Archive for October, 2021

#longlivetheprince wins at PR Week Awards

Posted on: October 28th, 2021 by Tomas White

#LongLiveThePrince for the Kiyan Prince Foundation told the story of Kiyan, a young man whose life was cut tragically short in 2006, aged 15, when he was stabbed in the heart and killed, while trying to break up a fight outside his school in Edgware, London.

Kiyan, who played for the Queens Park Rangers youth team, was described as ‘a prodigious footballing talent’, and the campaign imagined Kiyan’ 15 years after his death, aged 30, when he would have been at the peak of his professional footballing career.

Working with EA Sports, creative studio Framestore, the University of Bradford and friends, family and former QPR teammates, the campaign team brought Kiyan back to life inside FIFA21, recreating his playing style and creating a photoreal likeness of how Kiyan would have appeared aged 30. QPR announced his ‘signing’ and awarded him the squad number 30 for the season. With support from JD, Adidas and Topps, Kiyan’s story appeared across London, generated more than 1,000 pieces of media coverage and the support of influencers including Raheem Sterling and F2Freestylers.

Developed by MHP Mischief, the campaign won PR Week gold for Best Integrated Campaign, Best Not-For-Profit, Best Content, Best Creative and Best Purpose Campaign.

The impact of the campaign is still being felt, both by the gamers who can play as Kiyan and learn about his story – and through the charitable donations that fund the Kiyan Prince Foundation’s outreach work. Kiyan’s legacy is no longer one of heartbreak, but of inspiration, love and support.

Commenting on the five award wins, the PR Week judges added:

“This campaign approached knife crime from a new angle and found a way to connect with audiences, as shown by the fundraising achieved. #LongLiveThePrince was everywhere. It aligned many major partners and offered strong storytelling with a powerful personal story in an innovative way to a very targeted audience.

“We cannot praise this campaign enough – touching and very well executed. It will be talked about and held up as an example of best practice for years to come. The team should be incredibly proud.”

Political Insider: Budget and 2021 Spending Review

Posted on: October 27th, 2021 by Tomas White

Listening to Rishi Sunak deliver the Budget and 2021 Spending Review, you would be forgiven for forgetting that the last 18 months have seen some of the most turbulent economic times with the UK’s public finances being left in a pretty precarious state.

In heralding the arrival of “an economy fit for a new age of optimism” the Chancellor seems to have taken close note of the Prime Minister’s boosterish attitude and concluded he wants a piece of the action.

That’s not to say some of his optimism is unfounded. The unexpected speed at which the economy has bounced back from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, with the OBR upgrading predicted growth for this year from 4% to 6.5%, provides the Chancellor with some of the flexibility he has used to announce significant spending commitments.

With this additional money burning a hole in his pocket, combined with greater receipts from the rise in Corporation Tax announced earlier this year, there is certainly something reminiscent of the Blair/Brown approach towards tax and spend.

The new spending includes £5.9bn to NHS England to clear the waitlist backlog, £6.9bn for a “local transport revolution”, a £3.8bn prison-building scheme, £5bn to remove cladding from high-risk buildings, £3bn for post-16 education, a £1.8bn regeneration investment to support housebuilding amongst a raft of other spending pledges.

With the economy expected to return to pre-Covid levels by the end of this year, total departmental spending will now increase by £150bn over the remainder of this Parliament, amounting to a significant 3.8% annual increase – certainly no return to austerity.

On the tax side, seeking to demonstrate some Thatcherite credentials and hoping to exploit the “Brexit dividend”, Sunak announced a total of £7bn of tax cuts for businesses, including a new 50% business rates discount for those in hospitality, retail and leisure up to a maximum of £110,000 in 2022, as well as a freeze on fuel duty and reforms to Tonnage Tax, Air Passenger Duty and alcohol duties.

There was a sting in the tail, however, with a three-year delay to the £22bn annual R&D spend target to 2026 and the Chancellor acknowledging that the tax burden is rising to its highest level as a percentage of GDP since the 1950s.

Overall, in doubling down on the Prime Minister’s commitment to make the UK an economy of higher wages, higher skills, and higher productivity the Chancellor has placed his flag firmly in the ground alongside Boris Johnson.

This will worry some of his Conservative colleagues, some who feel the drive towards higher wages will result in a self-perpetuating circle of rising inflation and rises in the cost of living, and others who remain concerned that the Conservatives will no longer be seen as the party of the small state and low taxes.

To that end, the Chancellor also announced new fiscal rules in the form of a new “Charter for Budget Responsibility” which will state that underlying net debt must be falling as a percentage of GDP and, in normal times, borrowing can only be for infrastructure investment, with day-to-day spending being funded only through taxation. Whether this will be enough to placate some of the Chancellor’s colleagues remains to be seen.

The elephant in the room is, of course, the next General Election.

Although not due until 2024 – in theory there are only two more Budgets before that – there is significant pressure to be making progress now, to getting shovels in the ground, so that come next polling day, those first-time voters who delivered the 2019 landslide can see the tangible benefits their vote led to.

The Chancellor and his team will probably be reflecting on a job done, whether it was done well or not remains to be seen and only after the finer detail of the Budget is pored over in the hours and days ahead.

Catch up on our budget analysis breakfast below:


The Labour View

Leader of the Opposition is a thankless job at the best of times. It is at its particular worst on Budget Day when due to the theatre of the event, the Leader of the Opposition is forced to respond to the Budget immediately after hearing it for the first time.

