Tessa Tinney

Why some personal brands deserve a second chance—and some don’t

First published by The Drum

Donald Trump and the word “controversy” are synonymous. And it’s no surprise that his contentious statements on immigration and admonishment of John McCain have fueled public scrutiny and ignited a media firestorm.

But what is surprising is that despite the backlash, he continues to surge in the polls.

Trump’s gaining ground amongst voters who admire him for standing up for his beliefs—not allowing any brand or person to sway his political viewpoint.

And for that—he is being given a second chance.

But when it comes to rebuilding one’s tarnished reputation or personal brand, how do we determine who is worthy of public redemption? And can it always be accomplished?

Take a look at Bill Cosby.

Over two dozen women have accused America’s favorite dad of sexual assault.

He admitted to having extramarital affairs and using prescription sedatives on women, and now he may face criminal charges.

In this case, it may be impossible for Cosby to publicly redeem himself unless he is proven, without an ounce of doubt, to be innocent. His wholesome reputation has been destroyed. And the public seems not only disgusted by him, but also betrayed.

Then there’s the controversy with Hulk Hogan.

WWE’s golden boy made racist comments on a transcript released by the National Enquirer.

And though he’s since apologized, it may be too late. With racial tensions at an all time high in this country, people and brands aren’t so forgiving of this type of behavior. WWE has terminated his contract, and he has been removed from their “Hall of Fame.”

But America loves a comeback story, and there are a few ways to try to win back their favor:


1. Be honest and admit your mistakes.
Brian Williams shocked the nation when he admitted to making false statements about his role covering newsworthy events. And while his reputation as a trusted journalist remains in question, he may redeem himself in the court of public opinion simply because he admitted to his transgressions.

Key Takeaway: The truth always finds a way to rise to the surface, and no one likes a liar. Being upfront and honest with the public about indiscretions promotes an image of transparency and taking ownership for mistakes.


2. True regret is key.
And Paula Deen may be the poster child for this theory. The celebrity chef lost everything when she admitted to using racial slurs. But it was her lack of personal accountability and sensitivity towards those offended that truly appalled the public. Deen’s video apologies and tearful appearance on the Today Show did little to sway public opinion. And though she is staging a comeback, Deen faces a new controversy that surfaced on social media. A picture of Deen’s son Bobby in “brown-face” appeared on her social accounts. Once again Deen apologized, but the damage has been done.

Key Takeaway: The public is a lot more forgiving when people are truly sorry. When we feel wronged, we seek the repair only honesty and true regret can provide.


3. Don’t fight public perception of your actions.
When Lance Armstrong was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles, he went on the offensive and claimed “doping” was a common practice amongst riders of his era. But after lauding him for his efforts as a champion biker, cancer survivor and philanthropist, the public wasn’t so forgiving. Some see his actions as unforgivable, because his entire brand was built on a lie. He deceived the public and was not the championship athlete he appeared to be.

Key Takeaway: It’s important that people show their actions were based on poor judgment and don’t completely define them as individuals, or products, or corporations. We can do bad things, but not be bad people.


4. Showing progress towards personal change goes a long way.
Case in point—Tiger Woods. Once ranked the worlds highest paid athlete, Woods lost $22 million in endorsement deals after admitting to having extramarital affairs in 2009. But after five years, he’s made a comeback. Woods earned $55 million in 2014, with endorsements making up a whopping 98.8% of his revenue. And though he is struggling a bit on the golf course, Woods is reconnecting with his fans. He recently wrote a letter to a young fan who was bullied and handed out small gifts to fans in Phoenix.

Key Takeaway: Admitting to past mistakes, taking time to let things settle down and getting involved in projects for the public good are great ways to show personal growth and change public perception.


Donald Trump is using his second chance to widen the gap between his opponents and convince voters that he should be the Republican nominee for the 2016 election.

And whether he wins the nomination, runs as an Independent, or simply walks away—no one will ever forget the time that this billionaire mogul staged a comeback and possibly even won an election.


Image: Andrew Cline /