Archive for July, 2021

ESG Insights: July

Posted on: July 30th, 2021 by Tomas White


In December last year, the FCA introduced new rules that required UK premium listed companies to report in line with the Taskforce on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD), or explain why they have not, making the UK the first country in the world to make TCFD-aligned disclosures mandatory. The rule came into force for accounting periods starting on or after 1 January 2021, so the first reports under these new rules will be published in Spring next year.

Spotlight on: Taskforce on Climate-related Financial Disclosures

The Taskforce on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) was launched in 2015 by the Financial Stability Board to develop consistent climate-related financial risk disclosures for use by companies, banks, and investors in providing information to stakeholders. The aim of the TCFD is to increase the amount of reliable information regarding an entity’s exposure to climate-related risks and opportunities, with the overall goal of strengthening the stability of the financial system, create better understanding of climate change risks and to facilitate the transition to a more stable and sustainable economy.

The TCFD recommendations encompass four key pillars:

  • Governance – disclosure on the organisation’s governance around climate-related risks and opportunities
  • Strategy – disclosure on the actual and potential impacts of climate-related risks and opportunities on the organisation’s businesses, strategy, and financial planning, where such information is material
  • Risk Management – disclosure on how the organisation identifies, assesses, and manages climate-related risks
  • Metrics and Targets – disclosure on the metrics and targets used to assess and manage relevant climate-related risks and opportunities, where such information is material

Keen to push the green agenda further still, BEIS launched another consultation for potential TCFD take-up by publicly quoted companies, large private companies and LLPs. The consultation period closed on 5 May 2021 and proposed that these disclosures would become mandatory for those entities in scope for accounting periods commencing on or after 6 April 2022. A further consultation period has been launched by the FCA to extend the rules on TCFD disclosures to UK Standard listed companies also.

This progress is great to see; for years, a common complaint from the markets has been the lack of a uniform ESG code, which makes it hard to assess accurately the climate-related risks in various financial instruments. These changes make the UK one of the first in a growing group of countries using internationally accepted standards to enhance the quality of corporate ESG disclosure and enable global comparability.

This move sets a new bar for disclosure and provides companies with an advantage when it comes to attracting capital, which is increasingly flowing towards ESG opportunities and away from corporates with ESG-related risk; a recent study noted that half of recommended assets will be ESG within the next five years.


We discussed in the first edition of ESG Insights how investors are increasingly flexing their collective muscle in order to influence corporate behaviour. AGM season has seen this trend accelerate significantly, with activists putting pressure on executive teams across almost every sector.

Executive pay has been a contentious topic across the board. Last month, Morrisons faced the UK’s largest investor rebellion over pay this year as 70% of shareholders rejected its remuneration report; specifically, investors objected to the company stripping out the cost of the Covid-19 crisis from bonus calculations. Just a few days previously 62% of Informa’s shareholders opposed its remuneration report due to concerns over the new executive bonus scheme, with the likes of Aston MartinHochschild, PendragonCineworldRio Tinto and Foxtons also suffering a backlash over executive pay packets. There are exceptions to the rule, however. In May AstraZeneca found itself in the middle of this debate, with shareholder advisory groups recommending shareholders vote against the company’s pay policy at its upcoming AGM. A number of shareholders pushed back, arguing that CEO Pascal Soriot earned his millions as a result of his track record of value creation and the development of a pivotal Covid-19 vaccine.

Environmental issues continue to be at the forefront of investors agendas, particularly for Big Oil. A virtually unknown activist investor called Engine No. 1 successfully waged a battle to install three directors on the board of Exxon, with the goal of pushing the energy giant to reduce its carbon footprint, whilst 61% of Chevron shareholders voted in favour of an activist proposal from Dutch campaign group Follow This to force the group to cut its carbon emissions. Follow This also called for more ambitious environmental targets from both Royal Dutch Shell and BP at their recent AGMs.

