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How your business will need to communicate as the lockdown changes
How your business will need to communicate as the lockdown changes

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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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2020 vision: What challenges lie ahead for higher education over the next year?

Higher education did not feature heavily in the 2019 general election campaign, with political attention inevitably focused on Brexit and the NHS.

The election result, however, will have significant implications for the higher education sector over the next year and beyond.

As ever, concerns over funding and the long-term financial sustainability of higher education institutions will dominate discussions within the sector. But beyond funding, higher education faces political pressures on a range of issues from grade inflation to Vice-Chancellor pay.

Below is a snapshot of the five biggest challenges facing the higher education sector in 2020:

 

Funding and fees

The Augar Review of post-18 education and funding, published in May 2019, recommended the government reduce tuition fees to £7,500 per year, with the government replacing any lost funding through increased grants to universities. The Conservatives’ general election victory means it is unlikely the government will cut tuition fees but there is some scope for funding shifts to support subjects deemed to be of most economic value.

Funding changes will emerge from the 2021 Research Excellence Framework (REF) which determines the allocation of quality-related (QR) funding for research and will realign the funding settlements for research institutions.

Demonstrating the impact of research is worth 25 per cent of the 2021 REF, an increase from 20 per cent in the last iteration in 2014, and institutions will have to carefully consider how best to demonstrate the social and economic impact of their research beyond academia.

This will involve higher education institutions needing to prove their research has had a positive impact on the economy, government policy, public services, the environment or society, taking into account the priorities of the REF panel.

 

Brexit

Despite Boris Johnson running on the promise that he would ‘get Brexit done’, the implications of Brexit still loom large for higher education.

Indications suggest the government will charge EU students full international fees for the academic year following 2021/22, which could impact on demand and create financial pressure on institutions that recruit heavily from the EU.

There also remains the question of the extent to which the government will replace the lost income of universities from EU research funding beyond the end of the transition period.

 

Grade inflation

The past year has seen increased media and political attention paid to the number of Firsts and 2:1s awarded to students by UK universities, prompting fears grade inflation is undermining the value of British university degrees.

In response, the UK Standing Committee for Quality Assessment launched a new framework for the classification of degrees as part of a new voluntary code towards the end of 2019.

The extent to which the new code of practice is able to halt the number of top degree awards will determine whether the government seeks to introduce further regulatory oversight of the classification of degrees. How the government decides to deal with grade inflation will indicate the extent to which it is comfortable with the marketisation of the higher education sector.

As a potential consequence of institutions needing to attract students, the government may be forced to correct market incentives through increased regulation.

 

Free speech

Gavin Williamson has publicly stated universities must take steps to ensure free speech on campus or the government will legislate to protect freedom of expression. Writing in The Times last week, the Education Secretary warned higher education institutions that intimidation of academics by students and other protesters is unacceptable and they must do more to protect the safety of academics and their right to free speech. Williamson has pledged to change the legal framework to strengthen free speech rights if universities do not take sufficient action.

The intervention by the Education Secretary will be a challenge for universities as they try to balance the right of students to protest against the need for academic freedom and expression. The government’s demand for free expression on campus will be particularly tested when it comes to topics like transgender rights and the politics of the far-right.

 

Vice-Chancellor pay

Media and political scrutiny of Vice-Chancellor remuneration has continued into 2020, following recent analysis that nearly half of Russell Group universities have increased Vice-Chancellor pay over the past year. A lot of the pay increases awarded to university bosses have been above inflation, with the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Liverpool receiving a 12.8 per cent increase, increasing her annual pay to £410,000.

Some universities, such as the University of Southampton, have cut pay when appointing new Vice-Chancellors, and the Russell Group has stated pay awards are down by nearly two per cent across the group.

Faced with hostility from unions and students, higher education institutions will need to work hard to justify their pay awards to Vice-Chancellors to avoid further straining their relationships with ordinary staff and students.

 

 

 

 

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Restructuring the Civil Service – is the government ready for post-Brexit Britain?

Now that the country has decided it is time to get Brexit done, the Prime Minister can use his whopping majority to push through the necessary legislation over the coming weeks and, hopefully, move onto the much-neglected domestic agenda while the trade talks carry on in the background.

