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PR ADVICE – CAN DEMOCRACY SURVIVE WITHOUT INDEPENDENT MEDIA?

Anyone offering PR advice to Donald Trump must have earned their corn attempting to manage his messages or even keep control of his diverging news agenda. The difficulty of offering PR advice to Donald was that, on average, the Whitehouse Director of Communications lasted just 150 days, barely enough time to effectively influence the strategy, direction or messages let alone establish working relationships with the media.

The Trump Effect On The Changing Media Landscape

During the latest presidency we have also seen a further dramatic shift in the media landscape with the emergence of ‘fake news’, direct communications through social media platforms such as twitter and a growing lack of trust in the media. This is a problem as a free and independent ‘Fourth Estate’, is supposed to hold power to account, an important element in democracy and debate.

The changing landscape has resulted in unprecedented scenes with the need for 20,000 troops to gather in the US Capitol to oversee the safe transfer of power in ‘The land of the free’. This issue has risen largely due to maverick communications and loss of control. Sadly, the storming of the Capitol buildings could therefore be a sign of things to come.

This ability to bypass an independent and regulated media has significant repercussions, particularly if the presiding narrative is that they are trying to steal the election, to not trust the media or the whole establishment. In situations like this where do you turn and who can you trust?

Would Trump Have Fared Better With Good PR Advice?

The need to be held accountable or to win an honest argument no longer applies, as communicating directly through social platforms is proven to be more effective. In Trump’s case he had more than 88 million followers on Twitter – considerably more than the readership of all the major US news outlets combined.

The net result however is illustrated by a poll in December that shows that 40% of Americans did not believe that the election was fair. This is further compounded as nearly 75% of those who voted Republican feel the election was stolen. This is despite the fact the mainstream media reported that 60 post-election lawsuits in multiple states all found that there was no fraud and that the result was fair. Logical debate is simply stifled by volumes of unproven and often unprovable claims.

It’s clear that the trust has gone and that the media are no longer seen as fair and independent reporters of the truth. The ‘lies and denies’ have gained traction and land on fertile ground particularly when communicating to an audience of followers who have built relationships with you online and who no doubt already replicate and share the same views.

Rebuilding Trust In A Post-Trump-Power World

The media also need to play their own role in rebuilding trust. There is a negative spiral occurring where media companies are not reacting to the changing landscape quickly enough or attracting the investment needed to support quality reporting. There is still a legacy of political influence or grudge bearing which needs to be overcome as it leads to poor journalism and subsequent declining influence / sales and so the cycle continues.

Social media platforms started introduced ‘fact checking’ tabs in Spring 2020 to try and manage the number of misleading claims sprouting on the platforms, but when the claims come from an historically credible source such as the President of the United States then the problems are clear. Again it comes down to who to trust – who do you believe? The large tech firms determining what’s accurate or not, the President of the US, commentators or the media?

The Wider Impact On The World

When examining the issue in context of the coronavirus pandemic the problem continues. For example, currently opinion on the vaccine is divided – with some keen to take and roll out while others believe that it’s all part of a wider conspiracy as a result of information they have listened to online (ranging from Bill Gates to 5G conspiracies). The net result however is that nearly two thirds of Americans suggest that they won’t take the vaccine right away, presenting a significant health risk to the country and an even slower recovery and return to normal.

The answer however is not to ban certain users as tech giants themselves are not regulated enough to determine who has the right to opinions. Don’t get me wrong, I believe that anyone making comments on social media platforms should be held accountable but the right to the first amendment must be paramount. That does not negate the option to prosecute racist, homophobic or inflammatory comments or to give temporary or increasingly long bans if users continue flout the rules / laws.

By determining who uses their platforms sets a precedent that may come back to bite social media companies. What happens when they are pressured to ban individuals due to one off political or cultural views or even non-related actions – simply because they do not conform to the new normal. It would be a victory for the woke but a problem for debate and therefore ultimately democracy.

The consequences could ultimately put into doubt the future of an open and free internet. How can a handful of tech bosses make decisions on who does and doesn’t have a voice on the internet? If they do then surely they should themselves be open to more scrutiny?

Where does it all stop? The ‘wokeball’ effect is already taking place with other platforms being pressured into taking similar action with facebook, YouTube and Snapchat also banning Trump. What about holocaust or climate change deniers, devout religious groups, more extreme political parties or even celebrities pushing their own agendas…?

