How Will the Beckileaks Scandal Affect Brand Beckham?
They’ve built a multi-million pound brand based on themselves: the handsome football superstar, the glamorous pop princess and their brood of photogenic children. But David and Victoria Beckham’s carefully constructed image has been tarnished by the recent ‘Beckileaks’ scandal.
For those of you that missed it, the scandal refers to bombshell material leaked from a cache of 18.6 million emails between David Beckham and his PR adviser, Simon Oliveira at Doyen Global. In the messages, the former England football captain is alleged to have labelled the UK honours system a ‘f*****g joke’ because he was denied a knighthood in 2014. He had been nominated by Lord Sebastian Coe for services to sport and charity and was set to receive the gong until Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) raised concerns about some of his tax minimisation strategies. Although there was no suggestion he engaged in any sort of illegal behaviour.
Another email allegedly revealed that Beckham was unhappy about a suggestion by his PR agent that he put £1 million of his own money into a UNICEF dinner. ‘I don’t want to put my personal money into this cause. If there was no fund, the money would be for me. This f*****g money is mine,’ one email read.
Once the press picked up on the story, they jumped to their own conclusions, with some interpreting the emails to mean that Beckham had been undertaking work with the charity purely to secure a knighthood.
Is Beckham’s reputation ruined?
This saga is undoubtedly one of the more serious blows to hit 41-year old Beckham, whose squeaky-clean image is used to flog everything from Adidas and H&M clothing, to Breitling watches and Sky TV packages. However, it’s unlikely there’ll be significant, long-term damage, thanks to the work of his PR team who have helped build Beckham into one of the most iconic figures of our time.
From a sponsor’s point of view, he’s valued for his footballing talent, attractiveness and values as a family man. None of these are threatened by the revelations, so his sponsors are unlikely to be put off. And in terms of the public, the work he has done for charity and the World Cup and Olympic Games bids has garnered him significant support. This affection may temper any dissatisfaction that the public have regarding the allegations.
How to handle a crisis
At one time or another, we’ve all sent an email with a mistake, or made a comment we later regretted, or a phrase that could be taken out of context by another reader. But the important thing is to make sure, as far as possible, that you stay away from needless controversy and don’t commit any questionable comments to email. The digital footprint you leave means that things written in the heat of the moment are forever committed to print. And in the wrong hands in the digital world, as Beckham and his team have discovered, their content, if not properly managed, can cause embarrassment, upset and in some cases, irreparable damage.
If a situation like this does occur, the best PR practice is founded on good old-fashioned manners: engage in open dialogue, don’t avoid the questions being asked, respond as helpfully and politely as possible, and never criticise others.
What next for Becks?
There hasn’t been too much from the Beckham camp, although his PR guru Simon Oliveria has said the messages were “hacked and doctored” to “give a deliberately inaccurate picture”.
No doubt we’ll see a confessional interview with Beckham and a trusted interviewer, offering both profuse apologies and promising transparency in his future charity work, possibly even launching a new charitable initiative to reinforce his position as one of our national heroes.
Beckham and his advisers must hope the public will consider the emails to be embarrassing as opposed to anything more sinister. For now, though, the messages make for uncomfortable reading and he and his advisers must be hoping there aren’t any further revelations to come.