Can These Careers Be Saved

By Keely Childers

Repairing Tainted Careers

On the front lines of layoffs, we’re hearing about executives who did not take their terminations graciously. Instead they posted internet rants that left their personal brands glowing like an atoll after a nuclear test. These accomplished but unemployed professionals face the challenges of many firms when something alters the way consumers perceive their products.

What time-tested PR tactics supported by new social media techniques can save these careers? Taking pieces from real internet examples, we created Marion Johnson and Tim Lassiter, a hypothetical pair of recently unemployed managers who’ve gotten themselves into trouble. Then we asked a distinguished panel of marketing and PR experts from around the region to build strategies to repair their personal brands. These two have dinged their reputations. How do we buff up these brands and make them acceptable to the hiring market? Here’s the expert advise—and as you read it, think—do you have a plan in place should this happen to your company?

Marion Johnson: On her blog and in email

I got a small-town slap in the face when I moved back here from D.C. with a Georgetown MBA and 20 years of experience in high-end furniture production. But I took the pay cut to be closer to family and friends and live a slower-paced life. What a mistake … Here’s what happens in small companies where husbands let know-nothing wives into business. Not only did my EVP do nothing but sit on her cottage cheese dimpled cushion, she assigned me her dirty work, laying off what she called the “worker bees” who lost their retirement, and then she gave me the boot!

Too busy downing whoopie pies to notice problems with our fabric suppliers, she never knew where we were in the production schedule when I brought troubles up. And don’t even get me started about budgetary boundaries! This woman wouldn’t know style if it slapped her in the face. And compromise over costs? Couldn’t comprehend it. So when production targets got missed because of the hand finishes, it was simply my fault, according to her.

Never mind I was the one person in the company who had the knowhow to work with suppliers to speed up production, and had I been able to utilize my skills in the front end of the design, it could have headed off the headaches when the recession hit. Employee evaluations? You should see just one of her incomprehensible emails or grammatically primitive memos to appreciate her incompetence. Misspellings? Could she not see red lines under words?!?

I don’t even know what she got done in a day except get in the way with her wideness. All I know is that I don’t have to see her every day, which is a big upside.

Marion Johnson Résumé (abbreviated)

  • 2 years with most recent company ($210 million/year sales)—EVP/ chief production officer: laid off spring 2009
  • 7 years with Fortune International100 furniture manufacturer/distributor—SVP production
  • 11 years with national furniture/appliance maker—associate group manager production
  • Education/Certification: BA: Business Management (magna cum laude), MBA: Global Executive MBA, CPM (certified production manager: ISPM) Awards: Volume/Efficiency Achievement Award (2000, 2004, 2005), ASD&P, Special mention: National Production Executive of 2005 ISPM, Graduated first in CPM class—1997.
  • Professional/Civic Associations: International Sot (ASD&P), Rotary, Toastmasters International

  • Tim Lassiter: YouTube Posting

  • Linked from his personal website

Hi, I’m Tim Lassiter … see this email? It told me to report to human resources. And you know what the young vice president for human resources told me? That after 16 years when I got top rated in-service reviews for saving accounts, saving business, and saving the butts of the people I worked for, here’s what the kid from human resources gave me. (Holds up cardboard box)

Someone threw my personal stuff in here with a 3-month severance check … (Plucks out and waves envelope)

THREE MONTHS for 16 years! (Tosses box away)

Over the last few weeks as jobs have been vaporizing at the office, I kept…(Holds up a tiny black USB flash drive)

…email where my boss writes about the people he works for! And it has commendations about my work from customers.… And you know what? It’s loaded with costing data, vendor names, prospects, and the company’s entire sales lists and histories. This thing’s worth a lot more than a 3-freaking-month severance check, right? And it’s earned payback for propping up a boss who loves long lunches, takes every junket trip he can wheedle out of the expense account, and who’s deducting tools (grins smugly) from his taxes that he no way uses at work.

Yeah, times are tough and business is hurting, but I was the guy who made rain while my boss claimed credit. I agree somebody should be gone from my department. (Holds up picture of a man)

This guy should have gotten a box full of personal stuff. Meet my ex-boss. It won’t be long until the company discovers that they fired the horse and kept the rider.

Tim Lassiter’s Résumé (abbreviated)

  • 16 years with most recent company—SVP sales management/northeast US: Laid off summer 2009
  • 8 years with international diversified conglomerate—rose to AVP sales, top performer
  • Education/Certification: BS: Applied Psychology, MA: Group Psychology, Action Selling Certification: Expert Rating, Selling Skills Certification: Business Values Sales
  • Awards: Producer of the year 2005–2009 with past company, sales prize winner eight times in the past 10 years at two companies, Prospecting Award Winner 1999–2000, Selling Pro Magazine: Top Ten Sales Managers of 2008
  • Professional/Civic Associations: American Association of Transportation Selling Executives, Leads International (past board member), Action Group Selling Association, North American Prospectors Association, Lions Clubs International

It’s important that the former employees show sincerity and true remorse for their actions. Everyone makes mistakes,” notes Anne Aufiero, CEO - Communications Executive Officer of AdAbility, a marketing communications firm in Camp Hill. When you acknowledge them, people are willing to let things pass.

I would be remiss if I did not state the obvious, that these employees should have resisted the urge to vent in such a public electronic forum. No matter what they do, these people will feel the negative impact for quite some time from their short lived enjoyment.

That said, for in both cases, the employees should follow some basic steps to redeem their personal brand. They must also understand that restoring their personal brand won't be an instant fix. Depending on how widely their comments were circulated.

First - they need to stop the damage by acknowledging their error and apologizing. In the case of Marian Johnson, the apology should be directed to the recipients of her email. Tim Lassiter should remove the video from YouTube and send an apology to his former company. He should also return the stolen files and hope that he is not criminally prosecuted.

Secondly, it's important that the former employees show sincerity and true remorse for their actions. Everyone makes mistakes. When you acknowledge them people are willing to let things pass. If necessary, the former employees can explain what they've learned in the situation.

At this point they have stopped the damage to their personal brands and have begun to restore the former luster. Now, it they must allow some time to pass. Their consistently professional action from here on out will help to rebuild their personal brand.

I think we can draw some parallels between this and other famous people who have fallen and been restored. A recent example of this process might be Michael Vick. He has served his time. He gave a public apology. And he is now donating time and money to animal causes. Some people may never forgive him, but in time most people will allow him to move beyond.