Today was made even more difficult for the Labour Party, and not just because Rachel Reeves, the Shadow Chancellor, had to stand in for self-isolating Keir Starmer at the last minute. No, it was made harder because a lot of Sunak’s Budget was in effect a repudiation of Conservative policy over the past decade – and indeed, it’s not hard to imagine vast swathes of it being delivered by a Labour Chancellor.

As it happens, Reeves made a convincing impromptu debut with a quick-witted opening reference to the Budget as one for ‘the bankers, sipping champagne on their short haul flights’, reflective of her skill as a seasoned Commons orator. Her response also provided a clear indication of where Labour is going to set its economic stall ahead of the next election. The party now recognises that it can’t out-spend a Conservative Party who has suddenly found common kinship with the Magic Money Tree, but it can promise better value spending and better-run public services.

The question which remains is whether this more technocratic argument will be enough to combat Boris Johnson – and now Rishi Sunak’s – boosterism.

The Detail

Current state of economy/OBR forecasts

  • Inflation is likely to rise, estimates suggest by an average of 4% over the next year. Explained by two global forces: (1) global economies reopening has made demand greater than supply; (2) global demand for energy has surged. It will be “months” before these problems can be “eased”
  • National actions to tackle the above: Transport Secretary announcing today new facilities for lorry drivers. Freezing vehicle exercise duty. Extension of HGV levy until 2023
  • OBR expect UK economy recovery to be “quicker” – UK will return to pre-Covid size at the beginning of 2022
  • Economy will grow by 6% in 2022
  • OBR expect unemployment to peak at 5%, original estimate 12%
  • Employment has grown by 3%
  • OBR forecast for business investment has been revised up for the next five years
  • OBR has revised down scarring assumption from 3% to 2%

Strengthening the public finances

  • Establishment of Charter for Budget Responsibility with two new fiscal rules “which will keep this Government on the path of discipline and responsibility”
  • The first rule is that underlying public sector net debt, excluding the impact of the Bank of England, must, as a percentage of GDP, must be falling.
  • The second is that “in normal times” the state should only borrow to invest in our future growth and prosperity.
  • 3% of GDP is on capital investment
  • The four fiscal tests set out by the Chancellor in the last Budget have been met, Sunak says
  • 0.7% of GDP spending on foreign aid will return in 2024/25 due to meeting fiscal tests
  • £150 billion increase in departmental spending budgets due to meeting fiscal tests

Supporting children

  • £300 million towards ‘A Start for Life’, supporting new parents, and £150 million for Early Years training and holiday programmes, on top of the previously announced funding for Family Hubs Funding to create a network of family hubs around the country
  • £200 million in supporting families programme
  • £200 million a year holiday and food programme

Schools

  • £4.7 billion by 2024/25, to restore per pupil funding to 2010 levels
  • Tripling of new school places for children with special needs
  • £2 billion of new funding to schools and college
  • Total education recovery fund at £5 billion

Communities

  • £560 million for youth services
  • £200 million to build or transform 1000 football pitches
  • Allocating first-round of bids from the levelling-up fund.
  • 20,000 new police officers, an extra £2.2 billion for courts and rehab facilities and £3.8 billion for prison-building

Culture and heritage

  • £800 million to protect museums, libraries, local culture
  • 100 regional museums to receive renovation funding
  • Review of museum freedoms to protect freedoms and culture
  • “More generous creative tax reliefs”
  • Tax reliefs for culture will be doubled until 2023

Infrastructure

  • “This government chooses to invest”.
  • £21 billion on roads, £46 billion on railways
  • £5.7 billion for London-style transport settlements in Manchester, Liverpool, West and South Yorkshire, the West of England
  • £2.6 billion for long-term pipeline of 50 local road upgrades
  • Bus funding of £5 billion pounds
  • Spending on cycling infrastructure of more than £5 billion, the same funds will also be spent on local minor roads

Innovation

  • R&D investment will be £22 billion by 26/27. £20 billion investment by end of this Parliament, which is in addition to R&D tax reliefs already announced
  • £107 million investment by National Investment Bank for offshore wind site in Teesside

Business

  • Announcement of consulting on further changes to regulatory charge cap for pension schemes
  • £1.4 billion Global Britain Investment Fund
  • British Business Bank regional financing programme increase in funding of £1.6 billion
  • Scale-up visa criteria confirmed
  • Expansion of R&D tax reliefs to cloud computing and data costs (modernised R&D tax regime)

Education system “for all”

  • Skills spending increase by £3.8 billion, an increase of 42%
  • New UK wide numeracy programme for adults – ‘Multiply’ – £560m investment.

Taxation

  • Shipping: Reform of tonnage tax regime. Regime will reward hoisting of the UK Merchant Shipping flag – the Red Ensign.
  • Air Passenger Duty: Domestic flights from April 2023 will be subject to a new, lower rate of air passenger duty. 9 million passengers will be see a 50% reduction in tax.
  • Extending support for English airports for a further 6 months.
  • £1 million annual investment allowance will not end in December, will be extended to March 2023
  • Bank surcharge in corporation tax: UK government will retain surcharge of 3%
  • Annual allowance will be £100 million to help challenger banks
  • Chancellor asks: “Do we want to live in a country where the response to every question is what is the Government going to do about it?”. He adds that the Government “should have limits”, and as a result, his goal is to reduce taxes by the end of this Parliament

