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Corporate reputation

Tim Bell has been widely – and rightly, in my opinion – excoriated for his ‘car crash’ Newsnight appearance before Kirsty Wark defending his role in Bell Pottinger’s demise.

With his (former) company on the verge of bankruptcy, his own name being dragged through the mud, and mindful of the potential impact of his own consultancy Les Frontieres, Bell set out to distance himself from events, and from his sparring partner James Henderson.

Arguably, he just about managed it, even if he also came across as arrogant, dismissive and shifty.

 

He also made a notable gaff by leaving his phone switched on.

But was this the silly, cringe-worthy error it appeared?

Bell is a seasoned PR hand who prepped Margaret Thatcher, amongst others, for media interviews.

There is almost zero chance he would have left his phone on. And even less chance that he would have failed to turn it off again during a high-profile, high stakes interview.

Bell deliberately left his phone on and enlisted friends to call and message him in order to disorientate and distract his interviewer from the outset.

The diversionary tactic failed. Wark stuck doggedly to her task and proved she was not for turning – leaving Bell in an even deeper hole.

Thatcher can only be turning in her grave.

I had the pleasure earlier this week of talking to early-stage entrepreneurs and assorted others about the importance of building trust from the get-go.

Providing a genuinely useful and usable experience with great customer service is the starting point for many start-ups, but one that is nowadays expected as the price of admission.

Customers, the general public and others are able to act immediately on bad experiences and are increasingly intolerant of perceived poor behaviour by companies.

The travails of companies like Uber and Theranos show that having good governance, being open and transparent – including preparing properly for when things go wrong – and having strong values and a clear purpose are essential if a start-up is to build trust over the long-term.

Here are my slides:

 

One of the pleasures of working in a start-up office space is being surrounded by entrepreneurs and would-be entrepreneurs, which makes for an interesting, exciting and positive environment.

In the rush to get up-and-running, generating revenue and turning a profit, most start-ups focus on product and marketing. This is eminently sensible: both are building blocks of a strong and healthy reputation.

But long-term reputation and communications are often overlooked in the mix. Uber’s current travails are an obvious example of this, with its perceived arrogance and willingness to play dirty resulting in severe friction with local authorities and access issues in multiple markets.

On which, here is an article I penned recently for Jumpstart HK magazine on how start-ups can build trust from the get-go.

See also my presentation on the same topic.

 

 

Amazon is suing over a thousand people offering bogus reviews on Fiverr.com for USD 5. Employees at Bell Canada are discovered ramping its apps without disclosing their affiliation. Researchers reckon 20% of reviews on Yelp are fake. An often cited report by Bing Liu at the University of Illinois estimates 30% of online reviews are not what they appear.

PR ethics — for want of a better description — are cause for concern across the world. How do they compare in Asia?

chinawebscrubbersAs noted in a recent PR Week article on PR ethics in Asia (in which I am quoted), much depends on the local context, particularly consumer expectations, the regulatory environment and industry codes, the relative maturity of the PR and marketing industry, and the willingness (and sometimes naivety) of the mainstream and other media to keep its face clean.

Widespread ‘Black PR’ in China is sometimes cited as evidence that the problem is endemic in the region and it is fair to say that the brutally competitive nature of business in the Middle Kingdom, in which the opportunity to undermine detractors/the competition through fair means or foul is often pursued with relish, combined with widespread anon- and pseudonymity, pressure to buy advertising for better coverage, and all manner of other nasties, help make it a particularly tricky place to do business.

In my experience, China is an outlier. Despite a reputation for cosy political relationships and a pliant mainstream media in many parts of the region, and evidence of devious online practices, there’s little to indicate that shady PR is any more widespread and entrenched across Asia than in, say, Latin America or parts of Europe.

 

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