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 professionalsmay well find themselves tasked with articulating and delivering bad news as their organisations navigate these challenges.
So, we discussed how to mitigatethe 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.
“Even by the standards of Brown, Darling, Osborne and Hammond many of the details in this Budget had been leaked in advance, prompting the Speaker and the Chairman of Ways & Means to issue a joint statement reprimanding the Chancellor. In addition, you must have been hiding under a rock not to have seen the six minute Twitter video (of Netflix quality) plus all the Sunak-branded graphics. What followed was another first: a press conference on the Budget itself. Make no mistake, this was about selling Brand Rishi and shaping opinion before the papers had their say. Judging by the editorials – not the front pages – and the immediate polling, he did his job. This populist government is playing the long game.”
Adam Honeysett-Watts, Founder & Director at do Different.
“This Conservative government isn’t leaving office for many years to come. Really pleased to see £19 million announced to tackle domestic abuse in England and Wales, with funding for a network of ‘Respite Rooms’ to support homeless women and a programme to prevent re-offending. It’s an issue that is close to my heart and affects so many. All too often it is hidden and not reported.”
Aisha Cuthbert, Head of Communications at One Housing
“Slick, well-managed Budget from the Chancellor. I’m excited by the prospect of a rapid recovery but let’s hope interest rates don’t rise in the meantime. Onwards and upwards!”
Katie Perrior, Chair of iNHouse Communications
“The impact of Covid has blown away the dogma of Tory fiscal policy. This is a Chancellor acting and redefining not only the fiscal landscape but the political landscape with his ‘right thing to do’ approach to the economy.”
Kulveer Ranger, Global Head of Strategy & Communications (Financial Services & Insurance) at Atos
“A skilful Budget making the best of the terrible hand the Covid crisis has dealt him. This was the first Instagram Budget.”
Lionel Zetter, Patron of Conservatives in Communications
“The Chancellor’s decision to write into the Budget lead-in times for changes in corporation tax was a canny political move as it gives business time to bake in the adjustments and it gives him the opportunity to defer those changes to much fanfare later down the line, if the economic situation allows.”
Naomi Harris, Director at WA Communications
“A perfect combination of politically astute, of-the-moment statements and fiscally flexible future policies. But scratch below the surface and the Chancellor has outlined a titanic shift in Conservative policy towards a higher tax, bigger borrowing, expanded state. This shift must now be reconciled with the Party and decades of conservative economic policy making thus far. Sunak’s second Budget is one he’ll answer for years to come.”
Katie Perrior is Chair, and Aisha Vance-Cuthbert and Laura Dunn are co-Directors of Conservatives in Communications
Once again, thank you for your continued support and to those who participated in the CiC Census 2020. The anonoymised and aggregated data is a helpful guide for everyone concerned.
As a reminder, we invited all supporters to weigh in and we received a strong response. In particular, we polled gender (25% of respondents are female) and invited everyone to suggest how we should get more women involved. We received plenty of comments (125 in total!), including some constructive feedback and ideas. We read each and every one.
Before we get underway, let’s remind ourselves about our group: Tories in Comms is an independent, voluntary and informal industry network for conservatives who work in our sector. While we have a role to play and take our responsibilities seriously, there are others who must take the lead.
For example, while it’s great that just over half of all MPs elected in 2019 were Conservative (365 of 650), it’s also disappointing that – just like our base – only one quarter of them are women (87 of 365). The Party must do more to improve this, and outfits such as the Conservative Women’s Organisation and Women2Win continue to play an important role.
Women are under-represented as senior leaders within the worlds of PR and PA. Other groups, such as Women in PA and Women in PR agree, and they too continue to make a difference; though businesses must do even more.
In a similar vein, the Party, businesses and network must do more to ensure the membership, workforce and base are ethnically diverse.
Let’s look at how we can improve things.
Us and you
Our core team is 50% female, including our chair and two directors. Laura is our women’s lead while Finley Morris is our lead on young people, including, yes, young women. Men have a role to play in encouraging gender parity.
We will continue to advertise all volunteer positions in our newsletter as well as on our website and social media.
There are several organisations doing an excellent job to encourage female participation. We don’t want to duplicate efforts, rather promote each other’s respective work.
Today, we’ve agreed to work closely with Women2Win and Women in PA, and we look forward to working together on future events and content. You will find them highlighted on our website.
Historically, our group was 100% focused on networking and there was a preference for after-work drink receptions. For the past 12 months, we’ve continued down that path with events on Wednesdays, 6-8pm. However, we recognise that format doesn’t suit everybody, especially women with children and/or those based outside London, and therefore we commit to hosting breakfast and lunch events. We will also look to vary our guest speakers and topics and virtual events. Where we can meet in-person, name tags will also be provided, and we’ll do whatever we can to make all our events welcoming and inclusive. While our Summer Reception has been cancelled and Conservative Party Conference is unlikely to go ahead as planned, we’ll do our very best to host face-to-face events soon.
