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Position Takers, Opinion Shapers


Ever since the release of Oliver Stone’s 1987 feature ‘Wall Street’, the marauding figure of the corporate raider has fascinated and alarmed both audiences and big business in equal measure.

Today, a different breed of animal stalks the plains (minus garish braces, immaculately coiffured hair[i] and Michael Douglas). According to Hedge Fund Research, activist hedge funds grew their assets 269% to almost $120 billion between 2009-2014, largely off the back of increased investment from major institutional players. Such funds typically hold a long-biased portfolio composed of minority stakes in target companies; ultimately seeking to ‘unlock’ shareholder value through operational improvements or the rather more Gordon Gekko-esque practices of company restructurings and asset stripping, among other approaches. In time, usually over a considerable horizon, these changes should be reflected in the target company stock price. “We buy 8, 9, 10 percent of a company when we see long-term value in the investment, when the pieces are worth significantly more than the entire business” said one such activist manager, Pershing Square’s Bill Ackman, in a recent interview[ii], “We’re in no rush to get out”.

Stateside, historically the hub of such activism, column inches devoted to the likes of Bill Ackman and his contemporaries have led to practical celebrity status. Over time, activist managers have thus transitioned into astute corporate communicators, engaging with local and international outlets to advance their investment agenda and build credibility among key stakeholders. Through open letters to shareholders, primetime interviews, commissioned videos, statements via social media and similar tactics, the media has become a de facto battleground for public opinion.

One device that perhaps epitomises this battleground more than any other is the so-called letter to the executive, popularised by Third Point’s Dan Loeb – the hedge fund industry’s rabble-rouser in chief. Since his firm’s inception in 1995, Loeb’s open, vitriolic missives to the senior management of companies in which he is invested have made him the scourge of the underperforming boardroom, with The New Yorker likening his zealous behaviour to that of a “certain kind of basketball fan unhappy with an overpaid, underperforming point guard and recommend[ing], in hyperbolic language, that they be benched[iii]”. The result is a literary art form in itself, with an audience extending far beyond that of immediate stakeholders. Loeb is rigorous in his assessment of managerial incompetence, as demonstrated in his scathing review of Star Gas CEO Irik Sevin: “A review of your record reveals years of value destruction and strategic blunders, which have led us to dub you one of the most dangerous and incompetent executives in America[iv]”. Like a boxer biding his time until the final round to floor his opponent, Loeb saves the haymaker for his sign-off: “It is time for you to step down from your role as CEO and director so that you can do what you do best: retreat to your waterfront mansion in the Hamptons where you can play tennis and hobnob with your fellow socialites[v]”. Three weeks after Star Gas received the letter, Sevin resigned. The pen can indeed be mightier than the sword, it seems.

Whilst communications of this nature perhaps don’t do a great deal to alleviate the reputational issues that still plague the hedge fund industry, they do provide a fascinating insight into both investing and management philosophy. Consequentially, corporate boards should have an integrated, pre-emptive response to the messaging that activist fund managers may trickle into the marketplace, remembering their duty to the company and all its shareholders – not just the loudest ones.

Matthew Thomas, Senior Account Executive, Corporate

[i] In some instances.
[ii] Ahuja, M. 2012. The Alpha Masters: Unlocking the Genius of the World’s Top Hedge Funds.
[v] Ibid.

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The Labour Mayoral Candidate Result

This lunchtime, the Labour Party announced the first in its slew of internal election results, confirming Sadiq Khan MP as its candidate for the London Mayoralty in May next year.

Khan, MP for Tooting since 2005, was seen as the main challenger to frontrunner and establishment and proud Blairite candidate, Dame Tessa Jowell. Although winning is for Khan a big achievement, it is not a shock on the same scale as a Diane Abbott win would have been, or on the scale of the expected Corbyn win in the leadership, announced tomorrow. The scale of Khan’s victory over Jowell is more surprising – 59% to 41%.

