The Underbelly of Finessing Reputation


"Can't fool all the people all the time. But with internet, you can get close." Photo courtesy of

“Can’t fool all the people all the time.
But with internet, you can get close.”

Photo courtesy of

Since time immemorial, there have been those who polished the reputations of others. Plato did it for his teacher Socrates. Historians Plutarch of Greece and Suetonius of Rome did it for Julius Caesar.

In the modern era, “official” or “authorized” biographers painted over the blemishes of their patrons. In the 20th century, Crisis & Reputation Management emerged as a sub-specialty of public relations to rescue clients from their worst nightmares and protect their reputations.

With the digital age, a new wrinkle arose. With everyone free to express their opinions to the world, every firm that caters to consumers is at risk. A few bad reviews can ruin a restaurant. Or a small clothing store. Or scare away clients of doctors and lawyers.

So enterprising, tech-savvy firms sprang up to counter these threats. They promised to flood the internet with neutral news about you and thereby push the negative to the second or third page of Google or Yelp. Call it Reverse SEO.

Problem is, it isn’t a onetime fix. You have to keep it up forever, or the bad seeps back to the top. Great gig for the sellers — and there were plenty of willing buyers.

This never was really Crisis & Reputation Management. It didn’t find cures to critical issues. It was simply about shuffling the deck — about manipulating where the negative shows up. Like spraying a heavy deodorant. The bad smell always comes back.

Even that process devolved. It soon became about creating and placing fake reviews.

New York State’s attorney general cried foul. It stank of false advertising. Nineteen companies recently agreed to cease misleading practices and pay $350,000 in penalties. It was hailed as the most comprehensive crackdown ever on deceptive reviews on the internet. In truth, it was a drop in the bucket.

Sadly, there’s always someone ready to try to outsmart the system — and he just may succeed.

To paraphrase President Lincoln and scam artist P.T. Barnum, “You can’t fool all the people all the time. But with the internet, you can get pretty close.”


“Because Reputation Is Your Most Valuable Asset”

Gillott Communications is a Los Angeles-based public relations firm that specializes in high-stakes Crisis & Reputation Management. If you don’t already subscribe, please sign up for our blog Insights on High-Stakes PR. You can reach Roger Gillott directly at 310-826-8696.


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