Friday, 22 March 2013

Abchat Weekly Wrap Up: A Gentlemen’s Agreement

A junior Evening Standard journalist was suspended this week following the revelation that he tweeted market sensitive details, a picture of the newspaper's embargoed front page detailing the 2013 Budget, moments before George Osborne addressed the House Commons with the Budget 2013. The breach of embargo was considered especially serious as it revealed the decision to downgrade Britain’s growth forecast for 2013 to 0.6% - information that could have caused huge disruption in the City. This led to the paper’s political editor, Joe Murphy and the editor, Sarah Sands apologising profusely to the House of Commons, the Speaker and the Chancellor. The Treasury is now anticipated to change its arrangements for pre-briefing the media before the Budget, with the Standard expected to lose its privilege, following a review of pro-active pre-releasing of Budget information which is under an embargo.

One might ask why the Government has historically approached an essentially local newspaper with the Budget under embargo. The answer is simple, the Evening Standard presents the City’s first impression of the announcement before the nationals give their opinions the following day. Today with the increase in digital media activity, you could argue the Standard is getting less important for communicating that ‘first view’ however copies of the Evening Standard will appear on London newsdesks and in broadcast rooms within an hour of the Chancellor’s speech. The influence the Standard can have on other journalists is significant, and arguably one of the Government’s most important tools for spinning and communicating the story they want to be published. This is why the understanding between the Government and the Standard has existed for some time. The anticipated termination of the agreement between the Government and the Standard begs the question will the Government look for another publication to pre-brief with its next Budget or Autumn Statement? It is advisable the Government does seek another publication as it will not want to be at the mercy of broadcasters and nationals without any prior influence.

Former Chancellor of the Exchequer, Ken Clarke, was the last Chancellor who kept details of the Budget completely secret until the speech. Gordon Brown, who was King of Spin Tony Blair’s Chancellor, re-wrote the Treasury rule book about the pre-briefing of the Budget, leading to calls from the Tory party that Labour had engaged in the “institutional leaking of Treasury Announcements”. Gordon Brown’s actions set a precedent for a change in the relationship between politicians and journalists, but what it did more was highlight how highly the Government should regard PR. Speaking with journalists under an embargo is a great method for PRs to communicate a story to a journalist. By the very nature of an embargo you are discussing a potentially price sensitive or other time sensitive topic, so there is nearly always an added feeling of importance. However, an embargo is more like a “gentlemen’s agreement” than a contract so trust between PR/ client and the journalist is paramount.

Did the young Evening Standard journalist know what he was doing by breaking the latest embargo? Was he betraying the trust of the Government, and has he damaged the relationship permanently, or at least until we have a change of Government which will happen sooner or later? His editors Joe Murphy and Sarah Sands did their most to salvage the relationship by suspending the youngster however the trust between the Government and the paper has probably been indefinitely damaged. The Government is at fault too though, as an embargo only relies on trust and is not legally binding. This is why when we as PRs approach a journalist under embargo, we are taking on a certain amount of risk, and what the Government has been doing is no different.

BuzzFeed’s VP of Agency Strategy and Industry Development, Jonathan Perleman, gave our team insight on the business section they are creating, ahead of their UK launch. This is going to transform content creation making it more shareable, as it has already been doing with its Political and Entertainment verticals.

Our Life Sciences team hosted an excellent Market Lunch this week covering the ethics of ageing and dealing with neurodegenerative diseases.

Bozzy attended Social Stock Exchange’s Private Introduction.

Our Leeds Abchaps attended WH Ireland’s drinks party in Manchester.

Klout” – metric of social influence.

The V&A’s much anticipated “David Bowie is” opens tonight, exploring his musical innovation and fashion and cultural influence.

Tonight the Clerkenwell Kitchen Supper Club’s returns with a Wild March Feast of five courses, featuring wild boar.

Wandsworth Common’s 5th annual beer festival opens on Wednesday at Le Goithique.

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The media’s reaction to Budget 2013

After George Osborne’s politically disastrous ‘omnishambles’ of a budget last year, did he manage to redeem himself this week? It was never going to be a particularly radical budget because, one, he has no money to spend, and two, he told Tory MPs recently "Look, I tried radicalism in last year’s Budget, and I had blowback for it. So I’d take quite some persuading to do something radical this time." Analysis of the budget so far has not found anything particularly controversial. In fact, probably the most contentious aspect was that the Evening Standard broke the embargo on many announcements by tweeting its front page before the Osborne even stood up. The Labour frontbench all had photocopies of the paper while the Chancellor was speaking much to his annoyance.

The relationship between the media and government is particularly tense at the moment, given the measures to regulate the press following the Leveson Inquiry, brokered by the three main parties.

