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Is there a right time for property firms to invest in PR?

‘Present tense, future conditional, past perfect’

Much of what we do in PR is about creating compelling information, the kind that makes you feel something or want to do something. In our work in the property sector, we employ strategies to build reputations and to persuade stakeholders of the merits of our clients’ developments.

That is ethical and legitimate (and professionally managed, of course) but when it comes to the bigger picture, other kinds of information come into play. Often enough, we are making a case – let’s say for investment in a property fund – and feel like we’re paddling upstream. That negative current is generated by the steady stream of chatter in print and online that makes us think: “We live in the most uncertain times.”

[quote Author=”BD adviser to architecture practices” Quote=”If you want to get to the top, it’s all about brand and reputation”][/quote]

That message is powerful because we are hardwired to respond to emotion and repetition. But it’s hardly true. Every era experiences uncertainty. Is the outlook for mankind or the world economy or British politics or the property and investment sector foggier in 2017 than it was in the mists of 1924, 1939, 2001 or 2008? Hardly. Too many people labour under the illusion that things were better in the past than they are today, hence the grammatical joke about nostalgia at the top of this piece.

I’m visiting the London offices of national, audit, tax and advisory firm Crowe Clark Whitehill along with a number of property pros for an update on their 2016 survey of the property sector, and the ‘U’ word comes up. Uncertainty was a feature of last year’s survey, and it remains one of the downsides highlighted in the firm’s list of likely positives and negatives this year. It will no doubt feature in the results from this year’s survey too, which you can complete yourself online here 2017 – Survey.

But as Crowe’s Head of Property and Construction, Stacy Eden, points out: You can’t afford to wait until life is certain.

Indeed, there is no time like the present. A specialist adviser to architects once told me there are three levels in the pyramid of practices. At entry level, startups depend on word of mouth for work. Then there is the plethora of medium-sized practices frantically completing RfQs and competing for tenders. But at the pinnacle of the pyramid, topped by the likes of Foster + Partners, BDP and Zaha Hadid, he told me, it’s all about brand and reputation.

The big issue I see when many property sector clients come to me is that they are already behind the curve when they decide to act on PR and brand building. One day, they decide they want to move up to the next level, perhaps by attracting bigger-hitting investors than they’ve had before, but they should have been preparing for this day years ago. Even with a humongous budget, it takes time to build a reputation.

If your strategic plan is for growth, there is absolutely no time like the present to begin building awareness and credibility. PR will deliver when, as the textbooks say, it is planned and sustained.

So, let’s get ready for the future now and start by looking at the positives identified by Crowe:

  • Low interest rates are good for homebuyers and businesses.
  • Family financing and schemes such as Help to Buy are helping young people to get onto the housing ladder.
  • The weak pound combined with a ten per cent fall in prices in the London prime residential sector makes it very attractive to foreign investors.
  • The supply and demand imbalance on London housing means growth will continue over the next five years.

As always, there are negatives too. Let’s not pretend going for growth is risk free. Transaction rates on property deals have fallen, and there is low wage growth. The UK property sector must contend with mortgage regulations, an intransigent planning system and a heavier tax burden than many other places.

The best antidote for negativity is action. That doesn’t mean suspending reality or ignoring the negatives. As an example, I once heard of a property developer who would weigh up the potential pros and cons of various investment options. After deciding which to choose, he would put all his efforts into preventing the cons materialising. He was, you could say, focused on the negatives but towards a positive outcome.

The London Chamber has just called on the UK government to accelerate investment in infrastructure such as Crossrail 2 to boost flagging business confidence highlighted in their latest survey. Perhaps the government will act but perhaps not. Smart investors will find opportunities now rather than waiting for opportunities that may never materialise.

Waiting for everything to be perfect means waiting for ever. Those who like to look back at the past with rose-tinted glasses may reflect that things weren’t so perfect. Perhaps they may even see themselves putting off making decisions back then that would have made their brand reputations – and their businesses – a lot better off today.

