Learn lessons from UK parliament and banks

This summer PoliticsHome and PR Week joined forces to unveil the first Reputation Index, tracking the reputation of 50 top political brands in the Westminster corridors of power.

Right up at the top of the poll was Marks & Spencer, closely followed by Google, then Cancer Research.

No surprise that down at the other end of the scale were most of the banks. HSBC came out with a positive rating, but Barclays, Lloyds Group and Royal Bank of Scotland were all well into the negatives – RBS taking bottom slot.

UK Parliament

Parliamentary copyright images are reproduced with the permission of Parliament

I couldn’t help wondering where the UK Parliament itself would rank in any public reputation index?



Like most citizens I watched the unfolding saga of MP’s expenses aghast that people whose very job is to represent our views, could prove themselves to be so out of touch with the public mood. Even taking the ridiculous moats and duck islands out of the equation, here were people in all sincerity trying to justify why they should be allowed to use my money to improve their homes!

But behind the obvious inability of some MPs to empathise with the public they represent, there are serious questions about the reputation management procedures in the UK Parliament. Or rather, the apparent lack of them.

IoD Scotland magazine

This article was published in the IoD Scotland magazine

Is there an issues management plan? Is there a crisis management plan?

After all, the ticking time bomb that was Westminster expenses shouldn’t have been hard to spot.

Ten years ago, when setting up the Scottish Parliament, it was Westminster that recognised that the their own expenses system was not accountable enough and implemented a new system for Holyrood. Their big failure was to forget to take the next logical step and put right the faults in Westminster!

There are lessons for all organisations in what happened both at the banks and at Westminster.

Reputations are fragile. They take years to build. But they can be destroyed in matter of days, minutes or even seconds.

What can we do to reduce the risk of reputation melt-down?

Wise organisations will have an established issues management group. It should be composed of representatives of key departments. Its members will be selected on the basis that they are alert, inquisitive, analytical and challenging.


Their role is to operate the organisation’s early warning system, scanning the horizon for potential issues that they may have to respond to.

  • Potential legislation, or new regulation
    • Opinions or claims in conventional media or social media
    • A potential new competitor intent on moving in on the market
    • Changing conditions that will alter your market

The issues should be tracked (usually on a matrix system) and categorised. Don’t forget ‘slow burn’ issues (like Westminster’s expenses, or the banks’ toxic loans) that may flare up at some time in the future.

When the issues management group identifies any potential flare-up, the important rule is not to delay. Move the tracking and monitoring systems (media and internet) into top gear and alert the crisis management team to prepare your response.

© Ken McEwen Public Relations, 2009. www.kenmcewen.com
No unauthorised reproduction without full acknowledgement of source. All rights reserved.

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