What brands can learn from Jimmy Carr’s mistakes

The issues arising from scrutiny of Jimmy Carr’s tax affairs have much to teach us about the proper handling of a crisis and structuring of a brand strategy in the Now economy. The affair encapsulates problems which are endemic to any brand- the reason I’ve enjoyed giving some much commentary on the whole sordid business is that they are problems which I set up my new business to help address. Most pertinently, it has much to teach about when smart thinking should be brought into play- a little disruptive thought and hard work in a time of peace can come into immeasurable value in avoiding times of strife.

I Spoke with the Today Programme last Thursday, and then Drivetime on 5 live the same afternoon, and both conversations revolved around the same hubs: the speed at which the affair took light, the role of social media and the public conversation in prompting Carr to apologise, the damning power of Hubris in a public figure. You can listen to both on this post if you’re interested, but in summary I could only conclude that, given the circumstances, Carr did the right thing in delivering a frank and swift apology.

The problem, however- and this is a problem for anyone with an image to protect, whether it be a comedian or a rockstar, or a multinational oil behemoth- is how to engineer one’s business so that such circumstances do not arise. In the Now Economy, not only are business or individuals forced to be increasingly transparent thanks to a constantly updating news cycle and social media commentary, they’re also operating in a world which is less forgiving than ever about the foibles of the powerful. The people of the Western world, blighted by recession, high off the drug of cheap information, is now full of commentators. Nowadays, not everyone who’s going to sting you wears a press pass and accepts a free lunch now and then.

We’re also living in a world of marmite parameters- you are loved or hated. To an extent this was always the case, but now these preferences can be expressed instantly and visibly at the touch of a mouse. The timescale of the Carr affair was frightening for anyone in public relations: he went from proud social commentator to decadent malcontent to apologetic and vindicated hero in the space of a day. This was possible only because his every move was observed and then vocally judged by millions, all of whom were empowered to make their feelings extremely clear right away.

The only thing for it isn’t very appealing to many: hard work, big thinking and clever targeting. Businesses need to place story-led, crowd-focused PR thinking at the heart of what they do, in order to come up with viable, socially responsible models which both achieve business objectives and allow for deeper, more harmonious communications. In short, Carr has clearly thought cleverly about getting some solid crisis management advice, but even cleverer advice 6 months ago could have saved him a lot of time and lost sleep.

If you’re curious about discovering your brand narrative and working to be loved, I’m always happy to speak with big thinkers. Get in touch.

The Today Programme

Radio 5 Live