Most of the media front pages were positive, and focused on the ‘Help to Buy’ property scheme, a policy influenced from Thatcher’s ‘Right to Buy’ scheme. The right-wing papers saw the potential to address the social mobility of many people looking to buy a house, while the business press worried over the Chancellor creating another housing bubble with risky mortgages backed by the government – sound familiar anyone? However the Sun’s response has been particularly interesting. Throughout March it has been campaigning vigorously to ‘scrap the beer tax’ – essentially end the beer duty escalator. On the day of the budget they appeared to be happy, online at least, that the escalator had been scrapped. But if Osborne was hoping this was a budget that would appeal to Sun readers he will not be very happy with yesterday’s front page. Not one positive announcement is mentioned. It even mentions alcohol, but only the tax rises on wine and spirits and not the beer tax cut. It is hard-hitting to say the least and was a way for the paper to vent their frustration over members of the press not being allowed to attend the regulation talks when representatives of the pro-regulation Hacked Off campaign were present. The Sun, being Britain’s most popular paper, is very influential. This front page was brutal.

While not all the coverage was positive – particularly in The Sun – my guess is Osborne is probably glad not to be the story this time round.

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Tuesday, 19 March 2013

National Science and Engineering Week: Britain’s growing Tech Sector

This week is National Science and Engineering Week, the UK’s widest grassroots celebration of all things science and engineering. The theme this year is Invention and Discovery, a theme particularly relevant to Britain, given our great history of discovery and invention. However, recently it feels as if we have been falling behind countries such as Germany, which seems to make everything from washing machines to cars, with its multinational corporations.

The problem we have is that in recent years of the work of engineers has not gained as much respect as it has done historically. In Germany, the profession of engineering is highly respected and perceived as an aspirational career, with engineers achieving the same prestige as doctors. I share the view with James Dyson that this is not the case in Britain. Dyson believes the best time to foster the potential of an engineer is at childhood and that continuing to study mathematics beyond GCSE level is key. 90% of German students continue with maths after 16, compared to Britain where we have the lowest levels of post-16 maths study in the developed economies. A week to celebrate science and engineering is incredibly important to help generate excitement for scientific professions and guide young people to make important subject decisions for their future.

Growing Technology Sector

Google Campus
Whilst we may not currently be as pioneering at mechanical engineering as we once were, according to Matt Cowan of WIRED, the tech sector in London is a new world with talent, ambition and global success – and he thinks it’s about to explode. The biggest internet companies have recently started investing in London. Facebook has just opened its first engineering office outside the US, in Covent Garden. Google sees the potential of Britain’s tech start-ups and last year set up Campus, a seven-story building right next to ‘silicon roundabout’ that provides workspaces, free wifi and mentorship opportunities to fast-growing small businesses. No matter what people say about Google’s UK tax arrangements, it is certainly contributing directly to London’s tech community. There are other government initiatives helping this sector to boom, including the introduction of an ‘entrepreneur’s visa’, and tax breaks for early investors through initiatives such as the Enterprise Investment Scheme.

Taxing Growth

There is further to go before we feel the full benefits of this growing industry, and we need to nurture it. According to Robin Klein, venture partner at Index Ventures, at least 20-30 companies (e.g. Wonga, JustEat, Zoopla) are ready to IPO but their growth is being hampered by taxes. Index Ventures, along with the CBI, TechCity, NESTA and the City of London are calling for the abolition of stamp duty on investments in the AIM market as a straightforward way to encourage more capital into the technology sector. The London Stock Exchange is also arguing for the tax not to be applied to its new High-Growth Segment when it launches later this month. Waiving the tax would promote growth for minimal cost considering the duty on AIM shares accounts for only 3% of total stamp duty revenue. This is something George Osborne could easily announce in the budget tomorrow. It would not only garner praise from the above mentioned institutions, but also contribute to the growth that all, including the chancellor, so crave.

Current State of British Engineering

Vietinbank, Hanoi.  Built
by Foster + Partners 2010
There are positive signs that maths is becoming increasingly popular post-GCSE. Last year around 80,000 students were entered into A-level maths and this number is predicted to rise to 100,000 this summer. You could argue that Britain is experiencing a golden age of engineering. We have just built a whole Olympic Park, on time and under budget, Crossrail is creating a new railway system right through the centre of London – a huge engineering fete in its own right. Similarly HS2 has been given the go-ahead and will create a new high speed railway line from London to Birmingham and further to Scotland in the future. Internationally, our architects are often the preferred choice for new buildings worldwide (just look at Foster + Partners’ project map), creating technically innovative buildings. We engineer and build Range Rovers in Solihull that are delivered all over the world; we make vacuum cleaners and probably the best hand dryers on the planet.
Last year the Raspberry Pi computer, a British invention, was launched to international acclaim. It is a tiny computer, costing just £25, designed to be a ‘breadboard’ for people wanting to learn about computer engineering. Google is giving 15,000 of them to British schools for free to help get young people familiar with computing. Hopefully with this host of great recent achievements Britain has had on the world stage and weeks like the National Science and Engineering Week we can encourage the next generation of Scientists and Engineers and continue these successes in the future.

