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Clarke Mulder Purdie on PR, media and other random topics

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New Capitalism – New Politics?

Posted by alicocksworth on June 22, 2009

Second home, anyone?

Second home, anyone?

The past six months have been dominated by discussions of the broken financial system and flawed ideologies. A crippling global recession has given rise to mass disillusionment with the fundamental principles of capitalism and called time on self-interest as acceptable motive in business conduct. The reverberations of the 2008 crash are still being felt within the real economy: in the UK, familiar high street names continue to disappear; repossessions are up 50% year-on-year, and unemployment is steadily climbing towards 3 million. In the States, just days ago, Barack Obama was forced to step in to save General Motors as it filed for bankruptcy. Talk of ‘green shoots’ is sporadic and unconvincing.

In the wake of the financial crisis, the UK is facing an equally profound political one. The MPs’ expenses scandal has laid bare a culture of legitimised corruption in Westminster; and the slow response from party leaders and their subordinates has exposed acute disengagement from the electorate.  Public anger previously directed towards Fred Goodwin and his ilk has not only shifted onto our politicians, but has intensified.  MPs are increasingly lumped together with ‘Fat Cats’, as there is a growing perception that bankers and politicians are motivated by the same greed and selfishness.  MPs with their hands in the till are aligned with the banks they bailed out, and as such, in opposition to the individuals and communities that elected them.

Reform, reform, reform

As the public outrage continues to grow, party leaders have fallen over themselves to propose a range of reforms. David Cameron delivered a speech touting a progressive Conservatism that set out ideas for a decentralised, ‘post-bureaucratic’ era. Nick Clegg has called for far-reaching reforms to be agreed within a hundred-day timetable. The Guardian recently produced a supplement entitled ‘A New Politics’, detailing wide-ranging suggestions, from fixed-term parliament to the removal of the monarchy.

There is a broad consensus both within and without the House of Commons that Westminster needs to modernise, it is a question of scale. The Jenkins Report has been on a back burner since it was completed in 1998 but it could now be rejuvenated; its recommendations – including electoral reform and further transformation of the second house – suddenly merit serious consideration. What is certainly clear as the political clean-up commences is that, as with the banking sector, self-regulation is simply no longer an option.

Apathy or activism?

Politicians are being forced to reassess the way they communicate. British politics has tried to learn from Barack Obama, whose campaign successfully used social media to engage with the electorate. The efforts so far have yielded mixed results – Gordon Brown’s YouTube debacle stands in clear contrast to John Prescott’s surprising success with blogging on his Go4th website.  There is a slow realisation that polls, focus groups and even the media cannot alone be trusted as accurate barometers of public sentiment.

The local elections have taken on an important new symbolism – a return to grassroots politics, an opportunity for the electorate to punish their representatives, an outlet for frustration. The public is demanding re-engagement from politicians.

The protest votes just in from the European and local elections could be brutally damaging to the main parties, as both UKIP and the Green Party have made significant gains.  The cocooned Westminster-centric perspective will not be allowed to endure: after decades of apathy, voters want to hold their representatives to account, demanding real transparency and the opportunity to scold with an audible voice.

MPs will try to realign themselves with their constituents: grassroots activism and constituency work will regain importance.  Politicians will have to demonstrate real interest in the communities they represent. Local politics though, is no longer just about street lamps or road works – it is now also about national issues in a local context. Politicians will have to recognise this and modify their communications appropriately.

Republic of Britain?

Is the ‘mother of all parliaments’ about to crumble? Will the monarchy be removed? Will the Speaker of the House finally stop employing someone to carry his train?

No. Just as capitalism emerges from the financial crisis battered but intact, so the expenses scandal will not raze the House of Commons to the ground.  MPs will probably remain ‘right’ and ‘honourable’, but the debate on the nature of UK politics will continue. Whatever the eventual reforms amount to, there will be a tangible shift in the way politicians conduct both themselves and their politics.