 

 

 

 

 

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Ten fundamentals for a great business website

Web overhaul project by Hopwood for surveyors MPG

A client asked me: “Do you have any research or feedback on what makes a website successful?” Well, having been involved in writing, designing and promoting websites since the early days of business Internet adoption, I certainly do. Here are ten fundamentals.

We have produced numerous websites, online shops and web apps working with our in house design team, specialists and web developer partners. For a proposal and quotation to overhaul your website that will address all of these points and more, get in touch.

  1. Research concluded what made a website an enjoyable/useful experience for the visitor was that it gave them the information they were looking for.
  2. Related to the point above, Google’s algorithms are now focused on displaying content that is authoritative and answers their users’ questions.
  3. This means that if you want to rank highly in search engines (mainly Google but also Yahoo, Bing etc.), you need to provide authoritative content. This is good news for us as a PR and communications agency, as creating engaging content is a huge part of what we do.
  4. The jiggery pokery of old school SEO specialists – loading pages with meta tags and keywords etc. to try to attract high search engine rankings – has been superseded by point 3. Google is also clamping down on web sites that try to manipulate the returns.
  5. Good images – and increasingly video – are important for a rich user experience. Video also enables you to attract visitors via YouTube, Vimeo etc.
  6. A blog and/or news section is important to keep content current and encourage repeat visitors.
  7. For the same reason, a live feed on the home page from a social channel – usually Twitter – or your blog news feed demonstrates you are active, current and in tune with digital communications. There is nothing sadder than a blog or social feed that has had nothing posted on it for months or even years. Again, as PR and communications providers, we help our clients ensure there is a continuity of content.
  8. The first websites were online brochures, and in a business to business context, that is still somewhat the case. So a contemporary design and good copy that tell your story and reflect your brand identity are crucial. This is also important for those occasions when customers and/or prospects visit your site just to find your telephone number or location. If the website looks poor or out of date on those occasions, it damages your image.
  9. The penultimate point is usability. A good CMS will allow authorised users to update content simply throughout the site.
  10. Finally, an open source platform will help to protect you against hackers and future proof your site, as you are not tied to any particular web designer or developer.

There is much more that goes into a successful website but for a parting shot, consider this. Most web projects begin with design and structure then throw together content to fill the holes. It would be better to consider content at the outset, and to put at least as much effort into it as you do into design.

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Behind the scenes at Sky Sports

It’s commonly said that things move fast in the world of business but not, in my experience, when compared with daily newspaper journalism. And the breakneck speed that is required to process news accelerates in the world of 24 hour broadcast news, something that is true for sports news too.

I’m with an audience of PR pros in London at a breakfast event to meet high profile figures from Sky Sports and Sky Sports News. As we discover more about the way this behemoth brand operates, I am increasingly struck by the amazing depth of resources and cross fertilisation that Sky has its disposal, and I cannot help but admire the energy and creativity they put in to leveraging their assets – chief of which by a huge margin are the live sports for which they have broadcasting rights.

How do you as a PR pro get your stories into Sky Sports News. As with all broadcast outlets, it begins with the planning team who are usually looking a week ahead. There are nine in the team but Sky Sports News also has 100 journalists who are expected to do their bit to find news. The Sky Sports news team are looking for stories that are interesting, entertaining and relevant but most of all that will drive audience for the events that Sky televises.

One opportunity for PR is to fill a gap. Sky needs to keep the narrative going when there are no live events, such as in the long NFL off season. They try to serve core fans and entice new ones. This is achieved by adding showbiz to the event – as demonstrated by its darts events – or enticing crowds to fill empty seats at netball games via its Sky Tickets service.

Funny story

When is 24 hour news not 24 hours? Sky Sports’ Through the Night show is live between 6 am and midnight. After that, they loop the hour from 11 am to midnight until they go live again. It used to be common practice on the night shift to nip out to a newsagents around the corner for a coffee or sometimes a crafty beer. As the show’s presenters appear against the backdrop of the newsroom, one of the journalists was televised drinking a beer between 11 am – and then again every hour until 6 a.m.

