Category Archives: Corporate Communications

Navigating a Fake News World – APCO Worldwide csuitepodcast interview

Interview starts at 11:45

For the second interview of the csuitepodcast that I recorded at The Holmes Report’s In2 Innovation Summit, I spoke to the CEO of APCO worldwide, Brad Staples


Chatting with APCO’s Brad Staples (left)

Brad had earlier given a talk on how corporate communicators can best navigate a fake news world, a conversation that followed on nicely from the interview I did with Nick Barron of Edelman in the previous show, which is well worth a listen.

In that podcast, Nick said that fake news had always been around, and Brad agrees, as he said it’s the nature of human beings to, from time to time, tell lies and untruths.  However, he added that the power and presence of the internet and the scale and impact of social media has just meant the manipulation of the truth has an impact that far exceeds the truth itself and it has changed world events.

APCO recently carried out its own research on the topic where they asked a representative proportion of UK and US population a series of questions about fake news and according to the findings, people don’t know what to trust because there is so much news and information available.  However, Brad felt that people do want to trust the news. Everyone questioned in the survey trusted traditional media more than social media, but 18-34 year olds were twice as likely to support social media output than the over 55s. When asked whether they could distinguish between fake news and real news, 72% in the US and 67% in the UK said they could not.

Brad made a point that Julian Assange and Edward Snowden represent an aggressive movement for transparency, for clarity and for putting data and information out unencumbered to the world at large. Their choice to disaggregate traditional media that would validate that information paved a way for what we see now, i.e., a gap for those who will put out disputable data as news. These instigators created a sense that to get facts you do not need to go to traditional media, as in the past.

Brad said disruptors who saw this opportunity, i.e. Steve Bannon, a supporter of Donald Trump’s campaign and now the White House Chief Strategist, have been able to capitalise from this moment because there is a hunger within the population to hear what you want to believe created by like-minded people.

The beneficiaries of this fake news have been the politicians, not just Donald Trump, but also Putin, Xi Jinping, and other new nationalist leaders who manage the media, disaggregate the media or simply chosen to ignore traditional media and prefer to work with social media platforms.

Also in APCO’s research was the question of whether people felt they could distinguish between fake news and real news.  It turns out that 69% of the US public and 53% of the British who responded, thought they could tell the difference, but when given some data that included both truthful and fake news coverage, it turns out Brits were better at actually identifying the difference.

Referring back to the title of his talk, Brad said that corporate communicators need to use caution to navigate the world of fake news. They need to be alert, aware and informed as well as using all the resources they have in their communications departments and using their agencies to make sure they have the ability to engage quickly from a position of authority and to rebuff fake news stories when they appear. He explained that many of his agency’s clients are big corporations facing challenges and changes they can’t get to grips with – unfamiliar markets or dynamics – so the fake news aspect creates opportunities for his business. Of concern is if the guidance or advice being given is correct at that moment and in that context.

All previous shows of the csuitepodcast series are available on the websiteSoundclouditunes and TuneIn.  There is also a growing community on Facebook and Twitter, where you can get involved in the discussion.  Finally, if you subscribe to the show, please can you give it a positive rating and review on itunes in particular as this helps it up the charts!

Purpose driven brands – Pizza Hut Restaurants UK csuitepodcast interview

Show 43 of the csuitepodcast was recorded at The Holmes Report’s In2 Innovation Summit in London and my first guest was Gareth Hopley, Head of PR and Communications at Pizza Hut Restaurants in the UK.

Chatting with Gareth Hopely (left) of Pizza Hut Restaurants UK

Chatting with Gareth Hopley (left) of Pizza Hut Restaurants UK

Gareth had earlier taken part in a panel discussion at the event on the topic of ‘Purpose driven brands in an era of PR nightmares’, which had centred on brands with a purpose behind what they do, how that purpose is found, whether it should start internally and then be used for external marketing or whether agencies can help find the purpose to give you a reason to connect with your customer base.

Gareth said that it was heavily agreed on the panel that it is best to start with an internal purpose, which helps define who the brand is and that it should be authentic and genuine to what that organisation believes.

According to Gareth, Pizza Hut Restaurant’s purpose is ‘to be the most loved place to eat and work’ and the motivation behind this is that, as a restaurant business, the organisation wants customers to love to eat with them and want its employees to love to work for them and to feel connected to the company. Gareth said that the belief is that you will never make the customers feel better than you make your own people feel.  He added that the broader reason for this as a mission statement is that customers choose to spend an hour eating at their restaurants, for whatever reason, i.e., they could be celebrating or commiserating, but they have chosen Pizza Hut to spend that hour and so to make that hour great.  He said that you therefore need to ensure the workforce want to be there and support each other or they will not deliver the necessary service and therefore the business would fail.

Pizza Hut employs 8000 people in the UK and Gareth said that given they spend much of their time at work, it’s important to ensure they love it and care about the company.  Looking after the workforce is therefore extremely important and so Pizza Hut has partnered with Mental Health UK and Rethink. These charities were chosen because people are at the heart of the business – added to those thousands of employees, Pizza Hut also has about two and half million visitors to its restaurants every month.

