Reputation Crisis! | How to turn your misfortune into opportunity


Willem S Eksteen | Chief Executive | Stone | mail me |

Sometimes things do go wrong – this is a reality of business and life. How one responds to an issue or how one resolves an embarrassment, determines how your business and personal reputation is scarred or strengthened in a time of crisis.

We have recently seen some very public hair-raising examples of how a blunder should not be handled and others where misfortune was turned into an opportunity by managing a potentially damaging situation correctly and swiftly.

A good business reputation gives you a competitive advantage. According to Forbes Magazine, your actions and what others say about you craft your reputation. This approach is the most powerful leverage you have in business and life. A headline-making crisis can alter a company’s public perception and business future forever. Most people’s reputations precede them. If one’s reputation is positive, they don’t have to sell themselves or brag, because others are doing it for them. If people understand what one stands for, they might view crises with more graceful eyes against the backdrop of a positive reputation, for a short window in time and provided that the situation is well handled.

Many sayings like ‘do not waste a good crisis’, have become commonplace because they are apt descriptions of how a problem can be turned to benefit the person or company in the eye of the reputation storm. However, unfortunately, another commonly known platitude that is equally true is if you fail to plan, you plan to fail.

There are many examples that we know too well where bad planning resulted in reputation damage and severe business impact. Recently there was the issue where airlines removed passengers from their seats to accommodate others. Another was the listeriosis issue that impacted the entire processed meat industry. While more recently, we saw the business impact on a fast-food chicken chain when they failed to plan and manage the fallout of a bad situation.


In line with our bespoke methodology, Stone Pebble Ring Thinking©, all planning should always be driven by one’s business rationale in an integrated reputation engagement approach – especially at a time of adversity. The reason for or higher purpose of the business should remain at the centre of managing a reputation crisis.

At a time of crisis, acting in line with your expressed values will not only be testing your mettle, but it will guide how you interact with those around you with sincerity, integrity and placing the interest first of those most affected by the issue at hand. It remains businesses critical to act sincerely, with empathy and driven by your lived values (and hopefully these are not values merely articulated in a faded document in a cheap frame gathering dust on a stairwell on route to the office canteen or boardroom)


Focus and a keen eye on timing ensure that communication objectives flow seamlessly into engagement and service delivery. All activities must be executed with the best strategic reputation impact in mind and with minimal time wastage and noise for a better return on investment.

The steps we usually recommend at a time of reputation crisis include the following:

  • The first step is long before any situation – always plan for the eventuality by having protocols in place that are triggered the moment adversity hits, or crises strike
  • Rather be regretful when you have made a mistake – do not become defensive and try and justify a blunder, saying ‘sorry’ when it is required as it makes you more human
  • Do not lose your cool or become aggravated – that does not help anything
  • Act swiftly and with integrity – own up quickly if you messed up and manage it well from there
  • If you hear that your business reputation has suffered, work immediately to repair it
  • Manage stakeholders with the help of expert counsel – reputation crisis is a very specialised skill
  • Align your message and business strategy and keep your business objectives at the centre
  • Do not act out of character – exceed expectations in line with your business values and personality
  • Be authentic and consistent while allowing your stakeholders to make sense of the situation
  • Clear up misunderstandings that might have led to worsening the reputation crisis
  • Practice positive behaviour and illustrate the real value that your business brings
  • Show interest in others beyond your interests, even that of your advisory’s well-being
  • Take your people with you – communicate well internally and do not let employees learn the fact from an unfolding media circus
  • Learn sustainable lessons from the crisis and make these lessons part of improved business practice in the future
  • Plan your future business reputation beyond the current prevailing situation or issue – it is not a short -term thing – focus on the sustainability of your reputation 

Cohesion in the reputation management should drive all communication endeavours while being supported by a focus on the business value added to one’s stakeholders.

In addition to working relentlessly towards building a positive reputation, one must reactively guard against crises and reputation risks by having the correct tools as part of the issues plan:

  • Lead from the front – develop a spokespersons matrix with well-trained visible senior spokespersons, mapped with key eventuality and business-relative expertise to champion your narrative well at a time of crisis
  • Develop a reputation management programme
  • Develop a crisis communication manual and enforce as policy
  • Engage target audiences proactively at relevant and multiple touchpoints
  • Use digital tools effectively to build the reputation and mitigate the fallout from the crisis

A permanent strategy

Crisis impact must not be seen as not merely short-term. Recently

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Read the full article by Willem S Eksteen, Chief Executive, Stoneas well as a host of other topical management articles written by professionals, consultants and academics in the October/November 2020 edition of BusinessBrief.

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