PR is not always the best response

You may not have heard of Mike Bell, but for years he was a senior regulator with the Civil Aviation Authority.

Anthony Hilton: 'A spin-led approach, driven by fear of headlines and devoid of serious analysis, can do more damage to reputation.'
Anthony Hilton: 'A spin-led approach, driven by fear of headlines and devoid of serious analysis, can do more damage to reputation.'

Now he is connected to Reputability, a consultancy involved with the world of corporate governance, boardroom effectiveness and all those things that go into making sure a company has the right culture and approach to risk control.

Here are a couple of recent extracts from Bell's blog: 'I despair for improvements in the health service when I see headlines such as "NHS spent £785,000 on spin team",' and: 'The fact that the Care Quality Commission is recruiting a new spin doctor with the task of "expertly managing" its reputation does it no credit at all.'

His point is not to attack the comms business, but to point out how a spin-led approach, driven by fear of headlines and devoid of serious analysis, can do more damage to reputation and trust.

The Care Quality Commission is in trouble for concealing and glossing over problems in care homes. That is not a PR problem; it is a management failure that needs to be addressed before it starts blowing its own trumpet again.

The Government has suggested publishing death rates for surgeons. But any league table could do huge damage, as death rates have a lot to do with a patient's health and the type of operation performed.

Do we really want doctors to be selective about who gets an operation, in the same way that schools are now selective about putting only bright pupils in for exams, so they score well on the league tables for pass rates?

A surgeon told me of the management response at his NHS Trust hospital when it began losing patients to infections they had contracted after admission.

The right thing to do would have been to organise a deep clean of the premises, to have the building cleaned to a higher specification thereafter and to investigate what other sources might be responsible for the infection. The actual response was to hire a PR person to stop the bad news getting in the local paper.

Most problems in business are caused by failings of culture, empowerment and management that make good people do bad things. That is not a PR problem.

Anthony Hilton is City commentator on London's Evening Standard

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