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Reputation Management: Recovering from a tarnished image

Well-known businessman and investor Warren Buffet has been credited with one of the most popular quotes on reputation management: "It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently."

It’s popular for a reason – it makes complete sense. But, what about those who didn’t think before making that five-minute mistake? How can a brand recover from a tarnished reputation?
While anyone would certify that it takes time to rebuild a damaged reputation, there are immediate steps that can – and should – be taken.

Acknowledge and apologize.
Notice I didn’t say “acknowledge and explain.” If we are discussing a situation in which something has happened to tarnish a reputation, then an apology is in order, even if the root of the situation stems from a complete misunderstanding. Acknowledging the offensiveness of the situation, whether alleged or actual, is an important first step in rebuilding trust. And, the more immediately the company can communicate this, the better.

Clarifying any misunderstandings surrounding the situation is vital, of course, but by first acknowledging that an offense has taken place then apologizing without hesitation, audiences are more willing to hear what you have to say and less likely to discredit your explanation as an excuse.

Get moving in the right direction immediately.
Unfortunately, a crisis will attract the spotlight and motion for the magnifying glass. A company that once couldn’t curate media coverage to save its life can easily become blinded by the shining lights of media cameras and barraged by reporters who wouldn’t give them the time of day before. While it is intimidating to be shoved into the spotlight under negative implications, it also provides an opportunity to publicly make steps in the right direction.

Careful consideration should be taken for any statements or interviews provided to the media, and a quick, strategic plan should be developed for the company’s next steps, which you can bet will be closely monitored by media and key stakeholders in the immediate days and weeks following any incident.

However, as news-breaking as the company’s misstep appears when first announced, it can become yesterday’s news faster that you’d think, and when the cameras are gone, consider the story told as is – with or without your positive input.

And, always remember that honesty is the best policy.
Honesty and transparency should be vital ingredients for every interview and interaction of any brand on the road to recovering a tarnished reputation.

This is the third post in a three-part series on reputation management. Read previous posts here: “Do your customers’ experiences match your brand messages?” and “Why you should care about what former employees are saying about you.”

Kerri Guyton is the director of brand content at Obsidian PR. Her experience in advertising, marketing and PR spans nearly two decades and covers a varied list of industries.

Posted: 4/12/2017 7:30:00 AM | with 0 comments
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Your business may be small, but that doesn't mean that your impact can't be huge! The Greater Memphis Chamber's Small Business Council serves to encourage, support, recognize and be a resource to small- and medium-sized businesses in the Memphis area. Here, our talented panel of contributors will present big ideas that could make a huge difference to your small business. And don't be afraid to ask questions ... no matter how small.

Sales & Small Business Ownership
Voss W. Graham is CEO and Senior Business Advisor for InnerActive Consulting Group Inc. He is known by his clients as "a knowledgeable partner who helps our team achieve business growth." He provides practical experience as a small business owner for over 29 years, yet is often engaged with Fortune 500 companies in the development of their people and business strategies.

Public Relations
Several professionals and strategists from the local Obsidian Public Relations firm provide excellent advice on everything from research to media relations to event planning. They believe that all companies, no matter how big or small the company or its budget, should have a public relations plan driving how they manage their relationships with key stakeholders. Public relations is an integral part of doing business the right way.

Human Resources
Joel Myers is a career Human Resources professional, with over 40 years in the field including 26 years in consulting.

Small Business Advice
Tom Pease is a small business owner of an office equipment dealership called e/Doc Systems, Inc. He has also owned a full-line Kawasaki dealership as well as a document shop. He used 30+ years of experience in owning a business to author two books, including: Going Out of Business by Design: Why 70% of Small Businesses Fail and Small Business Survival 101. He also has published 85 columns in The Memphis Daily News as the Small Business Advisor.

Marketing & Public Relations
Lori Turner-Wilson is CEO and Founder of RedRover Company, a sales development, marketing and PR consulting firm. Lori works with companies large and small, from start-ups to mature organizations, to help them improve the productivity of their sales force and the return on their marketing investment. Lori writes a weekly syndicated column for the Daily News, Memphis News, Nashville Ledger, and Desoto Times, among others, titled “Guerrilla Sales & Marketing,” for which she won a 2011 Summit International Award and 2012 International Communicator Award.

Design and Digital Strategy
Founded in 1999, inferno provides brand development, advertising, public relations, design and digital marketing services to clients across a broad spectrum of industries. Headquartered in Memphis with a satellite office in Kalamazoo, Michigan, the award-winning firm produces results-driven work by passionately combining strategic thinking, creativity and culture to ensure the success of its clients. For more information, visit

Labor & Employment Law
Fisher Phillips attorneys are ready to help you take a stand: in court, with employees and unions, or with competitors. Fisher Phillips has the experience and resolve to back you up. That's why some of the savviest employers come to the firm to handle their toughest labor and employment cases. The firm has 350 attorneys in 32 offices, including Memphis. For more information, visit

Since its founding in 2005, Paragon Bank has maintained a solid focus on the community and customer service. For more than 10 years, Paragon has delivered innovative products and financial expertise, convenience, and a deep understanding of what both businesses and individuals need from a ban, in order to provide solutions that make a difference. In the areas of business or personal banking, lending options or wealth management, Paragon delivers cutting edge technology, an experienced team and the most service-oriented staff of any community bank.