In a few days time, a delegation from Madano’s tech practice will descend on Lisbon for Web Summit, sometimes described as “the best technology conference on the planet”. Ahead of the event we’ve been pouring through the agenda to identify the speakers who we think will be the most interesting for corporate communications and PR professionals focused on the tech sector like ourselves.
Some of the speakers, like Edward Snowden, would speak at the opening of an envelope (by video link of course, and provided the contents of said envelope were kept confidential). Others, like Tony Blair, are divisive – fascinating for some but would raise the blood pressure for others. It might be “too soon” for some of us to bear hearing Michel Barnier’s vision for the EU less than a week after the Halloween Brexit deadline. We’ll see.
It’s not an easy task to pick out the most rewarding talks in advance, especially given that the New York Times described Web Summit as the “grand conclave of the tech industry’s high priests”. It was also very hard for football obsessives like us to resist putting Ronaldinho on the list, but we just about managed it: having seen him play once or twice, his public speaking will surely not be on the same level.
Here’s our picks, let us know if you’d strongly recommend other speakers!
Margrethe Vestager, EU Commissioner for Competition – Arguably the most powerful figure within the European tech scene and responsible for some whopping antitrust fines, the outgoing competition chief has been at times criticised for not moving fast enough, effectively shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted. With fair competition so crucial to a vibrant tech ecosystem, both startups and mega corporations will be interested to see whether she goes out with a bang and will be listening for hints in a major address. The recent move against Broadcom may indicate that there could yet be some fireworks before a changing of the guard.
Nikki Lannen, CEO, WarDucks – There are some headwinds in the VR world, especially with the BBC and Google scrapping their respective projects, so those seeking succour and positivity will be drawn to Lannen’s talk. WarDucks has a consistent record of making hit games for the format and she’ll be on stage to discuss the sometimes fraught dynamics in the founder/VC relationship.
Kate Brandt – Chief Sustainability Officer, Google – With the protests of Extinction Rebellion ringing fresh in the ears for many attendees, Kate Brandt’s talk on the move to a circular economy and Google’s role in that will be great food for thought for the wider tech industry considering its carbon footprint. Just don’t mention the “flyksgam”!
Olaedo Osoka, CEO, DayStar Power – Given the amount of work that Madano does in the clean energy tech arena and events we have hosted on energy inequality in the past, we are looking forward to hearing about what Daystar Power is doing to Africa’s power gap with clean and reliable power. Expensive and unreliable power represent a heavy burden for Africa’s businesses, impeding their growth and development.
Rohit Prasad, VP & Head Scientist of Alexa Artificial Intelligence, Amazon – As voice assistants (and smart home devices generally) struggle against a backdrop of privacy scandals, Prasad will deliver his views on advancements in and democratisation of conversational AI. What can we expect from AI-enabled assistants over the next few years? And should we be excited or concerned? The audience should have plenty of questions.
If you’re attending the Web Summit and have a communications challenge, we’d love to talk to you. Please contact Dominic Weeks to arrange a time to meet. See you soon, Lisbon!
By James Watson, Senior Account Executive, Energy & Environment Practice
Thanks to Greta Thunberg, Extinction Rebellion and the evocative images from the BBC’s Blue Planet II, the public’s attention has been increasingly and consistently focused on environmental concerns, according to a recent YouGov poll (June 2019). This same poll reported that Brits now view the “environment” as one of the top three issues facing the UK.
This recent awareness on green issues has produced a call for ministers and parliamentarians to act, not least because it distracts attention from another knotty and divisive issue that has consumed Westminster over the past years. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that the government’s long-awaited Environment Bill was recently announced in the Queen’s Speech.
This landmark bill – if you are unfamiliar with it – is a far-reaching environmental edict that intends to beef up standards and environmental improvement targets on air and water quality, plastic waste and natural conservation efforts.
This legislation is, arguably, an attempt to fill some of the gaps that will inevitably emerge in UK environmental law once the country leaves the EU and a bid by this Conservative government to bolster its green credentials and to change the narrative away from Brexit.
