Category Archives: reputation management

Random Media Notes


  1. I concede. I have long insisted that media is the plural of medium. But, based on common usage, I now accept that media can be a singular term as well as plural.
  2. The New York Times “Truth” ad campaign is genius on many levels. However, just because a story appears in the New York Times, that alone does not make it necessarily true.
  3. Memo to those whose Twitter bios contain the words “Retweets are not endorsements.” Actually, they often come off that way.
  4. Judging from my Twitter feed during the Oscar show, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Love is Love is Love” thing does not apply to Mel Gibson.
  5. PriceWaterhouseCoopers is the world’s second largest accounting firm. Not only will they will survive the Oscars flub, awareness of the firm’s name and services it provides will actually increase.
  6. It’s easy to understand why Charter would want to rebrand as Spectrum. But it seems that the changeover has been glacially gradual.
  7. Speaking of branding, it turns out that the real name of the actress Cush Jumbo is… Cush Jumbo! Great name.
  8. Speaking of branding, it was clever to repackage DVDs of old romance movies (such as Somewhere In Time) with black and white graphics similar to the now familiar 50 Shades graphics.
  9. Have you noticed how the attention-getting power of the term “Breaking News” has been diminished over the last couple of years?
  10. If I were in the news biz and wanted to do something related to immigration, I’d do a feature on Global Foods in Kirkwood (MO).
  11. The most recent Nielsen radio ratings strongly indicate that St. Louis listeners prefer older music to newer music. Have young people stopped listening to radio?
  12. Can you find yourself on a map? No, not on your phone. On a map. In an atlas. Or on TV. Apparently, many otherwise intelligent people cannot. Click HERE for link.
  13. Got an email recently that said it was from “Hamilton, the Musical.” It was NOT from Hamilton, the Musical. I deleted. But only after I unsubscribed.
  14. Am I the only person in the English-speaking world who detests the word “eponymous?” It just sounds so pretentious.
  15. If you write for money, please obtain and read the book Several Short Sentences About Writing by Verlyn Klinkenborg. And put its guidance into practice. Thank you.

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Perception Is Reality


It’s true. If a person perceives a brand, a product, a service, a retailer, a restaurant, etc. to possess certain qualities, it colors all of that person’s interactions with that entity. Even when hard evidence shows the perceived belief is not true.

Certain brands have buzz and are perceived by many to be cool, superior, innovative, etc. The list includes Starbucks, Apple, Uber, IKEA—I’m sure you can name a few more. Even when those cool brands fail or when they “borrow” ideas from others, they are often given a pass because of positive customer perceptions.

The current TV series The People Versus O.J. Simpson reveals incorrect appraisals of potential jurors by both prosecutor Marcia Clark and defense attorney Johnnie Cochran. Each perceived African-American female jurors to be sympathetic to the prosecution’s case. Both were wrong. The scene showing Marcia Clark behind the glass monitoring a focus group as they offer comments about her is powerful and enlightening.

During my radio career, I was reminded many times that perception is reality. If a listener perceives that station A plays more music than station B, it doesn’t matter which station actually plays more music. If a listener thinks a personality is snarky and insensitive, that personality can perform tons of good deeds and still be perceived to be a jerk. A listener’s perception is that listener’s reality.

Because perceptions matter—whether they are based on facts, gossip, online chatter, peer pressure or subtle factors—it is important to work to mold perceptions. Public relations, marketing and social media all play a vital role in creating and reinforcing positive consumer perceptions of a product, a service, a radio station, an idea or a presidential candidate.

It is dangerous to presume that we know how customers or prospects perceive the goods, services and messages we offer. How do we find out what they think? We observe how they act. We monitor their online comments. We ask them. What is their perception? It’s their reality.





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Your Reputation Is Viral


A news story about a virus currently “spreading explosively” throughout our hemisphere caused me to recall an episode from a few years back.

In 2009, a friend mentioned me to a woman whose surname was exactly the same as the virus. She owned a franchised home health care staffing agency and she had a big problem. Some of the people who had worked for her had posted negative comments about the woman, accusing her of numerous bad practices including racism.

The woman emailed me and we set up a meeting. Before we met, I entered her name on Google. I saw the negative comments from the staffers. I also saw court records of a judgment against her and her husband regarding a dispute over money owed to a country club. My search also revealed a record of her divorce from that husband.

At our meeting, I offered the woman a few suggestions. I told her I could help get the ugly accusations off her Google first page and work with her on addressing the issues that were affecting her business. She did not choose to hire me.

