Just a couple of months have passed since Kwasi Kwarteng delivered the now infamous mini budget and Jeremy Hunt’s Autumn Statement signalled a radical departure from that short-lived ideology.

Logistics makes up the backbone of the UK economy. Without the organised transport of goods, equipment, and produce, our way of living would be simply impossible.

The ‘stakeholder handshake’, building a compelling story and a culture where you want (to want) to go beyond tick box engagement – what lessons can we learn about stakeholder engagement from industry leading figures.

Martin McCrink, Managing Partner at Copper interviewed two leaders from National Highways’ Complex Infrastructure Programme – Chris Taylor (Director) and Sarah Walker (Head of Stakeholder Engagement and Communications). We’ve set out some highlights.

All too often, stakeholder engagement and communications is seen as a ‘task’, a box to be ticked or a mechanism to show a board or client that one must be taking the public and stakeholders seriously, because there is a team that ‘manages’ the public. Or, signing off a communications strategy document at the start of a project and then expecting everything to be better simply because ‘a process’ was in place. These things are unlikely to benefit a project, a team, the client or customer unless stakeholder engagement is seen as a core tenet of project development. These are  often erroneous attempts to shortcut the thinking that’s needed.

Each company, board and project has a decision to make – is stakeholder engagement a chore or an opportunity?

To help examine this, Copper sat down with Chris Taylor and Sarah Walker from National Highways to talk about the benefits for the planning, construction, and ultimately the end use, of our infrastructure and wider built environment. You can watch the interview here.

The stakeholder handshake – lay the foundations to build an engagement strategy

Clients and developers face a common challenge – to articulate the need and justification for a given project or investment. That requires securing buy in from clients, funders, government or elected representatives. This matters because often sooner rather than later we have an ask of stakeholders – for a societal licence to operate or as part of the consenting regime.

Early work is required to understand what stakeholders can gain from a project, be it a primary, secondary or tertiary benefit. What’s important is to weave these benefits into a project’s purpose to create the opportunity for a ‘stakeholder handshake’ – a series of commitments or boundaries you can adhere, to go back to in tougher times and celebrate in easier periods.

With early mutual understanding, you can start to build trust – key principles of a project, show there are lines you won’t cross, benefits you’ll deliver and promises you can show you’ve kept.

Build an audience on your terms to join an already live conversation

Whether project teams like it, or even know it, or not, conversations are happening about infrastructure projects. And within these conversations, a range of views – support, misinformation, opposition – are formed. So how do we manage this?

Firstly, we need to understand and build our audiences. It is tempting to only talk to those who want to talk to a project team – usually with a motive to oppose. But this misses an opportunity to talk to everyone who a project is for, not those already motivated to have a view. This requires a smart communications strategy to engage these audiences, informed by concrete data and insight to understand how audiences consume information.

Secondly, we need to tell compelling narratives which take people with us. We need to bring projects to life to make them accessible, setting out the need, benefits, potential impacts, proposed mitigations, and ultimate opportunities. Without a clear and compelling narrative we create barriers for people to understand the complexity of projects. This creates a vacuum which misinformation and simplistic opposition explanations will fill.

Losing control of the public discourse in this way becomes as real material risk to the consentability or construction programme of projects. Decision makers can only make judgements on what they can see. So if we lose control of a project’s story, we inadvertently cloud the project reality in the minds of our key audiences.

We’ve learnt across our projects that you have to commit to repeating this narrative and keeping people informed because most infrastructure projects, from first concept to commissioning, can be years or even decades. The key audiences may remain the same but the individuals comprising these will change over time – just because you have communicated a vision once doesn’t guarantee it has been heard, understood and will remain unchallenged.

What’s communication got to do with social value?

Unlocking tangible social value is challenging without meaningful public engagement. Projects need to know that their efforts make a difference, but this value also needs to be celebrated and crystalised into a lasting and positive legacy. Communities need to understand projects and know and trust the teams delivering them in the first instance, if the community and social benefit outcomes are going to be of real value to them.

