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Media Training: Reputation Management

  April 7, 2022
Repairing your reputation takes more than an apology

Your company blew it.  What was supposed to be a clever social media post, instead became a stain on your company's reputation.  Or perhaps an executive went rogue during a media appearance and there's backlash.  Maybe an internal email went public, and it makes your company look like a horrible place to work.

Of course a well-crafted and heartfelt public apology is a place to start to repair the damage.  But don't think that a quick post on Twitter will contain the situation. Sometimes a firm will express regret or offer an explanation rather than a straight apology.  That advice generally comes from the legal department.  Regardless, reporters and the public will want more.  Are you prepared for this?  Do you have an action plan?  Some examples:

  • Community outreach
  • Diversity training
  • Company policy changes
  • Executive firing/new executive hiring
  • A formal, sit-down media interview
  • After a bit of time, pitch positive stories about your business
  • Fine-tune your crisis communications plan 
  • Make sure all your executives know your social media guidelines
  • Consider a media training course

No business, large or small, is immune from public backlash.  Take the case of Skateland in Waukesha, Wisconsin.  When two black girls from nearby Milwaukee tried to enter, they were turned away.  The owner told the mother that no Milwaukee teens are allowed in. An employee confirmed the policy, in a call recorded and posted to social media by the parent. After this news broke, the owner apologized on social media and changed the discriminatory policy.  Ultimately teens and their parents will decide if this is good enough.  

Alaska Airlines made news this week when it announced it's launching gender-neutral uniform guidelines.  This follows an employee complaint last year that the airline's uniforms discriminated against non-binary employees and others. Alaska Airlines stated that the new guidelines would "provide more freedom and flexibility in individual and gender expression."  The airline is also making changes to its policies on tattoos and hairstyles.  What started out as a negative, has now generated  positive news stories.

It's not just businesses that worry about reputation management.  Individuals have a lot at stake too.  Look no further than to Will Smith. Apologizing to Chris Rock on Twitter and resigning from the Academy is not enough to make this story go away.  My take?  Smith needs to take more action steps.  Anger management therapy perhaps and a direct apology to Rock.  To be sure Smith's good guy reputation was damaged the minute that slap occurred.  I don't think it's career-ending but he needs to show Hollywood and the public the slap was an anomaly.  The Academy has blame on its hands too and it will be interesting to see what steps it will be taking to put this behind it.

Another celebrity who, in my opinion, demonstrated bad judgment is country singer Eric Church.  He canceled a sold-out show--explaining to his fans that he would instead be watching an NCAA Final Four game.  He promised a make-up concert or refunds.  The news got mixed reviews from concert-goers and other country stars.  Church must have realized he needed to do more and announced he will hold a free concert for those impacted. 

Whether you are a celebrity, small business owner, or the CEO of a large corporation, the old saying, "actions speak louder than words," is true.  

Crisis Communications Options

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