After a period of quivering, the Barclay’s house of cards finally crumbled this week, with Marcus Agius’s remarkable u-turn and Bob Diamond’s final resignation. The whole confusion points to something of a head in the sand culture among senior leadership, with mistakes perhaps ignored and accountability certainly a convoluted issue. Barclays’ has certainly had a wake up call to the realities of doing business in the Now Economy- they are a goliath, and they’ve found that there are plenty of Davids around with access to plenty of stones.
It’s interesting, however, that these dramatic collapses so rarely correspond to the much-hyped inquiries of the past decade, whose sanctioned scrutiny rarely turns up anything so juicy. Leveson is currently subjecting the newspaper industry and the world of political communications to the grilling of their lives, and to an extent rightly so. Yet even as it drudges up the odd flutter of fascination- a misunderstood acronym here, a misplaced email there- the banking industry turns up disaster after disaster without any such trumpeted lines of enquiry.
Chilcot, too, who remembers that? I’m struggling to recall any images beyond Alastair Campbell’s tie. Like a second rate indie band or the son of an A-lister, it arrived into the public eye with a fanfare of hype, then left just as quickly.
The point brands should take from this is that the media’s appetites- and by extension those of the public- are quite literally unpredictable. Any PR person who’s had a sure-fire piece vanish into thin air when a bomb goes off or Rihanna leaves the house can tell you that. All signs might indicate the eyes of the world pointing safely away from your general direction, but make a wrong move and they can swivel in an instant… or not. That’s the trouble.
Transparency and, to a sensible extent, honesty about mistakes can do wonders for a brand in a world with an insatiable appetite for information. Sensible planning with solid PR counsel at every stage can ensure that errors with high publicity value are avoided in advance, whilst a drip feed of relatively uninteresting material about anything which does occur can be far less palatable for a journalist than the sudden collapse of a vast cover-up. In the age of the 24 minute news cycle, never assume you’ll be passed over, and listen to your PRs. Just because they’re paranoid doesn’t mean the press aren’t out to get you.
Failing this, brands like Barclay’s certainly need to be turning to narrative thinking in order to go about constructing a meaningful recovery. In the 24 minute news cycle, whitewash isn’t an option- there’ll be someone ready to tear down any walls you erect before they’re built. At this stage, if not before, brands must think about far reaching, deep actions which project the meme of change long into the future. A simple campaign- whether advertising, PR or whatever, won’t suffice. The herd refused to be fobbed off with Agius: they wanted Diamond and they got him. Once again, the key rule of communications in the Now Economy is proven: do what you say, say what you do.