I don't want to add to the commentary about the demise of Bell Pottinger, as I think that has been fully explored, even exploited by many. But I was reminded of a comment made by Lord Bell when myself and a colleague had a meeting with him.
He was explaining that he was representing someone in the public eye who had in her youth been indiscreet and sadly photos had surfaced showing a bit more of her than she liked. He said the past is always there, you cannot wipe it out but you can - if you are under the spotlight - at least plan what will happen if your past actions threaten your reputation. Sadly these comments seem rather prescient!
And as Stefan Stern says in this article, if you don't want a bad reputation don't do bad things. PR is not a whitewash. The truth will come out so think twice before condoning a course of action. Boards should ask if it pass the 'fish' test - if it smells fishy, it is!
Here’s some free PR advice for business: don’t do bad things. They will probably be uncovered, eventually. Sometimes leaders know perfectly well that bad things are happening somewhere in the organisation, but short-term profitability seems to depend on that bribe being paid or health and safety corners being cut. And if a daunting hierarchy or intimidating leadership style means that bad news from the frontline is not wanted then leaders will remain ignorant, or at least maintain plausible deniability. Fitzsimmons and Atkins call this phenomenon the “risk glass ceiling”. Even though there are things leaders need to hear about they never will – until it is too late.