Burying bad news on the fourth page of a Google search? Good idea.
Using public funds to do it? Bad idea.
That’s Lesson #1, and UC Davis and Chancellor Linda Katehi learned it the hard way after being caught forking over more than $175,000 to polish their tarnished reputations involving the pepper-spraying of campus demonstrators in 2011.
Then there’s Lesson #2: Secrets often don’t stay secret. How did this one come to light? An enterprising journalist requested college budget documents under the California Public Records Act.
“I saw this and immediately thought of you. Do you think this a good strategy?!?” asked a friend. He was only vaguely aware that it was possible to manipulate internet searches this way — or even whether it was ethical. The answer is: It depends.
Are you a college student trying to sober up your online reputation in preparation for finding a job? How about a budding entrepreneur who’s losing business because you’re linked to a relative with a gnarly online presence? Or a family-owned luxury brand trying to set the record straight after a misunderstanding generated a flurry of negative activity across several social media platforms?
These are relatable. If someone spends money removing certain media and balancing the negative with positive (or at least neutral) results, you’d probably not be surprised. You might even do the same if you were in their shoes.
It’s harder to empathize with UC Davis. As a result, the attempt to bury the bad backfired. Now there’s a flood of newer, angrier results online.
The cover-up ultimately informed those who didn’t know before, reignited anger for those who do remember, and reopened painful wounds for those who were victims.
If you or your client ever find yourself debating whether or not to do something, think about the optics. Ask yourself, “If (or when?) someone finds out, how will it look? How will it make people feel?”
If you don’t have a good response to either of those questions, don’t do it. If you end up ignoring your gut and doing it anyway, be prepared for the backlash.
“Because Reputation Is Your Most Valuable Asset”
Gillott Communications is a Strategic PR firm. We’re Fixers. Crisis & Reputation Management. Litigation. Media Relations. Crisis Prep. More than half a century of expertise working with clients to resolve issues both in and outside the media’s glare — in their professional and personal lives.
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