Filling a daily news channel is hard work. The ticker is live through the night, and the office is staffed from 3 am ready for a 6 am start. Staff sometimes work to deadlines of minutes for breaking news. Then there are Sky’s digital channels which have a combined reach of 43 million, though the head of digital expresses some healthy scepticism about how meaningful those statistics are.

There is more frank discussion to come. Sky’s commercial partnership with sport governing bodies makes reporting some news stories sensitive. Sky Sports News on tv and digital applies different rules to news than its BBC counterpart or Sky’s main news channel. For example, it didn’t run footage of dressing room celebrations by the Brazilian football team killed in a plane crash, as it was deemed too dark. Our viewers haven’t come to us for that kind of thing, they say. That aside, Sky has more rigorous editorial policies than some media, requiring all stories to be double sourced, the same standard that the Washington Post applies. In a digital world where rumours and real news break as often and noisily as waves, they avoid being left behind by the device of an ‘Investigating Desk’ which it uses to tell viewers it’s aware that something’s broken and that its journalists are investigating.

PR pros should think about footage to go with the story they are pitching. This is also increasingly required for digital as well as broadcast news. Avoid over branding. Ofcom and viewers are turned off by it. Vodafone made that mistake, and even though the event was loaded with sport celebrities, Sky wouldn’t air it.

Sky has ten hero events a year, such as the start of the F1 season. For these, they plan much further in advance. Sky Bet and Sky Tickets get involved. Darts is big for Sky’s pubs and clubs team so they get involved in brainstorming. To promote tennis coverage to a non-core audience, they set up a stunt to involving catching a Guinness Record quantity of tennis balls in a bucket on your head featuring tennis star Greg Ruzedski and to win that crossover audience, the presenter of Soccer AM, its laddish Saturday morning football preview show.

Sky’s influence and budgets are apparent in the way it is extending its tentacles through the social networks. It is a launch partners with YouTube Live and has a very successful partnership with Snapchat, for whose users it streams Premier League goals for free.

It is not all plain sailing. Sky Sports faces competition, particularly for millennials, from The SportBible, although Sky’s head of digital points out that channel depends on Facebook algorithms for its existence. Meanwhile, the news team are constantly agonising over how to do live streaming online without cannibalising its own coverage, and the commercial team still struggle to shut down the pirates.

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Lessons from HS1/2

Selling the vision of major projects: Do it well or be demonised.

At the relaunch of the property and construction group within PRCA (the Public Relations and Communications Association), we’re hearing from the horse’s mouth about what went right with the public consultation and engagement on HS1 and what went oh so badly wrong on HS2.

Quick disclaimer: I’ve used the title of the presentation for this piece but I wouldn’t describe public consultation and stakeholder engagement as ‘selling’ exercises. That suggests one-way traffic and propaganda for commercial gain. On the contrary, done well, these kinds of projects should be about involvement and engagement, especially since we now have an armoury of digital communications channels that enable this on a scale never before possible.

Our speaker is Ben Ruse, former media director for HS1 who went on to be lead spokesperson for HS2 until 2013.

His opening shot is that grand projects automatically attract public disapproval. In the Olympic Park area, London 2012 had a 50 per cent approval rating before the games which soared to 75 per4 cent around Super Saturday only to slip back to pre-game levels. Nationwide – let alone in the areas affected – HS2 has been polling 35 per cent in favour at best.

Does it matter?

How much does that matter? Ben points out that the House of Commons typically returns enormous majorities in favour of big infrastructure projects such as HS2. Ultimately, government makes the decisions.

The challenge to win public support is on a very human level. Good communications cannot meet this test alone. The other ‘c’ word, compensation, can, or could if the UK way of delivering it wasn’t so fiendishly complex and built on a desire by authorities to limit the amount paid out to the minimum possible. By contrast, France gives three times more generously and, as Ben points out, has built two airports in the time it has taken the UK to make a decision to build one runway.

So money gets the job done but good PR helps. And the PR for HS1 was very good. The decision to redevelop St Pancras and build the high speed connection to the Chunnel delivered a generation of disruption for people living around the site.

