COVID-19 original research: One-third of Brits worried about their mental health and wellbeing

In January 2020 the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak of a new coronavirus disease, COVID-19, to be a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. This marked the announcement of a new pandemic.

By 20 May as many as 5 million people globally had tested positive with the virus. Over 325,000 lives had been claimed. While this has become a massive public health concern around the world, the health impacts cannot be measure purely in terms of people’s physical wellbeing. Covid-19 will also take a heavy toll on people’s mental wellbeing.

As a mental health campaigner over many years, I have often cited the commonly used statistic that one-in-four people will experience mental health issues during their lives. This figure has quickly become outdated against the backdrop of a global pandemic. At the beginning of the UK’s lockdown in March, over 40% of adults claimed to be concerned about their mental health. That equates to over 20 million people.

Against the backdrop of Mental Health Awareness Week (18-22 May) it is important that we recognise that the economic and social lockdown, designed to prevent the spread of the virus, has brought with it a wide range of mental and psychosocial impacts which we cannot even begin to quantify at this stage.

Society has experienced a sudden and deep trauma: it is not just the loss of 35,000 lives, but the millions of social interactions at schools, colleges, workplaces, cafes, bars and restaurants that all came to an end on 23 March with no exit strategy in place. The mental health effects of which will last long after the physical impact has subsided.

Millions of British workers have experienced fundamental changes in their working patterns with nearly half of all workers working from home. 6 million people have had their employment furloughed. At the time we conducted our research around 3% of respondents (that’s 1 million workers) had already lost their jobs and had applied for unemployment benefits. Many of those who remain in work do so with a heavy sense of unease and uncertainty about what the future may hold.

As a result of these changes, we are all undergoing a heightened sense of stress, fear and anxiety – as well worrying about our family and friends, particularly those in ‘at risk’ groups, such as elderly relatives and those with underlying health conditions. The health of our family and friends is now the most pressing concern among the UK population, more so than our own mental health or financial predicament.

To address these issues, the WHO Department of Mental Health and Substance Use published a series of messages during March that can be used in communications to support mental wellbeing during the outbreak. Our report combines the WHO guidance, with fresh consumer research conducted by Cicero/AMO on 19 May, to provide an easyto-
read summary of the key messages which can be useful as part of our personal strategy for dealing with mental health concerns at the current time.

Click here or scroll down to read Cicero/AMO’s research.

Cicero/AMO named UK’s biggest public affairs agency

Cicero/AMO has been named the UK’s largest public affairs agency for the second year in a row in the influential PR Week Agency Business Report 150.

The report ranks agencies based on revenue for the 2019 calendar year. Cicero/AMO and its partner agencies owned by parent group Havas are also named in the top 10 largest PR groups in the country following a year of significant growth.

Commenting, Iain Anderson, Executive Chairman, Cicero/AMO, said: “2019 was another strong year for the business, as we helped our clients grapple with a range of political risk issues around the globe. As we entered 2020 HAVAS, one of the world’s largest communications groups, has taken a majority stake in Cicero/AMO which has provided immediate benefits to our client offer, enhancing our international expertise and firepower.

“While last year already feels like an entirely different political age, I am confident that our ability to provide a market-leading mix of analysis and strategy leaves us extremely well-placed as the world looks to the challenges of a post-COVID operating environment.”

Tom Frackowiak, Managing Director, UK Public Affairs, Cicero/AMO, said: “I am delighted we have been named the UK’s largest public affairs agency for the second year in a row, in what is an extremely competitive industry. I would like to thank our fantastic clients and the Cicero/AMO team for their hard work and commitment.

“The strength of our offer means we are well-placed to support organisations with their public affairs and corporate communications requirements, in a ‘new normal’ that will reshape the way they engage with government, regulators and their customers. Please get in touch if you would like to find out more information about how Cicero/AMO can support you.”

How to communicate when the world is in crisis

By Callum Jackson, Account Executive

The importance of maintaining a sense of connection and community during a crisis is probably one of the commonest tropes you’ve read over the past few weeks. But as often as this is said, it bears repeating: communication plays a central role in all of our lives, but never more so than in times where government guidelines, business updates and the latest scientific and medical information being transmitted well could mean the difference between businesses failing and thriving, between people living and dying. Communication is, therefore, literally vital.