ShareAction, the responsible-investment charity, has been very effective in coordinating different investors to force change at major UK companies, specifically using shareholder motions as a means to compel companies to tackle environmental and social issues. At the beginning of this year, they successfully got Amundi, Man Group and 13 other large investors to file a resolution at HSBC’s May AGM calling for the bank to curtail its financing of fossil fuels. After months of pressure, HSBC eventually put forward its own proposal pledging to overhaul its financing of coal; the shareholders subsequently withdrew their resolution. Barclays was similarly forced to table its own climate proposal at its annual meeting after shareholders targeted it with a resolution, however only 24% of investors supported their cause. Tesco was forced to set healthy food targets after an anti-obesity campaign by the charity ShareAction, with Morrisons being the latest target urged to take similar measures.

The list goes on. A clear conclusion from recent corporate events is that credible activists are receiving growing support from other shareholders, and any company is fair game in a bid to add real value over the long term.


Stakeholder considerations are a critical element of corporate ESG responsibilities. The pandemic has highlighted how important good stakeholder relations are to the success of businesses, with recent events making it clear that companies which fail to earn the trust of stakeholders do so at their peril.  A notable example of this was Rio Tinto’s destruction of two ancient Aboriginal rock shelters in Western Australia last year, despite the Company being aware of their cultural significance. The incident had terrible ramifications for the Company, destroying trust with local communities and costing the CEO and other senior executives their jobs. Trust is hard fought for but easily lost.

More recently, we have seen Brewdog face very negative media coverage following an open letter to the CEO from a number of former employees, claiming the founders had created a culture of fear within the company. Such damaging allegations can be extremely costly, potentially derailing their plans for an IPO and scuppering efforts to bring institutional shareholders on board. Indeed, some of Brewdog’s 180,000 strong crowdfunding investors have turned against the Company and are deeply concerned by the issues raised. Such allegations can unwittingly place companies in the media spotlight, and can quickly spiral into a crisis if the response isn’t handled well.

And of course, for companies coming to market for the first time, scrutiny will be particularly acute. As seen during the Deliveroo IPO earlier this year, ESG-related concerns can have an impact on valuation and subsequent aftermarket performance.

There is growing pressure on corporates to disclose meaningful metrics around stakeholder engagement. The Investment Association, in its shareholder priorities for 2021, identified four areas as being critical drivers of long-term value, and both stakeholder engagement and diversity were highlighted. Companies are also obliged to include a statement in their Annual Reports explaining how Directors have complied with Section 172 of the Companies Act 2006, promoting the success of the business while paying due regard to a broad range of stakeholder issues.


Here at MHP Mischief we’ve been working with a number of clients on some really interesting issues across the whole ESG spectrum.

Taking these into consideration – along with the key themes discussed in this newsletter – there are some common actions corporates should consider with regards to their ESG strategies:

1. Take the time to understand the TCFD and its reporting requirements

  • Make this a boardroom issue, who is responsible at the highest level for the development of climate-related disclosures?
  • Liaise with key shareholders and other stakeholders to understand their view, and what they want to see within your reporting
  • A stakeholder ESG materiality mapping exercise can be very useful in order to quantify the above

2. Engage with shareholders and their ESG teams to understand their views towards your ESG strategy

3. Keep abreast of themes / issues that are in focus for activists across the corporate landscape

4. Set up internal ESG committees that have oversight and report to management

5. Regularly review your ESG strategy to ensure there are no gaps or ‘blind spots’

Client in focus – Speedy Hire

Speedy Hire, the UK’s leading tools, equipment and plant hire services company, has made significant progress ingraining ESG in the Group’s strategy over the past twelve months, leading to it being recognised as an industry leader in ESG by Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS). Not only is the business seeking to reduce its own impact on the environment, it is also playing a critical role in improving the sustainability of construction projects across the country.

It is well recognised that the process of construction emits a large amount of COand in the past two years, we have seen a vast number of contractors, housebuilders and those within the wider construction industry announce plans to reach net zero carbon. The focus is now on how these companies are going to achieve their targets, with rental companies like Speedy key to facilitating the move to greener construction. A key feature of Speedy’s ESG strategy is innovation. It works directly with suppliers to test, develop and bring new sustainable equipment to market, helping to drive already strong customer demand.