Though Khan ‘s politics are on the left of the Labour Party, he is not a hard-left fellow traveller of the Corbyn crowd. Serving as a Minister in Gordon Brown’s Government, Khan led Ed Miliband’s successful leadership bid in 2010, leading to his role as Shadow Secretary of State for Justice, and Shadow Minister for London. Khan will attempt to run a broad-based campaign for the Mayoralty, though he tends to the populist on totem issues such as a third runway at Heathrow, which he opposes.

Jowell’s loss to Khan throws into sharp relief the step-change in the make-up of the Labour Party; many of Khan’s supporters attended Corbyn events in order to pick up support, and Khan – ever the canny operator – was one of the MPs who “lent” Corbyn his vote in order to see him on the ballot. However, the breakdown shows that Jowell led in the membership section until the last round, whereas the other two electoral colleges, affiliated members (largely trades unionists) and supporters (the much-discussed £3ers), heavily turned out for Khan.

Khan’s win is being interpreted as a clear sign that Corbyn is highly likely to win the Leadership election, announced tomorrow at 12noon.

Steve Race, Associate Director, Public Affairs

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Abstract Digest #8

Welcome to Abstract Digest, a collection of inspirational, creative and relevant news from the past week.


Budget changes to hit single parents hardest, research reveals.

How might smoking effect you in the future? Check out this video.

Coming to a record store near you: cassette tapes. The future is here, folks!

Amazon to release a $50 tablet this year, WSJ says.

The Assisted Dying Bill comes back to Parliament on Friday in what will be an emotionally-charged debate.

What the new iPhone means for mobile marketing.

Instagram open for business as it lets any brand advertise on the site.

This startup is reimagining shower design, so people actually want to save water.

A phone that never runs out of storage!

Behold Europe’s first growth hacking academy: kicking off in Amsterdam this November.

A real plan to replace London’s tube with moving walkways.

All gas stations in Russia will have to install EV charging stations.



This app gives you a virtual security guard to walk you home.

Lord Hall reveals BBC will ‘partner’ others on creativity.

Children’s health ‘shocking’ postcode lottery, charity says.

Mumsnet and Lidl UK strike six-figure content and branding deal.

Fantastic designed adverts, the first from McDonalds and the second from Kia.

Fat-shaming video causes YouTube row.

Facebook are testing new layouts for brand pages.

CoverGirl is making Star Wars makeup and it’s awesome.

Easyjet launches major brand campaign to celebrate 20th birthday.

Amazon stops selling Fire smartphone.

A petition has been launched urging Brewdog to withdraw their “Don’t Make Us Do This” campaign.



Five marketing lessons from Bompas & Parr’s tasting menu extravaganza.

Refugees bring hope, not trouble – my father’s story is proof of that.

I quit my job, to manage my dog.

4 public speaking skills you need to master to become a leader.

6 reasons brands should be using Periscope.

What all writers can learn from Mitch Hedburg.

Periods cost £18,000? 5 things I’d rather spend the money on.

How to manage a team of B players.

We should all be weird as f***.

The day you became a better designer.



7 things you probably didn’t know about the Queen’s corgis.

The films to watch in autumn 2015: from Everest to Star Wars.

Serena Williams faces down haters in powerful new Beats by Dre ad.

7 out of 8 social media messages to brands go unanswered (Infographic).

Space whisky really does taste different.

Queen Elizabeth II becomes longest-reigning UK monarch.

Americans not happy with their Congress, cannot name any Congress members.

Hilarious re-trailer of TV classic Friends, imagined as a horror movie.

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Stormy Water Ahead for the Labour Party?


By Saturday afternoon the waiting will be over and we will know who is the new Leader and the new Deputy Leader of the Labour Party.

The announcement will be made at a Special Conference being held in London that morning and the Deputy Leader result will be announced before that of Leader.

Whilst the majority of debate and coverage has focused on the leadership candidates, the role of Deputy Leader is crucial in that it provides access to a range of levers to influence the Party machinery as well as a rallying point for a rival camp to that of the Leader.