Rates

  • More frequent evaluations – every three years – for business rates
  • Introducing new investment relief to encourage businesses to adopt green technology
  • Introducing a new Business Rates Improvement Relief. From 2023, every business will be able to make property improvements with no additional business rates for a period of 12 months.
  • Investment incentives total £750 million
  • 2022’s planned increase in the Multiplier will be cancelled
  • 50% business rates discount in the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors. Business tax cut worth over £100 billion
  • Today’s Budget cuts rates by £7 billion

Alcohol duties

  • “Most radical simplification of alcohol duties in 100 years” in five steps:
  • Step One: Slashing number of main duty rates from 15 to 6
  • Step Two: New small producer tax relief
  • Step Three: End duty premium on sparkling wines and fruit cider
  • Step Four: Draft relief announced of 5% – new lower rate of duty on draft beer and cider
  • Planned increase on duty on spirits, wine, whisky will all from 28 October cancelled. A tax cut of £3 million

Cost-of-living

  • Planned rise in fuel duty will be cancelled – a saving of £8 billion
  • National Living Wage increase to £9.50/hr, a full-time pay increase of £1,000 per year

Benefits

  • Sunak confirms that he will cut the universal credit taper rate from 63% to 55%. The Chancellor says it will be introduced by no later than 1 December

The Union

  • Scottish Government funding up by £4.6 billion, Welsh Government funding by £2.5 billion, and £1.6 billion for the Northern Ireland Executive, via the Barnett formula

Housing

  • £24 billion is earmarked for housing: £11.5 billion to build up to 180,000 affordable homes, with brownfield sites targeted for development; £5 billion for the removal of unsafe cladding for the highest risk buildings

In Conversation with: James Hurley

Posted on: October 21st, 2021 by Tomas White

Last week we were delighted to host James Hurley, Enterprise Editor at The Times to discuss changes at the paper and its priorities moving forward. As one of the most sought-after journalists on Fleet Street – especially by us PRs – having James share his insight and thoughts about what makes the cut and what will remain an unopened email was extremely valuable inside information and allows us to help our clients continue to stand out in the crowd.

Exploring what life is currently like at The Times, its latest platform The Times Enterprise Network and how many emails he receives an hour (it’s A LOT!), James’ insight ensures that we are keeping in the know and aligning our clients’ communications objectives to the real world and what the media is interested hearing more about.

Catch up on some of the highlights below:

ESG Insights: October

Posted on: October 11th, 2021 by Tomas White

Key Themes

1. Corporates raise the bar when it comes to ESG reporting

Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) metrics have been top of the agenda for the capital markets for a number of years, however the demand for increased transparency and disclosure on sustainable and socially responsible practices is on the up.

Businesses are finding themselves subject to increasing scrutiny and demands from stakeholders for increased accountability when it comes to all things ESG-related. In light of this evolving landscape, we are beginning to see corporate UK raise the bar when it comes to ESG communications, in terms of their purpose, strategic direction and – importantly – ESG disclosures.

Recent results announcements and capital markets events have shone a spotlight on this area of focus, with financial audiences quickly becoming well-versed in what makes for a credible, realistic and – importantly – measurable approach to sustainability.

From a communications perspective, it is still relatively early days for this area of the market, with many companies looking across the market for ‘best practice’ examples. Through our ‘Client in Focus’ feature, we have attempted to share those of our corporate clients who we believe are doing this particularly effectively, with Halma – this month’s chosen example – widely regarded as leading the way when it comes to ESG communications.

They are not alone, however, and many corporates have been developing their own strategies. At the beginning of September, Barratt Developments’ Full Year results announcement revealed an ambitious plan to become the ‘leading national sustainable housebuilder’, with a detailed roadmap to reduce their carbon footprint and LTPP incentive schemes linked to their success in reducing emissions. ASOS’ Capital Markets Event, ‘Fashion with Integrity’, focused on their own roadmap to net zero as well as an increased focus on human rights and transparency within its supply chain, including a focus on ethical trading, sustainable sourcing and animal welfare. Importantly, this strategy was informed by a detailed materiality assessment and contained measurable targets for the near-, medium- and long-term, all of which have been submitted for SBTi validation. The Restaurant Group shared its strengthened ESG Strategy, ‘Preserving The Future’, in its latest Interim Results, which includes playing an active role in developing sector wide plans to reduce emissions and committing to Net Zero carbon emissions by 2035.

Becoming a certified B Corp is another way companies can look to demonstrate their ESG credentials, with Kin + Carta recently announcing they are looking to become the first public company listed on the London Stock Exchange to do so.

Interestingly, some corporates – which had meaningful sustainability strategies already in place – have recently announced accelerated climate action plans, in many cases driven by the latest IPCC report which concluded decisive action was imperative in order for society to avoid the most significant impacts. P&G is one such example, whereby new commitments build on existing climate goals announced just last year, with new net-zero ambitions put in place as well as interim 2030 goals.

2. Update on regulatory developments

One of the biggest concerns when it comes to ESG reporting is the myriad of different reporting frameworks, which inevitably makes it harder for both measuring and comparing corporate disclosures in this regard.

However, efforts are being made by different bodies to create more harmony between the various standards and frameworks. The Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) and the International Integrated Reporting Council (IIRC) completed their merger in June and created the Value Reporting Foundation.

The International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) has proposed the creation of a new International Sustainability Standards Board, within the governance structure of the IFRS Foundation. Expectations are that this could be created by November, in time for the COP26, the 26th UN Climate Change summit in Glasgow, Scotland. It is expected to mirror the role the International Accounting Standards Board plays in setting financial reporting standards.