Upon hearing and seeing her name over and over in stories about this virus, I was curious and went to Google again this past weekend. When I entered her name, the first item that came up was a forum post calling her “racist and emotionally abusive” and accusing her of being a drug abuser. Ouch.

The second item that came up was her LinkedIn profile. Third was a personal website which was set up some time after I met with her. (It referred to her agency by a different name.)

I was shocked to see the fourth entry was her obituary. She passed away last September. And still, several months after her death, the first thing one sees after searching her name is the “racist” post.

While I am saddened to learn of her passing at age 50, I find it unfortunate that the damage to her reputation lives on. The lesson: reputation management begins early. Following good business practices from day one and addressing issues as they arise is easier than trying to repair reputation problems after they become critical. Rest in peace.

Drive A VW Diesel, Destroy The Atmosphere


Who knew that a car company could program its cars’ pollution controls to recognize emissions testing equipment and emit fewer pollutants during tests, then go back to emitting greater amounts than legally allowed during normal driving?

Who knew that a car company, upon realizing this was possible, would be devious enough to deliver cars to market with this trick up its sleeves? Volkswagen did exactly that!

As Volkswagen addresses its reputation crisis caused by the diesel pollution scandal, its first concern must be for the victims of the company’s deception. Who are the victims?

VW diesel owners must now submit to a retooling of their cars, which will likely reduce vehicle performance. Their resale/trade-in value has been diminished. Current owners should be compensated.

Local dealerships are likely to have fewer sales as a result of the scandal but their service departments will be extra busy when they begin reprogramming VW diesel vehicles.

Germany and its reputation for engineering prowess are also likely to take a hit. In a perverse way, we could admire them for being clever enough to devise this scam. But if Germans would be so dishonest as to engage in this practice, what other sneaky stuff might they try to pull off? VW is that nation’s biggest company; how this will affect the entire country remains to be seen.

The auto industry as a whole suffers yet another blow to its integrity. Following last week’s settlement of the General Motors ignition switch situation, we have to be extra diligent as car shoppers, lest we become the victims of further corporate malfeasance. (The GM resolution was in regard to criminal charges. Several lawsuits are still pending.)

The environment is a big victim of Volkswagen’s impropriety. Almost as much as damage from actual pollution, VW’s callous disregard for environmentally responsible behavior is a disappointment. EPA fines should be heavy.

Can VW overcome this crisis? Without a doubt they can and they will survive. How well (or poorly) they manage it will be instructive for all who are concerned with reputation management and good business practices.

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PR Challenge For St. Louis

When the Ferguson situation calms down, what are the next steps for those who are charged with promoting St. Louis as a destination for conventions, tourism, business relocations, startup development and other concerns?

Major damage has been done. Images shared worldwide are indelible. People who have never set foot in St. Louis have new perceptions of our area and they are not good.

Those of us who live here and work here know that what has been shown is a distorted view of the region, seen through the lenses of media. While there are real problems in Ferguson and other communities, most residents of St. Louis County co-exist peacefully with members of other races.

The organizations and individuals who sell the positives of St. Louis to the rest of the U.S. and the world may want to consider these suggestions in the short term:

  1. Realize that you cannot undo what has already been done. Also, realize that you cannot control the various players in this episode.
  2. Do not focus entirely on damage control. Spin will be called out.
  3. When asked, make clear your genuine concern for all parties who’ve been hurt. Avoid getting into analytical discussions or contentious arguments about what has happened.
  4. As tensions cool, share positives at intervals. Don’t launch a barrage of upbeat content immediately.
  5. Seek out those who are partisans of our region. Prominent individuals, including area natives, can be important representatives. (Jon Hamm, for instance, shared appropriate comments last night at Busch Stadium.)
  6. The value of institutions that attract people to St. Louis becomes even greater. Talk freely about the Cardinals, Rams, Blues, Zoo, Garden, our museums, the Muny, the Arch, the new Cathedral, etc. and how they add to our quality of life.
  7. Media outlets and personnel who’ve been friendly to St. Louis and our city’s institutions in the past know that this situation does not negate all the good things about St. Louis. Reach out to old friends with fresh ideas.

As a native of Birmingham, I know that perceptions linger. But they do not define a city.

Similarly, the Ferguson situation will affect our area’s reputation for some time. But it will not define St. Louis and our region. This will end and we will survive.

