Danny Rogers: Even the paragons of PR can drop the ball

After a festive break spent equally on both sides of the Atlantic, one was forced to muse on just how fragile a construct is that of a 'good reputation'.

Danny Rogers
Danny Rogers

Just before Christmas, on this side of the pond, we witnessed how Eurostar - a major reputational success story for the past decade - saw its name dragged through the mud (or should that be slush?). For almost a week, operational crises, the result of heavy snowfall, prompted damaging headlines and social media chatter in both the UK and France.

Then early in the New Year, in the United States, one saw President Obama's popularity and authority plummet to new lows. He suffered the resignation of a slew of Democrat senators, further weakening his ability to drive through legislation. What a stark contrast this was with just 12 months ago, when his election victory and inauguration were hailed as landmark communications successes.

It is not that either Eurostar or Obama are inherently poor communicators, but both had clearly taken their eye off the ball.

In Eurostar's case it was down to complacency. British Airways is battle-hardened to crises and in an almost constant state of media mobilisation, but Eurostar appeared to lack contingency planning for such operational problems. Concern among senior management was such that they commissioned an independent review of the crisis.

In Obama's case it was a problem of having over-promised while failing to retain support for a possibly over-ambitious manifesto. For example, one of his first inaugural pledges was to close Guantanamo Bay within 12 months, which is clearly not going to happen. Equally he failed to convince 'Main Street USA' that he has been as tough as promised on Wall Street excess after the banking crisis.

At the start of a fresh year, these examples remind us that complacency is the biggest enemy of brand reputation. The higher one sets one's standards - and Eurostar and Obama should be lauded for this - the bigger the risk of a reputational downfall.

Having had some time to reassess, both brands should be able to bring themselves back on track during 2010, but not without great cost and effort. Importantly they must invest in new communications skills to adapt to an ever-changing environment. Moreover they must regain their old confidence to underpin more rigorous campaigning.

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