371: Reputation management is everyone’s business… but so is taking action
Outrageous comments and behaviour often generate an immediate reaction and those directly involved issue statements. But others stay silent. The reality is that everyone involved should call bad behaviour out and take action.
The racist comment made by Nelson Piquet about Lewis Hamilton was both shocking and unbelievable. That someone could use such language, regardless of their ‘excuse’ for it, today led Hamilton to issue a clear and forceful reply.
Piquet’s subsequent reply amounted to ‘I’m sorry, but…’. That is not an apology.
A tweet from the FIA, the sport’s governing body, did not even name the offender. This failure to address the issue head-on was widely called out as were the apparent lack of potential ramifications for Piquet.
Some fellow drivers did come out in support of Hamilton but it was the media which highlighted Piquet’s previous form and that of others across Formula One.
Significantly, Hamilton focused on the need for action in such circumstances. It is not just about words designed to manage reputations, but whether the changes promised are delivered. Action makes the statement stronger and offers more reputational benefits.
A poorly-worded statement or one that fails to show action will not prevent reputational damage. It will make the damage worse.
Some organisations, particularly sponsors, may choose to adopt a low profile during such times. That will not work.
Consumers increasingly expect organisations to take a stand, and many brands being built around their activism. Crucially activism needs to be genuine; otherwise it risks becoming ‘woke washing’. In other words, statements made by brands need to match their actions.
In the case of the FIA, the F1 teams – and, critically, sponsors – could insist on action. They could withdraw their future support, help to devise and deliver an action plan, and hold the FIA to account on its delivery.
If not, then when a similar issue occurs in the future the impact will be worse still.
All those connected with the sport need to call out poor behaviour and take action otherwise it is not just the sport that risks its future success, but those organisations as well.
A clear and immediate promise supported by a plan of action reassures audiences. Inaction or a vague promise of future deeds just delays the inevitable. Take the example of Tory MP, Chris Pincher, who stepped down as deputy chief whip after admitting to ‘drink[ing] too much’ and ‘embarrassing himself’. The PM, Boris Johnson, is now under pressure to take further action – pressure which will only continue and generate further days of poor headlines. That is to say nothing of the impact on those who were allegedly on the receiving end of Pincher’s attentions. Not long after I wrote this, it was announced that he was being suspended as a Tory MP….
Reputation management is often focused on statements. But real reputation management is about changing behaviours and attitudes in the face of poor behaviour. It is about living by the standards an organisation sets itself and those expected by its audiences.
That is real reputation management, not a carefully worded statement.