Richard Sowler

Follow us on Twitter @AbchurchComms

Monday, 18 March 2013

Chávez: Venezuela's Voice

Chavez funeral casket: Source NDTV
On the 5th March Hugo Chávez, President of Venezuela, passed away after a 2 year battle with cancer. He was finally laid to rest over the weekend after a final memorial parade through Caracas.

The media-savvy President

No matter what you think of Chávez, I’m sure we can all agree that as a politician he was certainly unconventional. What other politician had a Sunday TV show that would start at 11am and only finish when he was done talking, which could take anywhere from four to eight hours. It was ‘real’ reality TV, with new policy announcements made off the cuff, insults towards western leaders and even once ordering a tank battalion to the boarder of Columbia during a time of tense relations between the two countries. All live on air, broadcasting to thousands of Venezuelans, many of whom saw it as compulsive weekend viewing. There were other oddities of Chavez. While undergoing chemotherapy treatment in Cuba he ran the government remotely using Twitter. This allowed him to stay in the news back home and his tweets regularly appeared on state television. Similarly, in 2011 when Venezuelans doubted the ability of the president to run in the 2012 election because of his fight with cancer, Chavez’s response was simple: star in an exercise video. “Healthy government, healthy body, healthy mind” were his exact words. I can’t even begin to imagine what would happen if David Cameron did any of these activities or the intense backlash there would be, but Chávez managed to get away with it and it cleverly showed him off as a man of the people.

Closer ‘ideological’ ties with China

You may be surprised to hear that the US is still Venezuela’s biggest trading partner, considering the soured relationship under the Chávez presidency. However this could change over the coming years as China’s economic and political influence grows throughout South America. Under Chávez, Venezuela ventured further afield from the US, its traditional trading partner, to China which it has become increasingly close to; they have even launched two satellites together. By 2010 they had signed 300 bilateral agreements including 80 major projects, including a contract to install 2000km of fibre optic cables and the construction of 1159km of railway infrastructure according to research by the University of Miami. For Chávez, the relationship was seen to be more ideologically significant than economically sound. These big projects were easily visible to the people of Venezuala and he could talk about how the Chinese were a growing international superpower that shared the same political views as himself. This resonated well with the people of Venezuela and aligned with his anti-west rhetoric.

The Future of Venezuela

Source: Guardian
There was no middle ground for opinions on Chávez – he was either a friend of the poor or a deranged dictator. The death of this autocratic leader leaves the future of the oil-rich nation in question. Currently Nicolas Maduro, Chávez’s hand picked successor, has been sworn in as the interim president. He has pledged loyalty to Chávez and the opposition has already accused him of using the funeral attended by hundreds of thousands to start his campaign for presidency. He is also carrying on the anti-American rhetoric of Chávez by making accusations that the US might have caused Chávez’s fatal cancer. Much of Venezuela’s future depends on who is elected on the 14th April. If Maduro wins the election, he has said his first foreign trip will be to China. The opposition also see increasing trade links with China as a good thing. While Maduro may not be as charismatic as Chávez, the very fact that he’s associated with him puts him in a favourable position. My bet is on Maduro winning the election and carrying on Chávez’s legacy. But probably not with the Sunday TV.

Richard Sowler

Follow us on Twitter @AbchurchComms

Friday, 15 March 2013

Abchat Weekly Wrap Up: A Digital Pope?

Who is the most powerful/ influential/ famous person in the world, Barack Obama? This is the answer that would be on the majority of people’s lips. Some would argue however that Argentinean Jorge Mario Bergoglio, aka Pope Francis I is really that person in question. Jorge’s powers are relatively new to him, having recently succeeded Pope Benedict XVI, however the influence as head of the Catholic Church is strong and has a very wide reach.

The build up and marketing of the Papal elections make the decision process an exciting time for both Catholics and non Catholics alike, from all corners of the globe. Millions of people across the globe tune in to the Vatican to await the outcome of the cardinal’s votes and tens of thousands even flock many miles to Rome to get a glimpse of the new pontiff. The result of quite a traditionally secret election process is communicated to the world by emitting smoke from the Sistine Chapel. Black smoke for no decision made yet and white smoke to tell the world God has a new representative on the earth! What a extraordinary way of communicating such an important news story!

The Vatican has taken to Twitter however, and could easily rival the traditional process of the smoke from the Sistine. The message in Latin, “Habemus Papam Franciscum,” i.e. "We have Pope Francis" from the official papal account @pontifex, was sent Wednesday evening, soon after the first wisps of white smoke curled out the chimney of the Sistine Chapel to signify a new pope had been found. Within minutes of the first Latin Pope being announced the news was on Twitter and retweeted millions on times, meaning the world really did know who their next Bishop of Rome was. The total number of tweets in regard to the new Pope reached over 7 million, with the US President even getting in on the action.

What will Francis I start using Twitter for? To conduct sermons and preach?

Our first seminar of the week was LSE: Investing in Growth, speech by the Rt Hon Justine Greening MP, Secretary of State for International Development, who informed us that Impact Investment is on March G8 agenda and that corporate governance is high on the DFID’s agenda. The positive turnout indicated a big increase in City interest in Impact Investment.

