Madano Analysis – Budget 2021 and Build Back Better, the plan for growth

Madano Analysis – Budget 2021 and Build Back Better, the plan for growth

Alongside a Budget that focused heavily on the immediate actions required to return to growth and respond to the economic impacts of Covid-19, the Government published Build Back Better, its plan for growth, a new economic strategy for the post-Brexit, post-pandemic world with technology, net zero and innovation at its heart.  

Autumn’s Comprehensive Spending Review will still be significant in putting this to work longer term, but Build Back Better makes clear that today’s Budget, and recent announcements such as the £800m ARIA and the Green Industrial Revolution, are part of a bigger picture for the Government. Its three pillars are infrastructure, skills and innovation. New strategies expected over the next year, such as a Hydrogen Strategy, Innovation Strategy, a Transport Decarbonisation Strategy, and Digital Strategy, will all connect back to Build Back Better. 

It aims to build a connecting economic narrative for the future of the UK, with leadership in science and innovation, and the transition to net zero, all creating transformative changes in productivity and quality of life in regions across the country.  

Our highlights included: 

  • The new Future Fund: Breakthrough, a £375m public-private fund to invest in promising, R&D-intensive companies ready to scale up with equity rounds of over £20m, showing Government’s seriousness about a greater appetite for risk and supporting companies directly. 
  • The launch of the new National Infrastructure Bank, expected to deliver £12bn in public and sector project investment from Spring onwards and drive forward new net zero projects. 
  • Freeports, eight new economic zones spread across nearly every region, with special regulatory, development and taxation rules to incentivise high-tech investment. 
  • Several commitments on green finance, including a change to the Bank of England’s remit to include environmental sustainability, and new green savings products and bonds. 

Levelling up remains a key focus. Alongside freeports, the location of the new National Infrastructure Bank in Leeds and the Treasury’s new Darlington hub make that abundantly clear. 

Undoubtedly, the focus today will be on measures taken by the Chancellor to safeguard the economy as the UK travels on the roadmap towards the end of COVID-19 restrictions. But today’s Build Back Better plan demonstrates that when the Conservatives go to the electorate at the end of this Parliament, they will be expecting to do so having established a more productive economy that leads in innovative industries, and is making strides towards a lower carbon energy system.

Ceres Power entrusts Madano with integrated communications brief

Ceres Power entrusts Madano with integrated communications brief

Strategic communications and insights consultancy Madano today announced that it has been chosen by Ceres Power for an integrated communications brief, advising the fuel cell technology firm on external communications, public affairs, digital and social media.

Ceres Power is an innovative fuel cell and engineering company based in Horsham, U.K., aiming to bring cleaner and cheaper energy to businesses, homes and vehicles. Last year, the company announced partnerships with Doosan, Bosch and AVL which will significantly scale-up the deployment of its solid oxide fuel cell technology in key markets around the world.

Madano will be working with Ceres Power to improve awareness among key stakeholders in the media, government and beyond of the company’s recent impressive progress and the contribution it can make towards achieving net-zero goals.

Michael Evans, Managing Partner, Madano, commented: “This is the latest in a series of exciting integrated comms briefs landed by our energy and environment practice, reflecting Madano’s desire to support companies who are shaping the future. Ceres Power is a groundbreaking energy technology company whose purpose dovetails with one of the consultancy’s main objectives – to sustain a clean, green planet by ensuring there is clean energy available throughout the world.”

Phil Caldwell, CEO, Ceres Power, added: “The growth opportunities for our business in 2021 are clear. Many countries have placed decarbonisation at the centre of their plans for economic recovery after COVID-19, and we’ve seen significant investment in hydrogen and industrial decarbonisation announced in Germany, South Korea, Japan and the UK, to name a few. Our partnership with Madano will help us to raise awareness among key audiences of the role our SteelCell® technology can play in driving decarbonisation forward globally.”

About Madano

Madano is committed to building a better world through intelligent and creative communications. We work with clients who are seeking to solve some of the world’s major challenges through science, technology and engineering, helping them tell their story, make the right connections, change attitudes and influence behaviours. Established in 2004, Madano is an AVENIR GLOBAL company.

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*Story first published on PR Week.

