Monday, 25 October 2010

Five-minute Abchat: Oli Hibberd, Abchurch

As new Account Exec Oli Hibberd, @OHHPR, joins the Abchurch fold, we asked him how he came to be in PR and what he's expecting to see in the industry in the future.

What did you want to be when you grew up?
Not unusually, my first ambition was to be a footballer, and the fact that my team, Swindon, aren’t brilliant probably meant this vision was held for a little too long! At the age of thirteen I attended a school known for its hockey, which signified that my football career wasn’t to be.

Then, there were dreams of being in a successful band, especially when it became apparent that spending a lot of time in pubs and bars didn’t harm your chances! Lack of musical ability turned out to be the deal-breaker, so the band idea never really took off.

Finally the idea of being a professional seasonaire always appealed to the skier in me. However the reality, which sometimes meant attaching snow chains to a minibus at 6:45am in -15 ºC, caused me to drop that plan after a couple of seasons.

How did you get into Financial PR?
Having spent several years in the professional services PR sector, both in-house and in agency roles, I had an awareness of what was happening in the City but had never experienced working in the heart of it.

After taking a couple of months out, exploring the reality of spending my life on the slopes, I returned to a very different London than the City I’d left six months previously.

The pace at which companies and other organisations had adapted to an increasingly challenging market was very interesting, but I knew it was an environment where I’d really have to hit the ground running. The chance to build on my previous experience, whilst facing new challenges in a swiftly evolving environment was something I was extremely keen to take part in.

If I wasn’t talking to you now, what would you be doing?
Right now, I would be organising a call with a client in the banking sector, to plan the media strategy around an event the Company is holding in November.

What is the most interesting thing about your work?
The opportunity to work on a range of clients in a number of sectors prevents the work from ever getting routine. It is also interesting in understanding the reasoning behind why two contrasting companies can react so differently to what is initially perceived as a similar challenge.

Is there a common misconception about PR?
The most frustrating misconceptions stem from a misunderstanding of the profession. However the number of business scandals played out in, and escalated by the media has demanded a greater understanding of the role PR has to play.

How has the industry changed over the last couple of years?
The credit crunch led to huge consolidation and this is likely to continue. Companies are still cautious with spending and the frivolity of the pre-credit crunch era is now a distant memory. In order to survive, PR agencies have adapted their offering and now a greater level of flexibility is required from every employee.

The press is also very different industry now, publications are not only news services but businesses as well. The recent Times vs. Guardian online paywall debate is evidence that a commercial solution to ensure the viability of the press is still some way off.

What developments do you expect to see in the next twelve months?
As the new government continues to cut spending and introduce new policies, along with the fear of a double dip, most organisations are unlikely to make any radical changes unless absolutely necessary. However, the speed of the downturn surprised everyone, so with the pace of change still so swift it is difficult to bank on anything happening for sure.

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Thursday, 21 October 2010

Chancellor George Osborne’s Spending Review is old news

It was inevitable that this morning’s headlines would be about the spending review. All of the national papers carried the story, from the Sun to the Financial Times. But if the papers haven’t moved the story on, what is the news value of old news this morning?

The Chancellor’s speech, outlining where his axe would fall (with considerable force), took place yesterday at 12.30. By 12.31, social media channels were buzzing with people live tweeting the speech and the BBC had live coverage preceding George Osborne even arriving at the Houses of Parliament. By 13.30, Labour was just about to retaliate and by the early afternoon, as the first copies of the Evening Standard hit the stands, London was awash with headlines despairing at the cuts this country will have to endure.

Last week, we attended a webinar where David M Scott, a well-known social media speaker, was discussing the importance of real-time responses to news issues. The advent of online publishing and social media has not only given the public a voice, but it has made news immediate. For up to the minute – and even up to the second – developments, web publishing has changed the way we consume and react to media. This idea is not new and of course stories on the spending review were run online yesterday, within minutes of Mr Osborne concluding his speech.

Today’s papers had to cover the story, that is not in questions, but almost 24 hours after the story broke there must be more originality and opinion in the national press for it to be fresh and valuable. The Financial Times’s Lex column on the subject is a great example of this.

But seeing this morning’s front page headlines, about a news story our team was discussing over lunch yesterday – with little additional thought or analysis – seems to me, a stark example of how newspapers are becoming out of date before they are even printed.


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Friday, 15 October 2010

FSA rules strain relations between City and press

As the Financial Services Authority (FSA) continues to clamp down on strategic leaks to the media, and journalists lash back at the new proposals, new debates are sparked over the impact these transaction reporting plans could have on market integrity and the overall flow of accurate business information.

A dramatic increase in FSA activity to clamp down on controlling leaks follows recent findings which showed suspicious trades before takeover announcements were not only up on the previous year, but now account for nearly a third of all deals. The FSA’s Market Division has recently issued its “best practice” recommendations, which aim to prevent improper disclosures of inside information contrary to the market abuse regime. Yet, the second recommendation, stating all media enquiries are to be directed to the firm’s media relations team, who will be fully responsible for monitoring all media enquiries, has been met with strong criticism from UK journalists.

This week, editors of four leading national papers wrote a letter of complaint to the FSA to publicly expose their concerns over the potential damage such restrictions could bring to current media handling practices between City firms and journalists.

For the FSA, “Strategic leaks – designed to be advantageous to a party to a transaction – are particularly damaging to market confidence and do not serve shareholders’ or investors’ wider interests.” However, while accepting the need act strongly to deter market abuse, the editors claim “a wilful misunderstanding” in the relationship between the City and the press will be brought about as firms hide behind their media relations personnel, thereby making it easier to distort the flow of reliable information.

