Friday, 27 November 2015

Weekly Wrap Up: Turing took the forbidden fruit

“We are dedicated to helping patients, who often have no effective treatment options, by developing and commercializing innovative treatments”. This is the statement waiting for visitors to the ‘About’ section of Turing Pharmaceuticals website. However, having seen any of the myriad news coverage recently you could be forgiven for not finding this sentiment particularly credible. This week, the “fully integrated” biopharmaceutical Company returned to the world’s headlines, and whilst in the UK it may have been overshadowed by the Autumn Statement, it deserves no less attention.

Turing Pharmaceuticals has been courting controversy since August, when it acquired the exclusive rights to market Daraprim from Impax Laboratories. Contract Pharma reported that this was a strategic effort by Turing to begin fulfilling its promise to combat serious infectious diseases. Prior to the acquisition, Turing had been a one drug shop, having acquired Vecamyl, a hypertension medication, earlier in 2015. However, the acquisition of Daraprim was undoubtedly what brought Turing into the public eye.

Daraprim is a drug that is an antiparasitic medicine used for the treatment of toxoplasmosis and acute malaria. Both toxoplasmosis and malaria prey on those with weakened immune systems, and therefore are likely to infect those suffering from HIV and AIDs. Additionally the drug has a number of “off label” preventative uses, again, for those suffering from HIV. Clearly, Daraprim is an invaluable life line, and significantly improves the quality of life for those suffering from HIV or AIDs by helping protect them from additional debilitating diseases.

Initially, the purchase of Daraprim was positively received in the media. Turing’s Chief Executive, Martin Shkreli, was quoted as saying that the acquisition put the Company on target to bring “novel medication to patients with serious disorders”. Shkreli also stated his intention to invest in the further development of the drug to yield an even better clinical profile, as well as plans to launch educational efforts to raise awareness and improve diagnosis for patients. Shkreli’s intentions appeared, at least on the surface, honourable, it seemed as though his primary interest and that of his Company was the welfare of patients suffering from unquestionably awful diseases. Medical professionals were similarly impressed with Shkreli, noting, “Turing’s commitment to improving treatment for patients with toxoplasmosis is commendable” (Louis M. Weiss, M.D., M.P.H., Professor, Departments of Medicine and Pathology, Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City). Unfortunately, the positive stride that Weiss and other medical professionals perceived Turing’s actions to represent was not to be.

What came next will surely go down as how not to handle situations when sentiment turns against you, as the New York based start-up destroyed any good will the medical industry or public may have held towards it by immediately hiking the price of its drug by over 5000%. The New York Times noted that the drug originally retailed for $13.50, compared to the $750 per tablet Turing was expecting people to pay. This controversial move would make the drug unavailable to many people and clearly at odds with Turing’s company mantra. In an interview with CNBC, Shkreli was even unapologetic about the decision, arguing that the drug had been priced too low and his Company needed to make a profit, stating that it had previously been like selling an Aston Martin for the cost of a bike. Following the ensuing backlash from both media and medical professionals Turing cowed to public pressure, and pledged to roll back the increase to ensure the drug remained affordable. However, following this week’s announcement, it is clear that this was an empty promise. The Guardian reported this week that Martin Shkreli has declared he will not lower the price of his medication after all.

Turing Pharmaceuticals, and in turn Shkreli’s, actions are perceived as the worst kind of profiteering through incontestable monopoly comparable. However, there is hope for the patients who have had their medication taken away from them, and as Tim Worstall argued in Forbes, “markets work”. In the face of the gross (potential) profit taking by Martin Shkreli, Imprimis Pharmaceuticals announced that it has made an alternative to Daraprim that would cost roughly a dollar a pill, or $99 for a 100-pill supply. The fact remains that, Turing’s monopoly although threatened, may remain if the new drug is proven to be less effective than Daraprim. Also, the irreparable damage that has been done to the reputation of the nascent Turing Pharmaceuticals in both the medical and financial worlds might eventually lead to the Company folding, leaving the world without the sole producer of Daraprim. With this in mind, it seems Shkreli should be asking himself the pertinent question; were the potential profits worth it? Did his workforce deserve the wave of negativity he has foisted upon them?

Reputation management is vital to corporate relationships, and if Turing has plans to acquire further companies or source more investors, it is conceivable that the private equity firm would need to reconsider its public relations strategy. If Shkreli and the Company does not show willingness to change, it is arguable that will burn the bridge of ever taking his Company public, surely the exit he envisaged when he founded it…

This week, Abchaps attended the Gorkana financial debate in aim to discuss the communication challenges in today's financial services market. The panel included Alex Letts CEO of Ffrees, Christina Sandkühler of La Salle Investment and Editor of City AM Christian May.

We also hosted a market lunch, where we discussed general topics such as the Pjizer – Allergan merger and Switzerland’s alternative Bank Schweiz.

We attended a Scottish whisky tasting event at Marriott Harrison’s in anticipation for St Andrew’s Day. We took the opportunity to discuss new appointments at the law firm over a dram or two.

Macquarie Capital appointed Ben Bailey as head of Telecommunications, media, entertainment and technology in Europe. Prior to the appointment, Ben led the internet and digital media investment banking team at Jefferies.

Canaccord Genuity Wealth Management appointed Jane Parry as head of marketing and communications. Parry joined Canaccord Genuity from Duncan Lawrie Private Bank.

Clyde & Co appointed Robert Wilson as partner in its clinical negligence team. Robert joined Clyde & Co from Capsticks.

“Toxoplasmosis” – an infection caused by a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii.

Christmas has come, with all the John Lewis baggage that this entails, and therefore this weekend, Tate Modern is holding its own twist on a traditional Christmas Market with all the usual trappings of mulled wine, but set in the grandeur of the turbine hall.

For the second out of office hours, why not use the Tate to Tate service, taking you from Modern to Britain, for the exhibition on Art and Alcohol. Booze has been one of man’s greatest muses since fermentation was discovered. Pride of place is given to George Cruikshank’s ‘Worship of Bacchus’.

Finally, if you fancy emulating the antics of art, why not try the Absinthe Masterclass, taking place at Vinopolis. The green fairy is blamed for Van Gough’s madness, and whilst it’s unlikely to make you cut your ear off, it will probably lead you to a slightly fuzzy Monday.