MPs get ready for a game of musical chairs

MPs get ready for a game of musical chairs

On Tuesday 5th January, the Office for National Statistics published the latest official figures for the number of registered voters in each parliamentary constituency and ward.

Normally, this is of passing interest. But this year’s figures will be used by the Boundary Commission for the redrawing of constituencies.

The new figures for the electorate will mean constituencies will be allocated in each part of the UK as follows:

England – 543 (+10)

  • East Midlands – 47 (+1)
  • East of England – 61 (+3)
  • London – 75 (+2)
  • North East – 27 (-2)
  • North West – 73 (-2)
  • South East – 91 (+7)
  • South West – 58 (+3)
  • West Midlands – 57 (-2)
  • Yorkshire and Humber – 54 (unchanged)

Scotland – 57 (-2)

Wales – 32 (-8)

Northern Ireland – 18 (unchanged)

Why does this matter?

The redrawing of constituencies will, bluntly speaking, shift political power to areas where the population is growing fast, and away from those where it isn’t.

The geographic beneficiaries are those which have seen their electorate grow fastest since constituencies were last reviewed. That means the South East, South West, East of England and London, and especially the rural and suburban areas in London’s orbit. Parts of northern England will have reduced representation, and Wales will see 20% of its constituencies eliminated – an exaggerated impact as Wales has been purposely over-represented in the past.

Even areas which look like they will see little change on paper will actually see substantial changes which could shake up political affiliations. For example, Scotland will lose two seats, but within Scotland, there will be much wider changes as Glasgow and many of the surrounding areas are over-represented currently while much of eastern Scotland is under-represented.

The partisan political impact of these changes will be watched closely. Though the work of the Boundary Commission in drawing new boundaries is still to come, it’s likely the new boundaries will probably result in 5 or 6 net gains for the Conservatives. That might not sound huge, but it would have given Theresa May a small working majority in 2017.

However, Conservative hopes that updated boundaries would yield them 10 or more seats are likely to be misplaced. While it is likely the Conservatives will win all of the newly created constituencies outside London, which would gain them 14 seats, a significant number of currently Conservative constituencies are also likely to be abolished; and the creation of new Conservative seats in the commuter belt will have unpredictable knock-on effects on other seats, which might become more competitive as a result.

In Wales, for example, the average electorate in Conservative-held constituencies in Wales is just 57000 – well below the UK average of 73000. The extent of the changes needed in Wales means both major parties can expect to lose a handful of seats – though the precise split will be driven by decisions of the Boundary Commission.

It could also pose trouble for a number of the Conservatives representing the former Red Wall. In the English seats the Conservatives gained in 2019, the average number of voters is 70,652, compared to 73,546 in Labour-held seats and 76,138 in the other Conservative seats. All else being equal, the new Conservative intake are the most likely MPs in England to find their constituencies abolished or substantially altered.

Overall, CCHQ will be happier than Labour HQ when these changes are made, but up to a dozen Conservative MPs may need to relocate if they want to stay in Parliament. That could cause some internal dissent, but the change in the law to remove the need for parliamentary approval of new boundaries reduces their capacity to stand in the way of these changes.

Only half the battle: how communication will be key to ensuring COVID-19 vaccine uptake

Only half the battle: how communication will be key to ensuring COVID-19 vaccine uptake

On 2nd December, the UK became the first country in the world to approve the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccinefollowing review by the MHRA 

This announcement comes a ground-breaking seven months after the start of clinical trials and marks a major breakthrough, but it’s clear that the COVID-19 pandemic is far from over. Recent criticism that the approval was “hasty” and the spread of misinformation about vaccines on social media has already resulted in vaccination hesitancy.  

Providing regular, clear and transparent communications about the new vaccine will be critical to increase public confidence and encourage vaccination uptake.  

Globally vaccine mistrust is growing 

Vaccination is the most effective public health intervention available, ranking second only to clean water for disease prevention. Yet in 2019, the World Health Organisation listed vaccination hesitancy as one of the top ten threats to global health; at the time they couldn’t have imagined how soon the potential impact of that threat would be realised 

recent study from UCL found that a fifth of people in the UK said they would be unlikely to get a vaccine for COVID-19. Worryingly, vaccination hesitancy appeared to be higher for the COVID19 vaccine than the flu vaccine, particularly in older adults. These findings clearly highlight the effect of the ongoing spread of misinformation around COVID-19 and the vaccines.  