Unfortunately, rumours and speculation will invariably affect share prices and damage company profiles. Yet, the online media and the fast pace of our digital environment have changed how information is now conveyed and received. Today, journalists have an extended role to ensure they convey their messages not only to national readers but more increasingly to global audiences in an increasingly timely fashion.

In essence, corporate communication relies on a strong relationship between journalists and the finance market and the recent stir serves to highlight how more constructive engagement and close collaboration between the press and financial regulators will be important to counter future cases of market abuse. We will watch this space!

Click here to read the letter sent by Lionel Barber, Editor, The Financial Times; Alan Rusbridger, Editor-in-Chief, Guardian News & Media; David Schlesinger, Editor-in-Chief, Thomson Reuters and James Harding, Editor, The Times.

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Friday, 1 October 2010

How to stand out: a very clever PR CV

This is one of the most innovative and interesting CV's I've ever come across.  PR Week has a good blog post about the video - how fast PR is moving and how important it is to keep your skills up to date. In an industry as competitive as ours, this is a brilliant way to get noticed. Hats off to Graeme.

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Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Industrials and Extractive Industries party

Last night Abchurch held the third in a series of sector specific parties.

The evening’s focus on Industrials and Extractive industries followed the success of our Green event and Financial Services gathering earlier this year. The turnout was excellent and our guests ranged from big hitters in media and law to clients, corporate finance, analysts and brokers. The Rt Hon David Mellor gave an excellent keynote speech nodding to Labour’s new leader and how the UK economy is in for a tough ride over the next couple of years, although his turn of phrase and brilliant sense of humour left our guests with a smile. Thanks to all those who came along last night, it provided good networking opportunities and was lots of fun. We’ve already started planning the next one!

Follow us on Twitter @AbchurchComms. If any of our guests are tweeters, we’d love to hear your thoughts on last night’s event. Please tag your tweets #Abchurchparty.

Monday, 2 August 2010

Five-minute Abchat: Claire Dickinson, Abchurch

Abchurch has been on the lookout for some new Account Execs and this month, Claire Dickinson who joined as an intern with us over the summer, has become the latest Abchick! We welcome Claire to the Abchurch fold and asked her for a quick Abchat…

What did you want to be when you grew up?
I always thought I would make a good explorer, probably helped by the fact I grew up in a forest and spent most of my childhood setting up camps or finding good trees to climb. Other than that, I was definitely the pacifist figure amongst friends and secretly thought I could put my diplomatic skills to great use if I became a hostage negotiator or perhaps UN Secretary General!

If I wasn’t talking to you now, what would you be doing?
I’d be finishing some update reports and later I intend to make some calls with analysts about client results.

What is the most interesting thing about your work?
It would have to be the range of projects and people who we build relationships with, combined with the different media we work through which make every day extremely varied and challenging – it’s really a very rewarding environment to be a part of!

Is there a common misconception about PR?
I think there are numerous misconceptions about PR! In my view, these often stem from those less familiar with the industry or who underestimate the growing need for PR as economies and societies continue to integrate within such a fiercely competitive global setting.

How has the industry changed in recent years?
The industry has adapted itself tremendously over the last five years. This is mainly a result of shifting economic, technological and political landscapes, which have created a progressively more complex space that is increasingly dependent on good communication, constructive engagement, dialogue and transparency.

What developments do you expect to see in the next twelve months?
Unfortunately in the UK we face a tough year ahead of us with slow growth, higher taxes and stagnant living standards. Yet, while we may be facing dramatic spending cuts and a tough government restructuring programme that stands to affect all industries for many years to come, I don’t believe its all doom and gloom! What’s important is to remember there are still a number of companies doing well and who continue to record strong growth.

In terms of PR, what is essential for the industry is that it remains adaptable and continues to find new unique ways of handling news and restoring the current loss of trust felt towards many financial institutions, companies and individuals. But the delivery of clear and consistent messages along fast-paced digitalised networks is no easy task. This is a huge challenge for PR practitioners who must establish ways to cope with the quantity of communication needed to stretch to new audiences. In this respect I anticipate some exciting new developments in social media and PR 2.0, which has already transformed the industry substantially over the last few years and will continue to do so well into the future. So I would say we are in an exciting transitional period for the industry!

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Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Vulcans and Veyrons - Abchurch visits the Goodwood Festival of Speed

Sunday saw Abchurch on site at the motoring event of the year, enjoying the exquisite delights of some of the world’s finest machines. Goodwood Festival of Speed 2010 was a sell out and it was no wonder given the wondrous array of sights, sounds, smells and motoring legends on the line up combined with unusually balmy and consistent British summer weather. Where else can you see a shiny chrome Bugatti Veyron, a newly flight certified Vulcan and Lewis Hamilton doing doughnuts in his 2008 Formula 1 car?

Yet, at the heart the cacophony of V12’s, W16’s and spitfire engines stood the peace and calm of the FoS-TECH pavilion, rather ironically in association with BP Ultimate, showcasing sustainable cars and technologies of the future from major car manufacturers such as Lexus, Audi and Honda. Stifled yelps were common as the public scrambled out of the way of silently approaching vehicles slinking their way through the drifting crowd. Amongst the exhibitors was Abchurch client and clean energy products company, Acta S.p.A, which exhibited its hydrogen fuel enrichment technology as well as its award winning electrolyser to the general public for the first time in the UK. The British reception did not disappoint, with both manufacturers and the general public alike demonstrating profound interest in sustainable technologies.

As this Abchick soaked up the last rays of the day while munching happily on scones with clotted cream and the final hours of the Festival of Speed 2010 came to a close we were treated to an ostentatious display of bravery and stupidity in equal measure with a crowd-pleasing motorcyclist displaying more stunts than James Bond on the roof of Goodwood House. A truly spectacular day and bring on Revival.


