Author Archive

5 numbers that tell the story of why everyone’s getting a pension from Monday

Pensions. I know, dull, dull and more dull right? Correct. Unfortunately, pensions are about to become like unwashed dishes in the sink – visually unavoidable, uncomfortable smelling and constantly in your face as you walk past them, nagging you to deal with them. Monday is the start of the much heralded and overly written about auto-enrolment. Starting a pension will no longer become a case of “yes please” if you want one but rather “no thanks” if you don’t.

I’ve already written about the challenge of selling this to 7m people, but it’s just worth considering why the Government is doing this. To round out the week, here’s a few numbers which hopefully tell the story behind auto-enrolment. Alternatively, you can watch the new promo adverts for auto-enrolment on YouTube:

8.2 million – that’s the number of people who have a workplace pension. That’s less than one in three adults

£20,000 – that’s what people want to live off each year in retirement

£11,000 – that’s what people think they’ll actually have each year in retirement. That’s a £9,000 gap

82.3 years – that’s the average life expectancy of a girl born today in the UK. It’s rising by nearly 3 years every decade

£400,000 – that’s how much money a woman needs to buy £20,000 a year of income in retirement

Just to reiterate that last one – £400,000. Or to put it another way, that’s the cost of this mansion in Northern Ireland.

The Reshuffle: Three initial thoughts

Business, Foreign, Home, Deputy and a host of other key offices of state are still in place following today’s reshuffle, leading some to call it a damp squib. But that doesn’t mean the day isn’t turning out to be highly interesting in other ways. Three initial thoughts on the reshuffle from us as follows (thanks to Matt, Ed and Ed for their views):

1. Britain is back from Summer: The Olympics created an unusually long summer (silly) season and accompanying downtime for politics and business news. Yesterday’s war cry by Cameron, today’s reshuffle and a host of key European dates coming up mean the political and business communities are very much now back. Expect the news agenda to tighten significantly and the tone to darken markedly in the next week or two.

2. The Government has dodged a brick wall on Jeremy Hunt: Whether intentional or not, the shifting of Justine Greening away from Transport and subsequent attack from Boris Johnson that this greenlights Heathrow’s expansion will likely be the lead story on tonight’s evening broadcasts and tomorrow’s papers. Jeremy Hunt’s promotion to Health, despite his public embarrassment over News Corp will enjoy a much more comfortable second or third slot in the billing.

3. Women in the Cabinet is a weak point for Cameron: The Prime Minister has made his commitment to women occupying a third of his cabinet clear. Today’s reshuffle casts doubt on his ability to fulfill it. We don’t know the scope of junior roles yet, but the decision to give Maria Miller both the Culture and Equality/Women briefs looks strange, especially given her lack of profile prior to today. DCMS is an important department, particularly at present so why burden its Minister with a second job instead of promoting another female star to the second role? Labour will be itching to pounce.

How long will Virgin’s PR window remain open on the West Coast?

Kudos to Richard Branson. His crusade to repeal the decision to award the West Coast Main Line to someone else shows no signs of slowing down. However, are the tables starting to turn? The FT reported yesterday on the large financial incentive for Branson to keep the rail contract in the Virgin stable – the line generates far higher revenues and margins than other lines in Britain, in part because of geography (it goes through the North West) but also because Virgin benefitted from the huge upgrade it got during the noughties.

To date Branson has based his campaign just like any other using the Virgin brand and its values – it’s the slightly alternative, anti-establishment brand run by that eternally young blonde haired guy who occasionally jumps off buildings – he’s the best of British and he tries to offer you a great experience on Virgin. People love the brand, even if the trains themselves are average at best in the eyes of some (for my sins I have a strange attraction to Virgin planes over others so the ‘brand thing’ clearly does work).

The problem is, the West Coast dispute is now in its third week. Initial sympathy and that feeling of “oh but Virgin are always good, we should keep them” from consumers will begin to peter out, especially as other events capture their attention again. The deeper look at the financial value of the line won’t help either – the more this becomes about bottom line and the less it’s about the Virgin brand, the better it looks for First Group.

If that wasn’t enough of a problem, the final blow for Branson would be if his pursuit of this issue starts to affect the quality of the service itself. Any perceived detorioration in the service, either now or as Virgin winds up its tenure later this year will likely be the final nail in the coffin. Consumers will tolerate a protest from Virgin, but not at the expense of a comfortable, on-time train ride.

So Branson continues to stay in the fight for now. But the longer it goes on, the lower his chances of success via public sympathy.

