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Brewing up a storm

Brewing up a storm

If there’s any good that can come from the BrewDog PR debacle, it’s the reassurance that despite a crushing year for employees in many industries, not least hospitality, they can, should and do still drive corporate change.

While we have long counselled clients on ‘the power of your people to build your external brand’, it still baffles me that corporates overlook the risk of projecting one image externally while enduring a very different internal reality. BrewDog’s people accuse it of ‘lies, hypocrisy and deceit’ pedalled through external media in a vain attempt to build ‘awareness at any cost’. It’s positively 1980s.

BrewDog is one in a long chain of brands falling foul – but perhaps has grasped even greater media attention because we all like to think BrewDog is the epitome of honest, grafting entrepreneur-made-it-big. If we drink it, we pat ourselves on the back for buying ‘British craft beer’ not putting pennies in the pockets of global multinats.

Recently, a professional services firm inflicted reputational self-harm when it attempted a campaign to call its industry to account on gender and ethnic disparity, without first considering the make-up of its all-male, all-white Board. If the crass PR attempt comes before the operational, systemic cultural change is effected, it will fail. This is the stuff that gives PRs a bad name.

We’ve seen countless BigTech, BigBank employee walkouts which have, temporarily at least, caused reputational damage. But what really irks me with the BrewDog situation is that one of the “Punks With Purpose”‘s biggest complaints is the lack of integrity of a brand which is claiming great social and environmental responsibility so at odds with the facts. In short, these people are fighting fake PR with PR, in an era when a business like BrewDog should know better.

The past 18 months have shone the sharpest spotlight on the need for heightened corporate responsibility. Responsibility to your employees but also to community; to supply chain; to Great Britain and the World. Covid has reminded even the greatest corporate leaders that we are intrinsically inter-connected, reliant on one another to survive and thrive. And if we are going to take – vaccines, furlough monies – to keep UK plc ticking, we need to be damn well sure that we are giving back in equal measure.

Which means that today, your external brand needs to be a perfect projection of who you really are. Authenticity and integrity are the traits in highest demand – and commanding the greatest political and commercial currency. Greenwashing and whitewashing is out. What consumers, employees and indeed investors want to see, is brands effecting positive change that is true to their very essence of being.

Reputation isn’t built on billboards, however much you pay for them. And, in 2021 more than ever before, it lives and breathes on the experiences of your people. Employees can and are holding corporates to account. And no amount of fake external brand building will quiet their voices.

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