Reputation recovery, an inch at a time

Thought that this comment summed up reputation recovery. In an article on the whole NFL issue and the Commissioner's press conference last week, someone said: "Football is a game of inches. And that is how the NFL can restore its reputation – one hard fought inch at a time."

Absolutely the truth. Reputation recovery is all about incremental steps to restoration.

The pricey costs to social media reputation repair

The third annual study called the Computing Safety Index was just released by Microsoft and it has some real gems in it on the costs associated with online reputational risk. Repairing the damage from social media cannot be ignored because it comes with a big price tag. The facts below came from the blog of Jacqueline Beauchere, the chief online safety officer at Microsoft (cool title). 

  1. Nearly $6 billion was spent in 2013 "to mitigate risks associated with financial and time loss due to personal or professional damage."
  2. On average, the cost to users who experience online reputational damage and have to restore their reputation averages $632 per episode. When you look at this by country, the numbers are incredible. In Canada, the average U.S. dollar equivalent costs to repair one’s professional reputation totaled $484 per incident; in Japan, $500 per instance. In Belgium, that total balloons nearly four-fold to $1,979 per issue and, in the U.S., the average total was a whopping $2,600 per professional-reputation incident. Whopping is an understatement.

There are plenty of risks today but social mistakes are getting costlier and the clean-up sounds like it can wipe an individual out. It is wise to remember that social media can do wonders when it comes to helping you build reputation but it can also do horrors to wrecking what you've built. 

Thanks to Microsoft for collecting this data from 10,000 respondents in 20 countries. 

Reputation Actions That Absolve

In a recent post, I talked about new research that demonstrates how companies can repair their reputations by communicating their good deeds and what actions they intend to take to remedy their failure to (represent their numbers accurately, i.e. restatements). In the research report from Stanford and Emory University, there is an appendix of examples that companies took to improve corporate governance post-crisis and absolve themselves as well as regain financial value. I thought they were worth listing here as a reminder of the goodwill actions that get companies on the way to reputation rejuvenation:

Board of Director Actions

  1. Appointing new independent directors
  2. Require that board members obtain permission to serve on other boards
  3. Continuing education for board members
  4. Shortened board tenures
  5. Increased number of votes required for new board members
  6. Shareholders allowed to call special meetings via two-thirds vote
  7. Eliminating anti-takeover provisions
  8. Minimum stock ownership guidelines
  9. Technology/software for board members to access board materials remotely

Incentive/Internal Control System Actions

  1. Hire Chief Compliance and Business Ethics Officer reporting directly to BOD
  2. Remediation plans to address internal control deficiencies
  3. A different tone with respect to internal communications regarding application of GAAP
  4. Hire Chief Risk Officer 
  5. Hire Chief Regulatory Officer 
  6. New Statement of Principles and strengthened Code of Conduct


  1. A strategic refocusing
  2. New operating structures to align and clarify accountability

Customer Actions

  1. New worldwide re-branding
  2. New 10 day warranty on products, warranty extensions
  3. Announcement of various industry awards

Employee Actions

  1. New employee policies to cultivate a culture of compliance
  2. Announcing high ratings in best place to work surveys

Community Actions

  1. Announcement of charitable programs 
  2. Announcement of contributions to a grant program 



Reputation Call-Outs for the Week


Woefully, I did not get to write this week. It just flew by with meetings and work to be done. And here it is Saturday again and I'm catching up with my work and eager to get to work on my blog. I saved a few things from the week to write about because they all are reputation-related in some way. Here they are:

  1. I was very pleased to see the squarespace advertisement early on in the Superbowl last Sunday night. The feedback from what I understand has been positive. This blog is written using squarespace and I think their sites are beautiful and easy to create. They are a reputation-polisher.
  2. For all those new CEOs and executives out there, some timely advice from Fay Vincent, president and CEO of Columbia Pictures Industries in the WSJ. He has 10 suggestions for those in charge. Some are tried and true and worth repeating such as (#2) Be sure to manage down, (#4) Keep listening to and for advice and (#7) Never complain, never explain. Vincent says he wishes someone told him these when he started at the top.
  3. Talking of new CEOs, the new CEO of Microsoft was named. His introduction to the world was nicely done (check it out as a great First 100 Days strategy) and enhanced his down-to-earth reputation. I especially liked his email to employees on day one. You can tell that the new CEO, Satya Nadella, likes to read poetry from reading this email. It is simply stated but oh so well-written with a melodious cadence and authenticity. Right out of the box, he mentions how humble he feels being named to the honorable task ahead of him. He then describes himself and his mandate in four sections -- Who am I? Why am I here? Why are we here? What do we do next? The answers to all these questions are undoubtedly what employees want to know. Nadella had one paragraph that I found especially appealing and worth calling out. He wrote: "Next, every one of us needs to do our best work, lead and help drive cultural change. We sometimes underestimate what we each can do to make things happen and overestimate what others need to do to move us forward. We must change this." This is a great message because we are all accountable, not just leadership. No one can just sit back today and wait for permission to act.
  4. At the start of the week, the NYT columnist Andrew Ross Sorkin called for an apology cease-fire. He says that the avalanche of in lea apologies are calling into question their sincerity and turning into apology-theater. I too follow how apologies have become de rigueur for reputation repair. They are expected, whether they are mere performance art or the real thing. They have become habitual. Sorkin and management guru Dov Seidman have started an Apology Watch on DealBook and started #ApologyWatch on Twitter.  They will be looking at what companies do post-apology and keeping them honest. Poor reputations, beware!


Obama's small step repair strategy

Leadership is very messy. I was asked the other night at dinner why President Obama was not coming out slinging on the repair of the healthcare website. Why was he not saying anything? And why were his advisors not telling him to speak up and put a stop to the constant naysaying? Well, for one, I think the reason is that there is nothing to say until it is fixed.  He apologized and put a bookend on the mess for now. That was the right strategy. Now he should say nothing until it has been resolved. Why keep it in the headlines by saying something? No one wants another BP oil spill where the headlines went on for weeks regarding how much oil was spilling into the Gulf. I read the New York Times columnist Bill Keller's to-do list for President Obama on how tosalvage his reputation now that it has stalled. Keller basically says that now is not the time for "grand new initiatives."  True. He goes on to say, " It’s not that I want the president to think small; by all means, address the threat of climate catastrophe and push ahead on early childhood education. But he needs to get a few wins on the scoreboard."  Absolutely. Now is not the time for the big speeches, big sweeping initiatives, big words. Now is the time for small, incremental steps that change the conversation and get him back on track. I also found it interesting that Michelle Obama chose this time to release news that she is going to focus on higher education for low-income students. Clearly, a great policy decision but the timing is not coincidental. The White House needs some positive news to overshadow the constant barrage of negative sentiment surrounding the White House. Everyone loves Michelle and who can argue with her for coming to the rescue. Wonder if we will be seeing more of the kids now.

However, this too shall pass. Maybe we should spend more time focusing on the devastation in the Phillipines and what we can do.

Reputation Repair for the Church

vaticanBill Keller wrote this fascinating piece in The New York Times about how the Catholic Church could repair its reputation. As he points out, the Church operates just like a business with more than one million workers, one billion or more customers, more outlets than Starbucks, more real estate than Trump and a powerful lobbying arm. And like many companies today, it just lost its CEO and has the opportunity to reset its reputation and restore its luster now. Keller asked several consultants how they would go about advising the Church to repair its reputation as they name a new Pope and move forward. Here are their suggestions:

1. Find the right new pope. One with drive and charisma who is communications savvy. One who is more than a caretaker. A Pope who is dynamic as well as a road warrior with unending energy to persuade customers back into the fold.

2. Manage the culprits out. Out with those who have sullied the Church's reputation. Or as they say, "managing out" the ones responsible for the abuses of recent years.  This would include full disclosure behind how predatory priests were allowed to stay within the institution. And third, hire a highly-regarded compliance or ethics officer who would have full support from the top. Keller quotes Wharton's Michael Useem and his experiences helping to clean up the Tyco mess of years past.

3. Understand the past but look ahead towards the future.  One consultant suggested a big time summit or strategic review that would be responsible for developing a new and improved Church strategy, mission and values with a plan to execute accordingly.

4. Adopt a global/local point of view. The article describes one consultant's idea to let its 220,000 parishes make their own decisions attuned to local customs and preferences. "Rome could encourage the parishes to be laboratories of worship." Interesting idea. Beta labs full of women participating, gays welcomed, local music.

5. Go social. Bring the Church into the digital  I did not realize this until Keller pointed it out but Pope Benedict tweeted as @Pontifex but only 35 times despite having 1.5 million followers. A social media strategy would go far in encouraging meet ups and spreading news and information to the committed. I have just the right document for him too....our research on social CEOs. Perhaps the Church could get some lessons from President Obama's social media machine.