“You’ve got to want (to want) to deliver good engagement”

Project culture is critical. If stakeholder engagement, and therefore regard for stakeholders and the public is a bolt on, you cannot expect a strategy to meaningfully improve a project and for good relationships to form with communities without putting in the work to make it happen. Like with any professional or interpersonal relationship, there needs to be a healthy tension mitigated through reasonable give and take between project teams and their stakeholders. If a project team wants to enjoy the support of stakeholders, you’ve got to want to dig deep, work with those outside a project, and be seen to do so.

What have we learnt?

Both Chris and Sarah expressed the importance of ensuring engagement is embedded into the leadership, structure and culture of a project team. If a strategy is superficial, expect the results of your stakeholder engagement to be so too.

The Labour Party Conference in Liverpool this week gave Keir Starmer the opportunity to present the case for what Labour would do differently if they were to be successful in the next election.

Copper has announced that it has become part of the RSK family. Martin McCrink and Ben Heatley look at what working with RSK means for the company’s future direction and the positive impact it can have. 

The world is facing a series of challenges – the race to reach net zero, the cost of living crisis and enhancing  economic prosperity. 

Responding to these interlinked crises will require substantial changes to how we work and live, and what we expect from the organisations and companies we interact with. 

From the way our water will be used, stored and recycled, our homes are heated, the way we travel, to where we work and the types of houses we can live in. But closer to home, we’re likely to see changes in our landscape – with new types of renewable energy generation, new nuclear power, hydrogen facilities and pipelines. High speed rail will continue to be developed and new ways of travelling around cities will emerge. 

These changes have the potential to make all our lives more sustainable and to boost productivity and prosperity. But change needs to be explained. In order to maximise the opportunity of change it needs to be well understood, and the people that will be affected need to see that decisions are being taken with their input.  

We’ve seen many progressive projects get stuck in planning or financial approval because the political will is not there. This is often caused by a lack of public understanding and acceptance – a currency politicians need to rely on. 

Copper’s expertise is in helping to build this awareness, understanding and acceptance of change. We deliver measurable impact for clients. For more than 25 years, we’ve helped pave the way for some of the most ambitious, society-changing projects UK-wide and supported clients corporately to achieve their business objectives.  

We have supported clients including National Grid, National Highways, RWE, Vattenfall, Orsted, Rolls-Royce, Cadent, Western Power Distribution, ScottishPower, HS2, as well as various branches of Government to explain their ambitions, address concerns, and enhance their reputations. 

We’re at the centre of explaining change. Copper’s partnership with RSK is an exciting opportunity because RSK’s expertise, experience, global presence and focus on environmental solutions allows Copper to offer a more complete service, informed by thousands of technical experts who are at the heart of realising a more sustainable future.  

RSK and its specialist businesses are central to delivering the change we need as a country, and together we will be able to provide a more complete service, bringing together Copper’s industry leading strategic communications, with RSK’s expert technical knowledge. 

Working with RSK, we can help more clients navigate change in a more effective way, removing barriers to delivery, supporting our clients even more effectively, and ultimately supporting them to deliver their visions for positive change. 

Copper has announced its plans to become part of the RSK family. The opportunity to retain Copper’s brand, team and specialism while working alongside a global leader in environmental sustainable solutions is exciting for all involved. 

Martin McCrink and Ben Heatley set out five reasons this is an exciting time to be part of Copper. 

Copper’s individuality, specialism and focus is strengthened  

Copper prides itself on addressing client challenges in creative, cost effective and innovative ways. Copper’s approach with clients matters to us. The ways we work with clients will continue and we have the opportunity to further our specialisms, deepened with the support of 10,000 experts from around the world. 

