Who sets the moral compass? Leadership lessons from the Bell Pottinger case
On seeing the Bell Pottinger and Oakbay Capital story unravel, I imagine the temptation of most PR agencies is to argue that’s not how other PR agencies work, and to ask that we are not judged by the behaviour of one of the world’s largest agencies.
Of course that’s what I thought too, but actually I felt more strongly about the poor excuse for leadership and management who claimed they were completely unaware this had happened on their watch.
The culture and behaviour of any business is set at the top. If you create an environment where people can’t be honest, are afraid to report problems or concerns – or admit they have reservations about what a client or manager is asking them to do, you can’t claim surprise when things go wrong. After all, you set the moral compass.
One of the main reasons I set up my own agency five years ago was so I could create a culture that matched my values, not those of a greedy shareholder, or a Board who would throw you under the bus as soon as the going gets tough. Whatever happens, I want to feel proud of our work, and more importantly our behaviour. It’s not easy. Sometimes it means you have to turn away the big-ticket accounts, or deliver news to clients that isn’t sugar coated.
A retainer of £100,000/ month is big by any agency’s standards. It’s impossible to believe, therefore, that the work Bell Pottinger was being asked to do in South Africa wasn’t discussed at a senior level.
To sit on national TV, or look a journalist in the eye and say you didn’t know it was happening is far from believable in my book. Whether you were there when the work was delivered or not, you have set the tone that determines how your staff behave, and dictates whether they feel empowered or powerless to do anything about it. The Bell Pottinger statement states the overwhelming majority of partners played no part in the Oakbay account, but didn’t they influence the culture and actions that made the behaviour OK?
Yes, Bell Pottinger has bought the PR industry into disrepute but they have also bought into question what an organisation will do to achieve growth and ‘success’. I don’t believe it’s ever OK to take the money and not ask what you are being paid to deliver; or is it OK to blame everyone but yourself when that work is brought into question.
If you find yourself nodding along with my thoughts, then we’re hiring.
The future of payment – the revolution of mobility technology
Phasing out petrol and diesel cars and introducing EVs is a great option in...More information
Claire Brady on Net Zero Hero Podcast
Some people think that ‘circularity’ simply means recycling, but it is so much more...More information
Earth Day provides an opportunity to take stock of our progress towards addressing the...More information
When it comes to making sustainability claims, getting it wrong can cost organisations the earth
According to Robin Hicks, “2022 was the year that policymakers started to take greenwashing...More information
Less is more: How low alcohol brands are targeting their Gen Z consumers
Dry January may be over, but giving up alcohol definitely hasn’t gone out of...More information
Beyond B Corp: Breaking up with Barclays
Last year we became a certified B Corp, and to do so we had...More information
Three takeaways from the IPCC’s ‘final warning’ report
This week has seen the release of the latest IPCC report assessing the climate...More information
Why we’ve introduced a 4.5 day working week
As the rulebook of the working week gets rewritten, at Stand we continue to...More information
Stand shifts as we move into our second decade
I founded Stand with one simple (but typically ambitious) belief: that good comms can...More information
So… has the pandemic set us back or propelled us forward?
Last week, just days after the restrictions in England were lifted, we hosted our...More information
Wellbeing is not a one-size-fits-all approach
It’s safe to say that being plunged into multiple lockdowns across the past 18...More information
Covid-19 has given us a harsh lesson in education inequality
Although ‘Freedom Day’ is here, Covid’s effects will, as we hear all too often,...More information
The pandemic of inequalities
Last week, the Health Foundation’s Unequal pandemic, fairer recovery report made headlines, revealing that...More information
Has the pandemic set us back 50 years, or will it propel us forward?
At its onset, Covid-19 was described as the great leveller. But the pandemic has...More information
Pride 2021: Tokenistic campaigns just won’t fly anymore
June is Pride Month, a time for celebrating the diverse accomplishments, identities, and members...More information