Revolutionary Measures

James Dyson and three lessons for Brexit communications

Sir James Dyson is clearly a very clever bloke. He’s an innovator who has successfully disrupted multiple industries, from vacuum cleaners to hand driers, and is now staking a claim to leadership in the emerging electric vehicle market.

blue and yellow round star print textile

Photo by freestocks.org on Pexels.com

He’s also an ardent Brexiteer, campaigning for the UK to leave the European Union. Much of his ire is down to his belief that EU regulations are rigged by his rivals, which has clearly impacted his thinking. I’m not going to reopen the Brexit debate, but in the circumstances of a potential looming No Deal, the fact that he’s moving his global HQ from Wiltshire to Singapore has drawn widespread condemnation from both sides of the debate. While no jobs are being lost, and the company is investing nearly £300m in the UK, it is seen as a betrayal, rather than a business decision.

What the press and social media coverage shows is just how poisonous the debate around Brexit has become. At any other time a successful company investing more in the country, while pledging to keep jobs in the UK would be applauded. But whatever the story, business decisions are currently all viewed through a Brexit lens – from Wetherspoon’s boss Tim Martin admitting that labour costs would be going up in the first half of the year, to the likes of Panasonic moving the registration of its European HQ to the Netherlands.

The lessons for all businesses are therefore clear:

1.Run your announcements through a Brexit filter

Particularly for those companies that have taken a strong stand on Brexit, every communication and action will be scrutinised by both sides. Therefore, take special care to analyse what you are saying from either viewpoint. What story will the press lead on? How will it be seen on social media? It is up to PR and communication teams to give strong, upfront advice on the potential consequences of any story, and how it can potentially be mitigated. For example, this weekend’s Sunday Times had a follow-up story claiming the real reason that Dyson is leaving the UK is fear of a Jeremy Corbyn Labour government – an angle that should have been highlighted much earlier if it was to avoid controversy.

2. Don’t use Brexit to bury bad news

Brexit does have a major impact on many industries and businesses. The drop in the pound following the referendum result pushed up the cost of imports, while current uncertainty means many consumers are not confident in making big ticket purchases. However, despite the temptation, businesses shouldn’t just blame Brexit for all of their woes. Doing so highlights their inability to react to changing market conditions and risks them being seen as moaners by the general population.

3. Either choose a position or stay quiet

Business owners such as Dyson and Martin have been vocal in stating their position. Equally executives from many more organisations, from Airbus to Jaguar Land Rover have warned against the negative consequences on jobs, investment and the economy. To successfully carry this off without impacting public reputation you need to be sure that your position is based on facts, and will resonate with your target audiences. And you need to remain fixed in your views – hence the condemnation that Dyson has received for appearing to not back Britain.

As the Brexit saga/shambles rumbles on, dominating the media landscape, all businesses need to understand how it impacts their public relations and communications strategies. Factoring it into planning is vital if you want to avoid damaging your reputation, sales and future revenues.

January 30, 2019 Posted by | Marketing, PR | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Which profession is losing the PR war?

Gas Flame

Jobs wax and wane in popularity and, while quite a lot of this is down to salaries or how interesting they are, their public image also has a big input. For example, mention you’re an accountant to someone and a mental picture of a grey man/woman in a grey suit pops immediately into many people’s minds.

So, taking this to its logical conclusion, which profession has the worst public image in the UK – essentially who is most loathed by the country as a whole? I’m taking out politicians as that’s too easy a target, but looking at what’s left, they seem to fall into two groups. There are those professions that are belittled for not doing their job properly, where the Daily Mail (and politicians) use the failings of a few to tar a whole group with the same brush. I’m thinking of social workers, doctors, nurses and teachers, where, often for political reasons, they are paraded as uncaring or uncommitted when nothing could be further from the truth.

The second group, which more people can agree on, is those that are accused of fleecing the Great British Public. So bankers, overpaid businessmen/women, footballers, bureaucrats (especially of the ‘meddling Brussels’ variety) and highly paid lawyers fit into this category. What’s interesting is that none of these people make physical things – vilified businesspeople tend to be fat cats presiding over service industries/shutting down manufacturing plants while increasing their pensions rather than the likes of James Dyson.

After the financial meltdown, I’d say that bankers topped the polls of the most loathed. Not only had they brought the world to the edge of financial ruin but weren’t contrite in any way. They still seemed to be rolling in enormous bonuses, while the rest of us were scraping by without pay rises in Austerity Britain.

But the last couple of weeks has seen a new target overtake even bankers – management at utilities companies. The combination of enormous, above inflation, rises in gas and electricity bills coupled with dire warnings about potential future power cuts have made them public enemy number one. Never a group to look a gift horse in the mouth, politicians have levelled their guns on the sector. From Ed Milliband threatening a price freeze to (of all people) John Major calling for a windfall tax on utility profits, it is open season on the industry. With a growing percentage of household incomes spent on utility costs, it isn’t surprising they are a target – even though the companies claim that a large chunk of bills goes either to the government in terms of green levies or is swallowed up by global price rises in the cost of oil, gas and coal.

But utilities aren’t helping themselves. British Gas decided to run a Twitter Q&A session on the day of its recent price rises – unsurprisingly it got more abuse than intelligent feedback. And Scottish Power has been fined £8.5m for misleading customers between 2009 and 2011. No wonder the whole industry has been summoned to appear before MPs shortly to explain themselves.

So, putting my PR hat back on, what can utility companies to improve their public image? They can’t reverse the price rises, but need to show that they genuinely care. That means no pay rises for senior management, closer work with charities that help those who can’t pay their bills and a commitment to providing better service to the rest of us. And this needs to be a long term move – not a quick PR stunt that ends after a couple of months. Only then will they be able to step away from the public eye and let others (probably bankers) take over the mantle of most loathed profession – at least until the 2015 election….

October 23, 2013 Posted by | Marketing, PR | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Making it real

James Dyson

Image by ciscommunity via Flickr

In an increasingly virtual world it is easy for inventors and start-ups to forget about the importance of good physical product design, and treat it as an afterthought or the packaging for the clever stuff.

And yet I think people have never been more discerning about the whole design of a product, demanding not just that it looks good but that it is intuitive to use and simple to understand. My 3 year old son quickly grasped how to navigate round my iPhone, leading to some unplanned phone calls, but providing a good example for designers to aim at. And the tools are now here that marry product design with innovation, through CAD/CAM systems and photo realistic rendering that creates stunning visual representations of a great idea.

So it is good to see James Dyson, a man who has shown the power of innovative product design to disrupt traditional markets (whether vacuum cleaners or hand dryers) putting his money where his mouth is with his own student design award. Built on a simple premise – design something that solves a problem – it runs in 18 countries and the UK winners have just been announced. What impresses me is a combination of the breadth of the ideas – from a portable room divider for hospitals to a bike seat designed to be more comfortable for women, and their real simplicity. These are products that can be easily understood and used without reading a 100 page manual or undergoing special training. And it looks like a competition worth winning – the global victor (announced on 8th November) is in line to win £10k and gain a real foot up on the ladder towards getting their idea into production.

While it is all well and good for the likes of David Cameron to push for the UK to create the next Facebook, it is vital that we don’t neglect the creation of physical products that are well-designed and fit a market need. After all, one of the key reasons that Apple has become the most valuable company on the planet is through good design across its entire product range. So I think the next generation of start-ups need to heed Dyson’s advice and design something that solves a problem rather than expecting customers to grapple with advanced, but user-unfriendly technology. Make it simple and they will buy.

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September 9, 2011 Posted by | Creative, Startup | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment