar of any crisis communication plan – preparation. The BBC Comms team should have recognised that with an employee base made up of high-profile, prolific Twitter users, a social media storm was always at the top of the risk register. As Lineker’s Tweet started to send shockwaves through the media, a pre-agreed protocol and dedicated crisis team should have leapt into action, rolling-out a well-rehearsed damage limitation exercise. As it happened, the BBC’s response was both agonisingly slow, and lacking any real clarity. With the Tweet published on Tuesday afternoon, it took until Friday for an official BBC decision on Lineker’s position to be communicated. At this point the statement released was that Lineker had ‘decided he would step back,’ teeing up the inevitable: Lineker himself making it clear the decision was not mutual.

Far from defusing the situation, this confused response further exacerbated it, detonating the long-ticking time bomb of dissatisfaction at Broadcasting House.

If the BBC’s failure to act quickly and decisively was its first failing, its second was underestimating the mutiny brewing amid its own staff. As Lineker’s colleagues fell behind him, refusing to appear on-air out of solidarity with the former striker, the story inevitably snowballed – rapidly becoming an internal comms issue as much as an external one. An apologetic email to staff from Director General Tim Davie seemed to do little to extinguish the revolutionary flames, with ‘senior reporters’ briefing against the Corporation and staff chats leaked to the Sunday papers.

All of this points to the importance of including internal comms as well as external in any crisis plan. The two are often inextricably intertwined, and disgruntled employees – if not effectively communicated with – can quickly become the story more than the original incident.

The mishandling throughout the week resulted in the inevitable – a painful climbdown from the BBC after days of standoff. Lineker is back on air and the BBC is attempting to maintain a ‘business as usual’ façade – but the damage has been done.  In the end, with the BBC long hailed as a bastion of British journalism, the surprise was not the crisis itself, but its handling, given the 2,000 professional communicators in its ranks. In an organisation brimming with journalistic talent, a single Tweet was enough to bring it to its knees.

To find out more about how WA can help advise in a crisis, contact RachelFord@Wacomms.co.uk

You can find out more about the services we provide here.

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Girls just wanna have funds

“It’s OK if you don’t know.” 

Ahead of International Women’s Day, WA hosted an all-female panel of financiers to discuss how firms are better engaging with women to improve financial understanding and awareness, and where the industry, policy and the media narrative around women in wealth needs to evolve 

On the panel, Etiksha Patel, Lead Private Banking Director, Metro Bank; Karen Kerrigan, COO, Moneybox; and Elizabeth Caley, Independent Financial Adviser, Aegis Financial Planning Limited discussed what makes women tick when it comes to money and financial products, and how they can better engage with their finances for themselves and for their friends, children and colleagues. 

Women make up 49.6% of the global population and are widely predicted to control 60% of the UK’s wealth by 2025, yet 72% of us feel like we’re not understood by the finance industry.  

This feeling of exclusion is perhaps why only 10% of women prioritise making long term investments which, when women’s pensions on average are £100,000 less than men’s due to the gender pay gap and childcare commitments, seems a very low proportion.   

Elizabeth Caley, who focuses on supporting women, reassuringly said that it’s OK if you don’t understand something relating to your finances: “no one said you should have this knowledge. There seems to be shame attached to it but it’s OK if you don’t know, that’s why we’re here.” 

Similarly, Etiksha Patel believes that having someone to talk to and trust in the bank makes a huge difference to women’s confidence and attitudes towards their finances. She said: “women benefit from in-person contact because we like to ask questions. Financial knowledge becomes accessible if you can ask in-person questions.” 

The sector can’t shy away from the fact that it has, for too long, been dominated by men, and Etiksha crucially said: “It’s important to have women representing women who need answers because it makes asking the questions easier. This is where the change is going to come from.” 

However, women are playing catch up on the education, word-of-mouth advice and knowledge they missed out on growing up because most of the time. There is a question over where responsibility for financial education lies – across all genders – and whether regulatory or policy reform is needed to ensure knowledge and access is instilled early.   