Eyes on the prize

The project spent money buying local people double glazing to keep out the noise and tumble dryers so that their washing wasn’t coated in dust but PR delivered something bigger – letting people know what the ‘prize’ would be in regeneration. A lot of the campaign’s success was built on being visible locally. The team set up a Portakabin on site as a marketing suite. It worked at being visible in the local press, in classrooms (to enlist young ambassadors to persuade their parents of the benefits) and at local events.

Rather than those sterile foam board displays in village halls and council offices – we’ve all been there – take a stall at the village fete. Be in context and take advantage of the power of existing local events and groups to deliver an audience. The HS1 PR team were creative in other ways too. One standout example was a play they commissioned by a Radio 4 playwright that told the story of Sir John Betjeman’s struggle to save St Pancras from demolition.

Monstrous

So that’s what success looks like. HS2 by comparison has become the monster for all Camden’s ills. It seems a case of too little too late on the communications front, and the opposition to the scheme not just in London but all along the route – and politically – is mounting. Those who want to deliver big projects should realise at the outset that delays because of local opposition cost huge amounts of money.

I asked a question based on Hopwood PR’s experience working with the URC for Leicester some years ago. Here we found a clear generational gap between the Grumpy Old Men generation and a younger audience who were readier to believe and embrace the opportunities. We identified that one of the major obstacles to winning the hearts and minds of the over 40s was to convince them that the URC would deliver and it would be good. Like many cities, Leicester had been brutalised in the 1960s and its people promised wonderful new things by successive councils that never materialised, such as a monorail. Their scepticism was understandable. One of the ways we challenged this was to create two regeneration walking tours with illustrated leaflets enabling people to visit the sites, see the first buildings being delivered and get a feel for what else could be on the way. A shiny new shopping centre and Grade A offices near the rail station were duly delivered before 2008 brought things grindingly to a halt. Leicester still has 12 miles of undeveloped waterway, though there have been moves to revive the plans recently.

Bear in mind this was long enough ago that silver surfers were the exception rather than the norm so social media wasn’t a channel we could use with them, but Facebook – a burgeoning force at the time – was. Not only did the channel connect us to an enthusiastic younger audience it also allowed us to demonstrate to stakeholders and the older generation that we were engaging with young people. We did this simply by sending a news release and screen shot to the local newspaper.

The answer to my question then is to use a balance of online and conventional media but remember that audience profiles change over time so adapt your use of channels.

Be careful too. In one of his HS roles, Ben had taken the reasonable premise that the project should be given a human face and made the mistake of making publicly available a Twitter profile for himself. It resulted in the stream from hell. So beware open forums that a few vocal opponents can take over and occupy. Instead keep your online activity short lived. Connect it to an event or something tangible with a beginning and end. Keep it moving to avoid hosting a festering hard-core group.

Lessons in brief

• Engage, don’t sell
• Expect opposition for big projects
• Good communications can’t do it all
• Compensate early and generously
• Give practical help to communities
• Tell the big regeneration story well
• Go where your audience is
• Use a mix of online and offline channels
• Understand the generation gap
• Keep online activity short-lived

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Building a better London

London has a bright future with its formidable business community, culture, sport and nightlife.

Angus Dodd, chief executive of Quintain, delivers an upbeat forecast for the capital in post Brexit Britain. He heads up the organisation that is delivering regeneration on a grand scale at Wembley Park with 1,000 homes built and 4,850 to come around the national stadium. Aimed at a more prosperous resident than the norm for Brent – one of the poorest boroughs in London – he is confident demand for homes will remain intense despite uncertainty. Brexit is only one incarnation of this. As the breakfast presentation draws to a close, a few New England villagers are the first Americans to cast their votes in the Trump v Clinton Presidential race. There are elections on the way in France and Germany, as well as a referendum on the Italian constitution in the offing.

Switching back to Brexit, there remains uncertainty about what Brexit means. “We are in the eye of the storm, and we need to move out of it.” International investment in real estate, services and other parts of the economy is vital, so Angus likes the London Mayor’s hashtag #LondonIsOpen.

