By Paul Raeburn, Associate Director, ReputationInc
Reading Charlie Brooker’s column in the Guardian on all that has made the news this year, it brought home just how much happened in 2011. The news agenda seems to have swung from one major story to another with barely a pause for breath. As Brooker points out, stories like the Libyan conflict almost became dull because they weren’t resolved indecently quickly, and the killing of Osama Bin Laden was far too quickly ‘over’ and forgotten as other stories rolled in.
So what’s behind this (besides the obvious), what does it mean for those of us trying to manage and advance corporate reputations, and can we cope with another year of the same?
A perfect storm
First it’s important to acknowledge the seriousness of the economic situation, and the seemingly regular occurrences of natural disasters and political instability. Worryingly at least two of those elements are unlikely to be any less pertinent in 2012, so no respite there.
While the media will cover news of job creation, interest in softer corporate brand-building stories has on the whole been increasingly limited due to the near permanent noise around the latest major story.
In such an environment, corporate campaigning and thought leadership on major issues and policy debates feels a lot more effective and appropriate than trumpeting a self-focused narrative with small-fry corporate news.
Don’t rely on anyone else
This year has also seen diminishing levels of trust and the continued hyping of news, and reaction to it, by social media.
The Liberal Democrat u-turn on tuition fees has affected how the next generation, already facing grim employment prospects, view those in authority. And while many corporates feel they have logical arguments around issues such as their tax status and exposure, the public often sees such issues differently and they undermine other efforts to communicate good corporate citizenship.
This atmosphere, combined with the rise of social media, means it’s less feasible than ever to rely on others to get your message out there. The days of no comment and selective interventions to manage news and reputation are looking increasingly untenable, with plenty of others more than happy to fill the vacuum and generate noise that will define your reputation in your absence.
Mistakes will happen
All this sounds a little apocalyptic (and a little bit overly-serious), but it’s the reality with which we are faced. The news that News of The World journalists maybe didn’t delete voicemail messages from Milly Dowler’s phone makes you consider how events might have panned out differently if there wasn’t such a frenzy around that story at the time.
At one stage this year I believed someone when they told me that Mubarak had fallen (several weeks before he actually did) and that David Hasselhof was playing Tahir Square that evening. I almost tweeted about how excited I was to hear that the Hoff was embracing the revolution.
Had I done so I would have looked quite silly, but perhaps another story would have broken soon and my error would be quickly forgotten. Which makes me wonder, how many potentially tricky situations for corporates were somewhat buried in 2011 by the avalanche of news?
Or perhaps that’s just a little too fanciful, as those that have come under the microscope this year may testify, the job of reputation management is getting harder than ever.
Charlie Brooker’s 2011 Wipe will be broadcast on Friday 30th December at 10:30pm on BBC Four