In-house trends for 2021

Aisha Vance-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 those 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 around – 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 communication is essential to this, regardless of whether you work in a B2C, B2B 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.   

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

This piece was written for this website.

CiC-Start Mentoring Scheme 2020

Alec Zetter, Co-Director of Conservatives in Communications, and Finley Morris, Lead for Young Tories in Comms

Data from the CiC Census 2020 indicated that two thirds of respondents are interested in being mentored by a fellow supporter while three quarters are interested in becoming a mentor. In addition, our 12-point plan to support female conservatives in communications includes a commitment to launching a mentoring programme.

With that in mind, we are proud to launch the CiC-Start Mentoring Scheme 2020/21 – to offer mentoring opportunities for our growing base, especially our younger supporters. This is your chance to either learn from the best that the industry has to offer or to share your best practices.

Details

The scheme is open to all registered supporters of Tories in Comms – in PR, public affairs, policy-making, marketing, events, publishing, journalism and advertising – and, where possible, we will endeavour to match mentors and mentees from the same or similar sub-set.

The programme will run on a six-month rotational basis for 40 supporters beginning September 2020 through to February 2021. We will match 20 professionals seeking to get ahead in their careers with 20 others who can listen and offer their counsel. And we encourage pairs to maintain those relationships after the period ends.

Each relationship will be personal and defined by the two individuals involved, however we are asking all participants to commit to one initial hour-long introductory meeting (call, video or in-person) to get to know each other. After that, we recommend a minimum of one engagement each month throughout the scheme. We will then seek your feedback.

If successful, we will review the parameters for the overall programme i.e. expand or limit the scope and invite a second round of participants to apply in January. If you are unsuccessful this time it’s not personal it’s just a numbers game; we will aim to secure a future slot for you.

Apply

We invite potential mentees and mentors to complete this very short application by July 24, 2020. All applicants, whether successful this time or not, will be informed of next steps by August 14, 2020. We thank you in advance for your interest and look forward to hearing what emerges from this initiative. Any questions, email us.

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.

We’re optimistic about the future, but the MSM must up its game

PRESS RELEASE – IMMEDIATE DISTRIBUTION

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.

As covered by PRWeek.

WFH: with trust comes freedom

Adam Honeysett-Watts is Director of Conservatives in Communications and works in the financial technology sector

In response to the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, the government has advised businesses to enable their employees to work from home (WFH). For many, today was the first time they’ve done so. As someone who already benefits from a company policy that allows people to WFH from time-to-time, I wanted to share some thoughts and best practices for making a success of this new-found freedom. More freedom should always be a good thing!

Now is the time for everyone to stop all non-essential contact with others and to stop all unnecessary travel. We need people to start working from home.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the first daily press conference on the coronavirus pandemic

For most industry sectors, working 9-to-5 is a thing of the past. In fact, for many in public relations and public affairs it hasn’t been a thing for a while. After the initial introductions, most interactions can be done over the phone or email. I don’t expect anybody to eat breakfast at their desk, hit ‘reply all’ to group emails or stay five minutes past 5pm – just to be “visible”. I do encourage folk to attend morning meetings, read (the daily news and books) and attend industry events – such as those hosted by Conservatives in Communications – to improve their knowledge and skills, and build their networks.

The key to making all this work is for managers – i.e. line managers not managers of other functions – to trust their teams. 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.

  • Higher productivity. Don’t take my word for it – try Googling academic studies on this.
  • Greater availability. For example, people are more able to join calls with Asia and the US.
  • More time, be active. Spend more time with your friends and family. I use some of the time it would take me to get to and from the office to exercise and I’ve lost a stone and a half (10.5kg) since January.
  • More money. Instead of spending your hard-earned cash on overpriced coffees, £10 lunches and transport, spend it more wisely.
  • Support local. Where possible, spend it in the local community.

The reality is this: people need very little to do their job. In a similar vein to my blog post about 10 PR things to consider in 2020 and beyond, here’s a list (not exhaustive) of 10 tips on how to make a success of WFH and remain productive amidst the chaos:

1. Make space

Ideally, you’d have a home office – a separate and quiet space just for work. Not everyone has that luxury however, including most people who live in city apartments. Instead, it can be the corner of a spare bedroom or dining/living space. Preferably, it won’t be the kitchen table as you should avoid mixing home and work life. It also becomes difficult if there’s more than one occupant WFH or on holiday.

2. Right equipment

At a minimum, you will need a PC/laptop, internet/wi-fi and a mobile phone. If possible, buy a printer, shredder and a lamp.

3. Create routine

Establish one early on – that works for you (and hopefully for others). For example: get up by 7am, check inbox and social media channels, do exercise, get ready, work from 9am-12pm, pop out and grab some lunch, read the daily news, work 1-5pm with a break in between, do some personal chores, cook dinner/ attend event/ see friends and check emails etc. once during the evening. For the record, I don’t cook!

4. Be available

Be online. Be available. You shouldn’t have to prove yourself or over communicate, because you’ll be sat at your desk – albeit in your home.

5. Stay connected

Stay in contact with the outside world – colleagues and further afield. Setup phone/ video meetings, create colleague WhatsApp groups, follow social media channels and have the news or radio on in the background. Don’t hesitate to ask for what you need.

6. Get organised

Unless you rate them (I don’t!), you don’t need Microsoft Teams and other tools like Slack to do your job. Good old Microsoft Outlook, Google Suite and Skype are enough, and do share invites for personal time off.

7. Purposeful meetings

In terms of meetings – the fewer, shorter and more purposeful they are the better. Avoid scheduling meetings for meetings sake. Weekly should be enough – consider making them bi-weekly or even monthly. You don’t need to use the full hour – 45 minutes is ideal but aim for 30. For this to work, test connections, be on time and avoid all the clichés. Every meeting should have an agenda, which you stick to, and everyone is responsible for recording their actions.

8. Face time

WFH does not mean never seeing colleagues again. Face-to-face interactions are vital. Where possible, you should meet in-person at introductory meetings, networking events and yes, team socials.

9. Go outside

As mentioned early on, just because you’re now at home doesn’t mean you can’t go on the balcony/ walk around the garden/ go to the shop. It’s important to get fresh air!

10. Keep reflecting

Continuously reflect on what’s working well and isn’t, and shake-up accordingly.

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

This blog was republished by the public relations firm Vested.