Change the message or risk defeat

A number of years ago I attended a talk by the great Sir Robert (Bob) Worcester, founder of opinion pollsters MORI, and an expert on elections and the voting habits of electorates around the world.

One compelling argument from Sir Bob, was that he felt there were really only two effective election messaging strategies.  One was: “It’s time for change” – which is obviously used by the opposition parties.  The other was: “Let’s finish the job”; but that second message had a powerful partner theme of “don’t let the others mess it up”.  This second pair of messages is the most successful strategy for parties in power.

However, Sir Bob  warned, if the incumbent Government of the day is unpopular, the time for change message invariably wins.

The current EU debate, has seen the Brexit camp put all their eggs in the “time for change” basket, and there’s no doubt they are facing an unpopular incumbent.  In response, the Remain camp has gone negative – and concentrated almost entirely on the “don’t let the others mess it up” message.  However, “it’s time for change” was always going to be a popular message when, after 40-odd years of EU membership, large elements of the population are unhappy with the resulting situation.  And, at the same time, “don’t let the others mess it up’, is not going to resonate strongly when so many people believe it is already messed up.

Cards on the table – I am firmly in the Remain camp; but from a messaging and strategy point of view, I think its campaign has been flawed – and will fail unless it changes tack very, very quickly.

In recent years, Conservative campaigning has been under the influence of Australian political strategist Sir Lynton Crosby – knighted in the 2016 New Year Honours for his “political service”.  Crosby believes in negative campaigning, and his legacy is all over the Remain “don’t let them mess it up” arguments.  The campaign has been relentlessly negative – your house will be worth less, your pension is at risk, you’ll earn less money, you’ll lose your job; threat after threat after threat. Thus opening a door for the Leave camp to simply say, they are scaremongering – things will be better if we leave not worse. And once the Remain camp opened the door to the “scaremongering” accusation, then everything they said could be tarred with the same brush.

Of course, at the same time, the Leave camp can make these promises about how things will be better, can talk about restoring “Great” Britain, can appeal to the best and worst of National pride, and – unlike in a general election – not actually have to set out their stall regarding what they would actually do when “in power.”

So what should Remain do in the time that is left?  I believe they need to go positive, while at the same time expose the flaws in the Brexit argument.  Much has been made of the £350million a day figure used by the Brexit team, and the Remain team have concentrated simply on trying to knock down the figure saying it is inflated, and doesn’t take into account the rebate or the money we get back.

But the Brexiters can say, we don’t control it – give us the £350 million to control and we can choose where to spend it.  It’s a compelling argument – except it is flawed, because the EU has invested in projects in the UK where Government funding was lacking.  I think the Remain camp should be highlighting the good things in the UK that EU money has helped to create.  Let’s highlight the local authority projects that would not have been completed without EU Funding, or the investment in Superfast broadband in Cornwall, more than half of which was EU funded.  Or the local community projects, and city regeneration schemes in places like Liverpool in particular.

Last weekend, a group of Nobel scientists spoke about their worries regarding research funding if the UK were to exit the EU. In response, the Vote Leave campaign said that “it was a myth” that research funding came from Brussels.  That is an outright lie.  The UK is one of the top recipients in terms of EU research funding.  Manchester University alone will receive £45.36 million of funding for its work on Graphene, set to become the wonder material of the 21st century.  Many, many businesses I have worked for, have received substantial EU-funded rebates of the VAT on their research and development spending.  Let’s celebrate the achievements that EU funding has helped to deliver.

So Remain campaigners.  Talk about the things the EU has funded and ask the question – where will that money come from if we leave?  And ask this question – how many times can you spend the same mythical £350m – which, after the rebate and the EU grants and income we receive is actually around £70m.  And remember too, that much of this EU funding in the UK, is based on a bid and is awarded on the merits of the case, not tainted by any political expediency.

Of course I, like many of us, am all for voting for a positive change – for a better tomorrow.  But Leave are asking us to vote for an uncertain tomorrow.  For a minimum of two years during which the financial markets will not trust the UK.  The Pound is already at its lowest since the global recession because the market doesn’t like the uncertainty and the way it looks like the debate is heading.  And whatever trade deal we strike is absolutely guaranteed not to be better than the existing one – why on earth would the other EU countries agree to that!  That uncertainty is the only negative strand I would allow, not with scaremongering figures, but with the simple fact that we do not know what will happen, what tomorrow would look like, and what the future would hold.

And as far immigration is concerned – leaving the EU with the so-called “Norway” trade agreement would mean we would still have to allow for the free movement of people.  And in any case the real immigration crisis affecting all European countries at the moment is a humanitarian one that has nothing to do with our EU membership.

Of course, it is hard to write about any concerns regarding immigration without appearing to be racist. But we do need an adult conversation about managing the population growth in the UK – not least by ensuring we have the housing and services in place to support the growth that will continue regardless of our EU membership.

