Don’t mention the C-word!

Adam Honeysett-Watts is Principal Director of Conservatives in Communications

Great Britain? Seemingly, the British are even ‘great’ at censoring and cancelling, rather than conserving, things. The shame! Certain foods, people, statues and words – there are too many to cite – have all made the banned inventory. Now, as reported in The Sunday Times, “The BBC is discussing whether to drop “Rule, Britannia!” and “Land of Hope and Glory” from the Last Night of the Proms in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement.” Don’t even go there, my friend.

Be that as it may, I do like a good trend and – since absolutely everyone’s doing it – I’m going to jump on the bandwagon. Let’s ban that hideous C-word… No, not that one! Nor conservatives, communications, Christianity or cancer. I’m referring to Coronavirus, Covid-19, or as President Trump (and others) often refer to it: the China, or sometimes Chinese, virus. You’ll be glad to know this blog isn’t about semantics.

Whatever your preferred turn of phrase, the alternative Big C has overtaken the weather and Brexit as the most talked about topic – of the year, decade, century and perhaps millennium – and is no doubt the biggest trend in Google search history. It’s all our relatives, friends, colleagues and clients are discussing. Whenever you switch on the radio, pick up a newspaper or scroll social media – morning, noon or night – it’s there. Non-stop. Enough already!

As much as I wanted to take part in the Great British Staycation (with God as my witness) – I had my heart set on South Wales or Cornwall – we decided to swap England for A Room with a View in Italy to avoid the perpetual drip, drip, drip of doom and gloom. I’m guessing Boris, Carrie, Wilfred and Dylan are wishing they’d done the same too! What a sad state of affairs that the British Prime Minister can’t enjoy a break in these Isles after a very eventful few months.

And so, we headed to Lombardy – the European epicentre of the disease – and from there we toured Umbria, Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna. Here’s the thing: the Italians have mastered face-covering and hand-washing; they’ve incorporated them into daily life. Few moan about it. The same cannot be said of Italian driving: indicating is an optional activity and tail-gating remains a national pastime! Point being, the Italians are living again and Brits should follow suit.

It’s great that folk are taking advantage of the ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme (which is due to run out next Monday), retail sales are above pre-pandemic levels and some businesses are encouraging employees to go back to the office. Oh my goodness we need to crack on dot com. But, while the government, companies and media have roles to play in setting the mood, planning for the future and not sensationalising news, individuals need to accept some personal responsibility. In my opinion, it starts by banning the C-word!*

*I realise this isn’t a realistic proposition, however.

If you have ideas for the group or would like to get involved, please email us.

This piece was written for our website.

The message is central: government comms in a post-Covid world

GUEST POST: Eliot Wilson is Co-Founder of Pivot Point and a former House of Commons Clerk. Follow on Twitter. Connect on LinkedIn

Only the most loyal and optimistic Downing Street hanger-on would now argue that the Government has had ‘a good war’ when it comes to the media handling of the pandemic. The failings of the Number 10 operation and the Government Communication Service more widely have been laid painfully bare almost day by day: confusion, changing vocabulary, unclear advice and an inconsistent cast. For every unexpected star like Professor Jonathan Van Tam, the deputy Chief Medical Officer, there has been a Priti Patel, announcing proudly that shoplifting has fallen while retail has been largely closed for business.

In any event, Number 10 has decided to respond to this series of failures, and has hit upon a structural review. The Government’s media operation will be centralised in Downing Street and the Cabinet Office, and the daily briefings, deemed by some a success – “event TV” was one phrase I have heard – will be built upon. Most excitingly, for a media built on the cultivation of personality, there will be an “experienced broadcaster” selected to present these briefings, who will be the face of the Government to many people. It will be a political appointment, and insiders say they would like a woman to get the job.

This is obviously a potential revolution in how the government communicates. If the briefings are televised, even if only in highlights, and feature heavily as soundbites on the news of the day (and they will), the new ‘spokesperson’ will, after the Prime Minister, be probably the most recognisable person in the administration, certainly the one with the most airtime. She (let’s assume Downing Street has its wish) will be in charge of media relations, with a powerful influence over the news agenda on a daily, if not hourly, basis, but she will also have a direct line of communication with the voting public. That is a hugely powerful platform.

Critics have already dismissed this move as ‘presidential’ and an Americanised gimmick. That’s hardly a vote of confidence to look at the hapless succession of White House press secretaries in recent years – Sean Spicer? Sarah Huckabee? The scrappy-but-ineffectual incumbent, Kayleigh McEnany? – and, while handsomely paid, they have not lasted nor had much influence.

The brightest star was Anthony Scaramucci, director of communications for all of 11 days (and with whom I have worked a little). The Mooch is a different kettle of fish: voluble, outgoing, eccentric; self-made, self-assured and self-confident. He was too big, too outrageous, a beast to be kept in the Trump circus for long. Personally – I found – he is affable, courteous and charming, but too quickly he was the message and not the medium. He is now one of the president’s most avowed and entrenched opponents on the Republican side of the aisle.

