Stepped In It
Reputation Management (in reverse): The quickest way to hurt your company's reputation is to hire a high-level person who doesn't respect laws and ethics. That's what Indiana University did when they hired basketball coach Kelvin Sampson, who resigned Friday amid allegations of NCAA infractions. He was hired to develop young people, win basketball games and protect the Hoosier's well-earned reputation as one of the premier basketball programs in the country. This was a difficult objective considering Sampson already had ethical and legal problems in his previous job. Past performance equals future behavior.
IU is now looking for a squeaky-clean coach focused on graduating basketball players and winning games. With as much available talent as this country has, IU could have done that from the outset if they were taking their reputation management seriously. Where was Mike Sample, the school's Vice President of Public Affairs, during the hiring process? He has direct access to the school's president. Did he ever raise a red flag on this choice?
When Sampson made the final cut for potential IU head coaches, the Public Affairs VP should have written a best and worst case scenario on him. Being that Sampson was already known for breaking the rules, the worst case scenario would have revealed to IU leadership the embarrassing and costly results of what major recruiting violations and lying would do to the team and school's image today, tomorrow, and five and 10 years down the road. It would have shown IU being in the middle of a media frenzy on talk radio, sports programs, 24-hour news cycles, blogs, web sites, and on and on. IU leadership would have been forced to consider how quickly the reputation of one of colleges' most admired programs can be tarnished. And, they would have recognized how many years and dollars it takes an organization to rebound after such a blow to its reputation.
Public relations leaders must look over the horizon to see the train wreck coming. They must paint a vivid picture for the boss and provide the best avoidance options. If you're telling the boss after the situation has unfolded, or analyzing what went wrong yesterday, you're not helping your team -- you're crisis managing. Most people can do that. Helping your leaders navigate the future, avoid unintended consequences, and build the brand and reputation is where your value is.
Reputation management is about taking the high road, doing the right thing the first time around, and playing by the rules. It is far better to execute a solid reputation management plan on a daily basis, then to engage in the alternative -- crisis management. Let your competition take the low road -- and many of them will. While they're spending time, effort and money trying to rebuild their brand and reputation, you'll be miles ahead and consistently gaining market share -- THEIRS!
How would you persuade the boss that the person he or she is about to hire will most likely self destruct and unravel years of brand building?