Placemaking

Quintain wants to contribute to building a better London. His fear is that they will not deliver this aim, that Wembley Park will be commercially successful but have no longevity. After all, many new places that were unveiled in the 1960s and afterwards with a rosy future have turned into sink estates. Angus reads a quote from a former Thamesmead resident. “I grew up on Thamesmead as a child it was great because of the open spaces but as a teenager it became a hell hole due to its dark passages where gangs congregated.”

Quintain’s vision for Wembley Park in 2024 is the opposite, a flourishing community of nearly 20,000 people living in a place that stands the test of time. The 85-acre site includes Wembley Arena and 268,000 sq ft of retail space with 1 million sq ft more to come, but Quintain has also invested in the spaces between, not imposing a lifestyle on residents but allowing the community room to grow its own networks and activities. “Not just student flats for grown-ups.”

The power of regeneration is clear in Wembley and in places such as Kings Cross and Nine Elms. Yet there remains a huge housing shortage in London with 10 million people forecast to be living here by 2023. “Brexit is not going to change that.”

Partnerships

How do you deliver on place-making and regeneration? The answer is partnerships, according to Angus, including with the local community, but they do not always get it right. It is the week after Bonfire Night, and they have sponsored a spectacular firework display for residents which has resulted in glowing comments on Twitter, which he monitors via a daily digest. On other days, it is painful to read, as in the period after Pizza-gate, a pizza festival that ran out of pizza. In disadvantaged Brent, the most ethnically diverse of the London boroughs, engagement with local people means running events that appeal to the whole community, not just the relatively wealthy people who can afford to live on the site.

Good relations are also crucial with local and central government (Brent council has a civic centre on the site), TfL and the FA, who own the stadium.

Alongside this, Quintain is forging partnerships with the building, design and investment communities and working with them to achieve its objectives.

Hopwood PR’s work on Green Street in the Meadows brought together all these strands, supporting our developer client to deliver an eco-homes scheme that is both transformational and part of the neighbourhood (and commercially successful).

PRS is the future

Angus regrets that the UK relies almost entirely on the private sector for housing because property developers need to make a profit but building homes to sell doesn’t solve the housing problem. There is a clear choice as he sees it between PRS or forcing millennials out of London. He points out it would take a very frugal person eight years on a typical London salary to amass the £80,000 deposit needed for an average London home. By contrast, a couple could move in to an upmarket home on Wembley Park (15 minutes from where we are in CBRE’s W1 headquarters) for £20,000 a year, £10k each. “I’m convinced this is the future.”

Five a day

Mark Collins, Chairman of Residential at CBRE, introduces Angus by way of listing five of the London Chamber’s 20 key points on which it is lobbying the Mayor.

  1. More affordable homes to rent in all new developments (the Chamber is cautious about government prioritising home ownership because of the effect that would have on the Build to Rent sector (B2R).
  2. Support SME builders
  3. Bring forward availability of small plots of land
  4. Make the most of space (a call for release of ‘green belt’ land for development that the Mayor has signalled he won’t countenance)
  5. Ensuring London has the skills it needs (more devolution to the capital so it has power to manage its own future)

He highlights concern among businesses about EU nationals already working here and the risk that post-Brexit immigration policy might affect their status and stop businesses in London importing the best international talent. Failure to invest in UK construction training 15 years ago has led to a chronic shortage of UK skilled labour. This can be addressed over the next five years (Hopwood PR client DTL has been pressing and putting forward ideas for this with the help of some creative media relations from us) but there will be a lag time. Meanwhile, 80 per cent of construction workers in London are foreign compared with 50 per cent nationally.

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The power of words in property PR

Can having a way with words give property organisations the power to make big things happen, and what does physics have to do with public relations?

Scientists knew about black holes before they were called black holes but it wasn’t until the term was coined that the phenomenon captured the public imagination. A man known for his way with words, physicist John Wheeler is credited with inventing the label in 1967 (he also came up with ‘space time’), long enough ago for two generations of sci-fi authors and screenwriters to be in his debt.

property PR
Credits: NASA/CXC/M.Weiss

Physics and public relations are not as distant disciplines as one might think, as I wrote in my blog The Arecibo Effect: Seven PR Lessons from the Greatest Communication Never Made.

