Image makeovers: Make that big black sheep a little Bo Peep - America loves its celebrities, but what it loves even more are those who ignominiously fall from grace, only to rise up again. So what’s the formula for mending a damaged reputation? St

Pete Rose, listen up. You too, John Rocker, Linda Tripp and the rest of you pariahs who hope to rehabilitate your image and return to the public’s good graces.

Pete Rose, listen up. You too, John Rocker, Linda Tripp and the rest of you pariahs who hope to rehabilitate your image and return to the public’s good graces.

Pete Rose, listen up. You too, John Rocker, Linda Tripp and the

rest of you pariahs who hope to rehabilitate your image and return to

the public’s good graces.



With apologies to F. Scott Fitzgerald, not only are there second acts in

American life, there’s a seemingly endless parade of them. From Marv

Albert, who got his announcing job back at NBC, to defrocked Miss

America and now actress-singer Vanessa Williams, to the late President

Richard Nixon, the public has shown itself to be more than kind in

accepting people with damaged reputations.



Howard Rubenstein, the PR pro New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani called

’the Dean of Damage,’ says that short of murder - O.J. Simpson and some

dictators come to mind - ’the public is very forgiving and

forgetting.’



’Sometimes you ask somebody about a negative series of happenings a year

ago, two years ago,’ he says, ’and they won’t remember any detail on

it.’ There’s no magic formula for successful image rehab, but PR pros

agree: good public relations, contrition and a make-good act of charity

all help.



So does the healing power of time. And sometimes, as in the case of the

New York Knicks’ infamous coach-choker Latrell Sprewell, the public will

look the other way if your performance helps the team.





The long road back



In December, The Washington Post column ’The Source’ asked some PR pros

what advice they’d offer Linda Tripp as she faces charges of illegally

taping her telephone conversations with Monica Lewinsky. Beyond the

joking answers - ’She has a lot of expertise in surveillance, so she

might make a good assistant principal,’ Enid Doggett said - were some

actual bits of wisdom.



’I’d tell her, ’I don’t think you can cutesy-pie this thing,’’ said

one.



’I don’t think a stunt or series of stunts would work. She’d have to use

the John D. Rockefeller strategy and take the long view. It took

Rockefeller, who was the most hated man in America at the turn of the

century, 20 years of giving away money and handing out dimes to change

his image.’ He then noted ruefully that ’Linda Tripp doesn’t have those

resources.’



So how do you come back?



For Rubenstein, who’s handled image rehab for Albert, tempestuous New

York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner and talk-show host Kathie Lee

Gifford, it’s a four-step process: figure out what caused the damage;

analyze the extent of the damage; decide what actions should be taken;

publicize the correction.



But the plan won’t work if the person in question isn’t contrite. ’The

client has to be ready to correct an image,’ he says. ’What you really

find is, they’re very defensive. They say, ’I didn’t deserve this, I’ve

been unfairly treated. It’s the media’s fault, it’s not my fault.’

That’s very common. Well, you’ve got to put that thinking on track and

not point the finger of blame at the media. What - are you going to

convince the media that they were wrong? So what? You’ve got to get the

media to get off the coverage of the negative and onto some positive

activity.’



John Scanlon, whose clients have included Brown & Williamson and Monica

Lewinsky, likes to make sure that his clients can demonstrate a change

in behavior. ’It’s the old line of Shaw’s,’ he says, ’You can lead a

jackass around the world, but it’s not going to become a horse.’



Consider Lewinsky’s situation. ’There were some people who were prepared

not to forgive her under any set of circumstances, but people certainly

feel better about her now than they did early on,’ Scanlon says. ’They

started to feel better about her, I think, when she started to publicly

testify and people came to understand that she wasn’t a bimbo.



’I think people were terribly angry with her because she disrupted the

country, and it was easier to be angrier at her than it was to be angry

at the President, even though I think they’ve now saved that anger. It’s

clear that the country is terribly angry at him - and Al Gore’s getting

that.’



’The comeback process is easy,’ Scanlon adds. ’Whether you’re successful

at it is another question. I don’t know that there’s any magic to it.

The public is aware that there’s no one who should be casting stones

because we’re all guilty in some way or another of some malfeasance or

imprudent action. To some extent, we can all identify with that.’





A Rose by any other rep



Which brings us back to Rose, whose case is the most curious. Americans,

who gamble billions of dollars legally and illegally every year, have

generally forgiven Rose for betting and think his lifetime ban from

baseball should be lifted. On the web site hobbymall.com, nearly 75% of

the 100,000 votes cast as of December 1 support Rose’s induction into

the Baseball Hall of Fame. His reinstatement case got a huge boost from

his selection to baseball’s All-Century Team, and he garnered some

additional sympathy after NBC reporter Jim Gray’s now-infamous interview

during the World Series.



Ultimately, what will benefit Rose most is his stellar career

numbers.



’His great years seem to have overcome his bad publicity,’ Rubenstein

says.



But what seems to hurt Rose most often is Rose himself. His personality

perfectly reflects the way he played baseball. As great as he was, he

was equally brash and abrasive. In making his latest case for

reinstatement, which would ultimately lead to his admission to the Hall

of Fame, Rose continues to steadfastly deny that he ever bet on

baseball. But when Rose is denying the evidence, it’s as much what he

says as the contentious way he says it that counts.



Rose has apologized several times. And just as many times, he has

maintained that his gambling never hurt anyone but him and his family.

But not everyone hears this. Scanlon says, ’there’s a sense that he has

not really copped, or not made any attempt to apologize in any

significant way for the behavior. So it would be fairly hard to get out

and convince people that he ought to indeed be allowed to do what he

wants to do.’



Rather than an act of contrition, perhaps what Rose really needs is some

media relations training. Repeated calls to Rose’s agent, Warren Greene,

seeking an interview for this story went unreturned. Greene’s

receptionist demanded a fax request to his office, which was

provided.



Greene never responded.



Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Register
Already registered?
Sign in

Would you like to post a comment?

Please Sign in or register.