Posted tagged ‘PR’

2011 Reputation – that old ‘roasted’ chestnut

30/12/2011

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.

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You cant be given a brand you have to earn it

06/12/2011

Bodyproject contributes to a Reputation Institiute blog:

My company works with complex organisations to help them protect and promote their reputation and I entirely agree with Elliot.

We find the best way of thinking about this is to make an analogy with an individual.

I find that in terms of an individual form the essence of your genetics, behaviours, way you look and speak and act is acquired from what influences your conception to where you live to what you eat, what experiences you have etc. It is hugely complex.

There are three elements to reputation and therefore brand. First – identity. Of course this can be influenced and is almost entirely in your control (i.e the ‘almost’ is somewhat dictated – you cant wear a skinny t shirt if you are overweight, your accent may be influenced by were you are brought up etc) but you can learn and change and shape your whole identity. As also can organisation through its brand, key messages, 4Ps -products (and service), promotion and placement and price etc.

The second is image – the reverse of identity – how others perceive you. Far more difficult to control but you can choose how you promote your identity i.e. if you bully someone they may not have a very good image of you – to say the least. Again organisations can tackle this aspect of their brand through the way they deliver customer service, the insights they receive, the experiences they deliver.

But the hardest aspect of brand and why Elliot is so right is that of personality. I sum this up as actions speak louder than words. It doesn’t matter how many strap lines, lovely logos and values an organisation espouses, what you do speaks far more loudly than what you say.

So many consultants can help shape all this through coaching, mentoring, reflecting back, cajoling etc but ultimately brand is something you give rather than what you are given.

Construction News – Reputation management and PR

23/09/2011

Bodyproject contributes to Construction News article on reputation management and PR:

My company is called Bodyproject and we work with complex organisations that are trying to manage complex issues to complex stakeholders. There is a price to reputation that is part of a company’s intellectual capital.

We work with clients in construction, energy and waste management and often find that senior teams are so tied up with the book value that they forget that about 70-80% of their overall company value is actually in the intellectual capital.

A quick flick through Construction News or this website confirms this as you will see lots of information about numbers (schemes, financials) etc but little about the less tangible area of reputation unless reporting failures.

Risk management is part of the reputation mix but the biggest imperative is on how a company implements environmental and social aspects into their corporate governance. How they truly engage with stakeholders to gain insight and influence to protect and promote their reputation.

Too often this isn’t factored in (you can see it in Construction News with the constant reporting of numbers and book value type subject matter rather than that impacting intellectual capital) and hence we continue to see failures at the examples given above (BP, Toyota, RBS etc) – what is alarming is that many construction projects and companies still don’t seem to get it and so David is right they need to seek the expertise to help them (I would say that as a consultant wouldn’t I)

It is not just PR etc – it’s real stakeholder management and integrated marketing communications. Those that do seek help won’t end up as reputation casualties.

Sound advice on a crisis

15/08/2011

Roland Rudd, Finsbury Executive Chairman, gives sound advice:

“When you’ve got a major crisis of any kind, the most important thing is to recognise the enormity of it. It’s sometimes better to exaggerate it to yourself. Never try and suppress it. Never try and blame anybody else. Never try and pretend that you’re the victim.”

“The reason people as smart as the Murdochs got it wrong at the start is that it’s easier to be wise about other people’s problems than about your own.”

Advanced Stakeholder Management aids recovery!

05/08/2010

“…If you grow slowly and strongly, you will be around for a long time…”

Edwin Booth Chairman Booths Supermarkets

Business has never been harder, but in some sectors there is an increasing understanding that the only way to recover and even survive is through continued investment and growth.

The Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CiPR) latest ‘state of the industry’ research reports a marked increase in PR budgets with professionals expressing confidence in terms of the health of the PR industry and growth expectations.

A host of areas are predicted for growth in the coming year, with key ‘ones to watch’ being online reputation management, crisis management and strategic planning.

Bodyproject, a niche consultancy based in Liverpool, that pioneers an Advanced Stakeholder Management (ASM) methodology, believes that those businesses that want to succeed and grow are continuing to invest to protect and promote their reputation.

Nick Taylor, owner of Bodyproject comments: “The strength of the balance sheet is clearly a major factor but more and more companies are understanding that the true value of their business is tied up in their intangible assets and intellectual capital.

“Those businesses that continue to invest and take a strategic approach to managing their reputation are also the ones that are expressing optimism that they can trade their way through the recession”

Bodyproject is seeing a great deal of interest in the ASM methodology from businesses that are growing, increasing employment, achieving more sales, reducing costs and demonstrably becoming profitable.

Nick continues: “I am convinced that to be successful in business you have to go beyond the traditional aspects of stakeholder management around the protection of reputation and brand.

“Our ASM methodology is an innovative strategy seeking to integrate the management of stakeholders into core business with visibility and control from senior leaders and board level rather than solely the preserve of PR, marketing and communications departments.”

Businesses achieving direct commercial advantage understand the essential elements of stakeholder relationships, including the development of a better brand image, additional market insight, increased flow of new product and service ideas, improvement of internal business processes, better insight into consumer behaviour, new marketing channels for company products and services, and early warning of potential risk and crisis.

Communicators…stay strong

29/04/2010

“…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.

Cut and Paste Society

26/05/2009

“…Perception management – Actions to convey and/or deny selected information and indicators to foreign audiences to influence their emotions, motives, and objective reasoning as well as to intelligence systems and leaders at all levels to influence official estimates, ultimately resulting in foreign behaviors and official actions favorable to the originator’s objectives. In various ways, perception management combines truth projection, operations security, cover and deception, and psychological operations…”

U.S. Department of Defence

I’ve just finished reading a fascinating novel that dealt, in the extreme, with perception management, a distant and dubious relative of public relations.

Perception Management is a form of communication that involves taking a completely false position and presenting it as the truth. In the novel, the fictional Chinese and Russian Governments are brought to the brink of war by the manipulation of a corrupt arms dealer on the basis that such brinkmanship will see both parties placing vast arms orders.

Of course that is fiction but in fact, perception is a highly flexible commodity and communicators need to be highly ethical in the way they seek to influence.

Watching Britain’s Got Talent I am struck by the power of TV editors and how they can influence perception. Watch the credits to see how many people are deployed to undertake this task. The edited sequence shows an eminent judge pronouncing that “this is the most important day of his life, it is make or break for his career” and then the contestant saying “I don’t know what I will do if I lose, it will be the end of the road.” Now forgive me for believing that a ventriloquist act might just survive such an ordeal and whilst the arena tour will be no more, the social club circuit might just still be wiling to pay a few pounds for such an act to see another day.

Maybe comparing the seriously devious military definition of perception management with a talent show is a bit misleading but Bodyproject believes that all communication is about upholding reputation and therefore it has to be explicitly honest, ethical and that modern day editors need to ensure they present output within those absolute values.

Please contact us to learn more about the Bodyproject approach to communications.