Counter Context achieves hallmark of PR excellence

We are delighted to announce that Counter Context has achieved the Communications Management Standard, our latest news release provides more detail.

Sheffield communications and public affairs company Counter Context has achieved the Communications Management Standard (CMS), a mark of excellence within the public relations industry.

The CMS is awarded by professional body the Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA), which represents and regulates over 20,000 PR companies in the UK. As a member of the PRCA, Counter Context opted to apply for the accreditation to acknowledge its dedicated approach to business management, staff development and customer service.

The accreditation process involved a rigorous assessment of nine core business areas including leadership and communication, business planning, financial management, diversity and client satisfaction. An independent assessor scored the company against strict criteria, combining principles of the ISO 9001 international quality standard and the Investors in People award.

Counter Context secured the accreditation after proving compliant in all areas of the assessment. Managing Director, Alexis Krachai said,

“This is a fantastic achievement for Counter Context and I am extremely proud of the entire team. They deserve recognition of their hard work and consistently high standards and this accreditation does just that.

“From our internal communications and employee development, through to our finance management and client feedback mechanisms, we have robust systems and processes in place delivered by an outstanding team of professionals. Gaining the CRM mark demonstrates to our clients that they are buying a professional service from a communications company that is committed to excellence.”

The beautiful game

Last month, Sheffield’s local Derby saw the city divided in its support but united in excitement. Our MD Alexis wrote for Sheffield’s local publication The Star about the potential a strong Premiership football club could bring to the city. 

One half of the city celebrates. The other drowns its sorrows. Last month’s Steel City Derby showed again why Sheffield is the true capital of football.

Anyone at Hillsborough or watching at home witnessed why football is the greatest game on earth. Five years of frustration went out the door as United went two up. The noise was deafening when Wednesday levelled. Ecstasy turned to agony as United regained the lead 90 seconds later and went on to score their 4th. At fulltime 30,000 wanted the world to end. 2,500 Blades saw their dreams come true.

Why does it matter so much? The three points won and lost seemed an afterthought. It was about bragging rights. It was about pride. It was about avoiding going to work or school on Monday to face the banter that follows any local derby.

Many say that money has changed the game. Sky high ticket prices. Players on silly money. Games that kick off at times to suit the TV broadcasters, not the fans. The challenge for owners is how you balance running a multimillion pound business whilst keeping a strong bond with fans and communities. I am not always sure we get the balance right.

One thing is clear though. Football in Sheffield is on the up. United’s charge up the table since their promotion does not look like running out of steam. Wednesday is in the middle of a wobble but will likely be pushing for promotion at the end of the season.

Whatever happens we need a team back in the Premiership. A seat at the top table brings profile and money. Profile and money brings investment and jobs. Not persuaded? Football supports 5000 jobs and generates £330m a year in Manchester. There is no way that city would have grown like it has without the success of United and City.

With success will come challenges. How to maintain affordable ticket prices but provide the modern stadiums that the game increasingly demands. One question will keep coming up. Will our two clubs one day share a stadium? The head says it is probably inevitable. The game is more and more about money and bigger stadiums make financial sense. The heart says no way. You only had to be at Hillsborough on Sunday to know that red and blue do not mix.

Perspective on: the political backdrop

By Leigh Bramall, Director

The political environment looks set to continue the febrile theme we witnessed in 2016 and the first half of this year. As we progress ever closer towards Brexit becoming a reality, there are signs that nervousness and caution among investors is growing. Equally as concerning is the uncertainty emanating from our own UK Government. With a weakened prime minister and a split in Cabinet on Brexit direction, the policy positions of the UK Government seem fragile at best.

In the North of England, we now have our first elected mayors for City Regions. Nationally however, despite re-affirmations of a commitment to the Northern Powerhouse, actions have spoken louder than the lukewarm words. The Government’s commitment to Cross Rail 2 came at the same time Chris Grayling seemed to be blowing distinctly cool (if not cold), on Northern Powerhouse Rail and announced a backtrack on electrification of the Midland Mainline.

The combination of a focus on Brexit, at the same time as a cooling on the Northern Powerhouse, reinforces the view that the case to government for investment outside London is never definitively won. It requires constant pressure. The case for pressing national government for investment to boost growth, and good policy locally to drive innovation and development, is clearer than ever before.