Bozzy attended the CBBC China Business Conference, featuring an opening video message from The Prime Minister and another from Chinese Ambassador to the UK H.E. Liu Xiaoming and other keynote speakers including the Rt Hon Ken Clarke, QC MP, and the event sponsors. Key themes included Chinese luxury consumer spending habits, a need for an increase in CSR awareness in the country and healthcare and infrastructure growth.

Our Leeds office co-hosted an IPO seminar this week with Pinsent Masons, Merchant Securities, Deloitte and the London Stock Exchange. Attending companies considering the IPO route were treated to helpful adviser presentations as well as one-to-one workshops to assist them on their journeys.

Our social media team attended the Farrer & Co. Professional Advisers Essential Guide to Privacy breakfast seminar, where we got some great insights into internet privacy.

Abchaps also attended the Peel Hunt NED Awards and the CIPR Corporate and Financial Group Committee meeting.

Abchaps hosted two market lunches this week, including a natural resources themed lunch.

Moves around the City are sparse this week, although Edison Investment Research, the international investment intelligence firm has brought in three new analysts to the London team. Andrew Mitchell will be covering Financial Services, Tom Grady will be covering Technology and Paul Hickman has been appointed supervisory analyst.

Tim Dolan has joined the financial markets division of law firm SJ Berwin. He joins from Pinsent Masons, where he was partner in its financial services regulatory team.

‘Lurker’ – someone who only reads and observes online discussions and social networking without participating or contributing…. Are you a lurker? Are you?!

If you fancy doing a bit of CSR with your Saturday, join other volunteers who are being asked by waterways charity Thames21 to help give the 5th annual River Thames a deep clean. Taking place on the Isle of Dogs; meeting point is Newcastle Drawdock from 9am until noon.

Today is the start of National Science and Engineering Week – there are plenty of events that you can get involved in.

The Robbie Boyd Band is performing at the Country to Country Festival this weekend at the O2 Arena. The festival is being headlined by Tim McGraw, Carrie Underwood and LeAnn Rimes.

Celebrate St Patrick’s Day on Sunday in true comic style at The Drunk Show in Marylebone – you’ll get two versions from stand-up comedians, first sober, then again pretty 'trolleyed', or indeed 'gazeboed'. Alternatively, go native and find your local Irish pub.

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Wednesday, 13 March 2013

You’re Hired!

Are apprenticeships a better way to get young people into work?

Source: Huffington Post 
This week is National Apprenticeship Week: a week dedicated to raising awareness of apprenticeships amongst would-be apprentices themselves as well as companies who are being encouraged to take an apprentice on. On another note, it has given the ever-game BoJo another opportunity to excel himself on the comedy photography front.

The new Normal?

During a recession, unemployment rates are expected to rise but according to a recent parliament briefing youth unemployment in the UK is a worryingly high 20.8%. Thankfully, our rates are slightly less concerning than some Eurozone countries such as Spain where youth unemployment hit 55% in January. Think about that for a second. More than half of 16 to 24 year olds in Spain have no job. It’s a frightening statistic for the country in the long term and really shows why governments should be finding workable solutions to get businesses recruiting again. The British government believes that apprenticeships are the answer and announced on Monday that it wants to make apprenticeships the norm for those students leaving school but not heading for university. Over half a million people began apprenticeships this year, a huge increase on last year’s number of just 280,.

University: not the be-all and end-all

Apprenticeships, as an alternative to university, have been discussed a lot recently. Soaring fees amidst accusations that many universities were offering ‘Mickey Mouse’ courses has led to young people considering a different path to employment. The drive toward apprenticeships is being spurred on by the government’s formal apprenticeship scheme offering incentives for businesses that take on apprentices.

However, the scheme has not been without criticism. Last year, Panorama found that nearly £250 million had been handed to private companies to train apprentices with little scrutiny of how it was being spent - some of these companies didn’t even have jobs to offer the people who signed up. There has also been concern that the complexity of the system may be putting employers off. However the government has acknowledged this and set out a plan to make the process simpler.

Ladder for London

In London our youth unemployment rate is 25%, slightly higher than the national statistic. The Evening Standard has been particularly proactive in promoting apprentices through its Ladder for London campaign. The good thing about the Ladder for London campaign is that the Evening Standard is working with a variety of sectors, not just manual labour jobs that apprenticeships have traditionally been associated with. Without this campaign I don’t think Metro Bank would have committed to taking on 150 apprentices. So far, 650 young people have been signed up through the campaign and this number will hopefully increase over Apprenticeship Week. The campaign got off to a good start and managed to achieve 100 apprentice placements in 100 days. We at Abchurch, named in the Top 100, are proud to be part of that accomplishment, having taken on an apprentice who has turned out to be incredibly helpful and is learning a lot about an industry you would traditionally struggle to get into without formal education. But we found out about the scheme through the Evening Standard Campaign. I’m sure there are many other businesses out there that have the potential to employ an apprentice or two but simply don’t know how. We need a much bigger media campaign which National Apprentice Week has started. National newspapers should run similar campaigns to the really successful Evening Standard one. Not only is it good publicity for the companies involved but it is also a socially responsible thing to do.

