Counter Context sets sights on city growth with high profile political appointment

Counter Context has appointed former deputy leader of Sheffield City Council, Leigh Bramall, a key figure in securing the UK’s largest Chinese investment outside of London and creator of the concept behind Sheffield’s ‘Outdoor City’ brand.

Leigh’s arrival at the communications and public affairs company is an integral part of Counter Context’s growth strategy which included expansion into Manchester in 2016. The company is developing its public affairs offering in response to the increasingly unpredictable political landscape and growing focus on devolved decision making that its clients operate in.

The appointment also recognises wider dynamics in which partnership between the private and the public sector is needed to develop and grow economies and solve many of the challenges facing cities and City Regions. This is particularly pertinent now, when funding available from national and local government is declining rapidly.

The company cites many of the major ongoing developments in Sheffield within its portfolio, including the new Retail Quarter, transformation of the former NUM building and Acero, the newest addition to the Digital Campus. Counter Context also has a solid track record in the North West which has included work for The Cooperative Group, Manchester City Council, Bruntwood, Transport for Greater Manchester, Salford City College and CBRE Global Investors.

Managing Director, Alexis Krachai commented: “In the face of an election and whatever the reality of Brexit Britain may look like, businesses need an awareness and understanding of how the political landscape, at local and national level, may affect them.

“Working primarily within the built environment, this is particularly relevant to our clients. Policy change at national level can have a huge impact on a proposed development and Leigh’s insight will really help our clients to negotiate the challenges this can bring.  Furthermore, we are increasingly active in the arena of city branding and leadership and recognise that the private sector doesn’t exist in isolation – that citywide public-private partnerships are needed for areas to succeed.

“Leigh’s experience of high-level local government, together with Counter Context’s areas of expertise, enable us to play our part in helping to grow local economies and create the conditions for business to thrive.  He has lead on a transformational phase for Sheffield and we are excited to see him continue in this vein in his remit at Counter Context.”

Leigh’s arrival follows a significant year for Counter Context during which it exceeded £1.2million turnover and increased its international client base, supporting offshore wind developments in the US.

In response to increasing demand for its creative services, the company grew its in-house design team which offers a range of expertise in graphic design, digital marketing, brand development and illustration. Counter Context also hired a marketing and PR specialist to head up its own promotional activities and those of its clients.

If you’d like to find out more about Counter Context and the consultation, engagement and promotional services it offers, please visit the website, call 0114 252 1170 or follow the company on Twitter @countercontext

Be proud of Steel City’s sporting heritage

This month Alexis Krachai, MD of Counter Context, wrote for The Star Business monthly about Sheffield’s sporting heritage and the role it has to play in the city’s economy.

Sheffield United’s promotion to the football Championship, the snooker at The Crucible, Kell Brook’s fight at Bramall Lane later this month. These events excite fans and attract big crowds. They capture the imagination and create pride in the city. They also mean big business and the opportunity to put Sheffield on the map.

Our city has a long and proud sporting history. The world’s oldest football clubs, the home of the World Snooker Championship and training HQ of Team GB Boxing. It is the base for one of the UK’s best basketball teams; the DBL Sheffield Sharks. All of this is made possible because we proudly boast world-class facilities such as Ponds Forge Sports Centre and the English Institute of Sport (EIS). New specialist facilities are being built at the Olympic Legacy Park. For athletes, boxers and players these facilities matter.

The city’s sporting success is helping to grow our economy. The World Snooker Championship has generated £100 million for our economy since the tournament came to Sheffield. On May 27th when Kell steps into the ring every hotel room in the city will have been sold to fans flocking to Bramall Lane. Later in the summer we will host the Special Olympics Great Britain National Summer Games. Our city will host over 2,600 athletes, 800 coaches, 750 volunteers and over 5,000 spectators. All of these visitors will spend money in local shops, hotels and restaurants.

At a recent Sheffield Chamber event held ringside at the EIS, home of GB Boxing, we heard that £7 million has been invested in the city by the sports club. This includes a large property portfolio, jobs created and international training camps. Anthony Joshua, who still trains in Sheffield, said himself: “There is no place like this training camp.”

If our city is to continue growing we need to attract international investment. Sport generates interest. Interest generates investment. The World Snooker is watched by hundreds of millions of people. Some will run businesses or want to invest in the UK. Some of these many millions will visit Sheffield and spend money in our city simply because we are the home of the world’s most famous snooker tournament.

Some might argue that sport is just about fun and entertainment. They are wrong. Investing in our sporting success and hosting world-class events helps to grow our economy. Sport attracts interest. Interest attracts visitors and investment. Investment grows our economy helping to support local businesses and create jobs.

