The Reputation Report: January 2024

In this month’s edition of ‘The Reputation Report’, our experts provide insights into the month’s leading corporate communications trends and reputational challenges. This month’s talking points include Premier League CEO Richard Masters’ and the ongoing Financial Fair Play controversy, Sir Keir Starmer and the central role that the media will play this election year, through to King Charles, Kate Middleton and how the Royal PR machine adeptly handled some potentially challenging situations. 

FFP & the Premier League

In the week following the announcements that Everton & Nottingham Forest were being investigated for FFP breaches, negative sentiment around PL chief ‘Richard Masters’ across the press and social media increased by 67.2% from the previous week. Divisional Managing Director of Corporate Neil McLeod commented:

‘Premier League chief Richard Masters told MPs who quizzed him over Financial Fair Play charges levelled at Everton and Nottingham Forest that he didn’t think it was “messy.”

Due to dropped balls in the stakeholder engagement strategy, most fans would disagree – there is a sense of injustice around the sense that smaller clubs are being punished while bigger, richer ones are able to lawyer-up more successfully.

An independent, KC-led panel brings FFP charges. But it is down to the Premier League to communicate properly.

And a defensive display in front of a group of MPs simply won’t cut it’.

Starmer’s relationship with the press

It’s been a challenging road for Labour Leader Sir Keir Starmer as his personal popularity rating plunged to a new low of -22%, much lower than Tony Blair and David Cameron a year before they were elected PM. Public Affairs Account Manager Hamish Campbell-Shore commented: 

‘Leader of the Opposition, Sir Keir Starmer looks in poll position to be the next Prime Minister. However, his relationship with the media has been anything but smooth sailing and will prove crucial in an election year.

Starmer’s roles as Director of Public Prosecutions and as a human rights lawyer have opened him up to scrutiny, especially relating to the crimes of those he has defended in court and the scandals impacting his tenure at the CPS. Certain outlets, historically unaligned with the Labour Party have recently focused on his decision to represent individuals in his legal past.

The Sunday Telegraph reported on the opposition leader’s efforts to overturn Germany’s prohibition of Hiz ut-Tahir in the ECHR in 2008, reporting that led to Starmer coming under fire in the Commons and on social media from Conservatives.

Regardless of the validity of the reporting, these headlines have been prominent, highlighting the central role that the media will play this election year and the need for Starmer to wrestle them on side.

The UK media remains a powerful force and will, the Labour Party must hope, serve as a vehicle through which any manifesto promises, and election campaigning can be reported.

Clear and concise policy, offering a popular vision with broad appeal among their readerships will be key in unlocking certain sectors of the press that have been recently negative regarding the Labour leader’.

Charles, Kate & The Royal PR Machine

Within just hours of each other, headlines hit about both King Charles and Duke of Sussex Kate Middleton being admitted to hospital. Some would have thought this could present a PR disaster, but quite the opposite. ‘Brings Britain together’ is the phrase that has been used on how King Charles’ ‘relatable’ health battle has been described in the media. Divisional Managing Director of Reputation Tim Jotischky commented:

‘The Harry and Meghan vs the Royals soap opera has been the prevailing narrative for so long that it’s hard for the Buckingham Palace PR machine to avoid being derailed by it, but their communications strategy around the announcement of health issues facing King Charles and the Princess of Wales showed they have not lost their sureness of touch.

The easy option would have been to avoid putting out the two announcements within hours of each other to avoid causing undue alarm or raise questions about a leadership vacuum with the Prince of Wales cancelling engagements to support his wife. But had news about the King’s corrective procedure for an enlarged procedure been leaked to the media before being announced – a strong possibility – it would have made it harder to manage the narrative. Pro-actively announcing the news was a more transparent approach and also raised awareness of a medical condition that men sometimes prefer not to discuss.

Similarly, the announcement that the Princess of Wales was in hospital for abdominal surgery was pitch perfect – it gave just enough information to avoid misplaced speculation; it set an approximate timeline for her return to public life; and it made clear there would be no running commentary on her condition, invoking concern for her children and a respect for family privacy.

Meanwhile, the Duke of Sussex was accepting a Living Legend of Aviation award in Beverly Hills in recognition of his five-month tour of duty in Afghanistan in 2013. The Buckingham Palace Press Office couldn’t have scripted it any better had they tried’.

What’s in store for February?

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