In 2018 Annual Conference

By Jeff Grainger, APR – Orlando Area Chapter (Twitter: @jeffmarshallg)

Richard Bistrong went to federal prison in 2012 after having pleaded guilty to bribing a foreign official. While in prison, he read Deirdre Breakenridge’s book, “Putting the Public Back in Public Relations.” Upon his release in 2013, he sought Deirdre out to help restore his reputation, but also to share his story and be useful and be helpful so that no one would make the same mistake he did.

Today Bistrong is seen as an expert on anti-corruption compliance and enforcement. He consults and speaks on the topic internationally and is often quoted as an expert in financial publications. He is also partnering with MasterCard for an anti-bribery video campaign targeted as businesses.

Some key takeaways from the presentation:

  1. Develop your story before you start to tell it. Know what your key points, examples and soundbites are.
  2. Don’t be afraid to put in exhausting work in the beginning and continue to work hard once things catch on. Consistency is key.
  3. Gain social influence by sharing other’s content but add value by commenting or reviewing the work.
  4. You don’t always know where your audience is until you start trying to reach them.
  5. Engage back when someone engages with you.
  6. Don’t be afraid to block the trolls.
  7. Connect on social with people who can help spread your message through personal shared interests and experiences.

After being released, Bistong and Breakeneridge worked together on some thematic exercises to determine what some of the key points and messages would be in telling his story. He knew what his story was and that he wanted to tell it but asked for Deirdre’s help in how to tell it. During this months-long process they came up with examples and soundbites to support his story. He didn’t want to present himself as an expert in compliance or as a lawyer but wanted his story to serve as a cautionary tale to help others facing similar ethical challenges.

Once they developed his story, he began blogging and began a social media presence. He was blogging every week and was filled with enthusiasm. He began engaging on social media and found that most of the conversation around his topic was taking place on LinkedIn and Twitter, so that’s where he focused his efforts. It was through social media engagement that he made contacts with future business partners. He said he never pitched himself or his services. Nor did he pitch a story but made connections over business and non-business common interests. He also invited one of his biggest detractors to write a guest blog on his webpage and the two later became friends.

He did his first post-prison interview with a reporter from the Wall Street Journal’slegal blog who had been following his case for several years, which led to his first speaking engagement with the journal’s parent company. He connected with a reporter for the Financial Times through their mutual interest in long-distance running and that led to being quoted in multiple articles and an op-ed.

Bistrong offered advice for companies facing a reputational crisis: 1) Speak with one voice. If different people within an organization are delivering different messages, credibility is lost and 2) Respond quickly. The longer it takes to say you’re sorry, the less forgiving the public is.

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