Richard Sowler

Follow us on Twitter @AbchurchComms

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Cash is King

This week we have a guest post from Oliver Hoffman, National Head of Corporate Finance at international accountancy and advisory firm Mazars and based in the Leeds office, UK. Oliver explains the surge in M&A activity he is seeing in his local market...

Oliver Hoffman,

Read any paper and you'll be convinced that the M&A market is in the doldrums. To some extent this is true. Bank lending to support acquisitions is much harder to obtain now than it was in the peak of 2007/8. Deals are therefore fewer and, as most corporate finance advisers will highlight, they are taking longer to cross the finish line.

But it is not all doom and gloom; the last two years have been the best ever for my team in Yorkshire and 2013 is set to be stronger still. Our mantra has been a simple one: 'follow the money'. When selling businesses, for example, it is not enough to look for a buyer with a strategic rationale for buying. Good intent simply doesn't get deals done. Buyers have to be sitting on cash or have easy access to it to make the purchase.

We vet buyers' financial wherewithal very carefully and this has paid dividends for our clients. Our deals have happened quickly as the buyers have not been beholden to third party credit committees which are unpredictable in nature and invariably lengthen the transaction cycle.

Has a good price taken a backseat when delivering a speedy deal for clients? In our experience, far from it. The benefit in talking to buyers that are both strategic and well funded is that they are usually prepared to pay well to get hold of an asset that takes their business forward.

International buyers fall squarely into this category. They have been the highest price bidder in around half of the sales we have handled in the last two years. There is an abundance of cash globally looking for an investment home and buyers see value in the UK market.

The M&A market has become increasingly international, a trend which we see continuing. Indeed, we are currently advising two Yorkshire based clients on sales to overseas buyers.

With regards to my outlook for the future, I am optimistic. Our pipeline has never been stronger.

Oliver Hoffman

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Friday, 8 March 2013

Abchat Weekly Wrap Up: The Trouble for Women

Today is International Women’s Day and the PR Machine is in overdrive. From the newspapers and radio to Twitter and Facebook and even office emails – today women are being told “we can do it!”. But, having perused the IWD website and seen the rather alarming ‘Discover BP’s feminine side’ advert (petroleum based make up products perhaps?!?!), we can’t help thinking that it doesn’t quite add up. Are we supposed to be encouraging women in the workplace? Discouraging domestic and other violence? ‘Bigging up’ successful women? Or ‘D’ – All of the Above? Celebrating women in general seems a bit vague.

Women’s positioning within the media is choppy at best. On one side we’re still being made to feel hard done by on salaries compared to our male counterparts, while on the other we are told since women have moved into public life, there have been huge improvements to businesses, government and further afield. Certainly getting more senior women into the Boardroom is proving tougher than expected, with only a marginal increase in women on the Boards of FTSE 100 companies compared to August 2012, according to Boardwatch. To meet Lord Davies’ target of 25% female Board members by 2015, 86 Board positions need to be filled by women in just two years in the FTSE 100, and 237 positions for the FTSE250.

A successful man is possible to stereotype: good job, comfortable life, perhaps a family. He probably doesn’t concern himself sewing on buttons, cleaning the bathtub or making sure school uniforms fit. A successful woman is harder to define. Is it a ball-busting career woman who doesn’t have time for a family? Is it one whose family and work lives are symbiotic, for example a ‘mommy blogger’ like Heather Armstrong aka Dooce? Or, is it a stay at home mother who has plenty of time (and patience) to play with her kids, bake cakes and is competent with a needle and thread?

Public figures like Gwyneth Paltrow and Kirsty Allsop promote the idea that the modern woman can have it all – a glamorous career, buzzing social life, happy family and a home-cooked supper on the table by 7pm. What they don’t always tell you, is where they hide the housekeeper and the nanny.

Combining the traditional home-maker role with modern empowerment in business and political terms puts a great deal of pressure on women, and the media is sending out the message that to be “successful”, we need to have it all. Anything less feels like a failure. So, on International Women’s Day rather than a general celebration of women, perhaps we should identify a couple of the successes in our own lives and celebrate those things we are doing well. The ironing can wait till tomorrow.

On Tuesday the FTSE 100 closed at its highest level since January 2008. The Dow also reached an all-time high of 14,285 during the day, closing slightly lower at 14,198. This suggests investors are regaining confidence in the world economies - specifically the signs of recovery in the US housing market in recent months and that big businesses are beginning to invest in capital spending and hiring more staff.

George Osborne failed in his attempts to stop a strict EU cap on banker’s bonuses. At a meeting with other EU finance ministers this week Osborne stood isolated in rejecting the proposals, which he believed unfairly targeted the City. Going forward this means bankers will only be able to receive a 1:1 ratio of bonus to salary, or 1:2 if two-thirds of shareholders agree. However Switzerland has also decided to curb executive pay after a referendum vote. This will curb some fears here that the City is becoming uncompetitive compared to other financial centres.

