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This week Charlie discusses reputation management, in response to the negative reaction he received for his bulletin titled ‘The Grenfell Fire Fallout…’.

As a consultant, you spend your time telling others how to manage incidents, but you very rarely get a chance to actually manage one. My chance to manage a reputation incident came a couple of weeks ago.

When writing about incidents, especially ones that are in your own country and have a high loss of life, it is always a delicate balancing act. If you don’t write about a major incident, it is almost like you haven’t noticed it. However, if you do write about the incident, you have to make sure that you are not seen to be profiting from other people’s misfortune.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a bulletin on the Grenfell fire titled ‘The Grenfell Fire Fallout…’, which was about how to react if your company is implicated in a major disaster. My bulletins are checked by a number of BC Training staff and we agreed, although it was very close to the disaster happening, that the bulletin should go out, as the angle of the article covered a slightly different take on the fire. My wife is from the area, so there was also some local knowledge of the incident.

As usual, Nina posted a link to the article on LinkedIn. The posting of the article on LinkedIn elicited some strong comments, such as “Extremely poor taste – do people have no common sense”, “No, no, no, no, no!  This article is just wrong.” and “The basic lack of empathy to try and push this article at a time of confusion like this is pathetic. You should be ashamed using a tragedy of this magnitude as a sales pitch”. There were about 14 comments in total, along with a number of likes. There were also some positive comments, with people commenting that the article had value, but the majority were negative.

Having a number of negative comments on a bulletin, which I thought was well measured, immediately got my hackles up. Who were these people to criticise me? Don’t you know I write every week? You don’t even know me. From the looks of the comments, it seemed that many of the people who commented on the article hadn’t actually read it, but just followed everyone else’s comments. After this reaction, I decided that if you post something on the internet, everyone has the right to comment on it and perhaps it is better to get comments on an article, rather than for nobody to read it.

In responding to the negative reaction to this article, it seemed to me that I had four options:

1. Do nothing, don’t feed the fire by posting further comments and hope that the furore dies away.

2. Robustly defend the article, post counter-comments and join in the discussion, perhaps “poking a stick in a hornets’ nest”!

3. Mobilise friends and ask them to post supporting the article, so that those reading the thread can see that there a number of different opinions.

4. Apologise and withdraw the article.

With all matters of reputation, there is a delicate balancing act to be had. Is this article and the comments on it going to go viral and damage your brand? In this case, the majority of those commenting were not from this country and, judging from their job titles, are unlikely to be interested in business continuity. You can take the stance that even negative publicity helps brand awareness. In the end, we decided that we would choose option one, say nothing and let the anger peter out. This seems to have worked and all is quiet for the moment. I think there is nothing as old as yesterday’s news and those who like to get angry about articles on the internet will find something else to vent about.

The negative response this article received is a minor incident in the history of the world, but as BC people we should be thinking about how our organisation, or brand, would handle a similar incident.

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