Our commitment to female involvement has been there from the get-go. All three of our most recent events since our relaunch featured women: Lord Black hosted a Q&A with Katie, Kulveer Ranger hosted a Q&A with the Home Secretary Priti Patel MP and Katie chaired a panel on the 2019 election. We will continue to invite high profile women, including our parliamentary patrons like Baroness McIntosh as well as MPs Esther McVey, Joy Morrissey, Nickie Aiken, Siobhan Baillie and Theo Clarke, and we commit to having at least one female speaker at every CiC event.
All supporters are invited to submit content for our newsletter, and to be promoted on our website and social media, and we really encourage you to do so especially if you have something to add on this issue.
Mentoring and profiling
Almost three quarters of survey respondents are interested in becoming a mentor while two thirds are looking for a mentor. Throughout 2020, we will profile our female supporters. Watch this space for details of both of these ideas.
We don’t assume people know about Tories in Comms, so we’ll continue to promote the group, by partnering with organisations and leveraging social media.
We also encourage every supporter to invite one female friend or colleague to sign-up to the network and attend an event.
OUR 12-POINT PLAN
We will advertise all volunteer positions
We will work with our partners on events and content
We will host both breakfast and lunch events
We will vary up both speakers and topics
We will use nametags at events going forward
We will ensure our events are both welcoming and inclusive
We will continue to invite high profile women
We will strive for at least one female speaker per industry event
We will encourage women to submit content for our newsletter
We will launch our mentoring scheme
We will do more to promote the network and supporters
We will encourage supporters to encourage others to sign-up.
Our commitment is real, but we cannot do this on our own, so whether it’s encouraging your female friends and colleagues to join us or writing a piece for our e-newsletter, please do get involved. A final note to all our male supporters – thank you for everything you do which helps us progress and succeed. We’re fully aware that most of our career progression has been through decisions made by men and while we want to see more females in these leadership roles, we’re thankful for that support from our male colleagues over the years.
A survey conducted by Conservatives in Communications (CiC), the independent and informal industry network for over 435 professionals, reveals that its supporters are optimistic about the future of the sector (7.24 out of 10), with 99% in employment. The positive findings come as the Government looks to ease lockdown measures in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. This in spite of 62% feeling that the mainstream media (MSM) is not providing balanced and unbiased reporting. Bloomberg and the BBC ranked as the most trustworthy news brands while Al Jazeera and Russia Today ranked as the least trustworthy.
The group, which is marking one year since it was relaunched by its chair Katie Perrior and principal director Adam Honeysett-Watts, has been encouraging supporters – including 23 parliamentary patrons – to take part in its inaugural Census 2020. In addition to its industry patrons, a new tier of Tory peers and MPs – who have previously worked or have an interest in communications (public affairs, PR, policy, digital, marketing, events, journalism or publishing) – have recently signed-up. The team has also been widened to build out its offering to young conservatives and to get more women involved.
Survey respondents were largely positive about the Government’s original ‘Stay home’ message (4.49 out of 5). They scored all nine aspects of the daily press briefings, such as stage management and inviting the public to submit their questions, as effective; with the Chancellor of the Exchequer recognised as the most impressive performer. That said, there is little appetite for the conferences to become a permanent fixture. Further, supporters were invited to submit ideas for a new slogan or comment on the ‘Stay alert’ message. Of those who did, 69% proposed an alternative, which may have contributed to a lower score of 3.18 out of 5 for the Government’s overall strategy.
Turning to other topics. While 73% of participants benefited from flexible working and / or working from home (WFH) before the pandemic began, 90% will be advocating for this post-lockdown. Perhaps unsurprisingly, supporters do not miss commuting to and from work (77%), and many used this available time to spend with the family and to ‘think’ more about their work. Professionals have adapted quite well to the changes with 44% saying they have been more productive, especially when it comes to producing written materials for both internal and external clients. 42% said they’re more active while 41% have reallocated earnings.
Katie Perrior, Chair of iNHouse Communications and a former Director of Communications at Number 10, said:
“Our supporters have risen to the challenges posed by the country’s response to the global pandemic. That aside, we’re a people industry – our successes are built on networking and relationships. Although the many technologies – for example, Microsoft Teams and Zoom – have worked much better than expected, they are no substitute for face-to-face. Survey respondents cited less time with colleagues (60%) and friends (45%) as reasons they like least about WFH. I too, look forward to seeing my colleagues and clients as well as family and friends, in-person, very soon.”
