Friday, 20 December 2013

Weekly Wrap Up: The Independent Christmas Consumer

The run up to Christmas 2013 couldn’t have been more festive for the retail manager; money had returned to the markets, consumer spending was up and (it seemed that) the shopping halls of the high-street were once again pounded again by the much desired feet of the consumer.

The city buzzed with a financially optimistic Q4 2013, and the anticipation of a fat and prosperous Christmas and New Year.

The Scotsman spoke of increased high-street spending, The Mirror muscled in on the topic with “online Christmas shopping boom as November spending rises by 20% on last year”, and Reuters dutifully reported that UK shoppers were set to spend £1.4bn pounds this Christmas (according to Deloitte’s Christmas research).

It has often been mused that the output of the media has a huge part to play in the patterns of consumer spending. This makes sense; when a child is told that it has more money to spend it will tend to buy more more sweets in the shop.

So the media-hooked consumer will read in his chosen paper that economic growth has returned and his wallet will immediately (seem to) feel a little heavier.

One would have expected, therefore, that the “good news” tale of Christmas spending being told by the UK nationals would have caused a proliferation in the amount of money being spent by a more positive consumer.

However, this was not the story that was told this week. This week’s papers reported a completely different story; a story of slashed prices and huge discounts.

This was in response to a survey conducted by the London “big-four” firm PwC. The survey’s statistics revealed that 72% of high-street retailers have been forced to offer discounts of an average of 46% in a last-bid attempt to lure Christmas shoppers into stores and spend the money that is so desperately needed to keep the high-street in action.

As Steve Hawkes of The Daily Telegraph reported: “As well as the cuts at M&S, Debenhams is running a half-price sale, Gap and Austin Reed are offering up to 60 per cent off selected items of clothing, House of Fraser has cut prices by as much as 75 per cent and Argos has launched a half-price toy sale.”

Had the papers been too optimistic about “the health of the consumer”? Had the retailers assumed that consumers were feeling bonny with this recent flow of good economic news, and so were consequently left in the lurch when this optimism didn’t translate into the expected increase in revenue?

Or, has the consumer finally digested the lesson of 2008 and learnt not to take optimistic reporting at face value?

In short, the recession of 2008 was due to the bubble of a few years of optimistic borrowing and spending bursting, and it had disastrous consequences for the spendthrift consumer.

Is it possible that the positive articles that might once have been taken at face value and used as an excuse to hit the high-street are now being digested in a much more thoughtful, cautious and measured manner? Consumers are still reading and being influenced by the media, but perhaps now they are considering the memory of the dark years following the over-optimism of 2008 and keeping their purses firmly zipped.

Abchaps had a busy week in the City and beyond, including a rugby match with Smith Williamson at The Stoop. Tuesday brought our team Christmas party, where supper in the trendy area of Shoreditch preceded the awesome Pongathon at Richmix for a table tennis tournament which saw fierce competition and tears from the losers. We also enjoyed Farrer & Co's Christmas drinks party.

KPMG have announced that Tony Woodhams will head up their Trading Risk Solutions Group. The former trader will bring his 17 years experience as at institutions such as Credit Suisse, HSBC and Marex Sprectron his new team.

This is not the only senior hire to take place; Coutts have announced John Etheridge will be Head of Product and Fiona Whitehead will take the lead as Head of New Business, bolstering the Company’s International Trust Business Team. At Herbert Smith Freehills Sonya Leydecker and Mark Rigotti, former Head of Banking and Head of Corporate, have been appointed as joint Chief Executive, making them the 1st leading law firm, with revenues over £500m to appoint a female CEO.

'Black Friday' - the start of the Christmas shopping season when retailers launch their promotional holiday sales. Usually the last Friday in November to coincide with the last pay day before Christmas.

Is the thought of one more mulled, minced or market-based activity met with a slightly weary sigh? Well, there are other ways you can keep the festive cheer going in the city this weekend!

