What’s in store for 2021?

We asked our team and industry patrons for their opinions.

Katie Perrior is Chair of iNHouse Communications

It’s wishful thinking to believe 2021 will see a return to normality. The fight against Covid-19 will continue as the No.1 priority, but the impact of Brexit – with or without a deal – will follow closely behind. As vaccines continue to roll out, there might be light at the end of the tunnel. In reality, once the Budget is out of the way, the Government faces challenging local elections with an impending political crisis unfolding in Scotland as the Nationalists push for a second referendum. All of this through a backdrop of rising unemployment. In short, no Prime Minister has faced so many challenges at once since the Second World War. A supportive team, with senior ministers, officials and advisers in control of their own briefs and who can command loyalty from others, partnered with clear and concise messaging from the PM himself will get them through it and it’s up to all of us to do what we can to help. This battle has only just begun.

Iain Anderson is Executive Chairman at Cicero/AMO 

With a new president in the US the idea of ‘build back better‘ is going to be the mantra of many governments across the globe. In the UK, it is already the mantra of the current administration. Turning up with ideas to help that effort will be the starting point for 2021. Covid-19 has also exposed a four-speed UK. Navigating another constitutional debate in Scotland will be of key importance when the starting gun gets fired on the Holyrood poll in the new year. 

Lionel Zetter is Patron of Conservatives in Communications 

Problems always bring opportunities, and public affairs professionals are the ultimate problem solvers.  

The big challenge on the political horizon was supposed to have been Brexit. But even this historic issue has been eclipsed by the devastating effects of the coronavirus pandemic. Even as the UK leaves the EU there will be British firms who need help to do business on the continent and EU firms who need help to do business over here. As for the pandemic, it has fundamentally reshaped British government and the British economy, and businesses will need help in seizing the opportunities and avoiding any fall-out. 

Adam Honeysett-Watts is Founder & Director at do Different.

Adam wrote a longer piece here.

Aisha Cuthbert is Head of Communications at a large housing association

Aisha wrote a longer piece here.

Laura Dunn is a Digital, Social and Creative Communications Consultant to MPs 

Many MPs have utilised the benefit of digital during the pandemic and over the two lockdowns. From hosting Facebook Live Q&A sessions with constituents to spotlighting local businesses who continued to safely trade and diversified their services to help their communities, MPs’ social media channels have taken on a new meaning and purpose to provide coronavirus updates, and keep constituents informed of their work and ways they can help during these times.  

It’s been interesting to see the individual brands of different MPs emerge on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, and the different types of content that are being produced. One series to highlight is Andrea Leadsom’s ‘ParliFacts’ videos.  

There has been much debate about the use of digital in Parliament and the ‘hybrid’ model that was introduced by the House to enable participation in-person and remotely by Members. Expect this debate to continue into the new year. 

Finley Morris is a Parliamentary Researcher 

Covid-19 has reshaped ways of working for most people and the offices of Members of Parliament are no exemption. Teams are now working remotely – or at least semi-remotely – and are likely to continue doing so throughout 2021, meaning direct contacts will always be far more efficient. In short, brush-up on who you know. Brexit, Covid-19 and the economy are all issues that swamp Members’ inboxes daily and they’re not going away any time soon; to communicate with MPs in 2021 must be to practice the art of brevity

Gavin Ellwood is Founder & Director at Ellwood Atfield (EA)

Although the UK recruitment market has experienced a 50% drop since the start of the pandemic, there continues to be a demand for communications and advocacy skill sets. As organisations navigate Covid-19 and the economic turmoil, C-suite leaders increasingly rely on their communicators for wise counsel and action – as Churchill once said, “the difference between management and leadership is communication.” A national vaccination programme will be a boost for the market, giving the confidence for leaders and managers to re-invest in new talent for the recovery. Some of the temporary shifts in how the office-based work is delivered will become permanent, a new ‘hybrid’ model of home and office working will doubtless emerge, though it can only be long-term if it is sustainable. As responsibility for regulation moves from the EU to the UK, we are experiencing an increased demand for policy and regulatory expertise. Whether actively looking or open to opportunities, I encourage you to put your best digital foot forward and brush-up your LinkedIn profiles in readiness for what’s ahead.

Alec Zetter is Policy and Public Affairs Headhunter at Ellwood Atfield (EA)

It has been a tough eight months in the recruitment market. What was supposed to be an exciting year of new growth hires to prepare business for Brexit has, instead, seen thousands of redundancies – remember “full employment”? – and share prices plummet (unless you work in food delivery or online shopping). The number of opportunities out there have fluctuated since March 23, from complete shutdown to small merry-go-rounds in certain sectors. 

