VW the glory blue chip brand of the middle-classes saw its share price slaughtered and its car sales decimated as a result of its emission scandal. Tesco suffered a similar implosion after its accounting black hole, BP's drilling disaster in 2010 was hard to match and yet all these Fortune 500 companies spend billions on paid advertising and metrics and still do.
Does the advent of big data and metrics mean we have lost our ability to see the human connection? No amount of advertising and paid media is going to restore reputation.
Reputation is like a delicate sapling. It needs careful nurturing, protection from the frosts and scorching sunlight. Only then will it grow into a strong and beautiful tree. But one fire can burn it down and then the whole process has to start again.
It will take years for VW to build its brand reputation and gain the advocates that it once enjoyed. The same goes for the other ailing brands. Metrics can look at how the wound is healing but the real power is a strong and sustained campaign to persuade its stakeholders and publics that it is on the mend and can be trusted to perform again.
A good Public relations campaign is subtle, nuanced, influential, powerful and takes time. It strokes rather than punches, it persuades rather than dictates.
Metrics are needed of course but when the going gets tough management calls in its top public relations consultants to nurse that reputation back to life.
PR/comms people do not walk into the CFO’s office saying I know I reached this many million, I know this many engaged, I know exactly who they were, I know how many of them converted. PR still deals in PR vanity metrics, whereas paid and owned show up with hard numbers, hard conversion rates and hard revenue impact. So where paid and owned are viewed as a direct investment in revenue, comms is still an operating expense (Opex.) Its strategic Opex, its important Opex but it’s not attributed business value. That’s why a big global company has a $2.5 billion ad/paid media budget and a $200 million comms budget. It’s all about that lack of measurability.