Gareth explained that, with 1 in 4 people in the UK experiencing a mental health problem each year, this will mean a lot of people that touch the business are likely to be affected at some time.

Pizza Hut therefore want to create an environment and culture, internally, where people feel supported and can connect with each other.  The aim is to get to a point where all team members can raise their hand and say, ‘I need help’, without feeling judged and Gareth thinks that all Pizza Hut Restaurant’s employees have reacted positively to the charity partnerships.  Their management are therefore trained to help use emotional and behavioural skills, teaching them leadership and how to recognise how their behaviour impacts those around them, how they can empathise and support their team and recognize when their team members need help.  Of course you can teach them how to make a pizza, Gareth says, but he adds that it’s this management training that will ensure the customer gets the best service.

Gareth shared a story about a specific team manager who had been impacted by a mental health condition and recognised the stress of being a manager but he felt he couldn’t ask for help.  As he explained, at Pizza Hut, you can be running a team of 30 to 50 people and be responsible for a multi-million pound business at a very young age and the strain of that exacerbated this particular individual’s situation. He was therefore given the time off that he needed and returned to company as a team member when he felt ready, but has since re-joined the management program. Gareth was very proud of the fact that this proved this particular employee felt he could ask for help without the fear of being judged or treated badly.

Finally, as far as other campaigns that have inspired Gareth, he said liked Heineken’s ‘World Apart’. He felt the ad showed many similarities in what Heineken were trying to do compared with Pizza Hut’s purpose – just as a restaurant connects people so does going for a beer in a pub.

The campaign shows pairs of strangers who were shown videos about each other and realised they had contrasting and opposing views. They were then given the option to stay and discuss their differences or not.  Obviously they chose to stay but Gareth felt the way the campaign was shot and delivered felt very genuine. He thought that what it was communicating about Heineken having a broader purpose of bringing people together in the world resonated very strongly with what Pizza Hut believe, i.e. no matter who you are or what you are wearing or where you come from, everyone is welcome in their restaurants.

All previous shows of the csuitepodcast series are available on the websiteSoundclouditunes and TuneIn.  There is also a growing community on Facebook and Twitter, where you can get involved in the discussion.  Finally, if you subscribe to the show, please can you give it a positive rating and review on itunes in particular as this helps it up the charts!

Relevancy in a post-truth world – csuitepodcast show 42

(Interview starts at 24min)

In the final interview of Show 42 of the csuitepodcast that I recorded at PRWeek’s 2017 PR360, I spoke with Nick Barron, Managing Director for Corporate Reputation at Edelman who had taken part in a panel discussion at the event on the topic of PR in the political landscape – how do brands remain relevant in a post-truth world’.

Nick has some very strong views on both ‘post-truth’ and ‘fake news’, phrases that are now being used with great regularity.  He believes that whilst they have some merit in terms of what they mean and stand for, they have become an excuse for the liberal elites (citing those at PR360, including himself) to avoid having to look inwards.  He said that post-truth has become a catch all phrase for anyone who doesn’t come to the same conclusions as those in the group he referred to come to when they look at a problem, and fake news has become a catch all term for any news source they don’t like very much!

He did caveat this with the fact that there is real fake news and indeed, it has always been a problem, referring to the Hitler Diaries and the MMR Controversy, although perhaps the volume of it had grown in recent years.  However, he stressed that the volume of all news that we receive has grown and so couldn’t be sure if the proportion of fake news had grown proportionately.

Fake News, for Nick though, is a distraction from what he sees as the real challenge, which is not so much that we don’t know who to trust anymore, but that we don’t care who we trust anymore. He said that as an audience, we are not looking for authoritative news stories but those which support our point of view – he said that we’ve all become propagandists and are happy to share information that supports our own politics and helps us signal our own virtue.  Nick believes we are less concerned than perhaps we used to be as to whether those stories are true or credible.

The issue of trust is something Nick said Edelman have looked at for 17 years across 30+ markets talking to thousands of people [see the Edelman Trust Barometer] and that the long terms story in that time has been the decline of traditional authority. He added that we do still care about truth, but no longer believe traditional authority sources, be that an MP, GP, Editor, or CEO.  Instead, we are increasingly trusting of people like ourselves, i.e. friends and family or an influencer that we identify with.  Nick doesn’t have too much of an issue with this though, as he says there is healthy scepticism in this as he doesn’t believe we should automatically trust authority as that leaves us vulnerable to exploitation, corruption and to being fooled. However, his concern is that over the last few years, we have tapped into an unhealthy cynicism, whereby we only trust our own side [of an argument] and are less and less receptive of the opposite point of view and so more inclined to share content that is narrative driven rather than fact driven.

When it comes to trust of brands, Nick confirmed the most trusted sources are those such as the Technical Experts because the audience believes those people are working for something other than profit, are dedicated to their particular field and are motivated by the pursuit of knowledge. Therefore, when these people talk, we imagine they have spent years and years studying their subject matter and are operating at the front line of an issue and we therefore trust their point of view.