However, there is certainly reason to be positive. The message from our clients and others is clear: communications, advocacy and public affairs are as important as they’ve ever been, and the value placed on them will only increase as we look to recover from the pandemic, re-write our legislative and regulatory frameworks and repair the economy. Associations, businesses and NFPs need to have their voices heard, and who better to deliver that for them than, well, Tories (and others) in Comms. 

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

This piece was written for our website.

Governments make mistakes – and some are avoidable

Lionel Zetter is Patron of Conservatives in Communications 

Prime ministers make mistakes for many reasons. One of them is because of their over-reliance on a handful of individuals for advice. Another is because No.10 is like a beehive, with ideas and instructions pulsing out from the centre, but with very little reverse-flow. And, of course, prime ministers feel that they need to project an image of strength and certainty, and therefore do not always encourage contradictory views. The result can be ‘group think’, and avoidable errors. 

The military has long been aware of the dangers of group think and they have sought to counter the tendency towards it by commissioning ‘Red Teams’ – small groups tasked with challenging existing or proposed plans or operations. After the catastrophe of 9/11 the US military formalised this concept by establishing the Army Directed Services Office. Other militaries, including the British, prefer to set up ad hoc Red Teams. 

This external scrutiny practice has now been adopted by big business. Company boards, like cabinets, are prone to group think and ‘confirmation bias’. Non-executive directors are often reluctant to contradict conventional wisdom for fear of jeopardising their chances of re-appointment. The solution is either to have a shadow board, or to commission a Red Team to feed critiques and alternatives directly to the chairman or CEO. 

Good lobbyists know that the best way to ensure the success of a campaign is to try from the outset to put yourself in the shoes of your opponents. Once you understand their thinking, you can anticipate their initial moves, and pre-counter their counter moves. You can also anticipate their key messages and attack-lines, and then seek to neutralise them in advance. Knowing your enemy is a pre-requisite of a successful campaign. 

For governments seeking to avoid making unnecessary mistakes through lazy group think there are several options. The prime minister can make him or herself open to advice from a wide range of sources. He or she can appoint a cabinet made up of politicians from different wings of the party, and with differing backgrounds and viewpoints, and can then encourage open debate. The problem here is that every cabinet minister represents a department or ministry and is therefore likely to have pre-prepared briefs and siloed opinions. So, the alternative, in order to obviate all these dangers is to set up a Red Team. 

In the UK government context, a Red Team would have to be small, and it would have to operate independently. It would have to be based outside of Westminster and Whitehall – possibly outside of London. It would have to be staffed by people who agree with the government’s underlying philosophy, but who are able to set aside their instincts in order to put themselves in the mindset of the opposition. And those individuals would have to be appointed on short fixed-term contracts, in order to ensure that they did not themselves become institutionalised. The Red Team would have to be led by somebody with an insatiable intellectual curiosity, who was not afraid to make controversial – and contradictory – recommendations. Importantly, that individual, like the heads of the three security services, would have to have unrestricted access to the prime minister. 

For minimal financial outlay the government would have at its disposal a team which could stress-test existing policy and suggest alternatives where they are found to be flawed. It could save the government from making avoidable mistakes, and ultimately save the nation vastly more than it cost to set up and run. It is time for the Government to consider the formation of a ‘Red Team’ in order to counter ‘group think’ and ‘confirmation bias’. Otherwise, a different kind of ‘red team’ might take its place after the next general election. 

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

This piece was written for this website.

Meet the matches

Aaron Kent, PR Team Assistant at TopCashback, has been paired with Michael Jefferson, Principal, Capital Markets and Wholesale Policy at UK Finance. Alex Cassells, Account Manager at 3 Monkeys Zeno, was matched with Lionel Zetter, Patron of Conservatives in Communications.

Callum Attew, Senior Account Executive at MHP Communications, has been paired with Alex Greer, Political Consultant and Director. Chantelle de Villiers, External Affairs Adviser at the British Retail Consortium, was matched with Samantha Magnus-Stoll, Consultant.

Emmanuel Hanley-Lloyd, Senior Account Executive at Connect, has been paired with Daniel Gilbert, Senior Director, Advocacy at Hanover Communications. Finley Morris, Account Executive at WA Communications, has been paired with Iain Anderson, Executive Chairman at Cicero/AMO.

Jeanmiguel Uva, Senior Account Executive at Hanover Communications, was matched with Lisa Townsend, Director at WA Communications. Joe Carton, Account Manager at Red Consultancy, has been paired with Peter Botting, Strategy, Storytelling & Speaker Coach.

Kayleigh Hadjimina, Parliamentary Campaigns and Engagement Manager at the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, was matched with Samuel Coates, Strategy Consultant. Michaela Regan, Clinical Affairs and Commissioning Adviser at Cystic Fibrosis Trust, has been paired with Robert Gill, Lead Policy Advisor at Scope.

