2021: A review

Adam Honeysett-Watts, Principal Director at Conservatives in Communications, spoke to Matt Honeycombe-Foster at POLITICO about the future of the industry. The image below includes the comments that were used for his article, otherwise you’ll find the full transcript as a blog post.

Do you predict public affairs/comms industry will carry on with bits of the ‘new normal’ even as Covid comes under control?

Much of what’s taken place over the past nine months has been in the works for a while e.g., living healthier, working remotely, shopping online, leveraging technology and thinking digital.  

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, sea change or paradigm shift.  

Even now that we have vaccines, 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.

That aside, we’re a people industry – our successes are built on networking and relationships; we absolutely need that face-to-face time. That’s certainly true for new start-ups like do Different.

I cannot wait to be able to host in-person events for the PRCA Corporate Group and Conservatives in Communications again soon. Zoom fatigue has certainly crept in.

What were the big lessons of 2020 that are likely to stick?  

1) Trust in your people and partners and ignore all talk of presenteeism.

The key to making remote working work is for managers to trust their colleagues. In turn, all colleagues must deliver – at home and in the office. It’s really that simple. Get it right and the benefits can be a-plenty.

And, I believe people have got it right. They have risen to the challenges posed by the country’s response to the pandemic.  

2) Corporate reputation remains king.

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 is 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.

What are the main political and policy battles you’re watching out for in 2021?

If you thought 2020 was going to be a wild ride wait until 2021.  

The fight against coronavirus will continue, the impact of Brexit – either with or without a deal – will follow closely behind, the new US administration will push a whole different agenda, the Scottish, local and mayoral elections could be quite challenging for many, the Nationalists will continue to push for another independence referendum and all this while unemployment and debt soars.

Senior leaders need public affairs partners to help promote and defend their business interests, but also PR support to build their brands, earn trust, protect reputation and generate new leads. Advocacy and communications have never been more important. Thankfully, practitioners have demonstrated their value.

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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, Senior Partner at Tyto PR.

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 is 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?

In order 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 our website.

In-house trends for 2021

Aisha Cuthbert is Deputy Director of Conservatives in Communications and Head of Communications at a large housing association 

2020 was a peculiar yet interesting year for most sectors, not least for those people working in communications. For those, like me, who work in-house, there were many ups and downs. However, whatever function you provide, working as part of a team has been essential to getting through and beyond this challenging period. I look forward to meeting up with my colleagues in-person soon.

More than ever, internal communications colleagues needed to be aligned to what customer communications and public relations teams were pushing out externally. For those of us supporting industries where regulatory changes are part of the course – such as those triggered in response to Brexit, Covid-19 and the flagging economy – we needed to be up to speed and ready to tailor messages for our various audiences.

Looking ahead, what does 2021 have in-store? Here are some of my hunches.

1. Public affairs/ public policy remains critical, top priority for organisations 

With our changing world and regulations new policies will no doubt be announced and implemented quickly. Industries need to follow these developments closely and ensure that their voices are heard by the decision-makers. Those that rely on government grants or subsidies – of which there are limited public funds and resources to go round – will find themselves competing in ever-crowded markets. The smart organisations will continue to prioritise public affairs to ensure that their voice is heard.

2. Timely and compelling stakeholder communications will remain key

During times of economic uncertainty, consumers and partners will be sticking with brands that they trust and can rely on. Good customer service and clear communications is essential to this, regardless of whether you work in a B2B, B2C or B2G industry.

3. Internal communications continues to take on greater importance

Keeping your staff motivated and dedicated to providing excellent customer service will be essential in 2021. Economic uncertainty, redundancies and an ever-changing world will make that task more difficult. Internal communications professionals will need to empower line managers, giving them the tools they need to keep their teams motivated. Everything should be connected – clear message alignment with your core mission will be paramount.

Whatever 2021 brings, 2020 has had a dramatic effect on communications and the professionals that work within it. The last 12 months have demonstrated to senior leaders just how important communications is. Those with strong in-house teams are valuable because they understand the organisation’s culture, current themes, feelings and can tackle problems with persuasive and imaginative communications. Communications professionals are now seen as an essential part of forward-thinking organisations who want to survive and thrive in the years to come.

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This piece was written for this website.

Post Covid-19: have we and will we change?

GUEST POST: Leon Cook is Founder and Managing Director of Atticus Communications. Follow on Twitter. Connect on LinkedIn

UK GDP fell by over 20% in April, more than three times the drop experienced during the 2008 great financial crisis. The impact of Covid-19 on the health and well-being of individuals, let alone businesses and the global economy is hard to quantify.

And yet the country is focused on getting ‘back to work’. Last month, the government announced the creation of five new taskforces responsible for the safe reopening of some of the country’s key economic sectors. With the easing of lockdown measures, businesses are gradually bringing back furloughed staff and ramping up operations. Just as quickly as we were forced to adapt to remote working, companies across the board are reassessing their workplace and work methods. The Coronavirus hasn’t just changed our office footprint. We are and will hereafter continue to communicate differently.

Corporate responsibility and action

Time and time again, companies are advised on the importance of social responsibility and purpose, yet many fail to fully engage with this process despite the benefits to employee morale, the corporate brand and overall productivity.

A GlobalWebIndex study found that 84% of consumers think that a company’s poor environmental policy could result in them parting ways with that brand. In a world rocked by Covid-19 and the recent Black Lives Matter protests, businesses must recognise that consumers and employees are watching. They must be engaged and communicated with in an empathetic way.  

Leaders must listen – and act

If it wasn’t already the case, Covid-19 has put employee well-being at the forefront of concerns for every business, irrespective of size or sector. Now more than ever, staff need reassurance from corporate leaders. With jobs and livelihoods on the line, employees require transparency and openness from those in-charge. 

In the wake of the recent racial equality protests, businesses globally have taken notice and started to ask themselves – what are we doing wrong? One way of answering this question is by asking employees themselves. Simple top-down messaging on its own is ineffective. There must be genuine two-way engagement. As we transition out of lockdown, messages and programmes of inclusivity and good culture must be upheld – and as such communicated. What has this crisis taught you and changed in respect of your corporate culture?

Engage with government

We are in a period of major change, undoubtedly. We’ve witnessed an upheaval of our societal, political and economic norms. Peacetime interventions by governments across global economies have never been so extraordinary. As we transition through the crisis, it is arguable that the government will and should be more attuned than ever to the needs of industry – the very dynamo that will kick-start our economy.

With the old rules being rewritten, businesses need to be at the forefront of any regulatory changes, especially with Brexit looming. No company is immune. It is vital that organisations use this opportunity to the fullest and engage policymakers effectively, and widely to ensure better and fair policy-making.

Take action

We are witnessing permanent changes across the business world. Organisations must ensure that they are agile and prepared to meet these changes. A renewed focus on improving internal communications will be vital to garnering the respect and trust of employees. Carefully watching and influencing policy will be key to staying ahead of the curve. Companies that can swiftly adapt to an agile style of working will prevail in the post-Covid era.

Covid-19 has changed us forever. The opportunity for business lies in ensuring that this mark is not a scar, but merely a footprint in corporate history. Businesses that continue to operate as they did prior to the crisis will, in the long-run, be eclipsed. Operate with integrity. Put employees first. See the change coming. Communicate.

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This piece was written for Public Affairs Networking.