Where he thinks Michael Gove was leading to, referring back to Gove’s comment during the Brexit campaign of having ‘had enough of experts’ (see clip below), was that many of the people who are put forward as experts on a topic by the media, political campaigners and sometimes by companies, such as Heads of Think Tanks or Super National Bodies, are not trusted by the public as credible experts, but instead viewed as elites, who are ideologically or politically driven and so don’t necessarily trust them to be independent experts on a topic.

In fact, Nick said that there is some evidence that this view is correct, as there have been studies over the years looking at the profile of an expert, how famous they are, and the accuracy of their predictions and he said that there is a direct inverse relationship between the accuracy of an experts predictions and how often they are on TV. This is why, according to Nick, ‘real’ experts are much more nuanced in their analysis and more guarded about the things they say but as a result, provide much less good copy!

This discussion lead to Nick saying that a lot of the reporting and content that creates problems for communications people is not necessarily a lie, as usually there is some basis in fact, but it is likely to be a set of facts presented in a very skewed or unreasonable way and so that’s what keeps the comms teams busy on the reactive side of their jobs, i.e., dealing with journalists who want to get to a certain story and will bend the facts to make them fit that story.  This is why, in Nick’s opinion, Media Relations, knowing how to craft a story and get your point of view across when your brand is being discussed and campaign on issues in an effective way, still matters and that there is still an art to it.

All previous shows of the csuitepodcast series are available on the website, Soundclouditunes and TuneIn.  There is also a growing community on Facebook and Twitter, where you can get involved in the discussion.  Finally, if you subscribe to the show, please can you give it a positive rating and review on itunes in particular as this helps it up the charts!

Authenticity across Integrated Communications – csuitepodcast show 42

Show 42 of the csuitepodcast was the second of two shows I recorded at PRWeek’s 2017 PR360 and the first of my three guests was Stuart Jackson who is VP for Communications, Europe at Nissan.

russ-stuart2Stuart had taken part in a panel at the event on the topic of retaining relevancy in an integrated world and one of the topics that came up was the authenticity of brands, and how this is spread across different channels. To highlight this, he talked about his own media diet during the first couple of hours of that morning, where he had already checked his social media feeds on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, watched BBC News and had read the Metro newspaper on his commute. Stuart used the example of Lloyds Bank being a stand out story across three of those channels that particular morning.

Talking differently across channels can be a way of, as Stuart puts it, fooling people to think of the brand in a different way. It is not to say that brands can’t tweak their adverts, stories or news between channels.  But he believes the challenge for brands, as in that situation with Lloyds, is how they need to be credible, relevant and ensuring the brand DNA remains authentic across each of those channels.

Stuart calls communications the ‘conscious’ of the business as he feels it’s closer than any other department to the true feelings and understandings of the customers about the brand because the comms team has direct customer feedback relayed to them in real time every single day through journalists [and social media], who are very clear about what the customers are saying about the brand.

Stuart added that more and more, Communications is being trusted as a barometer of your customers’ feelings, and therefore being able to advise what actions need to be taken as a business to respond to that customer need by the CEO and Chairman.  He therefore sees Communications has its place on the Board, where they can advise, not just on a communications issue in terms of how to speak/respond to a customer or journalist, but actually on what action the business needs to take, or even the money it needs to spend to resolve a problem.

He used the recent United Airlines case as an example where a lot has been written about how the initial response wasn’t very well handled, but since then, the company has come out and said it will never happen again and that ‘these are the things we are putting in place’, offering $10,000 to any customer who wants to put their hand up and leave the plane.

Another recent PR disaster to hit the headlines was the controversy over the recent Pepsi advert that was criticised for exploiting the Black Lives Matter movement and subsequently pulled.

Stuart’s assumption in this instance is that Pepsi is a very marketing led business, and therefore, he questions how much weight is put on the idea of the communications team being the conscious of the business and challenging the business ideas. He said it’s very easy, when you are within the ‘planet of your own brand’ to think everything you are producing is great and all the data tells you it’s going to work and its tapping into the zeitgeist, but it’s equally easy to get that so wrong if you don’t truly have that real time customer feedback.

[If anyone from Pepsi is reading this post or listening to the podcast and would like to respond about this campaign with an interview on the show, please get in touch.]

To emphasise the point of listening to your customer, Stuart drew on Nissan’s recent campaign to raise the profile of their X-Trail, where their aim was to tap back into peoples’ passions, looking beyond the product itself, and focus on how their customers used that particular model.  As it turns out, one of the things they do, is use the car to stick the dog in the boot, take them down the park and give them a good run out!

Due to the fact that the communications team were given a very small budget of under 70,000 EURO, Stuart stated that they had to be ‘very agile creatively’ and can’t be ‘lazy’.  They therefore came up with a concept to create a prototype of the car, specifically focusing on the needs of the dog and actually then produced it! They then made a three minute film with a completely natural launch, with no additional paid media around it.

