Archive for July, 2023

Coutts is not Britain’s Bud Light

Posted on: July 30th, 2023 by Nick Barron

NatWest and Bud Light were both brought low by polarisation, but the dynamics are very different.

This year, two of the world’s biggest businesses – AB InBev and NatWest – have destroyed billions in brand equity and shareholder value by inadvertently triggering polarised audiences, leading some commentators to call the resignation of NatWest CEO Dame Alison Rose, Britain’s ‘Bud Light moment.’

In the US, sales of America’s most popular beer collapsed after Bud Light partnered with a trans influencer and have never recovered, despite massive marketing spend to rehabilitate the brand in the eyes of disenchanted customers.

In the UK, the world’s eighth-oldest bank became embroiled in controversy after it cut off one of its most famous clients because Nigel Farage wasn’t on-brand. The decision ultimately led to the resignation of the CEO of parent company NatWest and may yet claim other scalps.

But polarisation comes in many forms, and the two cases were the result of two different types of polarisation that MHP Group and Cambridge University’s Political Psychology Lab have been working together to track.

The disasters share similarities:

  • They were self-inflicted wounds from senior leaders determined to reshape their customer base, even if that meant damaging relationships with established customers
  • The decision-makers operated in echo-chambers, and stumbled on to culture war landmines when their seemingly-minor calls became cause celebres in pre-existing debates about values and identity
  • Both businesses assumed that early support from the media would protect them from a growing backlash, underestimating how quickly and ferociously polarised audiences can be mobilised
  • Audience outrage was compounded by grudging non-apologies from businesses that felt unwilling or unable to back down from values-based decisions

And as both stories snowballed, the debate tended to divide commentators along traditional political fault lines.

In the case of Bud Light, Democratic politicians posed awkwardly for photos, pretending to enjoy their new favourite brewski. In the case of Coutts, Brexit critics like Jon Sopel, Will Hutton and Alastair Campbell abandoned reason in order to dunk on one of the Leave campaign’s most famous faces.

But it was not political partisanship that fuelled either backlash. They were expressions of two different forms of polarisation, which the MHP Polarisation Tracker has identified as growing challenges for communicators.

The Bud Light backlash was the result of anti-elite polarisation.

This is the belief (widely held on both the left and right) that there is a single system of elites operating together against the interests of regular people in pursuit of its own political agenda. This view says that supposed checks and balances between business, politics, the media and other institutions are a lie – that elites are “all in it together” and out of touch with the wider public.

While the issue of trans rights was the trigger in the case of Bud Light, the boycott continues to draw its energy from this wider resentment. Bud Light – and the executives behind it – seemed indifferent to the preferences of its customers. The ultimate ‘switch your brain off and have a good time’ brand was now another vector for political proselytising.

The Bud Light boycott was a grassroots movement (albeit one given greater impetus by musicians, commentators and other influencers) that succeeded in making Bud Light uncool and untouchable for many of its traditional drinkers.

Anti-elite polarisation renders traditional reputational strategies useless, since every defence from opinion elites only serves to reinforce the audience belief that elites are operating together in opposition to the public.

The Coutts backlash, by contrast, was fuelled by intra-elite polarisation.

This is about a growing sense of disenfranchisement among some elites, who believe that their ideological enemies are not only dominant, but actively seeking to marginalise them. It’s a belief that has found expression in everything from academic Matthew Goodwin’s critique of what he calls a “New Elite”, to Fund Manager Terry Smith’s attack on Unilever’s focus on brand purpose.

The purging of Farage was therefore emblematic of a wider concern that progressive elites have too much power and are too willing to use it to silence their enemies. In this, it is closer in nature to arguments about deplatforming of speakers at elite universities than it is to the Bud Light boycott.

There was of course a sincerely held concern about freedom of expression and creeping totalitarianism, but this principle is always most dearly cherished by those who feel marginalised.