Whilst, the smart money is currently on Tom Watson (a consummate political operator and deal maker, who was a key member of the ‘Curry House Putsch’ which plotted the removal of Tony Blair in favour of Gordon Brown) the voting system means the possibility remains of Stella Creasy securing enough second preferences to win. Whoever wins will be a key figure in the battle for the future of the Labour Party as a potential Party of Government.

Corbyn remains the favourite to win the Leadership contest, but the reality is, even at this late stage there are a significant number of votes still to be cast and some people reportedly had still not received their ballots. The electorate in this contest have been impossible to canvass accurately – even by the candidates’ campaigns – since the final result is achieved by single transferable vote and second preferences will therefore be all important if Corbyn does not secure very close to the 50 per cent mark. This means the possibility of one of the other candidates just pulling ahead – many commentators believe Yvette Cooper could be in this position – cannot be entirely ruled out.

A clear win for Corbyn will make it harder – but not impossible – for more centrist MPs to move against him at an early stage. A close result will give them more space to mount an offensive – particularly if the Party plunges in the polls. The next set of local elections will also focus Labour MPs minds on the response of the electorate to the new leadership of the party. . Even if Yvette Cooper or Andy Burnham manage to pip Corbyn to the prize many believe the Labour Party has been so damaged by the spectacle of the Leadership election that the next general election has already been lost.

The London Mayoral contest which is looming next year will be closely fought and Labour’s candidate will be announced on Friday ahead of the Leadership election. Whoever Labour’s candidate is will have a key platform from which to influence the debate around the future of the Party.

The Conservatives could be forgiven for looking forward to celebrating the demise of the Labour Party, however it also poses a number of worrying scenarios for them. The stance of the Official Opposition on a range of issues related to the economy and foreign policy will be watched closely by inward investors, the markets and other governments. The Conservative Government’s slim majority means it takes a small number of rebels to cause them to lose key votes. We could be in for a return to knife edge, late night votes of the kind not seen since the 1970s. Conversely, some Labour MPs have already signaled they could rebel against a Corbyn-ite stance on votes on issues such a Syria, and vote with the Conservatives.

Amidst all this uncertainty, what is clear is that anyone with an interest in navigating this uncharted political landscape will need to keep their wits about them.

Michelle DiLeo, Head of Public Affairs

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Why True? It’s about who we are and who we want to be

True. It’s one of the most powerful ideals known to mankind. It ranks right up there with justice and fairness.

Something that is true cannot be diminished. True is persistent and immovable. We’re drawn to people who are true and genuine to themselves and others.

So why would a communications company like FleishmanHillard dare to associate itself with the concept of true? Is it the ultimate conceit?

Perhaps. But the concept of true is real and purposeful to us at FleishmanHillard. When we decided to refresh our brand, we clung to this branding axiom: Real brands cannot be invented; they must be revealed. So, we set out and looked honestly and deeply at who we are. We talked with clients to understand their changing needs. We also surveyed the current communications landscape. All things intersected at one word—true.

Read the full article from our CEO Dave Senay at

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Abstract Digest #7

Welcome to another edition of Abstract Digest, collating this week’s news, trends and creativity.



Looking forward to a glass tonight? 5 scientific reasons why drinking wine is good for you.

AdAge has some good insights on Instagram’s new rectangular format and what it means to marketers.

Twitter publishes 2016 diversity targets.

Could these tents solve the world’s refugee crisis?

Debenhams looks to make fashion ‘less intimidating’.

Google’s Chrome to start auto-pausing Flash ads on Sept. 1.

Looking forward to new gadgets? Keep up to date with the latest from IFA 2015.

Tattoos to 3D printing: five inventions that will revolutionise healthcare.

App mapping traffic lights to help the visually impaired navigate the streets.

Slower melting ice cream in pipeline thanks to new ingredient.



Stigma around gynecological cancer stopping women from visiting GP.

Giffiti: the app that lets you customise your images with GIFs.

6 celebrities who’ve launched their own drinks brands.

20 awesome board games you may never have heard of.

How data can reduce the burden of diabetes treatment on the NHS.

Bluetooth alternative sends signals through the human body.

Icelanders volunteer personal homes for Syrian refugees.