Is Senior Counsel And PR Advice The Answer?

So, what’s the answer? Debating and arguing over differing opinions are as old as humanity itself and are instrumental in a real democracy. Debate needs to be encouraged and media companies should share both the platforms and opinions, rather than ban people or get involved in personal spats where there is a risk they become the story. Media companies should have greater support or regulation in managing their newfound power (already enough to silence the ‘most powerful man on earth’) and commentators / influencers should be open to debate as well as scrutiny.

If offering senior counsel or PR advice to corporates or individuals the same principals should apply. We would always advocate the importance of being honest, to be able to look yourself in the mirror and justify your decisions but most importantly know what you or your business stands for and be consistent to the delivery.

JO MALONE’S MISJUDGEMENT – THE IMPORTANCE OF STAYING ON TOP OF CURRENT AFFAIRS

While some businesses have folded due to the impact of COVID-19, others have managed to find their feet during it. We’ve seen tongue-in-cheek advertising slogans emerge, such as KFC’s switch from ‘It’s finger lickin’ good’ to ‘It’s good’ as a reference to the importance of hand-washing and personal hygiene,  showing an increase of sense of humour in brand communications in the past few months – a far cry from how we were all feeling back in March.

 

Staying on top of current affairs has always been an efficient way of plugging into the latest trends and hot topics, from newsjacking in PR, to keeping your social media strategies relevant. Gymshark is particularly adept at this, whether it’s voicing their support for the Black Lives Matter movement via a $125,000 donation, or something smaller, such as using the latest Twitter meme format to generate a healthy volume of engagement.

 

 

 

But it’s not just important for brands to stay on top of current affairs for their own inbound marketing, it’s also an essential way of knowing what not to say and do.

 

Gently does it

 

Jo Malone (the brand, not the person – she sold the company in 1999) recently faced backlash for exactly this. The candle and fragrance creator changed an ad that previously starred, and was conceived by, actor John Boyega to include a Chinese actor instead. The use of Liu Haoran instead was to allegedly cater to its Chinese consumer base. The original advert explores Boyega’s beginnings in Peckham, London, with the ad even starring his friends and family. The slogan for the Jo Malone campaign was ‘A London Gent’. With Boyega’s London roots, it simply makes much more sense than when compared to Haoran, who was born and raised in China. Boyega has since dropped his partnership with the company, saying that he does not condone ‘dismissively trading out one’s culture.’

 

Whilst the decision by Jo Malone was a mistake whichever way you look at it, it comes as an even bigger sting following not only the rise in protests in the last few months from Black Lives Matter, but also the actor’s own vocal support for the movement. The erasure of Boyega for seemingly no apparent reason is a reminder of the subliminal racism that is perpetuated by some within advertising industry. The Force Awakens brought in $124 million from China’s box office: though it fared much less strongly than the Avengers movies due to the lack of a nostalgia from Chinese viewers, there’s no doubt that he is known not just to Westerners, but Easterners too.

 

Keeping it current

 

If the powers that be at Jo Malone had their fingers a little more on the pulse when it comes to current political situations, would they have continued with the replacement of John Boyega for their Chinese advert? It’s difficult to say – many more factors must have been at play behind closed doors. But what we do know is that the company would have retained its partnership with the actor. There’s also no doubt that the Jo Malone will have lost the support of some of its British customers in the wake of the upset – something that could have been avoided with a little more planning and consideration for current affairs.

 

Whilst an outright support for Black Lives Matter is a risk some brands simply won’t take, many are. Some, simply to keep their fingers on the pulse, but for others like Gymshark, it’s a clear expression of their brand values.

 

Get in touch with us

 

At Source PR, we always have our eye on the ball when it comes to all things digital. For advice on PR, digital marketing and social media, including working with influencers, get in touch with our team here.

BEN & JERRY’S SOCIAL MEDIA MANAGEMENT – VIRTUE SIGNALLING OR VIRTUAL POSTURING?

Throughout my PR career, the advice has always been for corporates to steer clear of politics, religion or criticising the competition in the belief that it’s better to lead by example than to criticise others for the actions they take.

