The Reputation Report: May 2024

In May’s edition of ‘The Reputation Report’, our experts provide insights into the month’s leading communications trends and reputational challenges. This month’s analysis covers the first two weeks of General Election campaigning, the shambles that was the opening of Co-Op Live and what communicators can learn from Liverpool Manager Jurgen Klopp.

The General Election:

Tim Jotischky, Divisional Managing Director, Reputation 

The prevailing wisdom is that election campaigns make very little difference to the result on polling day – but they still have the capacity to surprise and the opening salvos have not gone according to the script.

As the clear front runner, the temptation for Labour is to play it safe while Rishi Sunak is trying to position himself as the insurgent underdog – a hard trick to pull off for a party that has been in power for 14 years.

The early stages of Labour’s campaign were derailed by the row over Diane Abbott’s suspension: an entirely avoidable own goal. Reputation is formed by a combination of character and capability; Labour wants to appeal to the middle ground by purging the Left, but its mishandling of the case made it look authoritarian and focused attention on party management, not policies.

Will it make a difference? Probably not. While voters remain underwhelmed by Keir Starmer, the Conservatives can’t run a Presidential-style campaign because Rishi Sunak’s ratings are even worse. That only leaves a “better the devil you know” strategy which is hard when your party’s brand has become toxic.

So far, the smaller parties have struggled to make an impact. Ed Davey likes an eye-catching stunt but lacks gravitas. Lacking an organisational structure, Reform came into the election under-cooked. But Nigel Farage’s takeover of the Party has galvanised the campaign and, regardless of whether he succeeds in entering Parliament at the 8th attempt, they will take votes from the Conservatives and force them to tack right, abandoning the middle ground.

Meanwhile, the snap election gave no time for new SNP leader John Swinney to bed in, making Scotland’s largest party more vulnerable to Labour gains. That could have an important impact on the national picture.

But this election feels like a phoney war. Existential issues, such as global security, the affordability of the NHS and Britain’s broken finances, are barely addressed. Will any party have the courage to confront them rather than giving the easy answers they think voters want to hear?

Co-Op Live:

Mimi Brown, Director of Corporate 

Co-op has explicitly tried to put distance between their sponsorship of Co-Op Live and Oak View Group as the operator of the new Manchester event arena. And who could blame them? In a saga dragging on since April Oak View Group has failed to get on the front-foot, and this applies to its social channels, visitor updates and official media statements. The latest saga being a Nikki Minaj gig cancelled via a post on X, with fans already at the venue.

The CEO’s comments have failed to be realistic or reflective, at first referring to cancelled events and safety issues as “little bumps”, then trying to distract with grandiose projections about plans for a future London venue, and then refusing to admit embarrassment over the situation. If anything, the blunt tone of some statements could make visitors more nervous: when an air-con unit fell from the ceiling minutes before a gig, the CEO’s admission that “They didn’t put the bolts in” projects incompetence, despite assurances they’d now take the time to ‘get it right’.

His perhaps misplaced optimism has not gone un-noted in the media

Jurgen Klopp

Robin Brant, Associate Director, Reputation 

Sitting on a beach somewhere in Majorca is a native German speaker who helped rejuvenate one of English football’s most revered clubs. While he enjoys a very hard-earned rest we should all be asking ourselves this question; can you communicate like Klopp?

He doesn’t tend to do cliches. He’s sincere. The man who, from the beginning to the end, described himself as ‘normal’ asked Liverpool fans to help him achieve success ‘together’. And they did.

He was engaging. Boy was he engaging. With a sideline energy rivalled only by my favourite Mikel Arteta. That was communicated, directly, to the crowd who were party to that passion. He cried with them when they won the Premiership in 2020.

He didn’t shy away from issues that were important to him, but out of his normal day to day. We all knew what he thought of Brexit (‘when we stay together we can sort out problems’). But he didn’t get drawn into a self-serving polemic.

He had authority – huge authority, because he delivered what he promised – but he wasn’t authoritarian. He was the leader. But it was always a collaborative endeavour. Saying things, issuing directives, as the boss is one way to do it. Communicating your values and vision is another.

Doing it in your second language is an added bonus.

What’s in store for June?

Get in touch with the team