Friday 4 July 2014 1:11 am

City & Gild: Rolf Harris, Andy Coulson and the business of image over behaviour

Simon Massey is global chief executive of strategic branding consultancy The Gild.

Simon Massey is global chief executive of strategic branding consultancy The Gild.

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I’m gutted about Rolf Harris. A budding artist as a kid, I watched Rolf on a regular basis, taking great delight in his incredible talent and bizarre catchphrases.

I am loath to admit I have even hummed his songs every now and then. I believed in Rolf Harris. He cultivated an image of a genuine, friendly, creative type who was a thoroughly nice guy.

He built this image over many, many years through a variety of media and methods. He won admiration, plaudits and awards, not least from The Queen herself. Yet we have all been hoodwinked. It turns out that Rolf was in fact all image. Underneath the carefully cultivated brand, there was a deviant undercurrent of despicable behaviour.

We see the same conflict of surface and substance in a very different form with Andy Coulson over phone hacking, although frankly I never thought he was a nice guy and I never hummed along to any of his songs.

As brand strategists we deal with image over behaviour all the time. It is critical that the two are aligned. If they’re not, you will get found out. The internet, social media, Twitter, the pace of information exchange and the willingness of the general public to write whatever they please means that any brand’s behaviour is under constant scrutiny these days.

Many people think that creating a brand is all about advertising, that once you’ve decided what a brand stands for, you simply have to tell an ad agency, put it on a poster or TV and that’s it, job done. Brand runs much deeper than that: the brand image, the brand behaviours should be inextricably linked and they should run through the very veins of the organisation, from the receptionist to the CEO, from the pot plants to the press releases. This is one of the reasons why following the creation of a brand DNA one of the first things we do is ensure the whole organisation is educated on what it means and how to behave it.

It obviously feels a little cold to applying the rigours of brand strategy to people rather than a bottle of whiskey or a tube of toothpaste. However from David Beckham to Richard Branson, these people put themselves out on the market as sellable assets, a set of values and behaviours against which they make a lot of money. They are brands and as such they need to consider that their behaviours must match their images, or the whole thing will collapse.

For Rolf Harris, it’s game over and I suspect that Andy Coulson’s CV will diminish from here on in. For other brands be they people or products, it’s time to take a good hard look and ensure that the brand runs deep, that it isn’t just a kindly facade.

Simon Massey is global chief executive of strategic branding consultancy The Gild,

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