Friday, 27 March 2015

Weekly Wrap Up: Minimise risk to your Corporate Reputation

The value of a good corporate reputation cannot be understated. It’s one of the main reasons businesses invest in communications and public relations. That’s why tracking media trends and watching for developments that signal risks, as well as opportunities, should be part of any corporate communications strategy.

This week there was a prime example of exactly why this matters so much. CEO of fashion retailer Next, Simon Wolfson, made headlines when he criticised an organisation dedicated to urging businesses to pay a so-called living wage. He claimed that £6.70 an hour is enough to live on for some people. Coming from a man titled Lord, worth an estimated £100 million and who took home a £4.6 million pay package last year, this out-of-touch comment would have been a PR disaster at the best of times. However, his outrageous remark came on the same day that Next posted bumper annual figures: pre-tax profit increased 12.5% to £794.8 million and the dividend rose by 16.3%. These results should, and probably would have, dominated media coverage of Next if not for Lord Wolfson’s poor judgement.

It would have helped if Lord Wolfson, or his communications advisors, had been paying attention to just how controversial living wage discussions have become. In the US, for example, Walmart and McDonald’s were among the major corporations that were villainised in the press due to their refusal to pay a living wage. Low paid employees at both companies even went on strike to demand a better wage.

Corporate missteps like this naturally generate plenty of bad publicity and are detrimental to an organisation. But arguably the worst part is that this damage could have easily been avoided by tracking recent media trends. If that had happened at Next, maybe they would have realised that someone who makes £4.6 million a year should refrain from providing “thought leadership” on the living wage debate.

This week Abchaps welcomed some of our UK IPREX partners to our offices, to discuss how our complementary services can further benefit our clients; joined Equity Development for an evening where they hosted three exciting and innovative company presentations within the media and technology sector for the City and PCIM community; and also attended Gorkana’s breakfast briefing, hosted by Director magazine. This newly relaunched title offers a direct line to C-Suite occupiers, and with its new look, Director does away with the usually drab vision of the board room.

Simon MacKinnon has been appointed Asia strategy adviser at the asset management firm Old Mutual Global Investors. Panmure Gordon has hired Patric Johnson as head of securities. He will also serve on Panmure’s Board.

“Living wage” - the amount an individual needs to earn to cover the basic costs of living. So maybe Lord Wolfson does know a thing or two about a living wage? His £4.6 million pay package should be just about enough to survive in London.

What says Hipster more than food served from a van? Get your kicks this weekend at Urban Food Fest, a revolving cast of food stalls and trucks serving a UN worth list of food cultures. All taking place in a Shoreditch car park, it could only be more zeitgeist if it came with a moustache.

Continuing the theme of facial hirsuteness, it is currently impossible to be more than six feet from a man with facial topiary. Love it or hate it, it has become part of our culture. So celebrate or castigate at Somerset House, whose exhibition Beard is open until Sunday.

Benedict Cumberbatch may have been taken off the market, but the Museum of London is still offering the opportunity to Sleep with Sherlock. Included in this all night event are a plethora of themed opportunities, ranging from a three course dinner, talks from detective specialists, right through to ghost stories told in the depths of the museum.

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Friday, 20 March 2015

Weekly Wrap Up: This will blow your mind

With a headline like that, how could you NOT read this blog post? After all, that’s the point of click bait, the internet phenomenon made popular by websites such as Upworthy and Buzzfeed. Click bait essentially exploits the curiosity gap by omitting a key piece of information to entice someone to click and/or keep reading.

The digital era has created a wealth of opportunity to reach a much wider audience. But there has also been a struggle to understand how, exactly, one should go about doing so. This is certainly true for the PR industry, but also for traditional news organizations and even businesses, and it makes the extraordinary success of the click bait strategy all the more enviable.

So it came as somewhat of a surprise this week when Business Insider reported that Upworthy's cofounder Peter Koechley apologized for the sensational headlines that made him rich – and his website famous - at the Guardian's Changing Media Summit in London this week. Going forward, he’s saying “good-bye to click bait”.