This growing infodemic, a term used to describe the flood of information on the COVID-19 pandemic,  has made it difficult for people to make informed decisions about their health. It’s therefore crucial that communications around COVID-19 vaccines be clear, honest and openly address the public’s concerns.  

Compassion and clear communication will be key to increasing public confidence 

The unprecedented speed of the development of COVID-19 vaccines has led many to, perhaps fairly, question whether they have been rushed. These are legitimate concerns and they need to be treated with respect and compassion to avoid alienating a large group of people and risk them turning to non-trustworthy sources of information 

Professor Heidi Larson, Director of the Vaccine Confidence Projecthas emphasised thimportance of trying to understand these concerns and encourages open and balanced dialogue about both risks and benefits.  

Not only are the types of messages important, but the way they are communicated to the public must be considered. The public will inevitably be exposed to rumours and false information, and this must be countered by developing trusted spaces, via social and mainstream media, to share accurate information in an accessible way for the public.  

It is exciting to see that healthcare professionals are already starting to adapt, with live Q&As on social media becoming increasingly popular. Doctors are even starting to use TikTok to bust myths about vaccines 

These strategies, along with other innovative methods to share transparent and compassionate messages, will play critical role in countering the spread of vaccine hesitancy and ultimately ensuring we return to something close to normality in the future.  

Follow Madano on our social media channels. You can find us on LinkedInTwitter, and Instagram!

Why publish real world evidence? Maximising the reach and impact of journal articles

Why publish real world evidence? Maximising the reach and impact of journal articles

How can we know what kind of impact the communications outputs we publish are having on our target audiences? Are they cutting through the noise to affect beliefs and behaviours?

In previous blogs, our sister agency AXON have identified an upward trend in the volume of publications presenting real world evidence (RWE) in healthcare journals. This trend was observed irrespective of the impact factor of the journal, which calls into question our industry’s reliance on impact factor when evaluating the reach and impact of published data. So how can we better understand which articles are effective?

The team at Madano have been working closely with AXON and their clients to try and find a more satisfactory answer to the question of impact. While we’re little a way off a definitive answer, we are now able to provide a much more nuanced and client-specific assessment of the value of a publication plan – at brand and therapy area level.

Our starting point was to take a step back and ask: what are our publications for? Addressing this more fundamental question soon had us and our clients thinking differently and we were able to build ‘theories of change’ for individual publication plans – i.e. a framework that articulates the changes in beliefs and behaviours we want our publications to trigger in our target audiences, and the outcomes that need to be measured to detect these changes.

Based on this framework, we are able to build a bespoke model of impact for each client. First, we identified all of the outcomes clients hope that publications could influence; for example, raising awareness of particular biomarkers or improving front-line practice. We then identified data sources that could act as proxies for these outcomes; for example, volume and nature of social media engagement using specific terminology, or seeing publications referenced in treatment guidelines.

To really assess the impact of an individual publication or publication plan as a whole, we needed to situate outcomes associated with our clients’ publications within the broader competitive landscape. To do this, our data science team have built web harvesting scripts to capture the specified outcomes for all publications within a given disease area – a total of around 14,000 across the last five years for psoriasis, for example. We then visualised this landscape as a topic map, highlighting high-frequency and high-impact topics, and comparing average impact scores for groups of publications to benchmark client performance.

The insights this approach generates provide huge value to publications teams and should be the foundation for designing a RW publication strategy. It can help you:

  • Identify gaps in the landscape that, if filled, would create the most impact;
  • Maximise a publication’s impact with key audiences by making informed decisions about author, journal and topic selection;
  • Measure relative performance against your competitors and identify the most effective types of article or outputs for your different audiences;
  • Deliver consistent reporting showing the overall value of each of your publications and their contribution to broader medical objectives.

This bespoke approach delivers a more nuanced answer to the question of publication impact. It generates insights that drive future strategy and tactical decisions to improve reach, engagement and impact. If you would like to hear more about how our approach can support your RWE publication efforts, please get in touch here.

