Danny Rogers: Some valuable lessons in 'adversity comms'

Out of adversity comes opportunity. PR professionals are as acutely aware of this as anyone in public life. And there were some striking examples during the past week.

Danny Rogers
Danny Rogers

Most topically, as the reputation of our politicians was dragged slowly through the mud (or should that be moat?), it was the Conservatives’ comms chief, Andy Coulson, who made the right call. His charge, David Cameron, was about the only politician who turned the expenses scandal to their advantage, by taking the first serious stand against the abuse.

Coulson and Cameron saw the chance to further ‘decontaminate’ the Tory brand from sleaze and privilege.

Elsewhere the Marks & Spencer comms team pulled off quite a coup, by not only apologising for what the tabloids dubbed a ‘£2 bra tax’, but also by putting up CEO Stuart Rose as a humble and pithy spokesman, and by quickly launching a self-deprecating and eye-catching sales promotion on M&S bras. Brilliant.

Another less obvious example of finding opportunities amid the gloom was Jaguar Land Rover.

For a long time, under the previous American owner Ford, the Midlands-based car-maker has struggled for profile and product provenance. But as JLR has found itself under the spotlight – for falling sales and job cuts – comms director Simon Warr and his team recognised the opportunity.

By linking up with local papers and stressing at every opportunity that JLR was the last bastion of British motor manufacture, design and innovation, its messages finally started to hit home. Fingers crossed the Government now sees sense and helps JLR survive the devastating slump in car sales.

Of course ‘adversity PR’ has some ground rules. Like good comedy, the secret is in the timing and the tone. The judgement on these will only come from carefully monitoring and judging the tone of one’s stakeholders.

Ministers who belatedly pay back expenses and then try to claim public credit are somewhat self-delusional.
We live in difficult and febrile times. It is an era in which fortune favours the quick – and the brave.

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