As the UK is to host this year’s ‘Conference of the Parties’, it has been eager to lead the charge on climate risk regulation. The FCA has already introduced the new listing rule which requires companies with a premium listing to include a compliance statement in their annual financial report, stating whether they have made disclosures consistent with the TCFD recommendations, and providing an explanation should they not do so. The first cohort of UK reporters will need to publish their statements in 2022. However, many FTSE 350 companies have already embraced the TCFD recommendations.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) closed its consultation on mandatory climate-related disclosures by publicly quoted companies on 5 May 2021. The consultation proposes that the TCFD disclosure requirements would apply to UK companies with more than 500 employees which are listed or are banking or insurance companies; AIM companies with more than 500 employees; and other companies and LLPs which have more than 500 employees and a turnover in excess of £500 million. Such legislation will likely be introduced later in 2021.

3. COP26 and the shadow of corporate greenwashing

COP26 is now just round the corner, with the 26th UN Climate Change Conference taking place in Glasgow between the 1st and 12th November. Whilst the intentions and stated aims of the conference certainly seem noble, there is intense media scrutiny on its participants and underlying concern that COP26 might in fact predominantly be an extensive exercise in national and corporate ‘greenwashing’, the practice of focusing your attention on talking up your green credentials, rather than actually improving them.

In addition to these concerns, there are increasingly loud voices calling for COP26 to be delayed due to the ongoing pandemic and associated vaccine distribution inequality, which will mean many potential participants, particularly those from developing countries, are not able to attend. Perhaps most notable of these voices is Greta Thunberg, who has formally declined to attend for these very reasons. Scottish Greens co-leader Lorna Slater said: “I worry that COP26 will be an exercise in backslapping and greenwashing without anything coming out of it”.

So how do you ensure a corporate ESG strategy is seen as credible, authentic, and not simply greenwashing? This is a question being asked more than ever by companies globally, and whilst there is no quick fix, there are some simple steps we would recommend as a starting point:

  1. Look inward – Focus internally on what your business does and how it operates. From there, build out a corporate purpose which combines elements of good ESG practice. If this comes from the top and is embedded in your culture, the impact of your ESG policies will be much more effective.
  2. Be truthful – Don’t be afraid to say, “we can do better”. No business is perfect, but realising that and communicating accordingly is an important step in the right direction and much better than spending money, time and effort covering up the problem areas with hollow rhetoric, as per ExxonMobil, which spent twice as much on marketing its green credentials than it actually invested in biofuels!
  3. Set targets – Setting targets around ESG can be daunting, especially for businesses that haven’t done it before. Now, more than ever, these targets need to come with clearly defined timeframes and methodologies. A vague promise to reach net zero by 2050 by a board which will be long departed by then carries less and less weight these days. So, focus on the targets that are achievable, set clearly defined milestones to track progress and clearly outline how these targets can and will be achieved.

Consider COP26 as a springboard from which to rethink your company’s approach to ESG; are you flowing downriver with the greenwashers or making real progress?

Recommendations

Here at MHP 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 – we have collated some common actions corporates should consider with regards to their ESG strategies:

  • Really integrate ESG into your wider corporate strategy and show how it is central to long term value creation, rather than having separate sustainability teams and strategies
  • Have senior executives lead on ESG to show you are taking it seriously, with remuneration linked to specific ESG targets if possible
  • Be honest, transparent, and open about progress and treat ESG reporting like financial reporting – don’t just talk about the positive aspects
  • Talk about materiality assessments which underpin your ESG strategy, to show investors that you really understand the material ESG risks and opportunities that matter most to the business
  • Have a long-term focus – aim to create a balance between short-term and long-term items in your regular reporting, and bring communications back to long term objectives

For companies that do ESG really well and authentically, there’s a real opportunity to differentiate themselves and capture attention in what is a busy and competitive investor market.

Client in Focus

Halma is a FTSE-100 global group of life-saving technology companies focused on growing a safer, cleaner, and healthier future. At a time when the media and commentators are increasingly growing weary of so-called ‘purpose-washing’, Halma is notably different. Operating under the guiding hand of its purpose, it is addressing some of the biggest challenges facing people and our planet, from air quality to preventable blindness.

Halma operates in three sectors: safety, environment, and healthcare. Binding its 50 companies together is its purpose: to grow a safer, cleaner, healthier future for everyone, every day. This purpose underscores its sustainable growth model where long-term value for all stakeholders is delivered by a simple formula: Strong growth + sustainable returns + positive impact = long-term sustainable value creation. This formula is brought to life in many ways…

Rising to the challenge of COVID-19

Living its purpose, Halma and its companies rose to the challenge presented by COVID-19 by helping to save lives and protect people around the globe.

At the start of the pandemic, demand for personal protective equipment increased dramatically. Six Halma companies – Apollo, Avire, Crowcon, FFE, Palintest and Texecom – moved swiftly to turn their 3D printing facilities over to the production of much-needed equipment for the NHS, printing tens of thousands of facemasks.

Halma companies also applied their proven technologies to support the fight against COVID-19. One critical area was treating patients with respiratory issues. Halma companies Alicat, Perma Pure, and Maxtec supplied critical ventilator components which ensured the right volume and pressure of oxygen was delivered to patients.

It wasn’t just in the medical sector where Halma companies lived their purpose. In the safety sector BEA, which manufactures automatic door sensors, responded swiftly to customers’ needs by redesigning touchless switches to limit COVID-19 transmission.

