Posted tagged ‘leadership’

Is the ‘witch hunt’ to become the way we regulate civic society?


Reputation has always been intangible and the pace in which solid careers and organisations can crumble is remarkable.  However, this year marks a very sinister change for those wrestling with stakeholder and reputation management as it appears all usual norms are suspended and we have an anarchic and almost uncontrollable court of public opinion driving leadership decisions.

The resignation of the BBC Director General is very worrying as is the fact that we seem to have lost the concept of normal regulatory governance or even legal practice such as innocence until proven guilty and beyond reasonable doubt.

Are we to allow regulation to be a witch hunt dictated by popular opinion and driven by a shallow media and political crowd through their incessant inquiries, select committees and the unchecked and unqualified opinion of the twitter-ati. Are we on a slippery slope?

I believe that leadership essentially demonstrates two behaviours: that of being accountable and that of being a victim. The Coalition tends to use terms like “we inherited the worst situation ever” or “we are clearing up the mess others left behind” as opposed to the 1997 approach of arriving with ministerial portfolios (Brown, Mowlam, Dewar, Straw etc) and just getting stuck in. This is not a political comment by the way just an observation of victim vs. accountable leadership.

I think resignation (or calls for such) is in fact victim and it resolves nothing – in fact it is the easy way out. I just wonder if the present political and regulatory climate is such that we are in absolute victim mode and that the ‘witch hunt’ mentality is feeding off that. What we have at one end of the spectrum are real victims (those children who were abused) but then a hunt for liability through some form of victim creation.

The reason I started to get very nervous about all this was listening to the senior director of one of the country’s biggest charities saying we should ‘believe’ all victims that come forward. That is dangerous and ignores basic law and as we have found with Lord McAlpine is such wrong advice to give.

I think this is now a situation in danger of getting out of control and we need to get this debate airing publicly because I fear an Arthur Miller play is becoming reality.  For those trying to advise and manage reputation 2012 is becoming a watershed moment that may require entirely new methods and approaches.

How to say NO to the boss!


It is a dilemma that everybody faces whether you are a consultant advising senior clients or an employee facing up to your boss. I’m talking about how to say ‘no’ or even ‘don’t do it’.

Reading today about the latest scandal to face a big brand – Nokia’s decision to run a fake advertisement (see, one can’t help thinking that somebody in Nokia or at their advertising agency should have spoken out: challenging the decision to fake an advert. But the question is why didn’t they voice an opinion and stop it happening.

You see, such advice can often be career or contract limiting.  The problem here is not necessarily confined to large-scale issues or even those that are ethically questionable or even those that have dubious intent – it can even involve the smallest of issues.

A few years ago I was faced with such a dilemma – for many years now senior managers have always latched onto the latest buzzwords or theories and in the private sector some of you will be familiar with the book ‘from good to great’ and the phrase about all being on the bus.  Fine – this all is but, it was somewhat a surprise that many years after the book publication that a senior public sector client declared to me that he was to launch a newsletter called ‘from good to great’ and that he wanted a picture of a great big red bus on the front of it.

In itself that wasn’t a problem. What I had difficulty with was that he intended this magazine, not for his employees, but for the general public. And his message was clear that if they didn’t like the changes he was proposing in terms of his organisation, they could, to use a phrase, get off the bus!

For me as a consultant it was also made clear that this was in the category of ‘just do it’. So what would you do in this situation? You have a contract to deliver, you need to earn a living and was this such a big deal?  You may have heard the old saying that the customer is always right.

The trouble is, this dilemma is not new or unique and you may relate to it yourself and it is also the reason so many brands end up in trouble.  You see the easiest way is to comply and saying ‘no’ is hard.  If one could be a ‘fly on the wall’ at Nokia – you can bet that investigations, enquiries, ‘witch hunts’ will all be underway – I suspect that somewhere along the line someone would have had that opportunity to question the decision to fake the advert, but the real question we have to ask is why they didn’t.  I think most of us know the answer but I would be interested to hear from anyone who has been brave enough to stand up and be counted and what consequences or outcome they faced.

2011 Reputation – that old ‘roasted’ chestnut


Reputation – that old ‘roasted’ chestnut.  Well, you can’t fail to notice that it is my pet subject and it is also the discipline that I make a living from.  In some ways you’d think from all of the examples and real life experiences that anyone running an organisation or promoting their own profile would have got it right by now but looking back, as I do every year, the reputation low lights are still as prevalent as ever.  When will we ever learn?  Well, maybe that is a question for 2012 and one that I am always willing to debate and discuss.