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A five-point plan to unleash “build back greener”

A five-point plan to unleash “build back greener”

We hope that the Prime Minister uses his forthcoming 10-point plan to demonstrate clear ambition on, and pathways to, the various existing and future low-carbon technologies that will need to be developed, deployed and scaled in the 2020s. This decade will prove critical in the fight against climate change and should be defined by UK leadership, thanks to the country’s Presidency of COP26.

A detailed 10-point plan, however, may prove unwieldy in both policy development and delivery, as well as difficult to communicate to audiences. We believe that actions and inclusive messaging around fewer, more realistic policies are essential to ensuring the buy-in and cooperation of the public, alongside industry and government departments.

We have therefore produced a five-point plan to highlight those vital policy measures and technologies that can be swiftly unleashed by government in what is likely to be a short decade, as the UK seeks to up the tempo on cracking the net-zero puzzle.

1. By 2021, the Government should publish a public-facing net-zero roadmap for the UK, and a supporting communications programme, alongside the net-zero strategy.

Madano Analysis: With the UK holding the COP26 Presidency, the Prime Minister and the government can build a climate change-focused legacy and demonstrate global leadership. Combined with a net-zero strategy, a public-facing roadmap and communications programme needs to be developed. This will outline the leadership that government is taking to equitably tackle climate change and how the public will need to modify its behaviour for the country to reach net zero by 2050. This roadmap could feed into the government’s ‘levelling up’ agenda by outlining clear guidance and investment.

The UK requires an ambitious framework that outlines the policies and fiscal/regulatory levers that will be used to develop and scale low-carbon technologies by 2030. The forthcoming net-zero strategy should be published in early 2021 and demonstrate the benefits of low-carbon technologies to the regions, deliver the confidence required by industry and give government departments the framework needed to consult on interlinked policies.

2. The Government should unleash the offshore wind and solar sectors in the 2020s by removing artificial targets and current regulatory constraints imposed by the nationally significant infrastructure projects (NSIP) process.

Madano Analysis: There is concern that the Prime Minister’s promise to raise the target for offshore wind power capacity from 30GW to 40GW by 2030 could be viewed as a cap. Electricity generated from wind may only account for 24 per cent of household energy demand in 2030, given our appetite for electricity-hungry appliances and the increasing preference to work from home. The upcoming Contracts for Difference (CfD) auction could raise £20bn+ of investment, and government and industry will need to capitalise on this windfall if the PM’s claim that wind could power all homes by 2030 is at all feasible.

A government framework is required to give the solar industry confidence and harness those advancements that can optimise existing assets. The first step should be to streamline the NSIP process which constrains the development of assets exceeding 50MW without considering technological upgrades that enable these assets to generate higher outputs on the same area of land used. Restructuring this process would allow the upgrade of existing assets that could unlock several clean GW for the grid by 2030.

3. The Government should facilitate the widespread rollout of a small modular reactor (SMR) programme and a novel siting assessment for new reactors, with the aim of deploying an SMR by the end of 2030.

Madano Analysis:

While the Prime Minister has declared that UK household electricity needs will be met by offshore wind in 2030 (projected to be only one-third of the UK’s electricity demand), the Government should take the opportunity to further the development of SMRs and AMRs to pick up demand that wind may struggle to supply. A fleet of SMRs can be deployed across the UK, providing locally embedded low carbon energy generation, and when manufacturing for export is considered, this presents a long-term opportunity for the UK, and the UK nuclear supply chain. These technologies also present an opportunity to help decarbonise heavy industries with dedicated power plants providing low carbon heat and power, and produce clean hydrogen, which could be the building block of tomorrow’s low carbon economy.

A crucial step to realising the SMR opportunity is the development of a rationalised planning framework that would enable the rapid siting and deployment of SMRs at trial stages, without their being lost in the regulatory and public consultation web that has stymied large-build, new nuclear sites.

4. The Government should establish two industrial hydrogen clusters in the north of England and Scotland by 2025, and six more clusters by 2030 across the UK.

