Don’t let the communications run wild

Posted by: on Mar 8, 2022 | No Comments

Too often in a bid to save reputations, communications become the absolute focus. If the media statement kills the issue, then it will have been successful. But, as the issues with Chelsea Football Club showed, such an approach inflicts more damage.

I won’t revisit the detail of the proposed approach announced by Roman Abramovich as my BDB Pitmans colleague, Jonathan Brinsden, has already written and commented in the Daily Telegraph about it.

As far as the communications are concerned, it was a classic in letting the communications run ahead of the reality. As Jonathan explains, there are multiple issues related to what the charity trustees are allowed to do and what the implications of their ‘stewardship’ of the club would entail. They are not there simply to do the bidding of Abramovich; they have significant responsibilities.

So, a communications approach designed to protect the reputation of Abramovich revealed a lack of understanding and led to further coverage and speculation.

There were also other failings in the communications not least the lack of a condemnation of the Russian military action in Ukraine.

This has, along with the threat of political intervention and sanctions, led to the announcement of a selling of the club and the establishment of a charitable foundation where all net proceeds from the sale will be donated and used ‘for the benefit of all victims of the war in Ukraine’.

Rather than solving the problem, the initial communications approach, made matters worse. An example of communications leading to a reputation failure.

So how can we avoid making similar mistakes?

  1. Work with others – good communication is not simply about delivering reassuring words. We must have addressed issues and provide correct information. To do this means bringing in the expertise of others. In this case, if anyone had spoken to Jonathan, they would have understood what was and was not possible.
  2. Invest time in relationships – to bring together information and views from across any organisation means investing time in developing relationships, both the formal and informal. A crisis is a high-pressure time, so the more teams know they can rely on each other the better.
  3. Communicate about communications – across all parts of the team, misconceptions must be addressed. Lawyers often get blamed when it comes to a failure in apologies. Comms teams are thought about only at the end of a decision-making process to ‘do the PR’. All of this only stops when the teams really explain what they do and the value they bring.
  4. Stand up and be counted – this is always much easier said than done but everyone across an organisation, including those at the very top, need to know that the right advice will be delivered, not the easy advice. That means being prepared to stand up and challenge, if required.
  5. Ask the difficult questions – it is very easy to accept positions without challenge but effectively communications need to play the role of a critical friend internally before any statements are made or positions established. If the investment has been made in knowing and understanding teams, mentioned above, then this will be seen as constructive and looking after the best interests of the organisation. It will not be ‘comms being difficult’.

Reputation management is not just what is said to the media or stakeholders, it is also about the preparation that goes into what is said.