New developments in place and PR for 2023

Predicting developments in place and PR: a crystal ball set against a dark, urban backdrop

Volatile, uncertain, chaotic, and ambiguous. These words formed an acronym – VUCA – a few years ago summarising how modern life feels for many organisations.

Uncertainty shaped the narrative for much of 2022. Then September’s awful fiscal event brought other elements of the VUCA matrix more clearly into view.

It’s an interesting time to set up a new business, with inflation and cost-of-living concerns nudging the economy towards recession. Amidst the haze, predicting what to expect from 2023 seems like a mug’s game.

We can see this year will be challenging, for sure. We shouldn’t limit our ambition, but nor should we be too hard on ourselves if things don’t go to plan. Getting through it in decent shape, with a happy team that’s proud of its work would be a good outcome for 2023. And there will be opportunities and memorable moments too.

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Post-truth mindset must leave government with Truss

Liz Truss on the podium at a press conferene on 14 October 2022

Liz Truss’ press conference performance last Friday had the air of a disgruntled employee working out their notice in a job that was never for them.

Terse and evasive, her blank stare resembled a zoned out manager who had reached the end of their tenure. Taking just four questions from a room full of journalists – and answering none properly – failed to match the seriousness of the moment.

And don’t forget, this was the moment when her economic policy fell apart, less than a month after its unveling. She announced it without contrition, suggesting that the markets weren’t ready for her Growth Plan.

It plumbed new depths for a format that too many treat as an opportunity to ‘get their message out’ rather than properly engage the media on nationally significant events. Listening on the radio, journalists’ exasperation when Truss left the room after eight minutes was palpable. I shared their bewilderment watching it again afterwards.   

Liz Truss’ eight-minute press conference on 14 October 2022

This highlights a long-running issue with spin that I’ve banged on about for years. But they’re not even spinning a line any more. They’ve stopped answering questions and left us staring at an empty podium wondering what the hell just happened.

Here are a few moments which hopefully illustrate my point.  

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Royal reflections show doing what’s right beats doing what looks right

People gather at the funeral procession at the roadside with soldiers at either side of the Queen's coffin

Events of the past week provided an opportunity for collective reflection, whatever your views on the monarchy.

I felt unexpectedly emotional and uncertain about the Queen’s passing. There is some personal context. I turned 47 on Sunday and have come through a tough couple of years. The last thing we needed was more uncertainty. But despite the madness happening around us, I start the week feeling optimistic about the future.

I’ve been saddened and moved, without approaching anything near full on ‘mourning’. It was strange stepping away from blanket media coverage and online discourse about a ‘nation in grief’ to see people having coffees, travelling to meetings and getting on with their lives.

Good comms, bad comms

I’ve supported clients’ communications whilst looking on in bemusement as some brands showed ‘respect’ in weird ways that caused a stink. On Twitter, @GrieveWatch provided some light relief by sharing the dafter examples of ‘respect’.

Many comms people (once again) provided sound advice during the mourning period. They helped organisations strike the right balance between respecting those affected by the Queen’s death whilst recognising that many will not be. They advised against anything too promotional and put events and campaigns on hold. And, yes, if they had been in the room at the time, they would have said that kicking paying customers off site for a day isn’t ‘respectful’.  

As the Queen’s funeral approached, the gap between what I’m seeing and the media narrative has narrowed. After years of backbiting and division, here we are feeling and speaking as one, right? Or, at least, we’re giving people space to express their views without trashing them for it.

I take heart from how so many people joined this conversation. They used words like ‘dignified’, ‘duty’ and ‘constant’ repeatedly. Many saying this did not know the Queen. This highlights the strength of a narrative supported by an enduring truth.

It also points to something we seem to have lost. And it all stands in stark contrast to how we see today’s political and business leaders.  

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Why the public shouldn’t hate ‘comms’: an open letter to Matthew Parris

Matthew Parris wrote on Saturday that people ‘hate comms’ for its slickness and vacuuity. This is my response to his comment.

Dear Matthew,

I enjoy your writing about politics, and the Conservative party you represented in Parliament during less febrile times.

Your analysis about the lack of new ideas in British politics today strikes a chord with me. I also share your despair at how this is playing out in the turgid Tory leadership contest.

You were right to warn on Saturday that the party is heading towards the abyss as things stand.

I was also struck by your comment about the comms profession’s supposed role in the campaigns, when saying:

“[Rishi Sunak] has fallen prey to the vultures of what we now call “comms” — professional communications advisers. A breed with a blind spot when it comes to the one truth about comms that matters: that the 21st-century British public hate comms, spot it a mile off, and walk away.”

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Distinctive future for stand-out comms team

Green leaf stands out in a load of brown leaves

After nearly five great years at Social, I’ve just completed my first full week as owner of a new comms consultancy.

Social’s former South West business is now Distinctive Communications. A plucky, collaborative talented team of six who I’m proud to call colleagues is joining me on the journey.

This follows an agreement between Social and myself to sell its South West business to Distinctive. It offers a rare combination of continuity, credibility and the excitement of starting afresh. Although it’s a huge decision personally, I think it’s a massive opportunity for all colleagues involved.

The Distinctive team, at the Engine Shed in Bristol
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No logo. Why giving creative time away won’t work

No

Heated responses to the West of England Combined Authority’s call for ideas for its London Underground-style regional transport brand were timely for me.

They came as I set out priorities for the year ahead. Who do we want to work with? How can we build on last year’s success? What can we stop spending time on to focus more on what we need to do?

Then WECA’s call to residents to submit brand ideas for the region’s public transport network drew a sharp response. It also highlighted issues that comms professionals grapple with every day.

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