With products such as Lifetime ISAs, women are likely to buy into the goal that the ISA can help with, such as buying a home, rather than simply having the product to make more money. Interestingly, Karen Kerrigan said that MoneyBox’s Lifetime ISAs are held by an equal split of both men and women, but that’s not because they’re marketed differently.  

Reform of the ASA standards for financial products, or the introduction of the consumer duty, will go some way in shaping how products are marketed and communicated to consumers going forward. We’re seeing a greater focus on firms needing to ensure their comms are “socially responsible”, and the last’s years decision by the ASA to sanction irresponsible “influencers” has marked a firmer stance on how products are communicated.  

Though work is still needed to shape the financial services world to meet the needs of women, much has changed in the last 20 years. At the end of the discussion, each panellist was asked what advice they’d give their younger self. Elizabeth said reap the rewards of compound interest early and learn the value of not rushing to spend, but saving to have more. Karen highlighted the importance of creating a habit early, and Etiksha said she would tell herself that it’s OK to ask questions and to feel confident doing so. 

Hopefully, as more of us chat about our money and what we do with it, we’ll help each other, break down the stigma and put ourselves and younger generations on the same starting line as men.  

Because who run the world? Girls. 

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How should the Government best plug the skills gap?

At the start of National Apprenticeship Week, WA Associate Director Lorna Jane Russell explores whether degree apprenticeships are the solution to tackling the skills gap

One of the most significant challenges facing the country today is the need to build our future economy and ensure that our workers have the right skills required to support the jobs of the future.

However, at present the outlook looks uncertain; the UK has a serious skills gap. Put simply, this means there is a mismatch between the skills needed to do a particular job and the skills that are available in the workforce.

A skills revolution is required to address this.

In recent years there has been a heightened awareness of the need for graduates to have a diverse range of skills – something that is recognised by policymakers and employers alike.

Indeed, investment in skills and apprenticeships has become a clear Government priority. Skills Minister Robert Halfon has long championed apprenticeships and believes that investment in skills is the best route for the Government to take to create economic growth and productivity, while Education Secretary Gillian Keegan is a former apprentice herself and is committed to boosting the lifelong learning agenda.

As the Government looks to rebalance the funding and focus of post-18 education, publishing the long-awaited Higher Education Bill and taking forward the recommendations from the Augar Review, we expect it to prioritise and expand funding and support for apprenticeships.

Within this context, we hope to see a significant boost for degree apprenticeships as we believe that these could make a real difference to plugging the skills gap and meeting the future needs of both learners and employers.

Significantly:

Since they were launched in 2015-16, degree apprenticeships have risen in considerable popularity, while traditional university student numbers are starting to fall. Yet, despite growing interest in these types of degrees, there is clear potential to expand them further across the UK.

This National Apprenticeship Week, and ahead of the introduction of the Higher Education Bill, we hope to see the Government set out a roadmap for the expansion of degree apprenticeships – both by investing more resources in them and by working more closely with employers and post-18 education and skills providers to provide more placements and courses.

At WA, we’ll be watching for announcements closely, making sure we are one step ahead of the next developments on the horizon and supporting universities, skills providers, and large employers alike to make the most of the opportunity to expand their own offerings.

Watch this space as we launch our own research next month to take a much deeper dive to explore the potential of these qualifications to transform the country’s skills base. If this sounds of interest, we’d love to chat.

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Consumer Duty regime – what is it and why should you care?

The Consumer Duty regime seems to be the hot topic on the financial services industry’s lips. A quick Google search delivers 51,400 news results and nearly every conference, webinar or forum has a session on readiness for this new regulation. However, what is it, really? And why should you care? 

First things first, the Consumer Duty regime is a significant piece of regulation, coming into effect on 31st July this year. It sets high expectations and clear standards of consumer protection across financial services and means that consumers should receive communications they can understand; products and services that meet their needs and offer fair value; and that they get the customer support they need, when they need it. 

