A Conversation with HMRC

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Robert was recently invited to speak at The Senior Leaders’ Breakfast with HMRC. The occasion marked the opportunity to accompany Robert to the Treasury. The building – 1 Horse Guard Road, also known as the Government’s Office Great George Street, was designed by John Mckean Brydon in 1889 and still incorporates its original features beneath the bygone ivory shell I’m familiar with.

The Senior Leaders’ Breakfast, which was started in 2005 by Sir David Varney, has previously been hosted by economist and writer Will Hutton, and journalist and radio broadcaster Robin Lustig.

Shortly after arriving, Robert and I were greeted by Nick Birks, one of the talk’s organisers, who kindly took us for breakfast. We were led through the first building into the large circle courtyard and on to the Treasury canteen.

Robert’s talk was to be held in the Churchill Room, the room from which Winston Churchill delivered his VE Day speech, stood on the balcony (no pressure Robert). Churchill occupied a suite of offices here during World War ll.

“Trust Me, PR is Dead: A Conversation with HMRC” focused on new leadership and trust. Above Robert’s biography was the title ‘Leadership is Dead’ – props to the catchy headline Nick.  Robert has also inspired titles on the death of political parties, by Jericho Chambers member and Chair of Compass Think Tank, Neal Lawson, and the death of internal communications, by former HR director at the BBC, Lucy Adams – both contributing chapters in the afterword of Robert’s upcoming book, ‘Trust Me, PR is Dead’.

Minutes before Robert began, I fell into conversation with a staff member on the graduate scheme. We briefly spoke about our current work experiences and Robert’s book: Trust Me, PR is Dead. ‘We can see through it, just be honest’ they said… which made me think: am I a part of a new generation of thinkers, or are we just more sceptical? Has social media allowed us to see through the media spin? And what’s next? Robert is often asked how long it will take to restore trust – ‘at least a generation’ he says, quoting Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, ‘although there can never be a return to old trust’.

Robert calls for ‘public leadership’, which better reflects the needs of employees, businesses and society, and is describes as activist, co-produced, citizen-centric and society first.  ‘The world has changed’. For businesses and government to survive the reality of chaos they must begin by answering the bigger questions. So far, since joining Jericho Chambers as the Communication Pupil, I have helped to answer: ‘what does public value look like alongside shareholder value?’, ‘what does a socially useful bank look like?’ and ‘how do you bring energy efficiency to the Middle East?’ among others.

Heads nodded responsively around the room as Robert formed his argument on the death of PR and traditional hierarchy leadership, proposing their reform. Once the talk had ended, listeners were eager to grab Robert for questions.

For further insight, visit Robert’s Unbound, crowd funding page for ‘Trust Me, PR is Dead’.  

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