Nicholas Dunn-McAfee, Public Policy Manager at the British Fur Trade Association, was matched with Kevin Bell, Patron of Conservatives in Communications. Oliver Hazell, Senior Account Manager at Cavendish Advocacy, was paired with Tom Martin, Director at Quatro.

Ollie Simmonds, Account Executive at Headland Consultancy, was matched with Robert Lingard, Managing Director at White Stork Consultancy. Patrick Adams, Public Affairs Consultant, has been paired with Adam Honeysett-Watts, Founder & Director at do Different. and Principal Director at Conservatives in Communications.

Phoebe Sullivan, Account Manager at Built Environment Communications Group, was matched with Aisha Vance-Cuthbert, Head of Communications at One Housing. Philip Campbell, Head of Policy and Communications at The National Federation of Roofing Contractors, has been paired with Sophie Fitton, former Group Head of Corporate Communications & International Engagement at Centrica.

Samir Dwesar, Senior Account Manager at Cavendish Advocacy, has been paired with Matt Silver, Campaign Director at Babel PR. Sam Gold, Public Affairs Officer at Which?, was matched with Naomi Harris, Director at WA Communications.

We were unable to secure permissions from two additional pairings.

Networking – the key to success

Lionel Zetter is Patron of Conservatives in Communications

Conservatives in Communications is open to all communicators who identify with the aims and values of the UK Conservative Party. Its chair, directors, patrons and supporters include politicians and journalists as well as communications professionals from every branch of that broad discipline.

However, given the political connection it is not surprising that public affairs professionals make up a substantial proportion of the CiC membership. Public affairs – or lobbying – is often regarded by outsiders as being some sort of dark and mysterious art. In reality, it is a straight-forward trade, with few secrets, but also few short-cuts.

I have worked in public affairs for 40 years, at large and small consultancies, in-house and as a freelancer. Sometimes, I am asked if there is a secret to the (admittedly modest) success I’ve enjoyed. My response is always that there is no secret, but there is a key. That key is relationships.

But, relationships have to be instigated and established, and then constantly nurtured. And that takes time. Because instigating and then establishing and then deepening relationships can only be done through networking – often outside of office hours.

So, over the course of my career, I’ve joined every trade and professional body I can, and used every networking opportunity that presents itself. Apart from Conservatives in Communications (which I helped to set up), I’ve joined (and sometimes headed) the CIPR, Government Affairs Group, PRCA and The Enterprise Forum. On top of these formal bodies, I have also supported and attended events ranging from PubAffairs Networking to (back in the day) Village Drinks. Then, of course, there are the party conferences – every networkers’ wet dream!

I did all this because I enjoy socialising, and let’s be honest – I also enjoy the occasional drink. But more than that, way more than that, attending networking events enables you to make new contacts and reinforce relationships. They help you to break out of the echo chamber and talk to people with different political views and colleagues from different communications disciplines. They enable you to promote your own views, but even more importantly, to listen to and argue with people from different backgrounds who hold divergent views. And, if you decide to write a book (plug alert), such as Lobbying, the Art of Political Persuasion, networking will help you to persuade people to contribute passages to the book – and maybe even to buy a copy!

So, if you want to get on in the wonderful overlapping worlds of politics and communications, my advice is to network like crazy, and to cherish and nurture the relationships that flow from those varying events.

And, if you are a Conservative and work in communications – I’m sure that you know what to do…

This piece was written for our website.

Boris the builder

Lionel Zetter is Patron of Conservatives in Communications

Boris Johnson once described himself as ‘basically a Brexity Hezza’. What he meant by that was that he and former Deputy Prime Minister Michael Heseltine shared a penchant for ‘grands projets’.

The prime minister’s announcement that, despite ballooning costs, HS2 would go ahead underlined his fondness for giant infrastructure schemes. At the same time, he also gave the green light to Northern Powerhouse Rail and promised massive investment in the bus network and in cycle superhighways. As if these were not enough, there were also announcements about 5G roll-out, and plans for up to ten freeports.

Aside from his personal predilection for such projects, the stream of announcements around HS2 also reflected the hard-headed calculation by Tory strategists that the best way to signal to former Labour voters in the North and the Midlands that their Damascene conversion would not go unrewarded was to at least start to address the long-running imbalance between investment in London and the South East, and the rest of the country. In order to do so the government had to tear-up long-standing Treasury rules on return on investment.

Aside from the cynical political calculation of the announcements they were also designed to take advantage of the historically low rates of interest on offer to stable governments, such as the UK’s. An added bonus is the prospect of, over time, using infrastructure investment to help to address the issue of low productivity that has plagued the UK for many years.

