A Halloween Lesson with Apologies to Charles M. Schulz
Every year Linus sits in the neighborhood pumpkin patch trying to impress Charlie Brown’s little sister Sally with a personal introduction to The Great Pumpkin. On Halloween, she forgoes trick or treating to wait for the Great Pumpkin as he “flies through the air and brings toys to all the children of the world.” When The Great Pumpkin disappoints, you can imagine the fury of a kid who has been cheated out of tricks or treats.
What to do if you are in The Great Pumpkin’s shoes, in desperate need of reputation management? Whether you are a corporate executive, a disgraced athlete or a fictional cartoon character, here are three essential steps for reestablishing a positive brand.
- Determine Your Desired Brand Identity Before you begin the reputation rebuilding process, decide what you want the essence of your new personal brand to be. Philanthropist? Industry expert? Respected business Leader? After you’ve determined your desired personal brand, develop a strategy to take action and then communicate to your key audiences. For example, in the years after Jimmy Carter’s failed presidential re-election bid, he re-branded himself as a humanitarian very successfully through his work with Habitat for Humanity. As for The Great Pumpkin, I’d recommend taking the same approach as Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and finally make good on his toy delivering promise.
- Take Action A negative reputation is usually not the result of poor communication, but negative actions. In The Great Pumpkin’s case, he’s the victim of his own negligence in failing to live up to his toy-delivering reputation. Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny have earned their acclaim and “own” their respective holidays because of the combination of their actions (delivering toys, candy, etc. around the world in one night) and their stellar communications (TV specials, books). For others looking to rebuild a reputation, the first step is taking a positive action that is in direct contrast to their past misdeeds. NFL Quarterback and former dog fighting ringleader Michael Vick’s participation in the Humane Society’s anti-dog fighting campaign is one example of a positive reputation-rebuilding action. Additionally, ongoing actions should be based on the brand identity goal. Want to be seen as a philanthropist? Start a foundation. An industry expert? Write insightful articles or blogs. Respected business leader? Build your way back up the corporate ladder.
- Communicate Implementing a communications plan for The Great Pumpkin is critical because he’s failed to meet the expectations of his most ardent supporters year after year. The same can be said for a CEO whose performance may have let down customers, investors or employees. The communication usually needs to begin with an expression of regret. During his tenure as Jet Blue’s CEO, David Neeleman issued a formal apology after passengers on numerous planes were stranded on New York airport tarmacs for hours. In his apology, Neeleman wisely included a plan to fix the airline’s problems. Jet Blue recovered from the incident and is ranked today as a top airline for customer satisfaction.
After the initial expression of regret, choose the appropriate media to reach your intended audience. Employ traditional media, social media or paid advertising to get your message across. For example, Jet Blue communicates aspects of its “Customer Bill of Rights” effectively through various media channels.
After 45 years of disappointing Linus and Sally, The Great Pumpkin has a tremendous amount of work to do in order to build a positive brand and establish itself as the Halloween icon. But if the giant gourd follows the three steps to effective reputation building, maybe next year Linus and Sally won’t wait around in vain, and Charlie Brown will receive toys and treats from The Great Pumpkin instead of ending the night with a pillow case filled with rocks.
David Calusdian, executive vice president and partner at Sharon Merrill, oversees the implementation of investor relations programs, coaches senior executives in presentation skills and provides strategic counsel to clients on numerous communications issues such as corporate disclosure, proxy proposals, shareholder activism and earnings guidance.