Friday, 8 November 2013

Weekly Wrap Up: Top PR-marks post crisis

This week George Weston, CEO of Associated British Foods, proudly reported that the sales of one of its most famous subsidiaries, Primark, had grown by 22% in the year to 14 September. Impressive figures for any company, let alone one that has had a very public scandal this year.

This particular scandal took place a little further afield, in Bangladesh. On 24 April, 1,131 people tragically lost their lives in the collapse of an eight story garment factory, that manufactures Primark apparel.

The incident stirred local and global furor, making both initial headlines and then continued to receive substantial media attention. It was considered by many as the worst clothing industry crisis for years.

How were Primark sales affected in the aftermath of this crisis? 13 new stores are planned before Christmas and customers are still flooding through the doors. A significant portion of this resilience was deemed to be down to strategic and well-executed PR.

Primark quickly publicised their hands-on response to the crisis; sound-bites were generated; on-the-ground insights were circulated alongside stories of heroic recovery and personal triumph. More importantly, Primark choose not to communicate a defensive message and deny association to the factory, unlike members of their peer group, Mango and Benetton. Instead, they acknowledged that their products were manufactured in the building, and even agreed to pay compensation.

Both Primark’s response and the communication of it were regarded favourably. This has been reiterated by the recently published strong financial results, demonstrating the power of effective crisis communications.

Primark’s results have however reignited the argument as to whether companies who choose the cheap option of manufacturing in the developing world, are doing so irresponsibly. Whether this cynicism has the capacity to filter down to affect consumer behaviour is yet to be seen, but the sustainability of Primark’s profits is, at a minimum, called into question. How many times can PRs save face with effective crisis communications until stakeholders get fed up and stop buying?

If PRs can encourage and then communicate the ethically sound operations of their clients, long term profitability will ultimately come from honesty and transparency. There won't be anything scandalous about it.

Abchaps attended some brilliant events this week, including Allenby Capital's corporate rugby at Twickenham, where England ruled Britannia, and an event hosted by Olswang and the Malaysia Multimedia Development Corporation about business development in Asia.

We also treated some city friends to corporate hospitality at the Chelsea v Shalke 04 match on Wednesday, where the blues won 3-0. And our graduate Abchaps also underwent some excellent training at Finance Talking this week, learning finance essentials for communicators.

Our friends over at Crowe Clark Whitehill have strengthened their Midlands office with the appointment of Rob Gunn as a partner, specialising in corporate tax. Imilarly, Investec Wealth & Investment bolsters its regional office expertise in their Glasgow office with new investment directors David Kerr and Lisa Brown of Barclays.

Finally Ruth Crowell leaves law firm Norton Rose to become the Chief Executive of the trade association London Bullion Market Association on 1 January 2014.

Central London is being closed off this Saturday for the 2013 Lord Mayor’s Show. Starting at 8:30am, the Lord Mayor boards QRB Gloriana and along with a spectacular Flotilla makes his way from Westminster to Tower Bridge. Then at 11am, Mansion House, the 3.5 mile modern procession commences, wrapping with an elaborate Fireworks display at 5pm at Waterloo, officially confirming the beginning of the new mayoral year.

It’s officially Christmas folks – Regent Street, Covent Garden and Duke of York Square are illuminating their streets with snowflakes, reindeer and all things sparkly this Saturday night. Festive fireworks, carols and Christmas cheer will be supplied by top artists such as Leona Lewis, Eliza Doolittle and Emma Bunton.

For something a little less seasonal, head down to the Truman Brewery for some culinary art education at the 4th annual Experimental Food Society Spectacular. Displays by Britain’s most talented and pioneering gourmet artists will create awe-inspring assemblages of butter sculptors, food furturologists and experimental confectioners.

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Friday, 1 November 2013

Weekly Wrap Up: The Royal Charter won’t silence the whispers

The British media were in uproar this week after Wednesday’s announcement that an independent cross-party Royal Charter for press regulation had been approved.

British press publishers had been pushing for High Court judges to place an injunction that would have stopped ministers seeking approval for this new charter. The injunction was refused, the charter approved, and the path paved for the soon to be formed Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO).

Editors have made their feelings clearly known; The Times Editor Roger Alton was quoted as being “extraordinarily depressed” and The Spectator Editor Fraser Nelson considers it to be an “illiberal proposal”.

