The Freemasons are worried. They must be, because they’ve just made the very bold gesture of taking out adverts in several national newspapers to tell everyone that they really are nice and should be trusted. They’re going to work on their reputation.
What they say may very well be true. It’s easy to buy into conspiracies of Freemasons doing each other favours and working in the shadows, because conspiracies are entertaining. But the truth is normally far more mundane. There’s no doubting that Freemasons raise a lot of money for charity and are probably members of a basically benign club.
There remain questions though… People don’t like secrets they’re not let in on. They distrust the idea of handshake they wouldn’t recognise! Also, the mainly male nature of Freemasonry (the lodges are men only, though there are some ladies only lodges) raises an eyebrow in this day and age. It doesn’t help when other male-dominated events and institutions are implicated in inappropriate activities. Everyone gets tarred with the same brush.
This explains why they may currently feel the need to fight back. The question is whether an advert protesting their virtues is the way to do it?
In some senses it might be. They’ve made headlines simply by doing it, so the impact is far wider than the act of placing the ads.
Getting off on the wrong foot
However – and it’s a big however – the tone of the letter in the advert could be described in a few, rather negative ways. Perhaps ‘petulant’. Maybe ‘aggressive’. Potentially even a bit threatening. When it points out that it believes members are “undeservedly stigmatised” it goes on to say: “No other organisation would stand for this and nor shall we.”
That suggests that if they don’t intend to stand for it, they’re going to do something about it – and that sounds quite unfriendly.
This (as the whole point of this piece) is a beautiful example of where positive, considered, planned and ethical PR should be used to go about managing reputation. The letter does go on to say that there will be a programme of open activities and events up and down the country. The trouble is, instead of using those to softly and gradually change people’s minds about them, they’ve now set out a rather bullish stance. That is more likely than not to put people off from engaging.
They’ve fundamentally damaged their plan even as they set about it.
You can’t change minds by demanding that people think differently, you have to convince them. That takes time, honesty and persistence. It doesn’t happen through one event or one open letter in an advert. It comes from doing the right thing and ensuring people are aware of it, allowing their perceptions to move over time to where you want them to be.