This is the story of Shakes, the kitten.

A handy guide to deal with Facebook’s photo compression.

Google expands health conditions feature toover 900 illnesses.

Control your home from an app for £200.



The top three diversity challenges facing the PR industry.

How much should we trust tech companies?

The Big Turn On: Sex tech and its implications for business and culture.

Average Manager vs. Great Manager.

4 everyday words that scare your coworkers (and what to say instead).

How two non-technical cofounders grew & sold their startup for millions.

Notorious on social media: is all publicity good publicity?

There’s one thing missing from student’s backpacks nowadays

Why agencies must embrace a Millennial mindset.

A breakup letter from the internet to you.

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Can we still distinguish between people and brands?


Of course we can – a person is a human being with complex thoughts, emotions and feelings. A brand is something synthetic, created to sell products or promote an ideology; the two things are entirely different!

… Except, really, they’re not. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a brand is a “particular identity or image regarded as an asset”. Is this definition restricted to big companies and corporations, or can we now use the same classification for personal reputation too?

The CEO of Yum Brands (KFC’s father company) recently said, “You can market to love and hate; you cannot market to indifference”.  This especially rings true if the brand being marketed is actually an individual. Think back to last weekend’s dramatic showdown between Usain Bolt, the Saviour of Athletics, and Justin Gatlin, the Returning Drugs Cheat.  Both athletes – both people – were identified by nothing more than a name and a tagline; we could just as easily be discussing a face-off between BMW, The Ultimate Driving Machine, vs. Mercedes, Unlike Any Other.

Of course, traditional brands have their part to play; people cannot always become brands on their own. Individuals like Steve Jobs, Richard Branson & Anna Wintour started off as brand leaders before moving on to epitomize the values of the companies they represent. Jobs is probably the best example of this. “Think Different” is Apple’s tagline, and he became renowned for doing just that. He even perfected a signature outfit, the famous black turtleneck jumper and blue jeans rather than a corporate suit and tie. Ironically, he’s most well-known in the business world for hating the words ‘branding’ and ‘marketing’, as he was renowned for being all about the product quality.

Today, celebs don’t need the springboard of a well-known product or company to launch themselves as a brand. The rise of social media means that celebrities can be created, promoted and engaged with much more easily. Katie Hopkins, although controversial at the best of times, offers a masterclass in cultivating a brand image and getting it noticed by a huge number of people (not necessarily for all the right reasons…). And there’s a wide range of Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and blogging stars who managed to get their own names out there simply through creating a unique voice. Power couple Zoella and Alfie Deyes are a prime example.

On the flip-side, large companies like Tesco, Pret and Flybe are using the personal approach to engage with potential and existing consumers. By being personable and having banter with the consumers they’re trying to reach, traditional brands are proving that personal is the new professional. The innocent drinks account, for example, is full of personality, with jokes and photos that could easily be found on a personal Twitter feed; they’re carving themselves out a fun, quirky identity that internet users want to engage with.


If brands are representing themselves as people and people are being identified as brands, maybe distinguishing between the two is harder than it once was; the two ideas are starting to merge as we search for the best way to promote and sell our products and ideals. But perhaps the distinction is also changing in places other than the world of celebrity. Anyone who has a social media account – literally anyone – is promoting their own personal brand. By controlling the content you share with friends and followers and only portraying the version of you that you want others to see, you’re being reduced to your very own name with a tagline, visual identity and tone of voice. You’re selling your own ideology – Brand You.

So, and this might not be a surprise to everyone reading this, it makes sense to monitor what can be seen by who very carefully if you want Brand You to be the next big hit – or you want to keep it out of trouble.

Gemma White, Intern, Brand Marketing

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The rise of the decline of everything you know and love

As you’re probably aware, recent years have seen a continued meteoric rise in technical innovation. Not only has the tech itself improved, but the infrastructure supporting it.

With improved data networks, the almost-universal availability of free WiFi and the endless march of smartphone after smartphone, we’ve made an almost pain-free transition to an infrastructure that enables engagement with the Internet at a pace and with a confidence that feels, arguably for the first time, natural and simple. Finally, everything works, almost.