It now seems that view is behind the curve when looking at Ben & Jerry’s latest tweet to @PritiPatel which challenges UK policy on the management of illegal immigration as well as the crisis that is currently happening in the Channel.

On the surface, it makes a lot of sense to raise awareness of the social issues and highlight the fact that we are all people living together on one planet.  It’s also right to raise the issue faced by people caught in wars and torture as well as the brutal realities of climate change.  But should an exclusive and pricey ice cream brand to be leading the charge?

In fairness, the messaging reflects the views of B&J’s customers, the hippy ideology of the founders as well as the brand’s long-standing social principles.  It’s also positive that a business with more than 450k+ twitter followers is using its might to raise awareness.  Even from a communications perspective, at least they are taking a stand and saying something rather than the bland, generic guff that many corporates are guilty of sprouting.

Virtue Signalling or Virtual Posturing

However, before being so bold you need to make sure your own house is in order as your actions will invite scrutiny.  This scrutiny will not, and should not, be limited to the topics the brand chooses to engage in – but all areas of its operations.  This could include; what is the company doing to support climate change, how can it justify the price / profiteering of its products, are they ignoring the critically high obesity levels in the population or even what action is it taking to actually support the plight of refugees?

This scrutiny could also be applied also to the parent company Unilever who bought the brand for $326m nearly 20 years ago.  Only yesterday, ‘Unilever’ was one of the top trends on Twitter throughout the day, as many pointed out that they have issues closer to home that such as whether they are guilty of marketing a ‘skin lightening’ cream to people of colour, the exploitation of vulnerable parts of the world or even tax avoidance – that indirectly leads to less money being made available to house refugees?

To gauge people’s views on the matter my colleague @jessicapardoePR undertook a quick twitter poll and found that two thirds of responders (75+) were in favour of the company’s stand.  Although just a snapshot, this is revealing as it’s clear consumers want the brands they associate with to reflect their own ideology.

With the growth in social media and more direct communications, brands are now better placed than ever before to manage their own messages.  Previously they would have had to use the media as a mouthpiece and face the additional scrutiny that this entails.

Social media platforms are however notorious for having a life of their own with innocent or well-meaning tweets often spiralling out of control when twisted by a ‘woke world’ or those with an axe to grind.

The virtue signalling of Ben & Jerry’s latest tweet has indeed attracted such criticism, but as with most effective PR strategies, this has just extended its message and helped to position the business as a champion of cause related campaigning.  It’s a risky route to take but in the case of founders Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, fortune seems to favour the brave.

 

PR AND MARKETING FOR CHESHIRE’S MOST ICONIC PUBS

Two of Cheshire’s most iconic pubs have called on Source PR to help support them with their PR, social media and content marketing as they look to reengage with customers after lockdown.

The Swan in Tarporley and the newly refurbished Lion in Malpas, both part of The Bear Inns Group, have benefited from multi-million pound investments and refurbishments and are now looking to raise awareness of their features as well as re-engage with the community.

The Swan, an historic coaching inn dating from 1565, has been an integral part of the South Cheshire community for over 400 years.  The refurbished pub maintains its characterful Georgian features including log fires and rustic decor in keeping with its coaching inn roots.

The Georgian coaching inn offers 16 double bedrooms all of which are en-suite.  Located in the main building, or the adjacent coach house, the rooms have been recently refurbished to offer a unique and characterful place to stay in the heart of Cheshire, just eight miles from Chester, and only a short commute to Manchester or Liverpool.

To support the local community, The Swan has joined the Government initiative, ‘Eat Out to Help Out’.  The new government scheme incentivises customers to eat out in their favourite eating establishments by giving them a discount which the business can then claim back from the government

The Lion is a fully renovated country pub with double bedrooms set in the heart of Malpas, one of Cheshire’s most picturesque villages.   Formerly The Red Lion, the site dates back to the 16th Century and has welcomed locals and visitors for centuries.  Scheduled to reopened in Autumn 2020 after extensive renovation and refurbishment, the pub now offers a large open bar area with a range of quality local ales and lagers, wines and spirits as well as classic cocktails.  The area has been cleverly segmented to offer a cosy spaces with fires, open bar area as well as relaxed and more formal dining areas throughout.

The complete renovation and refurbishment saw the addition of 16 double bedrooms.  Residents are offered a range of beautifully decorated rooms, each named after local Cheshire villages. The double rooms are all en-suite and have been designed by award winning Lister Carter, a leading interior design company.

