Trust, the antidote to reputation loss in a crisis


I don’t know Michael Wolff, but I trust him.

michael wolff todd plittI read his piece in USA Today that a colleague [the oft-referenced EMA crisis guru Peter Kapcio] sent me this week. I can’t pull off a lapel handkerchief like he does, but I like his style too. And given his storied writing, publishing and new media career, I trust his standing on the topic.

His piece is about trust, or, more fervently, the lack of trust in business and life today. He writes, “Trust should be the next big thing.”

Contrasting generations is always a challenge because there hasn’t been one yet that doesn’t think what it did 25 years earlier was superior to the one in power today. But Wolff does get wistful for the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. Where’s Walter Cronkite when we need him?

Wolff drives a passionate argument. Do we truly trust Facebook, Google and Amazon with all that data they collect? Have Instagram, the banking industry and Wall Street not dashed our trust on the shoals of greed?

His point is, what are we going to do about it? What are you going to do about it?

Trust is such a crucial element as Wolff uses it, but especially so in a crisis. In some ways, trust defines a crisis. The crisis flames on when trust is lost, stolen or rent away; the crisis eases when people begin to trust the company or CEO again. Maintaining trust in the midst of crisis is one of the key goals of any crisis manager. How much trust a company built up over the years with its customers or the public is often a crisis vaccine. Finally, restoring trust in the short and long terms is the antidote for solving a crisis.

Think about it. Whom do you trust and which company or individual would you be more willing to forgive sooner in a crisis?

Bank of America. Goldman Sachs. HSBC? Or these, U.S. Bank, Fifth Third Bank, PNC Bank, Citizens and Ally. The last five were listed in a consumer survey as the most trustworthy banks.

That was too easy. Might as well have said devil or angel. So what about these 10? Best or worst? Could you tell for sure? Amazon, Coke, FedEx, Apple, Target, Ford, Nike, Starbucks, Southwest, Nordstrom.

They’re the best, according to a 2012 list from Entrepreneur magazine. But that’s Wolff’s point. Even the best lack complete trust.

Each has its negatives that muddy our trust. Sugared drinks? Aren’t they the target of health advocates everywhere, liquid Darth Vader? Doesn’t Nike make everything overseas, like Apple, and pay workers peanuts for 12-hour days? Doesn’t Starbucks harvest vast countrysides of Latin and South America with little renewal? Doesn’t Target sell goods made in sweatshops?

Trust. Such an elusive value.

What about people? Warren Buffett and Hillary Rodham Clinton hit the high notes, as do Bill and Melinda Gates. Wealthy people willing to give most of it away engender trust.

A few months ago, any list of most trustworthy individuals surely would have included Gen. David Petraeus. Oops. And, what about Hillary’s aide-de-camp, Bill? He was once the least trusted American leader and now he may be the most trusted. [Memo to crisis managers: It might take 10 years, but you can rehabilitate even a horrid reputation.]

For anyone who’s seen the movie Lincoln [used here as a case study, not a historically accurate account] you have to wonder about ol’ Honest Abe, never-told-a-lie Lincoln. He comes across as a political horse trader of Tammany Hall pedigree, an ends-justify-the-means champion.

Trust is in crisis and we all need to lend a hand rehabilitating its standing.

The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the Northeast and Southeast. Learn more about EMA at http://www.mower.com. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.

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About steveoncrisis

The content is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It comes from Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and as managing editor and editorial page editor at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower and Associates, one of the nation's largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agency with six offices in the Northeast and Southeast.
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