Powering the Powerhouse

Last week, IPPR North published a report on the North of England’s potential to become a world-leader in the production of renewable energy. The report considers three alternative futures for the energy sector in the North:

  1. The North as an energy leader – pioneering new approaches to energy production, innovation and decarbonisation.
  2. The North as a technological adopter – implementing, but not driving, new technologies to achieve decarbonisation and energy supply / demand targets.
  3. The North as an energy drifter – failing to exploit current opportunities and becoming increasingly dependent on imported energy technology and resources.

At Counter Context, we are privileged to be involved in a number of pioneering and world leading renewable energy projects in the North of England. From our experience in this sector, and our roots in this part of the country, we are confident that the North is already well-progressed in becoming a world-leader in the production of renewable energy. We are committed to helping ensure that the first option in IPPR North’s report becomes a reality.

The UK needs energy that is secure, sustainable and affordable. Perhaps some consider this to be a fundamental trade-off, and one that can’t be resolved by renewable energy initiatives. To the contrary, projects underway and in the pipeline in the North have the key to solving this puzzle.

Counter Context has been able to witness first-hand the innovation taking place on some of the largest renewable energy projects the country has seen. The combination of ongoing innovation and the growing scale of renewable infrastructure means that the trade-off between energy affordability and energy sustainability is diminishing rapidly. As developers continue to drive down costs of renewable energy projects, our clients will be able to deliver energy that is both clean and affordable. Over recent years, the North has helped to facilitate this industrial-scale growth of the renewable energy sector, in particular offshore wind power projects.

The third element of the UK’s well cited ‘Energy Trilemma’ – energy security – can also be addressed by renewable projects. In the UK, including the North of England, we are lucky enough to have natural conditions that favour efficient renewable energy projects – such as some of the windiest conditions in Europe. These conditions mean the North is well placed to utilise inexhaustible energy sources to deliver energy to millions of homes without fail. Last Friday the UK went the whole day without using coal to generate electricity – the first time this has happened since the 1880s. The growth of the renewables sector means this can happen more and more.

Supply chain benefits
As well as supplying clean energy to help achieve the UK’s needed and ambitious decarbonisation targets, the renewable sector also brings significant socio-economic benefits and opportunities. This has been evidenced in the Humber region by Siemens – the largest wind turbine manufacturer in the world – opening a new manufacturing and assembly plant in Hull, which is expected to bring 1,000 direct jobs to the region. The potential supply chain benefits associated with the renewable sector are enormous. We have seen the benefits of facilitating cross-working between our clients, LEPs and business enterprises to help establish world-leading supply chains in this growing sector.

Of course, while large scale infrastructure projects benefit the whole of the UK, through the delivery of clean and affordable energy alongside economic investment, they have particular impacts on the local communities in which they are built. A significant portion of our contribution to the delivery of NSIP projects involves engaging with these local stakeholders, ensuring that they are kept updated of project works and have clear channels through which to contact developers, so that honest and trusting relationships can be established. A number of schemes include Community Benefit Funds to support public and environmental initiatives, allowing members of the local community the opportunity to directly benefit from the projects. This social contribution is in addition to the job creation the projects bring.

In summary, to us it is clear that the North is already committed to the sustainable energy economy, and is set to become a world-leading area for renewable innovation and generation. To find out how we can help you take part in this imminent energy revolution, get in touch.

PR and proud

This month we contributed to Sheffield Telegraph’s quarterly business review. We wrote about PR ; exploring what it actually means to offer ‘public relations’ as a service, and what businesses can expect from good PR representation. 

Counter Context is a communications company, working in the UK and beyond for over 20 years. Only very recently have we started referring to ourselves as a PR company. Why the sudden change?

We have seen how the term PR has become devalued by many and associated with distrust of government and big business. Ask most people in the street to describe PR and they will tell you it likely involves flashy events, spin, disingenuous news stories and publicity stunts. Ask most companies and they regard PR as the need to churn out endless press releases.

Despite this, we have started to use the term PR to describe our work. The industry needs to go back to the true meaning of the phrase – public relations.

We help our clients to achieve success through building genuine and mutually beneficial relationships. Our work is founded on the belief that honest, open and two-way communication helps to build understanding, trust and support in ideas, projects and organisations.

Our work does often involve organising events, writing a press release or doing something fun to catch people’s attention. Our focus is on informing and building understanding, not tricking or distracting the public. PR changes perspectives, but not through manipulation of the truth or twisting the facts.

A good PR company will not tell you to lie, ask you to be something you are not or cover up a crisis.  A good PR company will advise you to connect with your stakeholders; the people who influence and who are influenced by your business. They will advise you to find out what your stakeholders want and the impact that your business may have on them.

