Rebuilding your reputation after a crisis means sharing the whole story with the people trying to help. When I’m called in to work
with a client after something terrible has happened I’m often
initially fed the story as they’d like it to be. The Fairy Tale that justifies the whole mess. I don’t get the whole story at first. I get what they wish had happened. I get an explanation of why it happened. I get the “spin” someone’s brother-in-law said they should put on the story. That doesn’t help. I need to know everything that went into creating the crisis and everything that’s gone on since “it” has hit the fan.
In a recent interview on The Hour, I was asked about the toughest crises we’ve had to handle. I told the host, Jim Pelligrino, that what
often stands in the way of rebuilding a client’s reputation is them not telling me the whole story. Without knowing all there is to know about what led to the crisis and what effect it’s had, I can’t create an effective communication plan to begin reputation rebuilding.
I understand why people don’t want to share the whole story. Sometimes it’s embarrassment. Or shame that they ignored a small glitch until it grew into a full-scale disaster. Or the realization that they hired someone with a flexible moral center. Whatever the reason, I can’t help unless I know it all.
In my experience as a crisis communications counselor, most business people hit by crisis desperately want to do the Right Thing. But, in the midst of a storm of tweets, Facebook posts, TV cameras and posts from angry bloggers, they panic. They move too fast and try to pretend the bad thing simply didn’t happen. Or doesn’t matter. They construct an alternative story that “sounds good” and then want someone to sell it to a cynical public. It doesn’t work that way. Once a reputation’s been damaged, the last thing you want to do is layer on a fairy-tale explanation. The most productive way back starts with the truth. It runs through acknowledgement, understanding of the impact, contrition and new-found wisdom.
Let your crisis communications counselor help you get back to the Right Thing. That starts by giving her the complete story so she can build an authentic and reality-based recovery plan. Then, you can get back to business as usual, perhaps a little wiser, too.