Louis Hill, Managing Director of Source PR, says: “Pubs are an integral part of the community, providing not only an excellent pace to eat and drink but importantly a place for people to come together.  We love pubs and this could not be a better PR brief for us to get stuck into.”

Source PR has a track record of supporting the opening of pubs, bars and restaurants having supported Cheshire Cat Pubs & Bars with their seven pubs across the UK, culminating in them winning the UK’s Best Pub.  The team also helped Jerry Brunning, founder of Brunning & Price, when he returned to the sector with the launch of the Swan in Marbury.

THE BEST CRISIS PR CAMPAIGNS TAKE COURAGE

The best PR campaigns often take courage of convictions or a willingness to do something differently in order to influence and engage with audiences to improve outcomes.  This is even more the case in a crisis PR / communications, where the stakes are high and a wrong move can be costly.

As is often the case, the risk reward equation needs to be carefully balanced, with business leaders making the call based on the advice and expertise given by their PR agency or advisors.

But equally sometimes in business, politics or society the right action just feels right, is based on a calculated risk and an intuitive understanding of the people you are looking to engage with.

There is no better example of this than the crisis communications undertaken by Chris Swanson, Genesee County Sheriff, who put down his helmet, weapons and joined protesters marking the murder of George Floyd saying, “I want to make this a parade, not a protest”.

Simply brilliant.  He had a clear understanding of his audience, the courage of his convictions and the leadership to take his team with him.  He also faced significant risks as he faced a potentially angry mob who were protesting against police brutality and who in other regions and states had clashed violently.

Swanson took off his helmet, ordered other officers to put down their weapons and smiled and high-fived people in the crowd.  The crowd responded by chanting, “walk with us!”.  So, he did. “Let’s go, let’s go,” Swanson said as he and the cheering crowd proceeded. “Where do you want to walk? We’ll walk all night.”

His leadership and actions marked a change in behaviour as well as the emergence of #walkwithus.  Several law enforcement officials have taken his lead with more in the past few days engaging with marchers and showing solidarity either by marching, kneeling or publicly denouncing the death of Mr. Floyd.

This positive and persuasive response is in marked contrast to the confrontations that have escalated and cities, including Chicago, New York and Philadelphia, where violence and vandalism have targeted police in recent nights. Videos have shown police officers using batons, tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets on protesters, bystanders and journalists, often without warning.  Sadly at least five people have been killed so far in violence connected to the protests that started after Mr. Floyd died in police custody.

So why was this crisis communication so successful?  It was not a crisis PR campaign orchestrated with big budgets and celebrity influencers but simply honest and genuine communications that understood and related to its audiences.

It also took a lot of bravery and showed exceptional leadership in a time of crisis.  It was however considered communications and one based on an understanding of the audience, confidence in the team and an honest appraisal of the situation.

Well done Sheriff Swanson, setting an excellent example not only in policing, humanity and empathy but crisis PR communications as well.

IS IT POSSIBLE TO WORK JUST AS PRODUCTIVELY FROM HOME?

If quarantine has taught us anything about ourselves, it’s whether we can – or can’t – work from home effectively. Past studies, such as this one of a call-centre in China, have shown that, contrary to popular belief, productivity actually increases when staff work from home. Though gossip serves a purpose in the workplace (some might say an essential one), eliminating this aspect of the workspace is bound to increase productivity. A further study by Airtasker found that not only were employees healthier when working from home, but they were also on average working 16.8 more days a year in terms of productivity.

However, there is definitely a sense that some people just simply aren’t suited to working from home. Those who suffer from attention disorders, such as ADD and ADHD, find it particularly difficult without the structure and supervision of the office workspace. It’s hard enough for lots of us to stay off the (non-work related) social media when you need a distraction – particularly as the news is now ever-shifting, constantly updating us with legislation changes, statistics and advice.

So, to help you keep inspired, we at Source have compiled a short but sweet list of tips to help you work effectively from home.

