Author Gary Hibberd
Reputation is your Brand
If the Internet is to be believe, Benjamin Franklin once said “Glass, China and Reputations are easily cracked and never well mended.” And I have a feeling most of us would agree with this, especially if you happen to work for FIFA or Thomas Cook.
This month alone we have seen Thomas Cook’s reputation damaged as a court ruling in Wakefield showed that the holiday operator “breached its duty of care” for a young family which resulted in the deaths of Bobby and Christi Shepherd. Aged just six and seven respectively, the cause of death was carbon monoxide poisoning, coming from a faulty boiler at the Corfu hotel they were staying at with their father and his partner in 2006.
The CEO said ‘sorry’ to the family for the tragedy which happened whilst on holiday with the tour operator. This apology however came after a nine year silence from the company and following a £1.5 million ‘compensation’ to Thomas Cook for lost revenue, court fees and damage to reputation(!). Incidentally, the Shepherd family received £350,000 for their ‘losses’(?)
PR experts (and most casual observers) are relatively unanimous in saying this had been handled ‘badly’ (votes for the ‘understatement of the year’ are still being counted).
Those who know me know I’m no football fan but I’m guessing it’s a bad time to work for this multi-billion, multi-national organisation that is caught in the middle of a scandal of allegations of corruption and bribery at the highest levels. At this moment these ‘allegations’ have resulted in a number of high profile arrests and the fallout has already begun to shake the nerve of high-profile sponsors such as Coca Cola, McDonalds, Adidas and Visa.
Visa has already warned that unless the global governing body makes “changes now”, it would “reassess [our] sponsorship” and I suspect it won’t be the only one.
FIFA’s leadership, (including Sepp Blatter, for now) has some considerable work to do to restore the reputation of an organisation that many (in and outside the sport) have long suspected as being corrupt. This won’t happen overnight and may require a major rethink.
A Good Reputation is worth more than money
Like a piece of glass, reputations once cracked are difficult to repair and/or hide. As the saying goes it can take a thousand years to build a reputation and only a moment to destroy it.
Knowing what could damage your company is one way to protecting your reputation and this includes internal ‘threats’ and also those with whom you associate.
Having a good PR crisis management process is something many large organisations have in place, but as we have seen this month this doesn’t mean it will always work. Like all experts, PR experts can get it wrong as they may look at a problem from a one-dimensional point of view.
My advice is to ensure your PR processes are tied into your Crisis Management processes and teams so that you have a more holistic and more importantly, inclusive response. Finally I would advise any organisation going through PR crisis to be honest about where you are and what has happened– this doesn’t always mean accepting liability (stop listening to the legal eagles!) – it means accepting when you’ve made a mistake and being big enough to apologise.
If companies/people were more concerned with their character than their reputations then it might things a whole lot easier.
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