Delivering bad news

Adam Honeysett-Watts is Principal Director at Conservatives in Communications, Co-Chair of the PRCA Corporate Group and Founder & Director at do Different. 

I recently hosted an event for the PRCA Corporate Group, where we discussed ‘delivering bad news’.

With many thanks to two of my clients: Aisha Cuthbert, Head of Communications at One Housing, and Andy Taylor, Head of External Affairs at Network Rail, as well as Conservatives in Communications patron Kulveer Ranger, Global Head of Strategy and Communications (Financial Services & Insurance) at Atos, for your contributions.

In brainstorming topics for our first event of the year, we felt that 2021 – as we finally emerge from the global pandemic and adjust to the full impact of Brexit – is shaping up to be a challenging economic environment for both large and small businesses alike. You only had to hear the Chancellor’s Budget – where he revealed a titanic shift in policy towards a higher tax, bigger borrowing, expanded state – to understand the difficulties that are facing us.

While many of the tough decisions, such as making redundancies, have been postponed again until after the furlough scheme ends, we believe corporate communications professionals may well find themselves tasked with articulating and delivering bad news as their organisations navigate these challenges. 

So, we discussed how to mitigate the negative impact on our companies, and salvage reputation when things are going south. Hopefully, it was a useful exercise for those starting out, those who have recently switched roles, and even for those seasoned pros to pick-up new tips and share ideas. 

This piece was written for do Different.

Corporate reputation management

Adam Honeysett-Watts is Principal Director at Conservatives in Communications, Co-Chair of the PRCA Corporate Group and Founder & Director at do Different. 

This time yesterday, I was co-hosting an event, on behalf of the PRCA Corporate Group, which posed the question: When should business #TakeAStance? And in the spirit of doing things differently, we wanted to keep it brief yet engaging. The 45-minute session began with a video snapshot of 2020’s political, economic and social events and how organisations responded to them, before moving onto a lively discussion and Q&A.

With thanks to Westminster Digital for the production and to all participants, including Natasha Jones, Head of Communications and Policy at Funding Circle; Paul Holmes, Founder & Chair of PRovoke; and Rebecca Donnelly, my fellow co-chair and UEA graduate.

I’m particularly interested in this topic because I’m of the opinion that, while some functions in communications rise and fall in terms of where they are in the pecking order, corporate reputation management consistently remains among, if not at, the top of the league when it comes to what businesses should prioritise in terms of PR.

Yes, digital and internal communications played a critical role throughout the year – and will continue to do so into 2021 – however, it is reputation – the overall perception of an organisation that is held by its external and internal stakeholders (based on its past and current actions as well as its future behaviour) – where the bulk of investment should be targeted.

For those of you interested in my perspective here’s a quick snapshot. Like many other Conservatives in Communications, I closely follow current affairs and keep our supporters and my clients informed about what’s on and coming up on the horizon. While they are proactive in terms of taking a stance and communicating it internally, they are more reserved or opposed to communicating it externally. Why so?

To strike a balance, what I suggest is asking yourself four business-level questions:

1. What’s the purpose of my business?

2. Will taking a stand negatively or positively impact our purpose?

3. Will taking a stand hinder our future ability to attract and/ or retain customers and employees?

4. Does this issue rise to the level of a core issue vs a preference?

Should your business take a stance or not? That’s up to you! Sometimes the answer will be yes. More often it will be no. But, before you rush into supporting a position go through the process I have just outlined.

This piece was written for do Different.

We live in different times

Adam Honeysett-Watts is Principal Director at Conservatives in Communications and Founder & Director of do Different.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had to do different; and that ability to adapt has never been more important. I was born, went to school and – for all intents and purposes – spent most of my teenage years in Beverley, a market town in East Yorkshire famed for its Minster, Westwood and racecourse. I consider myself to be a Beverlonian.  

With my parents passing away when I was quite young, and my sister at university on the other side of the Pennines, I had to grow up quickly living on my own.  

I recall a handful of conversations with my Dad – him telling me never to forget my roots, and that if I put the hours in it would pay off in the end. Heeding that good advice, I read plenty of books, got my GCSEs and worked every weekend. 

Somewhere along the way I developed an interest in politics. I later learned my great uncle, Arthur Watts of Watts Bros. hauliers, was Mayor of Beverley (1939 – 43). As I write this, a model of one of those trucks sits proudly on my desk.  

During sixth form, I chose to study politics at night college and my enthusiasm grew stronger. With A-levels under my belt, I secured a place at UEA and off to Norwich I went.   

It’s well-known that ‘People in Norfolk do things different.’ We’d get along handsomely during those three years, and I’m forever grateful for the opportunities and experiences that I had.  

Fast forward 13 more and I’ve had the honour of working on behalf of a variety of organisations based around the world. Today, I’m following the trend of launching a UK-based start-up during lockdown; a business that does things… differently. 

It’s time to do different

But it’s not just about me; for we live in different times and we must all do different. 

Before Christmas, I wrote: “2020 is going to be a year like no other. Fasten your seatbelts, folks – you’re in for a wild ride.” I meant the UK could move forward after years of Parliamentary stalemate and the Government could focus on levelling-up the country. 

However, nobody knew what was around the corner. 

Much of what’s taken place over the past six months has been in the works for a while. What’s happened is the pandemic has accelerated the rate at which governments, organisations and individuals alike were already adapting to new expectations. 

You could argue that there’s been – apologies in advance to all PRs and journalists – a turning point, a sea change or as one politician cited: a paradigm shift.  

Even when we find a vaccine, I doubt we’ll return to our old ways of working and living; a lot has happened. We’ve become accustomed to new habits and norms, and become more resilient. 

But with all this change – for example, how we work, how we spend and how we consume information – there is a renewed emphasis on businesses to understand the landscape in which they operate and the world in which their stakeholders now live, while ensuring they continue to stand out from the crowd. 

In this regard, people need partners who get the big picture, get what needs to be done and can get stuff done. That’s me. 

Only then, can you sit down and join our American friends across the pond in sipping a delicious cup of Yorkshire Tea – sales of which have soared 926% – as they stock up to see through the presidential campaign.  

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

This piece was written for Adam’s company website.