Crisis Management and Damage Control

"It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it." – Warren Buffet

That's just the quick quote, though; the rest of Buffet's Five Reputation Management Guidelines show he's paid attention to his reputation for 20 years and more, in his speech, dealings, and willingness to answer honestly. It would take him a lot longer than five minutes to lose that reputation.

In the same vein – it takes time – film producer Harvey Weinstein seemingly lost his reputation overnight when convicted of sexual abuse and rape, but – similar-but-opposite from Buffet – the allegations against him went back to the 1970s. It took him a long time to trash his reputation.

Losing your reputation to defamation is a horse of a different color. If the allegations are false, then it's like being blindsided by a football tackle while you're strolling down a city street. Most defamation targets never see it coming. Others were completely aware of the dangers and took all possible precautions, but were blindsided anyway with completely false allegations.

The first reaction when you recover is usually "Up and at 'em!" This is almost always the wrong reaction. Some better options are:

  • Do nothing ... until after you've talked it over with a couple of friends.
  • Contact a crisis management veteran.
  • If you feel you have to respond by the next morning, and don't know what to say, say you are seriously looking into the allegations.
  • Read Warren Buffet's guidelines, linked above. Even if you have nothing to say, make the response polite!
  • If the allegations are true, consider admitting it (preferably after talking to a crisis management veteran). This can be true even if you haven't figured out a solution yet. (It's often best to contact the injured party directly before making a public admission.)
       Can this really work? Sometimes. Admitting fault can take a lot of wind out of rational accusers' sails – and even if they keep jumping up and down, other people will stop to hear what you have to say. It probably won't work for rape, but has usually worked for medical malpractice, up to and including killing a patient in surgery. Johns Hopkins and Veterans Administration hospitals have tested this, and generally find they can settle for a lot less than a lawsuit would cost them.

If you have a crisis, please call.

1. Phone: 415–810–1966 Pacific Time

2. Email:

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