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Applebee’s and Its PR Nightmare

When larger groups eat at restaurants, there’s often a mandatory tip included in the tab. That’s to protect the servers from getting stiffed.

At an Applebee’s in St. Louis last month, a customer responded to such a fee by writing the words “I give God ten percent, why do you get 18?” on her credit card receipt. Her server showed it to a co-worker. The co-worker (also a server at the location) snapped a pic of the customer’s comment and posted it online at

Initial negative response was directed at the woman who wrote the note. Later, after Applebee’s fired the co-worker for posting the message online, the negative vibe on the web has been pointed directly at Applebee’s—in a big way.

A few thoughts on the matter:

  1. Diners across America will not eat at Applebee’s today because of this incident (and its resulting actions) at one location. The company needs to take quick action to mitigate the blowback for other franchisees. The Papa John’s Pizza/Lebron James episode of 2008 is instructive.
  2. It is not completely clear whether the Applebee’s server who posted the receipt online did violate company rules. But even if she did, Applebee’s should rehire her. This would cause the firestorm to quiet down. (FYI, here is her version of the story.)
  3. All Facebook admins should read this blog post for guidance about how NOT to deal with angry comments. And, if you delete comments on your Facebook page for whatever reason, don’t deny it.
  4. If, as alleged, Applebee’s posted to Facebook a handwritten receipt note praising their food and service just weeks earlier, they should not have deleted that post. There are good reasons to delete posts on an organization’s Facebook page. But be honest if you do it.
  5. PR reps/teams should monitor all media for stories/posts about your organization. This seemingly minor incident has the potential to do serious damage to a chain that has enjoyed over two decades of relative success. When such an event takes a few days to reach its boiling point, PR folk need to anticipate worse case scenarios and be ready to act.
  6. Communications teams for national and world organizations need to be able to reach franchisees and managers at any time, including weekends and overnight. Maintaining a current list of cell and home phone numbers to supplement workplace numbers is vital.
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A Sorry Response

All PR pros need to learn what married men learn early on: the power of an apology.

Seriously, knowing how and when to apologize is a big issue in PR. Defending one’s actions or positions may gain acceptance in some cases, but if there is a perception of wrongheadedness or wrongdoing, the issues cannot be ignored.

Legal counsel may limit the scope of an apology, but when an organization’s reputation is at stake, efforts must be made to address the issues and reduce damage to that reputation.

When an error in judgment is obvious, the PR team has to take the ball and run with it. The organization’s leaders must be made aware of what’s being said in traditional media, social media, online forums, etc. By ignoring the prevailing buzz, an organization may appear to be aloof or, worse, uninformed.

If a decision is made to say, “We are sorry for what has occurred,” getting the message out in a timely manner is important. President Clinton’s apology for the Lewinsky affair (and his repeated denials) had less impact because he waited so long to make it. Many concerned parties are still waiting for more apologies to come from Penn State University for its apparent failure to properly handle the Jerry Sandusky situation.

As one who has been married a long time, I know when to stop defending my actions and offer apologies for whatever I may have done wrong. (Sometimes I don’t even realize that my actions are perceived as wrong until I am told so.)

None of us are perfect. We all make mistakes and do things we regret. Learning to say, “I’m sorry,” has helped my personal reputation management with my chief stakeholder (my bride).

Organizations and their leaders who commit missteps should be ready to take responsibility for their actions and learn how to say these two words: “We apologize.”



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Transparency Versus Translucency

In PR, especially in the area of crisis communications, we repeatedly are told that organizations must maintain transparency in sharing relevant information with the public. The key word here is “relevant.” But is transparency the best policy?

When I was in high school, two friends and I managed to sneak into one of our school’s basketball games without paying. We thought little of it until the next day when the principal summoned us. Our punishment was to call our mothers and confess our misdeed.

As painfully embarrassing as it was to tell my mom that I had done this bad thing, this was all I told her. There were other things I did in high school that I am happy she never learned about.

When BP addressed the issue of the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill in 2010, the company’s communicators worked to address the relevant issues. In keeping focus on the problem at hand and the company’s efforts to control it, the PR team did not offer to media a complete list of the corporation’s sins.

Admitting that the entity you represent is imperfect and capable of making mistakes is vital. Stating that action is being taken to resolve those mistakes is imperative. Expressing concern for those directly affected is essential. But sharing too much information can result in headlines that focus on points that are not relevant and may even supplant information that is more important to the public.

