Two nations divided by a common language

Visits to three top 50 global PR firms based in the U.K. provided a fresh view of the industry through a lens with many common characteristics.

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May takes a break from election campaigning to meet Japan's PM Abe.
U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May takes a break from election campaigning to meet Japan's PM Abe.

It’s always good to visit a different market to get a fresh perspective on the industry that occupies our waking hours – and I had the welcome opportunity to spend time in the U.K. last week while I was visiting for the PRWeek Global Awards in London.

The country is preparing for another General Election on June 8, though thankfully for British citizens the whole process takes less than eight weeks, which is a blessing when compared to the endless torture we have to endure in the elongated run-up to the U.S. vote.

Prime Minister Theresa May decided to strike while the iron is hot to get a renewed mandate for upcoming Brexit negotiations that will see the U.K. leave the European Union. She was buoyed by polls that showed the Conservatives ahead of Labour by more than 20% when she called the snap election, a lead that has been cut a little but that still appears insurmountable, although we should all know by now that polls are to be taken with a large pinch of salt in today’s climate.

Either way, Brexit has provided, and will continue to provide, plentiful opportunities for U.K. PR firms to provide top-level advice to businesses on what the implications will be for their enterprises in a post-Brexit world and how to prepare accordingly. Here are some thoughts from Portland Communications if you want to find out more.

Like the U.S., the U.K is also seeing a big rise in demand for consultation on internal communications and healthcare.

Internal communications is undergoing a revolution and is increasingly being handled under communications rather than human resources, which as anyone who has followed recent reputational crises can see is essential when internal is increasingly the first line of external comms.

Employees want to know what their company stands for and they want to feel proud of the organization where they spend the majority of their lives.

A recent survey of 2,000 people in the U.S. and the U.K., also conducted by Portland, found 88% of employees are proud of the work their company does, and four out of five of them are prepared to speak about the positive aspects of their work, but only 5% currently share company news on social media and fewer than one in three could recall when they were last inspired to speak positively about their company.

This is despite 77% of those aged under 34 using social media at work at least once a day and half of all employees being connected to colleagues on Facebook and WhatsApp.

This disconnect represents a massive opportunity for companies to engage employees much more proactively as their first line of external communications, and they can benefit from wise counsel from PR consultants to help them do this.

The tactic of releasing internal memos externally is becoming commonplace, but it has to be done smartly and judiciously.

On the health front, another U.K. firm, Freuds, has been at the center of work on behalf of Public Health England supporting campaigns such as Change4Life and Stoptober and private sector endeavors for companies in the food, drink, and related sectors to help their customers live healthier lives.

Almost two out of three adults in the U.K. are either overweight or obese and Freud’s survey shows 46% of people are dissatisfied with food manufacturers’ efforts to help consumers with these issues.

Again, this is a disconnect that communicators can help bridge, always assuming of course that businesses in this sector also take on the mantle and responsibility of improving the healthiness of their products.

Finally, CEOs in the U.K. still need more understanding of the proper way to respond in times of crisis and the potential negative impacts these crises can have on businesses. They are too used to dealing with friendly specialist business journalists and are not ready for the more aggressive and combative approaches of the hacks on the news desk.

This lack of understanding can end with senior executives appearing on the metaphorical front pages rather than the business sections, and they often won’t like the spotlight or blowback.

Every PRWeek reader knows CEOs and the C-suite need communications counsel as a fundamental strut of their strategic direction and these are also opportunities that U.K. and PR pros elsewhere are excelling at. One example is Bell Pottinger, which recommends a strategy of radical transparency for companies that includes "un-training" your CEO.

All in all, it was an enjoyable and educational trip and a chance to visit three firms I am not as familiar with as I am the top 20 global shops. It was a good chance to step out of the bubble for a bit and to view the communications industry through a different lens, but nonetheless a lens with many common characteristics.

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