Maslow's WiFi

Generally, recent apps now provide a more consistent, simple and less erroneous online experience, and far more robust functionality than those of just a few years ago. Therefore, those who previously may have been fearful to truly embrace online are now taking confident strides. Grandma has invaded your Facebook.


This diversified pool of confident users has, unsurprisingly, seen the blending of new and pre-existing cultures online – and the rise of an antipathy towards those cultures (likely due to overexposure), driven by an (largely media-managed) analytical and curious modern mindset aware that they are being marketed to.

Take, for example, the endless discussion and derision around the ‘selfie’ (a ‘trend’ that has existed since the dawn of the photograph), the increased discussion around and ‘mainstreaming’ of what would’ve been once-niche subcultures and the general democratization of popular culture – everyone is exposed to far more ‘culture’ than before.

Did previous generations widely discuss the (tedious) idea of a society at ‘Peak Beard’, or have such a detailed dialogue about a novelty café? Or even indulge this sort of thing as a concept at all?


We, as a generation, are highly aware of the context of our societal existence, and how we connect to part of a larger whole.

This ingrained meta-analysis can and does lead to cultural backlash – the true subject of this post. There’s a small but ever-growing call to return to ‘simpler times’ (if they ever really existed), or at least undo the inanity of some of our more recent creations.

The groups calling for this tend to be fairly niche and gentle in their protest – something likely spawned by a society that rewards specificity with bemusement, as opposed to distrust or ignorance.

‘Misanthropic ironic neo-luddite’ is almost a subculture of its own, prone to discourse around the fruitlessness of the modern existence. See The Onion, Daily Mash, or Facebook groups such as Get In The Sea and We Want Plates.



They are amusing, and their burgeoning popularity may point to a wider trend. Inherently cynical in nature, there’s also an undercurrent of ‘genuineness’ and nostalgia in the messages espoused by these groups. Is it worth brands moving towards this direction, or if they have the heritage and the steadfastness to not have bought too heavily into modern culture, leverage this to boost their cache? Is the time nearly upon us for those brands too slow to pick up a smartphone to seize the limelight? Obviously whilst attempting to navigate the irony of a brand attempting to pour scorn on the concept of modern advertising in an attempt to curry favour, and essentially, advertise themselves. We’re getting meta.

Certain brands have made this their prerogative ahead of time – Newcastle Brown Ale, Unicef (see below) and Go Compare have all attempted to capitalize on a culture so self-aware.

Can this be done authentically? It depends – once you’ve headed down this path, it’s tough to go back. See Budweiser’s efforts to sponsor the world of football after producing this ad – creating a rod for their own back.

It inherently appeals to a small ‘subculture’ – those gunning for mass appeal are best to stay clear, and arguably these MKNL groups do not welcome marketing as a concept…

A better approach, perhaps, is to (quietly) ask oneself ‘Is this wanky?’ when making a decision about your brands’ marketing. If it is, don’t do it.

Sounds simple, right?

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Streaming: Musician’s friend or industry foe?

It’s no secret that streaming technologies are disrupting and dividing the music industry. But is it a clever way to get aspiring artists in front of a new audience, or are they robbing artists and labels of potential revenue? Whether you agree with Taylor Swift and believe music should be paid for, or your days begin and end with Spotify, we can all agree that the music industry will never be the same.

Consumers – myself included – love streaming music. It’s quick, it’s easy, it’s everywhere, and you don’t even need to pay for it. Streaming pioneers like Pandora and Spotify have steadily continued to grow their user base and increase their revenue. Two years after its launch in 2008, Spotify had approximately 10 million users, of which only 2.5 million paid for a subscription. As of June 2015, Spotify boasts more than 75 million active users and over 20 million pay for their premium option. As these streaming services grow in popularity, big tech companies have taken note; – Apple, Google and Amazon have all launched music streaming initiatives over the past few years in an attempt to get in on the action.

