A few years ago, while working as a communications consultant at a listed industrials company, I was at a PR industry event and got chatting to the organiser. I casually mentioned to him that I was considering moving from my in-house position to try my hand in a communications consultancy. He looked at me in horror.
“No one does that!” he said, incredulity spreading across his face.
“Don’t they?” I replied, suddenly concerned about my intended career path.
Fast forward to now and here I am, a senior account manager approaching my first anniversary at integrated comms consultancy Madano. So, has it been as bad as I’d been warned?
In a word – no.
Consultancy vs in-house
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve definitely been on a steep learning curve in the past year. In fact, it’s been a double curve, as I’ve had to adjust to the peculiarities of consultancy life while immersing myself in entirely new industry sectors.
Not surprisingly, one of the most challenging things I’ve had to get used to is the dreaded time sheet. Initially, dividing my working day into 15-minute blocks to be either billed (hooray!) or not (boo!) just felt so… weird.
Another big adjustment I’ve had to make is getting used to the sheer number of meetings that seem to take place every five minutes. In the early days I’d come in, see that my diary was virtually empty and look forward to a day spent catching up on work, or even getting ahead of myself. But then the calendar invites would arrive, one after the other, and suddenly I wasn’t nearly as free as I’d previously imagined.
Sometimes I miss the old in-house days, when I’d spend a whole morning working on one project and a full afternoon working on another. But I’ve gradually come to enjoy the extra structure offered by the consultancy working environment, and the discipline and organisational skills it demands of me.
One thing I definitely don’t miss from my in-house career is having to repeatedly explain to virtually anyone outside of my department exactly what my job entails. No matter how many times I patiently outlined how I was able to support their business objectives with strategic messaging or media relations techniques, managing directors, sales directors and even the brand marketing managers who were my regular points of contact would often ask me to produce an ad for them, or design a product brochure!
A favourite question I was often asked while in-house was: “Can we PR this?”
To which the answer was always: “What do you mean?”
In my experience, the financial investment a consultancy’s clients are required to make tends to oblige them to commit a similar investment in time and effort, which ultimately makes for a stronger and more productive relationship.
Inevitably, this has inevitably caused me to view myself as a revenue-generator. Although slightly daunting at first, learning to think in commercially responsible terms ends up making you feel empowered, whether you’re going after new business or identifying potential opportunities with existing clients.
It’s all a long way from the uncomfortable feeling shared by more than one in-house practitioner of being unfairly seen as primarily a business cost and, worse, one whose financial contribution to the organisation seems unclear.
A final, pleasant surprise I’ve had over the last 12 months has been the friendly, supportive culture I’ve encountered within Madano. Working in-house, you hear all sorts of horror stories about the back-stabbing and infighting that goes on in agencies, but I’ve yet to experience any of that behaviour.
All of my colleagues are talented, collaborative and, most of all, fun to work with. If there are one or two Machiavellians among them, they’re very good at hiding it.
So, there you have it – one man’s journey from two decades of in-house service to cutting his teeth in a cutting-edge communications consultancy. The last year has been one hell of a ride and I can’t wait to find out what the next has in store.
This week, the European Commission published its strategy and white paper for Artificial Intelligence. It is a significant step for the new Commission, who promised to deliver this within its first 100 days.
The European Union was behind the curve in setting the direction of travel for the development of the consumer internet and the use of user data, which was shaped by the US and now owned by dominant giants like Facebook, Amazon and Google.
The rise of ambitious, well-funded Chinese tech businesses like Tencent and Huawei have only worsened the EU’s tech envy and strategic headache.
The EU’s new AI Strategy aims to capture the early mover advantage and shape how AI technology progresses. It strikes an optimistic tone about AI’s potential – in tackling climate change, improving healthcare and transforming mobility – while proposing rules and principles that make the datasets that AI development relies on as open and non-intrusive as possible. The strategy aims to build public trust and oversight for AI, but crucially for the EU, it also supports “full single markets, where companies of all sizes can compete on equal terms”, as the influential Vice-Commissioner Margrethe Vestager put it.