Traditionalists in the UK dislike the bright clothes and snowy-white teeth of American political staffers, and dismiss them as lightweights. By their logic, as on the Potomac, so by the Thames. Maybe, maybe not. It is perfectly conceivable that the Government might find a respected and serious media figure with genuine heft: the mighty Emily Maitlis might not be ideologically simpatico but would be a formidable hire, Fiona Bruce and Victoria Derbyshire both have impressive CVs and skills, and one can imagine Sophie Raworth or Kirsty Wark ably controlling a rowdy press pack. So we should not write this off ad hominem (or ad feminam).

What should concern people is the structural change in the way the Government speaks to people. If there is a single figure with a daily communion with millions of voters, what does that say about the supposedly inviolable practice of ministers making statements in Parliament, to which they are accountable? How much more comfortable would HMG be delivering brightly wrapped nuggets of good news to a selected audience than have a member of the Cabinet slog through an hour of questions from Members of Parliament after an oral statement?

And how far does influence run both ways? Would this new spokesperson begin to be involved in the creation and shaping of policy as well as its presentation and delivery? Good PR practice says that your comms team should be engaged right from the beginning, able to contribute to a project as part of an organic whole. Is the same true for Whitehall? Would the new figure sit ion on policy-shaping meetings, advising from the outset what might and might not ‘fly’? That would be a major point of interest for Whitehall scrutineers like the excellent Institute for Government.

No-one with any experience in public relations or comms would say the Government’s media operation is flawless. It’s arguably not even very good, and some hard thinking (and new hires) are almost certainly needed. But that doesn’t make any change the right change. This idea of centralisation round a new figurehead would make me uneasy if I were a civil servant, a MP or a journalist. Be careful what you wish for.

If you have ideas for the group or would like to get involved, please email us.

This piece was written for The Telegraph.

Networking from the get-go

Finley Morris is Lead for Young Conservatives in Communications and works at WA Communications. Connect on LinkedIn. Follow on Twitter

As the latest data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) demonstrates, Covid-19 – and the government’s response to it – has impacted every sector, including the communications industry. The pandemic has brought new challenges to light, such as re-shaping ways of working and re-prioritising the skills required of effective consultants. But one thing that hasn’t altered, rather is being reinforced – by what is becoming an increasingly multifaceted profession, is the real significance of networking.

Admittedly, I am in the early stages of my career. However, even during this period of working within lobbying and communications, I have discovered and experienced first-hand how networking can positively impact you both professionally and personally.

In the broadest sense, networking is about people and relationships. Don’t just take my word for it, check out Lionel Zetter’s blog. In practice, this means identifying opportunities – such as events organised by Tories in Comms – to connect with people who share similar and different viewpoints (and politics), and life stories to your own. Hopefully, if the feeling is shared, you’ll develop a fruitful relationship that is mutually beneficial over many years.

The rise in cross-departmental cooperation, inter-organisational collaboration and connected working practices have demonstrated the importance of being “tapped-in” to a variety of people. Be that across government departments, a breadth of officials and journalists, and among peers with different skillsets who work across multiple sectors.

Government and businesses alike are turning to problem solvers, critical thinkers and creative employees to help weather this turbulent period. If you can establish yourself as someone who has a diverse network and range of connections, then you’re likely to be one of these people, and if you’re not, then at the very least you’re likely to know the person who is.

I’ve drawn together six tips that I’d recommend as you start networking:

  1. Identify those networking opportunities. For example, the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) and their various national, regional and special interest groups; the Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA) and their national, regional and sectoral groups; the Conservative Party and affiliate groups (and annual party conference), and of course – Conservatives in Communications! Sign-up and get stuck in. Several of these events are even taking place online throughout the lockdown.
  1. Figure out the purpose of attending an event. Are you going in a professional or personal capacity, or perhaps both? Are you hoping to learn something or generate new business leads, or again both?
  1. Go prepared. Look the part and, if you can, take business cards. Bring a friend or colleague or try to know at least one other person going (sometimes organisations make lists available). Ask to be introduced.
  1. Be engaged. Be kind and curious, ask questions and reach out to people you find interesting or have a shared interest with. People like to talk about the things they’re passionate about, so give them the opportunity to and they’ll likely oblige. 
  1. Every person does matter – from the chairman to the janitor. The people you meet and the peers you have during every stage of your career will end up in all sorts of places within the industry.
  1. Follow-up. Add the people you meet on LinkedIn and drop them a personal note the following day while it’s all fresh. You can simply say thank you for the introduction or think of arranging another conversation in the future.

I have been tasked with bolstering the network’s offer for young people, while diversifying the pool of industry people involved. As I’ve set out above, the value of networking cannot be overstated. I’m determined to make Young Conservatives in Communications the organisation that provides you with the opportunity to nurture a diverse and resilient network that will support you throughout your career. 

While we continue to plan our networking calendar and forge new partnerships, including with Conservative Young Women, I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas on what you might like, in terms of events, content and support. Share your ideas with me here.

This piece was written for our website.