Boris Johnson’s track record of delivering on giant infrastructure projects is patchy. He can certainly claim much of the credit for the effective delivery of the 2012 London Olympics, and Crossrail was on time and on budget under his watch when he was London Mayor. However, the Garden Bridge scheme across the Thames was a costly fiasco, and during his time as Mayor he had vehemently opposed Heathrow expansion. Instead he championed ‘Boris Island’, an airport in the Thames Estuary – a feasible but controversial project.

But these past, present and future ‘grands projets’ – including talk of a bridge between Scotland and Northern Ireland – are like their progenitor; they are not just very big, they are very bold.

The prime minister is proposing and championing them partly because of political and economic necessity, but also with an eye to his legacy. Boris wants to go down in history not just as a winner, but as a builder.

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

This piece was written for our website.

Red wall, blue sea

Lionel Zetter is Patron of Conservatives in Communications

In the end, it wasn’t even close. The polls had showed Labour closing the gap in the final few days of the campaign, but there was no surge. Soufflés really don’t rise twice, and the ‘magic grandpa’ had lost his sparkle.

The CCHQ team had always wanted this to be an election focused on Brexit, and they largely got their way. But it was not just about the principle of Brexit itself. Most people wanted Brexit out of the headlines and off of the front pages, but they also wanted the normal functioning of government to resume. 

But perhaps even more important was the issue of trust. If you promise not to raise tuition fees and then treble them, as the Liberal Democrats did in 2010, then you get hammered. If you stand on a manifesto to respect the result of the EU referendum, as both Labour and the Lib Dems did in 2017, and then you constantly seek to block Brexit, then you get hammered.

The fact that much of the discontent with the non-delivery of Brexit was concentrated in the neglected Labour heartlands of the Midlands and the North acted as a double whammy. People in those regions wanted Brexit delivered, but they had originally voted for Brexit because they felt neglected by Westminster, and ignored by the Labour Party. So like Trump supporters in the ’fly over’ states of the US they refused to change their minds, and they demanded to be heard.

There was also poor targeting on the part of Labour. Both the party machine and the parallel Momentum organisation concentrated their resources on Corbynista candidates, rather than on those who most needed support. This cost them unity, and it cost them votes, and it cost them seats. The fall-out from this will rumble on for months, if not years.

By contrast CCHQ did a great job. When it came to strategy Isaac Levido provided calm, whilst Dominic Cummings – as ever – provided inspiration. The cyber war was master-minded by two young kiwis, Sean Topham and Ben Guerin. Meantime the mainstream media was effectively marshalled by Lee Cain and Rob Oxley and a team of experienced press officers, many of whom had worked for Boris on and off over the years since his first mayoral bid.

But the main reason Labour lost and we won was because of the respective leaders. Boris came across as a dynamic leader with a strong focus and clear priorities – including, of course, getting Brexit done. Of course there were mis-steps, including pocketing a journalists phone and escaping in to a walk-in fridge. But generally Boris came across well, with his trademark good humour and with his bright young politically-engaged partner by his side. Parading Dilyn the rescue dog also worked well – an estimated 9.9 million households in the UK own a dog.

By contrast Jeremy Corbyn came across as old, tired, testy, petulant – and (more importantly) nasty. He may not be an anti-semite himself, but he certainly seems to enjoy the company of people who are. This cost him votes not just in the handful of seats with large Jewish populations, but also amongst the wider electorate, who hate discrimination and loathe bullies.

So, the fabled ‘red wall’ has crumbled, and it has been replaced by a ‘blue sea’. And let’s face it, seas are stronger and more durable than walls. Now the task – fully recognised by CCHQ and Number Ten – is to justify the faith placed in us by all those former Labour supporters who loaned us their votes in order to ‘get Brexit done’, and to keep Corbyn out of Number Ten.

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

This piece was written for our website.

Tories in Comms relaunches

Conservatives in Communications (CiC), the industry network that brings together senior Tory PR specialists, has relaunched under the chairmanship of Katie Perrior.

Industry stalwarts Lord Black, Kevin Bell and Lionel Zetter – all of whom have been involved in CiC since it was established in 2011 to support the Party – have agreed to be patrons.

PR director Adam Honeysett-Watts and Westminster recruiter Carol Freeman are supporting the effort, including an event yesterday at the Ellwood Atfield Gallery in Smith Square.

Lord Black, deputy chairman of Telegraph Media Group, moderated an audience Q&A with Perrior – who worked as Director of Communications to Prime Minister Theresa May before returning to iNHouse Communications.

Among the 100 guests were industry and association campaign leads, agency partners and colleagues, as well as current and former special advisors and staffers.

Katie said:

“The Conservative Party would be wise to tap into this talent pool, and leverage the network as it seeks to shape and tell its story to the voters.”

For more information, including how to sign-up for events, email us.

As covered by ConservativeHome.com, The Holmes Report and The House Magazine.