How do you restore a ruined reputation?
Tiger Woods, the most recent poster boy for ruined reputations, has faced public scrutiny over his numerous extramarital affairs. The world watched, awestruck, to see whether his humiliated wife would take him back, and his apologetic press conference – held months after the story broke – was a hot topic around water coolers everywhere. And, of course, the media has been covering every sordid little detail.Tiger has gone from being a beloved sports hero to the punch line of a joke faster than you can send a text message to his mistresses. His actions have affected more than his marriage. As details of the scandal broke, his reputation plummeted. He lost major endorsement deals with Gatorade, PepsiCo, Nike, Procter & Gamble and EA Sports, prompting reporters to ridicule him for having more mistresses than endorsement deals.In today’s technology-focused era, news spreads fast. While it takes many years to build a trustworthy, positive reputation, the popularity of the Internet – and social media sites like Facebook – mean that reputations can be ruined in an instant.While the Tiger Woods example is extreme, every day there’s another celebrity, politician, CEO or company at the center of a new crisis. Perhaps a politician is taking bribes. A company inadvertently leaks confidential information about its customers’ credit card numbers. The media discovers that the director of a struggling nonprofit is earning a seven-figure salary.In each of these cases, there’s an immediate need for damage control and crisis management. But there’s also a very real need for ongoing, longer-term efforts to restore their reputations. Restoring an imageToyota, which has been viewed as a reputable, trustworthy company, is under a glaring spotlight for a huge recall, as well as customer claims of sudden, unstoppable vehicle acceleration.The company’s spokespeople are saying the company’s doing everything it can to fix these problems and restore consumer confidence. It’s launched a major advertising campaign, admitting to product defects and promising to make things right again. Toyota is proactively trying to deliver a positive message – the company is working around the clock to fix the problems in their vehicles – but it has a very long road ahead.Even if you’re not a billionaire golfer who has fallen from grace or a global automotive corporation facing a major crisis, it’s important to understand how to restore your company’s image – just in case:• React quickly, truthfully and sincerely. Offer a heartfelt apology and explain why the action (or behavior) will never happen again. As we saw with the Tiger Woods crisis, it’s important to make a statement immediately – public speculation is often far more damaging than the truth. Woods didn’t make a statement for months, which was a huge mistake. By the time he held his press conference, the public had already judged him as a horrible, heartless person, unanimously sympathizing with his mortified wife.• Restore confidence. Explain clearly and succinctly how you’re fixing the problem and why the public should trust you again. Be positive, optimistic and upbeat. In Toyota’s case, the company is spotlighting its years of experience as an automotive leader, and emphasizing its commitment to producing safe, dependable vehicles.• Move past the incident. It’s important to acknowledge the incident, apologize for it, explain that things will improve and then…be done. By holding additional press conferences or continuously offering explanations, you’re prolonging the agony. Move on with your head held high. Don’t belabor the point, and the public will have no choice but to move on, too.• Consider (and improve) your online image. In decades past, public humiliation involved negative articles in the newspapers and some jabs on TV and the radio. Now with the Internet, bad press can be a 24/7 proposition. If your company is in the hot seat, consider using these same online tools – Facebook, Twitter – to quickly spread positive messages. • Understand the need for internal damage control. When a crisis hits, people instinctively try to control external messages. It’s also critically important to deliver key messages to your internal audiences, as well. Consider how the employees feel when their company is facing a crisis. They need to hear customized internal messages – and they need to hear them fast.Ultimately, it’s not always the “incident” that the public remembers. It’s how the organization reacts and responds that determines the long-term damage to their reputation.Stefanie Guzikowski is chief passion officer of E&G Public Relations, a public relations firm based in Portsmouth. She can be reached at 603-501-0052 or egpublicrelations.com.