David Cameron announced this week that there would be no change in the government’s management of the economy, following suggestions by Business Secretary Vince Cable that the government could borrow more to kick-start growth. Cameron highlighted the creation of one million extra private sector jobs as a reason to keep the strategy but Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls said the UK could not afford “two more years of economic failure”.

Mark Carney, who becomes Governor of the Bank of England on July 1st, is set to be given more powers intended to kick-start the economy. The proposals, which will be outlined in the Chancellor’s budget statement on 20th March, will clarify how the government intends to use monetary policy to get the economy growing again. Mark Carney himself has favoured a debate on monetary framework and would like it to happen before he stars work, saying “I don’t think a prolonged uncertainty about framework is in anybody’s interests”.

Our Life Sciences team has been busy this week, attending One Nucleus BioWednesday’s London gathering and hosting a brilliant table at this year’s PLC Awards. Congratulations to all the winners!

Abchaps attended some great conferences, including BNY Mellon Investment Panel, where the Family Office group talked through asset allocation with a focus on private equity. Siguler Guff pointed out that private equity investment in China and Russia can yield well but a local presence is essential. We also attended Gorkana’s media briefing with Channel 5 News (whose two shows reach 900,000 – 1,000,000 viewers daily, the majority being over 50). Editor Geoff Hill and Programme Editor Laura Wilshaw discussed the importance of pitches being visually engaging, and how they can’t appear to promote products as they are monitored by Ofcom.

We also entertained our friends at Lawrence Graham over a creds swap this week.

Rob Morgan will be joining Charles Stanley next month, as pensions and investment analyst. Rob comes from Hargreaves Lansdown where he was head of VCT research.

Abchum John Collingridge, who covers the City at the Yorkshire Post will be moving to the Press Association toward the end of the month on the City desk.

Stuart Lane & Tim Metcalfe have left their senior positions at Northland Capital Partners to strengthen the senior management team of Zeus Capital as it continues its expansion.

Karen Kelly has left her position as corporate financier at XCap Securities to join the London Stock Exchange to grow the Order Book for Retail Bond (ORB) market amongst issuers, advisors &  investors as well as generally raising awareness of the product.

‘Internet Meme’ – an original and entertaining concept or idea that spreads virally online. The most notable recent example is of course the Harlem Shake…...

As part of Climate Change week, The Scoop at More London is putting on a free screening of No Impact Man tonight powered by 20 volunteers pedalling on bikes.

If you haven’t already sipped cocktails underneath The Queen of Hoxton’s rooftop WigWamBam, the next few weeks are your last chance – they’re also cooking up leg of lamb, pork loin, venison and wild boar sausages… and no horse burgers. The cosiest tipi in Shoreditch!

Following on from the great vibe of our Emerging Markets Party, we like the idea of Ballet Revolucion – a unique fusion of classical ballet and urban hip-hop. Cuban dancers will be performing the production at the Peacock Theatre until 23rd March.

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Climate Week: Innovating our way out of the problem

This week is Climate Week, Britain’s biggest environmental occasion of the year with half a million people attending 3,000 events nationwide. We at Abchurch have been playing our small part in the office by relying only on natural light this week (and we have plenty of it) – it’s quite therapeutic and I thoroughly recommend it, although with it getting dark around 5pm, you need to know when to give in!

Learning about the technology and innovation UK companies are coming up with to counter the climate change issue is one of the key things we can take away from Climate Week. On Monday, 14 companies and individuals received awards at the House of Commons for their work to tackle climate change over the past year. The innovative examples include Loowatt, a waterless lavatory system that uses anaerobic digestion to convert waste into biogas. Invented by a British company and based in Madagascar; there is a clear application for this product in parts of the world where lack of water is an issue, with an added benefit of generating power for the household. This type of innovation is essential to prevent the climate change fiasco that some people predict.

Another award winner was a documentary film called Chasing Ice, documenting a photographer’s effort to capture the effects of climate change by setting up 34 cameras across 16 glaciers in the Arctic. It really is worth a watch because apart from being visually spectacular, it was made by James Balog, a climate change sceptic until 2005 when he was sent to the Arctic for an assignment and saw for himself the extreme change in the glacial landscape since his previous visit. It also seems to have had a strong impact on viewers – an American fan of the famously right-wing and staunch global warming sceptic Bill O’Reilly says this film “has changed her life”.

Excess Meat Consumption

When it comes to concern about climate change, most people think close to home and of their own transport and energy efficiency. We do need to reduce our personal CO2 emissions, but I don’t think people realise the efficiency and inefficiency of some other products that we buy. Take meat production for example, beef is the least efficient, and pork is the most efficient. Did you know that in the USA 80% of the output from agricultural land is used to feed animals? 80% of corn, 90% of soy, 70% of wheat produced goes directly into the mouths of the animals that will go into our mouths. That’s not all: 50% of the water in America is used to irrigate the food that is fed to animals. This level of consumption is not sustainable in the long term, particularly considering the projected population increases. Research by Exeter University suggests that in order to become sustainable we need to reduce global meat consumption from 16.6% to 15% of the average daily calorie intake – about half of the average western diet.

