Reputation Management in the Era of Cost-of-living 

The current cost-of-living crisis is one of the most significant global economic downturns since the Second World War. Beginning in 2021, the UK has watched with horror as the cost of food, bills and property has skyrocketed to an all-time high. Proverbial nerves are often exposed in times like these, so companies must be especially sensitive when communicating with the public to ensure no offence or media fallout follows as consequence. One example to vehemently avoid would be claiming ‘we are all in this together’ and then flying your executives first class…

While this sounds like common sense, it happens more often than you’d think, offering a unique opportunity for those in reputation management which differs from the quick paced scenarios we’re used to. Rather than government scandals and influencer feuds, the cost-of-living crisis presents a raw and complex issue that demands greater awareness over an extended period of time, rather than short, sharp communications at time of incident.

Reputation Management Example 1 – A Royal One All At Sea!

Contrary to popular opinion, reputation management wasn’t born out of cancel culture, it’s been around for a long time. A prime example was Prince Philip’s tasteless remark over his remorse for selling one of his yachts during the former economic crisis that swept the UK in the 1969. For those struggling to feed their families, that statement probably felt tone deaf… producing bombshell headlines across the country. His crisis comms team shouldn’t have played it by ear, instead they should’ve taken proactive action, much earlier on, to minimise damage in the following ways:

  • Briefing Prince Phillip (and other public-facing royals) on the extra considerations they should have when speaking to the media.
  • Conducting a reputation audit to analyse how the royals are viewed in the media.
  • Creating an issues management report to identify the narratives from the audit and craft responses including media statements and Q&Asfrom targeted spokespersons.
  • Starting a risk management log to record other potential reputational threats.
  • Preparing for media fallout: this last step is key.

Preparing for media fallout can make the difference between a full-blown scandal and an out of character quip. Naturally, journalists will want the insider scoop on anything newsworthy, so preparing those in the firing line is a great idea. In the case of the cost-of-living crisis, educating clients on the full extent of how this crisis is affecting people and the economy is a good start. Companies should be informed and sensitive when making their expensive operations public. Private sectors are typically targeted for this, as well as politicians.

Reputation Management Example 2 – Lydia Millen Ticked Off

A more recent example stems from the TikTok sensation Lydia Millen, whose complaint over having to shower at the Savoy has landed her in a bit of hot water. The 34-year-old complained to her 1.2 million followers that her heating was broken and so she had to book a suite in one of the country’s most expensive hotels. As far as inconveniences go, I’m not sure booking yourself a pristine £1000 per-night room is up there with homelessness or redundancy. With followers who struggle to pay their bills or feed their children, this is a rendezvous she definitely should’ve kept offline. Ms Millen likely won’t have her own team, but a few steps she could’ve taken herself were issuing an official online apology and taking preventative measures to ensure this doesn’t happen in future, such as:

  • Conducting her own reputation audit to assess how her followers’ opinion of her might have changed.
  • Creating an issues management report and risk management log and preparing for the response she will likely receive from followers.
  • Offering a sincere apology that clearly states how and where she went wrong.

As the cost-of-living crisis remains prevalent, those in the public eye, especially those more fortunate, ought to consider the larger constraints of what they’re saying. Successful companies with large profits and secure salaries would do well to acknowledge that the cost-of-living crisis is affecting others more than them. Whitehouse’s team of experts can help devise reputation management tailored to your business’s needs, and our integrated crisis management service can be deployed at short notice, supporting both internal and external communication. We are qualified in CPD-accredited Bespoke Managing Risk and Crisis, trained by the London School of Public Relations.

For more information, please contact Whitehouse’s Communications Director, Mayar Raouf