Freshen up after a week of indulgence and head over to the Tower of London Ice Rink where you can hit the ice from 10:00am onwards with the grandeur of one of the capital’s most iconic landmarks providing a backdrop to the hour long sessions.

Abchaps love a good sing song and so it’s a good thing there are plenty of carol concerts taking place too. Fleet Street Carols are a fantastic opportunity to sing alongside St Bride’s own choir at either noon or 5pm, so take 5 minutes out and enjoy a little serenity in the run up to Christmas.

Follow us on Twitter @AbchurchComms

Friday, 13 December 2013

Another good day to “bury bad news”?

On Thursday 5th December Chancellor George Osborne appeared on the Downing Street to proudly hold up this year’s Autumn Statement. Like a child proudly displaying his shiny new red lunch-box, Osborne happily released the best features of the budget for some rare commendation and applause

• Marriage tax allowance • Free School meals • A pledge of £40m to create 20,000 apprenticeships • A freeze on petrol tax • A freeze on business rates to boost the high-street

One glance at’s beautiful array of infographics must have surely inspired all of the married and far-flung business owning parents of Britain to rejoice in anticipation of a fat Christmas and a portly New Year.

With all of this rejoicing, one would have expected to see the Autumn red of the statement to be tainting the broadsheets and topping the red-tops in reflection of a nation finally satisfied with the work of its chief economist.

But no.

On the evening of the 5th December, the world suffered a tragic loss with the death of the former South African revolutionary and politician Nelson Mandela. Mandela, one of the World’s most celebrated statesman, died at his home after long battle with a respiratory illness. As a result, The Daily Mail had but a small red box banished to the top right hand corner of front-page, the Financial Times led with a hand-by-hand sized picture of the now deceased World icon, and BBC business reporter Ben Morris was quoted thus: “Business coverage on the BBC has been curtailed this morning as programmes cover the death of Nelson Mandela.”

In the Guardian discussing the Autumn Statement: “It took a few days for the full import of the verdict of the Institute for Fiscal Studies to permeate the political world

The same Guardian article read: “Ed Miliband has set off to South Africa to pay his respects

A comment in a Daily Telegraph article about the Statement read: “Markmyword49: Assuming of course that the media can tear itself away from the hagiography over Mandela and start doing its job again

The Burial of Bad News

On September 11th 2001, a day that does not need to be described, Labour aide Jo Moore sent around an internal memo advising her colleagues that “it is now a very good day to get out anything we want to bury. Councillors expenses?”

The memo was leaked, Moore was shamed, and Westminster had to once more pull its reputation out of a deep grave of political distaste. Although Moore’s comments were distasteful, it cannot be denied that she is not the only politician to have played puppet master with the media when approaching political strategies.

The news of Mandela’s death was always going to dominate the headlines of every single paper, broadsheet and tabloid in the World (the exceptions probably North Korea and Cuba).

Of course, the main points of the statement were also going to be covered and featured, however it is the finer points that might have been missed because of the tragic news of Mandela’s deaths.

Those journalists that would usually have been tasked with tearing the statement to pieces with a fine tooth-comb were in no doubt directed away to cover the greater news of Mandela’s passing.

Human beings have often been compared to a flock of sheep; we easily spooked and have a tendency to move in packs. When a car crashes on a busy road, is it not a well-known fact that the resultant backlog of traffic is mostly due to the spectators that slow down their cars in order to take a look as they pass the scene?

This statement is a reminder of how much we rely upon and need those journalists that will not just rush to join the rest of the flock to view the spoils at the scene of a car-crash. The investigative journalists that we rely upon to uncover buried boils and keep our society honest are those that would stay behind at the traffic lights to discover that they were actually faulty and thus the cause of said car-crash.

As Rudyard Kipling once famously wrote: “If you can keep your head whilst all around you are losing theirs, you will be a man my son”.

