The CIPR defines public relations as being ‘about reputation – the result of what you do, what you say, and what others say about you.’
So it’s surprising that the very first book in the 15-strong CIPR/Kogan Page PR in Practice series to even mention reputation in its title was published only last year. It’s been worth the wait.
Andrew Griffin, chief executive of Regester Larkin has built on Mike Regester and Judy Larkin’s classic crisis management text and refocused it on reputation – or more specifically risk to reputation.
To Griffin, ‘what identifies a crisis is not the nature of what has happened but what is at stake – reputation, the bottom line, the licence to operate and the future of the organization – and the immediacy of the threat.’
He views risks as either issue-led or incident-led. But he several times distinguishes between crisis management, a strategic matter that demands the attention of senior executives, and emergency response to incidents, a more operational process. Clearly he has fought this battle many times and has learnt the need to talk up the strategic nature of reputation risk.
He discusses the scenario of product development or a joint venture. At what point should the proposed development be subjected to (reputation) risk assessment: early on or at the point of announcement? The idea that a corporate affairs team could have this power within an organisation is an intriguing counter to the literature that presents marketing as an all-encompassing function and public relations a tactical promotional activity.
So this is a grown-up book, born out of experience, that reads like a management consultant’s text – complete with many two-by-two grids.
In an aside, Griffin mounts a powerful critique of Corporate Social Responsibility. Subscribing to this concept is to accept the framing of business as instinctively self-interested, even irresponsible. Yet he argues that ‘the best way to prevent issue-driven reputation risks is to have exemplary financial, corporate, environmental and social performance.’
Much better, he argues, is the more neutral concept of corporate citizenship.
Classic crisis management cases are supplemented by more recent examples, notably BP Deepwater Horizon which has already cost the once-admired business over $42 billion (a rare occasion where reputation damage can be calculated in monetary terms).
Each situation is distinctive, though the risks and patterns may be predictable. In the case of Deepwater Horizon, BP’s Britishness became a spur for the White House and US public opinion to escalate the war of words. Corporate manslaughter, massive environmental destruction in America blamed on a Hollywood British baddie.
The book is full of models and practical approaches, though it avoids simple checklists and formulaic approaches. The author completely ignores the academic literature on issues and crisis management – whether because he’s never consulted them or because he feels they add no value, I’m not sure.
Students and less experienced practitioners can benefit from Griffin’s evident expertise, but could also have been helped even more if there had been a further reading section. But this is a challenging and sophisticated addition to the PR in Practice series, so I can hardly fault it for not being an academic textbook.