How to rehabilitate your reputation


First lady Hillary Rodham Clinton watches President Clinton pause as he thanks those Democratic members of the House of Representatives who voted against impeachment in this Dec. 19, 1998, file photo. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

First aired on How to Do It (16/7/13)

Reputation rehabilitation. It's a skill that far too many people need -- and far too few get it right. Chris Lehane is a person who makes a living making sure people do it right. His clients have included Bill Clinton, Lance Armstrong, Madonna and Goldman Sachs. He recently shared his secrets with the public by co-authoring a book, Masters of Disaster: The Ten Commandments of Damage Control.


"There are a lot of folks who screw this up," Lehane said to How to Do It hosts Sarah Treleaven and Josh Bloch. He points to Anthony Weiner, a former U.S. congressman who publicly tweeted an X-rated picture to a woman he had just met in 2011. He denied the allegations for several weeks and ultimately apologized publicly and resigned from Congress. What did Weiner get wrong? According to Lehane, pretty much everything. "He simply wasn't honest with the public," Lehane said. "He found himself in the proverbial hole and instead of dropping the shovel, he actually called in the backhoe and kept digging and ended up putting himself in a much deeper hole."

What should Weiner have done instead? First, he should have slowed down and assessed the situation. "Don't say anything. Get your information together and put yourself in a situation to deal with it," Lehane said. Then he should have been as open and honest as possible. Acknowledge what you did, admit what you do and do not know, and let the public know how you are going to fix it. "You need to do a 'full monty' and put all the information out there."

An honest dialogue with the public is the most important tool someone can have when it comes to saving their reputation. The public is ultimately forgiving, if they are treated with respect. "Ultimately the public understands that people are going to make mistakes and that humans are flawed," Lehane said. "What they want to do you handle it in a credible way and are you ultimately worthy of our trust over the long haul?"

Lehane admits building this trust is a lot easier if you had it to begin with. He points to Bill Clinton as a great example of a successful reputation rehabilitation. Clinton, like Weiner, was involved in a potentially career-ending sex scandal. But after initial denials, he changed his course quickly and leaned heavily on his past as a trustworthy public figure. "They believe[d] that he is someone who makes good decisions for the public and I think they had a pretty good sense of who he was and a connection to him," Lehane said. "There was a sense of expectations and a context that put him in a position to be able to survive better [than someone else]."

While it seems politicians and major companies are the most likely to require reputation rehab, Lehane says knowing what to do when your name is being dragged through the mud is more important than ever. "We just live in a time period where it doesn't matter if you are a Fortune 500 company dealing with an accounting scandal or the diner on the corner that's dealing with a bad yelp review. You are going to have to deal with this in one way or another." And if you're smart, the rules are simple. Take responsibility, build credibility and be patient. "People are primed and expect a comeback."

Weiner may have screwed up when the scandal first broke, but he's now running to be the mayor of New York City and apparently has a decent chance to win -- although he's now facing a new sexting scandal (which broke days after this interview aired).

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