Below we take a look at some of the activities Speedy has undertaken recently to cement its leading ESG position over the past year:

  • Appointment of an ESG director

Speedy appointed Amelia Woodley as ESG Director in May 2021, who has since been key in driving the Group’s ESG strategy.

Appointing an ESG Director who takes overall responsibility for a company’s ESG strategy can be important in ensuring your targets are sensible and assign accountability for delivery against your ESG commitments. They will report directly to the Board, who take overall responsibility for the ESG strategy.

  • ESG Linked Remuneration

15% of Speedy’s management performance-based remuneration will be linked to the achievement of ESG targets.

Linking management remuneration to the achievement of ESG targets is becoming more commonplace, and will only grow in importance for investors over the coming years. Targets can include a reduction in CO2 and an improvement in social value.

  • CO2 and Social Value targets

Speedy has committed to reaching net zero carbon emissions before 2050 and during the current financial year will set science-based targets to provide a clearly defined pathway on how it will achieve this.

It also uses the Hact/Simetrica database to assess social value and track improvements.

Companies shouldn’t forget that social value is just as important as carbon reduction within an ESG strategy. While net zero carbon targets can be verified by Science Based Targets, social value doesn’t have a clear verifier, so some companies choose to use the Hact/Simetrica database as a means of assessment, coupled with an internal audit.

  • Engagement with Institutional Shareholder Services

Of 57 publicly listed industrial services companies analysed, ISS found Speedy to have the top performing ESG strategy, giving the Group ‘prime’ status.

External groups such as ISS analyse and provide independent ratings on a company’s ESG credentials, look at factors such as carbon emissions, waste management and their impact on society. A prime status is given to those with strong ESG metrics which score above a sector-specific threshold. Such recognised accreditation can help to signpost ESG leadership to investors.

  • Capex and revenue relating to ESG

50% of Speedy’s capex planned for this year is geared towards sustainable products. 25% of revenue already comes from sustainable products.

Disclosing how much capex you are pledging to ESG related activities is a clear statement of intent that a company is taking ESG seriously. Similarly, disclosing how much revenue comes from more sustainable products or services demonstrates that ESG is also an opportunity for your business.


Over the last three months, there have been some wider developments that are worth being aware of, as well as some specific events within the ESG calendar which you may want to get involved with:

Yes, the new NHS CEO is a woman. Is this important? Probably. Should it be? Probably not.

Posted on: July 29th, 2021 by Tomas White

While the resulting coverage focussed on the implication that a promotion from within signalled the Government’s desire for continuity as the health service resets and rebuilds in the aftermath of COVID (if indeed we are anywhere near the aftermath yet), it also was keen to point out that Pritchard is the first female NHS head since its creation in 1948.

Twitter was awash with congratulations for Pritchard, including from many senior NHS leaders and partners, but it was the fact she is female that seemed to dominate the print and social coverage of the appointment. Should it matter?  Here is a person appointed because of their demonstrable leadership skills, their intimate knowledge of the health system (unlike some of the reported corporate candidates) and supposedly their ability to work with Government to ensure the NHS in England gets the support it needs throughout the pandemic and beyond.  And with a high percentage of female leadership within the NHS perhaps it is a surprise it didn’t happen sooner.  So, why is the fact she is a woman emphasised so significantly?

On the one hand, I get it.  The NHS is the biggest employer in Europe, with 1.3 million employees, three-quarters of whom are women.  This appointment comes when women account for just 6 per cent of FTSE 100 CEOs and are reported to be paid much less.  Representation of capable, skilled women in leadership roles, when the body of the working staff are also women, is a good thing.  Chapman University in California, writing in a meta-analysis, suggested female leaders, on average, lead more democratically, show transformational leadership and develop their reports’ potential.  And yes, strong visibility of senior female leaders might have a positive effect on future generations looking to see what opportunities lie ahead for them in the years ahead.

