2020 will always be a year that will be etched in every single one of our minds forever. A year that has tested every single individual and as the saying goes “it’s in time of adversity that we meet the real person”. That is a saying that we can truly relate to this year, in the extreme challenges that Covid-19 has brought us. We have seen in the actions of our supposed ‘leaders’ and ‘role-models’ the real person and morals of the person and in terms of politics, the parties and people that are supposed to be leading our country.
We have seen this in our own country, that a deadly virus that put the health and future of our constituents in danger, the political leaders could still not abolish the infamous tags of ‘us’ and ‘them’. This came in the most direct way of Sinn Fein following the actions of our Counterparts in Dublin, whilst the DUP following the actions of just across the water. Either way many could argue that they have failed to lead with any sense of logic or integrity, coming with the latest inability to reach a decisive decision over the recent ‘circuit breaker’.
The PR of the political parties in this country has taken a dent, as would have been an invaluable opportunity to portray a level of togetherness and solidarity and to show how much we have moved on. Instead, the pandemic has shown the same old attitudes of old with Jim Allister’s “Dungannon park” comments, Edwin Poots comments about “Covid-19 being prominent in Nationalist areas” and Sinn Fein accusing the DUP of “wasting time”.
Although, the actions of our own political leaders have been detrimental to the PR to political parties, we have not been on our own which may of some comfort. Just over the water, Boris Johnsons chief advisor Dominic Cummings travelled 260 miles to self-isolate with his family throwing into disarray all the Governments previous efforts and all self-sacrifice that people had made. This was an action that damaged the reliability of the British government
It wasn’t just the integrity and morals of our political parties that we learned about during this pandemic, major business owners and worldwide companies also made error of judgements giving us all an insight into their true values. Richard Branson (Founder of Virgin) was branded one of the villains of the Covid-19 pandemic after he laid some of his staff off unpaid. It was a highly unpopular move and one that was branded an “avoidable PR disaster”. Richard Fuller, the Tory when describing the Richard Branson sage and when talking about business owners at this time in general stated “Big or small—in a small village, a leader of a church or a leader of a large business—when it comes to looking at the protection of your workers, the time is now, and we will judge you all by your actions.” This is a very powerful message that demonstrates that actions taken at this time will go a long way on how a company is seen and something that could build or devalue their reputation. Although, Bransons actions were largely criticised, many Virgin employees leapt to his defence with Jenny Hall declaring “At least this is better than having to make redundancies. The unpaid leave will be spread out over the yearly salary. I personally would take this option over losing my job.
Mike Ashley (owner of Sports Direct chain) came under enormous scrutiny and was later forced to apologised after his chain sent an email to the Prime Minister insisting that his shop should be allowed to open on the basis that it is an essential service. An action that Ashley described as “ill-judged and badly timed”, and later he wrote a letter explaining that his communication to his staff and the public was poor and stated “”I am deeply apologetic about the misunderstandings of the last few days. We will learn from this and will try not to make the same mistakes in the future”. This was a disastrous PR stunt for Mr Ashley who was later described as valuing profit over the safety of human life.
It wasn’t just business owners that came under fire for decisions made through this pandemic, the two finalists from the 2019 European cup final and two of the richest football clubs in the world came under huge scrutiny. The two clubs revealed that they were placing staff on the furlough scheme, taking government money. Both clubs didn’t just come under pressure from immediate public but from their supporters. Former Liverpool FC player Stan Collymore revealed “I don’t know of any Liverpool fan of any standing that won’t be anything other than disgusted at the club for furloughing staff. Fellow football fans, furlough is for small business staff to keep those small businesses from going bump”. As a Liverpool supporter myself, I was simply embarrassed and disgusted by this action, and action that Liverpool FC later apologised for and backtracked. A club that has always held itself with such dignity, had now shown itself in a light that previous members of the club ensured that it would be something that they would never be known for.
On a lighter note, someone that has portrayed himself in the most positive of lights is the 21-year-old Marcus Rashford. The young Manchester United and England player received huge plaudits from all over the country for his tireless work in campaigning for free school meals for kids. The award saw Rashford receive an MBE and the City of Manchester award. Lord Mayor of Manchester Tommy Judge said it was “remarkable” to see him “give a voice to the powerless”.
These previous examples we have seen just how these trying times have really revealed some people character and tested their character to the core.
Ciaran Robinson is a final year BSc in Communication Management and Public Relations student at Ulster University. He can be found at LinkedIn.