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Monday, 9 November 2015

Weekly Wrap Up: From Rags to riches… ‘The Car’ has fallen…

The current slogan for Volkswagen is “Das Auto”, the English translation of which is “The Car”.  This may seem to be a bold tagline, however if anyone could pull it off, it would be VW. That is, until a few weeks ago. Volkswagen Group, the parent company of Volkswagen, is the second biggest car manufacturer in the world, behind General Motors, owning and producing some of the most globally recognised brands, including Audi, Lamborghini and Bentley.  Ultimately, with such a broad reach the emissions scandal that erupted within Volkswagen a few weeks ago was going to have broad ramifications.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found that many VW cars being sold in America had software installed in diesel engines that detected when the engine was being tested and adjusted the performance to improve results, creating emissions figures completely unconnected to reality.  This was perhaps particularly grating in the US as VW had gone on a charm offensive for the fuel and  according to the BBC, the primary focus of the campaign had been the benefits of diesel’s low emissions. 

So how did Volkswagen handle the scandal initially? 

Initially, the scandal was handled quite well.  The Guardian reported that Martin Winterkorn, the then CEO of Volkswagen Group had apologised stating that Volkswagen was “endlessly sorry” and Michael Horn, CEO of the US arm of the business similarly acknowledged that Volkswagen  had “totally screwed up”. There appeared to be a united front in the VW camp, however, from this position of strength, the story quickly unravelled.  Winterkorn was forced to deny rumours that he was set to be replaced by Porsche chief Matthias Müller, however, a few days after the scandal broke the rumours were proven true as Winterkorn was indeed replaced with Müller.  On the other side of the pond Michael Horn is clinging to his job, when, from the Company’s perspective, it might have been better for him to fall on his sword.   As details of the scandal emerged, VW fronted up, and admitted that in fact 11 million cars could have been affected not the lesser figure of almost 500,000, as outlined in the EPA report.

The Company, initially, appeared to get ahead of the scandal and be upfront about mistakes, potentially garnering some positive public opinion.  However this was quickly lost, as more details of the scandal emerged and the initial response seemed to no longer be up to scratch, and instead reflected at worst deception and at best that those at the top were out of touch with their own organisation.  VW has lost nearly €30 billion off its market cap since the scandal emerged, and has set aside €3.7bn to cover costs.  As a result, the Company has posted its first quarterly loss for 15 years of €2.5bn.  As the scandal has gone global, The Telegraph reported that 1.2 million cars in the UK were fitted with the illegal emissions-cheating software.  And now a fresh scandal appears to be brewing, as a poll of 2,000 of the affected drivers revealed 90% of them believed they were entitled to compensation, whilst Paul Willis VW’s UK boss has said that it is “premature” to talk about refunds.  In addition the German government is now urging the car giant to retest all of its vehicles in order to clear up the scandal – the dramatic fall in the VW share price has pushed down the entire German market forcing the government to get involved.  Finally, it was hoped that Matthias Muller’s appointment from Porsche would be untainted by the scandal, however, as new details of the crisis emerge it is clear that Porsche is also affected.  According to Reuters, up to 800,000 cars sold in Europe could be affected by the deception.

Ultimately the full repercussions of the VW scandal are as yet unknown.  It is unclear whether the brand has been irreparably damaged or if it will recover over time.  One thing is for certain, it is a long road for Volkswagen to get back to its pre-crisis share price of €134.81. At its lowest point, so far, during the crisis the share price was €68.51, with more loses predicted.  From all this, we can see that VW have produced neither the “people’s car” or even “the car”, they have created a situation from which it may never fully recover.

Last week, Abchaps hosted a market lunch, where topics from opportunities in the standard listing market and cyber security issues were discussed. We also met with Arden Partners at our offices, and enjoyed canapes and drinks with the team by the end of the week.   

Last week Nathalie Merrens was appointed as head of investment solutions for its private office, she joins from Kleinwort Benson with over 25 years’ experience in financial services having held roles at Citibank and UBS wealth management.

Allianz gain a Director in Tim Bird, he will be directing their UK institutional sales and client services team and joins from the institutional relationship management team. At T Rowe Price. Bird has also held roles at Goldman Sachs Asset Management, HSBC Asset Management and Mercury Asset Management.

Law firm Clyde & Co have appointed Mark Sutton as senior equity partner in its professional and financial disputes group. Mark has over 15 years’ experience, and specialises in large claims against directors, banks, corporate trustees, Lloyd’s brokers, financial advisers, fund managers, stock brokers, accountants and corporate services providers.

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Friday, 30 October 2015

Weekly Wrap Up: TalkTalk couldn’t walk the walk

“We're currently making security enhancements to our website, which should be back online soon.”

This is the message that you are greeted with on the website for one of the world’s biggest telecoms group, TalkTalk PLC. On Thursday 21 October the news broke that police had commenced a criminal investigation into the cyber-attack on TalkTalk, leaving 4.2million customers’ details including contact numbers and payment information exposed. However, the Company managed to disclose the news 24 hours after they had been made aware. The share price subsequently nosedived 10 per cent as further revelations were disclosed with regards to exactly what and who had been effected and statements from CEO Dido Harding claiming ”stolen customer data may not have been securely encrypted” did little to keep their head above water.

Would the graph look so similar if the company had developed a better, more stringent crisis communications strategy? Looking at Fig.1 the share price dipped during August. This depicts one of the two previous data breaches that the Company suffered and had this not been dismissed as a ‘blip’ then potentially the topography of this share graph would tell a different story.

Crisis communications, if not a desired consideration, should be ready and waiting in reserve to protect your company from any future bad news or operating faults, that you can respond in the most efficient, transparent and effective way to uphold your reputation as well as the safety of your customers and shareholders. Information security consultant Paul Moore rightly so states that ‘more worrying than the breach itself, had been TalkTalk's response to it’. There is a key to addressing the many communications issues related to crisis and disaster, of which TalkTalk have not handled correctly:

1. Anticipation of crisis:

Problem: TalkTalk had previously become exposed to data hacking and therefore should have placed measures to not only protect networks but individual data

It is not a matter of if it is a matter of when, cyber security especially is a must for companies storing the details of consumers, preparation is key.