Dramatic words 

Compelling and descriptive labels can have a powerful effect in other sectors, even B2B. At a property industry breakfast, the London Chamber chief exec Colin Stanbridge reminds us of their register of derelict land in the capital, which they cleverly christened The Domesday Book of Brownfield Sites. That initiative was influential enough to make then London Mayor Boris Johnson set up the less-imaginatively-titled London Land Commission. It shows the power of words to make things happen.

Big, complex ideas need smart wordsmiths 

Fast forward to October 2016, and the Chamber is calling on the Mayor and government to encourage more SME developers to tackle London’s housing shortage. PRS is key to this. It also wants London to have a place at the table in EU talks to safeguard the capital’s ability to import international talent post the Leave vote, and has published a Brexit manifesto. Colin Stanbridge urges politicians to avoid obsessing about politically-fascinating EUU negotiations to the exclusion of all else and to remember to run the country and invest in infrastructure projects such as Crossrail. Any one of those points would be more powerful with a black hole-style key word or phrase.

What next for residential in London?

Don O’Sullivan, MD of Galliard, a sizeable developer mainly focused on London, tells us there is a 50 per cent under supply of homes in London and what is needed is more land released, which he  thinks developers would gear up to build on if it happened over five years or so.

He reckons the biggest obstacle to building homes in London is planning – 33 independent boroughs as nests of NIMBY-ism – followed by a tax on developers in the form of Section 106, land prices and political factors such as opposition to foreign investors. Angry about Brexit and the potential to make the skills crisis event worse, he thinks the vote will deter foreign investment while the exchange rate collapse makes materials more pricey.

Lateral thinking and partnership working

He thinks foreign investment restrictions won’t materialise in London while his firm’s response to land shortages has been to focus on converting offices to residential, which by taking office space out of circulation has unintentionally pumped up commercial rents.

A last word: The property world, as I constantly see at networking events like these, depends on its networks to get things done, and Don O’Sullivan’s firm is no different. It has no less than 100 joint venture partners.

 

 

 

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POST BREXIT: WHY LOCAL AUTHORITIES NEED TO STEP UP ON INWARD INVESTMENT

From multicultural Leicester to cosmopolitan London this morning where the latest Capital 500 survey of business confidence was unveiled. The mood is angry.

In the wake of England’s humiliating exit from the Euro 2016 football championships, the economic goalposts have been moved, and no-one knows where.

What we do know, as Vicky Pryce from the Centre for Economics and Business Research put it, is that uncertainty is bad news for foreign direct investment. In a post-Brexit Britain, local authorities, LEPs and other organisations with a role to play in attracting investors to the UK are going to have to work harder. And for those that do, there could be rewards.

The survey, taken before the referendum, showed business confidence in the capital at its lowest ebb since the survey began in 2014.

Colin Stanbridge, chief executive of the London Chamber which published the report, said: “Government must move quickly to maintain confidence and minimise economic uncertainty.”

But that seems unlikely to happen in the current political vacuum. All the more reason for local authorities and everyone with a stake in regeneration to step up to the penalty spot in our hour of need. One reason to make plans to market local areas now is that the funding scenario is likely to change when the Government gets its act together and puts cash behind a concerted effort to avert an exodus of investors and international businesses. Organisations with effective marketing communications and PR plans built on strong inward investment strategies – such as our client Melton Borough Council’s Food Enterprise Zone – ought to be be well placed to gain funding from any new Government initiatives as well as winning a share of the likely boosted coffers in existing ones.

As firms ponder their future, business support organisations have an opportunity to show leadership and remind their catchment areas of the portfolios of help available. There is a communications job to be done right now to explain how they can help businesses to adapt to change, and there is an urgent requirement to develop arguments for overseas investment in local areas – building a compelling case for local areas that can survive doubts about the future of Britain outside the EU. It is important for organisations to act now to provide certainty and confidence. Delaying campaigns and putting decisions on hold will make things worse. Waiting for the Government and the EU to come to a settlement will only create a vacuum of uncertainty.

