Our consulting services focus on our clients’ most critical issues and opportunities in the spheres of Corporate Communications, European Public Affairs and Government Communications & Public Diplomacy.
In a globalised world where information is everywhere and where businesses face a range of complex and often contradictory social, environmental and competitive pressures, communicating to protect and promote companies’ interests gets harder all the time. To help our clients mitigate the risks and realise the opportunities of this dynamic environment we take a mature and thoughtful approach to the wider corporate communications challenges, ensuring we link business understanding with wider social and societal developments. At Aspect, we work with our clients to add experience, expertise and consulting clarity, helping them to act on their business and reputational priorities and achieve their goals. We bring the right mix of analysis, strategic insight, creativity and project management to deliver communications projects that bring real value to business. We bring our skills to bear across a range of business sectors, but have typically specialised in ‘issues-rich’ industries such as energy, chemicals, extractives, food and drink, health, life sciences, and technology. Our scope includes internal and change communications. We have developed and implemented programmes across the entire spectrum of internal and change communication issues, ranging from post M&A integrations and mission and vision development, internal branding and culture initiatives, leadership team development, business strategy and transformation programmes, and employee consultation exercises and HR programmes. Our approach combines both in-house and consulting experience and reflects our view that internal communications can help lead the changes required to be successful, rather than simply report about them.
Our core services include:
Content creation – for online and offline reputation management
Developing powerful corporate narratives that tell the company story
Managing issues and preparing for crises
Traditional media and social media campaigns
Stakeholder mapping, analysis and outreach
Internal and change communications
Communication function design, role definitions, policy and process development
Graphic and creative design expertise
Despite its global presence and status as the world’s largest coatings company, AkzoNobel was relatively unknown outside its traditional strongholds of Sweden and the Netherlands. As the company moved into new markets there was a growing need to build brand awareness and reputation in those markets to support its commercial goals. AkzoNobel asked Aspect to develop its corporate communications strategy to help promote the company in its growth markets and at the same time build understanding of its transformation from a chemicals company to the global leader in coatings.
Our stakeholder mapping exercise enabled AkzoNobel to establish its reputational priorities and clear corporate communication goals, as well as a supporting strategy for its growth markets that aligned with the company’s five year strategic plan. The exercise enabled AkzoNobel to organise and focus its corporate communications resources in line with these goals. Aspect then put in place and managed an international agency network covering Europe, North America and Asia that could deliver against these objectives and strategy.
Thanks to a greater strategic focus, its independent agency network, and Aspect’s network management expertise, AkzoNobel has transformed its reputation in its priority markets.
Mergers and acquisitions present specific challenges for communications teams on both sides of the deal. Aspect has worked for both the acquirer and the seller for some of AkzoNobel’s most transformative international deals – the acquisition of ICI and the sale of Organon (AkzoNobel’s pharmaceutical division) to Schering-Plough. We also supported AkzoNobel with the immediate sale of ICI’s non-coatings activities to Henkel. In all cases speed, sensitivity, judgement and an understanding of regulatory requirements are required to build support for (or defend against) the deal with internal and external stakeholders.
Aspect’s directors worked with M&A teams to develop the messaging and plan for each phase of the deal with multiple internal and external stakeholder groups. For both deals we acted as intermediaries to ensure alignment of messaging and communication activities between both parties. For the Organon deal we acted for both parties to manage pre deal internal messaging, build day one communications and provide integration advice. For ICI, members of our team were embedded in the AkzoNobel communications team working with investor relations, lawyers, bankers and a specialist financial PR agency. On deal completion all new employees (over 25,000) were welcomed to AkzoNobel through 200 town hall meetings held in 50 countries, and this was supported by an extensive engagement programme.
Post deal surveys with target companies indicated that employees where kept abreast of issues relevant to them during the M&A process and had the context they needed to make sense of the deals and feel engaged in the future. This contributed to the retention of key talent as well as the creation of a solid platform for integration activities.