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Monday, 5 July 2010

Online readers about to set the news agenda

Traditionally, the news agenda has been the domain of editors who decided what was interesting and journalists were sent forth to write, but rumour has it that Yahoo! is soon to turn this process on its head with the announcement of a new blog whose content will be determined by the topics users search for on the web.

While blogging and tweeting have given the public a voice, the improvements in search and the rise in content sharing mean that in addition to an overwhelming amount of information available in general, there is increasing data to indicate what, amongst the billions of column inches, readers actually care about.

Yahoo!’s new blog, Upshot, will track popular search terms and topics across its online network and use these patterns to fuel content, generated by its team of journalists and editors. If it works, the blog should be more closely aligned with its readers’ interests than other mainstream news sites.

Using search queries to guide content also means that the blog will potentially feature more niche and unusual stories in response to its readers’ demands. The editorial team will need to make careful decisions about how closely they will be influenced by the trends and journalists will need to write with a degree of authority to pacify sceptics who see this as a potential quantity over quality play, biasing news simply to reach the top of search engines.

Media is certainly changing at the moment with broad news stories widely available from innumerable outlets. Several UK papers have started to put up paywalls but for this to be an effective move, generalist online news sites will have to think about what exactly they can offer readers to beat off the competition – it’s hard to justify paying for me-too content.

Whether the Yahoo!’s search information will be used to directly influence the news agenda or simply as a tool to understand readers and aid editorial decisions, content that takes into account what the reader is looking for could certainly be a good start in setting itself apart from the masses.


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Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Five-minute Abchat: David Beamer, PoliticsDirect

This month Abchurch cornered fellow IPREX member David Beamer MCIPR, the Managing Director of PoliticsDirect an independent, full service Public Affairs agency. Prior to entering Consultancy, David was a senior political adviser to the Conservative Party and worked with 8 Secretaries of State on a range of policy briefs including Trade & Industry, Energy, Transport, Culture, Media & Sport, Deregulation, Wales, and Health.

David is regarded as a leading authority, and has written articles & delivered speeches, on the use of the Internet in British politics and public affairs consultancy. He has taken a few moments to talk to us about life in Westminster.

What did you want to be when you grew up?
From a very early age, I was interested in setting up a company but didn’t know what in. After completing a Business degree at University, I started working for the Conservative Research Department (CRD) in London and learnt about the public affairs industry.

How did you get into Public Affairs?
After the General Election in 1997, I left CRD and joined the political division of The Communication Group. It’s common that people entering public affairs have worked as a political adviser.

Describe your role in ten words or less (if that’s possible!):
I run a public affairs agency and provide strategic counsel to clients.

If I wasn’t talking to you now, what would you be doing?
Catching up on the latest election developments. The TV debates have changed the normal course of an election campaign and caused significant fluctuations in the opinion polls that no commentator had predicted.

What is the most interesting thing about your work?
I enjoy the worlds of business and politics. Bringing the two together makes work challenging, provides lots of variety and brings you into contact with some very talented people.

Is there a common misconception about Public Affairs?
The industry can get negative press coverage. However, the industry is very professional and our agency, together with the overwhelming majority of agencies in our industry, are members of the Association of Professional Political Consultants and adhere to a strict code of conduct.

How has the industry changed over the last couple of years?
There has been growing recognition from companies about the importance of undertaking public affairs work and gaining a greater understanding of the political process. The industry has grown accordingly and become more professional.

What developments do you expect to see in the next twelve months?
A new Government will stimulate interest in political developments and there will be new policies and new ministers. Companies will need to understand how these policies affect them and who to engage with.

More information on PoliticsDirect can be found at

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Thursday, 8 April 2010

2010 – The return of the IPO?

Asia leads the way with the RoW on its coat tails

Abchurch MD, Henry H-T draws together some encouraging signs for the global IPO market

According to a report recently issued by Ernst & Young, the global IPO market has begun to show signs of recovery which will come as a relief to most financial intermediaries around the world. In the first quarter of this year there have already been 267 successful IPOs raising a total of US$53 billion, this figure dwarfing the comparative period in 2009 in which there were only 52 IPOs raising a paltry US$1.5 billion. It will come as no great surprise that the return of the IPO in Asia - China in particular - is leading the way, having raised a total of US$19 billion via 109 IPOs, accounting for 41% of all global IPO activity. In the last 24 hours, the Agricultural Bank of China has reported that it preparing for a float looking to raise a staggering US$25 billion which would make it the largest share offering ever, exceeding even the IPO of China’s ICBC which raised US$21 billion back in 2006 when the markets were much more buoyant.

So how has London fared in all of this activity? Well, not too badly when compared against the rest of Europe. London has raised a respectable US$2 billion via 11 IPOs in the period, with companies including Barrick Gold, CPP, Super Group and Promethean successfully joining the market. From a fairly lifeless IPO market in Europe during 2009, there have been 39 floats in the first quarter raising US$8 billion (the largest number since the second quarter of 2008), and this activity has outstripped the US which managed to raise only US$4.2 billion via 25 IPOs.

Whilst there remain some concerns about volatile market conditions at the start of the year, it is widely anticipated that investors will continue to return to the European and North American markets as the global economy improves which will be good news for all of us here in the City. With plenty of activity planned, many corporates and issuers are waiting for the right window of opportunity to complete their listings and to generate the best valuation. Let’s hope the strong start to global IPOs in 2010 continues and starts to filter into London post the General Election.


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Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Five-minute Abchat: Florence Fox-Andrews, Abchurch Intern

This week we grilled our latest Abchurch Intern, Bristol University student Florence Fox-Andrews, on the Intern program, what she enjoyed and any words of wisdom she has for prospective applicants.

