Grace after the fall: Taking the first steps toward corporate redemption


Say you’re a drug company that’s made a lot of money on a controversial medication or has been accused of price-fixing. Or a mining company with a troubled past when it comes to its operations abroad. Or a social media startup that has only recently grappled with its users’ data privacy concerns or bullying complaints.

You’ve forced out the old guard, you’ve cleaned house, dealt with the issues, changed strategy and want to step into a more socially responsible future. 

But how? What are the first basic steps towards redemption?

Warren Buffett once famously said that it takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to destroy it.

Reputation is fragile, and needs to be protected and maintained at all costs. But if you’ve already faced the hostile mobs, you have to take steps to build and restore your brand’s reputation -- and to ensure the public sits up and takes notice of your efforts.

First and foremost: Own up to your past, and don’t minimize it. Acknowledge the damage. Apologize and develop an action plan to right any remaining wrongs.

Smart companies in challenged or controversial industries are already taking the bull by the horns. 

Gran Colombia Gold, for example, has committed to being a positive presence wherever it’s operating, and has invested in health and safety, wages, pensions, the environment, economic growth and diversity, education and stronger communities in Colombia. 

Instagram has rolled out its new “restrict” tool to combat the scourge on online bullying on social media.

Bausch Health Companies -- formerly known as Valeant Pharmaceuticals, accused of dramatically hiking prices for life-saving drugs -- recently publicly released its second annual corporate social responsibility report, showcasing the pharma company’s efforts across five key commitment areas, including advancing global health and improving communities.

Tell your story

This underscores the point: If you’re making strides to do good, the public needs to know about it.

Everyone loves a redemption story. So use every method of communication at your disposal -- from social media posts to op-eds, long-form content and media outreach -- to ensure all stakeholders know about your determined and genuine efforts to restore your company’s reputation by embracing corporate social responsibility. If your media relations or communications staff is thin, hire professionals to help you execute.  

Who better to talk about a better future than the company who has lived a much worse past?

You should be working to become an authoritative voice on the problems or issues that have plagued your company or industry. One way to establish authority is to build a strong social media following. Another must is positioning your executives as thought leaders who are unfailingly transparent, not just about your brand, but about the challenges your industry faces, and where it’s succeeding and failing to do the right thing for its customers, clients, employees and communities.

And finally, if you’re in an evolving business or industry in which crises still erupt, it’s also absolutely essential to have a fulsome crisis management plan in place long before you actually need one. You don’t want to take one step forward and three steps back in your redemption efforts. Preparing a detailed crisis management plan well in advance -- one that’s aimed not just at protecting your reputation, but also doing the right thing -- is a necessity.

Nothing is more important to a company’s health and future prosperity than its brand and reputation, especially after a fall. Companies that do this well take the time and resources necessary to lay out a comprehensive strategy and execute it. Those who under-invest do so at their own peril.