By laying down those rules, the EU hopes to encourage the tech sector to practice European principles and values for AI development, and attract and support the next generation of tech giants to base themselves in Europe.
The UK has now left the European Union. Once the Transition Period ends at the start of 2021, the UK Government has pledged to establish a new regulatory and taxation regime to make Britain a global leader in technology innovation, including AI. Alongside this, Boris Johnson has pledged a huge uplift in research and innovation spending. Put together, Johnson hopes to lure tech giants to Britain and foster British leadership in the sector.
However, the EU’s new AI Strategy makes clear how difficult it will be for the UK to operate in the gaps between three economic superpowers – the EU, the US and China. The UK may want to offer divergence from the EU to empower innovators, but will tech businesses ignore the rules and principles of the enormous European market next door when taking products to market?
This challenge brings home how important it will be for the UK’s innovative tech businesses to tell the Government what they need, and for Government to listen. As the EU gets serious about making tech progress, responsive and creative policymaking from Government and pro-active industry engagement will be needed to generate room for meaningful difference in technology standards and development for the UK in the years to come.
This important question was posed at a lunchtime event that Madano recently hosted with Chris Stark of the Committee on Climate Change and with clients on what companies should be doing to tackle net zero.
It is a question that will doubtlessly arise time and again given the sharp focus on climate change, net zero and last month’s official launch of COP26 to be hosted in Glasgow in November.
How should communicators act?
1. BE A LEADER AND DEMONSTRATE LEADERSHIP WITH CLEAR NETZERO-FOCUSED MESSAGING
The net zero challenge and climate change aren’t going to go away anytime soon so respond to it now. Those companies with clear, consistent and contemporary messaging on net zero are going to be better placed to respond to the inevitable questions that will arise about carbon mitigation strategies than those that aren’t. This is the new net zero paradigm.
Define what your company’s net zero narrative is and that you have a plan to reduce your carbon footprint.
Present how your company or organisation is helping others tackle the net zero challenge too. This might be through technology, better and more sustainable ways of working or awareness raising among employees of the net zero challenge thereby stimulating lasting behavioural change.
Everyone recognises that every company impacts the environment – some more than others. This is particularly the case in the energy and environment sector, which generates the electricity that we need to live our modern lives.
Within a few years, I believe it will be incumbent upon all decent-sized organisations and companies as well as SMEs to outline their net zero plans.
Those companies that don’t do this will likely be left behind. The clock’s ticking.
As one sector expert remarked to me recently, in the following decade it is possible that producing and emitting carbon will become akin to how most now view smoking as socially harmful and a societal ill.
The proof of the pudding with these recent initiatives will ultimately be in the delivery of net zero but it’s a good start.
2. BE AUTHENTIC OR RISK GETTING CALLED OUT
Authenticity is key. The new ‘net zero neighbourhood’ is a tough one. It’s also becoming an increasingly competitive one in which to communicate. In the new net zero paradigm don’t fake it. Remember that no one is expecting every company to become carbon neutral overnight. But there is growing expectation for corporates to define what net zero means to their firm and its employees highlighting what that change will be.
Indeed, there has been an immediate backlash from environmental groups towards the aviation industry’s netzero targets released in January, which failed to convince many with how the industry would be able to reduce its carbon footprint given that the number of flights is set to rise rapidly by 2050.
You’d be right in thinking that environmental groups have called out companies, particularly the aviation sector, for years. Easyjet was targeted late last year after publishing its netzero plans.
The difference now is that the public is being bombarded by the net zero message from government, business, industry and NGOs, and that some leading companies and organisations have convincingly articulated what the net zero pathway is and how they will get there.
That’s not to mention prominent pressure groups like Extinction Rebellion, which have quickly and effectively changed the dynamic around public protests on climate change.
Tellingly, The New Yorker recently called out a couple of corporates that seem to be hedging their bets with net zero rhetoric but whose actions suggest that profit still lies ahead of purpose. There will certainly be more of this to come as the level of scrutiny on net zero increases.