What did you want to be when you grew up?
When I was younger I was absolutely obsessed with the Famous Five and all of Enid Blyton’s books. I loved reading and watching murder mysteries, especially Midsomer Murders. When I grew up my dream was to become a detective and solve crimes, I think probably quite strange for a 9-10 year old!

Why did you apply to be an intern at Abchurch?
I had the opportunity to apply for some work experience at Abchurch and jumped at the chance. I wanted to experience working in the City first hand and Abchurch has allowed me to gain an insight into the workings of Financial PR and City life.

Describe your role in ten words or less (if that’s possible!):
I have been doing some administration work, sitting in on meetings between clients and analysts, and been annoying everyone with questions! I didn’t have to make any coffee while I was here – which is lucky, my coffee making is pretty poor!

If I wasn’t talking to you now, what would you be doing?
I would be researching new investor and trade magazines and inputting information such as feature deadlines, when it goes to press, notes on circulation etc. onto an Excel Spreadsheet for the Company’s records.

What is the most interesting thing about the program?
I find the diversity of all the different clients fascinating and I have gained an understanding of the role Financial PR plays in the development of growing companies, whether private or listed, and the important relationships forged with media and analysts which are crucial to communicate key messages.

Did you have any ideas about PR that you found weren’t (or were) true?
There is the rumour that PR companies exist to manipulate and fabricate stories. Having never experienced PR before, I assumed this was true. However, after working with Abchurch and experiencing the day-to-day work, I can now understand and appreciate how communicating a clear and consistent message is vital in the role of Financial PR.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to be an Intern at Abchurch?
My advice would be that - as well as an interest in the media and PR - you have to be ambitious and confident. As long as you are friendly, enthusiastic and energetic and willing to put in time and effort, you will be certain to achieve the results you wish.

For more information and an application form for our Internships, please contact

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Worried about sustainability? Get a Brazilian

Given the ongoing debate over the sustainability of biofuels, I was keen to hear for myself the story that is the Brazilian ethanol economy. Hence, Abchapess finds herself at the “Brazilian Cleantech Breakfast” on the 11th March in Rosenblatt’s offices mulling over how to both communicate and eat a bowl cereal while holding a cup of coffee, a handful of business cards as well as managing the usual female trappings of handbag and coat in a room the size of a two man tent containing a not inconsiderable number of overly familiar Brazilians and excited greenies. Despite the general melee, the crowd finally managed to squeeze itself into the limited chairs to the clutter of breaking plates and falling cutlery at which point the speakers had their opportunity to sell the class-leading benefits of the renewable energy market in Brazil.

For those who aren’t aware of the powerhouse that Brazil is in the alternative fuel world here are a few facts. The first car to ever run on ethanol was produced in Brazil in 1979 having been experimenting with the liquid since the 1930’s. This legacy has resulted in Brazil now consuming more ethanol than petrol. Moreover, around 45% of all energy produced in Brazil comes from renewable sources. Unsurprisingly, a number of entrepreneurs, small companies and multinational corporations have been jumping onto the Brazilian bandwagon over the last few years.

The Energy Revolution
Paolo Wrobel, of the Brazilian embassy, kicked off the proceedings by setting the scene for the energy revolution that is happening in Brazil. Huge revenues of oil and gas have been discovered off the coast of Brazil, in particular natural gas. This relatively clean and abundant resource allows for a number of opportunities for British companies to provide anything from services to machinery. On their biofuels strategy, the market has been boosted by the Environmental Protection Agency classifying ethanol from sugarcane, an area in which Brazil is world leader, as an “exceptional fuel”. This is due to the complete avoidance of “food vs fuel” and the fact that nothing is wasted. The leftover bagasse is used to produce electricity which powers the plant, even providing excess electricity for the grid. Most importantly sugarcane from ethanol is easily scalable and competes very favourably in financial terms with fossil fuels. A no-brainer it seems.

Up to the Challenge?
The final word at the Breakfast was left to Olivier Mace Head of Biofuel Strategy and Regulatory Affairs at BP. As a global fossil fuel giant, BP’s commitment to dedicating time and money to renewable energy has been impressive. They see two big challenges facing them: energy security (we will double our primary energy requirements by 2050) and climate change. Nothing new there. He discussed four criteria for biofuels which would allow them to compete with traditional fossil fuels in transport; cost, low carbon, sustainability and scalability. If biofuels could beat other types of fuels, including fossil fuels, in all four categories, it would be one of the only viable options for mass market use; the other of course being electric vehicles. His personal opinion (obviously) was that the most economically sensible option would be the combination of energy efficient internal combustion engines with the use of low carbon fuels. Working to that belief, BP Biofuels invested in Brazil’s sugarcane ethanol market in 2008 through acquiring 50% of an integrated facility, consisting of an ethanol production factory on a sugar cane estate. Brazil has attracted a number of other international investors similar to BP in the recent years, including Shell which has recently announced its intention to tap into a market which was once dominated by wealthy local families.

The conclusion that can be drawn from this may seem surprising. First generation biofuels may actually negate the need for second generation biofuels in much of the world. In fact many methods are well established, hence low-risk technologies, non-competitive with food crops and applicable on an industrial scale. We have to bear in mind however, that sadly the British climate and environment is not comparable to Brazil’s. We are in fact 35 times smaller and considerably wetter meaning the requirement to invest in second generation methods such as using municipal waste as a feedstock is crucial if we are to secure our own ongoing fuel supply.


Photo courtesy of ozjimbob on Flickr, through a Creative Commons License
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Monday, 29 March 2010

Five-minute Abchat: Simon Leathers, Daniel Stewart

This month, Abchurch spoke to Simon Leathers, a Director at investment bank Daniel Stewart & Company who challenges perceptions that Corporate Finance is a glamourous world of high-power deals and sharp suits.