Changing lives and livelihoods

The effects of the pandemic were not equal, with India particularly hard hit. In late 2020 Halma launched Water for Life, a campaign that is helping to build a safe and clean water supply. Its specialised testing kits from Halma water company Palintest have benefitted 8,000 people in the villages of Bhagalpur and Buxar in the state of Bihar in India. Through the campaign, community volunteers from across ten villages are being trained to maintain the water quality and provide 3,000 people with the resources to safely harvest water.

Focusing on the long term

Halma companies’ life-saving technologies have a positive impact on the communities in which they operate with around two thirds of Halma’s revenue contributing towards the broad aims of four United Nations Sustainable Development Goals that are highly aligned with their purpose, products, and services.

With a focus on a sustainable future, there is a continued commitment to reduce the group’s own negative impact combined with growing the business. In this way, Halma believes it can have an increasingly net positive impact on people and the planet, whilst continuing to drive stakeholder value.

A new approach to amplifying its positive impact was announced in Halma’s Annual Report and Accounts 2021. By introducing a Sustainability Framework, it is prioritising three areas (known as Key Sustainability Objectives) that are aligned with Halma’s purpose and most relevant to its companies. They are i) Climate Change ii) Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and iii) Circular Economy.

These commitments and numerous inspirational case studies showing them in action reflect Halma’s sustainable business model, where purpose drives performance, performance generates profit, and profit grows Halma’s purpose.

Find out more: www.Halma.com

Read their: Annual Reportresults

Interesting developments over the quarter

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:

  • A survey from BNP Paribas reveals that investors are allocating a higher proportion of their portfolios to ESG orientated investments
  • Boardroom ESG expertise leads to better performance on corporate sustainability, according to a joint survey by NN Investment Partners and Glass Lewis
  • Research from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) reveals just 13 FTSE 100 companies published their ethnicity pay gap, as MPs debate whether to make such disclosures mandatory
  • Over 50 investors demanded that companies be held to account for their Net Zero commitments, requesting full disclosure on plans to reduce carbon emissions and for the ability for investors to vote on these plans at Company AGMs
  • The FRC publishes the 125 successful signatories to the UK Stewardship Code, citing better integration of stewardship, and ESG factors into investment decision-making
  • UK’s debut green gilt sale receives over £100bn from investors, the highest ever total for a Government bond offer
  • The Bank for International Settlements warns of a Green Bond bubble, stating that “ESG assets valuations may be stretched” and could “signal market overheating”
  • report from Util warns of greenwashing and suggests sustainable funds don’t focus enough on the absolute impact of activities on the environment or society
  • The Competition and Markets Authority has given UK companies until the end of the year to sort out its environmental credentials in an attempt to crack down on greenwashing
  • Climate-focused investment funds are undermining the fight against global warming by routinely engaging in greenwashing, accordingly to Edhec, a French business school
  • A Financial Times article outlines the rise of the Chief Diversity Officer in companies following the murder of George Floyd and Black Lives Matter protests last year

Political Insider: Conservative Party Conference

Posted on: October 6th, 2021 by Tomas White

This was in part because people were looking for answers about what the Prime Minister hoped to achieve in the 2020s beyond getting Brexit done and defeating a once in a century pandemic, but also because his most senior adviser for his first 18 months in office had begun his select committee / Substack / Twitter offensive against “The Trolley” and his wife, Carrie Johnson. But whilst Dominic Cummings’s vengeful characterisation of the Government was very effective at shaping the political narrative before the summer, it now looks completely misplaced a few months on.

The decision after the summer to increase taxation to pay to clear the NHS backlog and increase the funding for social care was certainly not the action of an indecisive Prime Minister. This was immediately followed by a far-reaching shakeup of the Government, promoting ‘boosterish’ doers capable of delivery. And this week we had the Conservative Party conference, which was light on policy announcements but heavy on big political calls.

The big call on energy is a doubling down on net zero. In the face of increasing gas prices, the Government announced its commitment to ensuring that all of Britain’s electricity comes from renewable sources by 2035, thereby reducing our dependence on gas and coal. To back this up, the Government is set to announce two large scale nuclear power plants in addition to Hinkley Point, to assist the transition away from gas.

And the big call on the UK labour market is to reduce the country’s dependence on workers from overseas, who are willing to accept the low wages that have become a feature of so many sectors of the economy. This is a big and risky call. As ministers acknowledged, it will result in supply chain issues and a somewhat bumpy transition. But to use the phrase from Margaret Thatcher echoed by the PM – there is no alternative. As he said in his conference speech, he wants to build a “high-wage, high-skill, high productivity and, yes, low tax economy.”

Other announcements made in Manchester, such as Dominic Raab’s review of the Human Rights Act, received less prominence, but have the potential to be as significant as the calls on energy and employment. What we are seeing is a Government reorientating itself from being all consumed by single points of focus (Brexit/Covid), to one which wants to use its 80-seat majority to fundamentally reshape the country in the 2020s.

Commentators might like these calls, or not like them, and there is certainly a policy debate to be had around each one. But when it comes to the accusation that the Government is unfocused and visionless, that has been decisively refuted. The Prime Minister has had a strong start to the Autumn, showing himself to be more of a tank than a trolley. As for Keir Starmer, whilst his conference wasn’t disastrous, it did highlight just how far the Labour Party is from No10, which is why the 2020s look set to be Boris’s decade.

Matthew Elliott is a Senior Adviser to MHP and was CEO of Vote Leave

World Contraception Day: No, it’s not just a women’s problem

Posted on: October 1st, 2021 by Tomas White

992 million people use contraception around the world and almost 300 million of them are dissatisfied with the contraceptive they are on. 