But on the other hand, by prefixing Pritchard’s appointment with her gender, are we not just adding to the feeling of a divide?  That when there is a female senior appointment, they are just that, a female senior appointment; when a man is promoted, he is simply a senior appointment.  When Emma Walmsley was appointed CEO of GSK in 2016, a write up in the Daily Mail announced ‘mother of four (with one VERY understanding husband) is made boss of Britain’s third biggest company)’.  I just couldn’t believe that coverage of a male appointment would report on their private set-up.  It also makes me question the number of studies asking workers if they prefer female or male leadership styles? Yes, understanding preferred leadership styles might help those leaders better flex their behaviours and communications to unlock the potential of their teams, but why do they have to be characterised by gender traits?

Maybe one day it won’t matter.  We have had two female Prime Ministers, a female head of the International Monetary Fund and a female head of the European Commission.  Hopefully we will see female managers of men’s football teams and a greater proportion of women in corporate leadership roles.  Maybe in 20 years’ time when my daughter enters the workforce (help us all), newspapers and social media (or whatever it looks like then) won’t feel the need to say ‘X company appoints its 3rd female CEO’ and instead the appointment will be devoid of any gender description. I guess we will see.

Introducing The Purpose Pathfinder – storytelling in a polarised world

Posted on: July 13th, 2021 by Tomas White

In a tribal world, brands have two choices: become part of a tribe or form their own. Either way you turn, a clear statement of who you are as a business, why you exist and your contribution to society is key. A clearly-articulated brand purpose is not just a differentiator, it’s now something that many customers, investors and employees expect.

However, as society becomes more polarised, identity binds people within tribes more strongly and that makes finding common ground harder. In that respect, purpose has the ability to create brand detractors as well as advocates.

The stakes, therefore, are high: get your story wrong and you can lose customers and damage your most important relationships – but get it right and you can build loyalty and engage new audiences. This is a challenge that demands real audience insight, not just professional instincts.

Building on our work with The Depolarization Project, The University of Cambridge, YouGov and More in Common, we have developed a unique new model. The Purpose Pathfinder will help our clients design brand purpose narratives that resonate with their audiences in the strongest possible way, while also balancing the polarised views of different audiences. The model sets our three narrative routes available to brands:

  • Change: Fight injustice and take a stand on one side of an argument. Change narratives are adopted by brands including Patagonia, and encourage polarisation.
  • Community: Taking care of people and the world around you, bringing everyone together. Community narratives are used by the likes of John Lewis, and encourage depolarisation.
  • Utility: Focus on personal flourishing and helping customers live their best lives, such as Porsche does with its high-performance engineering. Utility narratives sidestep social issues and focus on the individual.

The Pathfinder gives brands a score against these three routes and compares it to the expectations that audiences have of the businesses they buy from. This means we can identify where the biggest gaps exist and create narratives and campaigns to fix them.

It means brand leaders and communicators can understand their audiences’ competing expectations, anticipate risks, and build on the aspects of their story that will have the greatest impact. The model will also help businesses who are in the full glare of the public spotlight on contentious topics, by providing useful guidance to inform reactive communications strategies.



To read more about the Purpose Pathfinder, or to speak to us about your brand purpose challenges, email [email protected]

Racist abuse, football and Wembley violence. The Government must act now.

Posted on: July 13th, 2021 by Tomas White

I avoided Twitter the morning after England’s loss to Italy at Wembley. The result was disappointing enough: the social media bubble of vitriol would just make it worse.

I don’t believe Twitter viciousness or vile racism represent the vast majority of football fans – it has certainly been a poor predictor of election and referendum results. But small numbers of people can do big damage. I could avoid the vitriol because it was not directed at my personal feed.

The England players who missed their penalties could not avoid it as easily. They have served our country with distinction and deserve more than to open their social media to a torrent of racial abuse.

Twitter announced that it had removed a thousand tweets in the 24 hours following Sunday’s match. And we also understand there have been some two thousand tweets specifically targeted at England players with racist abuse since the start of the tournament. This was not about Sunday’s result: it is a long standing campaign of abuse.

Technology is helping with the social media clean up. Twitter’s spokesman said: “Though a combination of machine learning-based automation and human review we have swiftly removed over 1000 tweets and permanently suspended a number of accounts for violating our rules, the vast majority of which we detected ourselves proactively using technology”.

