Was the News of the World brand implosion a Ratner moment?

A number of people have been posing this question on the social media and face to face grapevines recently.

The short answer’s a resounding “NO”!

It’s much worse.

When Gerald made his infamous speech – now part of brand mis-management folklore, in which, carried away by egotistical bravado he referred to his own product range as “shit”, he managed to insult all stakeholder groups at once, especially his customer base. The rest is history….

He made a single calamitous error which punctured a fragile, marketing-led “myth”, and as Oscar Wilde famously warned when referring to the slings and arrows of fickle human nature “…allow us our illusions”.

Clearly, however, the issue at the heart of the implosion of the News of the World and the knock-on effect it is having to the rest of Murdoch’s hitherto impregnable empire, is long-standing cultural corruption. The brand has clearly been poisoned from within.

The newspaper bosses have made a fortune by posing as the de-facto champions of a popular demographic. Yet they have stabbed the same people in the back by betraying the values they most hold dear by brutally hacking into and exploiting the private spaces of the tragically vulnerable. It was ok to poke fun at the pompous and the uber rich, but to allegedly bully and exploit the very people the readership relates to and to have seemingly deliberately cultivated a culture where this became a norm, was clearly a cardinal sin.

Worse-still, in the bright headlights which have illuminated the headlines that followed the breaking news it has become very clear that there is a palpable disconnect between the senior leaders and the rank and file. This has been accentuated by the way the CEO and co have behaved once the foul-smelling genie burst from the bottle, blaming and sacrificing the meekest and weakest employees rather than laying the blame at the threshold of the posh offices. And brand Westminster isn’t emerging from this latest scandal too well either!

There’s many a moral to be gleaned from this tale. Not least the learning that comms training can help to mitigate many reputation risks. But, message management aside, believe me, all brands survive, thrive or dive on the back of the day-to-day behaviour of all employees.

So, value your culture as highly as you value your financial management when developing your brand strategy.

Be as you say, or rue the day……

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