The UK is a destination country for people from across the world, not just the EU.  All of these people are seeking a better life for themselves and for their families.  That is actually something to be proud of as a country. The UK is arguably the world’s finest example of a successful, peaceful, liberal, and tolerant multi-X society.  By multi-X I mean multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, and multi-religious – as well as creating multiple opportunities for its citizens.  Our popularity is further evidence that Britain is indeed a Great place.

The immigration issue in this debate is therefore something of a red herring.  Immigration will continue regardless of the vote.  We have good border controls now, which are actually strengthened by our EU membership and the knowledge sharing between authorities, that help us to exclude those who would do us harm.  There is even an argument that says leaving the EU puts us at greater risk.

So Remainers, use the time that remains to talk about the benefits of membership – the things that have been created, the opportunities we would lose, and the funding we would have to replace.

I don’t expect this piece to change anyone’s strongly held opinion.  But if you are undecided, maybe it will help.  And if the Remain team start getting positive and not just negative, I think they could sway a lot of people looking for a reason to vote to stay.

The Brexit team said recently that if we left the EU we could scrap VAT on fuel as an unfair tax.  Another promise the Brexiters don’t have to keep, as they are not the Government.  But should a future UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, in the aftermath of our exit from the EU, decide to scrap VAT on fuel; ask yourself how we, as a country, would replace that lost income?  Or is the answer we would spend that same £350 (£70) million again.

I firmly believe Britain is stronger in Europe, and it will be a very sad day indeed if the likes of Farage, Putin, and Trump (all in favour of Brexit) triumph over every living British Prime Minister, Barack Obama, the Nobel scientists, the vast majority of UK business leaders, and nearly every informed economic commentator.

But the message needs to change, and change quickly.

Vodafone fails the Omni-channel test

I’ve been a pretty loyal Vodafone customer over the years but just now, the company is doing a good job of demonstrating that its various sales and customer service channels are not joined up – not at all.  Omni-channel CRM?  Vodafone seems either unable to implement the concept or unaware of it altogether.

This story actually begins with some great customer service.  At renewal time, I made a list of what I wanted from my next contract and took the challenge into three phone stores one morning before heading off to some meetings.

The Vodafone store contacted me that afternoon with an offer.  The other two stores took much longer. That very day, March 10, I went back to the store and sat with two helpful assistants who walked me through some options.

I left that store happy.  I had renewed three mobiles and paid for the new handsets. In addition, on their advice, I had taken out two new data-only SIM contracts which could share my much larger monthly data bundle.  The existing Vodafone SIM in my iPad was removed and replaced with one of the new data SIMs, with the other one going into a new MiFi device so my laptop could connect independently.  I now had five accounts not four, and was paying a larger monthly fee, but I was happy with the deal and the service.

I wrote an email of thanks to the store team, and gave them full marks in the Vodafone text survey.  Then I got my April phone bill and found I was still being charged for the iPad SIM the store had removed and replaced with a different one.

I contacted and visited the same helpful store staff, who said this was a mistake and they would get it corrected. I believe they have tried many times. Nevertheless, the May bill arrived with the same six-number charge.  I wrote to the support service online.  I spent a long time on a customer service helpline and then on a business one.  I took to Twitter.  At every turn I had to go through the story from the beginning.  Surely I said, you can see this on your screens against my account.

Finally, last week, the social media team emailed me to say they had sorted the problem and the May bill had been credited to remove the charge.  However, I would have to pay for April as “usage was made that month”.  Apparently, in April, I used the SIM that the store staff removed on March 10 and threw away. I have naturally pointed this out, again.

Meanwhile, at the weekend, I received the final evidence that proves Vodafone is failing the omni-channel CRM test.  It’s the standard disconnect letter – would I like to reconsider they ask?  After all, they have some very attractive offers and might be able to save me some money if I stay with Vodafone.  Really? I haven’t left Vodafone!  Did nothing flag in the system to say – don’t send that letter to that customer.

A true omni-channel CRM system would allow Vodafone to associate my store presence, with my business account enquiry, with all my live account numbers, and with my social media profile.  And it would remove the need to have to keep going through the same story.  Sadly, Vodafone’s current system is clearly not up to the task.


EU shows world the way in data protection

The much maligned EU today approved a General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) that standardises and harmonises consumer rights across Europe.  The GDPR includes among its provisions the “right to be forgotten”, the right to know if your data has been hacked, the right to transfer your data, and increased fines for companies found guilty of breaching the regulation.

But although it will be the consumer protection that attracts headlines, businesses should welcome these rules as well.  First out of the traps to do so was the GSMA – the world trade body for mobile operators.  The GSMA described the introduction of stronger consumer rights and harmonised rules across Europe as “fundamental to building trust and driving the uptake of new digital services by citizens across Europe.”

The GSMA also immediately turned its attention to the EU’s upcoming review of its e-Privacy Directive – saying the right balance needs to be struck between “protecting confidentiality of communications and fostering a market where innovation and investment will flourish.”

The fact is that telecoms and mobile service providers have long operated in fear of the regulator.  They cast envious eyes at the businesses that companies such as Google, Facebook, and Amazon have created out of harvesting data and think to themselves – “the regulators would never allow us to do that.”