So, before reading on, just remember reputation is THE factor in determining intellectual capital and that it makes up a whopping 70 to 80% of overall value.  Whether we are talking about personal or organisational reputation then that is an overwhelming figure that means you ought to be taking these examples highlighted here very seriously.

Of course it is difficult to comment on 2011 without regard to the reputation trinity of politics, press and the police.  Politicians have come and gone and none of that is different to any year.  Across the world, political leadership has been awful.  The state of western economies, particularly in the Eurozone is of great concern and is now hurting us all.  In the UK this is the worse time I can remember since the height of Thatcherism in the eighties.  Walking around my home city of Liverpool is a real eye-opener.  Or at least it should be because you have to look closely.

Compare the situation to just three or four years ago and instead of fully occupied offices and retail units you now see numerous for sale and to let signs.  Perhaps more worrying are the number of people sat with pints in pubs at breakfast time.  The betting shops are doing a great trade as is the National Lottery and its new spin off the Health Lottery which managed to launch and establish a positive reputation against a flurry of criticism for only donating 20% to its good cause whilst pocketing 80%.

But they are not alone in terms of some thriving business developments, the Health Lottery is based around the concept of social enterprise and a company structure that is coming in to its own called the Company Interest Company or CiC.  It is my belief that CiCs are the new business model to watch and that whilst charity is not dead (in 2011 charities still continue to hold their reputations and fund raising despite the recession) the lighter regulated and more commercially savvy CiC is the future.  The beauty of a CiC is it allows social need to be met whilst accepting that making money is not necessarily a bad thing – my words.  Of course CiCs can tread a line.  The Salvation Army took a big reputation hit this year turning over £18m through textile trading with a very dubious relationship with a company called Kettering Textiles (check the name of the director who happens to span both organisations and check out K Textiles little earner – £10m – and how little they pay for the textiles per tonne).  Even so, the Sally Army has managed to steer itself through such reputation storms also picking up the BBC Children in Need contract whilst at the same time knocking other charities like the North West Air Ambulance off big supermarket car parks by its commercial approach.  Overall, my prediction is CiCs will be the big story of 2012 as will any aspect of business to do with lifestyle, health and sustainability.

So back to politics.  What a mess.  The coalition has been an unmitigated reputation disaster.  Manifestos are in the bin and Conservatism is in full flow upsetting everyone from students to the rest of Europe.  The economic strategy is off the rails, we have riots on the streets, mass industrial action and the Liberal Democrats imploding.  And yet, David Cameron seems to come out of these disasters stronger and stronger.  It is an incredible result and the opposition seems to get weaker with a leader in Ed Milliband who is being trounced at every point.  Of course, there is a reputation loser and that is Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats.  How on earth did a centre left social democratic party think it could work with right wing conservatism – it is beyond me but I am bemused at how well it is playing for the Conservatives and David Cameron.  I still can’t believe the whole plot will not disintegrate and 2012 will be an interesting year.

Meanwhile, as I write this sat on a freezing cold Northern Rail diesel multiple unit that was probably built in 1940 and is clattering up a branch line late I am told that my ticket in 2012 will cost 5% more.  There are a number of businesses that just don’t get it.  The David Lloyd Centres have also announced that due to greater costs they are passing on the costs in higher prices.  Fine, but what all these brands forget – there is a recession and my income and others is not increasing.  Also, their services are not improving. It is a fine line in balancing the marketing 4Ps and they need to be careful.  Northern Rail are generally awful – I take N Rail trains three times a week and the most interesting view of them is working out will I be on a bad train, a very bad train or a very very bad train.  The anticipation at the station platform is great fun!

So who are the big losers this year.  Well let’s skip passed the Police (well if they don’t coral you in), particularly the Met who from kettling to standing back and watching are just an unmitigated disaster.  Their new guy, Bernard Hogan Howe, cut his ‘chief’ teeth in Liverpool and I once sat with him at an Everton match.  Nobody told me who this military type with polished shoes, pressed trousers and impeccably groomed hair was and I decided to sound off about the Police – whoops.  Mind you he took it all well and he is a real PR and digital performer.  There will be few PR or reputation gaffes on his watch or if there are expect them to be dealt with – also expect him to blog and podcast etc.   I’ve had the displeasure of dealing with some bobbies recently for a client.  What a complete bunch of stereotypes they are.  What can I say, they certainly play their parts and they need to get their act together as unfortunately the other two of the trinity, politics and press, will continue to make their lives difficult.