Madano Analysis: Currently, the government is heavily focused on hydrogen production, as the UK hydrogen strategy will outline. Understanding the demand profiles for this resource, across a swathe of end-uses, has proven difficult for government and industry. Support for two industrial hydrogen clusters by 2025, which feature large-scale demonstrator pilots, will offer a stronger indication of demand and opportunities for the early adoption of hydrogen. Moreover, understanding which technologies can be easily deployed in these sandboxes will drive costs down for both production and demand. Placing these clusters in the north of England and in Scotland will create high-quality jobs in strategically important regions and serve to buttress the Government’s ambitions to ‘level-up’ communities across the UK.

5. The Government should establish a 2030 plan for the development of tidal energy in the UK.

Madano Analysis: The UK has established a substantial offshore wind sector, but tidal energy remains untapped potential. Tidal is a potentially significant source of low-carbon, reliable energy, but faces one major barrier: high construction costs, especially due to the lack of experience at scale. But with current borrowing costs relatively low, it may never be cheaper for the government to invest in the development of a tidal energy industry in the UK and, if action is taken quickly, the UK can seize a first-mover advantage in this sector. A clear plan from government on the development and delivery of tidal energy should be a priority for the 2020s and would work to shore up and benefit the economies of coastal communities in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Our short, yet targeted, plan outlines those actions that the Government should take now, if it wishes to ‘jump start’ the UK’s drive towards net-zero through the 2020s and reach its goals by 2030.

Crucially, measures that support existing and developing low-carbon technologies must be closely aligned with other significant issues, such as ‘levelling up’, and be steeped in an overarching and inclusive narrative that outlines the impacts and benefits of the energy transition to all.

Madano advises clients across the energy sector– if you’re interested in learning more please drop our team a line at [email protected].

By James Watson, Senior Account Executive, and the team in Madano’s Energy practice.

Inspiring trust in the pharma industry during a global pandemic

Inspiring trust in the pharma industry during a global pandemic

In global trust barometers, scientists have long featured among the professions most trusted by the public, but pharmaceutical companies remain the least trusted. This is an interesting dichotomy, given that most pharmaceutical employees are scientists.

Public trust has been an issue for the pharmaceutical industry for many years, driven principally by a few high-profile examples of negative practice from several years ago. Even in 2019, it was still the most poorly regarded of industries.

That was until the world was hit by COVID-19.

Since the outbreak, confidence that scientists will act in the public’s best interest has grown, as has trust in the healthcare industry as a whole.

Industries banding together in the global response to COVID-19, coupled with increased curiosity about how medicines and vaccines are developed, has also had a positive impact on pharma’s reputation. This provides an opportunity for the public to change their perceptions of ‘big pharma’ in the long term, but what’s the best way to achieve this?

Transparency in communication is vital

Scientists and researchers have been increasingly visible across media channels during the pandemic to address the public’s concerns and advise those in charge. However, their increasingly public-facing position means that quality of communication is vital. Dr Cevat Giray Aksoy, Lecturer in Economics at King’s College London and co-author of a paper on public trust in science, stated that “if scientists fail to explain their findings clearly and concisely enough to inspire trust in public, people may perceive them as elitists or inaccessible.”

When a participant in a large late-stage AstraZeneca study testing a COVID-19 vaccine suffered a serious adverse reaction, the company immediately, and voluntarily, paused vaccinations and issued a statement where they firmly reiterated their commitment to maintaining “the integrity of the trials.” The following week, as part of efforts to maintain public transparency, researchers at Oxford University, published a comprehensive document explaining that the adverse event was unlikely to be related to the vaccine.

Following the science, not the headlines

Increased public and political pressure to accelerate development of a COVID-19 vaccine, such as President Trump’s ‘Operation Warp Speed’, have only created greater uncertainty about the intentions of drug companies.

In response to this, as part of efforts to engender trust and maintain public confidence, CEOs of nine leading biopharma companies announced a historic pledge in September. They outlined a united commitment to uphold the integrity of the scientific process as they work towards approval of the first COVID-19 vaccines. This includes high scientific and ethical standards, stringent requirements for approval submission and ensuring global access to a range of vaccine options.

Public pledges like this only strengthen the power of collaborations of this kind between academics, pharma companies, regulatory bodies and, most importantly, trial volunteers. Continuing to communicate good practices and ground-breaking science, while keeping patient safety at the heart of the process, will provide optimism and hope for the development and approval of a vaccine.