Working at the forefront of global challenges 

Our net zero targets remains a long term, strategic challenge for everyone in the UK, while around the world, organisations are planning to transition to a low carbon future. On our own, we can help our clients, but working with RSK enables us to offer more wholistic solutions to the biggest challenges with access to the strength in depth of RSK’s global business.  

A team of over 150 communications specialists 

Copper’s team has grown to more than 70 consultants. We’ll be working closely with RSK Creative – a technical writing, design and creative services business. Combine this with RSK’s corporate communications team and this means together we have over 150 communications experts who can  deliver even more innovative solutions for our collective clients. 

Attracting talent  

The talent market is complex and brimming with opportunity. The weight of a global business behind us offering a range of careers, means we can provide even more rewarding career development and thereby continue to attract the brightest and most committed communications specialists.  

A responsible, sustainable, knowledgeable shareholder 

As a small business, reducing our carbon emissions and maximising our social value impact can be a challenge. But now, with the backing of a global business that specialises on the fight against climate change RSK and Copper will be working together to reduce our impact on the planet and to increase our value to society. That will happen by assessing our own operations, but also by supporting the largest and most impactful energy transition projects in the UK and around the world. 

 

Specialist infrastructure communications consultancy forms a new partnership with leading global environmental solutions business RSK. The agreement enables RSK and Copper to: 

  • help clients navigate the key challenges of our time – net zero, cost of living and economic growth 
  • offer a more complete range of services to fulfil client demands 
  • reach new geographical markets and industry sectors 

RSK Group, a global leader in the delivery of sustainable solutions, has agreed a partnership with specialist infrastructure communications firm, Copper Consultancy. 

Copper specialises in building understanding and acceptance of infrastructure with the public, stakeholders, the media, government and elected representatives, while helping organisations to protect and enhance their reputations. The agreement provides an opportunity to take on more and increasingly complex client challenges. 

As part of the agreement, Copper will retain its brand, clients and management team. Copper will work closely with RSK Creative – a design and technical writing specialist business within the RSK group. Together with RSK’s corporate communications team, RSK now has a network of more than 150 communications experts covering strategy, marketing, data, planning support, construction, corporate, crisis, social, design and creative services. 

RSK Group CEO Alan Ryder said: “Copper’s infrastructure communications skills are an excellent addition to our Group, naturally complementing our enduring focus on engineering and environmental solutions and enhancing our client service.  

“This solutions-based approach is now more important than ever. As we face global challenges, changing how we live, our wish is to consult and explain these changes in a way which raises public awareness and understanding to ensure everyone can participate in this transition in a meaningful way.” 

Copper’s Managing Partners, Martin McCrink and Ben Heatley, said: “The UK is facing unprecedented challenges around net zero and the cost of living crisis. One of the levers industry and government can pull is to invest in infrastructure to modernise the country, boost productivity and enhance sustainability. Working closely with RSK gives Copper the opportunity to broaden the solutions we offer to clients and help them overcome the challenges they will face. 

“Copper is ambitious for the future. This relationship creates a platform for us to achieve those ambitions, allowing us to reach clients, markets and geographies that we couldn’t access on our own. We are excited to be able to support RSK with its ambitions to grow in the UK and around the world.” 

Copper’s growth has been significant in recent years. This agreement will enable Copper to continue with an ambitious strategy in the years to come, enabling access to new markets, clients and talent. For RSK it enables the company to offer an even broader range of specialist services to the infrastructure industry, and to tackle the most demanding challenges with teams of experts from across the business.  

As RSK continues to deliver its ambitious growth strategy it is now comprised of more than 175 companies, employing 10,000 people. The Group’s annual turnover at the end of FY22 is expected to be in excess of £800 million, more than double the previous year.  

 

Copper Consultancy has explored the policies announced today in the Growth Plan 2022 with a particular focus on what they mean for the infrastructure sector.

After a protracted campaign amid the energy and cost of living crises, Liz Truss has emerged triumphant as the new leader of the Conservative Party.

Read the report here