What’s more, being confined indoors for such long periods of time tends to lead to more people reading more, and more widely. This presents a useful opportunity for communications specialists and PRs to supply journalists and their readers both with the information they need, and more than ever, updates on how business is weathering the storm or even flourishing, and how that might affect the end user.

But communication isn’t a straightforward science or art at the best of times. Below are some key approaches to consider taking when communicating during a crisis.

1. Know thyself

In all sub-sectors of the comms industry, from advertising to government communications and everything in between, inauthenticity stands out like a sore thumb, and badly thought-through messaging or imagery can reek of it. Take Pepsi’s heavily pilloried 2017 ad campaign featuring Kendall Jenner, the imagery of which attempted to position the soft drink – and the business producing it – as a saviour of divided and oppressed communities. Accused of seeking to capitalise on the Black Lives Matter movement, Pepsi rightly pulled the commercial and apologised for missing the mark. Interrogating what your business or client’s business stands for, what it does well, what its goals are and, most importantly, what it is not in the business of (in the case of Pepsi, saving the world) is essential to creating authentic comms. By all means talk about doing good, but make sure it’s good you’re actually doing and that that’s a central part of what you do.

2. Read the room

Being aware of your audiences’ needs is two-fold. First, it’s about identifying the topics that consumers of news want and need to hear about, and secondly, it’s about being sensitive to audiences’ anxieties and preoccupations. In an environment where companies are asking some staff to take pay cuts and others to be furloughed at 80% of their salary, all while social distancing, money saving advice, working from home tips and information on employee rights are subjects of interest and necessity to journalists and readers. Listicles of the best luxury summer getaways are not. Think about what your business or client is doing that might directly help those who are worst affected and use that as a springboard for your communications messaging.

3. Predict the future

In late 2019, few of us could have foreseen the sheer magnitude of a potential pandemic, nor indeed its short-term and residual effects on the economy, society and the individual. However, as professionals in charge not only of spreading the good news but also of putting out reputational fires, our duty is to game various scenarios – sorted by likelihood and impact – pre-empting possible outcomes and preparing for the negative fallout as well as the positive opportunities a situation might present. Looking ahead to identify these ‘opportunities’ is not per se a cynical attempt to boost business reputations or commercial outcomes. It can and should involve looking ahead to ascertain the potential silver linings, gifts in disguise and hidden blessings that come along with a crisis. One unforeseen consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic has been a reminder of the warmth, appreciation and even love we feel towards the frontline workers of the NHS. If yours is the company that manufactures their uniforms, builds their machinery or produces their personal protection equipment, you should be proud of that and should let others know too. All this requires foresight, however – the ability to identify both the risks and positives of a dire situation.

4. Adapt your product offering

Shouting from the rooftops about something you do well, especially when it has a net good impact on the world, is nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, a surprising number of businesses are actually quite bad at telling us what’s good about them. Cue the PR professional. But that quality of self-promotion – not in the sneering, braggartly sort of way; but rather the recognition that telling your story is how people get to know you – only stands up when what you’re promoting really is good, both morally and commercially speaking. If you are planning a campaign showing that your client, The Big Bad Oil & Gas Company Ltd., is doing wonders for the planet, it had better be investing heavily in wind and solar, offsetting its carbon output and cleaning up natural areas affected by its commercial activities, and not just paying lip service to environmental conscientiousness. And if your client isn’t doing those things, it’s time to advise them, as their trusted consultants, to do so. Too many PRs are cautious of recommending product and operational changes that require significant investment for fear of clients’ eyes rolling back into their heads with ‘dollar shock’. But if you want to be known for doing something good, you had better do it well.

5. Take advantage of digital

It comes as no surprise that shares in videoconferencing services such as Zoom (NASDAQ: ZM) have just about doubled since late January (up to $142.80 from $70.44 at the time of writing). As demand for online services increases due to prolonged social distancing and isolation measures, so too does the need for journalists, and therefore PRs, to produce quality digital content that speaks the language of technology. Rather than asking how your brand is changing or about the latest appointment to the board, journalists, readers and consumers are increasingly asking, ‘How does your client’s offering help us do business, manage our money or lead better lives by harnessing smart data, open finance, AI, etc.?’ Or more generally, ‘How can I do all the things I’m used to doing and need to do without leaving my house?’ Most banks provide online banking, most insurers allow digital policy purchases and claims, most lenders enable virtual applications; but if your client is lagging behind, it’s time for both of you to catch up.