What can local areas learn from the reaction of London’s economic powerhouse? Colin Stanbridge again: “As Ministers now contemplate the UK’s future outside the EU, London’s new mayor, Sadiq Khan, needs to be involved in that planning – to help harness the resources necessary to sustain long-term economic growth.

“Government must look to maintain the capital’s position as world-leading place to do business. That means having the pull factors that will attract global companies to invest and locate in London whether that is around business environment, strategic infrastructure or skilled staff. We need to turn the result of the referendum into a time of opportunity for Britain.”

Vicky Pryce added: “The results of the survey certainly chime with what we have seen for the economy as a whole. The vote to leave in the referendum unsettled markets. Although a lower sterling may be good for exports it also raises manufacturers’ costs and the prices of consumer goods. There is no clarity on what trade deal may be agreed and whether tariffs may be imposed on UK exports. Or whether Scotland remains part of the UK in the longer term. Uncertainty is bad news for growth and for FDI, and the political vacuum created by the Prime Minister’s resignation adds to this. More monetary and fiscal support to the economy will be essential.”

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Tell your story or someone else will do it for you

Like nature, the media abhors a vacuum.

 

The Guardian’s Nils Pratley sympathises with Sir Philip Green’s grumblings about the unrestrained conduct of MPs grilling him over the collapse of BHS, but he also feels Sir Philip could have waged a smarter PR campaign in the wake of the department store’s downfall. Pratley says the retail tycoon should have moved quickly to give his version of events, but instead his claim to have sold BHS to a credible buyer has slowly been eroded by other witnesses.

 

Few individuals in business or the public sector face the same kind of media and political scrutiny. Nor do they neatly fit into a vogue theme stereotype (in this case ‘fat cat boss’), but that doesn’t mean they can afford to ignore the media (including social media).

 

If you do not build and manage your reputation in the media and online, someone else will likely do it for you.

 

Organisations in the property and regeneration sector – private and public – frequently get into scrapes by proposing schemes without properly planning for the PR scenarios that will unfold when they go public.

 

This means that the news reaches affected communities as a surprise, and the shockwaves can quickly turn into an organised opposition campaign. I have heard tales of this happening, even when the planned development was overwhelmingly a good thing for the local area.

 

In one London borough, social housing residents were to be relocated before being rehoused in brand new homes in the same place that far exceeded the specifications of their existing flats and houses. There was a furore but as soon as they understood what was really happening, it died away. The communications campaign that eventually solved the problem should have been done ahead of time. It would have avoided the unpleasantness that manifested itself after residents tried to work out what was happening without the full knowledge they needed. In the absence of facts, they filled in the gaps with conjecture and misinformation, and the whole sorry story unfolded.

 

It is important to properly manage stakeholder engagement and prepare the ground before conducting a genuine public consultation, rather than a box-ticking exercise. Ensure the media are professionally briefed to that they are fully informed with the thinking behind any development.

 

Doing this well can not only avert a potential crisis but also smooth the path through planning consent as well as commercial and broader PR success as new developments and urban neighbourhoods integrate successfully with the wider community.

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The Ranieri Effect: 13 miraculous life and PR lessons you can learn from the humblest of champions

Leicester City’s miraculous victory startled everyone, and manager Claudio Ranieri won everyone’s hearts, even the media’s. But how? From a public relations perspective, we’ve been looking at how the Italian maestro picked up a broken record and created an operatic masterpiece.

PS As the longest-established PR consultancy in Leicester, we want to say thank you. We have never seen anything like it.

  1. Never underestimate the value of relationships

Claudio Ranieri’s rapport extends not only to his team but also to the fans who he says pushed his team beyond its dream, becoming in the breathless words of the Leicester Mercury The Immortals. His ability to build bridges also extends to the media. At press conferences, he would shake every journalist’s hand until that became impossible when the Leicester story began to attract legions of them. By contrast, Jose Mourinho’s awful early season at Chelsea was marked by surly interviews and his eventual demise, sabotaged by his own players.

