The Reputation Report: November 2023

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 the pivotal crossroads facing the Conservative Party following the return of David Cameron. We analyse the high-profile scandal that has engulfed OpenAI following the departure and return of CEO Sam Altman. We also dive in to the reputational challenges now facing the Solicitors Regulation Authority after the failure of Axiom Ince.

David Cameron returns:

David Cameron has returned to frontline UK politics in a move that shocked the nation. The surprise announcement from PM Rishi Sunak attracted both plaudits and criticism and is undoubtedly one of the most significant moves of his tenure. Despite some of the positive reactions to this news among political and media circles, less than one in five voters think this appointment will have a positive impact on the Conservatives chances at the next General Election. Divisional Managing Director of Reputation Tim Jotischky commented:

‘The return of David Cameron to front-line politics was a genuine drop-the-marmalade moment because it was executed in complete secrecy. Leaving aside the political fall-out, to have pulled off that was a PR triumph which Cameron – the one-time director of corporate affairs at Carlton TV – would have appreciated. It postponed Suella Braverman’s venomous attack on the Prime Minister for 24 hours at least and diminished its impact.

Like any clever PR trick however, there needs to be substance, as well as show. So, what’s the verdict? On the downside, Rishi Sunak pledged to end 30 years of political failure and then brought back one of the men he implicitly criticised as an architect of the failed consensus, whilst simultaneously enraging the Tory right. On the plus side, he brought gravitas to an increasingly lightweight administration: a big hitter with global credibility at a time when international affairs are dominating the headlines.

David Cameron’s appointment won’t save Rishi Sunak from electoral defeat but it sent a message that he intends to pitch for the centre-left Tory vote rather than tilt to the right. It didn’t move the markets but it wasn’t intended as a short-term gimmick’.

Sam Altman and OpenAI:

The departure of OpenAI co-founder & CEO Sam Altman sent shockwaves throughout the global tech world. Altman’s departure was met with widespread criticism and was just the beginning of what swiftly became a PR mess playing out across the press and social media. In response to the news OpenAI’s board were confronted by widespread revolt from investors and soon after, several other shock senior departures from the company. While this was playing out, in an astute operational & PR move, OpenAI investor Microsoft announced that they had hired Altman and former company Chair Greg Brockman to lead a “new advanced AI research team”. Following this announcement, Microsoft’s stock rose by two percent, hitting a record high. Director of Corporate Mimi Brown commented: 

‘You ask ChatGPT about succession planning and it gives you three essential phases; Swift and Transparent Communication, Craft a Positive Narrative, and Engage Stakeholders and Manage Expectations.

The name of the game with succession comms is to avoid speculation and negativity, convey security and vision, and take the opportunity to reset the future outlook.  OpenAI hit the headlines by managing to skip all of these phases and having its employees and the board at loggerheads over leadership. With another last minute u-turn, some crucial board changes and Sam Altman returning to his CEO role, all eyes will remain on the Microsoft relationship and staff unrest.

Ironically, the student became the master when it came to the succession comms here: Chat GPT – 1, OpenAI – 0′.

The SRA and Axiom Ince scandal:

The SRA has been hitting headlines following its first detailed statement on the Axiom Ince scandal. This statement came after the Serious Fraud Office’s announcement that it had begun a criminal investigation into the firm more than two months after the SRA first notified it. The SRA has since been under scrutiny for how it has dealt with Axiom Ince, with negative sentiment in UK media increasing by 478% from the previous period leading up to this announcement. Divisional Managing Director of Corporate Neil McLeod commented:

‘The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has a clear case to answer following the Serious Fraud Office’s (SFO) swoops in connection with failed law firm Axiom Ince. Why didn’t the SRA act far sooner than it did, is one of many obvious questions.

It is surprising then that it chose to announce the Axiom probe as this could mean it may have to charge its members £500 a head to pay for it.

Flimsy and tone-deaf is not a good look for a regulator in any industry, let alone the legal sector. Through its poorly executed communications strategy the SRA is now part of this story – and needs to get ahead of the unfolding narrative to restore trust and confidence’.

What’s in store for December?

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