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Rachel Goddard by Rachel Goddard

October 3rd, 2017

From Big to Bankrupt: Lessons in PR from The Bell Pottinger Collapse

What is your business reputation worth? And how do you uphold it?

If the salutary lesson of PR giant Bell Pottinger’s demise is anything to go by, the answer to the first question is ‘priceless’. The answer to the second is to work with integrity and instil your values throughout your business.

Of course, that’s easier said than done, and when your business relies on keeping clients happy, it’s easy to see how employees – especially junior staff who feel pressure to conform – might cross the fine line into unethical practice. This illuminating article on the Bell Pottinger collapse shows just how easily it can happen: http://ind.pn/2hbmLQj

It also demonstrates that no business is immune from reputational damage – even one that specialises in protecting reputations for multi-million pound global clients. Once your reputation is damaged, it’s almost impossible to repair. Clients and partners quickly dissociate themselves from your business, trust is lost and your business becomes worthless.

Here at Intandem Communications, we may not deal with the type of high-profile political lobbying that got Bell Pottinger into bother, but we are responsible for managing the precious reputations of our clients. It’s a responsibility we take very seriously, which is why we really get to know our clients, and to understand their values and culture. We do that not just so we can represent them accurately, but so we can be sure they align with our own ethical values.

Maintaining your reputation means remaining true to your principles and living your corporate culture every day. Your reputation is about much more than your image. An image without any substance will soon be found out. Your image must reflect the true identity of your business; not be a mask to hide behind. That’s why PR and reputation management is about much more than gathering press articles and getting features in glossy magazines. It’s about supporting clients to protect their reputation, to create business cultures that are true to their ideals and which deserve the trust and respect of customers, associates and colleagues.

My advice to people working in any business is to be true to your principles. Don’t be afraid to raise your head above the parapet and speak out if you think your company’s values or reputation are being compromised.  That can be difficult to do, especially if you’re just starting out in your career, but the consequences of keeping quiet could be catastrophic. Once customers or partners lose trust in your business, it’s almost impossible to regain it.

As a PR agency, it’s our job to remain vigilant on our clients’ behalf – and to speak up if we think their principles are being ignored or betrayed. Tempting as it might be when a big business win beckons, it’s always a mistake to overlook your principles for short term gain; the long-term consequences could well be devastating.

On an altruistic level, businesses also need to consider the wider implications of any failure to act with integrity. The actions of one rogue organisation can damage the reputation of an entire industry or sector. Since the Bell Pottinger debacle, the integrity of large PR firms has been called into question; meaning that the whole PR sector must now work hard to repair the reputational damage.

If you would like to discuss your company's reputation, please get in touch.

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