As the campaign was focused on the feedback from customers and had tapped into the passions of dog lovers, it was natural that they were extremely interested and Stuar said the video has now received over 110 million views, globally.  The prototype car is now being looked at to go into full production and it was recently showcased at the New York Auto Show.



However, one of the most important statistics for Stuart is that, since this campaign launched, the natural search online for the X-Trail is the highest it has ever been globally for five years.

All previous shows of the csuitepodcast series are available on the website, Soundclouditunes and TuneIn.  There is also a growing community on Facebook and Twitter, where you can get involved in the discussion.  Finally, if you subscribe to the show, please can you give it a positive rating and review on itunes in particular as this helps it up the charts!

Attracting Businesses and Tourists to the UAE: csuitepodcast show 40

Show 40 of the csuitepodcast focused on the UAE and in particular, what’s being done to attract both businesses and tourists there. Via skype, I spoke to two guests based in the region, Hamdi Kulahcioglu, the General Manager of luxury store, TRYANO and Alex Malouf, P&G’s Corporate Communications and Reputation Manager for the Arabian Peninsula.


Hamdi Kulahcioglu, General Manager, TRYANO

Hamdi kicked off the show explaining that TRYANO is based in the Yas Mall on Yas Island, 30mins from Abu Dhabi and about an hour from Dubai.  The island is a huge entertainment destination, made famous mainly from the F1 race that has taken place around the marina each year since 2009.  However, further development is continuing in the area, including the building of more hotels and a Warner Bros theme park opening in 2018.  Next to Yas Island is Saadiyat Island, which is being designed to become a cultural centre with new museums and art galleries opening soon.

The focus of my chat with Hamdi though, was to look at the region as a destination for luxury shopping, referencing a new Global Luxury Retail report that was featured on the Retail Gazette.  The report said that London saw a total of 41 new luxury openings in 2016 compared to 36 in Paris, 31 in both New York and Dubai, and 24 in Milan and that this was off the back of a CBRE and Walpole report that named London as the world’s top destination for luxury retail, saying that it holds the greatest long-term potential for the sector compared to similar luxury hotspots despite the worries surrounding Brexit.

Hamdi agreed that London is a very important destination for luxury retail.  However, naturally, he believes UAE, especially Dubai, is also a very important luxury shopping destination and that Abu Dhabi is on track to become the same.   He explained that the retail experience, in terms of shopping mega malls in the UAE, of which there are more than 50, is probably the best in the world and that the growth in Abu Dhabi is twice that of Dubai with regards to the number of tourists visiting – about 5m in 2016 registering around 12m guest nights – but with a new airport being built in the region, scheduled to open in 2019, this number will dramatically increase even further.

To attract these visitors to TRYANO, Hamdi said the store tries to create the ultimate experience for their guests – with a focus on the family.  For example, in their kid’s floor, they have a working carousel and a treehouse, amongst other things for the kids to be entertained.  They then have a restaurant called La Pâtisserie des Rêves, a concept imported from Paris, plus a photo studio, private make-up rooms and even a bag spa, to get your bag cleaned or repaired.

We moved on to the subject of how TRYANO is using social media and in particular, working with social influencers, to help attract visitors to the store and Hamdi talked through how they exclusively partnered with the actress Meryem Uzerli and six regional influencers to achieve this, by creating looks from Meryem’s new beauty kit.

He said that their audience is relatively young (median age in the region is around 27) and that they are highly connected using social media very actively.  Therefore, the direction of TYRANO’s marketing is going more digital, with a focus on the most popular channels in the region, Facebook and Instagram, more so than Twitter, where their followers are highly engaged with the brand.  However, partnering with Meryem was a great way to attract new visitors (she has over 4.3m likes on her Facebook page and over 3m on Instagram).


Alex Malouf, P&G Corporate Communications and Reputation Manager for the Arabian Peninsula

In the second half of the show, I spoke with Alex Malouf of P&G and we started off discussing how diverse the UAE is in terms of culture, language and religion.  Alex said that you have to bear all this in mind when you reach out to different stakeholder groups when creating communications campaigns and generally doing business across the region.  He added that you also need to look at the channels to reach your audiences, making the point that, whilst traditional media plays a part, social media is massive in the region.  Alex also said that it’s a major advantage if you can speak Arabic, particularly if going outside of a hub like Dubai but particularly if you are dealing with Government, where he said 99% would be native Arabic speakers.  Learning the language though, according to Alex, will give you a glimpse into the culture too and help you understand how people think and behave and therefore what you can do to craft communications messages to them.

As for British businesses looking to expand into the region, we talked about the findings of some research carried out in March across 500 UK business owners by the Dubai Multi Commodities Centre (DMCC), which found that since the Brexit vote, 42% of business owners have more of an appetite now to expand their business overseas, with the larger the business, the more that appetite increases – rising to 63%, 68% and then 72% for businesses with 100-250, 250-500 and 500+ employees.