Perhaps of most interest will be how established energy majors will react to the net zero challenge. BP’s announcement last week on its plans to become a netzero business by 2050 are monumental in scope for an industry that has underpinned modern societies by exploiting the world’s carbon-based resources for our prosperity.
Will they develop their renewable energy portfolios quickly enough to sate the desire of many who want to see change? Only time will tell.
It is vitally important to be authentic about change and how you communicate it.
3. COMPANIES WITH A STRONG NET ZERO PLAN AND THE COMMUNICATIONS STRATEGY AROUND IT, CAN GAIN SOLID COMPETITIVE ADVANTAGE
Building on the points above, it’s not a great leap to argue too that those companies and organisations with strong net zero plans and solid communications strategies will be at a competitive advantage vis-à-vis their peers.
Those companies communicating actively and convincingly about their net zero plans are simply far more likely to become more trusted than the companies taking the fifth on climate change.
Why? Let’s take a look at the general public’s growing concern towards the environment.
According to BEIS’s public attitudes tracker, in March last year, 80% of the public said they were either fairly concerned (45%) or very concerned (35%) about climate change – the highest numbers ever.
In the recent UK General Election in December, there was the first televised climate change debate among political leaders and climate featured prominently in every party’s manifesto.
The Swedish teenager, Greta Thunberg, has galvanized millions around the world, particularly the young, with her support of climate strikes and direct action.
With record temperatures in many parts of the world and prominent media focus on extreme climate change related weather events including the Australian wildfires, Indonesian floods and winter storms in the UK, it’s likely that public concern towards climate change will grow not wither.
This concern is almost certainly going to be confirmed on a global level by the UN’s Mission 1.5 opinion poll, which will be the world’s largest survey on climate change.
In the new ‘net zero paradigm’, it is inescapable that those businesses and organisations that can define and communicate net zero and purpose will be at a strong competitive advantage vis-à-vis their peers at a time when public opinion behind taking stronger action to protect the climate has never been higher.
If you would like a conversation about net zero and how communications around net zero, purpose or COP26 might impact your business please feel free to drop me a line directly at: [email protected]
Strategic communications and insights consultancy Madano has appointed Katy Compton-Bishop as the new Head of Healthcare, with the existing Head of the Practice, Reghu Venkatesan, promoted to a new role as Global Head of Healthcare as the business expands its reach in Europe and the US.
With over 20 years of healthcare communications experience, Katy has a proven track record in new business development, team leadership and client service. During her career Katy has led large-scale pharma and disease awareness campaigns for GSK Vaccines, Daiichi Sankyo, Novartis and UCB across multiple channels and geographies. She comes to Madano from MSL, where she was brought in to help rebuild the health practice and generate new business opportunities through both the network and marketing activities.
Referring to her new position, Katy Compton-Bishop, Head of Healthcare, commented: “Healthcare clients continue to look for new ways to engage and connect key stakeholders, and the combination of strategic insight and creative delivery that Madano has to offer makes us ideally placed to address current and prospective clients’ needs. I look forward to bringing my experience to bear to help us continue to deliver the best work for our clients.”
Michael Evans, Managing Partner at Madano, said of Katy’s appointment: “Everybody in the industry knows the challenge of finding top-class, strategic communications professionals at senior levels. We’re delighted that Katy has decided to contribute her extensive healthcare communications knowledge and expertise to support Madano’s continued growth and success.”
Madano’s Healthcare Practice helps clients bring products, services and propositions to life, turning complex concepts into simple and compelling messages. Grounded in science, the team is also driven by a passion for creativity and a commitment to delivering programmes built on deep stakeholder insight.
The Government has delivered its first significant reshuffle since the December 2019 election. Despite briefings beforehand that it would be scaled back, on the day it has been seismic. Take a look at our analysis of what the reshuffle majority means for the Energy & Environment and Technology sector in our mailer by clicking here (also pictured below):
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