2. Assessing the risks:

Problem: TalkTalk claim that they are unsure as to whether the data of customers bank details were encrypted, as confirmed by the broadband provider

With the level of technology available a company must have access to analogous detail, this is a good message to send to your shareholders if not your customers.

3. Communication and notification:

Problem: The lag time in notification from security breach to announcing this to their customers. People were left puzzled as to why the website was ‘closed for maintenance’ on Wednesday morning.

How will your news be shared with investors and/or the public, the quicker and more direct the better. Trust is based on communication and evidently leaving your investors and customers in the dark can break that trust.

4. Evaluation and analysis:

Problem: TalkTalk failed to learn from previous crisis: fail to plan - plan to fail

After the smoke clears revise the reaction and handling to secure your anticipation methods, think of the crisis as a vaccination, you come out stronger.

Hindsight is a beautiful thing however in the business world companies like TalkTalk cannot afford to simply tape up holes in the structure of their strategy of crises management.

Specifically cyber intelligence is advancing faster than some companies can develop their defenses, both systematically and managerially there is a drive to evolve rapidly to build resistance for the future and crisis. If a company can develop and format a clear and concise crisis management scheme then it should in theory be ahead of the game and ‘hacking’ can return to Horse and Hound.

This week, Abchaps hosted a market lunch, where respective opportunities in the M&A and IPO markets, as well as issues surrounding diversity in the City, were discussed. Our CEO Julian Bosdet also attended a dinner hosted by Nabarro to discuss the development of AIM.

KPMG has appointed Catherine Grum as its Head of Family Office. She joins from Salamanca Group where she was Managing Director and Head of the Private Office. Daniel Williams has been appointed global head of internal audit at the IG Group, having previously been head of internal audit for Europe, the Middle East and Africa at BGC Partners. Finally, Macquarie Investment Management appointed Gillian Evans as head of UK institutional distribution. She joins after 10 years at Goldman Sachs.

“Blip” - an unexpected, minor, and typically temporary deviation from a general trend.

Fed up with Halloween already? On Saturday, Regent Street’s sweep from Piccadilly Circus to Oxford will be filled with bumper to bumper cars as the UK’s largest free-entry motoring show rolls into town. Containing vehicles of all ages and abilities, from veteran cars straight out of period dramas to racing and eco automobiles, this year’s showstopper will include Aston Martin’s bespoke DB10, created especially for the new Bond film ‘Spectre’, of which only 10 were made for filming, out of which only 3 survived.

If you happen to be a car fanatic, the following day (Sunday 1 November).some of the classic cars involved will assemble again, early in the morning in Hyde Park, before setting off to Brighton for the London to Brighton Veteran Car Run. This annual event began in 1896 when the law requiring motorists to have a man bearing a red flag preceding their cars was abolished. Car owners celebrated by destroying their flags and setting off for Brighton in the 'Emancipation Run'. The first organised run took place in 1993 and today the event attracts owners of veteran cars built pre-1905 from all over the world.

Christmas really is approaching as the Oxford Street Christmas lights are switched on this Sunday. The Oxford Street Christmas lights will see 1778 snowball-like decorations (and their 750,000 LED lightbulbs) lit up once again for what is the fifty-sixth year the road has been decorated for the festive period. In a subtle upgrade from last year's display, 445 new golden baubles will twinkle among the existing silver lights. Kylie Minogue will do the honours, and a stage outside the Pandora Marble Arch store will host live musical performances and celebrity presenters from 5.30pm including Foxes, Fleur East, Gabrielle Alipin, ‘X-Factor’ winner Ben Haenow and performers from ‘Matilda the Musical’.

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Friday, 23 October 2015

Weekly Wrap Up: The Great British steel off?

This week, India’s Tata Steel, announced that it would be cutting nearly 1,200 jobs at its plants in Scunthorpe and Lanarkshire. These events put the deepening manufacturing crisis in the UK into sharp relief as the layoff effectively marks the beginning of the end of the steel industry in the North.

Tata is the third steel company to announce significant loses and cuts over the past few weeks. Both Thailand’s SSI and Caparo Industries previously operated steelworks in the UK and have also been forced to make similar announcements. Tata Steel were in an impossible position to escape from press criticism. However, Tata’s response to the situation has arguably helped the Company to weather the storm and remain in the strongest position possible.

Immediately following the layoff, Tata Steel, U.S. Steel Corp., and other steelmakers called for increased trade protection from China’s overproduction and the resulting cheap supply of steel (see Wall Street Journal). This action has two major benefits; First, it helps to show that the manufacturers are being proactive to help mitigate the situation. Second, it helps the public to perceive the layoff as the outcome of an industry issue, by diverting the media’s attention away from Tata’s responsibility, and instead pointing towards an alternative macro cause - the oversupply of steel from China.

The industry issue could not be more pertinent, as President Xi Jinping and his wife have been touring the UK as part of the first Chinese state visit to Britain in 10 years. Almost all media outlets which covered the layoff have also investigated the overproduction of steel from China.

Tata’s example once again demonstrates the importance of extensive communication between companies, the media and the public in times of financial distress. A proactive approach to crisis communications helps both the public and the media put things in perspective, and could perhaps even draw sympathy as companies operate in difficult business environments.

This week, Abchaps attended Small Cap UK’s 20 years of Small Cap party as a guest of UHY Hacker Young at the Brand Exchange, celebrating 20 years of small cap equities in London.

Fieldfisher has appointed Matthew Hinxman as partner in its finance practice, joining from Baker Botts. At BNP Paribas, Wike Groenenberg has joined as global head of emerging markets strategy, having previously been head of strategy for BlueBay Asset Management’s emerging macro fund. Finally, Pinsent Masons have appointed telecoms specialist Reg Dhanjal as partner. He joins from DAC Beachcroft.

“Cataclysmic” - a momentous and violent event marked by overwhelming upheaval and demolition; an event that brings great changes.

All Rugby’d out? Try something a little off piste this weekend as Ice Hockey teams London Raiders take on the Bracknell Hornets, the atmosphere will be electric at the Lee Valley Ice Centre in East London, as this sport takes no prisoners.

Sushi Samba is closing this summer’s party season with their last day party in conjunction with Dayzed, if you fancy sipping on some bubbly and enjoying views from the 39th floor of the Heron Tower then head back into the City this Saturday.

