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A Halloween Lesson with Apologies to Charles M. Schulz

Every year Linus sits in the neighborhood pumpkin patch trying to impress Charlie Brown’s little sister Sally with a personal introduction to The Great Pumpkin. On Halloween, she forgoes trick or treating to wait for the Great Pumpkin as he “flies through the air and brings toys to all the children of the world.” When The Great Pumpkin disappoints, you can imagine the fury of a kid who has been cheated out of tricks or treats.

What to do if you are in The Great Pumpkin’s shoes, in desperate need of reputation management? Whether you are a corporate executive, a disgraced athlete or a fictional cartoon character, here are three essential steps for reestablishing a positive brand.

  1. Determine Your Desired Brand Identity. Before you begin the reputation rebuilding process, decide what you want the essence of your new personal brand to be. Philanthropist? Industry expert? Respected business Leader? After you’ve determined your desired personal brand, develop a strategy to take action and then communicate to your key audiences. For example, in the years after Jimmy Carter’s failed presidential re-election bid, he re-branded himself as a humanitarian very successfully through his work with Habitat for Humanity. As for The Great Pumpkin, I’d recommend taking the same approach as Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and finally make good on his toy delivering promise.
  2. Take Action. A negative reputation is usually not the result of poor communication, but negative actions. In The Great Pumpkin’s case, he’s the victim of his own negligence in failing to live up to his toy-delivering reputation. Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny have earned their acclaim and “own” their respective holidays because of the combination of their actions (delivering toys, candy, etc. around the world in one night) and their stellar communications (TV specials, books). For others looking to rebuild a reputation, the first step is taking a positive action that is in direct contrast to their past misdeeds. Additionally, ongoing actions should be based on the brand identity goal. Want to be seen as a philanthropist? Start a foundation. An industry expert? Write insightful articles or blogs. Respected business leader? Build your way back up the corporate ladder.
  3. Communicate. Implementing a communications plan for The Great Pumpkin is critical because he’s failed to meet the expectations of his most ardent supporters year after year. The same can be said for a company that has severely disappointed its customers. In such a crisis, the communication usually needs to begin with an expression of regret. Chipotle faced a situation where dozens of cases of E. Coli poisoning resulted from the fast-food establishment. The company’s reputation – and stock valuation – suffered dramatically. After initial crisis communication missteps from the company, its founder issued an apology to customers, including taking full-page ads out in 61 newspapers across the US, and promised a new food safety program and improved supply chain. As a result, the brand recovered and has grown dramatically since then.

After 45 years of disappointing Linus and Sally, The Great Pumpkin has a tremendous amount of work to do in order to build a positive brand and establish itself as the Halloween icon. But if the giant gourd follows the three steps to effective reputation building, maybe next year Linus and Sally won’t wait around in vain, and Charlie Brown will receive toys and treats from The Great Pumpkin instead of ending the night with a pillow case filled with rocks.

David Calusdian

David is an accomplished communicator with more than 30 years of experience in advising and coaching CEOs, CFOs, IROs, and boards of directors through a range of critical communications events, including IPOs, quarterly earnings results, executive transitions, and M&A. David is an acknowledged authority on executive presentation coaching, investor relations strategy, investor day execution, and strategic messaging.