So it’s undeniable; streaming is here and it’s here to stay. The question is no longer whether or not streaming will go mainstream (it already has); the question is whether or not it’s benefitting or damaging the music industry.

From a consumer’s perspective, of course, it’s a good thing. It’s easier today than ever before to listen to your favorite songs and grow your music library. Exposure to new music is one of the best things to come out of the streaming revolution. Users can proactively search for new artists via top charts and public playlists, but streaming services also personalize the process by recommending songs and musicians their customers might enjoy based on their user history.

It seems to me like this two-way-street of exposure is the biggest benefit to artists. With more people turning to streaming services as their preferred listening method, many artists are leveraging these sites as tools to help them connect with their audience and grow their fan base. Streaming has the support of musicians like Diplo and Skrillex, as well as the Featured Artists Coalition (FAC). It gives artists access to an audience they wouldn’t have otherwise reached.

So while it’s clear that music streaming has won over the hearts of the consumers, and quite a few musicians as well, that doesn’t mean it isn’t still a controversial technology. Labels fear a decrease in sales and a loss of customers, subsequently making it increasingly difficult for them to source and shape new talent. Musicians share many of the same fears and believe that they aren’t being fairly compensated for their work. In 2014, Taylor Swift removed all of her music from Spotify and other streaming services, simply stating: “Valuable things should be paid for.”

Spotify would argue that with the option of free streaming, they are helping put an end to piracy and illegal downloads which provide 0% return for the artists and labels and could well have killed the music industry entirely. What the free streaming does do, however, is steal the casual customers, the people who don’t spend more than £5 a month on songs. With the allure of free music, these purchasers become streamers.

For better or for worse, disruption is valuable in every industry and a little opposition can often inspire innovation. Music streaming isn’t going anywhere so it’s up to the industry to find ways to entice consumers to buy tracks and adapts to the streaming age.

McKinley Siegfired, Intern, Technology Team

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Abstract Digest #6

Welcome to another edition of Abstract Digest, collating this weeks news, trends and creativity.


Sony’s drone business that will target construction, logistics and agriculture will launch in the first half of 2016.

Google is testing a new Maps tool for uploading food-related photos.

Can Donald Trump’s stunt marketing provide the long-term value his brand needs to run for president?

Microsoft reveals a prototype keyboard with e-ink displays.

Batteries could soon last almost forever by turning liquid batteries into solids.

A flu vaccine that lasts a lifetime? Yes, please!

Take a pro photographer on holiday with you.

Woman’s responsibility’: Only 1 in 10 British men would use male contraceptive pill.

London, you can now order burgers using emoji.



Louise Mensch takes Twitter swipe at Corbyn campaign – and hits herself.

George Osborne will go to Europe this week to renegotiate the UK’s relationship.

Chatroulette users stumble into a live-action zombie shooter.

Pro-government Twitter bots try to hush Mexican activists.

Twitter has shut down Politwoops, a tool that allowed users to find politicians’ deleted tweets.

Make sure you’ve got your phrases up to scratch with this infographic listing common mistakes in phraseology.

Yes, really: middle class graffiti is a thing now.

What can we do to be happier?

Burger King to McDonald’s: Let’s Make a ‘McWhopper’ for International Peace Day. McDonald’s replies: No.

Cosmetic chain Lush accused of ‘insulting‘ Londoners.

Newspapers spark outrage with front page coverage of TV killings.

Here are the healthiest lunches on the high street.

Google’s been recruiting programmers based on their search habits.

1 billion people used Facebook on Monday.

excellent Snapchat campaigns.



Does anyone really care how politicians look?

The Spotify privacy backlash: what is my personal data really worth?

YouTubers & brands: how to work with vloggers including TomSka.

Social media has become an important educational tool within the healthcare industry.

The tweets that MPs delete – and why Twitter doesn’t want us to see them.

The fascinating story of the community manager behind the worst PS4 game ever.

Pitch processes ‘set up master/slave dynamic at outset‘ & should be changed.

Unless you want TV by diktat, defend the BBC.

How are US sports leagues using content marketing to their advantage?

Alphabet has taught us the importance of the corporate brand.

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