The law will establish an independent Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) that will scrutinize environmental policy and force public authorities to green their activities. The OEP will also cover climate change legislation and hold the government to account on its net-zero by 2050 commitments. Regarding air pollution targets, the bill enables the Environment Secretary to set targets that tackle high levels of harmful fine particulate matter.
Making good on the government’s Resources and Waste Strategy, this legislation also makes provisions for managing waste. The measures will enable the government to reform the producer responsibility system, ensure waste collection uniformity across the UK, and impose a deposit return scheme (DRS).
Judging from the list of asks detailed in this bill, the government has attempted to confront the green awareness surge with all guns blazing but it still faces a number of problems, not least from the powers that this bill would provide to the new OEP and the Environment Secretary.
The powerful Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) and its formidable chair, Labour’s Mary Creagh MP, have already scrutinised and taken exception to the draft version of this bill. The EAC has argued that, since the OEP’s funding, monitoring targets and chair will be set and appointed by the government, it will lack the independence and enforcement powers to hold the administration to account.
Creagh has also argued that the OEP’s powers are a poor substitute for the European Commission’s, and the Financial Times has recently reported on a government document that shows that the UK plans to diverge from European norms, once it leaves the EU.
The bill, is therefore expected to be a legislative battleground for parliament’s environmentalist and pro-EU camps, who may attempt to amend the bill in committee stage to ensure that the UK remains aligned with Europe’s powers and standards and, ultimately, slow its progress through both of the Houses.
Conversely, the bill may have given the government more powers than it may wish to handle, given its quest to achieve net-zero by 2050.
Another legislative endeavor – the long-awaited Energy White Paper – will likely contain a raft of decarbonisation measures and renewable solutions to reach the UK’s target of net-zero emissions by 2050. Given the UK’s energy mix will have to include some carbon-intensive and high particulate matter emitting energy sources in the medium term, a balance will need to be found between net-zero and the economics of the energy market.
Since the Environment Bill will allow the Environment Secretary to set targets on air quality targets, it may lead to incoherence between the emissions targets set by the Energy Strategy and Environment Bill’s air pollution targets. Thus, we could arrive at a situation where the Strategy’s and the Bill’s targets are at cross purposes, dealing a blow to the UK’s climate change aspirations.
On the face of it, the current government has clearly recognised the public’s concern regarding green issues but, depending on where you stand, it has produced legislation that either provides the OEP and the government with too little power to make a difference or too much that it risks causing policy incoherence.
All of these concerns will be put on ice now that a General Election has been called, as legislation cannot be carried over from one parliament to the next and the government has until Tuesday 5th of November to gain support from the opposition parties and the likes of Mary Creagh to push through this bill.
Still, it is likely that if this Conservative government is returned, the Bill will be revived and – bar any major changes to the EAC’s view or to the legislation itself – the challenges that it faces will remain.
If you’re interested in the issues raised in this blog please do not hesitate to get in touch with me directly or with a member of Madano’s Energy & Environment practice. The practice advises clients across the Energy & Environment space offering support in Insights, Government and Media Relations and Marketing Content.
Web Summit 2019 is fast approaching and we can’t wait to get to Lisbon and witness the city’s reputation as a hub for thriving tech companies. There will be hundreds of innovative startups exhibiting, but here’s five companies who have already caught our eye.
If autonomous vehicles are going to become a reality, then we’ll need tracking technology that is spatially aware, reactive and protects the surrounding environment. Arbe’s messaging is simple – its imaging radar aims to transform road safety and be the answer to helping deliver autonomous vehicles on our roads.
Regardless of how technology transforms our lives, getting from A-to-B as quickly and as efficiently as possible will remain a human bugbear. Swvl is one start-up hoping to alleviate the stress, cut cost and reduce the time it takes to get places. Its app connects commuters with private minibuses in a bid to free up space on our roads. It’s currently used in Egypt but could Swvl one day rival TfL?
If you work in coding then Bondlayer may be able to help you streamline process and cut down build time. This technology enables app builders and web designers develop native apps and user friendly websites within the platform. We’re keen to see whether this offers a better drag and drop approach than market incumbents.