But this need to push through the legislation to have us out, as promised, by the end of January is leaving many of those on the frontbench enjoying a lengthy interview process for their own jobs – or one higher up the ladder – while we all wait for the much-anticipated epic reshuffle in February.

Rumours in and around Westminster about who is out (Truss? Wallace? Barclay?), who could be coming up (Sunak? Dowden?) and who may have to be moved to allow them to spend more time with their constituents (Raab saw a huge drop in his majority in Esher & Walton) are making some hopeful and many nervous.

Talk of a significant reconfiguration of Whitehall departments is being played down, with a smaller-scale re-jig now looking more likely but Dominic Cummings’ determination to shake-up the Civil Service machine is anything but dimmed.

You only need to look at his blog from 2014, where he says: “If we want serious government then we need fundamental changes in the way ministers and officials are selected, trained, paid, managed and held accountable”. His recent blog post calling for “weirdos and misfits” to apply for roles should not be seen in isolation but the first step in him seeking to put his ideas into action. With the backing of the Prime Minister, this could be more than just an expensive change of the Whitehall stationery.

 

“With the backing of the Prime Minister, this could be more than just an expensive change of the Whitehall stationery.”

 

Unnamed cabinet ministers were quick to warn about the destabilising effect of shaking up a civil service that has gone largely unchanged since its creation, pointing out that it is the ‘envy of the world’, but many acknowledge that it is far from as efficient as it could or should be to deal with the demands of 21st-century government.

But should anyone really be surprised?  Changes made during Cummings’ time at DfE were surely just the warm-up act, confined to a single department and clearly with the full support of Gove as secretary of state, but the resulting anger from teachers and many parents had an impact of the 2017 election result.  Later, running the Leave campaign, he seemingly had no issue with sidelining lifer-Brexiteers including Bill Cash and Bernard Jenkin, as well as keeping those with much to say on the subject such as Mark Francois away from media.  Upsetting Cash, Jenkin, Francois et al. might have bruised a few egos but ultimately it was in the name of a greater cause they all believed in and hasn’t had longer-term consequences for the Party’s ability to win a convincing majority.  Can the same really be said for Cummings’ radical plans for the Civil Service?

Much noise is coming from the left about all this meaning that Boris is now running a right-wing, revolutionary Conservative government.  But remember – Cummings isn’t a Tory, he’s a disrupter.  An unpredictable force who enjoys mischief.   Yes, he is a very serious person who genuinely believes in what he is doing, but if he has a fault it is perhaps that he is over-impressed by people who know things about the stuff he doesn’t.  Take his call for all those “weirdos and misfits”, about not wanting “confident public school bluffers” and “Oxbridge humanities graduates”.  Cummings, a former Durham School pupil, with a first in Ancient and Modern History from Oxford, is not seeking to create a civil service in his own image but instead is putting his faith in those with the skills he considers the civil service is lacking.

 

“Cummings isn’t a Tory, he’s a disrupter.”

 

As Jill Rutter has made clear in her recent piece for the FT, Cummings is right to point to the lack of scientific expertise in the heart of government, noting that those with science degrees made up less than 20 per cent of the Civil Service fast stream intake in 2018.  With so few scientists coming through the door, it’s hardly any wonder there is a lack of expertise higher up.  While Cummings may be right about the lack of those in our civil service with science and maths degrees, he is wrong that the solution to all of Whitehall’s problems is a load of bright disrupters at the top.  Much deeper change is needed and Jonathan Portes , writing in the Guardian, is right that Cummings’ plan doesn’t make getting a GP appointment any easier for the millions who are frustrated by their lack of access.

In any case, while the political world may well be obsessed while they play the waiting game until the Brexit deadline, what may well matter far more in the long-term for the Prime Minister is whether UK troops are killed for something that Trump has done.  Forget Cummings and his disruptive tendencies, this is real statecraft.

Ultimately though, change is coming to the Civil Service and it is long overdue.

Whether Cummings’ radical vision is the right one at the right time, or too much too soon is yet to be seen but civil servants, ministers and those of us in public affairs would do well to pay close attention over the coming months.