What did you want to be when you grew up?
I’ve always wanted to do something in the City although I had no real idea what everyone did! I guess at some level I wanted to be the father figure in Mary Poppins!

How did you get into Corporate Finance?
After my ACA with PwC I moved into TMT corporate finance for four years, before moving to Evolution Beeson Gregory. Three and half years later I moved to Daniel Stewart and have now been here for just over two years.

Describe your role in ten words or less (if that’s possible!):
Advisory service provided where transaction/project management meets business and public market regulatory advice.

If I wasn’t talking to you now, what would you be doing?
I would be reviewing a draft circular.

What is the most interesting thing about your work?
The variety – no two situations or deals are ever the same and whilst the basic tools at your disposal remain the same you are always learning new ways to apply them.

Is there a common misconception about Corporate Finance?
Yes – the public perception is that we spend our time in a rather glamorous world full of short sharp negotiations with high powered deal makers – sadly this is very rarely the case and the vast majority of our work is detailed, time consuming and slow to unfold.

How has the industry changed over the last couple of years?
Corporate Finance is particularly prone to well documented market investment cycles – over the past few years the junior public markets have been hit particularly hard as these always represented the riskier end of the equity markets.

What developments do you expect to see in the next twelve months?
As market stability returns so too will investor appetite for risk and reward – fiscal policy will be a key driver and so I expect the market participants to be keen observers of the general election.

You can find out more about Daniel Stewart's Corporate Finance services here.

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Monday, 22 March 2010

base 2010 (business and sustainable environment)

base 2010, the event where business meets sustainability, was held in the Excel centre on 16-17 March this year. The run up promotion to the event, which promised a plethora of prominent speakers, seemed too good to be true however the final turn out did not disappoint. Few conferences have managed to gather together such an influential list, with attendees from the government, NGO’s, advisory bodies, the FTSE 100 and leading national media. In fact, it often seemed, perhaps due to the size of the venue, that there were even more renowned figures present than delegates themselves.

Given the event’s proximity to the national elections, the Q&A sessions and keynotes were dominated by MP’s and government advisers, not wanting to miss a key opportunity to plug their respective “red-green” and “blue-green” agendas and relevant party’s commitment to the cause. The resulting outcome of the successive speeches by Rt. Hon. Hilary Benn MP (Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) and Nick Herbert MP (Shadow Secretary) was strangely cohesive, which both parties pointing out the importance of sustainability on the corporate and social agenda after the financial turmoil of the last two years. Both speakers chose to focus much of their content on the issues of waste and landfill, highlighting the fact that waste is an opportunity, not a cost and stating their aims to make landfill sites obsolete. Benn pointed to the successes of the Landfill directive in encouraging new technologies which are highlighting the upside down way in which we talk about waste. Herbert couldn’t resist having a dig at the Labour Government’s lack of ambition when it comes to setting poignant targets, in particular for landfill tax, but while he agreed that business certainly needs a fiscal and regulatory strategy which would allow them to plan ahead, we must be careful to recognise that the overall regulatory burden on companies is too high.

There were a couple of surprises to this green-off, however, with Benn acknowledging the difficult environment for innovative high-risk technologies to attract investment and asking the conference “how can the government help with this problem?” Given that he carried on talking I can only assume that this was a rhetorical question, however, he demonstrated awareness of a key issue holding back the supposedly burgeoning cleantech world and perhaps even willingness for the government to consider a solution. Herbert, although less impressive and perhaps less rounded as a key political figure, also made some good points, stating that “natural resources are no more finite than the fiscal resources of the Treasury” and that the UK “makes a mistake of seeing the sustainability agenda as a burden.” Further to this he pointed out a solid sustainability strategy would actually help to uncover inefficiencies in our businesses as well as our economy as a whole, allowing continuing growth without long term commitment to the path of consumerism that we have trodden for so many years.

Carrot or Stick?
The key differences in messages really showed when discussing regulation. The Labour party remains committed to forcing sustainability on business through establishing a fiscal and regulatory regime which will punish avoiders. The Tory mentality was far more interested in working the carrot approach, relying on societal buy-in, which would essentially amount to a smarter form of procurement, encouraging community empowerment and private sector investment in new technologies, hence reducing the cost to the public sector and investing and encouraging through non-regulatory means. Micro-management or macro-management? Ensuring sustainability rather than encouraging sustainability? The vote is yours!

“We must work together”
Another highlight of the event was the Q&A session with Rt. Hon. Ed Miliband MP, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change. In his brief address before the grilling started, he attempted to salvage Copenhagen’s reputation, labelling the conference as a big step forward involving 80% of the worlds emissions producers, compared to Kyoto’s 45%. The importance of an attitudinal change was crucial to his agenda, encouraging people to talk about opportunities arising rather than dangers to be avoided and removing climate-change from the environmental box, instead making it about opportunity. As the world leader in the generation of offshore wind (since overtaking Denmark), the UK, Miliband promised, is in a great position to take advantage of this transition. “We must work together” he enthused about the public-private partnership. Kate Silverton, who appears to be enjoying a whole host of extra-curricular events, encouraged questions from the crowd which flew with the speed and kindness of machine gun fire. Topics covered included the lack of ambition with regards to the Feed-in Tariff, the skills shortage to embrace this new transition, the damage done by Climategate, Miliband’s thoughts on carbon offsetting (positive FYI), the controversial fairytale adverts on TV, party coalition on green issues (nuclear energy seemingly being the elephant) and what can be done to reconcile the demands of climate change with the short-termism requirements and attitude of the City. All credit due, Miliband handled the questions impressively, never breaking sweat or coming unstuck. Although, it has to be said he moved exceptionally quickly towards the exit at the conclusion.