As the world continues to follow the scientific progress around the COVID pandemic, the pharma industry has the opportunity demonstrate its integrity and commitment to human health, to inform and educate with transparency, and, fundamentally, to win back trust at a time when the world needs it most.

By Amisha Bhudia, Account Manager in Madano’s Healthcare practice.

Johnson takes to the wind

Johnson takes to the wind

Expectations across the energy sector were high yesterday, as Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s gave his “winds of change” vision for the energy sector by committing the Government to the modest target of increasing offshore wind power capacity from 30 GW to 40 GW, by 2030. He breezily claimed that this source of low carbon energy could generate enough electricity to power all the UK’s homes within a decade.

Alongside this pledge, the Prime Minister promised £160m to upgrade ports and infrastructure for building turbines and boosting offshore wind capacity, which he claimed will create 2,000 jobs in construction and support 60,000 more. We will, according to the Prime Minister, see 1 GW of floating wind turbines hove into view by 2030, too.

The Prime Minister’s backing for offshore wind is not a major surprise in and of itself, given the Government’s focus on tackling climate change in much of its messaging. And given the scale of investment announced yesterday is modest by international standards, industry will be looking for much more in the Government’s 10-point “Build Back Greener” plan if the UK is to establish itself as the ‘Saudi Arabia’ of wind power and renewable energy more broadly.

The Prime Minister’s lofty assertion that offshore wind, alone, can solve a large part of the energy question should be taken with a large pinch of sea salt or viewed as a symptom of his broad brush, oratorical style. His claim that offshore wind could power all the UK’s homes by 2030 omitted to mention that homes account for only about a third of power use. The Government is well aware that wind is only one piece of the testing net zero puzzle and that other low carbon energy sources, such as solar and nuclear power, will need support to scale up and meet the needs of wider energy challenge.

While the Prime Minister’s press release did take the opportunity to breathe fresh life into the Government’s plans for renewables by indicating that the Government will set a 2021 target to “double the capacity of renewable energy in the next Contracts for Difference auction,” he provided little detail on its proposals for solar, hydrogen, carbon capture and storage, energy efficiency or nuclear power.

Still, we can be confident that this announcement is the first stage of the “Build Back Greener” plan for a green industrial revolution from the Government, with No 10 promising further, concrete details later this year to “accelerate our progress towards net zero emissions by 2050.” There are conflicting reports on the date that this plan will be published, with both late October and late November suggested.

The long-delayed Energy White Paper is also reportedly set to be published this month. The paper will outline the Government’s approach to delivering its net zero target and will hopefully clear the air on various issues, such as large-scale nuclear, and provide confidence to the renewables sector that has weathered COVID-19 admirably and produced record-breaking levels of low-carbon energy.

To our mind, what is most notable from this policy announcement is not its content but the fact that a commitment to offshore wind is the headline announcement of a Prime Minister at the Conservative Party Conference, during a time of public health and economic crisis.

Whatever the rationale behind this decision, it confirms that addressing climate change has much greater importance for this Government compared to recent predecessors.

Written by James Watson, Madano.

What are universities for? Coming out of the COVID-19 crisis and rebuilding for the future

What are universities for? Coming out of the COVID-19 crisis and rebuilding for the future

In April this year, Madano reported on the challenging situation faced by the UK’s universities as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Likening the sector’s difficult circumstances to a game of Kerplunk in which all of the straws have suddenly been removed, we predicted that “a university degree could be a tough sell to the 2020/21 intake who may consider a gap year instead.”

That reads like a real understatement following recent events at Manchester Metropolitan University. Students at the campus described themselves as “completely neglected” after they were forced to self-isolate for two weeks when 127 of them tested positive for COVID-19. The situation left 1,700 students all trying to source food – and, more importantly for them, alcohol – from the same local supermarkets. Security guards prevented residents from going outside to shop amid complaints of “little in the way of pastoral care”.

Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, is also less of a fan of the university experience than some of his predecessors. He recently ditched the target, introduced by New Labour and adopted by successive governments, of 50 per cent of young adults going into higher education, replacing it with a focus on further education and vocational training.

