Tuesday, May 19, 2009, 1:49 PM

Britain's expense scandal highlights the need for "Daily Mail Tests"

(Photo Credit: Telegraph.co.uk)
When was the last time you applied the "Daily Mail Test" to your company?

The scandal currently rocking British politics suggests you may want to give the Daily Mail Test fresh consideration, because failing it could cause a public relations nightmare with career-ending consequences.

What is the Daily Mail Test? The test requires that you consider not just whether a particular company practice is legal or permissible under company rules, but rather how that policy would be received if it were splashed across the front page of newspapers in mailboxes across the country. The term is attributed to David Cameron (pictured), leader of Great Britain's conservative party and a former public relations executive.

British members of Parliament are learning the hard way what happens when you fail the Daily Mail Test. British press has disclosed in recent weeks that MPs have been claiming public reimbursements for questionable personal expenses, ranging from the cost of manure to manicure an MP's garden to reimbursements for repairs to a tennis court. The scandal hits just after Prime Minister Gordon Brown raised taxes on upper-income taxpayers to help close a record budget shortfall.

To say that the revelations caused an uproar would be an understatement. The scandal has already forced the Speaker of the House of Commons to resign, the first time a British speaker has done so in more than 300 years, and has consumed political commentary across the country. Another MP apologized and stepped down for expensing the costs of clearing his private moat.

The scandal brings to mind recent examples of U.S. companies failing the Daily Mail Test over policies that were legal or seemed routine in the eyes of management. One example is AIG's distribution of employee bonuses after receiving $170 billion in taxpayer funds; Another is U.S. automaker executives flying corporate jets to Washington to ask for taxpayer funds.

So, if your company took the Daily Mail Test today, would you pass or would you fail? What "routine" company policies would spark uproar among your customers, investors, or board members if they became public? Now is the time for communications pros and their bosses to sit down, think hard about their organization's version of questionable expense accounts and corporate jets, and figure out how to pass the Daily Mail Test.

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