And perhaps it is. One of the arguments sitting at the core of this debate is one of democracy. The British media has always prided itself on maintaining democracy through freedom of speech and subsequent heightened Government accountability. Will the introduction of IPSO threaten said accountability?

In theory, yes; an independent monitoring body would undoubtedly threaten democracy by blunting the point of the media’s knife-edge against totalitarianism.

In practice, however, how effective will this new IPSO body really be in controlling what is and is not published in our red-tops, broadsheets and nowadays apps?

Running simultaneously to the British publishers waving their publications at Lord Dyson, former News of the World Editor Rebekah Brooks and former director of communications at Downing Street Andy Coulson were appearing at the Old Bailey to answer to the charges from the phone-hacking scandal.

What came to light in this shadowy house of justice is that not only were the pair responsible for the sourcing of incredibly private information, but that they were also linked in a highly charged love affair. In a letter written in 2004, Rebekah Brooks wrote that Mr Coulson was: “my very best friend. I tell you everything, I confide in you, I seek your advice, I love you, care about you, worry about you”.

As Andrew Edis, QC, for the prosecution pointed out: “Mrs Brooks and Mr Coulson are charged with conspiracy and, when people are charged with conspiracy, the first question a jury has to answer is how well did they know each other?” Mrs Brooks’s letter to Mr Coulson certainly answers the question.

A number of the stories at the heart of the “Hacked Off” campaign, such as those regarding Sir Paul McCartney and David Blunkett, involved information that had been shared through lovers’ whispers and coffee-house gossip. The fact that the pair confided a great deal in each other demonstrates the amount of whispered information that must get blown down the Street of Fleet and through the alleyways of the City.

Indeed, Andy Coulson was once quoted as saying: “people talk, it’s known”. This comment suggests that even with an independent body regulating journalism techniques and output, it can be safely said that people will continue to talk and share news as they have always done, whispers will still be spread, and journalism; both political, financial and celebrity, will still rely to a certain extent upon information that press regulators will never be able to control.

In reference to par. 17 of Section 3 of the newly formed Royal Charter (as recommended by financial journalist Paul Lewis: “The Board should not have the power to prevent publication of any material, by anyone, at any time although (in its discretion) it should be able to offer a service of advice to editors of subscribing publications relating to code compliance.”

If this week has highlighted anything of interest to the City it is that having total control over what is being communicated and shared both inside and outside of board meetings is still absolutely essential. Whilst the Royal Charter will ensure that rogue journalism is caught up and monitored, press freedom still exists and will continue to exist (even if only in whispers).

A very busy week for Abchaps with a lot of movement around the City. The resources team attended the Baker Tilly Natural Resources reception at the Park Lane Hilton earlier in the week. One Abchap joined the President of the Shanghai Pudong Develop Bank (SPD) in the launch of their London Office, whilst another went Green at the Envirotech and Clean Energy Investor Summit, as well as a United Nations special on “Is a 'Green Industry' approach the key to competitive edge?”

The UK government makes a bit of history this week as it not only appoints its first woman, but also its first black person, as a permanent secretary at the Treasury. Sharon White becomes second permanent secretary and will be responsible for overseeing the fiscal squeeze whilst she manages Britain’s public finances.

Winn Faria has migrated from his role as COO at management consultancy firm ASource Global to become the director of Baker Tilly’s Financial services risk department.

PwC has strengthened its energy and low carbon team with two new appointments Ronan O’Regan and Steve Mullins. O’Regan shifts his PwC role from the energy financing team to head its UK renewables practice, whilst Mullins is welcomed as the new smart grid leader.

'Super-Injunction' - A legal gagging order which not only prohibits the media from reporting the details of a story, but also prevents mention of the existence of the injunction itself.

Remember remember the fifth of November, gunpowder, treason and plot! Celebrate Bonfire Night at one of the many London events being put on this weekend. Check out LBC Radio’s in depth analysis of this year’s spectacular pyrotechnics happening across the capital!

For those scared of things that go bang in the night and those beginning to get those festive feelings, its time to rejoice as the Natural History Museum enchanting Ice Rink makes its debut opening this weekend. So don your skates and ear muffs, get down to Gloucester Road and get gliding!

Finally, for those that missed out on Halloween shenanigans this week with it being a ‘school night’, fear not as The Halloween Playground takes over the deep, dark tunnels underneath Waterloo Station. Fancy dress is compulsory as The Vaults hosts chilling cabaret, musical voodoo and “devilishly good DJs”.

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