The future of Libor – 2 key points from a comms perspective

On Friday I attended Martin Wheatley’s unveiling of the Government-commissioned review of Libor at Bloomberg’s offices. Wheatley, who will head the new Financial Conduct Authority, gave an hour long speech setting out the consultation. He’s set himself an ambitious task – the deadline for responses is only four weeks away and Wheatley will publish his final recommendations by the end of September.

The speech itself contained a mixture of detail and vision for the future of Libor or its replacement. From a Comms/PR point of view, there were two particularly interesting points:

1. Who Runs Libor or its replacement? At the moment, Libor is run by the British Bankers Association, the trade group and voice for the industry. Some people are concerned that Read the rest of this entry »

How do you PR pensions to 8m people?

This little conundrum is the question facing the National Employment Savings Trust (NEST) over the next few months. On 1st October, a new era of retirement saving will begin as workers are automatically enrolled into company pension plans without fail. You can opt out if you wish, but the hope from the Government is that two thirds of people won’t.

Now let’s get to the crux of the issue shall we? “Pensions”, “Saving” and “Retirement Planning” are all very dull, very unsexy words that most people the young side of 50 have little interest in discussing or thinking about.

The number of reports, press releases and speeches from companies and politicians on the yawning savings gap in the UK is enough to form a paper road to the moon. But it still makes little difference to savings rates, as was highlighted this week.

So, back to the question: how is NEST enticing 8m potential new pension savers to stay in their pension plans and not opt-out as soon as they can? Well, hats off to them. With restricted budget, they’re going hell for leather with an upbeat message, emphasising the joys of a later life spent in relative comfort. This is neatly summed up with the hashtag

#worthsavingfor

What’s pleasing to see is that they’ve avoided the old-school approach of just producing reports, surveys and general doom and gloom. We have the classic PR tactics like these in the mix, but they’re supported by a strong social media programme. Together, for me, it makes quite a package.

Will it work? It’s too early to say and we won’t really know for two or three years when most people will be auto-enrolled. Expect the papers to jump on any data showing high opt-out rates in big companies from December onwards. NEST and the Government are also clearly a little nervous, with rumours of an additional TV advertising campaign in the mix. Still, at this point, fair play to them.

10 analysts/economists/traders to follow on Twitter

Someone has fired the starting gun on the City and Twitter, because in recent months the number of City commentators taking to the airwaves has shot up. Some of the names are familiar from their traditional place on the rolling news channels. Others are less familiar but growing.

Below is our list of ten that are well worth following for an insight on the markets, investing and economic data. There are lots more, and we’ll run another list in a couple of months’ time to update on this:

Mike Van Dulken, Head of Research at Accendo Markets: @Accendo_Mike

Michael Hewson, Senior Market Analyst at CMC Markets: @michaelhewson

David Buik, BGC’s semi-retired veteran analyst: @truemagic68

Bond Vigilantes, M&G’s retail bond team: @bondvigilantes

Justin Urquhart Stewart, Director at 7 Investment Management: @ustewart

Nick Bubb, Retail Analyst: @NickBubb1

Joshua Raymond, Chief Market Strategist at City Index: @Josh_CityIndex

Paul Kavanagh, Chairman of Killik Capital: @KavanaghKillik

And two financial bloggers well worth following on Twitter to round out the set:

Zerohedge: @zerohedge

Felix Salmon, Reuters’ finance blogger: @felixsalmon

What PR was like in the B.G. era (Before Gorkana)

For many of us in the Financial & Professional Services team, it’s impossible to conceive how the world of PR worked before the digital age really got going. The idea of posting/faxing press releases, having to wait to read the newspapers every morning to know what was happening in the news, or keeping actual physical media contact books just seems alien.

Some of the older members of the team assure me it really did used to be this way though and earlier this week I found some evidence for it. While clearing out some of our filing cabinets, I came across a dusty, weighty tome entitled “Financial Press Facts: Forty-ninth Edition October 2003″. This, in essence was an analogue, print version of Gorkana – all the correspondents, on all the papers and trade magazines, and even the forward feature lists as well.

This is how PR looked before databases like Gorkana

Read the rest of this entry »

5 things we learnt from the i’s summer party

Last Thursday Jonathan and I attended one of the ‘i’ newspaper’s regular events for readers at London’s Transport Museum. i’s editor, Stefano Hatfield, gave a speech during the night which discussed both why he believed i had beaten expectations to date (it’s circulation rose again last month) and what the future held for journalism (he maintained that print has a future).

