Do Reputations Matter? The Bausch and Lomb story…and Dell

May 17, 2007

I’ve been pondering lately the question of the real role of reputations in corporate and organizational success. It’s always good to evaluate the basic tenets of your beliefs once in a while. I think the questions emerged while boating through Prince William Sound and wondering how a company who had been so damaged or broken by a disaster of that magnitude could now be so successful and admired–if not in the public eye, then at least in the industry and the financial community.

This story about Bausch & Lomb being sold to a private equity firm helps re-establish my confidence in the idea that reputations do matter. The company had a problem of uncertain origins with their contact solution. The product was recalled but confidence in the company was not maintained during that event. Now, they are selling in part, according to this story to be able to deal with the consequences of their loss of consumer confidence without being under the scrutiny of investors.

And, if you opened up the link above you could not help see the headline and story about “Dell Hell” again. Poor Michael. He could not have realized that his perfectly simple and acceptable last name which seemed to work so well for a corporate giant has now been turned into a nightmare name by the fancy of headline writers–and bloggers. Here’s a good question for crisisblogger readers: how does a company like Dell get rid of the “Dell Hell” appellation when it is clearly so popular with headline writers. I mean it rhymes, it doesn’t take a lot of space, it grabs immediate attention, it says Oh boy, they are in trouble again. How do you get rid of that? Start a campaign that says “Dell is Well”? “Dell Haters go to Hell”? How about the Dell Smell? Or Dell Farewell?

The simple answer for companies like Dell or BP who have their reputations tarnished, fairly or unfairly, is to go about your business, do the best job you can, get better at operations than ever before and time heals all wounds. Again, Exxon may prove that point.  But something tells me that something a little more striking and dramatic needs to take place in order to overcome the frustrating tendency of reporters (including now citizen journalists) to fall into the old routines and traps and keep the negativity going.


2 Responses to “Do Reputations Matter? The Bausch and Lomb story…and Dell”

  1. Kill the critics with love and humor. Joke about the criticism. Michael Dell should go to critics sites and write stuff like “Let me describe Dell Hell to you. In a typical day, I (do all this fun stuff) and then go home to my (describe what is probably a lavish lifestyle). My employees have enjoyed _____ and my customers have long benefitted from _______. If that’s Hell, then Heaven is gonna be incredible!”

    That’s just top of head, but it’s the concept I would endorse. Don’t duck — embrace and “one up them” with humor.

    Jonathan Bernstein
    Bernstein Crisis Management LLC

  2. JohnP@Dell Says:

    >… how does a company like Dell get rid of the “Dell Hell” appellation …

    This is the approach we’re taking at Dell:

    Listen to customers

    Easier said than done, for sure. But we are listening via traditional means and Web 2.0 initiatives like our Direct2Dell blog and IdeaStorm suggestion site. We are acting, as in improving our customer service, planning consumer products based on the Linux operating system, extending the lifecycle of Windows XP and blogging in other languages. We aren’t yet where we want to be but we are in the midst of a turnaround that will be the sequel to Dell Hell. Thought you might be interested in what Jeff Jarvis, who coined the phrase, wrote recently over at Buzzmachine:

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