We have developed more iPhones in a shorter space of time than we have contraception.  The pill – the one most of our doctors recommended when we were 15 – was first developed and sold in the 60s and there isn’t much in the way of a contraceptive revolution since. The majority of the contraceptives we have today are just a different way of administering the same product sold to our grandparents and parents.

Yesterday was World Contraception Day and to celebrate this milestone in almost 1bn calendars, I attended an event run by The Lowdown – a platform and information hub for those interested in the subject. They are Trip Advisor meets your pharmacist, meets a community, combined with top quality (doctor approved) advice.

The room was full of women (and two men) all interested in safe sex, the implications of a lack of shared decision making between patients and their doctor, why funding is the problem and how this is all *usually* delivered by a middle aged white man who has never taken hormonal contraception but tends to mansplain it to every woman he meets.

The big topics of the evening:

Education is lacking!

Why is this just a women problem?

The fact is contraception impacts all of us – either directly or indirectly. From the day your PE teacher tried to explain condoms by awkwardly rolling it over a banana, to the moment your parents sat you down for “the chat” and when your mum got the first whiff that you might have a “new friend” and dragged you down to a doctor for him to prescribe your first pill. Yet only 25 clinical trials took place from 2017-19 on contraceptives. In the same time frame, there were nearly 2k Cardiovascular trials and almost 10k for cancer. And since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, things haven’t got any better. Sexual health services have been hit the hardest. According to the British Association for Sexual Health and HIV, 54 per cent of local clinics have closed and staffing is less than half of what it should be – with one respondent to their survey noting their team had gone from 70 to seven since the outbreak of COVID-19.

Regardless of the abstinence I was taught in school, safe sex is an important part of a lot of our lives and contraception is central to that discussion. We need platforms like The Lowdown because they offer us true lived experience with the importance of doctor approved advice. They listen to their followers, contributors and fans to provide advice that goes beyond “oh you need to just give it 3 months to work” and “are you sure you don’t want to just try the pill?”

Conversation is where it starts. Having the right education and easily accessible information to base your decision off when/ if you decide to use hormonal contraception – instead of one doctor’s opinion – is vital to choosing something that is right for you. I believe that a collective lived experience is a thousand times better than a man in white coat judging you as he prescribes you something with a list of side effects that rivals The Times.

They key takeaway from The Lowdown Live:

Education = power. And power is how we are going to change the narrative around contraception. No longer should it be a ‘woman’s problem’ and no longer should we be left with the consequences of a lack of information from the experts. No longer should sexual health services be an afterthought.

We not only need to empower women but everyone into this conversation for better education around contraception, the importance of sexual wellbeing and prioritisation of sexual health services.

Poles Apart

Posted on: October 1st, 2021 by Tomas White

In 2012, Jonah Berger of Wharton Business School set out to answer the question: “What makes content go viral?” He found that “positive content is more viral than negative content,” and observed that, in social networks, people share content that gives them social currency: “The better it makes them look, the more likely they’ll be to pass it on.”

This year, academics from Cambridge and New York identified a very different social media dynamic. On Facebook and Twitter, they discovered, criticism of the “out-group… is the strongest predictor of social media engagement… suggesting that social media may be creating perverse incentives for content expressing out-group animosity.”

Within a decade, dunking on your enemies had become the most popular way to earn social capital.

This is just one way in which polarisation (tribal rivalry) is reshaping the way we relate to one another. Understanding its effects has become an urgent challenge.

Poles Apart’, the new book from our partners at The Depolarization Project, is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand why people have become so divided and whether they can be brought back together.

Authors Alison Goldsworthy (co-creator of our Networked Age Guide to Communicating in a Polarised World), Laura Osborne and Alexandra Chesterfield have written the definitive exploration of polarisation’s effects.

Poles Apart explores how, at the personal level, polarisation influences the brands we choose, the people we hire and the friendships we form or break. The book also illustrates how, in extremis, polarisation can dissolve the social fabric with alarming speed: In the censorious environments that polarisation produces, mutual suspicion can quickly boil over into rage, wrecking institutions and tearing countries apart.

Among the case studies the authors refer to are many in which communicators have stoked division. For example, a soap opera in the Democratic Republic of Congo, designed to improve community cohesion, actually resulted in deeper hostility to outsiders.

But effective communications strategy can also heal. Dutch YouTuber Famke Louise promoted non-compliance with Covid measures in the Netherlands. She changed her mind and her message when Rotterdam doctor Diederick Gommers reached out to her and invited her to his hospital to learn about Covid’s effects. His non-judgemental approach worked.

Comparing this example with the hostile response to Nicki Minaj this month, when she talked about her vaccine hesitancy, it seems the temptation to condemn and mock is often greater than the desire to change minds. When we are ourselves polarised, we often prefer to do what feels good than to do what works.

Crucially, in the book’s final chapters, the authors offer some advice for anyone who wants to avoid falling prey to polarisation’s seductive power themselves

Two of the principles they recommend are particularly challenging for communicators to adopt.

Firstly, they recommend you slow down. Avoid committing to a position before you’ve had time to examine your beliefs. Once you’ve committed to a position, it’s painful to retreat.

If you’re working at the speed of a Twitter storm, time is a luxury you don’t have. Knowing when not to engage has become a vital skill.

Secondly, they advise you to get comfortable saying “I don’t know”. When the conversation is a battlefield, it can be tempting to pretend you have all the answers, but admitting you don’t is a great way to step back from the brink.