The timetable of the event was so crammed with goodies, that planning was essential and sadly many, no doubt, highly informative lectures and discussions were impossible to attend. I did, however, attend one other top hit; Question Time with Peter Madden, chief executive of Forum for the Future, Philip Green, CEO of United Utilities, Richard Reid, the London Chairman of KPMG and Professor William Pope, representing England’s RDAs. This impressive panel commented on the relationship between sustainability and economic development, producing some interesting insights before answering questions on Britain’s broken society, institutional investment mindset and how the big companies were reconciling sustainable strategy with corporate strategy.

For me, the most interesting theme of the event was the challenge of aligning shareholder and stakeholder interests. It has been known for CEO’s to be sacked for not having their shareholder’s best interests in mind following the announcement of a new CSR strategy. This links in with the short-termism of the City and the never-failing requirement for rapid growth and immediate prosperity. Society has not kept up with the rapid growth of the last decades and adjustment is required. The financial markets have abruptly and painfully adjusted themselves, however social change is moving more slowly. Too slowly. Sustainability does not have to be about dying polar bears and palm trees in Scotland; it can be about opportunity and putting in place a foundation for a new and reliable future. If we do not move quickly we will miss out on the wave of opportunities rising. Those who lag behind do so at their own peril, whichever political party ends up in the driving seat.


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Friday, 12 March 2010

PLC Awards 2010

The PLC Awards 2010 defied the economic downturn with a glittering demonstration of City success stories. It was attended by over a thousand high-flying CEOs, investment bankers, fund managers, City advisors and of course, the finest of London’s financial PRs – including several Abchaps – who gathered in the Great Room of the fantastic Grosvenor Hotel on Park Lane on the evening of the 11th March.

The three course meal and flowing wine created a tough environment for the awards presenter, news reader Kate Silverton, who gallantly attempted – albeit with limited success! – to maintain control over the upbeat crowd. Britvic, Weatherspoon and Mothercare were amongst the prestigious winners of the evening and the joviality, boosted by the unstoppable one-liners from comedian Milton Jones, continued into the early hours of the morning as the gathering progressed to the bar.

Abchurch hosted a table and was joined by clients and journalists as well as a sterling group of financial services representatives including analysts & financiers. In particular, we were pleased to have the BBC’s Business Reporter Joe Lynam (@jblynam) on our table – we hope he found it more of a success than his recent conversation with Lloyds’ Eric Daniels! The conversation flowed more freely than the wine throughout the evening though it did mean that memories were blurred by the next morning!

Thank you to the excellent organisers and guests and we look forward to seeing you at the awards next year!


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Monday, 1 March 2010

Five-minute Abchat: Quincy Allan, Abchurch

Abchurch's newest Account Executive, Quincy Allan (complete with alice band and affirmations that Quincy is indeed his real name) is the first of the Abchaps to shed a little more light on the world of financial PR...

What did you want to be when you grew up?
I was always used in an avocatory capacity during my younger years to help settle disputes between friends. Coupled with the fact that my Mum is a lawyer I guess I was pigeonholed into becoming a barrister. I threw a spanner in the works when I decided geology was more my thing, less reading…

How did you get into financial PR?
I had interned at Abchurch about 18 months ago, just after a move back from Singapore where I had been working for an oil and gas consultancy. Up until then I had little idea about the function of Financial PR in the City, and how my oil and gas background could be applied to the industry. I loved my time at Abchurch, learnt a lot, and enjoyed working with a great team. When the chance to join permanently arose, I jumped at the chance.

Describe your role in ten words or less (if that’s possible!):
As an Account Executive, I am responsible for…. Not possible.

If I wasn’t talking to you now, what would you be doing?
I have a couple of update reports I need to finish and send out to clients, as well as a few pitches that need my magic touch.

What is the most interesting thing about your work?
Variety – I get to deal with a wide array of people and businesses everyday, from journalists to fund managers and Chief Executives to sell side analysts. But I especially like listening to smaller, really innovative companies that want to make it in the big time. Makes me feel like a baby “dragon” when they explain their companies and big ideas to us.

Is there a common misconception about PR?
Myth: PR Professionals make up news or distort the truth
Fact: PR Professionals communicate useful, factual news to a targeted audience

Companies that distort the truth will find it difficult to regain public trust once they are “outed”, and their bottom lines can suffer. When working with the media, PR practitioners promote story angles that provide a benefit to their clients’ target markets and the news audience. PR professionals are trained to identify newsworthy opportunities for different types of media outlets and news formats.

How has the industry changed over the last couple of years?
The industry is getting more up to date. With major advancements in social media, blogging, and companies more than ever trying their hands at “tweeting”, it has created a whole new scope for a company to reach its target audience. PRs are experts at managing organisations' reputations, and now more importantly, communication between an organisation and its public. Social media should not just be seen as 'a few tweets' because a damaging message can spread virally in minutes and could potentially undermine all key messages. PRs should now be looking at building a rapport with the public, as we are moving towards a culture where it is the individual who has the sway.

What developments do you expect to see in the next twelve months?
Structural changes in the media, and the challenges of Generation Y - who increasingly run their lives via the internet - and cost pressures that will force publishers and broadcasters to accelerate their online plans. It is here where organisations of all types are crying out for skills and advice from PR agencies.

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Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Abchurch leads the environmental charge!

The Abchaps were delighted that our first sector event in our new offices, on the theme of the environmental economy, was a roaring success.

Aided by English bubbles and locally-sourced canapés, the evening saw a sprinkle of invaluable insights, a dose of breaking news, the birth of strategic partnerships and a large measure of general joviality.