Europe came top in the potential destination with 12% already operating there but a further 67% considering expanding there, but for the Middle East region, whilst 7% of businesses surveyed already operated there, a further 38% were considering expanding to the area, and of those, 75% would consider Dubai as their destination.

According to Alex, there are a number of reasons that Dubai is top of the list when it comes to businesses choosing a location in the region:

  • Logistics – there are a number of different options to get to Dubai, with the international airport being one of the biggest in the world
  • Culture and language – English is used widely in business and entertainment
  • Easy to adapt – whilst there is still a strong local culture, many people don’t engage with it and therefore it doesn’t impact foreigners to the region in the same way the Saudi culture may
  • Legal aspects of setting up in Dubai
  • Home comforts – you can still get a sandwich from Marks & Spencer at lunchtime!

There was one issue that I wanted to quiz Alex on though, and that was the fact that, whenever the UK looks to work with countries in the region, and the Prime Minister or any leading government official visits or is seen to be negotiating with a country there, such as Qatar or Saudi, there is an immediate backlash on social media, with comments being raised about issues such as Human Rights.

Alex’s response to this was that people have to strike a balancing act as the UAE and neighbouring countries are obviously very different to the UK and Europe and people have to be aware of that.  He said that people in the region will bristle when they are criticised, but of course these are important considerations for any business, and so it’s a case of being aware of how best to approach these subjects.  His advice therefore, is to, by all means raise those concerns, but in an environment where the person you are addressing doesn’t feel they are being insulted or offended.

All previous shows of the csuitepodcast series are available on the website, Soundclouditunes and TuneIn.  There is also a growing community on Facebook and Twitter, where you can get involved in the discussion.  Finally, if you subscribe to the show, please can you give it a positive rating and review on itunes in particular as this helps it up the charts!

Strategic Internal Comms interview with Telefonica: csuitepodcast show 35 pt2


Chatting with Telefonica’s Nicola Green (left) and Sarah Mullins (centre)

For the second interview of Show 35 [starting at 15:45] of the csuitepodcast that I recorded at PR Week’s Strategic Internal Communications event in London, I caught up with Sarah Mullins, Head of Change Communications at Telefonica and Nicola Green, Telefonica’s Director of Communications and Reputation, who was making her second appearance on the show (you can listen to Nicola on Show 11 too).

Sarah and Nicola had just spoken at the conference on the topic of internal / external comms convergence: ‘how can you effectively join up all functions of your organisation’, a great presentation sharing the journey, complete with good and bad experiences, that Nicola’s team had gone through over the last four years since she took over as the company’s Director of Comms and Reputation in the UK.

Nicola explained that one thing she noticed when she first took on the role was that the team was working in silos, and so she felt that they could bring more value to the organisation if they joined up and became one team that worked together collectively and relied on each other to do the best work possible.  She believes that her team have felt quite empowered by the process they have gone through.

Sarah has been in the organisation for five years and so was there at the start of this process and admitted that when she first joined the Internal Comms team, whilst she knew Nicola headed up PR, she didn’t really know who else was in the team.  She explained that back then, they had different teams communicating to their stores, customer service teams, social customers and the press.  Now everyone in the team has a greater understanding of what each of their colleagues do across all the different functions of the team, which include Public Affairs, Social Media, Press Office and Reputation, Proactive PR, Internal Comms and Change Communication (where Sarah’s main role is now). Sarah added that it’s been an enormously creative experience too, being able to share ideas with each other.

Naturally, with all those communications functions coming together, as Nicola said, with all change, some people like and embrace it and some don’t, and as a result some colleagues did leave the organisation.  But those who stayed saw it as an opportunity to help develop their own skills further,.  This is what Nicola said she majored on, i.e. helping them be the best they could be, not just in their specialist subject but across all the other communications disciplines, which she added many organisations are looking for, i.e. more generalists.

Nicola said that a good example of the merged team working well was when the organisation faced a network crisis, which of course put the company under immense pressure in a very short space of time.  In that instance, everybody in the team experienced lots of different disciplines.  For example, the internal comms team posted on Facebook and the Public Affairs team dealt with Press enquiries.  Basically, it became ‘all hands to the pump’ with the whole team working collectively together and she believes that it was only by doing so, that they could contain the situation and get through it.

Nicola highlighted to any company looking to follow suit and merge their teams that putting structures in place is the key to make it work.  She said that that unless you give opportunities for the leadership team to come together and talk through different problems, it’s never really going to work because people in comms disciplines are very busy doing what they need to do and moving on to the next task, so you almost need to force them to step back and think about whether they are doing the right thing and get insights from others about what they are feeling.

Despite the merging of her teams, Nicola still believes specialists have a role to play and that we shouldn’t underestimate the insight that they bring in the communication discipline.  However, she also believes you should aim to get as many people to be generalists as possible as this can both help them as individuals, but also the wider team too. For example, if you have someone who falls ill for a long period of time, you’ve then got a bigger pool to pull on to ensure the comms team doesn’t fall over.