Perhaps this could serve as a lesson to the British media: when big news breaks alongside the release of a seemingly innocent statement by all means pay your respects and cover the story, but also keep your head and remember to continue dissecting the seemingly unimportant.

Olivia Stuart-Taylor

Follow us on Twitter @AbchurchComms

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Alistair Crane: Maximising Value of your Tech Start-up


Alistair Crane left school with nothing more than a few GCSEs. At the age of 21 he had started work for NAVTEQ, a digital mapping subsidiary of Nokia. By 23 he had co-founded the mobile app developer, Grapple. Grapple designed and created the mobile applications for global brands from McDonalds to Pfizer. It was subsequently sold in 2013 to AIM-listed company Monitise, world leading mobile payments company, for a tidy sum close to £40m. And Alistair’s take on both his personal and company’s journey is .... "It’s only just the beginning".

Alistair was kind enough to share with Abchurch some of his top tips to enhance a technology company’s journey from start-up to a mature and established industry profile.


First off for start-ups? Start right. Alistair admits that the early days can be more than a little bit daunting but if you prioritise your short term goals, a plan of action can become much clearer, surprisingly easily.


This starts with choosing the right people for your team. Alistair personally recruited the vast majority of his staff so that he can always guarantee that he is surrounded by trustworthy people who are passionate about the company and product. He believes there is freedom for everyone to be on their own journey, whilst contributing to the Company’s goals. Consistent belief in the product will ensure that at crucial yet turbulent moments in a business’s life-cycle, the CEO won’t need to have all the answers, as the insight and passion will come from within. In terms of leadership, there just needs to be a gesture towards how things may play out and people will be on board. There can be no grey areas in the team’s enthusiasm for the journey – you’re all in it together.


Whilst Alistair is a firm believer that it is not always necessary for the CEO to hold all the answers, he believes you have a firm focus of what you ultimately want to achieve with the business; profitability, expansion or even an exit. Be that through a trade sale or an eventual IPO, you need to have an eye on the future so that you can optimise the present. More often than not this can involve positioning yourself in a certain light in-front of target audiences. When Grapple turned down all VC funding, they knew their financial position would come under scrutiny, so they had to be clever with the way they communicated their business growth.


Development of both personal and corporate brands ensures that what the company does and how they do things is clearly communicated. The personal brand that Alistair has developed is undoubtedly a key factor in the growth and development of his start-up. In his own words, if he was a brand, he would be Ronseal…doing exactly what he says he will do. Such steely determination is likely a shared attribute amongst many start-up CEOs – although not all may choose the right words to describe what they do. Alistair’s choice? .... "I’ll just keep smashing through walls for as long as I can!”

Alistair is adamant that there must always be positivity surrounding the brand. Whether it’s current or ex-employees, clients, future clients or investors, they always need to think you are good people with something of value to say and do. His own experiences have taught him to be conscious of past, present and future relationships at all times and sometimes this can be down to something as simple as just offering some help.


It’s not all smashing through walls though, and Alistair explains that his experiences have taught him that value is subjective - an art not a science. He feels that start-ups must come to appreciate this if they want to make the transition to a more established industry presence. The stakeholders and influencers that can affect the financial credentials of the company may have a different perception of value to the CEO and team. Ultimately, their view can directly affect the long term trajectory of the company. He suggests that CEOs need to have partnerships with people who can both understand the value proposition and advise about how to position it. Sometimes you need a little help along the journey.

Here’s where PRs come in – they are on a journey too, and want to be good people and help. Companies like Abchurch can advise start-ups on what their content should include and how to communicate it. This includes positioning firms in front of the right investors, analysts and media, so that key audiences gain a clear insight into your company’s model and the future value you hold.

In the words of the American novelist, Don Williams jr. ...

The road of life twists and turns and no two directions are ever the same. Yet our lessons come from the journey, not the destination.”

Stephanie Watson

Follow Alistair Crane on Twitter @AdFundAl