And lastly do not forget that this weekend the clocks go back, so you can look forward to that extra hour in bed, nothing worse than getting up for work an hour early on a Monday!

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Friday, 16 October 2015

Weekly Wrap Up: Will Britain un-friend Facebook?

Tax. Let’s be honest, we all loathe it. Let’s be honest, it is a necessary evil. Let’s be honest, there’s nothing that quite gets the people of Britain’s blood boiling like the subject of tax avoidance. The subject has again made an appearance in the headlines this week when it was reported that Facebook paid less than £5,000 in UK corporate tax last year. This has sparked debate about technology companies that go to extraordinary lengths to cut their tax bill.

The UK and Facebook are not alone – Bloomberg Business highlighted ‘eight of the biggest US technology companies that added a combined $69 billion to their stockpiled offshore profits’. These companies including, Microsoft Corp., Apple Inc. and Google Inc. accounted for more than a fifth of the $2.10 trillion in profits that US companies are holding overseas.

Back in February 2014, Abchurch asked the question why bankers are being demonised for their pay packets and not tech billionaires. Now, a year and a half later, tech is under the spotlight and this is shown by a wide variety of media outlets calling for more regulation when it comes to tax and technology companies. The view is even shared by a number of traditionally right wing publications, such as the Times. If this trend continues, one such result might be the exodus of global tech players from the UK.

However, this recent bad press for tech companies suggests that the trend is changing and discontent is growing amongst the public. The revelations regarding Facebook will reignite the debate about how much UK corporation tax companies should pay at a time when several multinational corporations are being investigated by the European Commission over the tax arrangements they have with European Union member states. According to the BBC: ‘Google, Amazon, a division of the Fiat motor company and Starbucks are all subject to the investigation and the European Commission has said it could widen its probe further.’

One thing is certain, tech companies will no longer fly undetected under the radar. The more this behaviour continues, the more severe the reaction from the British press, and in turn the public and Government, will be.

To avoid making the same mistake as the banking industry, the tech companies need to start taking proactive approaches to rebuild their corporate image before the anger and mistrust of the press and public get out of control. In addition, these tech giants should be communicating frequently and immediately with the public on the initiatives they have taken to align themselves with public expectations, in order to reposition themselves as the public’s partners, not their enemies.

This week, Abchaps Quincy and Philip are attending the IPREX- EMEA Fall meeting in Amsterdam, where we will be meeting with the senior members from our partner firms from the EMEA region to discuss the strategies taken by agencies to meet the challenges of the changing communications landscape in order to achieve growth and to deliver client results.

We also attended the annual charity fundraising event Grouse & Grape Luncheon and hosted a market lunch, which probed lively discussions about UK corporate tax regulations and IPO sentiment in the City.

This week Deutsche Asset and Wealth Management appointed Stefan Krezuka as Chief Executive Officer, Head of Investment Management and member of their Global Executive Committee. Howard Kennedy appointed Jonathan Metliss as a consultant specialising in corporate finance and Matthew Hinxman joined Fieldfisher from Baker Botts as partner in its finance practice, providing experience within energy and natural resources.

“Tax avoidance” - The legal usage of the tax regime to one's own advantage to reduce the amount of tax that is payable by means that are within the law.

For those of you who feel that sleep is overrated, Fabric is turning 16 this weekend, and to celebrate is going nonstop from Saturday to Monday. Finishing at 5am, so there’s still time to be at the desk bright and early.

If you prefer your weekend to be slightly more sedate, Tate Modern is opening the Hyundai Commission with an inaugurating installation called ‘Empty Lot’. Conceived by the Mexican artist Abraham Cruzvillegas, this work aims to create a unique portrait of London.

Finally, a weekend isn’t a weekend without a good meal, and Lyle’s of Shoreditch is offering just that. As winter draws in, take solace in this six course taster of all things game, with chefs from around the world coming together to create an international take on the most British of ingredients.

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Friday, 9 October 2015

Weekly Wrap Up: All this baggage is taxing

Reaction to 5p tax…a mixed bag

The 5p bag charge hit the England on 5 October, and judging by the initial reaction to the tax, the Government has a long way to go to persuade the English public of its merits…

The colossal impact on the environment made by plastic bag litter should of course be the main point of focus for the tax implementation, but pollution and lack of landfill area are no new issue. Waitrose alone hands out 257 million of the 12.4 billion free carrier bags given out by UK retailers each year and even with the intent to reduce bag usage through the promotion of bags for life, testing this water has evidently yielded no major conversion of shopper habits.

The objectives of the bag tax are to reduce waste, with proceeds going to both environmental charities as well as research institutes over the country which clearly demonstrate environmental issues are slowly moving up the agenda at Westminster, but is that resonating through to enough the population? Polls project that 62% of the shoppers in England believe that the policy is reasonable - a 6% increase since 2012. It is also only a matter of time until small businesses begin to follow suit, and there would be no reason not to.

Disgruntled shoppers have been quoted across all forms of media this week. For example a shopper told the Telegraph that “I will never, never pay for a plastic bag. It’s a scam. I don’t believe it’s to help the environment or to help charities. It’s all about the money – and we won’t see any of it.”

From a communications perspective it is interesting to investigate into the strategy behind the timing and execution of the policy. Why has the UK been so late to start to address its carbon footprint in the wake of other far “greener” European countries and is this why some shoppers are viewing the tax with much cynicism? If you can recall from personal experience there has been a marked change in the checkout experience; gone are the times of the magician-esque reeling off bag after bag for your weekly shop. One vivid memory of super market shopping on the continent, however is that you always would pay a couple of cents for your bags. This is very much an ingrained part of shopping in Europe, and needs to become the case in this country; this is the PR challenge the Government has on its hands.

Surely by utilising the media and digital space, it is imperative to drill in to shopper’s minds that they are helping put a stop to dreadful and crippling levels of waste. The next job of the Bag Tax marketing and communications effort is to make a 5p purchase part of everyone’s daily routine and not to even be questioned. A key illustration the Government will have to get across is to actually show shoppers where their money spent on plastic bags is actually going. If shoppers can clearly see a difference has been made then the policy will be viewed in a greater light, and then hopefully paying for your plastic bag will become second nature, like it is in Europe.