All previous shows of the csuitepodcast series are available on Soundcloud, itunes and TuneIn.  If you subscribe to the show, please can you give it a positive rating and review on itunes in particular as this helps it up the charts!

The show also now has a Facebook page and Twitter feed so please do follow and get involved in the conversation.

Strategic Internal Communications interview with Virgin Trains: csuitepodcast show 35 pt1


with Virgin Trains’ Drew McMillan (left)

The first two parts of Show 35 of the csuitepodcast were recorded at PR Week’s Strategic Internal Communications event in London, which had a theme of creating a more agile, digital and customer focus culture in the business.

My first interview, with Drew McMillan, Head of Internal Communications and Innovation at Virgin Trains, followed his keynote address at the conference about how to create an amazing place to work by borrowing techniques more often used for customer insight.

Drew’s gut instinct was that whilst many consumer brands quite rightly spend millions understanding their customers, they spend way less than 10% of that amount understanding their people, yet so many business use the mantra of their people being their most valuable asset!

He explained that Virgin is a customer led brand that is big in the consumer space, and that the company invests accordingly in understanding its customers.  However, he felt that historically, the organisation hadn’t invested near as much effort and energy in understanding its people and that, like most employers, had previously thought that an annual survey (that often takes a long time to do anything about the responses), perhaps with some additional activities ‘around the edges’, was all that was required.

Drew believes that today’s employees expect to be listened to more often and their input to be acted upon much more quickly.  He therefore wanted to look at a fundamentally different way of applying customer insight to an internal audience and so adapted the company’s consumer facing tool, ‘The Awesometer’, to create an internal Pulse dashboard that has sub components looking at Trust, Empowerment and Engagement.  This dashboard shows an aggregated sense of how Virgin Trains’ people are feeling on a four weekly basis, i.e. how awesome the company is.

Drew’s Pulse dashboard works alongside other Internal Communications tools.  He explained that the company is in the middle of transferring to Office365, although had already implemented Yammer, which gives him rich analytics on sentiment within the business.  In fact, Virgin Trains has been independently audited as one of the most engaged Yammer users in Europe (with 2800 active users) and in the top 12 Yammer Networks worldwide, with a daily Yammer Engagement level of 68% Measure of Active Engagement (MAE), which Drew confirmed is very high.

Virgin also combines this with more traditional one-to-one research, working with Ipsos Loyalty to speak with colleagues in their homes in a very frank and private way about working at Virgin Trains and how the company can improve as a business.  Drew feels the importance of doing these interviews in the home is that people are in a completely different psychological place and will therefore talk differently to how they might do so in a typical open focus group environment.

All these various tools and research methods are part of Virgin’s ACE (Amazing Colleague Experience) program – born out of their ICE program (Incredible Customer Experience), which helped define the seven stages of their customers’ journey with them, from thinking of travelling, through to arriving at their destination. Therefore ACE takes the same methodology by breaking their people’s daily lives into a number of stages, from preparing to come to work in the morning through to getting home at night.

All previous shows of the csuitepodcast series are available on Soundcloud, itunes and TuneIn.  If you subscribe to the show, please can you give it a positive rating and review on itunes in particular as this helps it up the charts!

The show also now has a Facebook page and Twitter feed so please do follow and get involved in the conversation.

Future of Public Affairs post Brexit vote & Trump – csuitepodcast Show 32

Show 32 of the csuitepodcast was the final show that I recorded at the Global ICCO PR Summit and discussed the future of Public Affairs post the Brexit vote and US Election

I was joined by Fredrik Lofthagen, Chief Executive Officer of Interel; Caroline Wunnerlich, Managing Director for the Brussels office of FleishmanHillard and Tangui van der Elst, Director of European Government Affairs at WestRock.

show32guests[L-R: Russell, Caroline, Tangui and Fredrik]

We covered a number of topic areas including, but not limited to:

  • Public Affairs Spend
  • Trump
  • Brexit
  • Future Engagement platforms

Public Affairs Spend

We began the conversation looking at the results of some research that Interel had carried with CEOs of independent public affairs consultancies in 60 markets.  Fredrik explained that one of the key findings was that despite CEOs concerns about political risk, spending on Public Affairs is still only a fraction of what businesses spend on marketing – around 0.003% of the total revenue of the Fortune 500.

Fredrik felt this was a mismatch that needs to be rectified but he said that very few companies are actually able to determine or quantify the impact of over regulation or geopolitical risk to their business, which in turn makes their spending decisions and resource allocations more difficult to do, which may have hampered the development of the Public Affairs profession.

Caroline added that many companies still have fragmented functions in that Public Affairs and Government Relations is still quite separate from their Communications.  There are therefore often only responding to crises after they have happened or are having problems getting budgets opened. However, she believes there are shifts occurring and that some companies are realising that their consumers/customers are of course people who have views, who vote and have opinions on public issues and so those companies that are realising this are beginning to understand that you can do well by doing good.  She quoted Unilever as an example of such a company – not the first time Unilever has been praised as such on this podcast series, so they are clearly doing something right – see Shows 31, 22 and 8.


