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  • 11
  • June

Reputation Management and Repair Mistakes to Avoid

You start building your reputation the first day you start doing business with the public. First-time business owners, new celebrities, and even young politicians rarely have the foresight to think about what that means before they show up for their first day in their new endeavor.

Many entrepreneurs and individuals reach points in their professional lives where they know enough about the mistakes they made the first time around to want to do things over again. They don’t waste time wishing they could be young again – they launch new careers or businesses.

Personal and professional reinvention companies like us help you inevitably lead to thinking about how you could have avoided negative or hostile situations earlier in your life or career. Experience is the wisest teacher of all.

And if that’s so, is it fair to expect young or inexperienced people to stop and think about what could go wrong?

The average person would say this is an unfair position.

But in the age of the Internet, everyone can use a search engine to study the reputation disasters of the past 1 or 2 decades. Anyone about to start their first job, hold public office or start a new company has lived long enough to have seen how other people created their own disasters.

Everyone has the opportunity to learn from the mistakes others made before repeating those mistakes, too. Inexperience makes a poor teacher in any field but assuming you only need to learn from your mistakes as you go along sets you up for failure in the court of public opinion.

Here are mistakes everyone should learn about and make an effort to avoid:

1 – You Assume Your Personal Values Are Good Enough

Many successful people lack empathy for others. They may not be arrogant or cruel people, but they become so focused on what they’re doing that they don’t think about how the other person feels.

Empathy can be a powerful ally when building a career or business. It’s also a stumbling block for people who allow their emotions to control their reactions. Most people eventually learn to strike a balance between empathizing with other people and getting the job done, but it takes time.

The sooner you as an individual or your organization develop an empathetic approach to working with customers, business partners, and co-workers, the sooner you begin building strong bonds with others. Those bonds will help you when challenging times approach.

When your professional and business practices show people that you respect their values despite the differences between your values and their own, they’ll be more tolerant of your views in future disputes.

Sometimes it’s as simple as posting a sign on the front door of a store that says, “No shirt, no shoes, no service.” In other words, when people understand the ground rules before engaging with you or your business, they are less likely to feel cheated of their time or embarrassed about not following the rules.

It’s common practice for companies to hide the details of limitations and restrictions in “fine print” and rapid voiceovers. The law may accept your almost obscure disclaimers, but the public may not. Many experienced salespeople have learned to avoid complaints and disputes by prequalifying clients and customers instead of relying on small disclaimers.

2 – You React to Criticism Instead of Solving Problems

Why is the other person angry with you?

If your company refused to honor an expired sales price, you may be able to turn an angry customer into a happy referral by working with that person. Many business owners and managers do this as a matter of courtesy more than as a matter of policy.

But look at how many celebrities and politicians strike back verbally at people who criticize them for apparently rude or inconsiderate behavior. The Internet makes it easy to stir up outrage over apparent sleights and acts of arrogance.

While many public figures issue apologies when the criticism wells up against them, some push back and attack their critics. It’s a normal, human reaction to feel defensive and to lash out at people who attack you.

But those kinds of reactions will be remembered long after you have moved on. If you only react to hostile commentary every time you become aware of it, your reputation will become associated with hostility and negativity.

If your company draws a hard line when customer complaints pile up, your reputation with the consumer public will decay into lost sales and opportunities.

It may not be practical to soothe every set of ruffled feathers, but pay attention to any pattern of complaints and hostility. Understanding why people react in this way and addressing that fundamental problem can head off future public relations storms.

3 – You Ignore the Small Details Because You’re Busy

The busier you are, the more responsibility you take on, and the more deals you manage concurrently, the more likely something small will be brought to your dismissive attention.

Dismissive attention is where we are aware of something, see its potential consequences, and decide in the spur of the moment that it’s not important enough to deal with.

When your intern or personal assistant tugs on your shoulder and says with a worried voice, but what about this? you should take a moment to clear your thoughts and truly think about what it could mean to ignore that small detail.

The worst possible conclusion is that it won’t matter. Maybe 9 times out of 10 small details don’t matter.

But if you allow dismissive attention to managing your habitual decision-making, you will run into that 10% of situations that could easily have been avoided.

Cultivate the habit of assigning responsibility for small details to good people before they become problems rather than dismissing them because you’re too busy or have too much on the line.

You don’t have to make every small decision, but you should ensure that someone always does.

4 – You Have No Talking Points Until It’s Too Late

One frequent news topic that comes out of Washington is the leaked set of talking points that political aides prepare for government leaders. These talking points are usually drawn up at the last minute in response to a major news story.

The same problem occasionally happens in the business world, too. Something goes wrong with a product, an employee raises alarms about some business practice, and suddenly the corporate communications team goes into disaster mode.

That’s their job, of course. Our job is to clean up your reputation and work with the executives and politicians to deliver the message you want. Politicians and executives expect someone to take the time to sit down and draw up a list of safe things to say. That someone is often an online public relations and media firm like ourselves.

It’s better to agree on the talking points about every project and situation before a problem occurs. When unexpected attention is drawn to a negotiation, project, or proposal, everyone responsible for handling the response should already know what to say.

People who think they need a cover story usually do this anyway. They are most likely doing something others object to. The people most likely to not have talking points prepared are well-meaning, honest, sincere actuators just doing their jobs.

If you can’t explain and justify an activity before you start doing it, you’re taking a big risk that someone else will explain it in the wrong way for you.

And then you’ll be forced to scramble to come up with talking points after someone else has already seized control of the conversation.

5 – You Try to Bury the Past

It’s prudent to not bring up the carefree days of your youth when meeting people for the first time. It’s foolish to think someone won’t find out what you did at an obscure party 20 or 30 years ago.

People can almost always find an anecdote, a yearbook picture, a local newspaper story, or some ancient blog post.

It doesn’t matter what you did or what you believed at the time. Nor does it matter if your values have changed, you have tried to atone for your past sins, or if you weren’t aware what you did would offend anyone.

When you deal with the public someone will always look at your past. They want to know if you are sincere, trustworthy, capable of handling their needs, a good leader, willing to fix mistakes, or something relevant to them.

Famous people and organizations often mistake public scrutiny and outrage being about them. If you had dinner with the wrong person 10 years ago, and now you’re in the middle of a public relations storm, you naturally assume it’s all about you.

It’s not about you at all.

It’s all about them – the people who are angry with you, attacking you, and criticizing your past decisions. You can’t leave the past in the past because they won’t allow you to.

And they won’t allow you to because they feel a connection to the situation.

Even an Internet troll – someone who only stirs up trouble for the pure joy they get from hurting other people – feels a connection to whatever they are trying to humiliate you about.

Don’t assume they are hiding something, and don’t accuse them of hiding something.

They are feeling something and the situation they have created is about them, not you.

Trying to bury your past only makes their feelings stronger.

When someone dredges up your past, that will be a great time to fall back on your talking points and try to understand what they are feeling and why.


Reputation management rarely goes according to plan. The best time to start a reputation management strategy is before a problem arises.

But even if you only recognize the need for reputation management after getting crazy, you’ll benefit more from understanding what other people are feeling and being able to explain yourself in a calm, rational way.

No one can anticipate every possible setback, but practicing good pre-emptive habits and decision-mathingsking helps you manage the stress and cope with challenging unwanted attention.

You’ll respond better to hostility and have a much easier time taking control of that part of the conversation that is meaningful to you. Your values and feelings are always important, but the sooner you find common ground with your enemies, the sooner your list of enemies begins to shrink.

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