There will be implications for business and, combined with the renewal of the domestic policy agenda and the upcoming Budget in March we will soon learn where No10’s priorities lie. Being ready to make the case to ministers and departments, in the context and language of Cummings’ changes and vision will ensure closer alignment with the Government’s priorities and a much better chance of success.

 

 

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New Year, new politics: dealmaking after the election

Politics in 2020 is shaping up to be a very different beast than in 2019. But what does it mean for investors and dealmaking?

Yes, Brexit is still the talk of Westminster, but we now have a government with a clear agenda, and crucially, a mandate big enough to deliver it.

Johnson’s election campaign strategy was clear – a laser like focus on the need to Get Brexit Done, wrapped in a wider narrative of hope, optimism and aspiration. And it worked. Johnson’s government now has a majority bigger than any other Conservative administration since 1987 and the Labour Party is potentially looking at another decade in the political wilderness.

The Prime Minister’s election campaign was also underpinned by a number of retail policies designed to reach out beyond the Conservative’s traditional voter base – rollout of full fibre and gigabit-capable broadband, further rises in the National Living Wage, 20,000 more police and tougher sentencing of criminals, and targeted support for the British high street.

Johnson knows that many traditional Labour voters ‘lent’ him their votes in 2019 and he will be keen to consolidate their support ahead of 2024.

Brexit upended traditional party loyalties and the strategy of the Conservative Party election machine (led by a reassembled Vote Leave contingent) of pushing hard into former Labour strongholds in the Midlands and the North of England saw a swathe of constituencies go blue.

Johnson will be acutely aware that the only way of shoring up new lower middle-class and blue-collar workers will be by making sure there are tangible improvements in their lives – more money in their pockets, safer communities and more accessible public services.

The market response to the Conservative majority was clear – the FTSE 250 saw its biggest jump in a decade as investors piled into UK stocks and Sterling rose sharply against the Dollar and jumped to a three-and-a-half-year high against the Euro.

Shares in politically sensitive markets like water, which faced the threat of nationalisation under a Labour government, saw big gains and banks exposed to the UK economy witnessed their share prices rise sharply once the election result became clear.

So, what does the Johnson government mean for UK investors and dealmaking?

1.    Johnson is Getting. Brexit. Done. 

The UK will leave the EU on 31 January. We’ll then enter an 11-month transition period during which the UK and the EU will try to thrash out a free trade deal. If a trade deal is successfully agreed, the UK and EU will start trading on those terms immediately after the transition period ends.

If not, the UK faces the prospect of having to trade with no agreement in force, or to agree to a number of stop-gap measures with the EU.

While leaving on WTO terms now appears relatively unlikely, the next few months of trade negotiations are likely to be fraught, and it may be that the UK leaves the EU with a relatively bare-bones ‘zero-tariffs, zero-quotas’ deal on goods in place. Investors in cross-border or export-dependent businesses would do well to watch how this develops and adjust their dealmaking strategy accordingly.

2.    The policy and regulatory horizons are clearer. 

From a domestic policy perspective, we finally have what investors crave: certainty.

The Conservatives have been clear on their domestic policy agenda and on the modernised ‘One Nation’ rationale that underpins their approach to government. With Johnson gearing up for a ten-year stint in No.10, we can expect departments across Whitehall to start gearing up for a period of intense policy-making.

Whilst this may mean change in the short-term, a lengthy period of implementation will likely follow, taking some of the guesswork out of business planning.

3.    Business is no longer a dirty word. 

Contrary to Johnson’s anti business stance back in June, the Conservative Party manifesto also contains a lot that will be comforting to British business. Frequent references to a ‘dynamic free market economy’ set the scene for an unashamedly pro-business agenda and should be good for dealmaking.

Notably, the Conservative manifesto makes repeated reference to the ‘symmetry’ at the heart of the UK economy, and the importance of maintaining this balance through the support of British business: “We are the only party that understands the symmetry at the heart of the UK economy. That the only way to fund world-class public services and outstanding infrastructure is to encourage the millions of British businesses that create the wealth of the nation – especially small businesses, family firms and the self-employed.”