  1. Listen to music. While some may understandably find this distracting, others find that listening to ambient or instrumental music while working does wonders for their concentration. This works in particular with over-ear headphones if you have noisy neighbours or a lively household!
  2. Work in a tidy space. This means you won’t have the temptation to get your Mrs. Hinch on – even if that is a productive form of procrastination. Plus, a tidy desk is a tidy mind!
  3. Work smart. If you’re in a slump, for whatever reason, leave the desk and come back when you’ve refreshed with a walk or a tea break. Globally, anxiety levels are naturally high right now, so it’s sometimes better to reset yourself with a break from the desk rather than push on through a mental hiccup.
  4. Give yourself something to look forward to. Whether it’s watching a new episode of your favourite TV show that just dropped, trying out a new recipe, or spending some chill time with your pets, having something to look forward to at the end of the working day is a great mood-lifter. Though it might seem like our choices are limited right now, there’s a wealth of advice, workouts, recipes, and amazing entertainment to keep us occupied.
  5. Limit your social media intake. This isn’t just to keep yourself away from distractions, but also to fend off some of the negative impacts of being constantly plugged in. Though it’s good to stay informed on the new advice, I find the wealth of opinions, anxiety and anger that reverberates after every government update pretty overwhelming. Keep up-to-date, but don’t be afraid to hit that mute button.

Naturally, it’s impossible to keep completely off the timelines, and it’s always nice to see the ordinary goings-on of our friends and family on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook!

At Source, we know all there is to know about social media, digital marketing and PR, and how to tailor it to your businesses’ needs – whatever they are. Contact us on 01829 720789, or follow us on Twitter (source_tweets), Instagram (prsource) and Facebook (Source PR).

STRATEGIC PR FOR RURAL BUSINESSES IS VITAL

Businesses in the countryside are showing great resilience in these testing times and with clever use of strategic PR for rural businesses they are winning valuable goodwill which, along with the positive use of social media, they must ensure continues post Covid-19.

Many farm shops and rural outlets have adapted their operations to run doorstep deliveries and are overwhelmed with demand as supermarkets become unappealing places to visit. While this is proving a lifeline to the elderly and isolated, the opportunity must not be lost amid the Corona chaos of highlighting the quality of local produce and its sustainability when delivered locally. Much of this demand is based on trust and a back-to-basics appeal of receiving safe, affordable, traceable, local food in troubled times. Such appreciation will potentially lead to future loyalty and maintaining a strong PR and marketing message is important.

Social media messaging

Internet use has predictably risen during the crisis and as such it is the best way to raise the profile of an individual business. Rural business owners may now have the time to upgrade their social media and PR messages – this is the moment for the sector to shout about its strengths and capitalise on the wave of goodwill. A communications plan is needed to share with stakeholders and customers to keep them informed about how a business is functioning now and its future plans.

Rural = Safe

Post lockdown, our rural areas will potentially see an upsurge in visitors as foreign holidays may be put on the backburner for the rest of the year, with the UK regarded as a safe place to be. Businesses such as holiday cottages, camp sites and outdoor experience ventures need their websites and marketing strategies to be ready for this.

Appreciation of rural businesses, especially food producers, is now at a high and while it is keeping many of them afloat, it must be sustained by fresh business thinking. Now is the time to build your brand before normal life resumes; that will be the time to launch promotions and offers which can be prepared now.

For strategic PR for rural businesses or advice on using PR and digital marketing to strengthen your rural business contact Source PR on 01829 720789 or email gill@sourcepr.co.uk

THE NORTH WEST PR AGENCY

This week were excited to see our profile piece appear on Prolific North as a leading North West PR agency.  Although based in Cheshire, Source PR has increased its presence across the North West and is delighted to be profiled in this way.

Award winning Source PR, established more than 10 years ago, has grown year on year and is now regarded as one of the leading PR, marketing and digital agencies in Chester, Cheshire and the whole of the North West.

The great work undertaken by the team, covering all services including social media management, B2B PR, consumer PR, design and digital communications have all been recognised by clients with some excellent endorsements achieved across the board.

The team is also recognised for the work it has done in both helping with crisis communications, stakeholder engagement strategies as well as supporting rural businesses raise their profile and develop effective marketing strategies that build credibility and deliver customer engagement.

The North West PR Agency is also well placed to provide specialist communication support for businesses looking to secure planning permissions or help with their broader stakeholder communications.  With experience of working in the property and construction sectors for decades, Source PR is uniquely placed to help businesses with a broad range of communications challenges and issues.

