It is vital that if the BBC or indeed any other major broadcaster intends to explore the rights and wrongs of a given issue, that they choose guest ‘experts’ who really understand their subject. To choose people who appear authoritative, and then speak nonsense, can bring into question the broadcasters own capabilities. On this morning’s Sunday Morning Live one of the points of discussion arose from last week’s challenge by Parliament to Philip Green over his part in the BHS collapse. For that subject one of the panel on the SML sofa was Mark Littlewood, he is the Director General of the Institute of Economic Affairs, and his initial statements suggested he was speaking with some familiarity when it came to how businesses operate and indeed he appeared to claim knowledge in this area. However the issue of what to do if a Company runs into difficulty then arose, and what Littlewood had to say must go down in the annals of such programmes as the biggest pile of nonsense ever heard. He suggested that if a business was in trouble, and about to go to the wall that it may be appropriate to spend the current employees’ Pension contribution on a rebranding exercise if that was the only way of saving the business. The idea that rebranding a business would save it from insolvency is so completely ridiculous that I believe the BBC should issue a disclaimer on this part of the programme. No reputable PR agencies would go near a business that was so vulnerable in any case, particularly if it thought that by rebranding, that it would not go bust. Branding exercises take time to have an impact and are a matter of positioning businesses for the medium to long term future, branding a business is like turning a ship around, it takes time and it is in effect a change of direction, no matter how subtle. If a business is on the brink of collapse, there may well be reasons why missing payments to the pension fund could be in the employee’s best interest. Most certainly would prefer a job for another month or three while the employer speaks to creditors and changes its sales approach, and possibly finds other ways of injecting funds into the business, and while they look for another job. However explaining such things to employees at such a late stage is very difficult for both worker and employer and will almost certainly be too little too late. Businesses depend on governance as well as management. It is the governance that is responsible for looking at long term trends and identifying if branding or changing strategy is needed to strengthen the business. Once a business is heading for closure it is usually a sign that the governance has already failed and whilst it may be possible to manage the business and turn it around, that will not be achieved by anyone who calls for rebranding and it will almost certainly mean that some jobs are lost. Asking someone who has lost a job to agree that an expensive rebranding exercise was worthwhile will not be easy!
According to the website of the IEA “The analysis and communication of ideas form the core of our work” and they produce all sorts of publications “on all areas of economic policy”. It would appear that this does not extend to ensuring that the Director General knows what it takes to run a real business or indeed what is involved in a branding exercise. It is disturbing how often the IEA is invited onto shows like SML, Any Questions and Question Time and it would be easy to wonder if the BBC needs a bigger list of contacts, including some with real business knowledge. The IEA have all sorts of professors on its list of academics, but they don’t include any names that are recognisable for running businesses, yet this was what was being discussed this morning on SML!