Ninjas, a White Binder, and Your Corporate Reputation

4 min read


Firefighters and ninjas made me late for lunch.

Normally, it takes under 10 minutes to drive from our office in Fountain Square to the Indianapolis Mile Square. That includes finding a place to park. Last Friday, I forgot that 30,000 firefighters were in town for FDIC International, and they all knew my secret parking spots.

It didn’t help that the set of American Ninja Warrior blocked half of Monument Circle. There were no ninjas in sight, but I’m sure they were lurking. They are ninjas after all.

I’ll spare you the saga of the parking garage. Suffice it to say that I was 15 minutes late… to a lunch meeting that I had set up… to ask a colleague about Well Done’s reputation. That ranks right up with job interviews, new business presentations, and all-you-can-eat buffets as the kinds of things you don’t want to be late to.

Fortunately, my colleague was enjoying the sunshine and the chance to sip on an uninterrupted cup of decaf when I arrived. Lunch was great. The conversation was better. She reinforced some of what I already knew and gave me some new insights. I returned to Fountain Square in an introspective mood and relieved that while I work downtown, it’s not right downtown.

A white binder saved my job.

It was the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, and I decided to take my 10-year-old daughter to a movie. I turned my phone off, paid for the popcorn, and enjoyed the show.

When I got to leave, I noticed a voice-mail message from my boss, then Gov. Joe Kernan, asking for a phone number. There are three important things to know at this point in the story:

  1. As deputy press secretary, I was probably the third or fourth person he would call for this kind of information. This meant no one else was answering the phone and he was getting desperate.
  2. It was a holiday. That meant he didn’t want the office number. He wanted a home phone number.
  3. This was back in 2004, three years before the first iPhone.

One of the most important jobs of a Governor’s communications department is to make sure he is prepared, sometimes at a moment’s notice. Fortunately, I had very good training.

I unlocked the trunk and pulled out a thick white binder full of information as I punched in the Governor’s number into my flip phone. Thirty seconds later, he had the information he needed and I was on the road home.

It’s only one phone number. Or is it?

In the grand scheme of things, we’re only talking about 15 minutes and one phone number. But when you put those little things together with a bunch of other little things, we’re talking about how you’re managing your personal reputation.

Now consider how this same dynamic plays out with your employees. When you multiply one employee’s reputation by the number of your staff, these little moments become even more significant to your organization. They make or break how your customers, vendors, staff, and peers measure the character of your company—and your ability to succeed in today’s global marketplace.

This isn’t to say cost and ability and experience aren’t important. But often the deciding factor in whether or not to work with a company is how well their team handles the soft skills—relationship building, pride in work, time management, attention to detail, empathy, and others.

If these seem like minor details, recall the recent actions of one barista at a Philadelphia Starbucks. While there were many other factors in play, the store manager’s poor decisions and implicit bias resulted in a firestorm of protests and accusations. The company fired the store manager, but Kevin Johnson knows Starbuck’s long-term reputation lays firmly with every front-line staff person at its 8,000 locations. Making sure they do their jobs with empathy and equity is worth much more than the estimated $12 million in lost revenue from closing for a day.

While most businesses won’t be faced with such a stark reminder of the importance of soft skills, these skills nevertheless play a major role in how the world sees your company. How do your employees measure up? And what are you doing to help make them better?

If you are looking for a partner to assess how well your managing your corporate reputation, our public relations team is here to help. Contact us.