Abchurch’s 85 guests, from cleantech companies, media, regulatory, NGO and city advisory backgrounds, arrived from 6pm and immediately began making the most of the high-level networking opportunities available. After supplying the crowd with top-quality British food and drink, Julian Bosdet, the CEO of Abchurch Communications, opened the event with a welcoming message and introduced the high profile speakers to the gathering.

Jock Whittlesey, Environment Counselor to the U.S. Embassy, kicked off the session with his thought-provoking comments on the role of the US in promoting the clean technology cause and the strength and continuing importance of the “special relationship”.

The baton was picked up by Stephen Hammond, the Shadow Transport Minister and Wimbledon MP, who spoke about the Conservative belief in the crucial importance of public transport in helping the UK to lead the environmental revolution. He also highlighted Tory ambitions to facilitate the progression of technology in the UK.

Following on from these influential figures, Claire Dorrian of the London Stock Exchange aptly pointed out that she was in fact returning to her old office! Her invaluable insights both reflected on the impact of the Obama regime and looked forward to what the future may hold in the UK, including the importance of fiscal incentives for companies to reduce their environmental impact.

Tamsin Omond, of Climate Rush, completed the speeches with an impassioned plea for everyone to work together towards finding solutions.After requesting everyone’s business cards, she broke the news to the gathering that she would be running as a Member of Parliament this year. You heard it here first! Tamsin has subsequently revealed the mystery constituency as Hampstead & Kilburn, which she will transform into an “eco-haven”!

Abchurch continues to promote the clean technology revolution by bringing people and business together. The green team at Abchurch would like to thank all who attended and hope that you all gained something from the evening, even if it was a growing appreciation for fine English wines!


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Monday, 22 February 2010

Five-minute Abchat: Allan Dunlavy, Schillings

In the first of a regular series, Allan Dunlavy, Associate at Schillings, the leading law firm protecting the reputations of high-profile individuals, corporates and brands, talks to Abchurch about life on the legal side of reputation management.

What did you want to be when you grew up?
Well, obviously there were the usual childhood and teenage fantasies of playing professional sport but these quickly faded as my lack of talent became apparent! If I wasn't practising law and I hadn't just won the lottery, then I think I would have liked to have been an archaeologist. I have always enjoyed history and you get to see remote corners of the world, excavate long forgotten sites and use your brain.

How did you get into reputation management law?
I have always wanted to be a lawyer and always had an interest in media law. At my previous firm I received a few instructions, got some good results and really enjoyed the work. I decided to pursue my career in this area and chose to join Schillings because of its expertise and reputation in the area of defamation and privacy law.

Describe your role in ten words or less (if that’s possible!):
Wow, that’s a challenge for a lawyer! I will try and keep it brief! I assist clients, both corporate organisations and private individuals, to protect their reputations and private information when they come under threat from external forces such as the media or non-media sources such as those with an axe to grind, malicious insiders and business or political rivals.

So, if I wasn’t talking to you now, what would you be doing?
I would probably be taking instructions from a client in regards to a soon-to-be-published newspaper article likely breach their confidentiality or privacy, and then liaising with the client’s PR team and the newspaper’s legal department to prevent publication. Failing that, I would be running to court to obtain an injunction preventing publication on the basis that the article would breach our client’s confidentiality / privacy and would not be in the public interest.

What is the most interesting thing about your work?
Schillings has an enviable client list including some of the worlds highest profile businesses and entrepreneurs and, on the other side, high profile sports, music and entertainment personalities. The work that the Firm and I do for them varies enormously and is often international in nature incorporating the laws of several different jurisdictions simultaneously.

Is there a common misconception about the reputation management?
The first misconception is the word ‘management’ – I prefer to call it reputation protection as the work we do complements that of PRs. We work with PR as an extension of their team to provide the client with legal tools. Second, is the idea that reputation protection is about restricting freedom of speech. No doubt all of us, regardless of our professions, believe freedom of expression is a basic tenet for any democracy. However, it is essential that this is counter-balanced with a company’s and an individual’s right to a reputation and an expectation of privacy; which is also crucial. Without reputations how can people decide who to vote for, at which school to educate their children, which companies to purchase products from, or who to work for? Every day we rely upon the reputations of people and organisations to make good, informed decisions and therefore it is essential that commentary affecting this is fair and accurate. At Schillings we play a vital role in providing access to such fair and accurate commentary.

How has the industry changed over the last couple of years?
It has become much more International with the explosion of the Internet and social media. This has made it possible for anyone, anywhere to become a ‘publisher’ and has increased the volume of media sources exponentially, thus the threats not only come from a greater volume of sources but also from all over the world.

Countering this is the increased protection available for a company's confidential information and an individual's privacy. This has come about through case law, which Schillings has been pivotal in establishing, and as the result of European legislation. Information of this nature is now better protected and we have the tools to ensure that private and confidential information that should not be in the public domain remains confidential.

What developments do you expect to see in the next twelve months?
It’s an interesting and exciting time. The Firm is currently involved in the Government’s Department for Culture, Media and Sport select committee enquiry into “Press Standards, Privacy and Libel” concerning the self-regulation of the media, and we are part of the Ministry of Justice’s 2010 Working Group on Libel reforms. This area of law is constantly moving and as such it receives intense scrutiny from the media, not least because they are directly affected by it. It is unclear what the outcome will be but the Law will no doubt continue to adapt to deal with changes that arise.