It is too early to predict the trends and long-term opinion on this policy, however judging by the success of both Wales and Scotland throughout 2013 and 2014 respectively, the UK as a whole should publish positive statistics in October 2016. England, compared to Europe are playing catch up, and if effective PR and the right media coverage are visible and tailored to the right audiences, this policy shall become second nature within society; and therefore a PR and marketing success.

This week, Abchaps attended Stifel Healthcare Drinks Reception at Enoteca de Luca. The event was a success, catching up with old acquaintances as well as meeting new ones, discussing the latest trends in this growing sector.

Abchurch Communications has appointed Philip Dennis as Managing Director. Darren Ellis joined Zeus Capital as Chief Operating Officer and Mike Cuthbert and Martin Green are appointed as Co-Heads of the Financial Institutions Group, a new growth sector for Zeus.

“Magician–esque” to act like that of a magician, in this case a particular trick when pulling the handkerchiefs out of your sleeve.

This weekend, enjoy the 140th anniversary of one of London’s greatest monuments, Liberty’s. Liberty in Fashion explores Liberty’s impact on British fashion, from Orientalism and Aesthetic dress in the 19th century, through Art Nouveau and Art Deco in the early 20th century, and the revival of these styles since the 1950s.

In Trafalgar Square, help celebrate one of the world’s largest religious festivals, Diwali. As the festival of lights, Diwali promises a kaleidoscopic telling of Lord Rama’s return to his kingdom. Market stalls will offer arts, crafts and vegetarian Southeast Asian food.

Finally, celebrate one of the world’s other great festivals, Oktoberfest. Whilst this may bring with it a slightly larger chance of a hangover then Diwali, who can turn down a litre of beer, bratwurst and pretzels? London’s Tobacco Dock plays host to four days of this piece of Bavarian heritage.

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Friday, 28 August 2015

Weekly Wrap Up: The end of the affair?

In April, Abchat discussed infamous dating website Ashley Madison’s parent company Avid Life Media’s (ALM) decision to go public in Europe, rather than America, because of Europe’s supposedly more tolerant attitude towards adultery. But now this somewhat dubious claim may never be tested, as Ashley Madison battles the repercussions of a hacking of their system by ‘The Impact Team’. A data breach of this size, where 37 million user records were stolen, is in itself a public relations catastrophe. But a company’s response is the key to minimising damage, and ALM’s response has been nothing short of disastrous.

There was a somewhat promising initial reaction, where ALM Chief Executive Noel Biderman confirmed to Brian Krebs of Krebs on Security that the hack had happened, but that the company was “working diligently and feverishly” to remove the data. And it seems they were successful - within 30 minutes of Krebs talking to Biderman, several of the links no longer worked.

But with the information already hacked, ALM couldn’t prevent the inevitable. On 15 August the Ashley Madison database was leaked. However, instead of working to mitigate the damage, or at the very least apologising, Raja Bhatia, Ashley Madison’s original founding Chief Technology Officer, did what you might expect a cheating spouse to do: he initially denied the authenticity of the database, stating that it must be false because it contained credit card details, which he claimed Ashley Madison did not have records of. So when clients confirmed the database did in fact contain their details, it left Ashley Madison in an awkward public situation – one which many of their users might now be familiar with.

Avid Life has now been forced to act, but their efforts, including offering their paid-delete service to clients for free, and a reward of $500,000 for intelligence on who may be responsible, are ‘too little, too late’. Investment bankers have already said the Company can “kiss its IPO plans good-bye”. The stolen information will likely have repercussions for clients beyond the financial; jobs, family and reputation could all be lost, and it seems unlikely that the Ashley Madison brand will be able to recover from such a devastating breach of client confidentiality. Ironically, it seems that Avid Life media is about to find out that broken trust can make it impossible to repair (client) relationships.

This week, Abchurch hosted a market lunch, where topics such as the Chinese stock market volatility, crowd funding as a source of finance and the current IPO market were discussed.

The week, Mirabaud Asset Management appointed Ken Nicholson to manage European small cap and mid cap equity portfolios. Nomura Asset Management appointed Andreas Koerner as head of marketing and client relations for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Edison Investment Research appointed Anna Bossong as UK technology, media and telecoms analyst.

“The Impact Team” – A group (or possibly an individual) apparently created for the sole purpose of hacking Ashley Madison.

This Bank Holiday weekend, there are a plethora of events on in London, with something to suit everyone.

Of course, those prepared to brave the inevitable crowds will be heading to Notting Hill Carnival, which is celebrating 50 years with the theme ‘Emergence of Carnival’. It is running from 10am to 8:30pm on Sunday and Monday, with the former intended as ‘A Family Day’ and the latter ‘The Grand Finale’.

If you fancy motoring through the weekend in style, you might like to check out the Bond in Motion Exhibition taking place at the London Film Museum in Covent Garden. It is the largest display of its kind ever staged in London.

For the foodies, on Saturday, The Urban Food Fest is taking over a Shoreditch Car park. Sample dishes brought to you from all four corners of the globe and wash them down with craft beer, cider, wine, champagne or a cocktail (or two).

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Friday, 14 August 2015

Weekly Wrap Up: What's Donald's Trump card?

In a world where professionals can be forced to quit due to public slip-ups, gaffes and a lack of political correctness (PC), we take a look at Republican hopeful Donald Trump and his Campaign trail over the past two months in order to discover whether or not as the saying goes, no publicity is bad publicity.

Donald Trump has made his wealth a central theme of his presidential bid, but has spent less on his campaign than most of his top Republican rivals. This is somewhat intriguing as the billionaire continues to lead in Republican polls, despite his ‘minimalist’ spending and controversial performances that included making inflammatory comments about a female Fox News host at the first GOP debate last week. His unorthodox campaign has gained momentum almost solely through his media appearances, which have showcased him as a candidate who says and does what he wants, without being beholden to anyone. This is in fact backed up by the fact, certainly outside of America, that he is the candidate we have been exposed to the most so far, even more than his potential Democrat rivals.

With Team Trump’s PR’s in a constant state of trepidation whenever he opens his mouth, the tycoon’s popularity continues to grow rapidly despite earlier disparaging remarks about Mexican migrants and fellow Republican John McCain’s Vietnam War record. Commentators, analysts and rival candidates have noted that Trump has connected with voters who are unhappy and disengaged with current politicians as well as the fact that he refuses to give in to those who are pressuring him to be more PC.