The point is this: total transparency is a myth. But translucency—sharing relevant information—should be the goal in a crisis. Making leadership available to media is a good practice, but leadership should know the limits of what can be said.

Having a filter on what you say is necessary when you are in a casual, informal conversation with a media member. It is utterly crucial when addressing a crisis issue with media. Be translucent, not transparent.

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Client Content For Reputation Management

The St. Louis chapter of PRSA (Public Relations Society of America) had a recent program on publishing a book for reputation management. The author/presenter said a book is a “highly effective calling card” that can enhance or repair one’s reputation. For him, writing and publishing a book resulted in significant consulting and speaking fees.

But what if your client does not have the time to write an entire book? How about writing something shorter?

Yes, a blog is a powerful thing and we all love good web content, but a widely distributed print publication may have greater impact.

Your newspaper may be looking for contributions for their Op-Ed page. Does your client have the expertise to write a commentary about a hot button topic or an ongoing issue? If not, can you help your client organize ideas and compose an article that states your client’s thoughts in a coherent manner? Offering meaningful input on a subject your client is knowledgeable about can enhance his or her reputation.

A client whose health care category suffers from many misconceptions wrote (with my help) an Op-Ed piece in 2010 that shared vital information with the public and the medical community. The article was submitted shortly after health care reform legislation was passed, making it timely and topical. The article ran in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch Op-Ed section and resulted in strong positive feedback for my client.

Another client who owns several restaurants in St. Louis went on trips to Europe in ’09 and ’10. Both times I suggested he take notes, which I would help him turn into a travel story. My idea was that he and I would submit his experiences and observations to our local paper for the Sunday Travel section. Both years he came home without notes.

In 2011, he took a bus tour of Italy, visiting wineries and restaurants throughout the country. When he returned, he shared with me extensive notes he had written on his iPad while rolling across the countryside. His travel diary, with detailed reporting on the food and wine he had consumed, required no rewriting, just editing.

A local St. Louis food magazine recently printed his travel journal and several of his photos in a spread that covered seven pages. The online version features four recipes that the client put together, based on food he ate in Italy. The spread will serve as a “highly effective calling card” for my client.

The travel diary showcases his knowledge of Italian food and wine. This is important because one of his restaurants is considered by many to be the most authentic Italian restaurant in St. Louis. His other two restaurants feature Italian menu items. My client’s good reputation as a chef was established through years of hard work, but this feature helps reinforce that reputation. It also exposes him to new dining prospects who may soon enjoy the food and wine in his restaurants for the first time.

Talk to your clients about their activities and accomplishments. They may not visualize the same media opportunities you do. Remember: media need content. If your client can provide good content, that placement will be useful for the client and the media outlet.

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Preaching To The Choir—Not A Bad Thing

You’ve probably heard the expression “preaching to the choir.” In church, the presumption is that choir members are already committed to the beliefs the pastor is advocating. His message (or hers, in some religions) is, therefore, presumed to be unnecessary and less vital.

But there is value to preaching to the choir. Whether the message is shared in church, in advertising, in a blog post, on a radio show, in a political forum or in a one-on-one conversation, sharing ideas with those who support your beliefs can reap tremendous rewards.

Partisans who already favor your position, your product, your cause and/or your attitude can become stronger believers in your message. The more they are convinced that your way of thinking is the right way, the more likely they are to spread your gospel (or sales message, political goal, reputation enhancement or charitable cause). Likewise, reinforcing your message—preaching to the choir—makes it more likely that the choir members will come to your defense if it becomes necessary.

Preaching to the choir can also cross over to friends, associates, spouses and relatives of the choir members. A wife or husband with strong beliefs—a choir member, if you will—may change a partner’s mindset on an issue or a product. If you attend a political rally for a candidate you already support, that candidate’s message can cause you to share it with the unconvinced. A major benefit of preaching to the choir is generating word of mouth advocacy.

An increase in revenue is often best achieved by preaching to the choir. Non-profits typically receive more money from those individuals who have given before than from new contributors. That’s why the executive director stands up at a charity’s gala event to remind attendees of the organization’s good works. Much advertising is designed to attract new business, but reminding current customers about the quality of your product or service can keep them coming back to you for more.

The choir can also provide guidance in messaging to other choir members, as well as to those who are outside of the choir circle. Find out why your message resonates with your partisans. Discover perceptions about your product/service/organization/candidate that you may not have considered. You may find that the choir members can express the message better than you can. Don’t be afraid to use their exact words. Use this information to determine your best messages—for the choir and for other targets.







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