Businesses find themselves increasingly engaged in political conversations, and answering “I don’t know” to questions of principle is problematic, even though companies are straying further and further from their areas of core competence. Developing the confidence not to give a knee-jerk response under pressure from stakeholders is key.

But the authors recommend a third principle, which ought to come naturally to people in our industry: Adopt an ‘understanding mindset’. Acts of kindness can be disarming. Polarisation reduces debates to zero-sum arguments, but kindness helps us to see each other as people rather than adversaries, and to identify win-win scenarios.

Understanding people is the essence of great communication – and never more so than in the Networked Age, when people are medium through which ideas travel, peer-to-peer.

If we, of all people, can’t overcome our own biases, learn to see things from another perspective and offer the hand of friendship to our critics, then the world really is in trouble.

Poles Apart is now available.

MHP Mischief unites for Great Big Green Week

Posted on: October 1st, 2021 by Tomas White

The MHP Mischief team has been supporting our client, The Climate Coalition, with Great Big Green Week.

In a large-scale project, we’ve provided services including brand strategy, narrative development, creative and design, social media and strategic media relations.

The Fight That Unites has been our creative theme for Great Big Green Week 2021. It’s a declaration that, no matter what walk of life we’re from, we all care about nature and the environment. At a time when polarisation is more visible than ever, climate action is something that brings us together.

Across Great Big Green Week, we’ve launched a number of different executions, including:

  • A study on the impact that weather linked to climate change has on grassroots football – this achieved over 180 pieces of coverage, including a partnership with BT Sport which saw its presenters including Glenn Hoddle, Joleon Lescott and Robbie Savage wearing ‘The Fight That Unites’ badges on air
  • Research on the benefits that nature has to our mental health and wellbeing – achieving over 100 pieces of media coverage
  • A projection of ‘The Fight That Unites’ onto Lulworth Cove cliffs in Dorset – which was one of The Guardian and The Telegraph’s ‘Pictures of the Day’ and was the front page of the Western Daily Press
  • Turning iconic London landmarks, the Wembley Arch and the BT Tower, green for the day
  • Business features with British Sewing Bee judge, Patrick Grant, on the benefits that green jobs can have for nature and the environment
  • Instagram Live chats between young female climate activists in the UK and the Global South, focusing on the way that women are disproportionately impacted by climate change
  • Analysis of the housing market and the threat that flooding poses to the sales potential of at-risk properties – achieving national coverage with Sky News, Daily Mirror, Daily Express, Daily Star, Times Radio and LBC
  • A new art installation – Forever Home – by artist, Richard Woods, at Fountains Abbey in Yorkshire to dramatise the threat that flooding poses to homes and treasured heritage properties.

After a busy but highly rewarding week, we’ve achieved over 400 pieces of coverage for a great cause. More importantly, we’ve helped The Climate Coalition to show just how much people care about the issue of climate change across the country, at a time when action is bec

 

oming increasingly urgent.

 

 

What the German elections mean for the future of UK-EU relations

Posted on: October 1st, 2021 by Tomas White

In a world of soaring energy prices, a supply chain crisis and dwindling petrol reserves, you could be forgiven for having missed the results of this weekend’s federal election in Germany. Post Brexit it may even seem that the results of these elections are even less relevant to the UK than they were when we were members of the EU. The reality, though, couldn’t be further from the truth: these elections have profound repercussions on the EU’s leading voices, and what that means for the UK’s future relations with the bloc.

German politics’ fundamental shift

Two parties have dominated German politics since the end of the Second World War: the centre-right CDU and the centre-left SDP. Yet not long ago, the papers were awash with the shock polling putting the German Greens ahead in the race for the Chancellery. It looked like the herald of a new era – a great realignment of German politics, to address the great challenge of climate change.

The excitement proved to be gravely exaggerated. Yet, despite a significant dip in the polls since the dizzy heights of 29% in April and May, the Greens still secured their best ever result with 14.8% of the vote, almost doubling their number of seats in the Bundestag. This came largely at the expense of the CDU/CSU alliance – Angela Merkel’s party which has governed Germany for 32 of the last 39 years – polling its worst result ever at 24.1% of the vote, handing victory to the SPD which secured just 25.7% of the vote. The pro-business, liberal FDP polled 11.5%, while the far-right AfD and far-left Die Linke polled 10.3% and 4.9% respectively.

Observers should not be fooled by the SDP’s narrow victory – their candidate for Chancellor, Olaf Sholz, is no radical change or new dawn for German politics. As the current Vice-Chancellor and Finance Minister in the ‘Grand Coalition’ which has governed Germany since 2017, he has succeeded in positioning himself as the natural successor to Merkel.

Yet the truth is that Merkel’s departure leaves a power vacuum at the top of the EU which will not be filled by the new German Chancellor, whoever they may be. They simply lack the gravitas or authority to do so, and even if they possessed such traits, they will in all likelihood have to govern at the head of an unprecedented 3-party coalition, alongside the Greens and the FDP, significantly curtailing their authority. Even if we see another re-run of the ‘Grand Coalition’, it will be very much a coalition of equals, bringing with it its own challenges.

The European Succession

There is only one leader who can fill the post-Merkel vacuum, and he’s been itching to fill the role for years: French President, Emmanuel Macron. His own unique brand of Napoleonic ambition is not constrained by the leadership of France — for anyone doubting this, think back to his invitation to US President Donald Trump to attend the Bastille Day military parade in 2019 — Macron’s desired legacy is a global one.

He is also ideally placed to succeed Merkel as the leader of Europe. Broadly centrist and thus able to work with leaders from across the political divide, he is passionately pro-European: it is not for nothing that he chose to walk out to Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, Europe’s national anthem, to greet the French people following his election in 2017.