The reliance on polls and focus groups will by no means end, but real interaction in the constituency will take precedence.  In the aftermath of the local and European elections, any number of reforms may be implemented. The most significant change will be a more subtle cultural shift within Westminster as MPs return to a truly local, and ultimately more personal brand of politics.

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What will be the impact of the current downturn on business psyche?

Posted by Chris Clarke on June 11, 2009

Green shoots?

Green shoots?

Join the ‘What future for business?’ debate

With many people desperate to seize on today’s headlines that the infamous green shoots of recovery are here, what will be the lasting impact of the downturn?

To explore this question we have launched an online debate on the impact of the global downturn on the future of business.  However, instead of looking solely at the arithmetic and economic impact, which has and will be explored to death, we are exploring its impact on business psyche.  We are looking at what impact the downturn will have on how business people think and make decisions and what it will mean for the way that business is likely to be conducted in the future.

The project launches with a series of online debates where, each week for six weeks, two contributors provide alternative views on different facets of the subject.  Contributors are prominent business executives, media figures and politicians, including David Kern from the British Chamber of Commerce, Paul Mason from BBC Newsnight, Jenny Davey from The Sunday Times, Chris Francis from IBM and more.  Everyone will also be able to have their say by joining the ‘What future for business?’ debate here.

Topics to be discussed include: How gloomy or hopeful should we be?  The role of business psyche?  What can we learn from past experiences?  What do today’s CEOs think?  What do the business leaders of tomorrow think?  What are the implications for tomorrow?

We will also be hosting a live debate at 7pm on 7 July at The Commonwealth Club, where the contributors and audience will continue the discussion face-to-face.

This project is part of our Hothouse Foresight initiative, which is a series of research, debates and events exploring how changes in the economic, social, political, business and media landscape – both locally and globally – are impacting organisations and their stakeholders.

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A new world order?

Posted by Chris Clarke on April 3, 2009

A view from the front row at the Obama and Brown G20 briefings

Spending 15 hours in ExCel isn’t something I would wish on anyone.  However, spending 15 hours in ExCel at the London Summit of the G20 yesterday was an incredible experience.
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Agree with the communiqué or not, the Summit was historic. Historic because of the sheer size of measures announced. Historic because of the extent of co-operation across countries with divergent agendas. Historic because there was an unmistakable sense that yesterday really was a day that would be remembered – and judged – by history.

Despite the columns of copy, hours of footage, number of tweets dedicated to the event, its success cannot be judged until a few months down the line. It may come to be seen as the world’s costliest mistake, or the day the world identified and acted upon the realities posed by a new world order.

Sitting in the front row at the Brown and Obama briefings, it became clear to me that we are all, like it or not, operating in a new era. And, whilst rhetoric was not absent from either briefing, there was a clear sense that we are genuinely entering a changed environment. One in which the role of government, through regulation and intervention, is going to be more dominant, and one where businesses and their leaders are to be questioned more, scrutinised more and, perhaps, restrained more.

The implications for all businesses – global or UK – will emerge over the coming weeks.  But, what is certain is that, in this new era, government intervention will be commonplace, scrutiny over the actions of corporations more intense than ever; and the shifts of power between the East and the West, developed and developing, will become current and dominant trends – not just speculations.


chris_gordonThe new challenge for communicators

All of this has huge implications for communicators. It makes the stakeholder map more complex as the concept of ‘shareholder value’ becomes blurred. It calls into question the role that business plays in society, as politicians start to believe that it is them who can (and must) ‘manage globalisation’.

It calls for the reassessment of not just commercial strategies, but for the re-evaluation of communications strategies, as well.  How businesses communicate and interact with employees, customers and the wider network of stakeholders, is about to undergo a fundamental transformation.

Change may have been the slogan of the successful Obama campaign. But, for communicators, change must become a guiding principle as we help businesses navigate this new era, connect with new and more demanding audiences, and establish authentic and credible reputations that work in the interests of shareholders – and not against them.

