How to Repair a Damaged Reputation (Reputation Management)

Prior to July of this year, many movie fans would know Christian Bale for his Hollywood career success, compelling performance as Batman in the “Dark Knight” movies and his handsome good looks… and his shocking abuse arrests for attacking his sister and mother.  For many fans, his violent criminal behavior overshadowed his performance and reputation as a talented actor.

However, when Christian Bale, this same actor with a tainted past, made an inconspicuous trip to lend morale support to families affected by a the horrific Colorado movie massacre (that occurred during the premiere of his movie), he stunned and impressed even the most skeptical. This wasn’t a publicity stunt — media were not told in advance and he refused interviews. Many fans proclaimed that he had done wonders to repair his reputation! The praise and applause echoed all across traditional and social media.

It is not uncommon for people to suffer from blemished reputations, even those who have achieved significant levels of “success” in their career. For some the scars on their reputation come from inappropriate behavior, poor choices or being “in the wrong place at the wrong time.” Can a reputation be repaired? Yes.

Reputation is Earned Over Time

We aren’t born with a reputation. We earn our reputation over time, through behavior, belief, interaction and communication with others. If you treat others with disrespect, refuse to collaborate and don’t share information, you might develop a reputation as someone unpleasant to work with. By contrast, if you share generously, celebrate the success of others and display an approachable attitude, you might be perceived as someone others want to be around.

It is the combination of values plus action that influences reputation-building behavior. A one-off negative behavior typically doesn’t typecast someone as a negative person. If the balance of affirming-to-negative behavior is great, audiences will tend to write that negative behavior off as a fluke. It is when the patterns become set, and prevalent, that we begin to believe they are true, and the reputation gains traction.

Feedback offers insight into reputation

In my book, “Reputation 360: Creating power through personal branding,” I spend a lot of time discussing the importance of feedback in assessing reputation. In order to know how positively or negatively your personal brand is regarded by others (relative to your desired brand), feedback is critical. Reputation repair cannot begin until you accurately assess the depth and breadth of negative perception by your target audience.

Feedback may offer insights:

  • you might learn that your reputation is not as damaged as you believe
  • you have advocates ready to come to your defense to repair your brand
  • there is misperception in the public, which should be corrected and aid your repairing effort
  • you have the opportunity to make changes to how others perceive you in order to earn a positive reputation again

Reputation Repair Action Steps

There is no easy process for repairing a reputation that works for everyone. Some of my clients have been high profile executives whose names appear in leading business media; for others, their damaged reputation has limited their access in narrow niche markets.  Still others have simply missed too many opportunities to assert themselves, thus earning a negative personal brand.

To proactively begin a personal brand repair strategy, here are some best practices:

1. Own your past. Taking personal accountability to own the choices you made which may have led to your damaged brand is a huge (and very difficult) first step. Passing blame around is not only distracting, but can lead to skepticism by a scrutinizing audience. Audiences typically accept that people make mistakes and make bad choices sometimes. Taking responsibility for those mistakes is a brave and important step.

2. Define your desired reputation. Set a clear goal of how you want people to feel about you. It is important to articulate what you want audiences to know about you (skilled attorney, qualified banker, etc.), but how they feel about you is vital. Do you want people to feel you are humble, generous and approachable? Then work towards that set of character traits in your personal brand strategy.

3. Create a game plan. Plan the steps you’ll need to take to rebuild your reputation. Employ experts in personal branding, public relations, social media marketing and image consulting, if you need them. A well-planned reputation repair strategy is not about “spin” and packaging — it will enable you to hold your head high and walk confidently into the next phase of your career.

4. Set metrics and benchmarks. Part of your strategy will be to set benchmarks and milestones to achieve and assess your progress in repairing your reputation. Carefully analyze the reputation you are earning (through feedback and progress towards your desired brand) and correct your strategy if you find yourself off course.

5. Get real with your values. Personal accountability, authenticity and clarity in values are the cornerstones of every successful personal brand program. When you can articulate your values and act and live in accordance with those values, then you can earn credibility for a reputation of trust, integrity and value to others.

Even without a Hollywood-size budget, individuals with blemished or damaged reputations can begin to repair their personal brand. It is not easy, and not fast, but consistent behavior that lines up with values, creates a strategy for successful personal brand design.

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  1. says

    As always, great advice! I’d like to add that many people assume that their social media presence doesn’t contribute to their reputation…and it does. Often, it’s the first (and only) way we have to get to know someone. I’ve been mortified by reading posts from people pertaining to politics. It’s also difficult to know when someone is being funny, sarcastic, and so on when they are posting. It’s vital that someone remembers this when posting – and if they’ve mis-stepped, take the steps you have here to repair the damage…and not repeat it!

  2. Lida Citroen says

    So true, Deb! That’s why we advocate “ego surfing” — Google yourself to see what others see when they search for you. Thanks for posting.

  3. says

    Hello Lida,
    Thank you for this great post. A damaged reputation can be devastating and the default internal narrative is that there is no way to fix it. I love the repair strategy you have outlined. Like everything worth doing, it takes planning and work, but it can be done. -Jeff

    • Lida Citroen says

      Hi Jeff – Thank you for your comment. Reputation repair does take time, and the longer one waits to start, the more harmful it can be. As we see with high profile celebrities, accountability and personal ownership of the mistakes are critical. All my best, Lida

  4. Vanessa says

    great info! One thing I think is effective is trying to correct whatever wrong was done if possible and or pay whatever is owing to people so there is a sense of relief when rebuilding your new futre


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