Your actions will not always meet with stakeholder approval. This will inevitably risk relations with your customers, employees, suppliers, investors and the wider public. A good PR company will help you to explain your actions in an honest and sincere way and they will help you to rebuild and strengthen relations with the public.

PR is about telling positive stories. PR is not about covering up the bad and hoping people do not notice.

We support clients delivering massive commercial and infrastructure developments. Companies that are disrupting journeys, making noise and changing skylines. Inevitably this will upset some people. What we do is work directly with the public to understand their worries and, in turn, to help them understand the work of our clients.

We find that encouraging conversations rather than monologues builds trust, and with trust often comes support.


Counter Context sponsors joint working event for the North

Our latest press release announces Counter Context’s sponsorship of the upcoming pro-manchester Transport and Infrastructure Pan North Lunch.

Communications and public affairs company, Counter Context, is the headline sponsor of an exclusive roundtable discussion between leading figures from the North of England, working to deliver strategic policy and development in the North.

The Transport and Infrastructure Pan North Lunch, which takes place on 25 April, is being organised and hosted by pro-manchester, the North West’s largest business development organisation. During this invite-only event, leading figures in the North will debate opportunities for, and potential constraints to, achieving effective joint working.

Based across Sheffield and Manchester and operating primarily within the built environment, infrastructure and transport networks, Counter Context has a vested interest in collaborative working across the North. As founding members of pro-manchester’s Transport and Infrastructure Sector Group, the communications company regularly contributes to knowledge sharing amongst sector peers, with a view to improving connectivity in this part of the country.

Their participation at this event will ensure that Sheffield City Region, a major gateway to the Northern Powerhouse is represented and considered in the debate. Alexis Krachai, Managing Director of Counter Context, comments:

“We are privileged to have offices in two exciting and dynamic northern cities and we have seen first-hand what collaboration across the Pennines can do. Our sponsorship of the Pan North Lunch demonstrates a commitment to supporting and promoting growth in Northern England, and making sure that the key cities pull together to offer first class connectivity.

“Both Sheffield City Region and Manchester have huge potential in what they can bring to the Northern Powerhouse agenda and I look forward to sharing thoughts and ideas, as well as concerns at this important event.”

The aim of pro-manchester is to produce a summary paper from the discussion which will then be used to influence and shape a future event, designed to disseminate the findings to a wider audience.

The Transport and Infrastructure Pan North Lunch will take place on 25 April in Manchester. Whilst it is an invite-only event, you can find out more information and register your interest for follow-up events, here:

Fixing the broken housing market: what are the asks and offers in the Government’s plans?

This week, Counter Context attended Housing North West, an event hosted by the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI). Housing is a hot topic and we were keen to hear the perspectives of both the public and private sectors to find out what specific challenges are being faced in the North West, and how they are working to ‘fix’ the housing market. Account Manager Lucy Brown shares her thoughts from the day.

It is well known and understood that the housing market in the UK is, to use Theresa May’s description, ‘broken’. The Housing White Paper, released earlier this year, outlines the Government’s plans to fix it. Priorities include the right type of homes being built, that homes are built faster, that the market becomes more diversified and people are helped now.

Steve Quartermain, Director and Chief Planner at the Department for Communities and Local Government, suggested it is not just about the numbers but also about the affordability. He stressed the importance of the public and private sector working together to achieve both of these. Within the White Paper, which is currently in its consultation period, there are offers for local authorities, for the industry and for local people but it also includes asks to improve the numbers as well as the affordability.

Specifically, for the industry, The White Paper proposes offers including:

  • A better-resourced system
  • Further process improvements (e.g. conditions)
  • Partnering with small/medium firms and promote modern methods of construction

Some of its asks include:

  • Building more homes, quickly
  • Investment in research and skills
  • Delivery of the infrastructure needed

Another of its asks is for developers to engage with communities. We know first-hand the importance of working with communities to glean their views on the look and location of a development.

The White Paper emphasises that local communities should influence the look and location of homes built near to them and ensure that local needs are met.

Counter Context is well positioned to work with both communities and developers to bring forward development. To find out more about our experience in this area, read about our work or get in touch.

Leigh Bramall to join Counter Context

Leigh Bramall, former deputy leader of Sheffield City Council is joining Counter Context’s growing team of communications and public affairs professionals.

Leigh, who has a background in public relations, decided to step down from his role in politics to pursue a career in communications. His love of Sheffield and his ambition to promote growth and investment in the city means that Counter Context is a natural fit, being a Sheffield born and bred company. Our appointment of Leigh as a Director is another step in the company’s strategic business plan designed to grow the company and create more jobs in the city.