A revived recognition of the role of private sector business is already coming from coming from No.10 – promises to ensure regulation is ‘sensible and proportionate,’ a continuation of the ‘spectacularly successful’ Enterprise Investment Schemes, increases in R&D tax credits and a reduction in business rates all signal Johnson’s intentions.

More powers to the Competition and Markets authority to tackle rip-offs and bad practices will be the government’s nod towards making sure consumers aren’t forgotten.

4.    The age of austerity is over, at least in the North. 

Ahead of the anticipated Budget in the Spring, the Treasury is reportedly rewriting the way the government calculates value for money in order to divert additional funds away from London and the South east and towards the North and Midlands.

Traditional calculations (on a Gross Value Add basis) have disproportionately focused spending on transport, infrastructure and business development projects in areas with the highest population and business density. Under the new rules, government investment will be directed towards reducing inequality rather than predicated on promoting overall economic growth.

Given these changes, we can expect major productivity-enhancing projects outside London to be high on the government’s list for early spending commitments.

However, Johnson’s political honeymoon won’t last long, and he’ll have several critical issues that he’ll need to tackle once he’s back behind his desk in January to demonstrate his government is delivering on its promises. Creating a sustainable social care system, addressing an increasingly complex housing crisis, tackling historically low productivity rates and reversing the public’s disillusionment with the political establishment will be no mean feat, nor are there likely to be any quick fixes.

But Boris has spent most of his adult life preparing for this and will want to make sure that his government and eventual legacy is not solely Brexit-shaped – he wants to deliver lasting political change based on an optimistic, aspirational and enterprising new Britain.

2020 will be a year when we see just what Johnson is made of.

 

This article was first published in the January 2020 edition of RealDeals

 

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Fast growing WA starts 2019 with new hires and promotions across the company

Following 25 percent growth in revenue in 2018 across core public affairs, health and investor services, WA Communications is starting the year with a raft of new hires and promotions. These follow a game-changing year for the company, achieving high-profile clients wins and expansion in its service offer across public affairs, investor services and corporate communications.

Dean Sowman joins WA’s health practice as an Associate Director from Portland Communications, bringing a decade of experience in public affairs, market access programmes, disease awareness campaigns and crisis management. He will work alongside Director Caroline Gordon in growing WA as a leading player in the health public affairs and PR market following significant client wins including Bayer and Sanofi.

Internally, Angus Hill has been promoted to Senior Account Director, recognising his pivotal role in cementing WA’s creds across the transport, utilities, and consumer rights sectors. Further promotions include Josh Aulak becoming a Senior Account Manager, and Beatrice Allen an Account Manager.

Announcing the promotions, Dominic Church, Managing Director of WA said:

“WA Communications is at a really exciting time in its growth. Our insight-driven approach and relentless focus on delivering against our clients’ core objectives are making the difference in a crowded market place.

But more than that, we’re determined to be known for being the best people-centred business in the industry. By showing genuine commitment to supporting and developing our team, we’re seeing our whole business thrive. It’s the solid foundation that we’ll build on – for the benefit of both our team and for our clients.”

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WA shortlisted for PR Moment Awards

WA Communications is delighted to have been shortlisted for Independent Agency of the Year in the PR Moment Awards 2019.

The PR Moment Awards are a major fixture in the UK PR and communications calendar and are judged by eminent industry professionals.

The awards celebrate excellence and recognise and reward exceptional campaigns and talent in the UK PR and communications sector.

As a company, WA has had a truly outstanding 12 months.

We’ve moved to new offices, rebranded, won exciting new clients, and bolstered our team with new talent, whilst continuing to deliver innovative and creative strategies for existing clients.

The PR Moment awards aim to celebrate excellence in the public relations industry, reflecting WA’s broad offer across public affairs, corporate communications and investor services.

WA have been shortlisted in the ‘Independent Agency of the Year’ category alongside some other leading agencies. Our independence is an important part of who we are and what makes WA a place that attracts some of the top public affairs and communications consultants in the industry. It allows up to be independent in outlook and ownership, dedicated to big consultancy thinking, coupled with boutique style client service.