Caroline talked about how FleishmanHillard has developed Shared Value Labs that are being run out of Washington DC, to look at how companies can get involved with Governments to create unusual alliances to tackle societal and environmental problems.  Interestingly, given we recorded this before the US Election result, she said that if Donald Trump won, there would be a bit of a retreat from Government from a lot of the activities and multilateral institutions such as the UN, leaving a requirement for corporations to fill quite a vacuum.  Let’s see if Caroline was right!

How Trump’s victory affects the UK relationship will also be interesting as Caroline explained that the transatlantic relationship is already very strained from a business perspective due to issues such as [Volkswagen] ‘dieselgate’, which started in the US, European banks being fined, data protection issues, and corporate taxation tussles with a lot of US companies, all of which causes an underlying tension.  These issues, together with the failure to progress any meaningful trade talks under the TTIP initiative, means that the whole relationship between the UK and US will need some recalibration.

However, overall the elections have, in Caroline’s opinion, thrown up some big questions about how to advise clients and engage in political discourse where people who can lie and be abusive can still get elected, referring to an Economist article on the ‘Art of a the lie, post-truth politics’ in the age of social media.


In terms of what impact the Brexit vote might have to the future of Public Affairs, Tangui said he has struggled to find any reasons to be optimistic. He uses the fact that he is based in Switzerland to share some insight in that two years ago, the country had its own referendum on controlling migration, which received the majority.  However, the decision faced strong opposition within the EU that said that if Switzerland was to implement the referendum, then all the existing bilateral agreements between the EU and Switzerland would be void due to free-movement being so essential to the EU’s very existence.  Tangui explained that the Swiss thought they could find some form of compromise, trying for two years to achieve one, but finally realised that the EU would not move from their stance.  He said that Switzerland has therefore quietly shifted the referendum so that they can maintain their bilateral agreements as access to the EU was considered too critical to the Swiss economy.

Tangui feels that in the UK, there is too much emotional equity in the referendum result for it to go back, which is why he feels that we will all be losers, both in the UK and Europe.

Whilst Fredrik shares those concerns of Tangui, which Caroline also had, he said that the EU has an extraordinary ability to muddle through from one crisis to the next and that there is usually some form of outcome that most stakeholders would agree with.

With respect to business though, Fredrik’s advice is not to wait for the outcome and not to try and spend too much time scenario planning around it because it’s just speculation at this current time.  However, in his opinion, what is important is that through the Brexit vote, the UK is already losing its voice in Brussels today due to senior commission officials retiring and MEPs losing chairmanship opportunities or being the rapporteur on a particular dossier in the European Parliament.  His concern is therefore about who will replace the UK and the voice of the UK, in particular in the Council of Ministers at working group level, specifically in respect of corporate issues.  Therefore, Fredrik does recommend companies thinking about what their engagement strategy will be moving forward as every company will have their own portfolio of issues and dependencies and if they are dependent on the UK to defend them in the context of EU legislation or regulation, then they need to think about who their new friends are going to be and start making those approaches.

Tangui added that from what he can see working for a major US multinational, investment strategies are already affected as, in his view, no company would consider investing in the UK unless, and he used Nissan as an example, they can get strict guarantees.

Future Engagement platforms

Naturally there’s been a huge shift to engaging online and particularly through social media, but one of the big developments that Caroline shared was how Youtubers Laetitia, Jonas and Lukasz were asked to interview President Juncker of the European Commission after his state of the European Union speech

Caroline added that social media brings with it its own challenges, particularly in how messages go across borders, although she said that can be used to an advantage such as in some very effective NGO campaigns, but regulations are still developed nationally at a much slower pace.  Her company has been working around the issue of Glyphosate, a product used in the crop science industry, which, as far as regulators are concerned, is not unsafe.  However, the campaign and debate on social media has been so heated and active that the regulators have postponed decisions and instead of a license to operate for the next 15 years, the company has been given 18 months whilst further research is done.

#ad – Many thanks to global media intelligence provider CARMA for supporting the series of shows I produced from ICCO.  Please do visit their website to find out more about how they can help you deliver actionable insights through media monitoring and PR measurement.

All previous shows of the csuitepodcast series are available on Soundcloud, itunes and now TuneIn too.  If you subscribe to the show, please can you give it a positive rating and review on itunes in particular as this helps it up the charts!

Edelman Earned Brand Study – csuitepodcast Show 31 Part 2

For part 2 of Show 31 (starting at 8:31) of the csuitepodcast, the second of the three shows recorded at the Global ICCO PR Summit, I spoke with Michelle Hutton, Chief Operating Officer at Edelman Europe about the findings of the latest Edelman Earned Brand Study.

The theme of this year’s study was disruption, particularly looking at how brands themselves, across 18 different categories, can be disrupters, and this was achieved by researching over 13,000 consumers across 13 countries.