6. Get PR support. Interesting since that's the business I am in. Keller rightfully states: "Its stock response to criticism from without or dissent from within has been to been to drop into a defensive crouch, stonewall or go negative. That can come across as bullying and arrogant -- in other words, not very Christian." Media training and message development would definitely be high on the list here.

What would I add to this list..

7. Build a solid crisis plan that raises red flags when early warning signs show up and design rapid response mechanisms. Figure out how to stop the leaks and understand how it happened in the first place so it does not happen again.

8. Measure the Church's reputation now when it is at its most challenged so that the Church could mark progress as a new Pope begins and reform makes it to the agenda in the year(s) ahead.

9. Commit to a strategic internal communiations plan that engages its customers and followers. Get everyone on the same page. Start by going on a listening tour and asking what needs to change and what can stay the same. Feed back that information and describe how the Church will tackle its greatest problems and improve on its strengths.

10. Build a reputation advisory council that can help restore the Church's reputation for the long-term. This is serious business.

A Downward American Reputation

Last night I could not help but wonder how the huge decline in the Dow of 500+ points was a reflection on the perceived reputation of the U.S. government as well as the country itself. I was not at all surprised to see a poll today that expressed basically the same thing. Here is what I knew to be true as I turned in last night: almost three-quarters of the American public believe that the congressional debate over the debt ceiling agreement has harmed the worldwide image of the United States . And a whopping 82% say that the debate was all about political advantage, not what is best for the country. The reputation of the US has been severely bruised in the eyes of its own citizens and certainly around the world. We have plenty of reputation repair to do if distrust of government becomes the new normal. Whereas most companies and their leaders recognize that reputation is essential to their success today, our dueling political parties have yet to truly acknowledge how all the rancor and incivility is a vote from the daily majority about their behavior and decision-making. For more on civility in America, please click here for Weber Shandwick's recent poll.

As I looked into people's somber faces last night as I subwayed home, I could not stop thinking about how the American public had given the reputation of the US a solid "thumbs down" on confidence in this country's future. You don't even need a poll to tell you what we already learned from the Dow. Reputation rules whether it's related to a company, a brand, an individual, an organization or a country. We cannot afford more reputation erosion on our country's reputation. In addition to a bipartisan committee on how to reduce the debt, I think that we should be calling for a task force on restoring our reputation for the long-term.  As more people tune out of government, as we learned in our survey, the harder it will be to build back America's reputation for getting things done.

Reputation Repair in a Jiffy

As a follower of reputation and builder (I like to think) of the importance of reputation in the world of business, I come across new sites on the topic all the time. A site called Reputation Repair Services caught my eye.  If it were only this simple.  This company promises it can help with finding you an Internet lawyer, cease and desist notices, copyright and trademark infringement notices and domain dispute lawyers.  It can protect your reputation by improving search engine suggestions, create positive blogs, good reviews and more. [This company says that they have been around for many years and the alert below is from their site.] Don't Pay Any Reputation Company

 There are various packages ranging from $500 per month and upwards. For $500/month, you get site evaluation, keyword research, five promotional pages and content that are optimized by the online company, full site optimization, inclusion in reciprocal linking systems and search engine submissions. You can move up from this minimum service fee (with an 8 month committment) to $750 per month service. The additional fee provides you with a shared techie “live” and at your service who is devoted to your reputation until the negative information no longer appears on page one of Google. And onward and upward.

 I have no doubt that there are people who want negative information about themselves or their company deeply buried or removed from the Internet.  I am not sure however that this takes care of the hard work of reputation building which almost always involves creating high quality products and services, engaging in corporate citizenship, ethical behavior, financial soundness, innovation and leadership development.

Oops. If you are also worried about your CEO’s reputation, they can help you too.  Any CEO missteps can be wiped off the face of the earth. As Reputation Repair reminds us, “A CEO’s reputation is directly linked to the reputation of the company. The CEO is the face of the company and a leader who provides direction and inspiration.” These words sound familiar since I have written about this topic for years.

I often wonder if these online reputation repair and protection sites can help you build reputation faster by damaging your competitor’s reputation instead. If I wanted to do some harm, maybe I should just spread rumors about my toughest competitor and get that on page one of Google. Could I find someone to do that? I doubt that it is easy to find companies willing to compromise themselves but this has crossed my mind. Might be less expensive.

All this is to say that online reputation management is important but if this is all that is done to build enduring reputations, this is a short-lived proposition. True reputation management deserves more consideration, planning, depth and years of hard work.