Ian Monk: Lessons from the John Terry debacle

The lessons to be learned from the shredding of England football captain John Terry's off-field reputation would fill a PR coaching manual.

Ian Monk
Ian Monk

Regardless of the moral view of his conduct, the general handling of the issues around it has been cavalier.

Lesson number one for reputation managers: only call in the legal attack dogs if there is a real chance of a sustainable victory. Securing a killer injunction that is publicly torn up by the courts a week later multiplies the damage done.

The initial story gets published with venomous interest through its status as 'the story they tried to ban'.

Now, in the face of the media's unremitting action against what they see as the encroachment of a backdoor privacy law, any overturning of a so-called super-injunction provokes a feeding frenzy of righteous indignation. Not only did he cheat but he tried to usurp the freedom of the press!

Lesson number two is that the UK's privacy rules are chaotic. The expectation of privacy has arisen because of diverse interpretations of European law plus individual judges' rulings. Unless Parliament has the guts to get hold of the issue, the rules will remain vague.

Thus any judgement on whether to go for privacy is a fine call requiring the input of experienced PR reputation managers as well as lawyers.

Whether the lawyers like it or not, we often better understand the risks to reputation that can result from the misjudged legal challenge. Our input to the risk assessment is crucial, not optional.

The third lesson is for sports stars who still prefer to invest in commercial rather than reputation management. Some, quite possibly including Terry, just don't seem to understand the intrinsic link between reputation and commercial success.

Finally, when will PROs learn the pointlessness of their clients accepting titles such as 'Dad of The Year'? They are, in most cases, meaningless PR confections pumped up to secure spurious headlines for brands.

Ultimately they risk dumping their 'proud' recipient on their rear. Or even on their Rear of the Year.

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

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