The last 11 months have challenged the business community like never before, with the pandemic drawing heightened attention to underlying employment trends, at-risk sectors and wider economic uncertainty.

As such, there has never been a more important time to support businesses, and in this respect local enterprise partnerships (LEPs), growth hubs, combined authorities and metro mayors have been working tirelessly to direct businesses to the help available.

With the North experiencing a disproportionate negative impact from COVID-19, the NP11’s (the 11 northern LEPs) work has been more vital than ever – rallying around local businesses, while calling on Government for the powers and investment needed to protect long-term regional prosperity.

At Social, we’ve been privileged to support the NP11 in establishing, adapting and delivering their strategic communications throughout these difficult changing circumstances, helping to spread the word about support and campaign for much-needed investment. From developing strong relationships to delivering meaningful results, we’ve taken a look at our journey with our valued client over the last year:

Responding quickly

Having worked with the NP11 since its inception, Social has been providing PR, public affairs, stakeholder engagement, digital and broader communications support for well over 18 months now. We’ve delivered a wide-range of activity, from acting as the NP11’s press office at 2019’s Convention of the North, to launching the first Manifesto for the North on the eve of the General Election, to hosting a Parliamentary event just one month before the first lockdown, to now providing support to ensure regional business support mechanisms achieve maximum impact.

With the pandemic provoking unprecedented challenges for communities and businesses last year, March 2020 was a critical time for the NP11 to support and guide northern businesses across sectors as the North’s business-led voice. With a national lockdown introduced, clear, effective leadership was crucial. Business leaders had to be agile, adapting their strategy and responding quickly. As such, clear communications became even more vital, ensuring that LEPs understood the needs of northern businesses and could feed these back to Government and ensure that businesses were aware of support mechanisms available to them.

As the landscape changed, so did the NP11’s messaging. We worked closely – and quickly – to develop an initial COVID-19 communications strategy, focused on supporting Northern businesses and ensuring recovery plans continued to promote the levelling-up agenda.

Working closely with the client team, we established key priorities around intelligence gathering, advising Government and planning for recovery.

With an integrated approach to communications, we used a mix of traditional PR tactics that offered a collective voice and outlined key pan-northern responses to recovery. Throughout COVID-19, we have worked with the NP11 to continue to use its platforms to amplify key messages and signpost to LEP and HM Government support, providing accurate and timely information to help businesses manage the situation.

This enabled the NP11 to play a clear and valuable role, signposting businesses to vital support – particularly the diverse services provided by northern Growth Hubs – while also providing collective feedback from businesses across the North about the specific challenges they were facing, and the support needed from Government in response.

Collaboration was key

With the North then hit doubly hard by the impact of COVID-19, the pandemic has brought into even sharper focus the importance of rebalancing the UK’s overcentralised economy.

This reinforced the need for collaboration across the region. Having already worked with the North’s elected leaders to put forward a shared vision for the North in driving future UK growth, we supported the NP11 in putting out coordinated statements with metro mayors and council leaders reiterating common messages to Government decision-makers and other influencers that are crucial to shaping the debate.

An inclusive approach

Although the North has many shared priorities, individual places also have distinctive strengths and challenges. Ensuring that all regions across the North are included and engaged is therefore fundamental to all communications activity.

It’s been really important that we continue engaging with each individual LEP within the NP11 group to ensure COVID-19 communications activity is timely, relevant and joined-up and to demonstrate resilience, strengths and success stories at a local level across the North.

Spotlight on skills

As well as refocusing communications tactics, the impact of the pandemic saw the NP11 pivot their policy workstreams, so we helped adapt their messaging as they shifted focus on skills as a major priority.

To support people whose employment was adversely affected by the crisis, the NP11 teamed up with PDMS, a company specialising in building bespoke software and websites to deliver SignedUp Skills: a much-needed initiative providing a comprehensive source of real-time vacancies, courses, apprenticeships and labour market information to help people find new opportunities. The system takes national data while allowing information to be presented at a local level. Already providing vital support to those facing redundancy, it is now being offered across the NP11 area, with each LEP allocated its own SignedUp Skills platform tailored to its local labour market.

To ensure people and key organisations were aware of the support on offer, we developed #YourJobIsOurJob – a targeted social media campaign focusing on the NP11’s commitment to upskilling Northern people and improving employment opportunities. The project is now a valuable source of support for the estimated 15 million people across the North whose job has been affected by the pandemic, providing users with unique insights into their region’s growing industries and identifying the skills and training most needed in their communities.

Helping pave the way for a better future for the North

As LEPs look at what’s needed to build the northern economy back better after COVID, , messaging about the support available continues to be required, and there may be new challenges to address as the situation develops.

As well as providing the NP11 with reactive support, we are also helping them to demonstrate collaborative strategic leadership and emphasise the importance that a strong northern economy will play in supporting national recovery. We are balancing short-term crisis communications with messages focused on long-term priorities that will be critical to supporting both northern leaders’ and the Government’s ambitions to level up the North’s economy. These include the opportunities to attract a greater share of inward investment to the North as a result of new trading relationships post-Brexit and an increased appetite among London-based firms to “north shore” their business; amplifying the NP11’s Net Zero North plans to help make the North the main beneficiary of the Government’s planned Green Industrial Revolution investment; and showcasing the North’s outstanding quality of life offer to attract skilled workers to relocate here and secure investment in northern culture, heritage and rural economies, which will play a vital role in our economic and social recovery.

As a company with strong roots in the North, we’re extremely proud and privileged to have played a supporting role in the NP11’s important work and see its continued success.

For further information about Social’s work across the Northern Powerhouse agenda, please contact Katie Paterson, Account Manager at Social (Leeds).