Adam Honeysett-Watts said:
“We spotted an opportunity to relaunch and grow CiC into a more dynamic, proactive, diverse and transparent resource, and the pandemic has shown how much one is needed. While industry networking is the main reason our supporters joined us and continue to be involved, there is appetite for us to offer more. That includes advertising job opportunities (63%), sharing industry news (61%), connecting with our parliamentary patrons (59%), widening blog content (55%) as well as offering careers advice and mentoring opportunities (50%). Many of these are already in the works, including the latter, where 72% of supporters cited interest in being mentors.”
Note to Editors
You can learn more about the survey and access all of the results here.
Invites supporters to complete inaugural survey, including reaction to Covid-19 strategy
Conservatives in Communications (CiC), the independent and informal industry network for professionals, marks one year since the group was relaunched.
The network now boasts almost 400 supporters from a variety of backgrounds. Iain Anderson and Kulveer Ranger are among those providing business expertise as industry patrons, while circa 20 peers and MPs – largely from the 2010, 2015 and 2019 intakes – form a new tier of parliamentary patrons who represent a number of different interests.
Katie Perrior, chair of iNHouse Communications and a former Director of Communications at No.10, remains as figurehead of the group. Adam Honeysett-Watts – with the support of Aisha Vance-Cuthbert and Alec Zetter – manage day-to-day operations. Finley Morris was recently brought on to develop and drive its dedicated youth effort.
The network has organised a number of events in Westminster and off Fleet Street, including a Q&A with the Home Secretary Priti Patel MP and a panel discussion about lessons learned from the general election campaign, featuring Sir Robbie Gibb, Professor Matthew Goodwin and Paul Goodman of ConservativeHome.com. BECG, Ellwood Atfield and Kekst CNC sponsored them.
In addition, the group has an active industry blog and circulates regular e-newsletters; the latest of which encourages supporters to participate in its inaugural survey: Conservatives in Communications (CiC) Census 2020. The census is being billed as a “once-a-year opportunity to provide feedback, so we can better serve you and add more value going forward.”
The survey comes at a critical time for the industry as professionals get to grip with Covid-19. It includes questions about the government’s communications strategy, current and future slogans, highly rated Cabinet ministers, future televised press briefings, trustworthiness of the media, flexible working and work from home (WFH) schemes, and an optimism tracker.
Adam Honeysett-Watts, Principal Director, said:
“We’ve made good progress towards our mission to be a more dynamic, proactive, diverse and transparent industry resource. That said, there is much more we could and should be doing – when it comes to getting more women involved – so, we look forward to analysing the results, determining priorities and acting on them over the next year.”
For more information, including how to sign-up for events, email us. The findings are expected to be published in late May.
Adam Honeysett-Watts is Director of Conservatives in Communications and works in the financial technology sector
Last week, the BBC issued an apology after Andrew Marr accused Home Secretary Priti Patel of laughing during an interview about Brexit. Quite rightly so – because she wasn’t. Shortly after the statement was released, the Conservatives in Communications (CiC) network welcomed the Home Secretary to our autumn reception, which took place at the Ellwood Atfield Gallery in Westminster and was kindly sponsored by Built Environment Communications Group (BECG).
Before she was elected as an MP – and promoted to several roles within Number 10, HM Treasury, DWP and DfID – Patel worked in the communications sector. Her analysis of the current state of play and her advice to the PR industry were therefore of relevance, interest and well-received by the many professionals in the room. As you might expect, much of her fireside chat with Kulveer Ranger, patron and a former advisor to Boris Johnson, focused on delivering Brexit, and the dynamics between the party and Parliament.
Unsurprisingly, these issues continue to dominate the agenda this week. What begun as just a slogan in Manchester – ‘Get Brexit Done’ or ‘Get Brexit Sorted’ to our friends north of the border – has become a shared common purpose that most Tories are united behind. In fact, Patel was keen to point out that the whole of the parliamentary party backed both the second reading and the programme motion on Tuesday. That was some whipping, but also representative of the public’s general angst, clear and disciplined messaging and a determination to move on and forward.
Sadly, while the second reading did – the programme motion didn’t pass in the House, so we are back in limbo; exactly what businesses wanted to avoid. Extra time to debate the deal won’t really change anything. As I’ve written in the past: One constant throughout these past four years has been the failure of the remain and remoan camp to run an effective operation and win enough support. Has anything changed? No. But Johnson is willing to compromise. Opposition parties should vote for the election motion this afternoon. Failing that, MPs should back the election bill on Tuesday.
If you have ideas for the group or would like to get involved, please email us.