The speech itself was interesting but there were also a number of points of interest that we picked up from the night as a whole:

1. Demographics remain against newspapers: Hatfield talked enthusiastically in his speech about the number of young i readers he heard from and indeed had talked to on the night. Yet to my eyes the evidence painted the opposite picture – most of the audience was over 40 and a large chunk were 60+. The challenge of attracting younger readers to pay for news remains as difficult as ever.

H+K went to the i's summer party last week

2. Maybe people do care about Leveson: For a while now I’ve held the suspicion that most of the general public don’t really care that much about phone hacking, especially given the more immediate focus on financial constraints and employment prospects. However, the most common line of questioning put to Hatfield on Thursday was related to this issue. Granted, the audience was hardly representative (as noted above) but it still made me reappraise my view slightly.

Read the rest of this entry »

Why Ricky was the wrong person to win the Apprentice (and the others would have been too)

Several of our Financial & Professional Services team are avid Apprentice viewers and in previous years we’ve delighted in writing about the tribulations of the candidates each week (Michael Sophocles and Alex Epstein being two of my all-time favourites).

To my mind, this year’s crop have been less exciting and able than previous vintages, but that didn’t stop me from tuning in for the final last weekend. What I saw though was deeply disappointing.

The Apprentice claims that it aims to find an entrepreneur to “kickstart a company”, backed by the “nation’s most demanding investor” who is “willing to bankroll new business in tough times”.

For the Government, intent on job creation, actively promoting the entrepreneurial spirit and keen on encouraging the “industries of the future” that sounds like manna from heaven – what better shop window for the nation’s entrepreneurial talent than primetime television? Yet once the candidates revealed their ideas and business plans I noticed a distinct trend – for reference their ideas were as follows:

Ricky – a specialist recruitment agency for the pharmaceutical and biotech industries

Tom – a hedge fund focused on the wine industry

Jade – a call centre aimed at securing and selling customer leads on specific product lines

Nick – an online website for ordering recipe lists direct from supermarkets

My disappointment came when I realised two things – firstly, that with the exception of Nick, all the ideas were copycat businesses based on the jobs they already worked in (for example, Ricky is a recruitment consultant). And secondly, that all four of them are essentially service-based companies (again, with the possible exception of Nick).

Nothing wrong with that you say – the UK economy is built on services after all. Yes, that’s very true and services will continue to be the bedrock of the UK’s economy, because, well, we’re very good at it. But considering the Apprentice likely attracted over 7 million viewers on Sunday, surely the public and especially the Government (with its desire to reinvigorate manufacturing and high-tech industries) deserved better than to see a services clean sweep?

Newsround – top tips for pitching success

Earlier this month, BBC’s Newsround celebrated 40 years of broadcasting news to children – to put that into perspective, the programme is longer lived than Eastenders, Top Gear and is closing fast on Top of the Pops’ original run. Newsround isn’t an ideal target for all (or even most) PR campaigns, but it does have a fantastic reach and for some pieces of work it’s a cracking target.

To that end, we’ve pooled the collective wisdom of the Financial and Professional Services team to bring you our top five tips on how to get your story on the five o’clock show. Several of us have successfully pitched Newsround over recent years, most recently for Aviva’s Street Dance for Change programme. So here we go:

1. Remember the target audience: Newsround is aimed at 6-12 year olds, which means your story has to be simple enough for a 6 year old to understand, but also complex enough to appeal to a fast-maturing 12 year old.

2. Use the child’s point of view: Again, given their audience, your story needs to take place from a child’s point of view – it’s not good enough simply for it to relate to kids. Street to School was an example of this – informing children about the dangers/issues they face.

3. Yes to celebs, but the right ones: Brad Pitt, Russell Howard and Joanna Lumley are great, but likely mean very little to a 6 year old. Using a celebrity to help communicate a tricky issue can be helpful but it has to be the right celebrity – it’s easy to forget that children don’t watch mainstream TV and films. Choose wisely.

4. Watch CBeebies: Knowing your Tracy Beaker from your Sadie J can be a great help. Selling a story when there’s a similar storyline running on another CBBC show really helps as we’ve found out – just like adults, kids relate to other things they see and read in the media.

5. Remember it’s a TV programme: Like all broadcast media, it really is about giving Newsround the whole package of different elements to support the story – a spokesperson to sit on the couch, a famous face to do something clever, a kickass video for them to show online; ultimately the more you put in, the more you’re likely to get out.