Jared and Subway. Penn State. Tiger Woods. Ashley Madison. Bill Cosby. It seems like you can’t check the news anymore without finding a breaking story implicating a public figure in scandal, and with the fallout affecting a business or public institution. As more and more people come forward after one of these types of scandals break, people inevitably find themselves asking ‘who else knew, and when did they know?’
Who else knew, and when did they know?
Quite often, it seems, as more and more facts come to light, it turns out that there were warning signs that something was not quite right, long before a personal scandal broke, bad press ensued, and brand reputations got damaged. From gossip around the water cooler to the office tattle tale, few workplaces are free from company rumors about business leaders, co-workers or even outside parties like investors and vendors.
Ironically, company leaders are often the last to learn about potential scandals and rumors that might already be damaging their brand reputation or negatively affecting sales. Arguably, they have a responsibility to pay attention when they hear about personal scandals and company rumors; on the other hand, shouldn’t they endeavor to rise above gossip and give everyone the benefit of the doubt?
Leaders are seemingly in a no-win situation when it comes to dealing with company rumors and personal scandals that can result in bad press.
Taking action where accusations are scurrilous or without merit and they risk losing good people, incurring legalities and looking like idiots. Failing to investigate or act on potentially damaging rumors and they stand to risk the loss of good people, incurring legal actions and looking like idiots.
This may be one of the most perilous areas of management that leaders face. A move in either direction is likely to have long-lasting ramifications, affecting both business well-being and relationships. It’s not something that business leaders can take lightly or afford to ignore. Here are four good ways to deal with bad rumors, so that personal scandals and bad press won’t damage your brand.
4 Ways to Deal with Rumors Before Bad Press Damages Your Brand
- Be direct and discreet.
The more people spread rumors before its actual target is confronted, the more an accusation may grow and the more damage false accusations will do to relationships. If a rumor is brought to your attention, make a bee-line for the parties that can confirm or deny, and don’t talk to anyone you don’t need to about it. Whether there seems to be any merit to the accusation or not, people should be cautioned against spread the rumors any further.
- Act accordingly.
Many of today’s worst public figure scandals were far worse in their impacts on people because people that knew something failed to act. Resist the temptation to sweep ugly truths under the rug. Put an immediate stop to wrong-doing. Tell the appropriate authorities. Follow through with the consequences that should follow, and enact the policies and operational changes which can prevent it from recurring in the future.
- Gut check corporate values and vision.
Corporate values and vision statements must be more than pretty words hung up on the wall. When scandal breaks in a business, it may be a reflection of the break down of values for the company or the individuals involved. It may become apparent that the company stopped hiring for fit when it comes to the values previously instilled in corporate culture, or that someone’s character slipped after the fact. In either case, this is the time for a gut check when it comes to corporate values and an opportunity to get everyone back on the same page. A scandal may define your organization’s identity for a time, but it does not have to define it forever.
- Make amends.
In the wake of the current scandal with Subway’s long-time spokesman, Jared, about to plead guilty to egregious crimes against minors, the company’s leadership is surely asking themselves whether they have a responsibility to reach out and make amends, of sorts, by initiating charitable contributions and raising awareness for related causes. It’s probably a good idea.
If your business uncovers a company scandal, you might have a responsibility to make amends directly to anyone affected; but beyond that, this could be a pivotal moment in helping to define a greater vision for your organization. Your corporate vision should extend beyond growth and profits. Corporate success shouldn’t just be defined by the things that you sell, but by the greater good that is affected in the world for your business having existed.
Dealing with personal scandals and company rumors can be devastating, but it can also be the fire that purifies the ore of an organization’s raw beginnings into pure gold.
Elizabeth Kraus is the author of the 2015 Small Business Marketing Calendar, featuring 12 Marketing Ideas Your Mom Would Hate with hundreds of ideas that can help better lead and grow your own small business.