How NOT to feature in an election manifesto
“We will bring rail, mail, water and energy into public ownership to end the great privatisation rip-off and save you money on your fares and bills” Labour Manifesto, 2019
The UK is currently home to 28 rail operators, a handful of mail operators, 25 water companies, and 70 energy companies. If you dig into the details then not all would immediately be nationalised but each would certainly be affected by this succinct but brutal death sentence. And it is a sentence that is far easier (and cheaper) to write than to implement. To make this happen, a Corbyn government would not only spend an innumerable fortune, but also years of toil, and pots of diplomatic capital as foreign companies request international arbitration. That is a serious commitment driven by both ideology and hatred.
Of course, the Corbynistas have an ideological commitment to public ownership but that is not the only reason why it is these sectors that find themselves on the naughty list this Christmas. These sectors find themselves in the firing line in part because they are easy targets with a knack for getting up everybody’s nose. This is a corporate reputation problem that has been brewing for years.
Even if you aren't hated enough for nationalisation or abolition, manifestos hold myriad dangers: obscure tax changes that make your small business uneconomic, one-liners that send investors running for the hills, and so on.
If you want to avoid these fates, here is an alternative manifesto for you to follow:
1. Measure and prepare. Understand the current state of your reputation and treat it as a vital organisational asset. Identify risks to your reputation and create a plan now to tackle them and/or communicate them. For more advice on how to measure your reputation read our primer HERE
2. Create a public-facing brand and nurture it. Remember Greggs and the pasty tax? A well-loved brand provides insurance and the possibility that your customers will stand up for you when no one else does. In a finely balanced election, that will be enough to get you off the list of doom.
3. Act collectively. This is not a list of individual companies. There are always challenges to working with your competitors but creating a positive narrative about your sector and amplifying that by staying on the same page is worth working at. Craft a common message and make sure that the whole industry uses it - constantly. The actions of one or two offenders have an impact on everyone so collective condemnation can also be a useful tool.
4. Engage early. Politicians find it very hard to backtrack. Once they have nailed their colours to the mast many will feel they must follow their condemnation to the logical conclusion: action. You need to be talking to these decisionmakers before they make up their minds and long, long before they are writing a manifesto.
5. Engage broadly. Many of the companies on this list will only have started talking to the Corbyn wing of the Labour Party since JC became leader. Too late. There is a lesson here for any organisation that chooses only to engage with ‘warm prospects’. Start by creating a comprehensive stakeholder map and ensuring that you understand and effectively communicate with each group.
6. Admit where you have work to do and commit to action. You have not achieved perfection – no one has – but showing that your organisation acknowledges its shortcomings and is working to resolve them is vital. Showcasing your actions also creates something that will be ‘lost’ were you to be nationalised/cancelled/abolished/banned. Loss aversion is a powerful motivator.
Want help to create a plan that protects you from a future manifesto-geddon? Get in touch in firstname.lastname@example.org