While Farage is a populist with significant support among the wider public, the backlash came in the form of pressure applied by an organised minority via elite channels. Sympathetic politicians and journalists were swift in their condemnation once the Telegraph published its 40-page dossier, and the pressure became irresistible.

NatWest might have been able to mount a credible reputational defence of its decision, had it not compounded the problem by misleading journalists about its motives and violating client confidentiality.

While different, these two cases powerfully illustrate something that the MHP Polarisation Tracker has been alerting us to for some time – namely that promoting progressive political positions is no-longer risk-free for business. From Just Stop Oil to Hellmann’s Mayonnaise, activism eventually produces a backlash.

There are legitimate reasons for businesses to advance political positions and goals, but communications teams should be clear-eyed about the potential costs and consequences associated with this activity and must work hard to understand the beliefs, motivations and values of their customers and stakeholders. It is also important to understand the nature of the polarisation fuelling any backlash, because the strategy required in response will be very different.

Without greater audience understanding, many more corporate disasters lie ahead.

Mischief launches partnership division

Posted on: July 21st, 2023 by Morgan Arnold

This press release originally appeared in PR Week

Mischief’s new partnership division will offer brands and businesses support with sponsorships, brand collaborations and talent partnerships alongside influencer marketing, social and paid media in the sport, entertainment, gaming and fashion sectors.

A specialist team will support clients with multichannel partnership programmes, from strategic partnership mapping, partner identification and outreach, contracting, creative campaign and asset development through to activation, amplification and analysis.

The division has already worked with existing clients such as Three, Ocado, ITV and Cupra. Recent work includes Three x Chelsea FC, Young Urban Spenders for Just Eat via Love Island, and play for LEGO x Women’s Euros.

The division is led by Vicky Purnell, who has been promoted to head of partnerships with immediate effect and will continue to report to Mischief managing director Charlotte Brooks. Having worked at the agency for more than 10 years, Purnell has experience in partnership work for brands such as Just Eat, The ECB and LEGO.

According to Mischief, the decision to create a separate division follows recent research by the agency that found 86 per cent of consumers were “more likely to purchase from a brand that shares their passions”.

Brooks said: “We’ve seen an exponential rise in briefs with sponsorships, talent and brand partnerships at the heart, from both existing clients and new business wins. With a host of global sporting and entertainment moments on the horizon, there’s no better time for us to leverage our partnership expertise and experience to help brands connect with consumers via passion-powered partnerships.

“As a result, we’re thrilled to formalise our offering and see this division as a major factor in our growth plans for this year and beyond by building on existing client work and pursuing standalone partnerships briefs.”

‘Missions accomplished? What to expect from a Labour Government’ – New guide from MHP Group

Posted on: July 19th, 2023 by MHP Group

We are excited to announce the launch of ‘Missions accomplished? What to expect from a Labour Government.’ This guide, which has been developed by MHP’s public affairs experts, with the support of Labour policy shapers, places the five missions set out by Keir Starmer under the microscope and provides a systematic framework by which to evaluate Labour’s policies, ahead of the General Election.

Developed for brands and individuals alike, this guide, examines:

  • The meaning behind a mission-driven government.
  • The five missions set out by the Labour leadership, and the policies that lie behind them.
  • How to evaluate Labour’s policy commitments, and test the likelihood of them becoming future government policy.
  • The three likely potential scenarios for the result of the next election.
  • How best to engage with Labour and influence the policy agenda via the Triple-A approach.

Download the guide here:


Capital Markets ESG Insights: July

Posted on: July 18th, 2023 by Morgan Arnold

In this latest iteration of the MHP Capital Markets’ quarterly ESG Insights newsletter, we look at how industries are working collaboratively to tackle the climate crisis, and whether this is an effective vehicle for change or a risk to industry.

