Ian Monk: Feeling our pain is a risky game

Whether giving is perceived as being better than receiving is a PR dilemma for the recession. British Airways' CEO has just announced that he will forgo his July salary following the enormous losses of the world's self-anointed 'favourite airline'.

Ian Monk
Ian Monk

Does Willie Walsh’s desire to be seen to be feeling the pain of those whose livelihoods have been lost cut ice with stakeholder audiences? Or does the sacrifice of his £60,000 July pay simply highlight his usual pay of £15,000 a week, against which the loss of a few weeks’ loot will leave the fundamentals of his life untouched?

Critics will argue commonality of feeling with a baggage handler is inconceivable from one on such a salary. Those who clamour for reform of boardroom pay will trot out the usual ‘fat cat’ arguments. A month’s salary, it will be claimed, doesn’t even begin to knock the cream off Walsh’s dish. The fact that he can afford to waive it will add to the cause put forward by those who want to see change to the system of ‘top people’s’ pay.

Certainly the rush by MPs to calm the scandal by repaying dodgy expenses claims is doing nothing to assuage the loathing of callers to every phone-in show.

It simply attracts unflattering analogies with thieves who get caught at the end of the voter’s road with the nicked widescreen under their arms. Giving it back is seen as a consequence of exposure, not of repentance.

Media handlers considering advising clients to return or forgo financial advantage should pick their time with care. The current mood of the phone-ins is unforgiving, and trying to assuage it with gestures looks futile and even provocative.

There is the very real risk that ground given voluntarily will simply open the doors to public demands for further sacrifices, including reduced salary and/or resignation.

The current vogue for the hair shirt as the fashion accessory of the PR season may be misguided. Certainly it is fascinating that the man whose remuneration scandalised the nation above all others, Sir Fred Goodwin, shows no signs of heading for the fitting room.

Ian Monk is founder of Ian Monk Associates and a former executive at the Daily Mail and The Sun

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