There is little I can add in 2011 about the press reputation except rock bottom and enough said.  The only issue it leaves me with is just how many enquiries, inquiries, inquisitions, reviews do we need.  Every time something goes awry we hold post mortems to the Nth degree.  How about this novel suggestion, why don’t we plan and manage and direct reputation – here comes a plug for my work – well no not really, but the complete lack of investment does worry me and yes I have a ‘for hire’ sign permanently outside my office.  One of the most interesting press reputation issues will be the interaction with the audience.  This week the Lancashire Evening Post announced its intention to suspend comment facilities on its web page and that it is to prosecute a contributor.  The old letters to the editor pages have come a long way and the BBC in particular since moving to Salford, is keen to get down with the people taking everything from Radio 5,s Fighting Talk to BBC One Football Focus into live settings.  It will all end in tears.  Quite honestly, whilst I can stomach a bit of audience participation, the onerous meanderings of chat show phone in groupies is not my choice of viewing and listening.  However, participation is an area of major growth, probably spurred by the Internet accessibility spilling over to other media.  Witness the rise of internet forums, instant messaging (although Blackberry had its service come under reputation flack this summer), phone ins and digital petitions.

Overall business seems to have chartered a fairly calm passage through the sea of reputation although we have lost quite a few brands as the tough climate claims its casualties (Blacks and La Senza being just the latest to cling on).  Interestingly, some businesses actually achieved a unique position of people feeling sorry for them. Those hard hit by the riots gained incredible support.  Brands like Tesco and Starbucks continue to really aim for world or at least high street vs.  out of town/retail park domination. This remains uncomfortable for me as the high street is under threat.  Conversely this has led other traders to fill the gap. 99p Stores is growing fast as a brand as is Home Bargains. For me, the retail brand of the year is Aldi, closely followed by Lidl. Aldi offers a great experience and their prices are exceptional. A brand to watch in 2012.  One of the store assistants in Aldi told me recently they had 50% more people visiting them this year than last.  Of corse four pints of milk in my l;coal Tesco £1.80 and in Aldi £1 – I know who I want to have the 80p difference – me!

So what about organisations that have really made a reputation mess. Well, St Paul’s Cathedral lost the plot when the Occupy camp arrived. A perfect example of an organisation that just did not plan or manage its reputation. I passed by the camp last week and was mildly amused to see that the camp is now sited next to a Blacks Outdoor Store – good planning except that brand is struggling towards a pre-pack and rescue. Travellers and camps took a reputation bashing generally with the disaster at Dale Farm.

But for me, the reputation disaster has to be in the sports sector and in particular football. At the time of writing two high profile international players are embroiled in serious allegations relating to racism, there isn’t a day goes by that doesn’t present another character to the pantomime, whether that be an imature player letting off fireworks or a tempremental prima donna refusing to play and fulfill his contract. The real reputation disaster starts at the top – rules, officials, governance is devoid of any sense of control or balance. So this year I nominate FIFA as the entity with the worse reputation.

Pause for a moment – its not just football. The Rugby Football Union collapsed at the seams as its huge bureaucratic, and if I may observe rather pompous, establishment failed to grasp that professional players had to be just that – professional. London showed how fragile it may prove next year failing to anticipate a late finish at the world ATP tennis finals, the showcase world tennis event already under threat from our archaic tax laws, stranding thousands at a closed tube station. Even Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, got in on the act by holding up play by arriving late to his seat – mind you that was very funny to see the camera on Boris and his bag of popcorn whilst Roger Federer glared at him. And the BBC showcase Sports Personality of the Year unfortunately managed to conjure up a 100% female free event.

So sport is the reputation loser in 2011 – a complete mess of egos, inadequate ownership, overpaid and out of touch practitioners and a gullible following from punters to pundits. FIFA are not the exception, but one wonders who on earth carries out their PR and stakeholder management.

So looking forward, one can only wonder what we will face in 2012. The Olympics is the obvious ‘trip wire,’ sport can be relied on to keep the poor reputation flag flying although I hope it is the opposite and that next year I will be upholding it as THE reputation winner.  The tenuous coalition will no doubt give us a lot to ponder.