Our strong work ethic, commitment to collaboration and real understanding of each of our clients’ businesses mean that we can deliver exemplary public affairs advice on policymaker engagement, corporate communications, crisis management and political risk time and time again.

If you think you have what it takes to work at WA then please get in touch, we are always keen to hear from talented consultants at all levels of experience, or check out our current vacancies on the careers page of our website.

The London & The South awards ceremony will take place at the Park Plaza Westminster Bridge in London on 26 March 2020 – wish us luck!

 

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Growth and client success sees WA rise into top 5 PA agencies in the UK

WA has been ranked in the top five in the PRWeek top 150 UK Public Affairs Consultancies 2019, rising from tenth spot last year.

WA’s Managing Director Dominic Church said:

“We are delighted to be recognised as one of the five leading public affairs agencies in the UK.

“This is thanks to the incredible talent and dedication of our team, and reflective of the real results we achieve for our clients.”

WA has continued to build on its significant growth over the past 24 months and was also ranked 77 on the PRWeek Top 150 UK PR consultancies 2019, rising from the 89th spot in 2018.

“We are continuing to expand our wider corporate communications offer and we look forward to providing our clients with a more integrated service for all their communications and public affairs needs,” he said.

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WA shortlisted for PRCA’s Public Affairs Award

We are delighted to announce WA Communications has been shortlisted for the Consultancy Campaign of the Year in the Public Relations and Communications Association’s (PRCA) Public Affairs Awards.

A panel of experts from the industry chose our campaign to save the UK’s cash network with Cardtronics as one of the most successful campaigns of the past 12 months. The winner will be determined by the judging panel.

Our strategy blended together hard evidence and emotive storytelling to illustrate the impact of a reduction in access to cash through ATMs would have on people right across the UK including vulnerable groups, rural communities and businesses. Through this we stopped the development of “cash deserts” across the UK. By engaging with parliamentarians, officials, regulators and third-party stakeholders, WA was able to raise awareness of the impact and rally support to scrutinise the decision further and secure political commitments to protect access to cash in the UK.

Commenting on WA’s campaign, Duncan Faithfull, Director of Corporate Relations at Cardtronics, said:

“The WA team were absolutely central to the success of Cardtronics’ campaign to ensure the interchange fee in the UK remains at a level that supports universal access to cash. Their ability to access ministers, officials and parliamentarians was impressive, and they tapped into the agenda of the day to ensure the threat to ATMs was front and centre of the policy debate.

WA applied pressure in all the right places to ensure government was fully aware of our campaign, leading to the Chancellor of the Exchequer confirming his commitment to access to cash in his Spring Statement; an invaluable breakthrough.

WA went to great lengths to understand our business needs, and to make sure they worked with us in a way that suited our culture. They were always on hand to support the team and were a vital resource, both in terms of their insight and responsiveness”.

WA Communications gets to the heart of our clients’ policy, regulatory and reputational issues to develops insight led campaigns with maximum impact. We help out clients engage in the decisions impacting their commercial environment and build bespoke and creative strategies which suit their needs.

The awards ceremony, where the winners will be announced, will take place on 29th November 2018 at Park Plaza London Riverbank, 18 Albert Embankment, London, SE1 7TJ.

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Prosecco & political insight for WA’s summer party

Thursday 11 July was a warm, balmy evening – perfect for our Annual Summer Party! The evening was a great opportunity for us to celebrate and look back over the first half of what has already been another successful year for WA – and of course to look forward to more success for the rest of 2019.

We were delighted to be joined by Katy Balls, the Deputy Political Editor of the Spectator and host of the Women with Balls podcast, who was on hand to talk us through her understanding of the current political landscape and give us her predictions for the Conservative leadership election. Katy quipped that it was great to be at a Westminster Summer Party where the speaker wasn’t vying for the job of Chancellor – not yet at least.

Whilst much of Westminster has all but accepted that the next leader of the Conservative Party is going to be Boris Johnson, this is not a dead cert according to Katy, who told us that not as many Tory party members have returned their postal ballots as had been anticipated. This means that there is still a lot for both Johnson and Hunt to play for, and a lot of room for both candidates to get things wrong.

