PR’s not just spin, it’s brand management

With Tony Hayward now having been officially relieved of his duties as chief executive of BP, the crisis management plan and communications strategy at all our own businesses should be brought under some serious scrutiny.

It is no accident that Aviva CMO Amanda Mackenzie has responsibility for PR, public affairs and internal communications incorporated into her role as well as that for brand and marketing. Unilever has also seen fit to hand responsibility for communications – and a seat on the board – to CMO Keith Weed.

PR has seen its significance to marketers increase ten-fold in recent years. At its best it brings with it a vital expertise in planning and strategic communications, a necessary grasp of reputation management and a calm and practical approach to crisis management. To read this week’s special report on PR click here.

But many marketers remain behind the curve of this trend. Chris Satterthwaite, group chief executive of Chime Communications, says that while media training and a healthy respect for integrated communications may be on the rise, companies are still far less prepared than they should be.

Sadly, what happened in the Gulf of Mexico was far more tragic than simply being a story about PR gaffes. People died in the drilling platform explosion that caused the oil spill.

However, Hayward’s lack of training and expertise in PR sure didn’t help. His blindly stupid utterances undermined any good crisis management as well as the clean-up efforts being undertaken by BP management and staff throughout the summer.

“PR has seen its significance to marketers increase ten-fold in recent years… But many remain behind the curve of this trend”

No manager should continue to see PR as spin. It’s strategy, pure and simple. And if you think you’re well equipped, I’d advise you to return to our cover story from 18 March, which dealt with the very issues BP has struggled with.

In that piece we talked about the prospect of “brand death by social media” and the new rules of “reputation rescue”. I’m still struck by a comment made by Jonathan Hemus, director of reputation management at communications consultancy Insignia. “Companies probably had 24 hours in the old days to respond to a crisis and get ahead of the game. Social media and the internet in general has reduced this to the first hour,” he said. Look back at the past 24 months and think about the enormous corporate machines that have become casualties. The Lehman Brothers, RBS, Toyota and so on.

Make no mistake about it. Reputation management is brand management.

Mark Choueke, editor

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