Drones are the future right? We’ve heard about the likes of Amazon trialling drone delivery but Manna aim to make 3 minute food delivery a reality and yes, you did read that right. We haven’t seen it in action yet but the concept has caught our attention.
The media regularly tells us that we need to get more sleep to function at our best but how is that always possible when there’s so little time? Schleep looks to answer these problems by getting under the skin of businesses and setting behavioural change exercises. Who wouldn’t want their organisation to adopt a sleep programme?
If you’re attending the Web Summit and have a communications challenge, we’d love to talk to you. Please contact Dominic Weeks to arrange a time to meet. See you soon, Lisbon!
Today on October 9, a day before World Mental Health Day, Madano has joined more than 1,400 employers in England by signing the ‘Time to Change’ Employer Pledge to help end the stigma around mental health in the workplace. More than a fifth of communications professionals have been diagnosed with a mental health issue, according to a study by the CIPR, while 75% of respondents said that ours is a very stressful sector. Madano has long been committed to positively contributing to employees’ wellbeing, and physical and mental health, through a variety of initiatives, but we recognise that there is more that we can do. Madano’s pledge signing signifies our commitment to mental health and, through our Action Plan, we will be working to create more robust materials, training and support – based on input from our employees – to ensure we remain focused on what will be most helpful and impactful for our staff. Our team share some of their experiences and thoughts around mental health in an effort to help normalise the conversation.
Juliet Kitson, Senior Programme Executive – “The main theme of this year’s World Mental Health Day is suicide prevention. Research from RAND Corporation in 2017 interviewed families who’ve lost people to suicide, and startlingly found that in almost none of the cases did the usual warning signs provide a reliable signal that their loved one was spiraling towards suicide. With more companies fostering inclusive and compassionate environments through high-quality support programmes and increased awareness, I hope that people can feel empowered to seek help at the very beginning of their difficulties, thereby saving lives.”
Amisha Bhudia, Senior Programme Executive – “Having strong social support (whether it’s friends or a support group) is important to allow you to create happy experiences and combat feelings of isolation and helplessness – it will make you realise you are not alone. Being around a familiar and comfortable group is a mood lifter and prevents you from harbouring any negative thoughts you may be having – they do say laughter is the best medicine.
As much as it seems okay to bottle up and bury an issue, the sooner you can tell someone you can trust, the better it is for your overall wellbeing. Then you can work together to tackle the issue. Having a fun, supportive and open work culture can do wonders for your mood/wellbeing.”
Joshua Ayodele, Account Executive – “Our default method for dealing with mental health commonly means remaining introverted and feeling uncomfortable sharing what we might be going through. This can aggravate the problem and result in further underlying issues. It’s important that workplaces provide a supportive environment that is ready to listen. This was one of the driving forces behind my taking part in the Three Peaks Challenge earlier this year, playing a small part in helping to support a charity like MIND, who are dedicated to improving the care people receive when facing a mental health problem. My clarion call would be to encourage companies, to underline the importance of looking after their employees mental wellbeing daily.”
Samantha Brannan, Senior Designer – “A friend of mine recently said to me: ‘You’re so lucky being able to work from home!’
Which I am. As a graphic designer, as long as I have Wi-Fi and a Mac, I am good.
Madano’s flexible approach to working has had a positive effect on my mental health as previously, when I was commuting into the office five days a week (a round trip of over three hours a day), my energy levels/positivity dropped dramatically and work/life balance seemed weighted in the wrong direction. Wednesdays are now a welcome respite, where I can casually stroll my two young children into school (instead of the mad dash for the train), get home, pop the radio and a wash on, make a coffee and then start my day. Minus the commute, I have more time (and often fewer distractions!) to offer to my work, and the bonus is I get to collect my children from school and spend a bit of quality time chatting about their day before getting back on with what’s on my to-do list”
Mark Fulker, Senior Account Manager – “My family suffered a sudden bereavement this year and Madano was extremely supportive of me throughout that difficult period. Aside from sending me home on the day it happened and giving me another day’s leave on bereavement grounds, our managing partner also phoned me the following Sunday to check how I was. Realising that I was still struggling with the situation, he told me not to come into the office the following week and said I should concentrate on just resting and being with my family.
