Resetting Reputation

July 26, 2009

Resetting Reputation

Maybe it took me a long time but the word “reset” has become awfully popular. I first noticed when it was used by GE’s Jeff Immelt in his Letter to Shareholders about the effects of the economy and how GE needed to reset itself in response to the global economy. I found it an effective word because it brought to mind a reset button. 


IMMELT: “I believe we are going through more than a cycle. The global economy, and capitalism, will be “reset” in several important ways. The interaction between government and business will change forever. In a reset economy, the government will be a regulator; and also an industry policy champion, a financier, and a key partner […] I think this environment presents an opportunity of a lifetime. We get a chance to reset the core of GE and focus on what we do best.”


Then I noticed President Obama using “reset” in reference to his visit with Russian President Medvedev. “I think that there has been a time over the last several years where Russian-U.S. relations were not as strong as they should be. What I said coming in is that I wanted to press the reset button on relations between the United States and Russia.”


Since I liked the term, especially for talking about my favorite subject of reputation, I decided to investigate whether it has been around for a long time or was fairly new.  In the chart below, you can see that the word reset has jumped 337% since 2000. As expected, the greatest jump occurred between 2007 and 2008.

Unfortunately I was not the only one to notice this trend. The New York Times Magazine columnist William Safire wrote about this popular new word in April 2009. I found the article online when I was searching to see if others were thinking the same thoughts. Apparently the reset button idea bloomed during the U.S. presidential election when it was used repeatedly by VP hopeful Joe Biden and President-elect Obama to describe their campaign strategy. Even secretary of state Hillary Clinton has taken to using the phrase now.  As Safire writes, Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum mentioned the growing ubiquity, “Press the reset button. Is there any phrase more enticing in the modern lexicon? We all know what it means: Press the reset button, watch your computer reboot and presto! A nice, clean screen appears, and you start again from scratch.”


I am glad that “reset” is a trend and intend to use it as often as I can for describing reputation-building.  You have to reset your reputation now.  Until you press the reset button, your reputation will be ground zero. Resetting your reputation is the right thing to do. If you don’t like the word reset, you can always substitute reboot.


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Leslie Gaines-Ross
Leslie Gaines-Ross

As Weber Shandwick’s Chief Reputation Strategist, I focus on the ever changing world of reputation. For the past 25 years, I have relentlessly observed, researched and commented on the rise and fall of corporate and CEO reputations.

  • Paul Seaman
    Posted at 08:48h, 28 July Reply

    The American dream is all about reinvention and second chances (your reset button). But do you really think that government intervention on the current scale is anything other than a sign of failure? Moreover, does not recasting success require the state to back off and let the market do its job? Or are we all socialists now?For the record, of course I back effective regulation because capitalism is an avaricious animal in need of it. But recently it was the state that failed to do its job – of regulating that is – as much as the market failed at its.

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