If it weren’t so ethically wrong, it would be ironic. The company deemed able to transform and save brands through well-executed public relation campaigns could not salvage their own business through the expert PR they were known for. After a ban of five years minimum from the PRCA, on the 12th September 2017, Bell Pottinger went into administration.
The PR agency will go down in history in causing one of the worst PR scandals to date. Ethically wrong, dangerous and harmful PR, one of the leading, award-winning PR giants showed every business how not to manage a reputation and how to avoid a B2B branding nightmare.
So, one month on from administration what can PR agencies learn from this scandal?
- Set your principles
For any business, establishing a mission statement is essential, it defines what your company does and the approach it will take. When creating a mission statement and business objectives, your ethics will no doubt play a part. However, for clarity for your business and future employees, it is a good idea to be really clear about your ethics and core values from the start.
Being clear about your ethics will benefit you in so many ways; you’ll attract the right customers who share your values, and your employees will understand the business, be on-brand, and have a great work ethic because of it.
- Know your team
While every team member wants to have their own responsibility and micromanagement is not an efficient use of time, it is still important to check in on client projects. Regular update meetings can help to ensure the leadership team are aware of any risks and issues as well as making sure every team member has enough support.
You need to know your team well and how they operate, look for signs of stress or being unwilling to share details and make sure you step in when it is needed. Stopping a scandal early can be a lesson learnt, not preventing it could see your business and industry in disrepute.
- Be your own client
In a B2B branding and reputation management situation, you need to treat your business as you’d handle any of your clients. PR agencies should never be the ones to take centre stage. Prioritise protecting your own reputation. If you are considering taking on a client who is questionable, think about the impact it may have on your business. Much like a risk analysis for your clients, make sure you undertake one for your own business too.
- Be accountable
With the nature of the business, it is essential to be prepared. Ethical breaches can happen, but a good business will have the right systems in place to isolate the incident and prevent it from happening in the future. Setting up whistleblower systems may seem drastic but can protect your business from a disastrous fallout.
In the case of Bell Pottinger, blame has been passed around with no one really showing a degree of humility in the wake of an ethical nightmare. Taking ownership and being accountable can help to give your business respect and earn forgiveness should a scandal ever emerge.