By: Kim Polley, Managing Partner UK & Ireland | Senior Emerging Markets Advisor, Instinctif Partners

Imagine you’re at a dinner party, and the topic turns to big corporate comebacks. The kind where a company goes from zero to hero after a major blip. There are some real breakouts, some reputation rehabilitation stories that make us sit up and take notice – and for companies that we thought would never regain lost ground. 

I thought it would be interesting to take a closer look at how they did it, and distil this into the approach below:

A narrative reset

First off, there’s the art of resetting the narrative. This involves a shift from past or present controversies to future potential and positive impact. Like when a well-known fast-food chain, facing flak for unhealthy options, starts promoting salads and fruit bags. They’re not just selling food; they’re selling a new story. They’re saying, “Hey, we’re not just about quick bites; we’re about healthy living too.” It’s all about shifting focus from the past missteps to future potentials.

Trust through transparency

Then there’s the need to build trust. It’s as crucial as a firm handshake was at a business meeting in the 1950s. Building trust involves not just disseminating information but engaging in meaningful dialogue with stakeholders.

Remember when a famous car manufacturer faced emissions scandals? Their road to redemption was paved with transparency, owning up to mistakes, and clear communication about their steps towards cleaner technology. And, in this day and age, the approach should be multi-channel, leveraging both traditional and digital media to reach a broader audience.

Crisis preparedness and responsiveness

We all know that information now travels at the speed of light and a crisis is only one social media post away. Imagine a scenario where a tech giant faces a data breach. The clock’s ticking, and their response can’t be a leisurely stroll in Hyde Park. It’s got to be quick, decisive, and reassuring.

Organisations must develop a high-level crisis communication process, complete with template responses and a clear escalation pathway. Rapid, decisive action in times of crisis helps control the narrative and demonstrates a company’s commitment to transparency and accountability.

Building advocacy ecosystems

Let’s not forget the importance of mingling beyond the boardroom. It’s like reaching out to the local community, not just with a press release, but with genuine involvement. It must extend into the community and involve diverse groups, including local influencers and media.

Regular, authentic engagement helps debunk myths and build a narrative based on factual, positive stories. This is particularly crucial in sectors like energy, where public sentiment is heavily influenced by perceptions of corporate responsibility and environmental stewardship.

Aligning beyond your business

Aligning with broader national and regional agendas agendas is important. This demonstrates a commitment to not just corporate but societal and environmental well-being. Collaborative problem-solving with stakeholders and showing a commitment to shared values are key elements in this strategy.

With COP28 in mind, an example could be a company setting impact based NetZero or environmental targets or aligning with a government just transition pathways project and becoming a proponent of its ambitions. They’re not just ticking ESG boxes; they’re aligning their story with a global narrative, showing they’re playing their part in the bigger picture.

Sustaining reputation resilience

Finally, it’s about keeping the momentum. You can’t just make a grand gesture and then vanish. Long-term reputation resilience is achieved through ongoing efforts. Regular community and stakeholder engagement, consistent media relations, and adapting to changing narratives are essential.

Companies must continuously deliver on their promises, acknowledge shortcomings, and demonstrate their commitment to improvement and shared value creation. A bit like continuously updating your social media – you’ve got to keep the conversation going, stay relevant, and show you’re committed for the long haul.

Food for thought

Now, here’s a thought. In this age where every tweet, every decision, and every product launch is under the microscope, could it be that reputation rehab is no longer just about damage control?

Maybe it’s about being so fundamentally intertwined with societal and environmental well-being that the very idea of a ‘rehab’ becomes outdated. What if the future is about companies being proactive, not reactive? Where reputation management isn’t just the preserve of corporate affairs, but a culture woven into every fabric of the business?

Maybe, just maybe, the best reputation rehab is one that’s never needed in the first place. Now, wouldn’t that be something to talk about at your next dinner party?