To increase the awareness of an EU policy influencer health campaign on the importance of breakfast as a key contributor to the health agenda and amplify the Breakfast is Best campaign’s “call to action” by increasing the number of EU institution representatives’ signatures for the ‘Make Time for Breakfast Pledge’.
We hooked Breakfast is Best’s activity to World Diabetes Day (2014) and its theme of promoting the importance of breakfast, and designed an online strategic engagement programme in the form of a one hour Twitter Chat, “The importance of breakfast and healthy lifestyles”. The aim was to create visibility towards the campaign’s existing online presence and network, and leverage the diabetes organization’s reach and breakfast-related messaging. The chat was co-hosted by two leading academic experts in diabetes and nutrition, both of whom have a strong online following and presence. The programme included a targeted online influencer mapping, implementing buzz building activities in advance of the Twitter Chat, as well as a targeted media outreach – thus using social media as a means to bring together multiple stakeholders from across Europe to contribute to the debate.
The success of this approach resulted in active input from over 65 health and nutrition experts, organisations and policymakers, resulting in a 25% increase in the number of @BreakfastIsBest followers and a 15% increase in Breakfast is Best pledge signatures, including from key MEPs. This firmly paved the way for future dialogue and engagement with national level policymakers and consumer groups. Analysis of the dedicated hashtag showed a potential reach of around 96,000 views. Co-host Azmina Govindji, Media Spokesperson for the British Dietetic Association and formerly Chief Dietitian to Diabetes UK, said, “The success of the chat shows the urgent need to inform EU citizens about the health benefits of a balanced breakfast, and we urge policy makers to come together to ensure EU countries include the importance of eating a healthy breakfast in their nutrition policies.”
As an emerging category driven by passionate consumers, regulating electronic vaping products (EVPs) is a challenge for regulators. There continues to be great controversy over EVPs and public health, and questions as to whether they are useful in tobacco harm reduction, or drive youngsters to tobacco. Aspect’s client has been at the forefront of this debate, in Europe and America, leading the drive for responsible regulation in the UK, France, Italy and the USA.
Our strategy has been to promote the category, not the company, and build confidence and credibility in the category based on sound scientific argument. We have built political support on the left and the right, using public health improvement and freedom to vape as key driving ideas. We have sought to build robust relationships with advocacy groups, think tanks, third-party institutions and media, so as to ensure the category itself is seen as legitimate and credible – and we have in turn leveraged those relationships to create a sense of urgency among politicians so that they grasp the huge public health opportunity that EVPs offer. This has enabled us to create a wide range of political allies, most notably in the UK. We have built a close relationship with the All Party Group for E-Cigarettes there, and have now created a similar support group in the Italian Parliament. In each country, the central strategy reflected local differences. In France, we have had to manage deep skepticism towards large companies entering the sector; in the US, we have had to manage a deeply engrained anti-tobacco lobby that does not accept that EVPs are not tobacco products. All of this has been done by playing out a real consumer and public debate. We have used social media to mobilise popular support; we have mobilised vapers to resist unfair legislation in the US and in Wales, where the government wanted to ban vaping in public places; and we have created infographics and animations to make our arguments accessible for media and other audiences, as part of a holistic political campaign.
In two and a half years, we have helped to transform the public debate on EVPs, delivering a significant shift in political attitudes. In the UK, the government has gone from being suspicious of EVPs to being the world’s biggest supporter of them – with Prime Minister David Cameron publicly endorsing e-cigarettes as a “legitimate” smoking cessation aid. Wales and Scotland have withdrawn negative provisions, while France is now considering EVPs more positively. Italy has cancelled unhelpful tax proposals, and the US is set for a major two year fight on regulation as the pro-EVP community has been mobilised.
