Follow Your ABCs When Repairing a Damaged Reputation

Whenever and wherever controversy arises, an urgent question is presented: how does one rehabilitate or repair a damaged image? Seems to happen more frequently, doesn’t it, Mel Gibson? What’s that you say … BP? Whether you’ve spilled profanity or crude oil, and regardless if your brand presence is more Web-based or more traditional, you can follow these basic ABC principles to get out of a jam.

Begin with the realization that it takes time to rehabilitate one’s image: such a matter does not lend itself to a quick fix. Many people hope that if they say the right thing at the critical moment all will be made good. That’s just not how the world works. We, as human beings, form perceptions about other humans over time. This is the basis of reputation.

When a person has made a major blunder, it equates to damage to Brand You. Unfortunately, such predicaments cannot be overcome with the perfect, clever Tweet … or the most carefully exectuted press conference. No, the perfect statement at the perfect time will not wipe the slate clean. Given the fact that words will not do the trick, there’s really only one thing that can rebuild a tarnished reputation: Actions.

Here’s a simple way to coordinate your actions and repair your brand. Simply follow my ABC plan:

A – Apologize
Admit your mistake and ask for forgiveness. Demonstrate that you have a contrite heart. This is done by speaking in a humble manner and expressing remorse.

B – Be genuine
Show some emotion. No one will forgive an over-rehearsed, stiff emotionless robot. Speak from the heart and use natural, appropriate hand gestures and other non-verbals. Obviously, we don’t want to see a blubbering basket case, but genuineness and emotion can be very helpful.

C – Compassion
Show compassion. The root of the word “passion” is “suffer.” To show compassion is to demonstrate that you are suffering with the person (or parties) who were affected. The audience will identify with compassion and respond favorably to it. Perhaps no one understood this better than Bill Clinton, who repeatedly emphasized: “I feel your pain.”

All in all, the majority of the positive impact, or brand rehabilitation, will come in the weeks and months that follow the initial episode. Sorry … there simply is no quick fix. Ultimately, the key to successfully rehabilitating a reputation is consistently repeating good deeds, rightful and helpful acts, over an extended period, in a manner that rebuilds trust.


Skip Lineberg is a founding partner of the marketing firm Maple Creative. He recently co-authored a book for young professionals. Effective Immediately by Ten Speed Press, division of Crown Publishing is a book about how to become a “rock star” at work. Despite such knowledge and experience, he occasionally has to call upon the ABC principles of damage control for his own misdeeds. (Just ask his editor Alex Haederle!)

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    Elizabeth Gaucher

    Nice post. I think too about reputation damage prevention….keep people around you who don't just tell you what you want to hear. So many crash and burn rep disasters seem to “befall” those who lose touch with their own humility on the front end.

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