However, Government action is also needed. The Football Assocation, PFA, English Football League and others are absolutely right to re-issue calls for this vile racism to stop. The Government must step up and act now, and prioritise this over and above any World Cup bid. The violence at Wembley and the gutter online racist abuse of carnage aren’t helping our efforts to persuade FIFA we should host a World Cup in 2030.  It is also the right thing to do.

The Government must therefore act now. There are two things they need to address: the racist abuse online and the physical violence which marred the match itself.

On the racial abuse online, the Government must firstly proceed with the Online Harms Bill, and ensure that it sees pre-legislative scrutiny as soon as possible in the autumn.  And it must be given priority passage through both Houses so it reaches the statute book as soon as possible.

While heavily focused on protecting children and tackling terrorism, the Bill refers, albeit ambiguously, about the need to tackle content that is “harmful to adults”. We need to remove this ambiguity and make it clear what is acceptable – what is not – and what the punishment is. The focus should be on clear harm while allowing statements that are distasteful but not racist.

We simply cannot let a minority of idiots and racist, twitter-trolls ruin the pleasure of our national and international game for the rest. And we shouldn’t forget the pleasure this fine, young England team has given us after a long, dark lockdown.

On the physical violence at Wembley, Government action is also required.

Very few of the thugs who wreaked havoc over the weekend will be otherwise respectable, law-abiding citizens. The Conservatives’ 2019 election manifesto promised tougher sentencing for serious criminals.  Locking up violent criminals for longer will be good for the country – and for football.

Government must also work with The FA and Met Police now and use all its available tools to locate the criminals who were in and around the vicinity of the stadium – and elsewhere.  Then they must be punished. The Football Spectators Act 1989 clearly says that all the behaviours we witnessed on Sunday are criminal offences and football offences as those that occur “within 24 hours on either end of a football match can also be designated as a football-related offence”.

Notwithstanding recent events, domestic football has made huge positive strides in recent decades on football related crime.  Indeed, football related crime has actually decreased by 65 per cent in the past decade and football banning orders have also halved during this same period. Another cause for optimism is the responses by people and communities to the racist abuse.

An example is the mural of Marcus Rashford in Manchester, this was defaced with racist abuse. The abuse took the headlines but since there have been large numbers of local people drawing hearts and writing messages of support on to the mural. So there is hope. 

Despite what some on the left want us to believe, the UK is an overwhelmingly racially tolerant and decent place. The vast majority of us are law-abiding and decent. 

We loathe the violent criminals who wrecked Leicester Square on Sunday night. The thugs and the racists have spoken. Now, the voice of the law abiding majority needs to be heard loud and clear: we won’t tolerate this.

This article was originally shared by Conservative Home.

In conversation with: Gillian Tett

Posted on: July 9th, 2021 by Tomas White

We were delighted to host Gillian Tett, Chair of the Editorial Board and Editor-at-Large for the Financial Times, and author of the new book, Anthro-Vision: How Anthropology Can Explain Business and Life. This was the latest in our Networked Age series of interviews, exploring the ways in which digital technology is reshaping society and the communications landscape.

In conversation with our Head of Brand and Reputation, Rachel Bower, Gillian explored how anthropological intelligence is an important tool in decision-making for leaders and communicators, why big tech should pay it proper attention, and how anthropology is informing the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Among the key takeaways for communicators were:

  • Embrace culture shock to increase self-awareness, challenge your own cultural assumptions and gain empathy
  • Correlation is not causation – layering anthro-intelligence onto data elevates it beyond a tool for tracking or modelling
  • Prepare for a more polarised world as a result of the Pandemic, which has made it harder for all of us to escape our bubbles. Download our Networked Age Guide to Communicating in a Polarised World here.

Catch up on some of the highlights below:


Posted on: July 5th, 2021 by Tomas White

Nerdogram | June


In our highly digitised age, group dynamics make it even more important to understand audience: how they think, what they share, and what they want others to think of them. Without this, we run a growing risk of PR as sunk cost, lost in the noise.

The Networked Age Nerdogram grew out of an internal labour of love – a partnership with our behavioural science friends at INFLUENCE AT WORK to share favourite findings with colleagues, to help them do even better work for our clients.