We explore how ESG investors are looking to private capital for sustainable returns, and host a Q&A with the FAIRR Initiative, a collaborative investor network that raises awareness of ESG risks and opportunities in the global food sector, specifically focusing on the upcoming Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures (TNFD) recommendations.

We also feature Next 15 Group PLC as our Client in Focus.

For any questions or feedback please contact us at [email protected]

The brand guide to Threads

Posted on: July 17th, 2023 by Alexandra Stamp

After launching just over a week ago, Threads – Meta’s answer to Twitter – has catapulted to 100 million users, making it three times bigger than every previous Twitter rival combined. A usership that was built by Twitter over years was usurped in hours.  

Whilst it is undeniably the strongest competitor yet to Musk’s tumultuous platform, there still remains some questions for brands to consider when deciding whether to launch into the space.  

Here’s our guide to everything you need to know about Threads, and our expert view on what brands need to do to prepare for the age of Threads. 

What is Threads and how does the app work? 

Threads is a ‘public conversation app’ creating a new space for conversations and ideas. Current key features: 

  • Posts can be up to 500 characters long and include links, photos, and videos up to 5 minutes in length 
  • Posts can be deleted, but not edited once live  
  • It’s linked to Instagram, meaning you need an Instagram account to get Threads. You can easily choose to auto follow the same Threads accounts you do on Instagram, meaning people aren’t starting from scratch. However, this also means you can’t fully delete a Threads account without also deleting your Instagram account.  
  • This means verified accounts on Instagram also start with a verified account on Threads – useful for brands and public figures 
  • The algorithm is currently fairly basic, and Instagram boss Mosseri has confirmed they’re ‘lightly’ ranking content in the platform’s early days, which is why users will see a mixture of content in their feeds – for critics this currently feels a bit random. 

What is Threads vs Twitter? 

What we’re currently seeing is a very early version of the app, so many of these features are likely to emerge soon, but there are significant omissions from other platforms like Twitter currently, including: 

  • No lists (useful for brands and media to curate dedicated feeds) 
  • No content search function, hashtags, discovery or trend feeds 
  • No DMs
  • No drafts or edit button 
  • No alt text (useful for accessibility) 
  • No chronological feed or option to choose a feed with only those you follow 
  • No native option for gifs or polls 
  • No bookmark or save option 
  • No pin (post) to profile feature 
  • No ads 

Zuckerberg has confirmed that they want to ‘get the app right first’, so more advanced functions like paid ads will not be developed until Threads is on a pathway to 1bn users.  

What is the upside of Threads? 

  1. It may sound basic, but one of the benefits of the platform is that it’s not Twitter. Twitter has faced uncertainty for some time under Musk’s reign, as users criticise the unpredictable changes to platform (including penalisation to those who don’t subscribe to Twitter Blue), and Musk’s general leadership and politics. Threads offers similar functionality and a similar promise to facilitate ‘public discussion’, but in a more stable, Musk free landscape.  
  1. It offers potential for longer term connectivity. The fact that it’s from the Meta family, and users could merge followings from Instagram meant that users were able to quickly launch into conversation, rather than start from scratch. The platform has also been built on a decentralised platform ‘Activity’, which means users can integrate their accounts with other (existing and new) apps from the platform… this could be a long term eye on the growth of the metaverse. 
  1. From uptake so far, Threads has been a kinder, more positive space. Some have heralded its launch as a return to the ‘good old days’ before Twitter became so polarised and ‘toxic’, and hope that the community will keep the platform positive. Functionally, the platform also better safeguards against trolling as replies from other users can be hidden and DMs aren’t yet available. 

What is the downside of Threads? 