From my perspective, convincing organisations and people to plan and manage reputation remains my priority.  It’s a mantra worth chanting.

Communicators…stay strong


“…That was a disaster. Should never have put me with that woman … whose idea was that?…”

Gordon Brown Leader of the Labour Party

If you are a communications professional, the behaviour of Gordon Brown towards his advisers will come as no surprise.  Many of us have direct experience of the different faces of the leaders we work with.  Every day, we see Chief Executives, Chairs and Managing Directors in ‘victim’ mode seeking to blame and ‘hunt’ for who is responsible.

I remember about ten years ago at an event for a hundred managers, a then Managing Director asking them to be frank, open and honest with him as he welcomed their feedback.  One of the managers took him up on his offer and in the room he thanked her for her ‘challenge’ and promised to respond.  I was then ‘in the car’ with him after the event heading to a meeting with politicians and received the full force of his rant seeking to know who she thought she was, where she worked and how dare she do that to him in public.  But, worse was to follow as within a day or two he called her aside for a ‘quiet word’ and then she moved jobs!  This action was noted by everyone and reverberated around the business resulting in stasis and silence.

The problem comes down to behavioural types and the fact that many ‘in power’ are from more analytical and command control backgrounds.  You will notice that senior leaders are often time served in their profession (ex footballers tend to become managers, nurses become NHS CEOS, engineers run utilities, accountants become FDs/CFOs before jumping into CEO positions).  Many of them hold dearly this ‘status’ track record alongside distinctive qualifications such as engineering degrees or accountancy qualifications.   There are very few who may have made it from a PR or marketing background and the reason is simple in that communication professionals tend to be more supporting and often perceived as ‘soft’.  But in our profession you have to be tough and strong and challenge these behaviours.

I once had a disagreement with a major American consultancy teaching that people can ‘flex’ their behavioural types.  I disagree as a ‘leopard can’t change its spots.’  Of course you can always pretend to flex as Gordon Brown demonstrated yesterday but to use another predatory animal comparator – when in a room with a Brown it will feel to many like being a Gazelle in the presence of a tiger.  Our instincts will tell us what to do – flee!!!

The MD in the story I tell above tried to describe to me that he didn’t mind a push back but hated a challenge.  A stupid statement as what is the difference.  Only he could judge that as I found out to my cost many times.  Of course he surrounded himself with like types and sycophants and branded me a ‘rebel’ and a ‘leftie’ and needless to say eventually we parted company or rather he was shown the door.

Unfortunately for Brown that same door looms large and it is HIS fault and nobody else.  He can’t change.  He can’t flex.  He is what he is.  He is one of the greatest chancellors there ever was, he knows the numbers, he would make a great FD, he is a policy guru but he is not a natural leader and even less a communicator.  The contrast will become even starker when Tony Blair joins the campaign as a consummate communicator who actually, although many people would dispute this, is very honest to what he is both on camera and off.

The message from Bodyproject to all communication professionals is stay strong to your values whichever leader you work with.  Never be afraid to challenge them and above all you can ‘only lead the horse to water’ – beyond that there is only so much you can do.

This post is dedicated to Sue and Justin who will be no doubt receiving the wrath (maybe silent this time) of Gordon.

‘Lamentable’ communication failures


“…YouTube is no substitute for knocking on doors…”

Hazel Blears UK Communities Secertary

The Government’s communities secretary Hazel Blears has found herself in the headlines for describing the government’s communication efforts as lamentable.

Of course, Gordon Brown has been constantly lambasted whilst in office, often unfairly, and at times about his communication abilities.

I have had the pleasure of meeting both politicians. Gordon Brown was guest of honour at a dinner at a local further education college. This was prior to him being in government. He is a wonderful orator, demonstrated a very warm and funny character and the thing I always remember is how he engaged with the young people (catering students) and I hold him in the highest respect for that. Hazel chaired a meeting I arranged to discuss anti-social behaviour and again she was wonderfully engaging, came forward with incredible ideas and was very impressive.

So why is such a failure of leadership occurring?

Well my view is that the failures reflect two styles of leadership and that often under valued skills are in play, that of humility and the ability to put in place the right team. Often the most effective leaders are not the bold, egotistical confident characters that they portray. The best are those that are uncertain, need reassurance and will look for help.