A good public affairs strategy will be extremely valuable in helping developers, investors and public institutions alike to strengthen their case.

The political environment can often influence the success of developments. An example is the trend of universities investing in their estate to compete nationally and internationally. Universities are becoming more prominent in driving local economies, playing a leading role in public-private partnerships. However, as highlighted by Brexit, divides can exist between elite institutions and significant sections of the wider public. When universities do expand, these dynamics need to be understood and addressed carefully and strategically.

In our experience of working with universities on their capital estates programmes, we have delivered strategic, thoughtful and robust stakeholder engagement and public consultation. This involves engaging a wide number of stakeholders such as university employees, local MPs and councillors, community and special interest groups and the media, to increase awareness, understanding and support for the programme.

Perspective on: renewable energy

By Emily Marshall, Associate Director

Over the years I have spoken to many people about their views on renewable energy whilst consulting on the various plans and proposals for large scale wind and solar developments. There has always been a general consensus that the earth’s climate is changing due to anthropogenic factors and that we should do something about it. The debate has continued as to what, exactly, that something is.

Renewable energies have been criticised as being:

expensive, inefficient, requiring subsidies, intermittent and ugly. A few remarkable things have happened in a relatively short period of time to help counter these criticisms.

The price of wind and solar technologies has dropped significantly, with costs of renewable technologies worldwide having decreased by 60%. Rapid cost reductions and technological improvements mean government financial support is not needed. By 2020 the cost of renewables is set to be less than the current power price. There is no longer a trade-off between low carbon and low cost.

What’s more, wind turbine blades are now harnessing the same power from 10knots as they did before with 20knots, setting the stage for unprecedented growth.

What about intermittency? The issue of storage has long been the Holy Grail of renewable energy. ‘Grid scale’ battery installation is now happening across the UK.

Battery storage is also a key government R&D area, with the Government poised to invest £246m.

There’s still an (ugly?) elephant in the room…

Strong public opposition often accompanies proposals for schemes being announced. Counter Context delivers effective consultation and engagement to increase understanding and acceptance in communities. This year, we have facilitated 20 public consultation events around Norfolk for the world’s largest offshore wind farm. We have undertaken robust research and communications planning for a client in the solar industry and are ready to roll out the first stage of public consultation for a large scale solar farm.

All projects have risks. We work with our clients to reduce those risks by building understanding and trust, and deliver successful schemes with local support.

On the horizon for this sector is the outcome of responses to the industrial strategy green paper and how developers will deliver against ambitious price bids in the latest CfD auction. Finally, we are investigating what future government support will look like, following HM Treasury’s announcement that it would abolish the Levy Control Framework.

Perspective on: property developments

By Harriet Knowles, Account Director

As we headed into 2017, the real surprise was that it very much felt like ‘business as usual’. Development activity in the North continues apace, and at Counter Context, we’ve enjoyed supporting many new and exciting schemes.

We all waited with bated breath for the housing white paper. This eventually landed in February with much fanfare but little in the way of revolutionary policies to transform housing delivery. As we entered a new parliament, it became clear that housing delivery will not be at the top of the national political agenda and the onus will remain on developers to work within the existing systems.

One element of the housing white paper that has gained traction in Greater Manchester, under the new leadership of Andy Burnham, is the push for urban intensification in sustainable locations, over greenfield development. The housing crisis will not be solved without some Green Belt release. However, we certainly see a major role for schemes such as the Far East Consortium’s (FEC’s) sustainable new community at Angel Meadow in Manchester, which Counter Context has supported this year.

Whether greenfield development or urban intensification, the common thread is the need to include existing communities as proposals develop.

This is not only crucial to help unlock project consents, but to establish the principles of placemaking at an early stage.

On to commercial developments and the north of the country continues to present an attractive investment proposition. Counter Context has enjoyed a fascinating year of helping developers and investors from the South East and overseas to navigate the northern City Region landscapes to bring forward new schemes.

Away from the cut and thrust of regional politics, we still enjoy the more creative side of our work. One highlight of our year so far was organising a Wimbledon-themed launch for Acero, the latest Grade A office at Scarborough Group’s Sheffield Digital Campus. There can be no better proof of the northern down-to-earth approach than the Leader of Sheffield City Council getting stuck into a game of table tennis!