Many organisations are promoting the concept of eating less meat - not no meat, just less. I think this is a much more workable solution of cutting down the consumption of meat per person. Most people would struggle to go fully vegetarian, so promoting eating less meat is more constructive and realistic. Meat Free Monday for example is a completely workable idea. If more people signed up to this sort of initiative we could quickly cut our demand for meat.

Reducing CO2 Emissions

There are signs that Europe is moving in the right direction in terms of cutting CO2 and making farming more efficient. The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), the system that subsidises farmers within the EU, is undergoing reforms to align itself with the Europe 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. This includes proposals to ‘green’ the direct payments to farms by offering farmers extra money to do green good deeds. Considering the size of the CAP budget (€58 billion in 2011), this is a serious amount of money. It would encourage farmers, for example, to buy items such as an anaerobic digester that would turn cow manure into methane which would be used to generate electricity. However, in true EU policymaker fashion, this is a slow process and the exact specifications of the reforms are still unknown.

Can we afford to change?

Personally, I’m an optimist when it comes to climate change and believe that we will innovate our way out of the problem. There will come a point when renewable ways of producing energy become cheaper than their non-renewable counterparts so economically it will make sense to make the change. Solar power in particular is improving at such a rate it will soon be able to compete with fossil fuels on a cost basis, according to Google co-founder Larry Page and futurist Ray Kurzweil.

So whilst Climate Week is drawing to a close, consider the true cost to the environment of everything you consume. You could even attend an event. And with that I’m off to make a cup of tea. No, scratch that. I’ll have a tap water.

Richard Sowler

Follow us on Twitter @AbchurchComms

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Horsemeat Scandal: The beginnings of a better food supply chain?

What’s your favourite horsemeat joke? Mine is “Went to the fridge to check my burgers, aaaaannndddd they're off!” There have been hundreds, with #horsepun still a popular hashtag weeks after the scandal first broke. It is heartening to see a little humour injected into the story because horsemeat isn’t actually dangerous - plenty of people around the world eat it, it’s just not mainstream in our culture. Some mischievous pubs such as the Lord Nelson in Southbank have even jumped on the public’s increased awareness of horsemeat by making a horse special burger so you can actually try a 100% horsemeat burger for yourself.

The problem, in terms of PR for the food industry, is that because of the consumer angle and the widespread nature of the problem affecting big brands, the coverage is unlikely to die down soon. It was first reported in January and it is still regularly a front page story on mainstream news outlets such as the BBC Online. Only last week horsemeat was found in Ikea meatballs, forcing the furniture giant to embarrassingly withdraw them from sale in 14 European countries and I’m sure that won’t be the last we hear of it. The problem is not necessarily the safety factor but the bigger issue of so many brands not knowing what is in the food they are selling.

The scandal is Europe-wide and not one that can be resolved overnight. A whole rethink of the food supply chain is needed and a debate should be had about the true cost of meat. Looking at the products involved, there is no doubt that intense price competition in certain sectors of the food industry is a major contributing factor to the fact many of us will have unknowingly eaten horse. The scandal is certain to make consumers think twice about buying cheap meat.

This brings us to British meat producers. The British farming industry has for a long time had to conform to some of the strictest animal welfare standards that are not applicable to most of the EU. This has left British farmers’ prices uncompetitive in the rest of the EU and has led to much of the meat sold in Britain being imported from abroad. However, it has made our product a premium one. In the light of recent supply chain issues (as well as a devalued pound) British exports could increase significantly.

Tesco, as the largest food retailer in the UK, has taken the brunt of much of the coverage. In some ways it has been a PR disaster considering only 3 out of 259 products actually contained any horse but Tesco has handled the situation sympathetically. It clearly and very quickly apologised to its customers for its mistakes by taking out full page adverts in the national press, setting up a new food website, speaking at the National Farmers Union (NFU) conference last week and pledging to buy meat from closer to home. This is a move obviously welcomed by the farmers in attendance at the conference who have been pushing British retailers to give greater support to UK farmers for decades. NFU President, Peter Kendall welcomed the news commenting “British farmers [invest] a lot of time, effort and heartache to produce high-quality beef and need to be supported by retailers”.

There are PR opportunities for companies that have forged close links with their suppliers and for that reason have created a genuine product that they can be sure is contaminate-free. For example McDonalds is “very confident” its burgers are free of horsemeat and believes this is because of its close links with its farmers. McDonalds has shown it is possible to sell 100% beef at low prices because of good, sustainable working relationships. Simlarly Waitrose, which never buys on the open market, reported last week via an email to customers that none of its tests have shown any horse contamination. The shortening of the supply chain and building of relationships seems to be the answer to a contamination-free product, as well ensuring a more consistent price of meat for buyers and greater piece of mind for the farmer.