As Michelle explained, marketers have spent a lot of time and money getting consumers from being aware, through consideration and preference, to being loyal.  However, Edelman have found that there is something special beyond loyalty and that if you can get consumers to be committed and really invested in a brand, they will do some pretty amazing things.  Therefore, as part of their study, Edelman have developed a methodology to be able to measure how marketers can be disruptive in their relationship with their consumers.

Michelle said that many people think that in low involvement categories, the concept of being committed is not relevant, but actually, in every single category that Edelman explored, they found that there are already many people committed to brands in those sectors.  However, where many brands are falling short is around the concept of shared value.  For example, those people who want to be committed to the brand want to feel like they are part of the conversation around it – they’ll advocate for the brand, defend them in times of crisis and are there waiting.  However, whilst brands listen well, many don’t often respond well, and therefore, it’s those brands that use those committed consumers to their advantage who are doing it well.

The highest relationship index scored turned out to be in China and the lowest was in the Netherlands.  As for age splits, millennial males were found to be the most engaged segment with brands, which Michelle found surprising.

Michelle then went on to talk about how this all leads to how you can engage consumers to take real action around a brand and she cited Unilever as a best in class example of a company encouraging all of their brand marketers to think long term and creatively about how purpose can not only drive business results through their brands but also make the world a better place.  She also said that disrupter brands understand the shared economy and the power of peer-to-peer and so marketers in more traditional companies need to look at those start-ups, their business models and how they engage, respond and communicate with their consumers.

#ad – Many thanks to global media intelligence provider CARMA for supporting the series of shows I produced from ICCO.  Please do visit their website to find out more about how they can help you deliver actionable insights through media monitoring and PR measurement.

All previous shows of the csuitepodcast series are available on Soundcloud or itunes and please, if you subscribe, can you give the show a positive rating and review on itunes in particular.

The show also now has a Facebook page and Twitter feed so please do follow and get involved in the conversation.

Turning companies into storytellers – csuitepodcast Show 30 Part 3

In final part of Show 30 of the csuitepodcast (starting at 44:18), recorded at the Global ICCO PR Summit, I was joined by Petra Sammer, Partner and Chief Creative Officer at Ketchum Pleon Germany to discuss more about the topic of her presentation at the event, which was titled ‘Turning companies into storytellers’.

Petra advised listeners to be clear when it comes to defining storytelling as there are at least four ways to do so:

  • A rhetoric technique, for example, sprinkling some anecdotes into your speech
  • Journalism
  • Corporate/Brand identity, i.e. the history of where the brand or company comes from
  • How Authors and Scriptwriters use it

Petra said that we see the rhetoric technique being used in the PR industry within media training when teaching clients to be more personal and emotional.  She believes that PR is naturally very good at journalism, where it comes to framing a story and that many in the industry are good at corporate and brand identity too.  However, where she feels there is more learning required, is in the original meaning of storytelling, i.e., how authors and scriptwriters tell a story, and she suggests that there is perhaps a need for more skills need in this area to enable us to show emotion or empathy, particularly when it comes to real narrative.  She puts this issue down to the fact that many people in the PR industry, along with end-clients too, are, in her opinion, facts and information driven and therefore, to be able to show emotion, empathy or make people laugh or even cry, is a skill that is rarely seen.

I mentioned to Petra that when I was part of the CIPR’s Social Media Panel, we wrote a Skills Guide on Social Storytelling, within which co-chair at the time, Dan Tyte of Working Word, quoted Christopher Booker’s Seven Basic Plots to a story:

  1. Overcoming the monster
  2. The Quest
  3. Journey and Return
  4. Rebirth
  5. Rags to Riches
  6. Comedy
  7. Tragedy

Whilst Petra thinks that what Booker has done is brilliant, in her experience, when talking with clients, it can be a bit confusing.  So where these categories could be helpful is when interpreting a story backwards and she used IBM turning themselves into a consulting business as an example of Rebirth. She said a good place to start is to watch Simon Sinek’s Ted Talk ‘How great leaders inspire action’ and his reference to the Golden Circle, starting with the ‘Why?’

However, Petra’s own talk at the conference was about the model built on the four fundamental desires that we all have, which she listed along with brands that could be identified with them:

  1. Wanting to be part of a community and be loved, referring to a campaign by Guinness, where Rugby player Gareth Thomas told his story of coming out as Gay to his team mates.

  1. Security and stability – the need to feel safe – a good example being Fedex always promising that they will deliver
  2. Self-fulfilment – Nike, where they say that everyone can be an athlete
  3. Freedom and independence – Harley Davidson selling the experience … the product comes free!

#ad – Many thanks to global media intelligence provider CARMA for supporting the series of shows I produced from ICCO.  Please do visit their website to find out more about how they can help you deliver actionable insights through media monitoring and PR measurement.

All previous shows of the csuitepodcast series are available on Soundcloud or itunes and please, if you subscribe, can you give the show a positive rating and review on itunes in particular.  You can also now follow the show on Twitter and Facebook – please get involved!