Most recently, Managing Director Louis Hill was asked by the national media to comment on the government’s Covid-19 communications strategies.  His comments were widely picked up in the national media including the Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail as well as The Metro.  This kind of media coverage is often achieved for the North West PR Agency’s clients – resulting in Source PR often being nominated and receiving numerous awards.

The team at Source PR comes from a wide variety of backgrounds including those with proven PR skills, journalist backgrounds or specialist social media / digital agencies.  The team is now responsible for communicating with more than a million customers on a weekly basis for its clients located across the UK.

Earlier this year, the North West PR agency has also secured it’s first international client, helping one of Europe’s leading manufacturing businesses extend its presence in the UK and to raise its profile, credibility and to share the excellent work it does with new and existing customers.

If you would like to speak with a member of Source PR’s North West PR agency team, contact us today.  We would be delighted to meet and discuss how we can help your business grow.

AGRICULTURAL MARKETING CAMPAIGN LAUNCHED TO TACKLE DEPRESSION IN THE SECTOR

Agriculture has one of the worst safety records of all industries and so a new agricultural marketing campaign to tackle the issue has been widely welcomed. Being depressed and not focused can lead to accidents – with 85% of young farmers saying there is a correlation between farm safety and mental health.

The Farm Safety Foundation, which runs campaigns such as Farm Safety Week, Yellow Wellies – Who Would Fill Your Boots and Mind your Head, funds courses to train farmers on how to deal with risks in the industry and to challenge risk-taking behaviour. The effective PR campaign targeting the agricultural sector – Mind Your Head – ran from February 10-14 and Farm Safety Week is coming up from July 20-24.

Mental health awareness is at the top of the news agenda and the farming industry is demonstrably susceptible to mental health problems; according to the Farm Safety Foundation, 84% of farmers under 40 believe mental health issues are the biggest problem they face.

The main reason is perhaps the way of life experienced by many farmers: the combination of long working hours, isolation, uncertain markets and high levels of borrowing can take their toll. As agriculture becomes increasingly automated, tractor drivers may spend days alone, often out of contact due to a lack of signal; this also applies to remote hill farmers. As well as being isolating, it is concerning in case of an accident.

Social media influence

Rural isolation can be as harmful as smoking and obesity according to a study commissioned by the cross-party Commission on Loneliness which described it as a silent epidemic, with links to dementia and poor mental health.

The value of campaigns and social media influence on rural industries is immense in helping disseminate information. Contact Source PR for advice on rural PR campaigns, rural marketing and effective social media.

STAKEHOLDER COMMUNICATIONS – FIGHTING FOR FARMERS

The high standards of British agriculture will be heralded at a London rally organised by the NFU in a bid to make the Government think twice about allowing food into the UK which is produced to lesser standards in any trade deal.  By undertaking a programme of effective stakeholder communications, the farming and food community is set to raise awareness and deliver the results and assurances they need.

The rally, on March 25 at the Queen Elizabeth II Centre, Westminster, aims to secure a commitment that UK standards will be safeguarded in trade deals to be negotiated this year with Europe and the rest of the world.

It will feature speeches from environmental and consumer spokespeople, animal welfare professionals and farming leaders. The message is that UK farmers produce safe, traceable food and this excellence must not be sacrificed in the necessity to strike free trade deals.

MPs will be invited and the event will undoubtedly put pressure on Government to avoid kow-towing to other countries. The Conservative manifesto also pledged to not jeopardise UK animal welfare standards; further influence comes from a letter to the Prime Minister signed by over 60 groups including the RSPCA and Soil Association urging the protection of food standards.

Campaign publicity

Farming is not generally an industry which takes to the streets of the capital to make demands. There’s a swathe of public support for maintaining our food standards and not allowing items such as chlorinated chicken and hormone-fed beef into the UK. The unpalatable history of big landowners receiving the largest subsidy payments is now receding, which may also generate support for the industry as it adjusts to provide public goods in return for subsidy payments: this bedrock of support lessens the potential for cries of self-interest to be levelled at farmers.

The publicity campaign surrounding the rally has already succeeded in highlighting the standards of UK farming and coverage in the weeks before the event could add further weight: the power of the campaign will undoubtedly exert pressure on Government.

For advice on successful campaigning and strategic PR, contact the team at Source PR.

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