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Clarke Mulder Purdie on PR, media and other random topics

Archive for the ‘recession’ Category

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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Insights from Wireless and Mobile 09

Posted by Sarah Mulder on May 21, 2009

Morning on the show floor

Morning on the show floor

We’ve started our second day at Wireless and Mobile 09 in Olympia, where we’re running the press office for Europe’s largest wireless show, now in its fifth year.  The mood here seems realistic and upbeat.  Yesterday, educational seminars were all full and footfall at the event is doing extremely well; demonstrating that even if people are finding the economy tough, the appetite for growth and technological development does not seem to be waning.

Opera Software gave an interesting perspective on the role of the internet in today’s world.   Jon S. Von Tetzchner, Opera’s co-founder, reminded the audience that despite the internet’s centrality to seemingly everything in the developed world, actually only 20% of the world population currently has online access.  It will be interesting to see how fast this percentage grows over the next year as the developing world starts using some of the mobile technology on offer here today.

Continuing with this theme, Opera ran a survey in 1998 asking, ‘what would you rather do without, TV or your PC with internet access’? In 1998, 80% of respondents said they would rather be without the internet while 20% said TV.  In 2007 they ran the same survey and unsurprisingly the balance had shifted, but what was surprising was by how much; 85% now say they could now live without TV and only 15% were still wedded to their telly.

Encouragingly though, it seems as though this hypothetical conundrum may soon be solved as Jon finished his talk by telling us that within the next ten years every TV set produced will have internet access. Given that one of Opera’s customers is the TV giant Sony Bravia, they are probably in quite a good place to make this prediction.

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Staying focused on the future

Posted by Sarah Mulder on May 18, 2009

ship

The PR recruitment industry?

As everyone is well aware, we are in one of the most uncertain market environments the world has seen in decades.  For most industries this has, quite rightly,  prompted an introspective ‘baton down the hatches’ and generally make sure your ship is in order approach.  Indeed, it may be one good thing to come out of this market correction; that businesses are better run and there is generally less wastage all around.

However, one  major negative impact brought by the winds of recession swirling around us is that industries can start to lose structure as holes appear through freezes in training and recruitment.  Take the PR industry: in the recession of the 1990s, there was a fairly industry-wide approach, lead by giants like WPP,  to not only halt recruitment but also to cancel all graduate training programmes.  Whilst this fixed the short term problem of cost control, it has meant the industry has been seriously short of good talent for years after as that ‘year group’ of capable, bright recruits were missing from the system as AEs and then AMs and now ADs.

Times are tough, there is no doubt about it, but it is so important to keep talent coming through industry.  Tempting though it is to completely nail those hatches shut, it is essential to keep one eye on the future of whatever industry we are in and invest in the talent that is going to be by our side when the sun finally comes out again.

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How can we communicate through the recession?

Posted by Nick on March 2, 2009

At a time when the news agenda is firmly gripped by job losses, bankruptcy and budget deficits how should the modern corporation communications team respond? There is certainly a widespread feeling within the industry that at a time like this corporate communications teams should batten down the hatches and avert risk. No one wants to be responsible for the interview during which the CEO struggled with questions about job losses. This culture often contrasts heavily with pressure from internal business stakeholders who look to the PR team for support at a time when marketing budgets are being reduced. The corporate communications function (especially in the B2B world) is now often the primary channel for a company messages > see this interesting study which found that pressure from inside corporations during the downturn is significant – 64% of in-house respondents said they’ve felt an increase in pressure to perform from their internal clients.

So we’ve established it’s a tricky period with potential for bad news breaking and contrasting internal pressures. But what can be done?
Industry veteran Lord Chadlington makes a salient point in an article on this subject: ‘Silence will result – almost inevitably – in the assumption there is something to hide’ . This is something that every major corporation will recognise. If you close down relationships with journalists that are close followers of the organisation and that expect regular pro-active contact it can tempt them to be more investigative – after all some journalists have strict briefs to watch just a handful of companies. If the story doesn’t originate from the communications function it has the potential to originate from business stakeholders such as non-media trained employees, customers and partners. Perhaps best not to raise suspicion in the first place by opting for silence.

From the same article Simon Lewis, Director Corporate Affairs at Vodafone makes another good point “communicating when times are good is always easier. But there will now be a greater emphasis on providing a perspective”. I took this to reflect the need for a company to be bold, to have a position on the issues surrounding it in order to offer stability to its stakeholder audiences. At a time like this championing a cause or issue can provide a platform to align the brand in a positive light. CSR issues and approaching some of the worlds big challenges can provide a point of communications differentiation during this period. When backed by interesting, unique, content issues-based communications can also deliver a reduced risk interview option for spokespeople who may otherwise have been expected to comment solely on business performance.

The recession poses significant challenges but also offers the opportunity to differentiate through communications. Companies that can take and ‘own’ relevant issues are likely to gain a positive reaction from journalists that I suspect will shortly be suffering from recession fatigue themselves.

Posted in B2B, comms, marketing, PR, recession | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »