Public Affairs: Soap Box

The great thing about being in PR is that everyone knows how to do a better job than you.

But what 2010 tells us is just how hard and cruel the business of reputation safeguarding can be. BP's brand was trashed in North America. Clegg went from hero to zero in months. Sultans of spin Prince William, David Cameron and David Beckham failed to win over FIFA. Royals were caught in a riot in a Roller. The list goes on.

Yet, despite these object lessons, this has been a year in which people continue to denigrate PR.

From the Government spending cuts through to the attacks on WikiLeaks, there is a wishful effort to believe that unpredictable and adverse events and messages can be controlled without sound comms planning and execution.

Most tellingly, it is web and digital platforms that are creating the most unexpected results, and are proving most potent.

Student protesters move in text and tweet-driven (and apparently random) flows that kettling can't contain.

Civil society organisations such as 38 Degrees and Avaaz mobilise tens of thousands in a matter of hours.

Distaste for corporates such as Topshop and Vodafone flares up online, then on the pavement.

Yes, campaigns are viral, but they are also more real than they have been in 30 years. In 2011, we move into a more fractious age. Trust is low. To win it back, decision-makers in the Government and private sectors must recognise the need to listen to, and act upon, good advice before it is too late.

That means the comms dimension needs to be kept high on board-level agendas before things go wrong and not after.

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