Public Sector: No quick fix for reputational crises

The crisis engulfing the Government provides a valuable lesson in how PR professionals need to effectively respond to repair damaged reputations.

Some of today's best local authorities once suffered from poor reputations but, through a careful process of repair and reform, turned themselves around and have since emerged as top performing councils. This happened to both Derbyshire in the 1980s and Hammersmith & Fulham in the 1990s. Both are now highly rated four-star councils.

Local government PR professionals have an integral role to play in helping to restore credibility and fix damaged reputations. They need to think strategically on the major campaigns that shift perceptions and maintain a rigorous focus on demonstrating customer care and community engagement.

This was the key message that came out of the recent LGComms report on the role of senior PR professionals in local authorities.

They need to focus on and realise the impact of three key areas. First, rebuilding reputation is a long-term process and is measured in inches, not miles. It can take thousands of inches to return to a position of credibility.

Second, they need to focus on issues that demonstrate character or value, such as strong leadership, while demanding integrity and dealing in tangible benefits for local people.

Third, they must not let the organisation forget the mistakes it made and the price for putting them right.

This process happened to the Labour Party in the 1990s and the Conservatives more recently over the past ten years.

Comms activity takes time to shape perceptions and detoxifying a brand is a long-term operation that can take a decade or more. PROs have a duty to stop reputation damage at the earliest opportunity by ensuring organisations face up to facts.

Only once this is done can they start out on the road to repair and return to a position of trust, credibility and integrity.

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