Accusing universities of failing to prepare graduates for the UK workforce, he said: “For too long, we’ve been training people for jobs that don’t exist. We need to train them for the jobs that do exist and will exist in the future. We have to end the focus on qualifications for qualifications’ sake.” And, this week, prime minister Boris Johnson finally delivered on recommendations from the Augar Review into post-16 education, pledging to end the gulf between further and higher education, commenting:

“We seem on the one hand to have too few of the right skills for the jobs our economy creates, and on the other hand too many graduates with degrees which don’t get them the jobs that they want.”

The prime minister and education secretary’s comments chime with the sentiments of a couple of recently published books. Both political philosopher Michael Sandel – in The Tyranny of Merit – and journalist David Goodhart – in Head, Hand, Heart – argue that it’s time to reassess our notions of success and failure, and particularly how they relate to higher education and work.

And last month, Stefan Collini, professor emeritus of intellectual history at the University of Cambridge, delivered a withering assessment of the UK’s higher education sector:

“Universities are overcrowded and understaffed; contact hours are reduced; most teaching in the first two years is done by temporary and part-time staff; and underprepared students suffer debilitating stress. Moreover, instead of reliably leading to a better job, all it guarantees is a higher tax bill for the next 30 years.”

As a number of voices begin to question the actual purpose of universities, many institutions may need to adapt by reframing what they stand for and the benefit they deliver to society.

Opportunities

Despite mounting challenges, there are still opportunities for universities to thrive. One possibility is the government’s levelling up agenda, which promises to redirect investment to regions outside London and the south-east. Keen to retain its newly won “red wall” across the Midlands and the north of England, the present administration is likely to welcome potential development in those areas.

Universities have a real opportunity to play a central role in transforming their local area, whether through forging partnerships with local authorities and businesses, providing students with the skills needed for the region to thrive or persuading students to live and work in the area following graduation. Showing their commitment to their community in this way would allow universities to demonstrate their ongoing relevance and value in what is likely to remain an unpredictable environment for the foreseeable future.

What students want

As discussed by Sandel and Goodhart in their respective publications, traditional academic criteria provide a limited measure of an individual’s overall knowledge, skills and intelligence.

In fact, Madano’s own research into the higher education sector has found that students are seeking to acquire more tangible skills that they can apply directly to the workplace, and often in more practical disciplines.

Today’s students regard employment at the end of a degree as a given. Considering the huge amount of money they’re expected to shell out in tuition fees and the tens of thousands of pounds of debt they’re destined to graduate with, is it any wonder?

Given the current expectation that a degree will inevitably lead to a job, perhaps it’s time for universities to improve the vocational support they offer students beyond simply academic preparation. Many already give advice on job applications and interview skills to improve undergraduates’ chances of securing a position once they’ve completed their studies, but they could develop this offer and make it available to a greater number of students.

Aside from traditional employment, there could be an opportunity for universities to broaden their role by encouraging greater entrepreneurship and helping students to help themselves. By advising students how to set up their own company and putting young entrepreneurs in touch with potential partners, the higher education sector could recast itself as a genuine friend to business and safeguard its continuing relevance.

Rearticulating purpose

More than at any other time in recent history, the value and purpose of universities are being questioned right across the political spectrum. Outside of the familiar top-tier names, universities need to reassess and rethink why they do what they do and then rearticulate that concept in a way that speaks to students and meets wider societal objectives, keeping both government and the general public on side.

Universities that are agile, maintain two-way communication with their student body and take advantage of the current government agenda are likely to be best positioned to take the lead in shaping the sector as it moves forward.

By Dan Townshend, Senior Research Manager in Madano’s Insights practice.

Which companies have been most successful in pivoting their corporate communications due to COVID-19?

Which companies have been most successful in pivoting their corporate communications due to COVID-19?

As lockdown is gradually eased in the UK and life slowly begins to return to a semblance of normality (with collective fingers firmly crossed that spikes don’t lead to a second nationwide lockdown), now seems like an opportune moment to look back over the last five months and pick out some of the organisations who successfully adapted their communications strategies to fit the extraordinary circumstances imposed on them by the COVID-19 pandemic.

BrewDog

It may be an obvious choice, but it’s hard to ignore the way BrewDog took the closure of its 100 bars around the world, and the loss of 50 per cent of its export business, in its stride. Instead of bemoaning the situation forced upon it, the company decided to seize the initiative in a way that aligned with its manifesto pledge: “We do things against the grain. We will do what we think is right – and we really don’t care what people think.”

