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Deflowering the Co-op: Will the Reverend Flowers scandal kill its brand?

The corporate PR world can be dull - no really. Come ride with me as we take a weekly sideways glance at the world of PR in the lofty world of big business, from someone who has been there, done that, and was mostly fired.

The Rev, or Paul Flowers as the media knows him, appears to be quite the character! Not content with ruining his own reputation, he appears to be popping nails into the Co-op’s coffin and now the story is spreading fast with Mili-bland and the unions in general getting dragged in.

Paul Flowers

The reputation of the Co-op brand is already on the ropes thanks to several financial headaches and the odd crisis, and this could very well spell the end of its brand. What would the UK high street look like without Co-op, and would consumers miss it?

I think we are at the stage where everyone is a bit “meh” about it. A dangerous place for a brand to be.

Is this all Reverend Flowers' fault? Probably not, but he is the vehicle that the Co-op haters are pushing towards the cliff to try and kill it off.

The brand has tried to act quickly and decisively via traditional crisis comms PR tactics to stem the flow of bile being thrown its way. The leaving party for Co-op group chairman, Len Wardle, was brought forward as he was the guy responsible for giving The Rev the senior role. If the comms masters thought this would be enough, they were wrong.

The next PR tactic was to try and distance the Co-op “group” from the Co-op “banking” brand. This has gone down just as badly as the time The Rev was arrested after being caught doing cheeky things with another guy in a public bog. Ouch.

At a time when The City as a whole is trying to strengthen its position as the financial capital of the world, this must look rather sordid to those looking in from overseas.

Add to this the allegations that our Rev bragged about getting through an MPs grilling unscathed, and celebrated with some Bolivian marching powder, and you have unveiled quite the scene.

The real question that I have, and one that many of the media are now looking at, is: how the hell did he get the job in the first place? He had a clear back catalogue of personal disasters behind him. Apparently his CV has just four years of experience of working for a bank in his entire career (and this was before he found - and probably tried to snort - God) so how did he end up becoming chairman of a respected bank?

This is where the unions must be getting a bit twitchy. As is the way in union world, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know and it is starting to emerge that The Rev knew a whole host of influential people.

At the time of writing, Mili-bland is becoming embroiled in the row, around alleged one-to-one meetings. The dates and times of these have not yet been released, but I suspect the mother of all “Those are not the droids you are looking for” Jedi Mind Tricks will be needed for Labour to dodge the Reverend-shaped dung beetle heading its way.

What can the Co-op do? Well, I am afraid it may be curtains. It is currently a very toxic brand and judging by the number of CVs my friend at a well-known City head-hunting firm says he is receiving from Co-op staff, it looks like their employees are thinking the same too.

You can tell Andy Barr what you think of him – and his columns – on Twitter @10Yetis

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