Surely, I hear you cry, putting the customer first, ensuring they are being sold appropriate products and have access to full support is already at the heart of the industry? Well, in theory, yes of course. In fact some of you will recall the FCA’s “Principles” – notably Principle 6 (a firm must pay due regard to the interests of its customers and treat them fairly) and 7 (a firm must pay due regard to the information needs of its clients, and communicate information to them in a way which is clear, fair and not misleading). The Consumer Duty imposes higher standards for both these principles and underlines the fact that firms should focus on the impact of their actions on consumers, and not simply on processes. 

So far so good, but what does this mean in practice? And how is the industry responding to the ever-closer Summer deadline? 

Firstly, firms need to know exactly who their end customer is. It’s no good to know that a firm has products aimed at “the retail investor” – businesses must consider the appropriateness of their products vis a vis this “investor” so more detail on their financial understanding and wider situation is critical.

Secondly, businesses need to clarify responsibilities both internally and across the wider distribution chain. We all know there can be several intermediaries between, for example, an asset manager and the man on the street – those intermediaries need to know what their role is, what details they need to have and how they can feed their intel across the rest of the distribution channel.

Thirdly, policies and customer communications will have to be reconsidered and likely amended to ensure they fit in with the new requirements and are easily understood.

And finally, firms will need to implement a framework to ensure they know what “good” looks like, can monitor outcomes and identify any risk areas in line with their longer term objectives. 

It is a very tall order and, from conversations we’ve been having across the industry, no-one seems to be quite there, yet. Some argue that this regime calls for a much needed shake up of the wider industry and a huge shift in mindset, engagement and protocols; others claim that the combination of Consumer Duty regulation and the additional burden of the SDR is simply too much for any player in the market; yet more, worryingly, are aware of the challenge yet still unsure how they’re going to meet it without considerable external support (and expense). Whatever your stance, what is clear is that the regulator isn’t going to rest on its laurels – it wants to see better consumer outcomes and a fairer financial services industry – and those who fail to comply will be held to account.  

With that said, it’s essential to bear in mind what the goal is of this new regulation – an industry which works for the customer, not the other way around. Amongst all the discussion of the difficulties, risks and extra admin, we need to remember that if implemented correctly, this regime will ultimately deliver better results for the consumer and, we hope, build back trust in the financial services industry. Those who successfully demonstrate they are fully embracing this Consumer Duty (or in fact going further) will be in a tremendously strong position to showcase their efforts and set the bar for what “good” looks like.  

I don’t deny that this new regulation will be a challenge, but the benefits of doing it properly and using this as an opportunity to really examine functions, communications and end outcomes – for a common goal – surely mean it’s a challenge worth taking on. 

At WA we’re here to help firms use this new regulation as an opportunity to raise their profile and offering in the market; to share their experiences of making sure they comply (the good, the bad and the ugly); and to leverage the new rules to show that yes, the end customer really is at the heart of their operations. Drop us a line if you want to find out more. 

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The key trends shaping 2023 across Financial Services

We may only be 13 days into 2023, but it’s already on track to be a very busy one in the financial services industry. Whether you’re an adviser, asset manager, bank, fintech, pensions provider or in fact provide any financial services proposition, you’re in for a challenging, but exciting year.  

Looking ahead, here are the key themes we see shaping 2023 – will they be obstacles or opportunities? 

The conversation around sustainability is only gaining more ground – with Scope 3 emissions disclosure on the horizon, SDR finally being implemented and Net Zero targets tightening. In particular, we expect stewardship to come to the fore, with wealth and asset managers being held to account regarding their previous commitments and asset owners seeking clarity around the concrete outcomes of stewardship activities. With better stewardship leading to improved investment outcomes and real-world sustainability achievements, this is a movement which can’t come quickly enough.  

Consumers across nearly every sector are becoming increasingly demanding and discerning. The old adages “the customer is always right” and “fortune favours the bold” are holding fast with new innovations tailored to meet consumer expectations gaining traction and market share. Our recent consumer research showed that over half of 18-34 year olds are often on the lookout for the newest and most advanced financial technology apps and if those apps don’t work for them, they’ll vote with their feet. It’s a jungle out there but firms who can successfully innovate and communicate their new offerings, will reap the rewards.  