  1. The flipside of this kinder and more safeguarded community is that critics may feel it’s too sanitised and frivolous, and not able to host political debate. We know that Meta has employed fact checkers and is implementing fact check warning labels on content, and generally Twitter’s culture has become an open field for debate and alternative narratives 
  1. Related to that, Twitter has built ownership of the news, political, media and sport landscape for ‘in the moment’ conversations. The current immaturity of the Threads algorithm, paired with the fact that Threads stems from a heritage of more lifestyle and personal content, means that we predict the corporate/policy/media audience might be slower on the uptake. This is not helped by the fact that the Meta integration may have a downside for these audiences, as they may not want to link with their typically private Instagram accounts. 
  1. The platform’s immaturity does mean there is currently a lack of functions that a brand would want in order to use the channel as a one stop marketing shop. But many of these, such as paid ads, will come in time – and when they do, marketers can hope to drive efficiencies by being able to manage and optimise ads across the Meta business suite in one place.  

How are brands and creators already using Threads? 

Many brands including Monzo, The Royal Mail , Bloomberg Business, the Financial Times, Netflix, TFL, and Dominos have quickly adopted the platform. Whilst many have just claimed their profiles and sat dormant, others have launched into conversations. Main themes of content include: 

  • Memes and ‘reactions’ to the platforms launch. So far the platform has fostered a more informal, humorous, and personal tone with many first posts giving witty remarks about being new to the platform, or ‘breaking the fourth wall’ by writing from the POV of the social media manager getting to grips with the new account 
  • So far the platform has been much more two way, with many posts directly asking for audience engagement with questions like ‘what content do you want to see here’, or asking questions about the brands service or products. There does seem to be a healthy appetite for audiences to engage positively with brands. 
  • Cross posting usual Twitter content – many organisations, media outlets in particular, have begun simply lifting their usual Twitter strategy and applying it to the Threads 

Some of our highlights have been from Monzo, The Royal Mint, Royal Mail, Bloomberg, and Quorn 

Our recommendations for brands on Threads 

It’s too early to say whether Threads will ‘replace’ Twitter, but it’s clear to see it’s a force to be reckoned with.  

For the coming weeks, brands should make sure they have someone on the ground exploring the app and understanding its tone, functions, and community. 

For those with the resource and an established presence used to interacting with audiences, you stand to gain by trialling the platform with some low investment test and learn. Early adopters will benefit from a less competitive algorithm and set themselves out as frontrunners on the platform, but should consider whether they’d have the resource ready to invest into a longer term Threads strategy and content programme should performance go well.  

For now, where Twitter is a part of your strategy: maintain it and closely monitor any fluctuation in results.  

In the coming months, we’ll have a clearer idea of the place Threads will fill in the social sphere – here is when brands can start to make calls on whether Threads should become an always on part of their comms mix, and whether it should replace Twitter. 

The key to any good brand social strategy is understanding first where your audience are and what they expect, and then building engaging content that feels native to those platforms and styles. 

In short: have fun with it for now but don’t immediately pivot completely away from Twitter. 

Getting a taste of PR: Internships with our Capital Markets team

Posted on: July 17th, 2023 by Morgan Arnold

Pauline Guénot, who leads MHP Capital Market’s internship programme: 

MHP Capital Markets is a team, above all – it is greater than the sum of its parts, and we draw from individual strengths and passions to succeed together. We want anyone joining our intern programme to play a part in the team’s achievements, so we value curiosity, adaptability and ambition.  

Over the past 18 months, my priority has been to offer the chance to discover the world of financial communications to candidates from various backgrounds. In doing so, I’ve interviewed many talented individuals with very different experiences to undertake placements averaging two months. Those who became interns were given the opportunity to work on a wide range of issues and projects across our whole client base, and attend multiple events in the City and beyond. 

I am delighted to say that our interns have thrived. Working autonomously or as part of the team, they have learnt from colleagues at all levels and backgrounds, including those who bring experience from previous careers in associated fields such as journalism, investment banking and law. 

Becoming an intern at MHP has opened the door for them to this demanding but rewarding industry, offering the opportunity to acquire new skills along the way which have helped them as they embark on their careers. 

