Business MK Column - April

Thu 14 Apr 2011

Reputations can be like fragile plants.  Nurture and look after them and they will reward you with beautiful blooms.  Leave them to their own devices and one day you will turn around and see they are dead.

Recent weeks have shown us how an apparently robust and powerful public image can be shattered in a few  ill-guarded moments.  Richard Keys and Andy Gray were seemingly unassailable.  Multi-million pound contracts were theirs as the instantly recognisable front men for Sky Sports Football coverage.  The remarkable rise of an individual is often described as meteoric, which is odd, as from our Earthly perspective, meteors tend only to fall.  The speed and brutality of their fall from grace was as fast and furious as any doomed heavenly body.  So as George Best was once asked when discovered in a luxury hotel room, surrounded by countless empty champagne bottles and entertaining a former Miss World, “where did it all go wrong?”

The mistake Keys and Gray made was to fall into an over confident sea of complacency by naively  believing that their own reputations were built on such solid foundations that they were unshakable.  They were undoubtedly popular with a large and committed audience, but by being prepared to  disparage a significant proportion of that audience, female football fans, they committed a cardinal error.  Reputations must be true to be secure.  If the individual or business which holds a particular reputation takes for granted that they are “loved no matter what,” disaster inevitably will follow. 

Customers will not accept being despised or belittled, any more than television viewers.  The speed and ruthlessness with which Sky acted shows that the people in charge at the organisation understand this better than their former employees.  The Murdoch Empire has learned from experience.  The Sun’s front page ‘The Truth’ on 19th April 1989 which depicted Liverpool fans at the Hillsborough disaster as drunkenly contributing to the carnage had a devastating effect.  The hatred people in Liverpool feel for the paper still burns fiercely, the paper’s sales in that city have never recovered and the Sun has all but given up trying to repair relations.

Ill repute can stick to an individual or organisation far longer than good.
Judging by the way the damning video evidence was leaked, one can but surmise that some of those who worked with Keys and Gray were only too happy for their unattractive remarks to be exposed.  This suggests that their on and off-screen personalities were rather different which brings us back to truth.

“To thine own self be true” Polonius tells his son Laertes in Hamlet, and the message is valid for all of us in our business dealings.  Pretend to be something you are not and the odds are very high that one day you will be found out.  Reputations are of incalculable value which is why we treasure testimonials from clients and customers.  They are also utterly impermanent and must be worked on constantly if they are to retain their value.  One cannot change a struggling economy, the weather or the grumpiness of others, so why not concentrate on the thing one can change?  Look after your reputation and it will look after you. 

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