All of us in communications should relish the challenge that this new world presents. In many ways, it is us who are best placed to help business adapt and respond to this new reality.

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Restoring corporate trust – can communicators really make it happen?

Posted by majazupan on April 2, 2009

Caught between jaded consumers and sweeping budget cuts, should communicators roll up their sleeves or ask for a sabbatical?

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The G20 London Summit brought together national leaders from around the world, as they searched for ways to restore the global economy. And, while the desired outcomes are economic in nature – stabilisation of financial markets, regeneration of the housing market, creation of jobs, sustainable growth – the public outrage, market volatility and finger pointing of the past six months have made it clear that no solution to arresting the economic fall could stand a chance without one key ingredient – restoring trust.

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“Those of us who have looked to the self-interest of lending institutions to protect shareholders’ equity, myself included, are in a state of shocked disbelief.” These were the words of Alan Greenspan, former Chairman of the Federal Reserve, the very beacon of the free market philosophy for decades leading up to the crash last autumn.

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But, the breech of trust did not happen over night. The fact is that confidence – in both institutions and individuals – has been deteriorating for a long time now. Still reasonably fresh in our minds is the Enron scandal from 2001, which prompted the US government to introduce the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, setting strict guidelines for public company accounting practices.

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If anything, the market crash was but a last blow to the school of thought that considers the creation of shareholder value the key responsibility of any corporation. It has become apparent that accountability to shareholders does not act as a sufficient check on the level of risk tolerance within global financial institutions.

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Financial resilience, it turns out, can not be guaranteed without the integrity of corporate governance and concern for the interests of the wider community. Relationships based purely on a financial contract are inherently self-centered, so corporate accountability must go beyond the balance sheet to include an investment in human relationships in order to create trust and a sense of community between the organisation and its stakeholders.

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Consumer psychology in recession: trust no one

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A lot has been written about the extraordinary loss of consumer trust in businesses – ranging from pure rage toward the financial sector to apathy for industries such as retail and leisure, as consumers tightened their purse strings and strengthened their distrust of corporate marketing.

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The public focus has now shifted to policy makers, who have struggled to find quick solutions to an avalanche of market failures due to both corporate and individual misconduct, as well as decision-making based on insufficient information and flawed assumptions. And, while governments are now expected to establish a system of checks and balances to ensure ethical corporate governance, public opinion ranks politicians as even less trustworthy than businesses.

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According to the annual 2009 Edelman Trust Barometer, trust in government did not rise to offset disillusionment with the business sector – enterprise is still more trusted than government in 13 of the 20 markets surveyed. The media closely follows the government trajectory, with less than half (47 percent) of overall respondents worldwide saying they trust the media to do the right thing. This figure drops precipitously in the UK, with mere 28 percent of respondents placing trust in media.

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What’s a communicator to do?

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Faced with such strong distrust in their corporate spokesperson, their political guardians and the media channels – should corporate communicators throw their hands up in the air and give up trying?

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The short answer is – absolutely not. Withdrawal at a time of crisis not only feeds the public suspicion by cloaking the organisation in a veil of opacity, but it also allows detractors and the competition to take the reins and tell your corporate story from their point of view.

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Trying to get yourself heard and noted while bearing in mind heightened sensitivities may seem like navigating a landmine, particularly with very few certainties to anchor your key points to in this volatile economic context. However, it is key to remember that consumer behaviour is only partially rational. Those organisations consumers come to see as ‘their brands’ appeal to their emotions, desires and the need for identification and comfort – the dimensions that, albeit highly personal and complex, are rooted in a simple human need to relate and belong.

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So no, there is no rulebook for regaining consumer trust. Rather, communicators should deploy their innate ability to listen and act intuitively to find a ground where both their organisation and its stakeholders can stand comfortably.