6. Put a relevant twist on business as usual

“But our business doesn’t do anything to do with viruses,” is a natural reaction to a crisis that no one saw coming and that stands to meaningfully affect the global economy for years to come. But, as well as being natural, it is also limiting. Thinking creativity about the ways clients’ product offerings and operations do, in some way, affect the outcome of a crisis does not have to extend to preventing the spread of a disease or accelerating the creation of a vaccine. It may be that your lending client can offer mortgage holidays for those financially impacted by the pandemic or that your supermarket client can designate special hours for the elderly and for key workers. Showing your worth in a crisis does not require you to be a central cog in the machine, nor does it need for you to dominate the narrative in order to have cut-through. Do your bit, however small, and then tell us about it.

About me

I joined Cicero/AMO as an Account Executive in the Corporate Communications team in 2019. I previously worked in-house at an international human rights charity in finance and communications, after graduating with a BA in Modern Languages from the University of Oxford and an MSc in Middle Eastern politics from the University of London. I currently advise clients across the banking, insurance, pensions and fintech sectors and I specialise in financial services, third sector and European communications.

What does the COVID-19 outbreak mean for UK tech & FinTech policy? Cicero/AMO tech round-up

Hello! Welcome to the second edition of our ‘What the Tech?’ policy newsletter covering the technology and FinTech industries. In our update, we analyse what the current COVID-19 crisis means for the tech and FinTech sector, what this pandemic is likely to mean for the UK’s tech agenda, the key initiatives announced in the 2020 Budget (remember that?), and wider advice on how to ensure your remote working communication strategies are best implemented.

As ever, we hope you enjoy our thoughts and insights. If you wish to discuss anything you’ve read here further or want to see how to Cicero/AMO’s tech team might be able to support your business, please do get in touch.

Click here or scroll down to read Cicero/AMO’s ‘What the Tech’ policy update.

What next for the Labour party under Keir Starmer’s stewardship? A Cicero/AMO overview

Following a lengthy campaign, Keir Starmer has emerged as the clear and decisive winner of the Labour leadership contest.

The Cicero/AMO team has prepared an overview following the contest, providing detailed profiles of Labour’s new leader and deputy leader, look at the key policy positions and early appointments of Keir Starmer and consider some of the key questions about where Labour is heading under its new leadership. We hope you find it a useful guide.

Click here to read Cicero/AMO’s overview of the Labour leadership contest.

COVID-19 Impact: New research on UK households’ financial resilience during coronavirus outbreak

Following the COVID-19 outbreak, Cicero/AMO has surveyed a nationally representative sample of the British public to provide insights into how respondents are coping financially and the outlook for their personal finances over the coming three months.

Among our findings are that:

  • As many as 3 million households anticipate that they may need to call on Britain’s 2,000 food banks over the coming 12 weeks as a result of the COVID-19 crisis
  • Around 6 million people expect to make a claim for working age benefits in an attempt to cope with the financial implications of COVID-19 – a significant increase on the pre-COVID-19 claimant count of 1.3 million
  • As many as 6.5 million Britons expect to tap up their parents and other family members for cash loans or other financial support as a result of the COVID-19 crisis

I do hope you find this to be insightful.

Click here or scroll below to access this report.

Digital communications in a remote-working world

As companies roll out working-from-home policies amid the Coronavirus outbreak, the behaviours and methods in which stakeholders, associates, partners and clients access information will naturally change as people adapt to new workflows. In the transition to remote-working during the stabilisation of business and workflow, digital media is quickly becoming the primary source of information and communication.

The following report outlines key digital media strategies and tactics that can be practically implemented, minimising disruption of key communications and wider company activity, some of which have been guided by finding from business activity in China during the outbreak.

Click here or scroll down to access Cicero/AMO’s guide to digital communications in a remote working world

European Commission Digital Package – A Cicero/AMO overview

The Commission has published a digital package, including its 5-year plans for the European digital economy. The package includes a Digital Strategy, Data Strategy and White Paper on Artificial Intelligence. Cicero/AMO has put together the below overview including the most important proposals and publications to expect from the Commission over the next years.

Click here or scroll below to read Cicero/AMO’s overview of the European Commission’s Digital Package.

Get in Touch

Helena Walsh

Managing Director - EU Public Affairs

Megan Ridderhof

Account Manager

Alexandros Nikolaidis

Account Executive