Upworthy successfully embraced the digital disruption – so why change strategy now?

The problem with Upworthy’s click bait headlines is that they tend to over promise and then under deliver. And eventually readers will catch on and stop falling for the same trick.

On the other hand, if your headline is incredibly boring it doesn’t matter if your content over delivers – no one will bother reading it. That’s exactly why click bait headlines shouldn’t be so easily dismissed. They do offer something. After all, they get people reading.

So here’s where your mind is blown: the solution is actually quite simple, and Koechley pointed to it at the Guardian event. He went on to say that Upworthy’s new approach would include sharing powerful stories “…that put you in someone else's shoes to help you see the world in other people's eyes."

The Upworthy example underscores that any piece of writing in the digital era – whether it’s a press release, news article or even blog post - needs to not only capture a reader’s attention but also deliver on content.

So go ahead and write an intriguing headline that sparks interest – just make sure your writing actually fills that curiosity gap.

This week Abchurch hosted two successful market lunches and had insightful discussions with City advisers on the sentiments of the IPO market and the potential effect the 2015 election will have. We also hosted the Allenby Capital team for an enjoyable evening, as well as travelling to Newcastle to celebrate Quantum Pharma’s successful floatation on AIM party.

Investec Investment Banking appointed Serge Rissi as a director of financial sponsor transaction group, whilst Sarah Owen-Jones joined Rathbone Brothers as chief risk officer from RBS. Meanwhile, Baker Tilly appointed Rowan Williams as head of its professional services group.

"Click bait" – exploiting the curiosity gap by omitting a key piece of information to entice someone to click and/or keep reading.

If you are a beer drinker, you can’t miss this weekend Over the Hop Festival at the White Horse in Parsons Green. There will be live music, an outdoor BBQ and Six Nations screenings on Saturday.

Fancy a bit of Asia this weekend? Silk Road travels to Marylebone for one long weekend. The seventh annual Asia House Fair will feature dozens of exhibitors that represent the best in arts, crafts, fashion and design from across the pan-Asia region.

Whether you are a rugby lover or hater, the Six Nations Championship concludes on Saturday with three teams (Ireland, Wales & England) in contention for first place. Italy play Wales first at 12.30, followed by Scotland versus Ireland at 14.30, with finally England playing France at 17:30. If you are a rugby hater, we would recommend avoiding the pubs at those times!

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Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Is PR ready for the digital revolution?

Humankind has benefitted immeasurably from change and progress, and there is perhaps no greater example than the industrial revolution. But there are always winners and losers when it comes to change and progress. And that is important to remember now that we are in the third industrial revolution – the digital one.

The challenges of the digital revolution are already evident: it has become a ‘disrupt or be disrupted’ world. And that is as true for the PR industry as any other.

But just as the digital revolution brings new challenges to the PR industry, it also brings new opportunities. And Abchurch recently participated in an event that did an excellent job of highlighting these opportunities.

Abchurch is a member of IPREX, a network of communication agencies with over 100 offices worldwide. Last week, members of many of these agencies gathered in London for the 2015 IPREX Global Leadership Conference. The theme of the Conference was Beyond Silos: Operating and managing in an integrated communication industry.

One of the major topics at the conference was the changing media landscape, which is of course a result of the digital revolution. The event kicked off with a very insightful presentation by Arun Sudhaman, editor-in-chief of the Holmes Report. He discussed the period of change the PR industry is currently undergoing and how agencies can capitalise on these new opportunities. Arun pointed out, quite rightly, that if PR agencies don’t ‘future proof’ themselves they will become irrelevant.

It was also incredibly helpful to see how IPREX partners from around the world are tackling the challenges that arise in the digital era. Based on what was presented at the conference, it’s safe to assume that many IPREX partners are already winners of the digital revolution. There were plenty of examples that demonstrated just how much innovation benefits the communications industry. Although traditional forms of print media and editorial coverage are becoming scarcer, social media creates new opportunities, whether delivering information, creating buzz by pre-empting traditional media coverage or even creating and publishing content for clients. These initiatives by our IPREX partners proved they won’t become the blackberries of the PR industry.

