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Carillion proves why the comms team needs your ear

It’s the biggest UK news story of the week, and will likely be one of the biggest come year end even if 2018 has literally just got itself into gear.
When news broke on Monday that the country’s second largest construction firm, Carillion, had collapsed, many people looked on aghast. Placing tens of thousands of jobs at risk, both in terms of those directly employed by the company and second or third parties involved in its various projects, it’s a monumental catastrophe, the fallout of which will be felt for some time to come.
Not least given the number of Government contracts the business had, but let’s not go into the PR nightmare No.10 has been in since the situation unfolded.
As stories gradually began surfacing about profit warnings that had already been issued, not to mention a veritable fire sale of shares by hedge funds last year— a foreboding sign if ever there was one— then questions started being asked. How did nobody know? Did people know but say nothing? How can we keep standing by and watching as investors effectively profit from others’ misery.
It’s important to make two points here, though; firstly, as industry experts have explained in the days leading up to this blog post, you’d be hard pushed to find many major building firms that hadn’t issued warnings in the last couple of years due to the unpredictability of huge undertakings— delays, escalating costs, changes in government policy and so forth. Meanwhile, hedge fund managers have frequently got things wrong when it comes to ‘sell sell sell’ reactions.

Don’t just talk, listen

In many ways, then, it was always going to be very difficult to predict this happening, but it would have been far easier if the construction industry had a better, more realistic and responsible approach to comms in general.
As this excellent piece in PR Week explains, public relations is about bringing the outside world into your own business sphere, and, when necessary, allowing ‘entrenched practices’ to be challenged by those who are aware of wider sentiment and ethical expectations. Be those practices so-called ‘suicide bidding’ in an attempt to win new work that is almost or completely unaffordable at the given price. Or huge bonuses which threaten to bring the whole house of cards crashing down.
Then you have reports of staff being instructed not to speak with journalists, even those with press-facing roles, as though more than £1billion of debt could simply be ignored until it went away, and nobody would be any the wiser.
If you have to read one more Smoking Gun PR post about transparency it will probably drive you crazy— although there will be plenty coming over the next few months no-doubt. As such let’s make this one focus on your comms teams being treated with more professional respect; listen to them and heed their thoughts as much as give them a brief. After all, it needs to be a two-way street to reap real rewards.

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