During his six years in Cabinet including two years as deputy leader, Leigh led the Business and Economy portfolio working to bring jobs and investment to the city. He has led a number of key achievements working with Councillor Julie Dore, the Leader of the Council, including securing the largest Chinese investment deal of any city outside London, the development of Sheffield’s Advanced Manufacturing Innovation District and leading the campaign to establish Sheffield as the UK’s Outdoor City.

Counter Context’s Managing Director, Alexis Krachai, said:

“We have known Leigh for a number of years and have seen from the great work he has done that he is as passionate about the city as we are.

“We are looking forward to welcoming Leigh to Counter Context where I am confident he will make a real contribution to the growth of our company. And, whilst he is stepping down from politics this does not mean he can no longer contribute to the success of our city and the wider region.

“Leigh has extensive experience in communications and public relations. This, combined with his knowledge and commitment to Sheffield, means he will continue to have a positive impact on the city region as part of the Counter Context team.”

Leigh resigned from his position as deputy leader of Sheffield City Council on 21 March 2017, he also stepped down as ward councillor for the Southey area of Sheffield. He will begin his new role as a Director at Counter Context in April. On beginning his new job, Leigh commented:

“I am moving to a fantastic Sheffield company and feel this is a great opportunity for me to start a new chapter in my professional career which also allows me to stay in Sheffield, the city that I love.”

In defence of Council leaders in Cannes

Last week 25,000 investors and property developers travelled to Cannes in France. They were there to discuss where to invest money to generate jobs and economic growth. They listened to cities and regions who need to attract their investment.

From Bangalore to Budapest, from Copenhagen to Cape Town. Every major city and region on earth was there promoting what they have to offer to investors. Seminars, workshops and, yes, champagne receptions defined five days of discussion and networking.

In recent years Council leaders and business leaders from our region have travelled to be part of this debate. This year Counter Context assembled the largest ever delegation of businesses who were sponsoring our delegation. We promoted over £1bn of investment opportunities. Unfortunately, our political leaders were thin on the ground.

Why were they not there? They have busy schedules, they have responsibilities back home. These are all reasonable explanations. There is also the suspicion they fear being photographed sipping champagne at drinks receptions. This is not an unreasonable anxiety. Voters back home are angry. Many will see a trip to Cannes as a gross waste of public money.

Going to Cannes is anything but a waste of money. Being part of this global network matters. Attracting investment is like finding a job. You cannot sit at home hoping the phone will ring, you need to get out there. You need to have those conversations that turn into big deals. Deals like the multimillion pound investments recently announced by McLaren and Boeing. Our politicians play an incredibly important role in these conversations. They give confidence to investors.

By 2020 our town halls will receive no central grant from Whitehall to fund Council services. This means huge changes to how we fund the services we all rely on. The gap needs to be filled by Business Rates – the tax paid by businesses and investors. Our politicians need to be meeting, talking to and sipping champagne with these investors to show them what we have to offer and to attract them to our region.

There will be many more events that afford valuable opportunities for Sheffield. We need to support our politicians and allow them to do their jobs without the fear of public backlash.

It may not make for a great photograph now but it will fund essential services in the future.

Council budget cuts mean we need to be ambitious.

After councils throughout the country announced an increase in council tax, Alexis Krachai argues that ambition, jobs and investment are the answer.

Not long ago everyone was talking about austerity. Not anymore. The focus is on Brexit, Trump and fake news. Make no mistake though, budgets are still being cut; left, right and centre.

It is rare that town hall bosses are applauded but they have had to handle massive budget cuts over the last seven years. In each year, they have managed to balance what they get and what they spend. That is not an easy task when there is increasing pressure on Council coffers.

The pressure is only increasing. Next year the Council is going to have to find an extra £40million to balance the books. We need to reverse this trend. How can Council budgets can grow? What do we need to do to spend more money on essential services that benefit everyone in the city?

The answer is simple. We need to create new jobs and help businesses to invest. The more jobs created, the more companies that grow, the more money the Council receives. By 2020 all of the money received from businesses will be spent by our Council rather than by officials in Whitehall. That’s good news for our economy and good news for the city. Being in control of what we spend will help Sheffield to become more successful.

What does this mean in reality? We need to attract businesses to invest in Sheffield. The news that the supercar company McLaren is coming to town is terrific. We need to be equally welcoming to companies who want to bring their money and jobs to any part of Sheffield. Nowadays companies can invest anywhere they want to; Sheffield needs to be open for business.

That does not mean every business should be allowed to do what they want and build where they want. The Council has a planning department that is well known for making developers work hard to meet the standards the city expects. These standards will not slip but it is inevitable that Council bosses will need to think about how new developments can help fund essential services.

We live in challenging times. We need more and more money to fund services that benefit a population that is growing older. The government is placing more pressure on Councils to do more with less. There is only one solution – jobs, jobs, jobs.