One of the key takeaways of the conference is that a digital silo isn’t enough – the PR industry has to fully embrace the digital revolution to stay relevant. Change can be scary, but here at Abchurch we are embracing the opportunities digital innovation is bringing to the PR industry.

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Friday, 6 March 2015

Weekly Wrap Up: Greece's communications strategy tragedy

Greece’s new left-wing government proved that they had the right message when it came to national voters after they won the January election. But when they used that same message to try and renegotiate the terms of their bailout, it quickly became a lesson in how to lose friends and alienate people for Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis.

Tspiras and Varoufakis entered bailout negotiations with all guns blazing, determined to end Greece’s “fiscal waterboarding”. As soon as they took office in January, they went out of their way to offend Germany, Greece’s biggest lender. Alex Tsipras’ first move after being sworn in as Prime Minister was to lay a wreath at a WWII memorial for Greeks killed by Nazis, in Greece, and Varoufakis brought up Nazism at a press conference during his first visit to Berlin. Apparently the saying, “don’t bite the hand that feeds you” gets lost when translated into Greek.

But Greek politicians did not just ruffle German feathers – they have even managed to alienate potential allies.

Tspiras lashed out at Spain and Portugal, countries which have also been forced to implement austerity in return for bail-outs, publicly accusing the governments of forming an ‘anti-Athens axis’. Business Insider reports that this outburst led to German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble bluntly pointing out that, "Greece has made its position worse with a rhetoric that is difficult for someone on the outside to understand."

This was certainly true for Slovakia. Prime Minister Robert Fico, also an opponent of austerity, came out strongly against Greek demands to ease the terms of its bailout. Fico told the Financial Times, “It would be impossible to explain to the public that ‘poor’ Slovakia…should compensate Greece…for their salaries and pensions…” Greek politicians were demanding a minimum wage increase to about €750 per month as part of the renegotiations. The minimum wage in Slovakia is €380 per month.

The new Greek government has been good at one thing: proving the relevance of the communications industry. They managed to offend almost everyone and they never actually presented a clear strategy, which did not go unnoticed. This was perhaps best summed up by Schaeuble’s remark to reporters during the February bail-out negotiations, “None of my colleagues have understood so far what Greece really wants in the end. Whether Greece itself knows is also the question.”

Without clearly demonstrating how they could prevent history from repeating itself, the demand to get rid of austerity was doomed from the start. This message may have worked for the Greek voters but it certainly wasn’t the message that should have been conveyed to the people who have for the past five years been footing the bill for Greece’s previous welfare state spending binges.

The lesson here: know your audience and cater your messages accordingly. Whether that audience is voters and lenders or investors and the media, an effective communications strategy is incredibly valuable, while the absence of one can result in complete disaster.

This week Abchaps hosted two market lunches, one of which had a focus on Malaysia, where advisers discussed opportunities and sentiments towards Malaysian companies seeking an AIM admission. We also attended Gorkana PR’s breakfast briefing with CityAM where topics such as creativity and the greater influence of digital were discussed.

The broking, advisory and trading house Peel Hunt appointed Edward Knight as head of media in its corporate team. He has previously held senior positions at Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley, whilst Fabian Wallmeier joined Capital Group Fidelity.

Fiscal waterboarding: The Greek term used to describe austerity

At Abchurch, we’re keen on good graphic design. This weekend at protein Studios, see 100 years of graphic design in a single space, with everything from Polish cinema posters of the 1960s to the propaganda images of Latin American radicals.

For electronic fans, LEAF, the London Electronic Arts Festival, is a two day cultural celebration of electronic music, art, technology, and digital futurism. Forget the image of your wasted ‘90s, this event offers everything from contemporary cinema, to live music, to the sort of hedonistic rave that you thought you had left behind along with the day-glo paint.

Finally, if your perfect weekend consists of throwing paint at total strangers, look no further than Play Holi in the City. Organised by Cinnamon Kitchen, you can take part in centuries old festival of colours, safe in the knowledge that some of London’s finest Indian food will be following shortly afterwards. But don’t wear your Sunday best.

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