European Public Affairs
Aspect helps its clients – companies and trade associations – make themselves heard in the increasingly complex and uncertain European political environment. What characterises our approach is a campaigning mentality, where clear objectives drive a strategy which leverages powerful coalitions to achieve client aims. We appreciate that there are multiple entry points for influencing policy and regulation, and we pride ourselves on our ability to work across the various institutional players in Brussels, at the member state level and with third-party stakeholders. Our work covers the full range of public affairs and government relations services: from regulatory and advocacy support, to EU institutional relationship building, political events and social media. We believe that the traditional skills of the lobbyist are as relevant today as they ever were, but are even more powerful when combined with the latest communication and campaigning tools. We understand the importance of reputation in securing access and influence, and the benefits of positioning our clients as “enablers of policy” and “thought leaders” in the eyes of politicians and the broader stakeholder community. In the realities of the post-Brexit world, Aspect is well positioned to help its clients navigate their way through this increasingly challenging political and regulatory world thanks to the talents of our Westminster and Brussels teams, and our network of partners across Europe.
Our core services include:
Strategic counsel and planning
Legislative & regulatory support
Coalition building and management
Reputation building and rebranding
Institutional relationship building
Public procurement support
Political events and media relations
To create a more balanced debate on the EU’s post-2020 CO2 emissions regime; one that recognises the massive contribution of the car industry to date but that also acknowledges the limitations and costs of concentrating solely on the car.
The strategy involved bringing together a loose coalition of stakeholders, including business, NGOs and academia; all of whom have legitimacy and interest in creating a more holistic approach to bringing down CO2 transport emissions. A stakeholder consultation exercise was built around four thematic pillars – fuel options, eco-driving, ICT/connected cars and infrastructure – which were discussed in detail during a series of workshops facilitated by leading academics and think tank advisors.
The consultation process resulted in a report that explains and substantiates the CO2 reduction potential of a more comprehensive approach to road transport and how to unlock this potential in the best ways possible. The report reflects the views of the more than 50 stakeholders who were involved in the initiative and who co-signed the report.
Although the UK is the de facto global leader in international mining, the industry as a whole was poorly understood, faced a number of reputational issues and had no effective mechanism for engaging with policy makers and other stakeholders.
To address these challenges, the UK Parliament All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on International Mining was created with Pauline Latham OBE MP. It was designed to act as a forum for a more in-depth and productive dialogue with the industry, political arena and civil society around any issues of concern or interest.
The APPG has 30 Parliamentary members and has hosted 18 foreign mining Ministers, five Ministers from the UK and the President of Guinea, and has addressed topics ranging from financing, to the “resource curse”, to the environmental impact of water management and the impact of Brexit. The APPG successfully campaigned for the UK to join the Extractives Industry Transparency Initiative (EITI) and was instrumental in securing a Business Innovation and Skills Select Committee (BIS) inquiry into the extractive industry. It has played a vital role in building knowledge of and more constructive relationships between the different actors involved, and in creating recognition of the strategic importance of the sector to the UK economy and international development.
Faced with policy makers that were largely hostile to the sector in which one of the world’s largest natural resource companies operates and with virtually no knowledge of the company itself, Aspect was asked to help transform the reputation of the company, build relationships with key Brussels audiences, and support its proactive engagement around specific policy and legislative dossiers.
Based on a perception and policy audit, Aspect developed an EU engagement strategy and plan. This included: a CEO and executive engagement and positioning programme focused on key EU institutional players, as well as corporate and civil society actors; and organised events and speaker platform opportunities for senior executives. Aspect also provided policy and regulatory analysis and counsel on a wide range of policy areas, as well as active lobbying support in relation to the European Commission proposal for regulating commodity price indices and benchmarks.
Aspect helped to successfully reposition the company as a positive contributor to the European economy and international development, and established an extensive network of high-level supporters. We also successfully guided them through the regulatory process and helped coordinate their response to the European institutions, Permanent Representations and national ministries during their engagement on the price indices and benchmarks dossier.
In the context of Europe’s need for more innovative approaches to education and closing the skills gap, our challenge was to create awareness and build influence amongst high-level EU policymakers and influencers for a leading global initiative in the field of education innovation. With little prior EU visibility, the objective of the initiative was to establish itself as a key contributor in relation to EU education innovation.
