What businesses can learn from Julia verus Kevin

The Labor Party Rudd-Gillard leadership battle (August 2013) to determine the Prime Minister is a lesson in reputation management. Julia Gillard and her supporters are publicly attacking Kevin Rudd in a most derogatory way. At the same time Kevin Rudd is allegedly undermining Gillard by stealth. They both are striving to win support from members of the Labor Party caucus for their claims to the leadership.

But while they each attempt to destroy the reputation of the other in the eyes of their parliamentary colleagues they are collectively destroying the reputation of the Labor Party. By suggesting that the party has allowed itself to be led respectively by a man who ran the government as an autocrat and in chaos and a woman who has reduced their popularity in the polls to an untenable level they are destroying their own reputation. In other words they are destroying the brand.

The result is a lose-lose. Whoever wins, the Rudd-Gillard battle, the public’s perception will be that we got the lesser bad solution and not the better solution. We will all be left with the perception that the whole thing is about their ambitions, egos, and salaries, which they have put before their party’s reputation. The follow on from this is the question that will be left in the public’s mind about where the country sits in their value system if Rudd-Gillard would sacrifice party unity for their own ambitions. It has become very Shakespearean.

There is strong evidence from the UK to support the loss of political reputation from negative cross-party criticism. Between 1945 and 2000 the average voter turnout in the British elections (which are non-compulsory) was 76%. However in 2001 and 2005 the voter turnout plummeted to 59% and 61%. Work by academics (see below for citation) showed that the negative advertising by the parties about their opponents had not only discouraged young people from voting for the other parties but had discouraged them from voting for anybody at all. The negative advertising had ruined the reputation of all British politicians.

This is important to remember in business too. Your branding, your customer service, and your integrity all build your reputation. But you also take a lot of your reputation from the industry you work in.

If you criticise your competitors you damage yourself. How many times do you hear business people accusing their competitors of bad practice? And the result is that the listener believes that all members of that industry are bad just as many believe that Rudd-Gillard are as bad as each other.

The message from Rudd-Gillard? Be as careful with the reputation of your industry as you are of your own reputation.

PAPER CITED—Safeguarding the Future of Democracy (Re)Building Young People’s Trust in Parliamentary Politics, Janine Dermody  & Stuart Hanmerlloyd Journal of Political Marketing Volume 4, 2005 – Issue 2-3