When I did return to work, everyone I spoke to was sympathetic. My line manager and the senior management team made a point of offering me their condolences and asking me how my family and I were coping. I’ll always be grateful for the care and understanding I received from Madano during that time. It definitely helped me feel that I wasn’t going through things alone.”
Ignorance is bliss goes the age-old adage. What you don’t know can’t hurt you, we’re told. Of course, they’re not always very helpful maxims. In business and other large organisations, there is a growing trend towards continuous improvement and data-driven decision making. But notable exceptions still remain.
Take, for example, the decimation of the political left in most major democratic nations. In a recent essay, political scientist Yascha Mounk argues convincingly that the root cause of the loss of popularity is a fracturing of the shared interests that previously tied together the “bohemian” to the “proletariat”. It is worth a read, but it leaves the impression that many of the changes in voters’ interests and drivers have not been acted upon. It begs a serious question – how can so many organisations which regularly gauge the sentiment of their audiences, across so many countries, have fundamentally become so out of touch. Of course, there are notable electoral surprises that have raised the same questions in recent years.
Still today, we too often make assumptions about what our key audiences’ opinions, motivations and intentions. At best, we ask them to tell us what they are, apparently unaware that the answer they provide could be polluted by all kinds of contexts.
However, the parallel rise of mass digital communications, machine learning algorithms and also behavioural economics, means that the opportunity to observe people’s communications behaviour at scale can create a much more accurate picture of how stakeholders feel about our organisations and related issues, and how they are likely to act in relation to us. Combined with primary research and contact with stakeholders, we can use advanced analytics tools to build a more detailed picture and identify the best areas for focusing attention in order to drive change.
There are manifold areas in which big data analytics and AI are reshaping the communications disciplines, from intensive topic modelling to intelligent marketing automation. However, perhaps the most crucial is what can broadly be termed advanced stakeholder analytics.
Last week, Madano held a roundtable on this subject with people from a broad array of sectors and disciplines to investigate this trend and look at a couple of the most powerful, exciting tools around.
Harry Toukalas, co-founder of Blackhall & Pearl, discussed how machine learning algorithms are being used to analyse internal communications channels and spot, amongst other things, damaging cultural issues and disaffected teams. One scientific trial of such technology showed that, by spotting patterns in employee communications and addressing them, a large consumer facing company was able to improve net promoter score by over 17 points in just 18 months.
Toukalas and his colleagues are delivering technology that can map internal communications and present a picture of organisational health, identify culture carriers and help build trust among teams. This is all based on a close understanding of how the key stakeholders, employees, are performing.
While these kind of tools do run into hesitancy from companies and employees on questions of privacy, Toukalas says that, once reassured on security, many employees embrace the opportunity to understand their behaviour better and ask for the opportunity to see their individual data (this is available only to them) so that they can work on improvement. Furthermore, the technology has been used in improving risk and compliance behaviour and in identifying blockers and change agents in M&A situations where teams and cultures are being brought together.
The use of advanced data analytics with external stakeholders is an increasingly important part of informing communications strategy. Darren Fleetwood, Senior Research Manager at Madano and one of the architects of our own data analytics tools, discussed how advanced stakeholder mapping has presented new opportunities to identify potentially hugely influential stakeholders who connect important groups, but essentially don’t have the fame or notoriety of others. What we can see with the human eye can involve blindspots that the analytics can bring to the fore.
For many people with communications experience that stretches beyond a decade, they will remember that most strategic decisions were previously taken with a mixture of qualitative insight, experience and gut instinct. With the range of tools now at our disposal as communications, PR and public affairs professionals, we have a fantastic opportunity to combine the best of both worlds and improve campaign outcomes.
While the world is getting more complex, the technologies and techniques to navigate it are keeping pace. It is an exciting time.
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