Of course, the financial services industry has always been a highly regulated sector, even more so with the additional duties and responsibilities heaped on the FCA through the Financial Services and Markets Bill. However, recently the regulator has grown teeth and firms who aren’t complying won’t just face a slap on the wrist but instead steep fines and penalties. 

The Consumer Duty is a case in point. Consumer protection has consistently been at the heart of regulation, but the requirements of the new Consumer Duty demonstrate that ticking a box is no longer enough. All firms which distribute or manufacture products or services to retail customers now need to demonstrate good value, consistent and clear communications and appropriate support to their customers – essentially Treating Customers Fairly, on steroids. 

With the Government heralding Open Banking as a success earlier this week and businesses and industry groups piling in to make recommendations on what comes next, all eyes are on the EU review of PSD2 regulations and what this could mean for data and tech enabled products in the UK. Will HM Treasury and the FCA follow suit with the reforms being proposed in Brussels? Or will the temptation to ease regulatory burdens win over additional data protections?  

In either scenario, more work is needed to iron out the remaining kinks in Open Banking – from tougher compliance rules to an improved consumer UX – before the blue sky thinking of Open Finance can begin.  

2022 was the sixth-most volatile year since the Great Depression and most economists are forecasting markets to “get worse before they get better”. That said, the continued desynchronisation between the US, Euro area and China presents a range of investment opportunities for those who are shrewd enough to find them. It will be a bumpy ride, but long-term investors are likely to be rewarded if they can sit tight and we know both the media and consumers will be hungry for a good news story for those who can successfully weather the storm. 

At WA, we’ll be watching these areas closely, making sure we are one step ahead of the next developments on the horizon and supporting firms who want to leverage these trends for their own market position. If that sounds of interest, we’d love to chat. 

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WA Communications bolsters corporate comms function with new hire

WA Communications has hired seasoned government communicator Rachel Ford as an Associate Director in their Strategic Communications practice.

Rachel is a media relations specialist with extensive experience working at the heart of government to promote policy, manage reputation and influence public opinion.

She joins WA after over seven years working on some of the most sensitive and high-profile issues in Whitehall, most recently running the press office at the Ministry of Defence. Rachel also spent several years at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), and before joining government worked in PR where she brought health, charity and travel campaigns to life.

Rachel will now bring her in-depth knowledge of policy development, crisis comms and reputation management to bolster the corporate comms function within WA’s Strategic Communications team, which continues to go from strength to strength, with WA having seen 45% year on year growth across the agency.

Lee Findell, Partner and Head of Corporate Communications, WA Communications, said:

“Rachel brings a wealth of government, policy and media relations experience to WA and is a fantastic addition to our Strategic Communications team as we continue to grow our integrated, insight-led comms offer.

“Rachel will be invaluable in helping clients navigate the political and media landscape to make sure their messages are heard by the right people, at the right time.”

Rachel Ford, Associate Director, Strategic Communications, said:

“From energy and the housing market to health and the cost of living, WA helps clients navigate some of the biggest issues facing businesses and society today.

“I look forward to working with clients on these knotty issues to make sure messaging is relevant, targeted and can bring about real and lasting change.”

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The secret to a great media interview: preparation

The biggest tip anyone can be given ahead of an upcoming media interview is prepare, prepare, prepare. No matter how well you know the topic, your business, or feel like you already know what you want to say during the interview, nothing overrides the essential need to prepare.

Know your key messages

Henry Kissinger once famously opened a press conference saying: ‘Does anyone have any questions for my answers?’ Kissinger clearly knew what messages he wanted to convey, and was ready to deliver his points regardless of the questions thrown at him.

When preparing for an interview, make sure you plan the three main points you want to get across. These key messages should be the answers you keep coming back to again and again during your interview.

To define these key messages, imagine you are reading the published article after your interview and the story includes only three or four sentences quoting you – what do you hope these sentences say? These are your key messages.

Make these messages sharp and know them inside out.

