Reputation and Brand Risk…Trump Style

It’s not far fetched to assume that reputation and brand for this administration are circumstantial, situational, and transactional…i.e., (a.) erecting tall, glitzy buildings and golf resorts with the ‘Trump’ named affixed in 24k gold, (b.) regular (daily) doses of ‘being front and center in the media’, (c.) dramatized associations with global leaders, and, (d.) glossy books, ala ‘Art of the Deal’, etc., which are low on substance and high on personality.

Reputation risk practitioners I know…advise their clients (i.e., companies, businesses, etc.) that there are prescribed do’s, don’ts, and circuitous paths to achieving and sustaining a favorable reputation (image, goodwill) to customers, clients, and/or consumers, ala conventions.

Respectfully, in a millennial context…the above are often aligned with a larger (so-called) ‘branding effort’ which probably, and not-so-coincidentally, is intertwined with ‘personal reputation’.

However, I am one who believes there are conceptual and practical distinctions between ‘brand’ and ‘reputation’…both have strategic messages, however brand is, through my lens, much broader, and often intended, by design, to encompass more that a single property, product, or service.

Whereas reputation tends to be…more narrow in scope to often encompass a single – specific product or service, i.e., toothpaste, credit card, and/or highly touted tech support services.

Since Mr. Trump’s inauguration…I have heard-read little, if anything, about Mr. Trump’s reputation (personally, or otherwise). Instead, there has been a steady stream of references to ‘the Trump brand’ presumably alluding to building-expanding-strengthening ‘the Trump brand’ insofar as selling – licensing rights to the Trump name as a ‘branding mechanism’ to certain new properties, for a hefty fee.

A brand, it seems to me, is heavily, if not wholly reliant…on a name or personage representing a symbolic manifestation of consistency of expectation, in Mr. Trumps case, opulence, its fair to say.

Respecting the daily – weekly stream of spurious tweets and verbal machinations emerging from the residence and west wing of the White House…in the previous 363 days, leaves me genuinely perplexed insofar as how or if Mr. Trump conceives and/or distinguishes reputation and brand conceptually and practically.

Deferring to prominent reputation risk practitioners-colleagues…who are consistently engaged in such matters, I am fairly confident few, if any, have not, are not, and would not counsel their clients to replicate a ‘trumpian path’ to reputation and/or brand bliss.

While managing reputation, and its risk, is a 21st century strategic imperative…reputation risk management is not rocket science.  Any businesses reputation, and risks thereto, represent a phenomenon which I believe most would agree, does not need to rise to an atmospheric level. Instead, reputation risk prevention, mitigation, and management emerge from, among other things, consistency and assurance of…

  • product-service design, content, production, and delivery.
  • processes for monitoring and responding to consumer-stakeholder likes-dislikes, i.e., opinions and criticisms without conveying sense of superiority, condescension, or indifference.
  • anticipating how, when, where, circumstances, and motivations for reputation risks to originate, materialize, and become publicly known.

In most instances, experience suggests…if a company’s management teams’ reputation risk antenna are in operating mode, that is, functioning effectively and pointed toward customers, consumers, stakeholders, and the relevant horizon, businesses can become aware of and assess the various risks preferably before, or, at their absolute earliest stage.

One need not look far today…to observe the costly and often-times irreversible remnants of fully materialized reputation risks that have gone unabated and enveloped companies, unfortunately, but frequently owing to various combinations of sight – hearing challenged management teams and occasional self-deluded wishful thinking combined with an illness I refer to as ‘optics arrogance’.

For management teams and leadership already afflicted with this not-so-rare, but debilitating disease…the assumption often is, even materialized reputation risks can be relatively rapidly reversed, if not ignored. Clearly, experiences, anecdotal and otherwise, paint a very different portrait.

President Trump, his wife, and far as we know, remain variously engaged- active in business holdings and interests globally. Most all of which, as research leads me to conclude, rely on the concept of brand and/or branding vs. reputation.

