There are hundreds, if not thousands, of examples in recent times of where failing to tow the party line or coming off message have damaged a brand – Gerald Ratner and his “crap” sherry decanters, David Shepherd remarking that Topman’s target market was “hooligans or whatever” and Matt Barrett of Barclaycard who revealed he had advised his children never to get a credit card.
However, the latest in this long line is Conservative MEP David Hannan who joined in with US attacks on the National Health Service earlier this week. The US health service reforms, proposed by Barack Obama, have been touted as make-or-break for the US President. Big budget advertising campaigns, on-street demonstrations and TV shows have rocked the US on this issue.
But, the speed of digital communications now means that the UK is embroiled in the debate. While David Hannan has been on US TV criticising the NHS, UK PM Gordon Brown is one of thousands who have voiced their support for the service on Twitter.
So, what does this mean for the Conservatives and their brand? David Cameron has sent out an email to all supporters to reiterate that the Conservative Party is 100% behind the NHS. Hannan, it is claimed, is merely expressing a personal opinion and does not claim to represent the views of the party as a whole. But, Cameron, and the Conservatives, are now on the back foot – forced to come out and publicly support the NHS across the media spectrum.
There is a fine line to tread between balancing the control of the organisation’s brand – whether business, political party, charity or so on – and allowing members, supporters or employees the freedom to express their own views on matters close to their heart.
For the sake of sustainable communications, that line has to be negotiated carefully and regularly with all those who are seen to represent the organisation. It is important that everyone is aware of the key brand messages and feels able to live and work by their organisation’s values – that they are involved in articulating and expressing these messages and values.
More so than ever, the current economic climate is forcing organisations’ to assess whether everyone really is pulling in the same direction. And, that is why we believe that values-driven proposals and campaigns really are one of the best ways of delivering a valuable and relevant communications programme for our clients.