Reputation Protection Lessons

April 23, 2018

Reputation Protection Lessons Learned from Top Brands

Think about your favorite brand. What comes to mind? The product? The people? The brand itself? Maybe you support them because of what they stand for or the way they treat their customers. Chances are, the reason you are drawn to them is because they have mastered the art of reputation protection.

The Importance of Crisis Preparedness

Although companies would like to avoid them, at some point, a reputational crisis will happen. When it does, the way the situation is handled can make or break the company. Let’s look at two examples of high-profile companies that handled reputational recovery using similar core strategies that can be applied across almost any crisis.


Two black men were arrested in a Philadelphia Starbucks after a manager called the police, and the video quickly went viral. Starbucks apologized for the incident, but four days later, a black man was denied access to a bathroom in California.

Southwest Airlines

On April 17, 2018, an engine on Flight 1380 exploded and shattered a window, killing passenger Jennifer Riordan. It was the first time in almost a decade a passenger died on a United States airline flight.

Key Factors

Both companies did three key things to mitigate the situation and damage of the crisis:


When you establish empathy, you relate to customers on a personal level. Howard Schultz, chairman of Starbucks, said, “I think what occurred was reprehensible at every single level. I take it very personally, as everyone in our company does, and we’re committed to making it right.” Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly stated, “I want to extend my deepest sympathies for the family and the loved ones of the deceased customer.” Because the companies assessed the needs of those impacted, they offered what they saw as appropriate.

Declared Intent

Starbucks declared intent by stating the incident is not who they are nor who they want to be. They reiterated the company’s narrative, and they informed their audience they would take steps to ensure this does not happen in the future. Southwest Airlines made it clear their intent was to support the family of the passenger killed on board their flight.


One of the most important things a company can do in the midst of reputation management is take action. Starbucks closed over 8,000 locations on May 29, 2018, to train more than 175,000 employees in diversity and inclusion. The company offered to pay for Nelson and Robinson’s college education at Arizona State University. Southwest Airlines called for inspection of their engines to ensure a similar crisis does not happen in the future. They also arranged a special flight to Dallas the night of the emergency landing, available only to Flight 1380 passengers with a veteran staff. Southwest offered $5,000 to customers who were aboard the flight. They say actions speak louder than words, and this is especially true in reputational management.

Whether or not you are a fan of Starbucks and Southwest Airlines, it is clear both companies carefully crafted a plan of action. Because they followed these three steps, they were able to connect with their customers while appealing to their emotions, keeping them informed and acting accordingly to achieve reputational recovery.

Watch the “Two Minutes with Sunwest” video