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Financial Times needs to know Thomas Cook didn’t need better communications advice

Trust Me, PR is Dead book coverReading the review of Trust Me, PR is Dead in the Financial Times my jaw dropped when I got to this line:

“Recently, tour operator Thomas Cook was criticised over its handling of the death of two children during one of its holidays: it did not need to overhaul its business model, it needed better communications advice.”

How can anyone seriously believe Thomas Cook doesn’t need to overhaul its business model and that simply communicating better would fix anything? That is naive.

What Thomas Cook needs to do is behave more responsibly. For what it does to be framed and guided by human decency and ethics. Simply trying to fix what went wrong in this tragic case doesn’t get to the heart of why it happened in the first place. Such morally dubious behaviour can only have happened in a company where ethical behaviour isn’t baked into its corporate DNA.

That’s not just communications. What Thomas Cook needs is real public relations, which is far more about what you do than what you say. Reputation is not shaped by what you say, but what you do. The good communications part is listening to better understand what you should do and then telling people what you are actually doing.

The Thomas Cook fiasco demonstrated a failure of governance, not just a failure of communications.

Repeat after me:

“Public relations is NOT just communications. Public relations is not marketing. Public relations is the management discipline that looks after reputation, which is what you do AND what you communicate.”

You can read my review of a preview copy of the print edition of Robert Phillips’ book here – Trust Me, PR is Dead – long live public relations. And more about what public relations really is here – What is PR? A definition for 2015.

Stuart Bruce

International Public Relations Adviser | Trainer | Author | Media Commentator | Conference Speaker | University Lecturer | Online PR | Digital Corporate Communications | Crisis Communications | Digital Public Affairs

2 Comments

  1. Stuart – I agree with you wholeheartedly and frankly even through the communications at Thomas Cook was hugely disappointing throughout this situation, that couldn’t be the case without acceptance and probably direction from the senior management.

    Sadly I feel that if we look at another FT report published in June, we’ll see the reason why TC probably couldn’t care less what its British or probably even European customers think. Their commercial eye is all on China – money over principles: http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/5ce95ca6-1326-11e5-ad26-00144feabdc0.html#axzz3edDOgUxv

  2. Bruce, I disagree with both you and Heather. Thomas Cook may well have handled this issue badly in the sense that it was not sensitive, but they deserve more credit than they have been given. The circumstances were tragic but that does not justify demanding that Thomas Cook accept responsibility for things out of its control. It certainly does not justify a full frontal attack on Thomas Cook’s business model. Risk is part of life and sad things happen – in value chains – and it is important that we take the emotion out of it rationally consider where – if anywhere – real blame lays or what lessons can be learned. This issue was – thank God – an outlier and stands out precisely because it is a rare event. Thomas Cook can hold its head high. It is a shame, I say, that Thomas Cook is being traduced and put on the defensive by the PR pros…. we should be more robust in standing up to waves of emotion (tho one can understand it from the family concerned, but that does not excuse the rest of us).

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