I once worked with a leader who had psychological profiles undertaken on each of his directors and then those that differed from his were replaced. I know because I was one of those shown the door. Of course this then leads to a downfall as surrounding yourself with like types means that you get what you want to hear and you don’t get to hear what you need to as information is filtered. He lost his job within a short time.

Tony Blair personified the opposite and surrounded himself with very different types of characters and constantly looked for their opinion, reassurance. Alistair Campbell’s diaries highlight this type of leadership. The problem with Gordon is he sways between the two being a natural command and controlling type but also knowing he needs to flex this behaviour.

Hazel Blears is right but what will be interesting is how Gordon responds?

To find out how Bodyproject works as a ‘critical friend’ with business leaders to ensure performance, reputation and growth contact

Look back…another year over


So this is Christmas.
And what have you done
Another year over
And a new one just begun

John Lennon

It is that time of year again, the moment when every newspaper publishes lists of the 2008 highlights and lowlights from naming celebrities who have passed away to lists of the biggest movies, books, downloads etc. Every TV station seems to be filling airtime with the 100 best and worse moments of everything from eighties hits to soap opera love affairs.
This got me to thinking what overriding memory would be most remembered in communication terms. Of course the obvious one of recession and credit crunch is on everyone’s mind but for me 2008 will be remembered as the year of accountability and the strange role it plays in our public and working lives.

A week didn’t go by without some major story revolving around accountability.

The most poignant and horrifying was that relating to Baby P, a child that had died in horrific circumstances a year before. But in autumn the ramifications of the case came to public attention and the reputation of a local authority was all but destroyed. Politicians and the media alike led the unseemly clamor for someone to take accountability and in the end regulators, directors, social workers and politicians all took the brunt. What was interesting was that those responsible for the child’s death received less attention and vitriol than the officials caught up in the maelstrom.

By contrast the behaviour of two lewd celebrities also brought about an unseemly few weeks relating to accountability eventually with actions being taken. The biggest accountability faller here was the director of radio programmes, a woman by all accounts who is praised as one of the top in her profession and who, by any observation, was on the periphery of this debacle. But again accountability ruled rather than responsibility and she lost her job. Interestingly, within a few weeks she was snapped up by one of the world’s biggest record companies into a very lucrative position.

Which is why I am concerned. Holding people to account seems to be a very British way of doing things but it fails to hold people responsible. Politicians shouting resign across the dispatch box, and the red top media leading public opinion is as merciless as a Boxing Day hunt. But are those responsible held to account and is taking out those with accountability always the best way forward. It is something that anyone in the business of reputation management needs to think about. Too often communicators are thought of as publicists and promoters or even spin-doctors. Yet we are often about protecting reputation and in this we need to clearly be aware of who is responsible and who is accountable and differentiate between the two. That is not to say that accountability should be ignored as ‘accountable’ behaviour is to be applauded rather than taking a ‘victim’ position.

So for me 2008 is the year of accountability. I just hope it is tempered in 2009 with the balance of responsibility.

Listening from the front


…”I like to listen.  I have learned a great deal from listening carefully.  Most people never listen.”

Ernest Hemingway

Veronica Apostolico is director of internal communication at medical devices company Smith & Nephew and recently gave some great advice on how to run events at which senior leaders meet people in their organisations.

“The important thing is to strike a balance between what senior leaders want to say and employees want to hear,” she says.

There are a number of golden rules that communicators need to follow in setting up such events.

Find out what employees want to know? 

Conduct research before the event to prepare the leaders

Stories – not fact dumping

Solicit questions beforehand

Undertake personal preparation for the leader

Remarkably I have found that in many leaders fail to engage with their people and in particular fail to listen.  Some years ago I worked with a Managing Director of an electricity distribution company.  He agreed for me to organise a twelve month tour to every location in his company set in his diary and thus allowing him to meet virtually every employee within that time.  The sessions were structured so that I arrived first to run a preparation session gaining the thoughts of the group and so enabling him to arrive and pick up the questions and listen to the people.  All questions were followed up after and used to inform company direction and strategy.  It was a very powerful exercise and the bullet points from Veronica are a good guide.  

If you are not doing this in your organisation you should be and I am happy to point you in the right direction for you to find out more how you can.  You can also read the article at: Melcrum’s Communicators’ Network reached through my linked in professional profile at