Anticipate the questions you’ll be asked

Even if you’re about to do a ‘friendly’ interview, take the time to think through the tough questions you’ll be asked – it’s better to think through these questions and practise how you want to respond, rather than be caught off guard during the interview.

Not only should you think through the easy and tough questions that might come your way on the interview topic itself, but you should also ask yourself what else the journalist could touch on.

What else is going on in your company? Are there any historical issues in your company that the journalist might bring up? What’s happening in the wider sector they might ask you to comment on? What are your competitors up to? What else is generally in the news today that they might ask your opinion on?

Now it’s time to practise

You now know the key messages you want to focus on during the interview. You have thought extensively about the questions that could come your way. Now it’s time to practise.

No matter how experienced you are at media interviews, take the time to rehearse and practise in advance with a communications adviser or experienced colleague.

Practise your answers to the easy questions to make sure you are succinctly communicating the story you want to tell – don’t assume you’ll get it right the first time because people usually don’t.

And then make sure you have a wide range of tougher questions thrown at you, so you become confident in how you will handle them, and comfortable with the message you’re giving.

 

Media interviews are an essential communication tool for organisations and business leaders – and learning how to handle them successfully is an acquired skill. Preparation and practise are essential, always. Make sure this time is protected in your diary ahead of a media interview to give yourself the best chance of success.

To find out more about WA’s media training workshops, contact Sarah Gullo.

 

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Webinar – Business Restructuring: managing the aftermath of Covid-19

On Thursday 1st October 2020, WA Communications Director, Lee Findell, hosted a webinar exploring to plan and communicate during a business restructuring process.

The business support measures introduced by the government as we went into lockdown were unprecedented, but with these support schemes beginning to unwind over the Autumn, many businesses are facing difficult decisions on their future structure and are preparing for potentially difficult discussions with employees, suppliers, customers, regulators and policymakers.

Lee was joined by Greg Palfrey, National Head of Restructuring at Smith & Williamson, and Chair of the ICAEW Restructuring Insolvency & Advisory Group who provided advice for businesses that are looking to restructure and the top things they should be considering during this time.

Poppy Trowbridge, former Sky News businesses correspondent and special adviser to Phillip Hammond when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, provided insights on how businesses will need to communicate with government policymakers and the media as they undertake restructuring and change.

Finally, WA Communications’ Sarah Gullo provided some tips on effective communications during a business restructuring to ensure the process goes as smoothly as possible.

 

Watch a recording of the webinar:

 

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Top 10 tips for communicating business restructuring and change

Is this the new normal?

With a 20% drop in GDP, the end of the furlough scheme in sight and economic storm clouds ahead, business leaders are assessing the impact of the pandemic on their organisations and planning the changes they will need to make for what will be a new normal for corporate Britain.

While every business is unique and the plans made particular to each situation, they will all need to be communicated consistently, empathetically and to all audiences.

 

The top 10 elements of a business change and restructuring communications plan

There are 10 essential elements you need to consider and prepare when planning the communications strategy for any business change or restructuring programme.

1. Establish your narrative and stick to it: Ensure that you have an agreed and articulated core narrative and consistent messaging about the business decisions and the reasons for it. And strictly stick to it across all audiences and communication pieces to avoid confusion.

2. Scenario plan: Map out all possible scenarios that you are considering ahead of the announcement and make sure you have communications plans for each scenario.

3. Map your stakeholders: Map and categorise all the people and organisations you need to be considering for engagement, working out who needs to be told what and when. This could include unions, employee groups, regulators, sector bodies, suppliers and more.

4. Pre-prepare your media: Develop a media strategy and press statements. This includes developing an escalation process and reactive messaging in case of any leaks.

5. Make a timeline and stick to it: Once a strategy has been decided upon, put together a comprehensive timeline and task planning matrix to cover all aspects of the announcement.

6. Prepare content and templates: Develop a suite of communication materials in support of your announcement: emails, letters, FAQs, social media posts, videos, etc.

7. Script your presentations, meetings and interviews: Write scripts and talking points for senior leaders who are fronting face-to-face communications and meetings.

