Posted tagged ‘recession’

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.

Advanced Stakeholder Management aids recovery!


“…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.

Green – Shoots – Recovery


“…It’s a recession when your neighbor loses his job; it’s a depression when you lose yours…”

Harry S. Truman

I was on holiday recently in Anglesey and during my stay was confronted with the harsh reality of the recession.  Words are easy to use and the daily dose of such words as credit and crunch and green and shoots and recovery adorn our newspapers and blogs.

Yet when we are faced with a visual image such words seem wholly inadequate.  Holyhead is at the end of the line literally.  Noted as a seaport and the main access and exit route to and from Ireland, the town has an estimated three million people passing through.  But that is it – they just pass through.

The town, like many coastal places such as Aberdeen and Maryport, sports pebble dash as the external décor of choice so a grey rainy day (British Summer Time) does not really give it a head start but the sight of the deserted main shopping street on what should have been a busy day with shops shuttered or boarded up brought home to me exactly how the recession looks in stark reality.

Notably the large Woolworths facia was in place but the shutters were down on property and estate agents, cafes and many more shops.

Of course the public servants and great benefactor that is the European Union have ploughed money into the area but as far as one can see the visible manifestation of this is a huge multi million pound grandly designed steel footbridge linking the street with the rail station and the ever improving A55 dual carriageway. There is ‘method in the madness’ of providing such ‘links’ but I also see a perversity in that such infrastructure only seeks to isolate the town even more.

It is a visual image of recession that is playing out again and again and Bodyproject and all business is not immune to such difficult times.  So all we ask is for those who write to use caution and judgement and most of all look at the visual signs and please avoid words such as green and shoots and recovery in the same sentence until places like Holyhead are vibrant again.

The 52:30 rule – Post Offices


“…The other queue always moves faster…”

sign in Liverpool John Lennon Airport

We are in a recession.  It is a tough time and I can guarantee at sometime during 2009 there will be a debate about sub post offices and their precarious future.  It will be the usual debate about this vital community service, the ‘evils’ of privatisation and of course the consequences of closure.

However, as a regular user of the Post Office I am getting fed up as this exalted amenity is less than focussed on its own survival and in providing high customer service.

Yesterday I had to give up 30 minutes of my time to purchase a 52p stamp.  I arrived at a sub Post Office at 12:50 only to see a note saying closed from 11:30 to 13:00 on Thursdays.  Why this should be I don’t know but I and four other people waited.  13:05 the guy turned up and could see us waiting but proceeded to sit behind his desk leaving us in the minus one degree temperature.  13:10 he opened up and we duly trooped into an orderly line.  However we then had to wait whilst he made a phone call which lasted until 13:15 when most of us waiting were beginning to make it clear this was not on.  He proceeded to serve people whilst continuing to make the call to his Head Office about administration matters.  I was served at 13:20 – there were no apologies and no chance to even remonstrate with him as he was engrossed on his call.

There is only one thing I can do and that is make sure I never give him business again.  Many people don’t have that choice.  The problem is that this is not an isolated incident – I use Post Offices about once every two weeks as I have no choice – they are a monopoly.  The customer service is dreadful and I don’t think the modern business world and society can put up with this much longer.  

So what do we do to get them to change?  Answers on a letter or postcard with a stamp (suggest you buy it from a newsagent or a supermarket).

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.

What price progress


“…Here at Woolworths we never lose our sense of adventure. We love a challenge. And we’re determined and tenacious enough to make new ideas work. It’s that unique team spirit that has led to us becoming one of the UK’s market leaders…” – web site front page introduction December 2008

About thirty years ago on a Saturday morning I would park my car in the High Street and unload the local hospital radio’s record decks and speakers to set up what must have been one of the first in-store broadcasts.

My stint in the Woolworths record department was a real entrepreneurial effort in moving product and move product we did. My exhortations and multiple plays of the latest hits would see the records flying off the shelves. But of course, like the black plastic 7-inch and 12-inch discs, those days are gone.

A few weeks ago I visited Woolworths and rummaged through the CD racks, bought advent calendars from the chocolate counter that nestled close to the ever present pick ‘n’ mix sweets and noticed that the person serving me seemed vaguely familiar as the shop assistant who thirty years ago sold records whilst I played them just now she, like me, was three decades the wiser.

And in that lies the price of progress, which is inevitably human, and her job, like 30,000 others, is likely to be the main casualty of this high street retailer going out of business.

The impending closure of Woolworths is a real high street tragedy as it has its roots in tradition and nostalgia and the retailer has been unable to keep pace with the Amazon, I-tunes and Tesco Extra era. It seems prophetic that a log on to Woolworths web site returns a ‘site down for administration’ message as it certainly is in every sense.

The TV pictures have concentrated on the bargain hunting ‘vultures’ crowding in for their 50% discount; interestingly most of them interviewed bemoaning the lack of a genuine bargain rather than pausing to think about the 30,000 jobs that may be lost.

The price of progress is not a 50% sale and is actually far more expensive and my thoughts are with the people who will pay the biggest price