So clarity (within Europe to start with) of what you can do with data, how you to have store it, and the rights of the consumers who theoretically ‘own it’ will of course be welcomed by the telco operator community.  Maybe now, they can plot a clear (allowable) route to new business initiatives and sales that take advantage of the mountain of data that is generated by their networks.

The move by the EU is groundbreaking.  Talking to the Guardian, Phil Lee a data protection partner at law-firm FieldFisher said as much adding: “The simple fact is that the global standard for data protection will now be dictated by European rules.”

If correctly drafted, these rules and the e-Privacy Directive, will indeed lead the world in protecting consumers while enabling new business.  Quite an achievement.



Excellence deserves reward – but prepare well

Last month I worked with Sarah Hall (@hallmeister) on the initial round of judging for a category in the CIPR’s Excellence Awards.  As ever, the standard of entry was pretty high across the board.

Sarah and I both considered all 20 or so online entries and marked them independently against the category criteria using the scale the CIPR provided.  Although our marks differed slightly, we were able to reach a consensus quite quickly.  Despite the closeness of the scoring, we were agreed on six outstanding entries to shortlist.

Next up, later this month, are the face to face panel sessions which form a crucial part of the judging process.  Whenever I have been a judge in the Excellence Awards, this part of the process has always thrown up surprises.

Sometimes, beautifully crafted online entries, the leading scorers from the written stage, have simply not shone so brightly in the panel – and it is often hard to know why.  Maybe the enthusiasts who worked on the entry were not the team meeting the panel; maybe the team was distracted by a big new business pitch and didn’t put the preparation into the panel session it deserved.  Maybe the panel’s questions drew out some weaknesses in the strategy or measurement.

Whatever the reason, I can’t emphasise this point enough.  If you are shortlisted for an Excellence Award then congratulations – you have overcome a significant and challenging hurdle and managed to stand out in a crowded field of strong entries; but your work is only half completed.  If you want to win, then polish up the presentation, rehearse your answers to the likely questions, and practice, practice, practice.

Excellence deserves reward, but it takes effort as well.



I understand CIPR’s NLA move but we do also need to fight.

When I was President of the CIPR, I was approached by the online monitoring service Meltwater and met with them with a view to joining their, about to begin, fight against NLA charges.  I was interested in the battle, and keen for the CIPR to be involved.

Business commitments abroad meant I could not attend what was effectively a later council of war with all the interested parties, a meeting which led directly to legal battles led in the UK by the PRCA.  However, one outcome of that meeting was a quite reasonable requirement for those fighting that legal battle to be prepared to share the costs.

There was, therefore, still a chance for the CIPR to get involved after the meeting.  Unfortunately, that period coincided with a major financial crisis as the Institute looked to recover and rebuild in the face of a substantial budget deficit.  Regretfully, I had to agree with the Board and Management view that the CIPR could not commit the table stakes at the time but would simply have to support from the sidelines.

From that moment on, the PRCA has been able to not only lead the PR industry fight against what are widely viewed as unjust charges, but also to make a bit of PR capital for themselves out of the position.

From my side, and on behalf of the CIPR, I then elected to follow Winston Churchill’s advice.  I went for “jaw-jaw is better than war-war”; especially as I couldn’t afford to join the fight.

I met with the NLA – who at the time were looking to introduce new online charges, closing a loophole in their fee structure.  Just like the CIPR now, we worked to get those fees reduced and simplified.  I was clear in all the meetings that I had a fundamental disagreement on the principal, but in advance of the Meltwater/PRCA action, it appeared then (and now) that their position was supported by law so I felt my role was to do the best deal possible for CIPR members.

At the same time, I also wrote to David Lammy MP who was then the Government minister responsible for Copyright Law and managed to secure a meeting.  In that meeting, the CIPR argued that copyright could not be infringed if all that was being supplied was a link to the original content.  Also, by sending more viewers to the content, we were arguably increasing page impressions favourably for the content owners.

The return argument we eventually received back was that if agencies, in particular, charged clients for these links of coverage alerts, then they were making profit from the content and it seemed reasonable that should pay a fee to the originators.  Of course this ignores the many organisations being charged NLA fees who do not make a profit, but nevertheless, at that time there was no Government appetite to review copyright law.  I don’t see any evidence to suggest that position has changed.

Time moves on and in truth, I have not followed the current situation that closely.  However, as it often does, it would seem that history is repeating itself with the PRCA still at war and the CIPR still in talks.  The point is though, both approaches are valid, and in strategic terms it also makes sense for the two bodies to divide the roles.  Furthermore, and in complete fairness, the PRCA represents the interests of many of the UK’s largest agencies, and is probably better placed to lead the fight side of the debate.  They are certainly fighting a good fight.

What would be even better though, is for the two organisations to agree that the dual pronged approach is best.  The strategy that happened by accident is actually quite a good one.

So please, stop arguing and point-scoring in public, and instead work together and find a way to support each other’s approaches.  That would properly serve the interests of both sets of members.