Awkward and disingenuous…unfortunately, in numerous instances, and quite needlessly, when company reputation and/or brand risks emerge, then materialize, the initial response by stakeholders often appears awkward and disingenuous and must be ‘walked backed’, often, multiple times, which collectively conveys to prospective clients, buyers, and/or consumers, to-for whom the appeals are directed, a sense of unpreparedness, ineptness, and/or poor or non-existent counsel on such matters. One need not undertake – engage in extensive research to recognize that, insofar as the business holdings and ‘name brand’ swaps, Mr. Trump, correctly or incorrectly perceives himself as the primary, if not only, counsel he needs to mitigate and/or remediate risks to his holdings beyond the presidency itself.

Frequently, when one serves as their own counsel and intuition, such arrangements are likely to…become a disservice to their cause, particularly if they assume the stakeholders, prospective, new, existing consumers, customers, and the news media and social media platforms whom they are endeavoring to message, are incapable of independent interpretation and assessment of their artfully nuanced reputation (brand) risk mitigation language.

Did they really say that…with respect to the numerous (company) reputation risk events that have emerged in recent weeks and months, many have prompted me to ask…

  • did they just say that, really?
  • did they allow a trusted advisor to review their media language for alternative interpretations before rushing to a podium or execute a ‘tweet’?
  • how could their management team not have foreseen that when ‘x’ events, acts, and/or behaviors occur, it often produces fertile ground for significant risks (backlash) to emerge that will (simultaneously) adversely affect reputation, image, and brand?

Reputation risk Watergate style…if a company spokesperson’s initial response to a materialized reputation (brand) risk suggests the event, act, or behavior which precipitated the present risk is the first, I am inclined to be suspect of that management teams’ (reputation) risk monitoring obligation. For this reason, it is not unusual for reputation risk inquiries to boil down to reasonable facsimiles of three of the more memorable questions posed to witnesses during the U.S. Senate’s ‘Watergate’ hearings held in 1973, that is

  • what did you know?
  • when did you know it?
  • and, what did you do about it once you knew it?

Granted, with a few obvious exceptions…materialized reputation (brand) risks to seldom draw the ire of Congress to the point of holding a hearing and subpoenaing c-suites to testify and be held accountable. But, presently, Mr. Trump, for reasons, known only to him, conceivably face that challenge daily.

Business leadership proficiency…now includes (fiduciary) obligations to be proficient insofar as anticipating, monitoring, and responding to reputation (brand) risks appropriately and rapidly.

One, among numerous reasons, for this, is that…many businesses ‘got the message early’ and for the most part, possess the wisdom, foresight, and good fortune to have banked – accumulated constituent trust, reputation, and goodwill. All-the-while recognizing that their ‘bank balance’ can rapidly be depleted when-if substantial reputation (brand) risks emerge and materialize. In which case, a company’s initial response must not be interpreted as disappointing or inconsistent with the facts being reported. e.g., ‘first responders’ convey…

  • indifference and awkwardness with respect to possessing the professional demeanor and fortitude to effectively and favorably articulate the situation and direct the company to favorable reputational normalcy.
  • ignorance as to the speed which reputation (brand) risks can emerge, materialize, and escalate only to claim insufficient time to conduct-an-investigation and respond accurately to the inevitable questions.

At minimum, the above, are preludes to commencing the costly and lengthy road to restore even partial recovery and replenish a company’s bank balance of trust, goodwill, and expectations!

President Trump may expect…as additional reputation (brand) risks emerge, that it’s challenging to favorably – permanently reverse that adverse momentum. At which point it becomes prudent to expect consumers, stakeholders, and the media to press for truthfulness and transparency. In part, that’s because each affected constituent group has become independently and individually adept at dissecting and assessing authenticity and validity and ultimately convey a willingness to ‘throw the most notorious violators farther and farther under the bus’!

Business reputation – brand unraveling before one’s eyes…unfortunately, it has become far too routine to witness companies’ demise, i.e., their reputation and brand unraveling rapidly before our eyes, often by self-inflicted reputation risk wound. In many respects, it appears for some company leaders, their initial action or inaction to a materialized reputation (brand) risk merely ignites an already smoldering set of circumstances along with a constituent culture already receptive to pessimism, but greeted with naiveté, wishful thinking, and optically arrogant or indifferent statements.

Michael D. Moberly January 18, 2018 [email protected] ‘A business intangible asset blog where attention span really matters’!

Readers are invited to explore other papers, blog posts, and books I have published at

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