So, it would appear that ripping up the PR playbook is working for Trump and his entourage and two old adages come to mind when concluding what is only the start of a long Presidency campaign. Trump seems to be of that special calibre of getting away with creating controversy but if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it and so far anyway, no publicity is bad publicity.

This week, Abchaps hosted two market lunches, including an Asia and a life science lunch, where we discussed opportunities from Asia and in the booming life sciences space with other advisers.

This week, Pete Daffern joined investment company Octopus Investments as a venture partner. Alan Teixeira was appointed global director of international financial reporting standards research at Deloitte. Marcus Jamson joined Howard Kennedy as a partner in its commercial finance group.

“Political correctness” – (commonly abbreviated to PC) an ordinarily pejorative term used to criticise language, actions, or policies seen as being excessively calculated to not offend or disadvantage any particular group of people in society.

London’s largest free jazz festival will be taking place at Canary Wharf from 14 to 16 August. The festival will feature jazz-funk, Latin, big band, soul, instrumental, folk and jazz so there are plenty of choices for music fans.

The Photographer’s Gallery in Oxford Circus is currently exhibiting works of social documentary photographer Shirley Baker, exposing to audiences a portrait of the urban decline of late twentieth century Britain. The exhibition includes previously unseen colour photographs by Baker, alongside black and white images and ephemera.

To celebrate the London beer culture, The London Craft Beer festival will be taking place at Bethnal Green from 13 to 16 August. A ticket gives you entry and unlimited beer to try from 26 brewers so be sure to be strategic with the beer tasting!

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Friday, 7 August 2015

Weekly Wrap Up: Digital age and online news

Just as various global media outlets face challenges from the decline in print, the New York Times bucked the trend and reported good financial results for the financial year 2014. Operating profit increased more than two fold from $16.5 million to $38.1 million, despite a fall in revenue to $383 million.

The key to the financial success, is part owed to the publication’s usage of digital media and their reaching out to digital audiences. Just four years after it switched to its metered pay model, the publication has reached 1 million digital-only subscribers. Additionally, digital advertising grew by 14.2 per cent.

As traditional media giants such as the New York Times begin shifting their focus to the digital space, it is the time for communicators to really start thinking about how to change their content strategy accordingly, to navigate the evolving media landscape.

For the time being, traditional print outlets remain fundamental and extremely relevant to gaining public attention, as readers look for detailed opinion and investigative stories. However, as more people begin using the digital space as their primary platform for sourcing news and content, it is vital to ensure that companies create press material that is not only interesting but also digital friendly. In addition to creating detailed press materials for traditional outlets, it is important to also attend to the needs of the online journalists. Short, snappy, press releases with searchable titles help win these kind of journalists.

Companies also need to ensure that press materials are mobile friendly. Earlier this week, Ofcom reported that smartphones have now surpassed laptops to become the most popular way to browse the internet in the UK. In addition to written content, easily digestible videos are bound to win the attention of mobile audiences. For companies, that means it becomes vital to have spokespeople that ooze charm in front of the camera whilst re-iterating their key messages. News outlets such as the Financial Times and Wall Street Journal are increasing their use of video stories and this trend is likely to continue so whether you are a CEO of a FTSE 100 or an exciting start-up consider your digital presence more than ever!

This week, Abchaps hosted a market lunch, discussing the trends of the London IPO market. With guests attending from different walks of City life, various topics were raised including the future of AIM, current hot sectors and how London can continue to attract overseas companies to list in the UK.

Peel Hunt have appointed Paraag Amin as Technology Analyst in the Company’s Research Team. Investec Wealth & Investment have made four appointments to its research team. Dominic Barnes as a Fixed Income Portfolio Manager, Esther Gilbert as a Fixed Income Analyst and Marcus Blyth and Adrian Todd as Find Selection Specialists.

Content strategy- the practice of planning content creation, delivery, and the governance of useful, usable content.

If you are a fan of the Romans and their choice of entertainment, head down to The Guildhall Yard, London’s only Roman amphitheatre for the Gladiator Games. Brought to you by the Museum of London, it was here that gladiators fought 2,000 years ago, and in a somewhat less brutal re-enactment of those devastating battles, fighters will gather to prove their physical supremacy and secure their future.

The London Korean Festival is being held at Trafalgar Square this Sunday. The event will showcase the country’s creative talents, with entertainment on the day including a K-pop concert, culinary displays, creative workshops, screenings and more.

Join Dr Matthew Green on Saturday for a walking tour centred around South Bank for some education & exercise! Dr Green, a historian, broadcaster and author of London: A Travel Guide through Time, will lead a group of modern-day Londoners for a tour of Shakespearean London. Over the afternoon, the group will learn of the violence offered to audiences at the Globe and early use of special effects, visit a Southwark stew (the Clink prison) and learn about the unexpectedly rarefied world of London’s disappeared tobacco houses.

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Friday, 31 July 2015

Abchurch’s University Shadow Day: Thanks Y’All!

As the London representative of IPREX, Abchurch recently had the opportunity to host a group of communications students from Georgia Southern University. The trip was organised by IPREX so that these future PR Professionals could gain some first-hand insight into the industry. It was eventful day that included a presentation by CEO Julian Bosdet on how PR works, a social media presentation and even an opportunity for the students to participate in a brainstorm.

For Abchurch, one of the best parts of this experience was reading what the students had to say about the day in their blogposts.

It seems many students enjoyed trying their hand at PR, and one of our visitors even went as far as to describe the brainstorming session as an, “… incredibly cool hands-on look into how that firm handles choosing various pitch and marketing ideas.”

Another student wrote, “They gave us the chance to brainstorm some ideas for a new project using the communication tool kit. Doing this made me so excited to get into the world of Public Relations.”

And their enthusiasm was contagious – the Abchurch team really enjoyed hearing what the students had to say. We couldn’t agree more with the student who wrote, “It was pretty amazing to see how a simple discussion (which is part of a larger creative formula) could potentially help a brand find success in a new market.”

But a shadow day isn’t all about work – it was also an opportunity for Abchurch to shape the image of PR professionals among the next generation of graduates. We seem to have done well, at least in one young person’s mind. “When Dr. Groover told the class we are going to a PR firm my mind automatically made them stuck up PR people who don’t love their jobs. I was surprised with how professional and fun the experience was.”

