Politics and reputation: what we need to know and do

A review of “Reputation in Business: Lesson or leaders” by Stuart Thomson

“Political audiences are more critical to reputation than many leaders give them credit for,” argues Stuart Thomson in his new book Reputation in Business: lessons for leaders.   

In his book, Stuart, the head of public affairs for law firm BDB Pitmans, aims to provide a roadmap for leaders to build and protect reputations. 

He takes a broad approach to reputation management, crisis leadership and the role of politics in business. He also addresses the media and why charities should put reputation management at the top of their agenda. A public affairs and communications specialist, Stuart is fascinated by and a master of his subject.

For public affairs practitioners, the book provides a crucial reminder that politics and politicians play a critical role in reputation management for all organisations. 

After all, politicians can “pass new laws, introduce new regulations, establish regulators, create taxes or impose fines and prison for poor behaviour.” On the other hand, good political relations can help reduce the risk of government or regulatory intervention. 

The book highlights the importance of getting the basics right and understanding politicians’ particular needs. As they must stand for election and face voters on a regular basis, politicians are unlike any other audience with whom leaders might engage. 

Stuart advocates a pro-active approach to political engagement, focused on providing insightful, evidence-rich briefings that offer a solution. “If there is one point to remember, then it is this: always explain to the audience how the issue can be dealt with,” recommends Stuart. 

In an eminently practical book, Stuart goes on to explain how leaders should handle parliamentary inquiries should they or their organisation be under the political spotlight. 

The book details the stages of a select committee or parliamentary inquiry and sets out how organisations can prepare for and manage the potential fallout from such an event. 

Full of examples, Stuart highlights inquiries where leaders have got it wrong and those who’ve struck the right tone. 

Those who handled inquiries poorly include the former TSB CEO, Paul Pester. As The Guardian reported at the time: “Any ambitious junior bank executives out there should watch that hearing again closely, as an example of how not to handle a select committee.”  

In reflecting on how leaders should build relationships and reputations among politicians and policymakers, Stuart suggests they should never underestimate the importance of deference. 

Essentially, his advice comes down to ensuring leaders listen to what politicians have to say and respect their position – no matter how senior or junior those politicians are. 

While this is common sense, most public affairs practitioners can no doubt think back to an awkward meeting where a leader put their ego before the outcome of the meeting. 

Some books on reputation spend more time on theory or concepts, whereas this book focuses on industry research and case studies. 

This makes it a breeze to read – in stark contrast to those more theoretical and heavy-going tomes. This is also helped by Stuart’s crisp and concise writing. He conveys a lot of insight without being too formal, as regular readers of his blog will appreciate. 

As Stuart concludes in his chapter on politics, “unless you consider your reputation from a political perspective, you are failing to manage your risks effectively.”

This should serve as a valuable reminder to all public affairs practitioners to reaffirm the case for having a robust and well-resourced team that actively manages political risk and engagement.  

Get the book, read it and, most importantly, put it into practice.