Whilst it is important to permit publication of matters that are genuinely in the public interest, too often reputations are damaged, and privacy invaded, by the publication of stories that are untrue, or where the main aim is to satisfy salacious curiosity about the lives of the rich or famous irrespective of the distress caused to them, their families, and their friends. The aims of existing laws are sound, but in practice, they frequently fail to achieve a satisfactory balance between the public interest and truth and privacy. As a result, public figures, such as CEOs, may be unable to prevent themselves being defamed, or suffering invasions of privacy which are essentially unlawful. Schillings believe there are opportunities to continue to help clients protect their privacy and reputations without compromising the vital principle of freedom of expression and we have developed a ‘Blueprint for Change’ paper outlining three key changes as a way forward.

For more information about Schillings, please visit You can also download selected publications from Schillings here.

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Monday, 15 February 2010

IPREX Global Leaders Conference - Norway

Monique and I headed to Norway for the IPREX Global Leaders Conference with great expectations – for starters we would be staying in the same hotel where a certain Barack Obama and his First Missus stayed when he accepted his Nobel Peace Prize at the end of last year. We were also looking forward to our first Scandinavian (and possibly most northern) experience. But, what we were most looking forward to was meeting and working with our international IPREX partners on a range of topics from social media and communications innovations to brand awareness and reputation management. It was also great to relax into dinner in the evenings, often continuing our discussions from the day – and of course raising a glass (skål!!) to our amazingly well organised and kind hosts, Consilio. We heard some very insightful presentations from Claus Sonberg (SASs’ Executive Vice President of Corporate Communications and Investor Relations) and Peggy Brønn (Professor and author on the subject of reputation management) before breaking into groups to brainstorm 3 top ideas, their strategic importance in our industry and their potential impact on IPREX partner firms. Monique and I were happy to leave the well-run and thought provoking conference with our expectations fulfilled – Kathy Tunheim, IPREX President, summed up our progress in an email to the IPREX Executive Committee saying, “I can say without any hesitation that I was IMPRESSED by the caliber of the colleagues in Oslo, and I have every expectation that they can and will contribute to our collective success moving forward.”

Oh, and before the ink was dry on our mass brainstorming documents, we were off to the outskirts of Oslo for some tobogganing – and tobogganing in Norway is no joke. A 2km-long death defying run (ask Monique for the full details!) topped off a great weekend and even allowed us for a little more fresh air.

For those of you who don’t know we are a member of IPREX, one of the world’s largest public relations corporations, which is made up of leading, independent PR agencies in major markets worldwide. Its purpose is to offer public relations excellence to clients, wherever their businesses take them.

IPREX represents 68 independent agencies, in 30 countries, with 90 offices. We have over 1,170 professional staff and annual billings of over $125 million. Founded in 1983, IPREX has expanded internationally to meet the needs of its clients and partners. Partners are carefully screened before their application to join is considered.


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Thursday, 4 February 2010

Eastern promise

The Hong Kong stock market has fared well during the downturn compared to its Western counterparts, having come down by only 13% in 2009 from the previous year. This is compared with an average drop of 51% in the LSE during the same period, according to the Executive Vice President of the Hong Kong Exchanges & Clearing, the securities and futures exchange.

Hong Kong is a key international fundraising platform in Asia, and it has tightened its listing rules to ensure the quality of the companies coming onto the market. In fact, the HK rules are more onerous than UK listing rules in all instances.

Abchurch has extensive experience of this market, having carried out the financial communications surround the dual listing of its client RCG on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, which was featured as one of the case studies at the Forum.


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Friday, 22 January 2010

2010: A return to optimism on AIM

After a year in the doldrums, confidence is set to return to AIM in 2010, so says “AIM in Review 2010”, an annual survey put together by Growth Company Investor magazine. Several Abchaps attended the survey’s launch event, and came back feeling even more confident about this year.

The report interviewed CEOs, private investors, fund managers, and brokers and nomads. It has uncovered a tremendous amount of optimism, and notes that AIM is attractive for its ability to raise funds for SMEs and entrepreneurs.

Amongst the CEOs surveyed, 85% believe AIM will make gains during 2010, and 82% trust that they will be able to raise funds if they need to. Amongst retail investors survey, 67% expect further gains for AIM this year, and 76% believe AIM companies offer good value.

At Abchurch we have strong faith in AIM and London’s quoted market. Since our inception in 2004, we have advised on 67 successful IPOs. Indeed, in recent months we have started to see an increase in activity and potential deal flow – which is all around good news for the City.

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Thursday, 21 January 2010

A saucy campaign

As we move through winter and the bitter cold begins to recede, so begins the season for countries across the globe to up their PR efforts to entice consumers as they start thinking about summer holidays. But TV commercials and posters (Ar-oooh-ba?) showing pristine beaches and unique sights may no longer be enough to capture the imagination of the public and tourism boards need to start thinking outside the suitcase.

The ‘Best job in the world’ campaign (won by Brit Ben Southall) put the relatively unknown Hamilton Island in Australia firmly on the map in May last year when they offered an intrepid traveller the job of Caretaker in return for a bit of blogging. It was excellent publicity but, with our new client China Food Company now on board and a rapidly dwindling stock of pistachios in the kitchen, our minds have turned to snacking. How appropriate then, to discover that Italy is getting in on the publicity act with its own campaign against bad Bolognese.

The signature Italian dish is a firm favourite in homes, schools and restaurants everywhere, but chefs from the Eden Hotel in Rome are on a mission to bring it back to its roots. For a start, did you know Bolognese shouldn’t even be served with spaghetti? Featured on the BBC, tourists were asked what should go into spag bol (which should really be renamed tag bol) but none of them managed to get it right – who would have guessed it should contain a glass of milk? Perhaps a jaunt to Italy for a cookery course or simply to sample the national dish cooked in the traditional way is the answer? Although ostensibly independent from the Italian Tourist Board, no doubt the chefs from the Eden Hotel will be thanked for this obscure little piece of pasta publicity.

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