I’m very proud to say that three of our brilliant interns recently joined our team permanently, while others returned to university, or took on roles in related disciplines, such as the worlds of fintech, public affairs and local government. 

People thinking about joining Capital Markets as an intern often ask what the key to success is. There’s no one simple answer, but there are two things to bear in mind: Read the papers. Speak to everyone. This business is about understanding how people think, so any conversation is worth having, and any article worth reading. 

Ally Bayne, who joined MHP Capital Markets as an Account Executive in March after completing the internship programme:  

Reflecting on my time as an intern here, I can safely say I’d recommend it to anyone with an interest in financial PR, or even a vague curiosity as to how companies communicate.  

I joined as an intern in February having spent four enjoyable years studying English Literature at Edinburgh. After graduation, it was time to confront the inevitable question of what I was going to do next. A chance encounter with a friend of a friend who worked in financial PR drove me to pursue that avenue, and I was fortunate enough to be offered an internship with MHP. The Capital Markets programme provides an invaluable insight into the somewhat mysterious – but demonstrably fascinating – world of financial communications.  

While it’s incredibly cliché to say, every day truly was different and from the get-go I was assigned a variety of tasks from people at all levels. Indeed, the team were quick to give me responsibility; instead of becoming part of the furniture, I was invited to the results day presentation of a FTSE 250 company in my second week. 

Throughout my time as an intern, I was overseen by two members of the team, who struck the perfect balance between answering the many questions I had for them and letting me take on tasks independently. They provided regular feedback and ensured I was doing varied work, something which made my transition to a permanent role incredibly smooth. 

The Capital Markets team is a varied group of talented individuals. Their backgrounds include banking, journalism, engineering – there’s even a former teacher – and their experience ranges from months to decades. Getting to know the team – made easy from the on-to-one coffees that are immediately put in your diary– provides just as valuable an insight into the sector as the work itself.  

Whether you decide it’s for you or not, spending eight weeks with MHP’s Capital Markets team will teach you things you didn’t know – and keep you entertained. 

For more information about internships, see our guide to internships at MHP Group, or email [email protected]. 

Cutting waiting times won’t grow the economy. A problem for Labour?

Posted on: July 14th, 2023 by Morgan Arnold

Yesterday’s Office for Budget Responsibility ‘Fiscal risks and sustainability’ report might give the Labour health team cause for concern.

It concludes that “rising NHS waiting list itself is unlikely to have been a significant driver of rising inactivity”.

Why?

Because a large majority on waiting lists are either in employment already or not of working age.

The median wait time on lists is also 15 weeks, meaning it’s “a vastly higher-turnover group than those who are inactive due to long-term sickness.”

This “limited correlation” is so limited that even if waiting lists were cut by half this would only reduce working age inactivity by around 25,000 – that’s out of 2.6 million people of working age outside the labour force for health reasons.

This poses a problem for Labour’s flagship policy goal of reducing NHS waiting times.

Specifically: “The last Labour Government reduced waiting times by using the private sector, increasing staff numbers and spreading good practice. We did this before. We will do it again.”

You can see why it’s appealing.

It’s very easy for the public to understand.

It anchors the sometimes contentious use of the private sector to a common sense goal that’s hard to argue with.

And it aligns the current Labour Party with its electorally successful predecessor.

And clearly it’s important in policy terms too – the 2023 GP Patient Survey, also released yesterday, shows this vividly.

But it caps Labour’s ability to link its leading health mission with its more important political objective of economic growth.

You can say cutting waiting times will help patients, save money and is just the right thing to do.

But you probably can’t say it’ll contribute to creating highest sustained growth in the G7.

Instead, given the obvious role health inequalities are having (also made clear by the OBR) and the increasingly visible wider social impacts of poor health, there may be an argument to spotlight the care in the community or preventative health prongs of the Labour mission in the coming months.

It might take some work to get the thumbs up in focus groups, but could pay dividends down the line as Labour’s arguments come under increasing scrutiny.