The media spotlight focussed on President 'Malchance' (or Hollande as we Brits know him) illustrates perfectly how individuals and their organisations become overwhelmed by unwelcome attention as soon as a story captures the public's interest.
What started as a report of a personal peccadillo soon gained traction as the beleagured President made a desperate attempt at his news conference to focus interest on his economic policies. This worked with the generally compliant French broadsheets for about a day. Since then, journalists have had a field day, using the ongoing saga as a basis for 'breaking news', 'in-depth features and opinion articles ranging from an examination of the cultural differences between the French and British media to more lurid pieces on the libidos of powerful men. Photographers and cartoonists have joined in with relish!
This damaging episode illustrates a truth, more relevant now than ever before, which is that nothing, but nothing, is private. We may have laws that purport to protect privacy, but anyone can publish information. This information may or may not be accurate, but if redress is to be had, it often comes after the event, giving mischief-makers another opportunity to rake over the embers of the original story.
This reality of modern life is as true for business as it is for individuals. If the media get scent of a story, then their investigative processes are just the same. In our era of complete accessability there is now no part of business life that can genuinely be considered confidential. We may think of something as private or secret, but as News International's former executives, the Care Quality Commission, BBC Trustees, the NHS, the Coop Bank, MPs and even the USA's National Security Agency know, unpalatable stories will eventually emerge.
So, if you are doing something of which the public might not approve you must assume they will eventually find out -and probably in the most inconvenient and embarrassing circumstances. There has never been a better time to renew that commitment to ethics in business - and in life!
- This blog carries a series of posts and articles, mostly written by Anthony Fitzsimmons under the aegis of Reputability LLP, a business that is no longer trading as such. Anthony is a thought leader in reputational risk and its root causes, behavioural, organisational and leadership risk. His book 'Rethinking Reputational Risk' was widely acclaimed. Led by Anthony, Reputability helped business leaders to find, understand and deal with these widespread but hidden risks that regularly cause reputational disasters. You can contact Anthony via anthony.fitzsimmons At cranfield dot ac dot uk