She went on to say, “Public Relations is not my major, but the experience at Abchurch made me think differently of PR professionals.”

One of the most valuable outcomes of this visit is that students were able to see academic theory in action. One student noted, “Recently, I had to write a blog post about the use of different social media platforms in the workplace. It was interesting for me to see how the information that I had found on the topic aligned with that of Abchurch.”

Of course, there are going to be big differences between the classroom and the workplace, as noted by another student, “I have taken several public relations classes; therefore, I feel as if I am fully prepared for the writing part of public relations. However, class cannot prepare me for the actual business environment. I enjoyed seeing everything in action and learning about what working in a corporate public relations firm entails.”

Of course, every PR person knows you can’t give all your secrets away, as noted by one of our undergrad guests, “Though I could not figure out how [Jamie] managed to get his hair to look both tousled but put together, his presentation on social media messages was flawless.”

Overall, both sides seemed to have benefitted from the experience. Our young American friends gained some real-world experience but Abchurch was also reminded that young graduates, who have never had a more difficult time entering the workforce, offer something just as valuable as years of industry experience: fresh ideas that will shape the future of the PR profession.

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Friday, 10 July 2015

Weekly Wrap Up: PR stunt London to a halt

It is the largest walkout on the London Underground since 2002, as more than 20,000 workers went on strike Wednesday 8 June for 24 hours over pay and the impending night shifts.

The dispute over a new night service has led to as widespread travel disruption including huge queues for packed buses and many commuters resorting to cycling or walking into work.

Strikes are often used by Unions as a megaphone to voice to the general public, grabbing their attention by shoving an issue in their faces. In fact, Abchurch argued in February last year during the RMT 48 hour strike, that strikes are a PR stunt –‘welcoming the flies of press to the churning honey-pot of an issue’.

This may be true, but we have noticed a shift in feeling towards the Tube strike (that intended to decapitate the Capital for 24 hours) this time around, which leads us to ask the question: will the strike achieve any positive results for the RMT?

It feels like there is some form of transport strike or at least a threat of one every month in the UK! This is a bit exaggerated, but with the cancelled National Rail strike in May, it feels too soon for there to be another similar event. This immediately decreases the public’s patience, resulting in people turning on the RMT instead of the Government (for not resolving the issue) which consequently severely reduces the impact of the message which Tube drivers (or whoever happens to be striking) wish to deliver.

In this case, the issue lies in the fact that the 24-hour Tube service, due to begin in September, will wreck the work/life balance of Tube workers. However so far this PR stunt seems to have backfired on the RMT, as the issue has been engulfed by the ‘pay increase’ subject, which has much of the press and the population believing that Tube drivers are overpaid in the first instance.

The Telegraph’s Toby Young described the situation as being ‘difficult to feel a huge amount of sympathy for the striking Tube workers[…]who have rejected a two per cent pay rise and a £2000 bonus for working on the all-night service,[and] start their working life on a salary of £49,673, which is more than some hospital doctors earn.’

Not only is this more than double the starting salary of Britain’s nurses, teachers, policeman and firefights but according to Business groups, this strike will have cost the Capital tens of millions of pounds. Is it so surprising that London appears to be fed up of striking public services?

We conclude with three positives to take away from this week’s Tube strike:

1) Many of us either were lucky enough to work from home, or able to enjoy the fresh air by walking/cycling to and from work.

2) It adds weight to the new strike law the Government intends to introduce. Under the new proposal, a strike affecting vital public service would require the backing of 40 per cent of union members – a threshold this week’s action didn’t meet.

3) There shouldn’t be another strike for at least another month!

This week, Abchaps attended the Gorkana Breakfast Briefing with Andrew Gregory, Health Editor of the Daily Mirror, where links between the UK healthcare system and politics were discussed at length. We also had the honour to host a shadow day for some public relations students at Georgia Southern University as a London IPREX representative.

This week, Investec hired Mark Buttler as the head of its growth and acquisition finance team in the north of England. International law firm Eversheds appointed Robert Ludwig as a partner of its London real estate finance team. BDO appointed Stephen Peters as its partner of its forensic services team.

“Honey-pot” – an enticing source of pleasure or reward

This weekend, why not make a trip to Alexandra Palace, not only for one of the best views of our city, but also to enjoy the sight of grown people throwing themselves down a hill in flimsy contraptions. The Red Bull Soap Box Race seems an oddly British celebration, just try not to laugh too hard at the crashes.

The City is often accused of being old fashioned, so why not celebrate our nation’s heyday, with The Chap Olympiad. This event, which lauds itself proudly as ‘a celebration of sporting ineptitude and immaculate trouser creases’ includes events like seated tennis, moustache wrestling, and most dangerously, umbrella jousting. Needless to say, tweed is a must.

Finally, and needing no introduction, this weekend sees the finals of Wimbledon. For the ultra-fans, there’s always the option of queuing overnight, for the chance of being on Henman Hill, or for the very lucky, inside centre court itself. However, for everyone else, why not try one of the capitals big screens, and use the excuse for Pimm’s and strawberries.

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Friday, 19 June 2015

Weekly Wrap Up: Rollercoaster rides across the Boards

In the last month, we have seen two significant disasters befall FTSE Companies. Thomas Cook, a subject already covered by this blog, apparently hit every PR pitfall possible following the results of the inquest into the deaths of Christi and Bobby Shepherd in one of its hotels in Corfu in 2006. Then, we witnessed a tragic accident at Alton Towers, which left Merlin, the park’s owner, scrambling to protect its brand.

However, the different strategies employed by the two Companies led to wildly differing outcomes, not only in public perception, but also to their share price. Thomas Cook, as stated previously, refused to apologise, failed to contact the family, and only handed over (half) of the compensation they received to charity when it became untenable for it to hold onto it in its entirety. Clearly, a omnishambles of epic proportions.

Compared to this Merlin appeared to handle its own disaster, a crash on one of its rollercoaster’s, with as much tact as was possible in the circumstances, save for the initial delay on calling the ambulance. The park did its utmost to appear open to investigators, apologised to the victims immediately and unreservedly, and its CEO Nick Varney immediately gave interviews outlining what the Group would be doing to improve safety across the board.