8. Establish a press office: Ensure that you have 24/7 press office support in place for the announcement and the media and stakeholder interest that will follow.

9. Keep communicating with your stakeholders: Prepare a post-announcement outreach and meeting programme with regulators, government, industry bodies and other key stakeholders as necessary.

10. Don’t forget your internal comms: Ensure that there is a programme in place for ongoing employee engagement and communications with those both affected and unaffected by the changes.

Communicating around restructuring, or any business change process, is all about preparation – use these top 10 tips as a guide and do your preparation before making your announcements to give yourself the best chance of successfully getting your message across and defending your reputation.

 

 

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Five tips for effective communications as we move out of lockdown

This article initially appeared in Real Deals.

 

The need for clear, effective communication has remained constant as the nation collectively figured out how to adjust to lockdown, and then consequently the more complicated process for coming out of lockdown and the move towards a new normal.

Good communications during such times of uncertainty and change is business critical. And the need for executive teams to carefully plan and manage the message they are giving employees, customers, suppliers, investors, government, media and other stakeholders will only continue to grow over the coming weeks as media scrutiny of business behaviour intensifies.

However, good communication doesn’t happen by chance. It is the result of taking the time to understand what your audience is thinking and feeling, of crafting clear messages, and adopting a tone and approach that resonates well with your audiences.

As the lockdown continues to ease, there will be a multitude of operational and business continuity decisions facing companies. What a business communicates and, importantly, how they communicate during this time is more critical than ever.

 

Five tips for businesses on how to plan effective communications as we move out of lockdown:

 

1. Consider your tone and nuance.

Your messaging must adapt with a Covid-19 lens. Communications that ignore the high levels of concern that still prevail as we move out of lockdown and the wide economic pain will not resonate with your staff, customers or the general public. Consider how you need to adjust your business’ core messages to ensure they are sensitive and appropriate to the environment you are now operating in.

2. Act now to protect your company’s reputation from future scrutiny.

The reckoning of how businesses have behaved and treated their staff during this time has already begun. Companies that have used government support throughout this time should also expect questions to be asked at some point about executive renumeration, especially if staff redundancies are to come. Objectively examine your business decisions and ask how they would come across if they were on the front page of a newspaper. Then communicate and act responsibly and sensitively now to ensure your reputation won’t be damaged in the coming
months because you ‘did the wrong thing’.

3. Prepare to communicate your new normal.

If your business has been or will be reshaped, it’s time to adjust what you say about yourself and articulate your new normal. Plans for business changes will require thoughtful preparation of an appropriate narrative, and you will need to develop key messages and a suite of materials to convey your message. For any significant change programmes that will be implemented, take the time to carefully plan how announcements will be made and the messages you need to convey to your staff and external stakeholders, including government, regulators and media.

4. Provide certainty where possible.

Your staff and customers are looking for certainty wherever they can find it at the moment. As much as possible, provide answers and as clear a picture of your future as possible. Rule things in and out wherever possible. Keep your staff in the loop as much as possible, including furloughed staff, and make sure you are actively listening to their questions and concerns. Your honesty and sincere efforts to regularly keep all employees up to date with the situation facing your business will be deeply appreciated.

5. Keep your communications natural and emotionally engaging.

Don’t rush back to polished, slick ways of communicating. People appreciate authenticity and honesty during times of great change, so keep your communications relational and personable. Your staff and customers will long remember how they were treated during this period. If you put the effort in to planning and executing good communications during this uncertain time, you can reap the rewards of gratitude and loyalty.

 

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5 ways communications will change after Covid-19

Covid-19 has enforced a huge impact on all our lives, professionally and personally, and has caused a huge shift in the way we communicate with each other.

The Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella, summarised the change by saying that “We’ve seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months”. Looking beyond this incredible rapid change to the channels we are using to communicate, there has also been a noticeable shift in how businesses are talking to their staff, customers, investors and broader stakeholder community.

But how much of that has been a necessary response to the crisis, and what will endure as lockdown measures are eased?