Deprived of its traditional purpose (“to make incredible craft beer”), BrewDog decided to switch its operations completely. Two days before it closed all of its UK bars, the company announced that it would now be producing hand sanitiser instead and donating it to the NHS and healthcare charities.

“We believe businesses should be a force for good,” explained James Watt, BrewDog’s co-founder and boss, and he went on to put his (lack of) money where his mouth was by refusing to take any salary in 2020, along with fellow co-founder Martin Dickie. The firm’s senior team also took pay cuts in order to protect jobs.

BrewDog also then cheekily waded into the furore surrounding Dominic Cummings’ infamous trip to County Durham. In a fine example of social media brilliance, the company invited its Twitter followers to christen its latest, limited-edition beer, and the Barnard Castle Eye Test IPA was launched under the strapline: “Short-sighted beer for tall stories”.

It proved too good to resist for Keir Starmer, who popped into one of the brewer’s bars in London to be photographed holding a can. BrewDog were understandably keen to publicise the Labour leader’s endorsement, but careful to point out that proceeds from the IPA had funded 100,000 bottles of sanitiser for front-line workers.

Supermarkets

Supermarkets were faced with a plethora of communication challenges in the early stages of lockdown as they sought to explain the intricacies of the new shopping reality to their customers while reassuring them with a basic message that it was still safe to visit their stores.

Tesco was among the first to launch a campaign promoting its social-distancing measures. On 27 March, it unveiled its “Keeping You Safe” ad to highlight the steps it had taken to protect customers and staff at important points in the shopping process. Featuring real employees, the ad detailed how parking attendants would be marshalling customers as they arrived at stores, and showed that signs displaying social distancing advice and queue markers had been arranged to ensure shoppers remained two metres apart. The campaign also underlined measures such as floor markings and one-way aisles, plus protective screens erected at tills to protect cashiers.

At the same time, supermarkets responded to concerns from shoppers worried about catching the virus by expanding their online services. Tesco upped its delivery slots to 1.2 million in a six-week period, more than doubling capacity. Morrison’s, Asda, Iceland and Waitrose also significantly increased their deliveries, while Sainsbury’s online grocery sales went from 7 per cent to 17 per cent during lockdown.

“Our business has fundamentally changed,” said the supermarket’s new chief executive, Simon Roberts. Alluding to the 25,000 new staff the chain had recruited, he continued: “A number of the decisions we have made have materially increased costs, but meant that we have done the right thing for our customers.”

All of these reputation management efforts have paid off handsomely. A recent survey carried out by IAB UK and YouGov revealed that 79 per cent of those questioned would be likely to favour brands that had acted and communicated well during the COVID-19 pandemic. Three quarters of respondents (75 per cent) said clear and frequent communication was a factor in their choice and close to two thirds (62 per cent) were swayed by the implementation of new safety measures.

The research also listed the brands that consumers felt most impressed by during lockdown. Supermarkets dominated the top 10, with Amazon and Boots the only non-supermarket brands to feature.

Garden centres

Like supermarkets, garden centres were quick to respond to the introduction of the government’s lockdown measures. In early April, the BBC reported that the outlets were providing personalised online shopping services to combat huge potential wastage (millions of plants, shrubs and trees) brought about by social-distancing measures.

Traders took advantage of the digital technology at their disposal to live-stream videos of their premises and give customers advice on orders via FaceTime and email. Chessington Garden Centre promoted its products through Facebook Live and offered a delivery service to fulfil orders received through its website.

As staff broadcast a walking tour through the centre and its goods, they replied to questions left by customers in the comments. The video began by assuring viewers that the centre was doing all it could to stick to government guidelines and make sure people stayed at home, but went on to insist that “what we do want to do is encourage you out into your gardens or outdoor space.”

Lessons from lockdown

Business strategy and communications strategy should be inextricably linked. The winners highlighted above have managed to either find a new role for the business that stayed true to its brand identity or reorganised their operations to respond to huge changes in customer demand, while restricted by measures introduced to fight COVID-19.

But if lockdown has taught us anything, it’s that the companies who have been most successful during this period are the ones who have quickly adapted to a sea change in the business environment and then taken their stakeholders with them on that journey.