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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 ‘WA Corporate Communications’ Category

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 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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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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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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