But now, we have decided to bring it directly to our clients, and the wider communications community.  Every month we will share the killer nuggets we think will matter most to communicators.

Find out more about The Networked Age here, see previous editions here, and sign up to the monthly Nerdogram email below.


We’ll use your contact details to keep you up-to-date with news, events, and analysis from MHP Mischief, as well as other brands within the Engine group. You can unsubscribe from our database using the unsubscribe link in any email, or by emailing [email protected]. Our full data protection and privacy policy is available here.

In conversation with: Rory Cellan-Jones

Posted on: July 2nd, 2021 by Tomas White

We were delighted to host the BBC’s Technology Correspondent, Rory Cellan-Jones, in conversation with MHP Mischief’s Head of Capital Markets, Oliver Hughes – where they explored the impact of technology and its ability to infiltrate all aspects of our lives and become intensely personal.

Rory drew on his interviews and encounters with luminaries like Mark Zuckerberg, Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk to explain how the combination of smartphones and powerful social networks has resulted in today’s ultra-connected world.

He also discussed, amongst other things, where the UK stands in this technology revolution, how technology has played its role during the Covid pandemic and the future of the media industry.

Catch up on some of the highlights below:

MHP Mischief wins global sustainable investment account

Posted on: July 1st, 2021 by Tomas White

MHP Mischief was hired following a competitive pitch to help raise Stewart Investors Sustainable Funds Group’s profile across key markets, while supporting educational initiatives around sustainability and challenging ‘greenwashing’.

MHP Mischief is the lead agency globally and will be supported by Newell PR in Asia, Pritchitt Bland Communications in Australia and CL Media in the US.

Sustainable Funds Group, which is part of investment company Stewart Investors, is responsible for managing £14bn in assets, focused on sustainable companies.

Hugh O’Neill, business head at Stewart Investors Sustainable Funds Group, said: “With our shared values around sustainability, as well as its deep industry expertise and strong global network, MHP Mischief is the ideal partner to lead in helping us amplify brand awareness in EMEA, Australia and Asia. We look forward to working together with MHP Mischief to deliver our vision of making the world a better place through the power of investment.”

Nick Woods, MHP Mischief head of financial services, said: “We’re delighted to be appointed by Stewart Investors Sustainable Funds Group at a time when there is no bigger story to tell than how businesses are tackling the world’s sustainability challenge. With stewardship at the heart of its philosophy and its funds managed in accordance with its Hippocratic Oath, to act in the interests of clients and society, the Sustainable Funds Group is a true industry leader. We are excited to have been appointed by the team to help drive a sustainable future for the investment industry and beyond.”

MHP Mischief said it has added 10 clients to its financial services division this year. The agency recently launched its Climate Action Group to increase awareness of the issue and encourage action within Engine and outside it.

This article was originally published in PR Week.


Polarisation Tracker: Five years on, Brexit is still Britain’s most polarising issue

Posted on: July 1st, 2021 by Tomas White

Five years after the Brexit vote, Brexit remains the most polarising political issue in Britain between left and right-wing voters. This is a key finding of the June 2021 wave of MHP Mischief’s Polarisation Tracker study.

The Polarisation Tracker, conducted with Cambridge University’s Political Psychology Lab is a longitudinal study of British public attitudes, conducted every six months, designed to understand the most divisive political topics and groups in the country. The chart below ranks the key political dividing lines between left and right-wing people from least divisive issue, to most divisive.

Wave Two of the study, conducted in June to coincide with the anniversary of the Brexit, found no change in the list of the top three most polarising issues, with Brexit holding on to number one spot, followed by ‘traditional values’ and ‘government competence’.

There was little movement in public attitudes, despite the war of words over vaccines between the UK and the EU, tensions in Northern Ireland, Britain’s new trading relationships and a range of other major consequences (or lack thereof) materialising over the last six month since Britain left the Single Market and Customs Union.

As our Networked Age Guide to Communicating in a Polarised World showed, people find it incredibly difficult to change their minds, regardless of how the facts change, once those views have become part of their identity. Five years of calling each other “Remainers” and “Brexiteers” has caused people to entrench their positions.