  1. Smile, and the whole world smiles with you

With a twinkle in his eye and a disarming smile, Ranieri is easy to like, and his sense of humour is infectious. Journalists love his stories – Christmas gifts of little bells echoing his #dillydingdillydong training ground chime for players to wake up, pizzas all round when the team stopped leaking goals and kept a clean sheet. Notice the deeply serious messages – in a football context – behind the jokes.

  1. Humility is endearing but pride comes before a fall

What would the media have made of a manager who loudly claimed the credit for every good result, criticised opponents and condemned referees? They would bring him down with zeal at the first opportunity. Ranieri did not behave like that. He gave credit to everyone around him, was gracious about opponents and officials, and in his manner, came across as genuinely humble. The media liked that, and wanted to share in the fairy-tale ending. So did football supporters around the world, who began rooting for Leicester almost as much as they did for their own teams.

  1. Be steadfast in the face of adversity

If you can keep your heads when all around you are losing theirs… Of course, there were doubts. Critics continually predicted a meltdown. When things got tough and fans were biting their nails, Ranieri demonstrated immense strength of character. As the gap with the chasing teams narrowed, he gave an inspiring interview: “Never are we worried.” If you are campaigning for something, you can learn a lot from that.

  1. Don’t be afraid to show your human side

While the Brits are proud of their northern European work ethic and restraint, they not-so-secretly yearn for the romance of the south. Italian Ranieri gave the media another story when, while nearest rivals Tottenham played a crunch match, he left the country to visit his 95-year-old mother on her birthday.

  1. Reduce the pressure by focusing on achievable goals

As hopes and expectations grew, Ranieri was brilliant at deflecting pressure. By under-promising and over-delivering, he took the burden of expectation from his players and made every milestone along the way to the Premiership seem all the more remarkable. The opposite approach, to forecast immense success and then fail to achieve it, invites criticism down the line.

  1. Adapt your strategy as things change

Ranieri was brought in to build the team. This season would be about staying in the Premiership then building towards a minor European competition and then the Champions League. As each of those objectives was ticked off in his first season, Ranieri gently looked towards the next game. As opponents changed the way they played against his team, he changed tactics to shut up shop and put together a string of one-nil wins.

  1. Do it in style

It is one thing to win, quite another (as fans of the French rugby team demand) to do it in style. Voted the football players’ player of the year Riad Mahrez scored fabulous, stylish goals. Some of Leicester’s passing play brought to mind Barcelona’s tiki taka at its best. Even the pitch looked great. Teutonic penalties are all very well but this is entertainment. Let’s see some flair.

  1. Experiment with remarkable language

There are perhaps 100 trillion words on the web. Many of those are in clichés. Ranieri, by contrast, as a non-native English speaker, brought a rococo style to his interviews.

  1. Tell a good story

Leicester City’s amazing escape from certain death and march to the top of the English game is a classic storyline – overcoming the monster. An equally amazing story within the story was Jamie Vardy’s journey from non-league nobody to breaking Premiership records and being picked to play for England at the age of 28. That too is a classic storyline – rags to riches.

  1. Make a name for yourself

Perhaps you don’t have the flair of a Mahrez and will never have posters of your picture on young fans’ bedroom walls, but you can still make a name for yourself. Another Leicester hero, shortlisted for player of the year was N’Golo Kante. His consistent performances recognised by his peers and the intelligent football pundits, even if they were not the stuff of Hollywood.

  1. Be a man (or woman) of the people

Down to earth, hard-working and the captain of this happy band of brothers, Wes Morgan epitomises true grit. Genuine characters who ordinary people can relate to almost always get the popular vote.

  1. Celebrate in style

When Leicester’s season was all but done, and the unlikely Premiership roundly won, there were fireworks of course, but the most memorable moment was a spine-tingling performance of Nessun Dorma by Andrea Bocelli in the centre of the pitch. There was no unseemly chest beating from Ranieri. He stood alongside the tenor, watery eyed and quietly proud in an understated blue suit and tie. It was beautiful and dignified.

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The best things ever said about PR

So here they are, the world’s favourite quotes about the public relations profession as compiled in our online survey of communications professionals.