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House Sweeper in Chief

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Before engaging with the wider public, communicators have a big role to play in making sure their organisation’s house is in order.glass

Problems within organisations all too often arise when the information available is insufficient, misinterpreted or withheld from those whose conduct or decision-making depends on it. Having access to various areas of their organisation, and on a perpetual mission to gather information to base their external communications on, communicators are in a unique position to be the first to notice something being wrong with either the information itself or its interpretation by various internal stakeholders.

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Communicators should use their listening skills to detect any such breakdowns in communication, which, if undetected, may present reputational risks to the organisation. Put in political parlance, communicators should have in place an ‘early warning’ mechanism by which to evaluate the internal flow of communication. This, in turn, can enable them to anticipate questions and concerns likely to arise among the organisation’s external stakeholders.

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In short, communicators should keep their ear to the ground, monitoring both internal as well as external chatter to understand what gaps may exist between the organisation’s goals and self-perception, and external stakeholders’ expectations and conceptions of the same.

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Turning communications into an operational function

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Having this knowledge does not in itself mean that communicators can begin plugging gaps through crafty communications.

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Informed understanding of organisational opportunities and threats is a golden opportunity to reassess not only the way an organisation talks about itself, but more importantly, how it behaves. Analysis of external perceptions can shed a spotlight on corporate practices that are redundant, inefficient or misdirected. In such instances, attempting to adapt the corporate rhetoric without solving the core issues that cause the disconnect can only aggravate the already fragile confidence in the organisation.

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Owning up to shortfalls and acting to address them needs very little supporting rhetoric to make meaningful progress in calibrating perceptions and restoring trust. Communicators are in a powerful position to make the case for organisational change by bringing the potential reputational risks to the management’s attention, and embedding transparency into any remedial course of action.

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Ability to influence management decisions implies a communications role that is part of the management structure – a strategic role integral to an organisation’s operations, rather than a functional position serving to merely report the official company line. Organisations should go beyond introducing grand titles, and truly make communications part of the decision-making process, including board representation where applicable.

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Knowing who your friends are

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Understanding issues and having the right set of messages still does not guarantee that messages will be heard and, critically, stick. Good communications are not only relevant, well targeted and easy to understand. Ideally, they are also supported by sources outside the organisation – those people and organisations who matter to the audiences the communications are trying to reach. Messages delivered by third parties – such as academics, think tanks, industry analysts, or ‘people like me’, often carry more weight than messages communicated directly by the organisation itself.

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Understanding who the influencers within relevant communities are, and finding ways to align with them, should be at the core of communications planning. Having a corporate position endorsed by the people who are personally relevant to your audiences helps create a sense of common purpose and familiarity crucial to building trust.

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Reinventing romance

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Once the organisation enters this privileged relationship of confidence with its stakeholders, the job, in many ways, only begins. As with any relationship, nurturing through regular contact, being in tune with personal concerns and changing needs, creating opportunities for personal involvement with the brand – all of these are key to making sure the relationship continues to blossom.

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And, while apologies may be accepted and amends made, getting it right the first time around is worth its weight in gold in the face of short attention spans, volatile economies, and competitive suitors ready at the door to jump on an opportunity to get involved.

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Why innovation matters…

Posted by Will Connolly on March 2, 2009

Innovation is defined by the Oxford dictionary as “1 the action or process of innovating.  2 a new method, idea, or product. ” So what is the process of innovating, and what can we achieve?   Innovation is then, creating new ways of thinking to enable the practice of a new method, or design of a new idea, service or product. 

Whether we are talking about the global economic downturn, scarcities of knowledge and resources in developing countries, or thinking about new ways to learn and educate; innovation is essential in the way we work. 

How can innovation be envisaged?