This is all despite his own fraught position at home: the leader of the far-right Rassemblement Nationale, Marine le Pen, is feeling more confident than ever at her prospects of securing the keys to the Elysée Palace next year. In truth, though, there is still no viable opponent emerging from the ashes of the previously dominant Socialists or the Republicans and, while many in France may be frustrated with Macron, far more will be horrified at the realistic possibility of a far-right President.

There is also no real alternative within Europe and not simply because France is the second-largest nation within the bloc: Italy or Spain could also potentially vie for the position, but neither has the political stability to maintain a position at the head of the EU.

The future of EU-UK relations

The real question for the UK will be how this affects its continuing relationship with the European bloc. Tensions were already high between France and the UK over how to deal both with migrants crossing the channel and fishing rights around the Channel Islands. The AUKUS deal announced last week will only have exacerbated this.

Macron was significantly more aggressive that other European leaders in his negotiation tactics during the Brexit transition period and will likely seek to secure significant concessions from the UK if that settlement is to be amended at any point in the near future. This bodes ill for the UK’s continuing row with the EU over the Northern Ireland backstop which has, in effect, created a customs border down the Irish Sea. While the PM might hope to renegotiate this aspect of the Withdrawal Agreement, Macron is highly unlikely to budge.

The key to understanding negotiations with Macron will be in accepting that he is far more interested in shoring up his own power than in brokering agreements with third countries: for the French President, looking powerful will be just as important as securing policy objectives, especially with the French elections coming up next year. With the French electorate veering to the far right and blaming many national ills on the effects of immigration, Priti Patel’s attempts to force his hand on preventing illegal migrants crossing the channel only plays into Macron’s hands, domestically.

Macron’s commitment to the European project will also be a key factor in his approach to post-Brexit relations with the UK. He certainly views Brexit as an unprecedented act of national self-harm and is unlikely to do anything to mitigate any domestic fallout from the UK’s decision to leave the EU. The current supply chain crisis and the dampening effect of additional bureaucracy on trade with the EU are therefore unlikely to be alleviated anytime soon.

Even with Boris Johnson’s famous charisma and charm — both of which impressed EU leaders at their summit in Lisbon in 2019 — there is no doubt that the Macron era of UK-EU relations will be more difficult to navigate than it was under Mutti Merkel.

Legal vs Communications: Can they work together in a crisis?

Posted on: October 1st, 2021 by Tomas White

The first mistake organisations make, and it often depends on the management style, is to call either their legal advisor or their crisis communications team. It is very rare that they call both and if they do, they usually keep them apart and employ different and sometimes conflicting strategies.

So, is the legal approach always about secrecy and communications all about transparency? At our recent event, we got together a lawyer, newspaper Editor and a crisis specialist to talk about the most effective response in a crisis and how the media reacts to your crisis response strategy.

As we ran through the scenario, what quickly became clear was that combining your approach is critical for consistency and effectiveness, a view fully endorsed by the media reaction. You can watch the full discussion here. It contains some great insight on how the media reacts to your crisis and what you should be doing right now to prepare.

What the debate also tells us, is that there are six key things to consider in a crisis:

  • Over reaction can confirm suggestions of guilt

Yes of course, every crisis is different, but at the heart of most is an element of truth. The key is investigating who, what, where, when and how is it being shared amongst stakeholders and then react proportionately. For example, a full legal response to a small issue will only serve to confirm a journalist’s view that you are guilty and that they are on to something, prompting them to dig for more.

  • Consistency is critical

The biggest risk of running a separate legal and communications approach to your crisis is consistency. If you send a legal letter refuting the claims and threatening action, only to publicly announce you are investigating or acting on the issue you risk  a journalist reporting on the confusion and further questioning your response. What is clear, is that legal attempts in these circumstances can become part of the extended crisis as the confused message is exposed.

  • Journalists don’t want to be wrong:

You should make every effort to cooperate with the journalist who has presented you with claims for your response. They don’t want to get it wrong, but they do want to report the story. A cooperative approach from the outset will demonstrate your willingness to be transparent, helping to build trust with the journalist to ensure your response is fully considered. If the journalist persists with allegations that you have refuted or misinformation that you have corrected, then you should take legal steps before publication to try and ensure accuracy. However, you should also keep the journalist aware of the action you are taking.

  • In the UK media, don’t underestimate the power of the IPSO code

Just as journalists don’t want to be wrong, they also don’t want to receive the black mark that an upheld IPSO complaint can have on their career. Study, understand and use the code where appropriate but only after attempting to engage cooperatively with the journalist.

  • Preparation gives confidence

Every member of the panel agreed, understanding your current risks and preparation for them is key to result in a confident response. A confident, co-operative and transparent response, legal or communications based, can help to mitigate impact as it can diminish the credibility of the claims being made against you.

  • Log everything

Whatever your approach, you should capture and log everything, especially if your crisis is being fuelled by social media. This will be the evidence that backs up any legal action or regulatory investigation and even if you take a communications approach, it is key to keep a log of your statements and reactions.

What is abundantly clear from the discussion is that you should consider introducing your legal and crisis communications advisors in advance of a crisis. Working out how you will use legal and communications responses in a controlled and consistent way, will mean you are as ready as you can be when the crisis strikes.

My thanks to Georgie Collins, Head of Business Legal Services at Irwin Mitchell and Matt Nixson, Deputy Features Editor at the Express for making this such an interesting debate.