The supermarkets and food processors involved really only have themselves to blame for the whole incident. This story has brought to light what farmers have been saying for a long time. By constantly treating farmers unfairly, and putting pressure on them to produce meat as cheaply as possible, an incident like this was bound to happen at some point. It is now up to the large conglomerates which hold the power in the food industry to make the changes required to restore public confidence in their products. Working more closely with farmers would be a good start. To ensure a contaminate-free product in the future may mean higher prices of meat in the long term, but in terms of paying a fair price for quality product, I believe public opinion is moving in that direction.

Richard Sowler

Follow us on Twitter @AbchurchComms

Friday, 1 March 2013

Abchat Weekly Wrap Up: Is Remote Working?

After the farcical way UBS staff were notified of redundancies last year, the issue of internal communications has once again come to light this week, this time with Yahoo! Chief Marissa Meyer is the centre of debate following a leaked memo to staff. While companies spend plenty of time defining their external communications strategy, one starts to wonder what thought is given to communicating with their own staff, especially given that major blunders have a habit of making their way into the press from disgruntled employees.

Ostensibly to boost the innovation and creativity that floundering Yahoo! so desperately needs, its awkwardly phrased memo which told staff that in order to “become the absolute best place to work,” working from home will no longer be an option, has been widely criticised. Far from inspiring its team to join toward a common goal and drive the company forward, the memo was full of corporate jargon, making a shockingly poor effort to sell the benefits of being in the office with insincere and sickly sweet language. It basically said come in, or get out. Surely the Comms bods at Yahoo! should have considered that the memo had a good chance of being leaked, and therefore paid a bit more attention to the tone and content. Whatever the drivers behind a change in corporate policy, it is vital to consider the wider perception and its impact on the corporate image.

Yahoo! needs innovation to breathe new life into it. Innovation comes from people but the message behind the memo is a lack of confidence and trust in Yahoo!’s people. In a response to the media furore, Yahoo! said ‘We don’t discuss internal matters’. It’s a bit late for that.

Extreme changes from new management to appease shareholders are to be expected, and having joined Yahoo! less than nine months ago, Meyer needs to make her mark. But what does this say about the company, that a major technology and internet giant can’t find a way to collaborate more effectively online?

Lloyds Bank losses decreased to £570m in 2012. This is quite a substantial decrease from the staggering £3.5bn from the previous year.

RBS is looking to return to the private sector according to head honcho, Stephen Hester, as their losses hit £5bn. Despite this significant loss the bank was able to pay out £607m in bonuses, and £215m of which went to investment bankers – the division behind the Libor scandal.

Sports Direct have bought fledging fashion chain, Republic. Republic went into administration in February. Administrators Ernst & Young have welcomed Mike Ashley’s approach saying this will save over 2,000 jobs.

The British Airways merger with Iberia has not lived up to what many hoped it would be. Willie Walsh, CEO of the International Airlines Group said the Spanish economy was to blame, and that BA had underestimated how much the Spanish economy would plummet. Ibiera’s operating loss of €351m meant BA’s operating profit of €347m was completely wiped out.

Abchaps hosted our first Emerging Markets Party, themed by a brilliant samba band, a delicious range of canapés and drinks from many emerging markets. The guest list was brilliant and festivities continued into the small hours.

Our Life Sciences team joined the One Nucleus event in Cambridge which featured a presentation from new £50m life science Rockspring Ventures fund.

Abchaps also attended the brilliant finncap quarterly drinks.

Canaccord Genuity announced it has incorporated its UK and European advisory business – Canaccord Genuity Hawkpoint – into its global investment practice under the Canaccord Genuity brand.

Will Corkill has joined Edison Investment Research as managing director and head of its Asia-Pacific region bringing extensive experience in research, sales and fund management

Investment bank Liberum Capital has announced the appointment of Peter Atherton as head of its utilities equity research team. Peter was previously head of the European utility research team at Citibank.

Eversheds has brought in Greg Hammond as partner responsible for building its energy and corporate capabilities

'MINTs' - Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey

Nice Spread are putting on 'Claustrophobia' Art & Music Event this Saturday in Peckham – there will be art and talks during the day, with some great bands and DJs taking over the evening shift.

The Breakfast Club in Hoxton are hosting “March Movies” every Tuesday and Wednesday through the month. Tickets are £7 and include wine, beer and popcorn.

Wine lovers rejoice! Le Café Anglais in Bayswater are hosting a unique event “Whose Wine is it Anyway” once a month from Monday – June. Five wines will be paired with complimentary starters over a knockout wine quiz. Dinner is optional and is BYOB with no corkage charge.

Feast Festival is back on Thursday for a long weekend, this time at the Tobacco Docks in Wapping. Hix Fish Dog, Beagle and Dishoom are on the menu, as is the new Rita’s Supper Club and plenty of live music to tantalise both the ears and taste buds.

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