Methods of creative thinking such as brainstorms, collaborative working, and exposure to new experiences shape our innovative success.  Working in a creative environment, the use of social media and web 2.0 are ways to engage with others both in and out of our physical vicinity.    Working in these ways inspire new thoughts and avenues of discovery.  Web 2.0 and social media are an ever-increasing phenomenon, but what is the point to all these usernames and passwords?  How much social media can we take? Among the young no doubt, social media is a popular topic; people are using websites such as Facebook and MySpace to connect with their peers.  How many professionals today are using these ways of communicating fully to their advantage?  The increase in contact through these channels surely leads to learning new information and inspiring ideas.  Twitter has proved a popular business tool, to communicate with journalists, PRs, and add a personal touch to the way we communicate in business.  This is an example of how we can manipulate the media to our advantage.

Best practices and examples of success

Context is important when thinking about innovation.  What are the social, environmental, political, economic, and media factors that will influence the way we communicate and design?  Can the way we look at and forecast the future also define what we should be doing now?  Knowing what issues of the day affect our businesses and policies will put us in better positions to be successful in the future and aid the evolution of innovation.

Business Week asked futurologists, to describe what they’d like to see arise from the current downturn.  “What are the most important inventions of the next 10 years?”.  The futurologists suggest innovations in energy such as bio-fuels and thermal and kinetic energy generation for electronic devices, smarter applications for mobile devices, medical breakthroughs, such as a cure for cancer, and social media literacy to name a few.

Financial rewards and other results of innovative thinking

Can innovation be measured?  The innovative successes of the BBC iPlayer, iPhone3G, Twitter and Facebook, show how innovative thinking can lead to record breaking corporate transformation.  The network operator O2 sells 1m Apple iPhones in 2009 showing how this innovative product helped initially gain the deal with O2 and subsequently increase its sales.

Are there flaws in innovation?

Some people may be wary about changing traditional practices.  Whilst some ways of working will be productive, innovation of our methods and the way we communicate can result in higher levels of productivity and success. But does success stifle innovation?.  Another interesting topic discussed on Business Week; success identified here as breeding a spotlight on efficiency – which can be an obstruction in creative innovative thought.   Companies and organisations should then have a balance between what is measurable by success and what can be measured by our ideas.  Innovation is more an investment in the long term.

Innovative thinking should be used by all and nurtured into our best practices.  Striving for new and exciting prospects and ideas will lead to richer experiences and the ability of communicate with more people.  Innovation and communication should go hand in hand. 

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Jared Diamond’s ‘Collapse…’ (and not doing your homework)

Posted by Graham Hayday on September 11, 2007

My colleague Amanda Purdie writes:

“Feeling very alert today as we hosted our first Innovation Reading Circle session last night, which discussed ‘Collapse: How societies choose to fail or survive’, by Jared Diamond.  Organised by Nico Macdonald (brain the size of a planet etc) this book group has been meeting for some time (I’m quoting now) “to help develop theory around innovation by facilitating rich, high level and well informed public discussion around key and related texts”. 

Sadly I didn’t have time to actually read the book because I’m still jet lagged from my trip to Australia and hungover from the weekend Martinis, but I had read a very good review from which I quoted copiously. 

Mark in my office (who has two degrees) had tried to explain Malthusian theory (a key concept in Diamond’s world view) to me too, which could have made me slightly over confident. I think everyone realised I hadn’t read the book but as we were the hosts and had laid on wine and sushi, I only spotted a bit of eye rolling. 

Everyone else in the group had done their homework (of course) and were extremely charming and interesting and made many witty and challenging observations. I won’t attempt to paraphrase these, but would refer you to the notes Nico is going to put up on his site. 

I had a really great time and am definitely going to get Mark to explain the next book to me which is ‘Paradox of Choice, Why More is Less’ by Barry Schwartz. This is being discussed on Monday 8 October and is being hosted by Channel 4.  Some of the other books the group has discussed have included ‘Fantasy Island’, ‘The Long Tail’ and ‘The Cult of the Amateur’.  Last night someone also recommended ‘The Passion of the Western Mind’ which sounds very interesting.” 

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