Reputation Management – How Not To Be Sir Philip Green

Finally, more than 11 months after the collapse of BHS, Britain’s least favourite knight of the realm has paid £363m to the BHS pension scheme.  Sir Philip Green, some say, has caved in at the eleventh hour to avoid being stripped of his knighthood.  Whatever happens to his title, the damage to his reputation may never recover.

(PA images: Sir Philip Green gives evidence to the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee and Work and Pensions Committee at Portcullis House, London, on the collapse of BHS.)

The retail tycoon, who owned BHS for 15 years, has endured a year of pressure from the pensions regulator, MPs and, of course, the media, after the iconic high street chain collapsed within a year of its sale to former bankrupt, Dominic Chappell, for just £1.  He’s been called Sir Shifty, branded “the unacceptable face of capitalism” and worse, for taking hundreds of millions of pounds out of the business when he was the owner, whilst allowing the pension fund to develop an enormous deficit that put the incomes of more than 20,000 pensioner at risk.

Among his many mistakes, responding too slowly to the BHS crisis hugely exacerbated the reputational damage to Green.  It took a full two months after the BHS collapsed for him to promise to “sort” the pension fund deficit and it took him another nine months to make good on that promise.  All the while, BHS pensioners have endured fear and uncertainty about their future finances and journalists have had a field day covering the story from every conceivable angle.

A quicker response in a crisis means damage limitation kicks in earlier.  By bearing this in mind, Green and his advisors would have been in a far better position to withstand the brutal, unceasing criticism but also more able to steer the narrative away from Green’s super-wealthy lifestyle and the merits of stripping him of his knighthood, towards his efforts to resolve the crisis and his other businesses successes.  He remains, after all, the billionaire owner of Topshop and the Arcadia empire, so still a force to be reckoned with in the retail sector and a major employer.

(PA images: Sir Philip Green gives evidence to the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee and Work and Pensions Committee at Portcullis House, London, on the collapse of BHS.)

Here are three top tips for acting speedily and effectively to limit reputational damage:

Show empathy early on

Rightly or wrongly, Sir Philip Green has been portrayed as callous and uncaring.  Stories have focused on his yachts, his Monaco-based wife and their tax arrangements.  His lavish lifestyle has been endlessly referenced in print, in broadcast, online and across social media, whilst examining the plight of 11,000 sacked BHS staff and 20,000 worried BHS pensioners.  Expressing concern, understanding and a willingness to listen early on is vital when something goes wrong.  This is not always the same thing as accepting responsibility but still helps to defuse anger and frustration, giving you or your organisation a chance to try to get your point of view across.

Communicate

The media abhors a vacuum, so if you’re not communicating, journalists will go elsewhere for comment and you lose the ability to influence a damaging narrative.  As soon as a crisis starts to develop, put out a press statement as early as possible and make sure you update journalists regularly about what you’re doing to resolve the crisis and why.

Learn how to cope with hostile interviews

Hostile interview training can make all the difference to a spokesperson’s performance and the way an organisation emerges from a media storm.  They need to know how to project confidence, reassurance and emotional control under pressure.  This is a key part of TNR’s Bespoke Media Training and Advanced Media Handling courses and is an absolute must-have skill for any organisation facing reputational risks or operating in areas that are, or could become, controversial.

Bridgid Nzekwu is Head of Media Training at TNR, part of the Press Association.  For more information about our media training courses or to book one, contact us at: Hello@wearetnr.com  or visit: www.wearetnr.com/media-training

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