When Reputations Implode

Toyota, BP, Goldman Sachs, Mel Gibson and Tiger Woods could take a very long time to regain the positive public image they once enjoyed.

In an article on the New York Times website, Peter S. Goodman says crises caused by defects in cars, oil spills and personal scandals offer myriad lessons for the corporate crisis management industry. “The calamities have served up a lifetime supply of case studies to be mined for lessons on best practices, as well as pitfalls to avoid when disaster arrives,” Goodman writes.

What not to do is pretty clear – declining to admit the error, casting blame on someone else or being adversarial to the public hasn’t won any points for the above-mentioned. But handling a crisis well makes it possible to move on, according to James Donnelly, senior vice president for crisis management at public relations firm Ketchum. “There’s not a lot of news when the company takes responsibility and moves on. The good crisis-management examples rarely end waving the flag of victory.”

As for exactly how best to deal with a crisis, however, experts aren’t all in agreement. According to the article, conventional wisdom says full and immediate disclosure of what went wrong is in the company’s (or person’s) best interests. But Eric Dezenhall, a communications strategist in Washington who worked in the White House for President Ronald Regan, told the New York Times that fessing up isn’t a guarantee for a smooth crisis and that, in a particularly dire situation, a company must ‘absorb the pounding’ and move on.

“The goal is not to get people not to hate them,” Dezenhall said. “It’s to get people to hate them less.”

To read the New York Times article, click here: