Today's guest post is by Courtney Chauvin Ellul, Director, Peppercom Europe.
Suppose your organization just spent $1mm to become a sponsor of the London 2012 Olympic games? How would you feel after the rioting of the past two weeks?
That's the image and reputation dilemma facing Olympic organizers, sponsors and, of course, Britain's ruling class in the wake of last week's carnage. I can tell you from first-hand knowledge that London was, and remains, a very scary place.
Last Saturday, I got off the tube a few stops early after a gang of about eight young men started screaming, jumping on the seats and kicking the doors in. They might have just been ‘chavs’ (English hooligans) on their way to a football match, but I wasn’t leaving anything to chance.
The London riots have left us all looking over our shoulders and feeling downright angry. There was no economic, political, or Stanley Cup reason for last week’s horrific events; this reckless field trip was born out of greed for sneakers, branded sports apparel and flat screen TVs.
In addition to the disgusting behavior of the rioters, it was shocking to see how the police handled the situation. You almost felt bad for the officers as they stood on the sidelines helpless, with their shields out and batons neatly tucked away, while rioters burned and looted shops, businesses and homes in more than 20 areas across London.
In some communities, citizens took matters into their own hands. When the rioters came to attack shops in a Kurdish and Turkish community in Hackney, the owners were waiting for them with sticks and knives.
If the police weren’t equipped to handle the situation, then why wasn’t the Army called in? And where were the country’s leaders?
Well, David Cameron, the prime minister, was in Tuscany on holiday and only returned to the UK on the third day of the riots. And when he did return, he came armed with a whopper of an idea: to outlaw social media, including shutting down Twitter, to stop the flow of communication between rioters. A bit like outlawing air, wouldn’t you say? Of course, that never happened.
Boris Johnson, London’s mayor, was also slow to return from vacation and was criticized by angry locals in riot-torn areas for his tardy response to the attacks. And Theresa May, home secretary, continued to fuel the blame game by saying the police chiefs were at fault for causing most of the red tape that overburdens officers.
What message are we sending to the world, and to would-be terrorists, if we can’t protect the country from our own and we can’t agree on the underlying issues? With less than a year to go before London hosts the 2012 Olympics, the police and politicians need to gain some control to win back the public’s trust, and they need to do so pronto.
Beyond the violence and leadership vacuum, London faces another challenge: how to quickly fix the reputational damage that's been done before it's too late (and sponsors begin pulling out).