However, a closer look at the data reveals some interesting underlying patterns, which suggest a fundamental realignment is taking place in British politics. Gradually, Brexit and Remain voters are depolarising in their attitude towards Brexit, while Conservative and Labour voters are becoming more polarised.

As you can see from this second chart, disagreement over the impact of Brexit is becoming more heated between people who voted Conservative or Labour in the 2019 election, but less polarising between people who voted Leave or Remain in 2016.

This suggests that how we cast our votes in 2016 is fading in importance in terms of how we see ourselves, while the issue about whether Britain should be “Global” or “European” is becoming more central to how Conservative and Labour voters see the world.

This trend will likely continue, as Conservative voters cheer each new trade deal or investment decision by Airbus or Nissan and Labour voters decry each fresh hit to shellfish exports or problem with right to remain for EU citizens.

Whether the Brexit vote represented a moment of liberation or of destruction will shape party politics for years to come.

2016 is the new 1979.

You can learn more about the MHP + Mischief Polarisation Tracker here, and the full results of Wave 2 will be published shortly.


What was the pandemic hiding?

Posted on: July 1st, 2021 by Tomas White

The collective focus on the virus also meant that the usual scrutiny of organisations was side-lined, for three key reasons:

  • Visibility

Firstly, a lack of physical access to businesses due to infection control measures meant there was less visibility over standards and operations. Coupled with suspensions of regulatory reporting in many sectors, this meant a setback in terms of accountability and transparency. Stakeholders were not as informed as they should be about what went on in organisations. Recently the FT reported that, in the UK alone, only a quarter of the UK companies normally eligible to report their gender pay gap data did so in time for the April deadline this year.

  • Patience

As society grappled to come to terms with the implications of a pandemic and the resulting lockdowns, public patience and forgiveness spiked. Customers were forgiving about long queues to speak with customer service, we permitted delays in supply chains and understood reductions in staff numbers.

  • Priorities

That leads us to the third factor that contributed to the pandemic concealing your next crisis: priorities. Even when we were aware of issues within organisations, all of our energy was directed towards the pandemic. The ultimate priority was the safety of our friends, family and community.

A shifting focus:

As we emerge from lockdown and vaccination rates decrease the chance of severe illness, the blindfold comes off. Regulatory investigations and organisational reporting will reveal how organisations coped with the pandemic, what mistakes were made, and how far businesses are from recovery.

The public will again have access to organisations and their forgiveness for poor service and delays will have been worn out. After over a year of lockdowns, businesses are expected to have learned to cope with the complications posed by the pandemic. Renewed freedoms in our everyday lives is abruptly ended our combined patience.

Brand loyalty is at risk and social media and the tabloids are the weapons of choice for the consumer, made all the more powerful by a media that has been even more heavily reliant on social media than ever before and whose victim is only a zoom call, direct to studio, away.

The priority slowly transitions from being about infection control to a focus on a return to normalcy. We will again care about the things that were important back in 2019, and now we have a clamour for scrutiny and a desire to attribute blame for the many tragedies of the pandemic. High profile priorities will once more come to the fore, meaning scrutiny of your supply chain, environmental impact and staff welfare and working conditions are considerable and rapidly re-emerging threats.

We already see this reflected in the news, where the headlines are no longer universally dominated by COVID. There is space for other stories, and one of those stories could be about your crisis.

What you should be doing to prepare:

Register: Every organisation should be evaluating its performance during the pandemic through multiple lenses. Update your communications risk register and study the horizon to understand where scrutiny will come from. Think about all your stakeholders, including regulators, employees and customers.

Reconsider: Consider doing things differently after the pandemic. Don’t just go back to the way you were, as values and expectations have changed. Now is the time to consider how you would react in a crisis in this new context.

Relearn: Don’t assume you know how your stakeholders will react. Just as you have changed in the pandemic, so have they. Know your narrative and work out what you will need to respond to and be ready to communicate it and defend it robustly.

If you want to learn how this might impact your reputation, please contact [email protected].