There are important lessons to learn from the coalition’s woodland U-turn. Members of the Government have learned the hard way that some measures to balance the budget deficit are more toxic than others.
It is not good enough for ministers to give the go ahead to the pet projects of civil servants without first holding them up to the lens of political common sense.
If the issue is emotive, the opposition well organised and the media mobilised, initiatives designed to save comparatively modest sums can quickly consume vast quantities of ministerial capital. The restructuring of No 10 should ensure unforced errors are minimised.
The printed press is influential, but its power is in inexorable decline. Digital media is growing exponentially, but it is not yet the primary source of news for most of us. However, broadcast – and more specifically the BBC – is the unchallenged king of the media jungle. Those were the headline findings of TLG’s recent research into how the media shapes corporate reputations.
The BBC is equally important in the making and breaking of political reputations – as demonstrated by Craig Oliver’s appointment to the most powerful job in political public relations. Government ministers and spin doctors already have close relationships with the broadcasters’ on-screen stars such as Nick Robinson or Robert Peston.
The practical pressure on any business to comply in such a situation is immense, as is the potential to undermine reputation. This is particularly stark for a company such as Vodafone that trades on empowering the individual through communication. The company should be assertive, sufficiently contrite and candid about the reasons for doing what some will see as compromising its consumers’ and its own integrity. Plus, demonstrate its support for freedom of expression. The combined impact can maintain trust in the brand. The company needs to ensure it does not slide into “anti-brand” status and join a hall of shame that has included BP and McDonald’s. When faced by crises, they did not admit errors until their brands were tarnished. It can be a long road back.