As we approach Easter, I am remembering the one-year anniversary of one of the strangest Easters I’ve experienced. While everyone’s holiday last year was odd, mine was especially peculiar. It was the morning of April 12 at a construction site in Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood where an explosion the day before rocked the community. I was five months pregnant, managing a press conference while providing simultaneous Spanish-language translation, as City government tried to assess the damage and clean up the mess. We were there because of the construction company HILCO’s failure to plan, engage and anticipate. 

The damning photos of dust-covered Little Village created a firestorm for the company, and the incident lends itself to several “do’s and don’ts” of corporate reputation management that many PR articles will be written about. I’ll beat them to the punchline: Do the right thing, always, and remember you don’t want anyone else coming in to do clean-up duty for you.

Here are three corporate reputation management tips so you can learn from their oversights: 

  1. Engage, really engage: It’s important to listen to the people where you do business, even if you don’t always like what you hear. Take stock of what people are saying and who is saying it and engage in the difficult conversations. In the case of HILCO, the company failed to notify area residents of the scheduled demolition and to listen to residents who had long expressed concerns about HILCO and had requested delaying the demolition. By ignoring the community most directly impacted by their construction project, they paid the price with this hit to its reputation that won’t soon be healed.  
  2. Don’t point fingers, but do make it right: Inevitably, mistakes happen. Some are small and can be handled discreetly, while others are big, messy and very public. (Hint: In HILCO’s case, it was the latter.) Big or small, it is important to own your mistakes and make it right. Hilco tried to blame a subcontractor, which (pun intended) blew up in their face. It’s better to proactively address the problem than have a fix forced on you by external stakeholders. 
  3. Prepare for the long haul: These issues don’t disappear with the next news cycle, and they don’t “just go away” with time. Mishandled mistakes follow you for longer than you’d like—the internet doesn’t forget. How you continually work to repair the damage matters for your brand’s long-term reputation. You’ll need to stay focused, diligent and consistent to course correct, and you must bring your stakeholders on this journey with you. The key is to invite people in to see how you are learning from the mistake and making earnest steps to make it right. 


This article was written by Anel Ruiz. Anel is a versatile communications strategist with extensive experience at the highest levels of city and county government as well as in nonprofit management.