Reputation at risk

Nowadays much of businesses’ success depends on their reputation. Their critics are assuming a more significant role than ever.

Early in the previous century companies began to realize the importance of the their standing in the community.

The Standard Oil Company had an image as a ruthless competitor that ran roughshod over its rivals. The founder of that company, John D. Rockefeller hired a public relations firm to enhance his reputation, mingled with the public and handed shiny new dimes to youngsters.

Similarly, Andrew Carnegie, a Wall Street entrepreneur, established libraries all across the United States  and Canada to refurbish his image as benefactor of the nation.

Likewise, William Randolph Hearst, a publisher of scandalous material, started a milk fund for disadvantaged youth. Tony Hayward, the boss of British Petroleum attempted in vain to restore his good name in the public’s mind after the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The digital revolution makes it imperative for a company to counteract bad publicity as rapidly as possible. Too many competitors are anxious to take down a leading organization.

In this era, with the instant spread of scandal, it is difficult for a company to counteract bad publicity. Too many are anxious to injure a leading organization for competitive reasons. Still, companies must focus on staying in businesses regardless of prevailing negatives.

Business leaders are slowly waking up to the threats posed by bad publicity.

General Motors’ chief executive appeared frequently in the media to repair that organization’s image in not correcting a faulty ignition system. Other auto companies seem to try to be reassuring by issuing recalls for mechanical problems.

Companies’ standard line that they “take full responsibility for errors” is a trite way to assuage public opinion. Sometimes a company’s long standing good will suffice, but usually other steps are needed.

Johnson and Johnson and Schneiders both realized that they had to reply rapidly and completely to acknowledge mistakes. They both have launched campaigns to erase the stigma of bad publicity. Instead of handing out shiny new dimes, perhaps the best remedy would be to appeal to a customer’s finances and offer substantial compensation to assuage any bad feelings.

In any event, with its reputation at stake, adverse publicity cannot be permitted to linger or permanent damage will occur.


Bruce Whitestone