Are some companies and people too toxic for our industry to represent?

Part of our job as communications specialists is to build, protect and – where necessary – mend reputations, but are we now in a post-Bell Pottinger era?

Are some clients or individuals too toxic to represent? asks Hannah Watson
Are some clients or individuals too toxic to represent? asks Hannah Watson

Does it make sense for a specialist in crisis communications to turn away a client solely based on the negative reputation it has gained when you’re in the business of reputation management? I would argue it does.

Some wrongs can be righted and some companies redeemed; however, I believe there are some that are beyond redemption.

When you’re asked to represent a company with a bad reputation, you have to look out for your own interests first and bear in mind that you have your own brand to protect.

The late Lord Bell famously believed just the opposite – that everyone has the right to representation, if they can afford it. However, that philosophy was not so fruitful for Bell Pottinger in the end.

A communications specialist should practice caution when deciding whether to engage with a company behaving badly. Not only to protect their own brand, but because you never know what tactics you’ll be forced to deploy in service of a notoriously toxic brand, person or campaign.

Bell Pottinger and Cambridge Analytica were both communications specialists that ironically, in the process of protecting and furthering both their clients’ agendas and reputations, ruined their own.

This isn’t only about protecting your brand, it is a moral question too.

The decisions you make as an agency or as an individual reflect your own ethics, so what you do in business should sit well with you personally, too.

Hannah Watson is head of marketing and communications at Jungle Creations


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