Whether an individual, a brand, a company or even a country, we all have reputations whether we choose to do anything about them or not. Reputation is the outcome of what we say about ourselves (on and offline), how we behave and, trickiest of all to influence, what others say about us. Reputations determine choices in life – why we choose to buy what we buy and where we decide to holiday. Reputations can take a lifetime to achieve and, in today’s noisy and untrusting world, can be lost overnight. Abel has spent a lifetime creating, maintaining, protecting and re-establishing literally hundreds of reputations. He knows what works and, just as importantly, what doesn’t.
How would you describe what you do, Abel?
Reputations are fickle things – you can spend a lifetime creating them and then lose them overnight as a result of some perceived silliness. With 40 years’ or so experience of advising an enormous variety of clients, there aren’t many situations I haven’t encountered. Sometimes I define my work as helping people to sleep better – by preparing them for the worst while hoping for the best. I’d estimate that half my work never sees the light of day – but my clients are always prepared in case the worst does happen – and they definitely sleep better knowing that my homework is in place. I had a call the other day from someone who said ‘Abel thank goodness you’ve the same telephone number, we haven’t spoken in almost ten years, but I need your help – could you possibly pop round later today.’
What does your working week look like, Abel?
Since I gave up working for an international communications agency in 2016, where I’d been a partner for almost 15 years, the structure of my days are much less regimented. While I’m still on call to clients 24/7, my day might start with a mug of tea at 7 o’clock in the morning reviewing overnight emails and client media mentions, and be over by lunchtime. Equally, it is important to keep in contact with the real world and so at least three days a week I’ll be out and about catching up with lawyers and other third parties over cups of coffee as these are the people who introduce me to most of my clients. I have some retained clients and some short-term project clients. As I am the only employee at Hadden Consulting, I only take on what I can reasonably handle.
How did it all start?
I was training to be a chartered accountant, when one evening my sister had a dinner party, to which she had invited an editor. This was when PR was a relatively new concept. I looked into it, wrote some letters and was lucky enough to get a few interviews. I was a young man, so the companies I targeted were mostly alcohol related! I joined a PR company that looked after the distributor of Stones Ginger Wine and the first job I had was putting up banners on jumps at horse trials all over the country – such fun!
Do you have a certain approach to what you do? Is there a style that you would say is unique to you?
I suspect my clients would say that I’m curious, analytical and that I pay great attention to detail. Over time I think I’ve learned all the right questions to ask and I certainly know exactly how reputation works – what feeds it and what drains it.
I often think of former clients and get in touch when I see something relevant to them, even if the working relationship ended long ago.
I make it my mission to be honest. People find it very hard to be objective about themselves, so in being resolutely honest, I hope I give good advice, – I’m quite sure clients know what they are going to get with me – even if sometimes they don’t necessarily like hearing it.
What are the challenges currently facing your sector?
The fundamental communications issues have always been, and will always remain, much the same – what’s the objective, who are the audiences and what are the key messages. Reputation is slightly more complex – it’s a combination of what you choose to say about yourself (website, social etc), how you behave and what others say about you. Companies, brands and individuals only have the power to control two out of the three – so how do you influence what others are saying about you?
What advice would you give to business owners thinking of tackling their reputation?
The energy, enthusiasm and self-belief of entrepreneurs is legendary. One area I notice time and time again is that of the website. While you can have an award-winning website – and many do – sadly journalists never have the time to trawl through it to find the key points that all entrepreneurs would like to see mentioned. The secret is to include a one page fact sheet with all the key points readily available at a glance.
Some say there is a trend towards people, particularly young people setting up their own businesses. What is your general view on this and entrepreneurship as a whole?
Entrepreneurship is so refreshing. All you need to get going is a strong name, and a great idea of what the business is going to do. The discipline of creating a website helps decide much of the detail. An all-encompassing list of everything you need, from initial idea to first day in business, can fit on two pages.
For anyone just leaving university now, or leaving school and looking to start a career like yours, what advice would you give?
Always take the time to meet as many people as possible to start to create your own network. Ask their advice and keep them informed as to how it’s going, you never know when you might need to go back and ask for their advice again.
When you are just starting out, find someone who has done it before and make them your friend, be nice to them, take them out for a coffee maybe twice a year and ask them for help when you need it. Entrepreneurship is a club in which members are happy to offer advice and help.
What do you think your industry will look like in ten years’ time?
I have no idea what will be happening in one years’ time – let alone ten – no one does! The communications industry is constantly changing – there are more channels and more opportunities today then there ever have been. Fundamentally however, the principles of good reputation management will always remain the same, even though there may be more channels.
What do you do when you are not working?
I do lots of things – I fish, I ski and just now I’m learning to play padel (a form of short tennis that is growing incredibly fast). I’m also a Chelsea Football Club season ticket holder and am lucky enough to have an allotment in London which keeps me busy.
What’s next for you?
More of the same, I love it. The variety and the challenges are what have me springing out of bed every morning – long may that continue!