We take a deeper dive into five things that have changed for good in the communications landscape:

 

1) How businesses communicate

The nature of the Covid-19 crisis has forced businesses and leaders to communicate frequently and openly to employees, customers, shareholders and suppliers.

We have quite literally seen into each other’s lives through a constant stream of video calling, a previously undreamt-of insight into our colleague’s personal lives.

This transparency has forced leaders to embrace authenticity, be more empathetic and available than they would have been ordinarily, which has been valued by employees.

Remote working is likely to endure for the foreseeable future, but even once things return to a more normal footing businesses and leaders would do well to maintain regular and authentic communications – their stakeholders will now be expecting it.

As the situation evolves, businesses are going to need to think strategically about how they manage their communications across a variety of scenarios and channels depending on what the recovery looks like.

Planning for this should be a top priority.

 

2) The value of being seen as a responsible business

Consumers, regulators, MPs, government, employees (both current and future) and the media have all been watching how businesses have behaved during this crisis. Select Committees are already holding inquiries into how some industries have behaved.

Business who have taken financial support from the government whilst paying out dividends or bonuses will be questioned; high executive pay will look even more unpalatable in an era with potentially record levels of unemployment.

This increased scrutiny will only increase the importance of corporate responsibility, or ESG (environmental, social and governance) as it is called in the investment world.

Businesses will need to be able to demonstrate their impact above and beyond profit – their tax strategy, social impact, climate strategy, supply chains, employment practices will all be under the microscope from a variety of stakeholders.

Companies that don’t have a positive story to tell on responsibility will need to develop one. And organisations who want government to listen will need to be able to show they have a positive, helpful and responsible impact on society.

 

3) Resilience, risk and crisis preparedness

Every organisation’s business continuity plans have been tested over the past few weeks and going forward more organisations will take risk planning seriously.

The new reality will demand it – every business will need to make judgement calls about acceptable levels of risk for their employees to return to work and how they operate over the next 18 months.

Reputational risks will be rife in the ‘new normal’, businesses will need make sure they are ready. Organisations without crisis communications plans and risk registers, regularly updated and reviewed as standard, will also put these in place so they are prepared for the next time.

Stakeholder lists need to be reviewed and updated, channel strategies and messaging refreshed, and tone of voice carefully adjusted.

Leaders should think about ensuring their media training is up to scratch, their knowledge of the messaging locked down.

Finally, businesses should make sure they appoint dedicated issues and crises team with clear roles and responsibilities assigned.

Some will already have all of this in place and will simply need to review and update, others will be starting from scratch.

In the ‘new normal’ not being prepared is not an option.

 

4) Government will be looking for solutions

The financial impact of Covid-19 for the public purse will be felt for years to come – bailout measures plus significant reductions to expected tax income will threaten the Government’s ambitious spending plans unveiled in the Budget just a few short weeks ago.

The government will be looking for creative ways to plug that shortfall, but where to target tax rises will be highly controversial.

To make matters worse, don’t forget this is a newly elected Government, elected by a swathe of new Conservative voters in traditional Labour seats who’s battle cry has been to “level up” Britain.

However, what is a headache for the Government is an opportunity for business.

Creative, bold and eye-catching policies, assuming they have minimal or even positive revenue implications, will be welcomed.

Anything that can be seen to contribute to the recovery from Covid-19 or creates jobs will be listened to.

It seems a way off now, but with an election in 2024 businesses should think about how they can help the government find a legacy that can they can take to the ballot box.

 

5) The return of the experts

During the 2016 Referendum, Michael Gove famously told Sky News that “people in this country have had enough of experts” and for much of the following years that appeared to have been prophetic.

Emotion, rather than evidence, has been in the ascendancy, with how they voted in the divisive 2016 ballot seen as the decisive motivating factor behind decision making.

Covid-19 has turned all of that on its head, the experts are back.

The Government’s entire communications message has been that our response is “led by scientists”, even to the extent of giving unprecedented airtime to the Chief Medical and Chief Scientific Officers, roles few in the general public would previously have been aware of.

