The response to news that former News of the World editor Andy Coulson has set up a new PR firm, Coulson Chappell, with Pitch PR founder Henry Chappell, produced an unlikely social media hero last week.
John Prescott’s congratulatory message to Coulson has been retweeted over 7,000 times and produced much mirth on the internet.
But there is a more serious side to Coulson’s return to PR – an industry in which the former Downing Street director of communications undoubtedly excelled in, before being sentenced for phone-hacking when at The News of the World.
How do individuals and corporations rebuild their reputation after it has collapsed? How do brands recover and restore public trust once it has been compromised by an individual’s behaviour?
These questions matter because marketing and PR in particular are the windows into organisational culture and brand behaviour.
If you want consumers to believe your brand, then the way you communicate with them is fundamental.
And when that behaviour is compromised by an individual, then the organisation has to take remedial action to restore trust.
Some of the sagest advice I have received is that if a PR becomes the story, they’ve failed the organisation.
Instead of protecting reputation they’ve become the reputational risk.
Most often the fastest way to put a brand on the path to recovery is to distance itself from the individual.
The journey to rebuilding trust begins with swift action to tackle the issue compromising reputation but for there to be a truly lasting impact then it must be followed by a sustained marketing and PR programme focused on the consumer.
It is a lesson well learnt by organisations in the financial services sector.
Of course, distance does not have to be total separation and in Coulson’s case, one particularly interesting aspect of his new venture is the positioning around providing a “discreet” corporate strategy.
In his words: “From our combined experience, Coulson Chappell can offer a unique perspective to clients looking for clear, discreet and effective strategic advice.”
It demonstrates their ambition to remove Coulson from the limelight and instead focus on his strategic expertise.
The good news, of course, is that it is possible to rehabilitate reputation. There will of course be organisations which will benefit from his experience of central government and crisis.
For the wider industry, what will be most interesting is how Coulson will apply his communications expertise to rebuild his own personal brand.