Aspect developed and implemented a programme that brought together leading representatives from Europe’s institutions and key actors from industry and the education field to share best practice and take an expansive and critical view of the current entrepreneurship educational landscape in Europe. This was pursued through a dedicated meeting programme and a high level event co-hosted by Martina Dlabajová MEP, a leading voice in this field, on the topic of entrepreneurship and the skills gap.
In less than a year, the initiative successfully built relationships with over 50 EU policymakers and stakeholders, and created numerous opportunities for future collaborations and partnerships. Aspect continues to provide ongoing strategic and implementation support to the initiative as it strengthens its new position as key contributor to the skills and education policy agenda.
Government Communications & Public Diplomacy
Governments all over the world face ever greater demands, in an ever more uncertain climate. When the world’s biggest companies have revenues larger than many governments, when international crisis follows international crisis, and in an age of instantaneous communication, control over events and the global agenda becomes ever more difficult. And when the “new normal” is economically disappointing, delivering the growth and prosperity demanded by ever-expectant populations becomes more challenging, threatening not just reputations but also national stability. In facing these challenges governments need to engage, not just on a government-to-government level, but also with wider international audiences though public diplomacy. They must also compete more effectively in the incredibly competitive international market for inward investment. They do all of this whilst also facing impatient electors waiting to pass judgement on their record at the ballot box, and an international community that may have concerns about the legitimacy of the electoral process. Aspect understands the challenges of governing in the 21st century – and we help governments tackle these challenges head on.
Our core services include:
Working with governments to help them tell their story, engage with international audiences, and seize geopolitical opportunities
Enabling governments to create winning investment propositions – and then selling those propositions in the way that their targets in the private sector recognise and value
Helping political parties and candidates to win the democratic race, and confirming the legitimacy of the electoral process
To help advance the EU integration processes for various Western Balkans governments by supporting them in their efforts to secure visa free travel to Europe, improve public administration capacity, enhance access to EU funds and manage reputational issues.
For one Western Balkan country, drawing on a government department audit and external perception research, a comprehensive EU engagement strategy was developed. This strategy addressed the need for better coordination and communication across government departments and with neighbouring countries, and identified specific and urgent capacity gaps that needed to be filled. The strategy also recognised the need for a more holistic approach to communications, which included: a greater focus on proactive and reactive media and social media relations, and activating the support of the “diaspora” for both political and communication purposes.
The strategy and its implementation resulted in a significant increase in: the quality of collaboration across relevant government departments and with neighbouring countries; as well as the scope and impact of media and social media coverage. The government’s public administration capacity was enhanced, and there has been a rise in the number of successful funding applications and partnership opportunities. A network of friendship groups and “goodwill” ambassadors was also established and is being engaged by the government in various aspects of its EU integration strategy.
For most maturing democracies it is very important that the progress they are making towards democratisation is fairly reported and recognised. Our client, a government, was undergoing a period of dramatic market and political reform, and with the explicit objective of securing EU and NATO membership it was particularly important that its electoral process was recognised as “free and fair”.
To realise this objective, Aspect worked closely with the national Electoral Commission to build a strategy and programme designed to establish a more positive and constructive dialogue with key international election monitoring stakeholders including IGOs, NGOs and governments. This process was complemented by a media relations focused campaign designed to educate journalists about the constitutional and electoral law changes that had and were being implemented. A key element of this strategy was to ensure that all stakeholders clearly understood the historical and political context within which the parliamentary and presidential elections were taking place, and that false accusations made against the Electoral Commission and process were effectively rebutted.
Despite a very aggressive campaign that was being run to de-legitimise the elections, the international media and election monitoring stakeholders shifted from a sceptical position around the legitimacy of the electoral process to explicit recognition that the country had made very significant progress and that the elections could be judged as “free and fair” according to international standards.