Indeed, the public clearly thought that the Company’s response had been sufficient because when Kay Burley, a Sky News presenter, used aggressive interview tactics in an attempt to unsettle Varney which spectacularly backfired, as almost 2,000 people complained to Ofcom about her conduct. On top of this, an online petition calling for Sky to sack her received 50,000 signatures. If Kay had done this to Peter Fankhauser, CEO of Thomas Cook, such is public feeling, the petition may well have been for her to receive an OBE.

It was not only in the public gaze where Merlin came out on top. Investors, clearly spooked by Thomas Cook’s woeful handling of the situation, deserted the stock, seeing it fall from a high of just under 500p to 430p today. Merlin on the other hand saw lesser losses, from a high of 470p to 435p.

This, above all else, proves the positive benefits of good crisis PR. Here you have two listed Companies who broadly act within the same sector, entertainment & leisure. Both have suffered crises within the last month, and only one handled the situation correctly. Unsurprisingly that Company has come out on top. Firms, looking at tightening their PR budget, should look at the cautionary tale of Thomas Cook and realise that it may well prove a false economy.

This week, Abchaps enjoyed a multitude of events including Baker Tilly’s Mad Hatter’s Summer Tea Party soaking in the evening views from their roof terrace, a day at the races at Ascot; and the AIM 20th Anniversary Summer Party at the Artillery Garden off Moorgate.

Zeus Capital appointed Phil Walker as Head of Healthcare Corporate Finance. He most recently was Executive Director in Corporate Finance at Nomura Code Securities. Charles Stanley hired Ben Money-Coutts as Chief Financial Officer. AIG appointed Nicola Ratchford as head of external communications for Europe, Middle East and Africa. She joined from Stockwell Communications, where she was a director.

"Omnishambles" – Not a new word, with references ranging from The Thick of It to the OED’s word of the year in 2012 and Ed Milliband, but surely the only way to sum up Thomas Cook’s handling of all recent PR.

This weekend enjoy a variety of great theatrical performances and live music as the More London Free Festival takes place for the thirteenth year.

This summer Taste of London returns to Regents Park to with a “Flavors of the World” theme. In addition to deliciously prepared food, there are various beverages to swash the food down, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic.

For the second year running, Greenwich Peninsula’s The Jetty is home to an incredible performance of “Heartbreak Hotel”, so do not miss the opportunity to be a part of this exciting event.

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Friday, 12 June 2015

Weekly Wrap Up: Big banks still don't get it

Bankers are fighting back against so-called banker bashing, according to The Times. But are they taking the correct approach?

Senior bankers have decided that it’s time to mount a campaign to push back against a range of policies that have led to extra costs and regulatory burdens. Quite rightly, bankers have pointed out that Government policies are affecting their ability to compete internationally.

Banks have not been very proactive in getting good publicity and this is part of the reason banker bashing is so pervasive. In a previous blogpost, we suggested it’s time for banks to take control of their narrative and highlight the importance of the banking industry to UK economy. But even that approach may not be enough to stem banker bashing: A recent slew of negative news suggests that the behaviour that led to the banker backlash is still a long way from being stamped out.

At the beginning of this month Barclays received some unwanted attention when an email sent by a second year analyst to incoming summer interns was leaked. The email, which had the subject line “Welcome to the Jungle”, included a “commandment” telling interns "I recommend bringing a pillow to the office (yoga mat works as well). It makes sleeping under your desk a lot more comfortable, in the very likely scenario that you have to do that."

The email couldn’t have come at a worse time: It was sent shortly after the suicide of a first year Goldman Sachs analyst who was said to be overwhelmed by the pressure of the 100-hour workweeks. It was one of numerous unexpected deaths or suicides of young bankers over the past couple of years.

Then this week, JP Morgan Chase & Co. Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon took a swipe at US Senator Elizabeth Warren, one of Washington’s most outspoken critics of the banking industry. Speaking at an industry event in Chicago, Dimon suggested that Warren, a former Harvard Law school professor who specialised in bankruptcy law, doesn’t “fully understand the global banking system.” This condescending remark will do nothing to endear bankers to the wider public.

Bad publicity for banks this month has certainly not been limited to the US. The trial of Tom Hayes, the alleged ring-leader of the Libor rigging case, has been making headlines in the UK. The trial has also revealed some pretty disturbing information about how banks operate, including an allegation that senior UBS bosses may have condoned the rate rigging.

The real problem therefore seems to be down to banking culture. The New York Times writes that “Wall Street has always thrived, in part, on its eat-or-be-eaten culture.” And there is no doubt that there is truth in this. But if banks want to turn around their image, which is really the only way to end banker bashing, serious steps need to be taken to find a new way to thrive. And this is not just about improving their public image – if the current culture is driving employees to criminal behaviour and even suicide, surely that is too high a price to pay – even for bankers.

This week, Abchaps attended a CIPR Speaker lunch where Kamal Ahmed, Business Editor of BBC News discussed his roll at the BBC and how PR’s can interact successfully with the organisation. We were a guest of UHY Hacker Young at the Small Cap Awards Dinner at the Grange Hotel as well as the China Outbound, What next for the UK event put on by Nabarro and Baker Tilly.

Lloyds Commercial Banking appointed Adrian White as Chief Operating Officer. Walker Crips hired Alison Pickup as Senior Investment portfolio Manager from Brewin Dolphin. PwC promoted Simon Hunt to UK Banking and Capital Markets Leader. Kevin Burrowes, additionally became Global Banking and Capital Markets Leader across the PwC international Network.

“Global Banking system” – We won’t even try to define this. If a Harvard Law professor can’t understand it, the rests of us don’t stand a chance.

This weekend, why not celebrate one of this City’s greatest exports, Gin? World Gin Day has been a part of London since 2009, and this year, Junipalooza sees 24 different distilleries presenting their wares from around the world.

Soho Food Feast returns to Wardour Street this weekend, with restaurants like Arbutus, Barrafina, and Ducksoup taking the opportunity to leave the confines of their kitchens and create a street party for a good cause.

Finally, London is one of the greenest major cities in the world, and to celebrate, this weekend sees Open Garden Squares unlock some of the hidden gems of our city. In total, 200 spaces usually closed to the public are being opened, so enjoy these tranquil settings whilst you recover from the weeks excesses.

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