Written by Ed Whitehead
2 min read

ITV drama, Mr Bates vs The Post Office, has finally brought what’s been called one of the biggest miscarriages of justice in British History, to the attention of us all. Hundreds of sub-postmasters were wrongly convicted and the reputation of the once trusted Post Office brand has been done untold damage.

As part of industry title PRWeek’s look into what comms lessons can be learnt from the scandal, Fleet Street’s director of corporate and reputation, Ed Whitehead, was asked for his thoughts. Here’s what he had to say:

Calls for a criminal investigation into those in charge of the Post Office during the Horizon Scandal are set to get even louder after Mr Bates vs The Post Office. Time will tell whether there was indeed a ‘cover-up’ of bugs in the accounting software, but there are some clear lessons we can learn.

1 The truth will out

This is the counsel that any reputation consultant worth their salt will give during a crisis. The best thing for a company’s reputation in the long-term is to accept short-term pain by acknowledging what has gone wrong, and taking clear steps to address it. Failure to ‘front-up’, as in this case, could lead to years of investigations, legal proceedings, media coverage, reputational damage and even financial ruin.

2 You need real leadership

An immediate ‘mea culpa’ may well the best way for a business to start to move on, but it takes a strong Chief Executive to take responsibility for a crisis. Their whole career could be on the line.

3 The importance of reputational ‘money in the bank’

A good reputation will give you the benefit of the doubt in a crisis, and a more receptive audience for your story in times of need. As recently as 2019, the Post Office claimed to be “the nation’s most trusted brand,” and while that trust has now been significantly eroded, I would argue that a scandal like this would have destroyed a business which didn’t have such strong reputational equity in the first place.

First published in PRWeek on 4th January 2024. You can read the full article here

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