Last week, I happened to be listening to “Mike & Mike,” a morning ESPN Radio show where the hosts discuss the major sports news of the day. That day they were discussing news how Ryan Braun, a player for the Milwaukee Brewers who has been accused of steroid use and suspended from baseball, was personally calling season ticket holders to apologize for his mistakes.
The hosts were debating the merits of Braun’s recent apology, wondering if it were a classy move or a shameless part of a PR stunt. Furthermore, the host who thought this was a simple PR stunt was also convinced fans would not want to have a cordial conversation with Braun, but rather hang up on him or yell at him for being a poor role model to children.
The two sides of the debate were so sharply drawn, it struck me as the classic media debate over any troubled business (or business executive) and the difficult nature of rebuilding reputation once it is lost.
While I am in no way involved with Braun or his team of advisors, I do think he’s getting some good advice. Well, at least he’s getting some decent PR advice right now. That is because he is focused on the long, arduous and thankless task of actually building a reputation again with the people that matter.
As is so often said, a reputation takes a lifetime to build but is lost in a second. I like to think that building reputation is akin to the little engine that could, it requires slow, steady and consistent performance over time. No one action can give a company a good reputation. Even donating $1 billion to cancer research, while admirable and positive, cannot give a company a sterling reputation in one move (though it certainly would be a big step in the right direction).
So if getting that little engine up the hill the first time was hard, getting back to the peak after faltering is near impossible.
What PR professionals all too often forget though is that good press did not get the little engine to the top of the hill in the first place and can do even less the second time around. All the media does in building reputation is to help underscore performance, merely informing the world of an accomplishment, not creating one itself.
Which brings me back to the ESPN Radio piece. The calls to season ticket holders was not something Braun was doing to make a big show of it, he was simply moving along the tracks toward recovering something of his reputation. The vigorous debate only showed just how far he still has to go.
These same principles apply to rebuilding a business’ reputation. Quiet actions move you down the track. PR people who find themselves actively touting a battered companies image all the time also will continue to run into skeptical reporters that will only make that climb back to the top harder.
Let the business perform, and the media story will follow.