As to the candidates’ respective popularity with the parliamentary party, Johnson is now a lot more popular amongst his colleagues than had been previously thought – which we saw evidence of with his dominance of the parliamentary ballots. The parliamentary party needs a Brexiteer like Johnson to fend off the threat of the Brexit Party. However, Katy told us that it could also be put down to the Johnson campaign being a tighter ship than it was in 2016, being comprised of a strong team of experienced and respected advisers.

So, if it is to be a Johnson premiership, what would the government look like? Where May was often perceived to be threatened by the big names in her cabinet (leading her to choose loyalty over ability), Katy’s view is that Johnson is happy to have a team of Tory party A-Listers, and that he wouldn’t shy away from playing factions off against each other. Expect to see former leadership rivals in senior posts, and the return to the frontbench of Johnson loyalists.

Yet it is important to remember that the change in leader does not change the numbers in parliament, and the new leader is set to face many of the same challenges faced by May in terms of trying to push a Brexit deal through parliament.

Interestingly, Katy told us that Johnson is not as opposed to holding a second referendum as many might think, though it would be a last resort and he would, of course, campaign again for the ‘leave’ faction. Yet he would also likely pitch himself as a centrist and a liberal, Cameronite “One Nation” Tory to try to appeal to the middle ground of the electorate.

It was an informative discussion that helped to make the political climate seem a lot less murky – for now at least. We hope that everyone who attended found it as interesting and entertaining as we did.

A special thanks to Katy Balls for entertaining us with her insights, and to all our guests for joining us for a fantastic evening.

We hope to see you all at our next party!

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Industry’s future leaders enjoy an evening with The Times’ Esther Webber

This week, WA Communications hosted its first evening for young professionals. This was to demonstrate the importance of young people across the industry sharing networks and information, as well as reflect the diversity of experience here and across sectors. It was an opportunity to ensure often overlooked voices within the industry are heard, as well as for young professionals to find out what was really happening across politics and policy. WA welcomed young professionals from across politics, policy, public affairs and industry to our offices for an evening of discussion on the current political milieu, taking in Brexit, the Conservative Party leadership race and what the future might hold.

Hosted by WA’s own Rebecca Brake, The Times’ Esther Webber delivered the key note speech and summed up the entirety of British politics in just a few short minutes…almost. Esther began by saying she was glad she could make it given this week was supposed to be the last throw of the dice for the Withdrawal Agreement, and although the Prime Minister had since resigned, if anybody could still bring forward the Bill after that it was her.

Reflecting on the relief of journalists no longer having to talk about the Snell Amendment, Malthouse Compromise or the Cooper-Letwin Bill, discussion then moved on to the Conservative leadership race. From Hunt’s foreign languages to McVey’s views on Brexit (she quite likes it!), Esther covered all the key people and what their ascension to the throne might mean. And of course if there was anything we needed clearing up, Rory Stewart would no doubt be along shortly. Unfortunately he was otherwise engaged, but we’re sure he’ll make his way to our offices soon.

Concluding that Boris Johnson was the most likely to combine the necessary characteristics of ardent Brexiteer and populist, discussion moved on to what the year had in store: a first Brexit Party MP; Prime Minister Johnson; Prime Minister Corbyn; and the seventh or eighth splintering of Change UK. The bar for surprise in modern politics seems to be extremely high, and yet we keep on raising it.

In an informative Q&A session, topics ranged from Brexit (surprisingly), the Tory leadership contest, and when things will return to normal (answer: who knows). You can find a full summary of questions and answers on our Twitter feed.

To round off the evening there were drinks, dips and deep house, and no small amount of networking across sectors. This was an opportunity for all attendees to find out what was really going on across the industry and in politics, away from the headlines and official statements. We hope all those who attended found it as useful as we did.

A special thanks to Esther Webber for providing her valuable insights and trademark humour to the evening, and to all those who attended to make it as interesting and informative as possible. We hope to see you all again soon.

WA will be hosting a number of further events over the course of the year aimed at all sectors and demographics, including additional young professionals events. If you would like to stay up to date with what we’ve got going on email info@wacomms.co.uk to subscribe to updates.

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