Post 109: Image vs. reality

A lot of what I feel about PR is encapsulated in this story.

If you can’t be arsed clicking on the link, here’s the meat:

“Bacon, an Australian who heads the Oxford Leadership Academy in Britain, told the audience an instructive story about the time he introduced the incoming president of McDonald’s, Charlie Bell, to the world’s richest investor, Warren Buffett.

Bell was the Sydney boy who started working at McDonald’s Kingsford at age 15, made store manager at 19, and became the head of the multinational at 44.

The Aussie whiz-kid was a little nervous about meeting Buffett, the sage of Omaha, who was not only a venerable hero of the investment world but also happened to be one of the biggest shareholders on the McDonald’s register. McDonald’s was in the process of its Super Size Me-inspired fall from grace, its share price falling by half.

Buffett came straight to the point: “What are you going to do about McDonald’s image problem, Mr Bell?”

Bell replied: “We don’t have an image problem. We have a reality problem.”

The new president addressed the reality. He introduced the health food options to the McDonald’s menu. He deleted the supersize option. He turned the McDonald’s share price around.

This story should be core advice to every chief executive, president and prime minister. Addressing the reality of a problem rather than the perception of it is much harder. But, on the bright side, you’ll save a fortune on PR flacks, spin doctors, image consultants and crisis managers. And who knows? You might even solve the problem rather than storing it up for future outbreaks.”

My take on this is simple: try to spin your way out of bad products and bad behaviour and people will see through you and think less of you. Change your behaviour and you have a chance of really changing perceptions.

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