In the post-Covid environment businesses will have an opportunity to offer their expertise to government and position themselves as authorities in areas where they have specialisms. We have seen how government is keen to work with businesses during the crisis through programmes like the Ventilator Challenge, and that mindset will continue through the recovery.

Where organisations can provide evidence bases, insight or add to the public discourse they should seize those opportunities, people will be listening.

 


 

As we move into Phase 2 of the Covid-19 crisis, there will be continued uncertainty to navigate we tentatively ease elements of the lockdown.

Some businesses will be aching to revert to normality as soon as possible, but things will not go back to the status quo – markets and attitudes will have evolved in response to the pandemic, and not all businesses will respond to their new environment.

As we discover what the ‘new normal’ looks like, those that succeed will have learnt some valuable lessons from the past few weeks, not just about video calling and remote working, but fundamental shifts in how they can and should approach communications.

Those that heed those lessons can flourish, for those that don’t there may be more challenges to come.

 

 

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How your business will need to communicate as the lockdown changes

There is no doubt it’s time for businesses to prepare for their second stage of communications in response to the Covid-19 lockdown.

The first phase of communications we all witnessed firsthand: the urgent rush to communicate changes in business practices to employees, customers and beyond, along with rapid government lobbying, in response to the lockdown.

But there is a shift happening now that the country is trying to define how and when lockdown will end – or continue to change shape over the coming months. This ‘new normal’ is going to require even more sensitivity in how businesses communicate their messages.

This crisis has impacted every business, whether for good or bad, and certainly every individual.

Communications that now ignore such a seismic change will be seen as inauthentic and simply won’t resonate with audiences. Remember, good communication always focuses on understanding your audience: and every business is guaranteed that their audience is thinking about Covid-19 and how it will continue to impact their personal life.

All businesses need to apply a new lens to their communications as a result.

This means the tone of voice and nuance of your messages are more important than ever. A tokenistic nod to Covid-19 in your communications won’t suffice.

It’s time to take a thoughtful look at how you can adapt your company’s messages to maturely acknowledge the worry that is in the community, along with the very real need for businesses to be moving ahead with their economic recovery.

Our recent webinar unpacked this change, exploring how businesses can practically manage their communications during this time.

We hope you find this advice useful as you take a look at your messages, the different scenarios you are planning for, the channels of communication you are using, and tips for communicating with your different audience groups.

It’s likely not going to be ’business as usual’ for some time still. So don’t make the mistake of ‘communications as usual’.

 

To watch a recording of WA’s recent webinar ‘After the Shock: Managing the Recovery’ please enter your details below:

 

 

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Double hire to spearhead corporate communications growth

WA Communications has hired Lee Findell and Sarah Gullo to lead the growth of its corporate communications practice.

Findell joins as Director and Head of Corporate. He brings 19 years of agency experience including Weber Shandwick, Freuds and FTI, and for the last four years as Senior Director at MHP, where he led a team focused on corporate communications and reputation management for brands such as L’Oréal, Coca-Cola, Zurich Insurance and the RAF.

He is joined by Associate Director Sarah Gullo, who has rejoined WA Communications after living abroad for the past 18 months. Formerly in the WA Health team, Gullo has a wealth of in-house and agency corporate communications experience across the health, utilities and development sectors and was a senior political media advisor in Australia.

Together, they will be expanding WA’s corporate communications offer to focus on corporate narrative and positioning, integrated campaigns, crisis communications and business change communications.

Welcoming their appointment, WA Communications Managing Director Dominic Church said: “Lee and Sarah bring impressive national and international corporate comms experience to WA and will build an exceptional team as we expand our reach in the corporate communications field. We are absolutely delighted to have them join the WA team as we continue to grow the agency and bolster our corporate communications credentials.”

PRWeek recently named WA Communications in the top 5 of UK public affairs agencies, and ranked the consultancy 81 in the top 150 PR consultancies.

Findell added: “WA Communications has a strong reputation as a leading public affairs consultancy helping business to address complex commercial challenges, and I am excited to come on board to expand the nascent corporate communications practice as the consultancy continues to go from strength to strength.”

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