Having analyzed the products offered by various service providers that claim to restore business reputation, we can summarize the current dominant view as follows. Recovering reputation is conceived as primarily a legal and technical process. The main methods involve persuading or forcing Google to change its search results (SERP) or paying other websites to remove discrediting material. This approach is based on an archaic view of the Internet. Information unavailable on Google or removed from certain sites will become somewhat less widespread, but there are other means of dissemination, and in any case, the damage may be already done. People will not forget an article or an accusation just because it no longer appears in search results, and the accusations may continue to circulate by other means, through social media and chat applications, or resurface in the form of new articles which are once again indexed.
The Kyiv office of the European Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, under the patronage of the Information Security Institute, has hosteda meeting on “Italian Dry Cleaning: How to Clean your Business Reputation”. The peculiarity of this meeting was that the approach that was presented cannot be bought for money. Money is definitely needed to implement such tasks, but money alone is not enough. Experts at the meeting explained what it would take to use the “Italian Dry Cleaning” method and properly clean undeserved dirt from one’s business reputation.
This new and innovative method, based on a new model of reputational threats, was initially designed for the Ukrainian market. The approach taken is absolutely legal and lawful, and avoids generating expensive conflicts with adversaries. The meeting discussed practically the results of certain media wars in the USA, Ukraine, and the rest of Europe. The resultant model allows a new future in which businesspeople can protect and restore business reputations, correcting the mistakes of the past. We sought to produce a safety model similar to that represented in the movie “The Dualist”, in which reputation is bound-up with honor, and generates a matrix of invulnerability.
“Italian dry cleaning” has several associations. One of these is with literal dry-cleaning of clothes: a service which not just cleans and restores clothes, but gives extra protection against future damage, so they last longer. Another association is with the concept of money laundering. While money laundering is only usually used with ill-gotten gains, reputational laundering can also be needed because of unjustified or disproportionate attacks on somebody’s reputation.
Who are the direct customers of reputational dry-cleaning?
Experts developing the methodology of reputational dry-cleaning explained that there are four usual types of client: politicians, celebrities, businesses, and criminals. Each category of clients uses different methods to clean or restore their reputation. Politicians are usually looking for a “repaint”: they are identified with a particular political force or moment, and they wish to become a different force at a different moment. Celebrities are generally concerned about sex scandals above all. Criminals generally seek reputational action when they are no longer criminals and have given up the criminal life. They are now a respected member of society, and no longer wish to be tarred with the past they have left behind; they are looking to start a new life. Businesspeople are the most complicated group to dry-clean, because there are different types of reputational damage and different kinds of responses needed.
What is Italian Dry Cleaning?
The practice of Italian dry-cleaning has three components. Firstly, one needs to deal with traces of reputational damage on the Internet. Secondly, one needs to engage in atonement for sins, making reparations for whatever damaged one’s reputation. Thirdly, one needs to move from words to deeds – to establish a different mode of conduct in future.
The process is only effective if all three components are used simultaneously. There is less point in using one or two of the tactics or in using all three at different times.
The first aspect of Italian dry-cleaning is the management of Internet traces. Any information posted on the Internet leaves a trail: it is indexed by search engines, archived, reposted, shared, saved. In the case of dry-cleaning, it is important to leave the right kind of trail. To do this, it is necessary to be aware of the trail left in the past, the “sins” it exposes, and to fix these vulnerabilities. This might include traditional methods such as removing reputation-damaging traces and creating a positive image.
The second and third aspects involve actually changing things, and are more radical than the usual approach to reputational recovery. The difficulty with just deleting data or engaging in good PR is that some people still know about the reputational damage and believe you have not changed. Often, businesspeople handle reputational damage in these ways but change nothing about the way they operate – meaning they have not restored trust in the eyes of those in the know, and they are still vulnerable to the same and similar attacks in the future. It is better to be something than to seem something. It is a bad idea to virtue signal, to simply profess in words a desired reputation one does little or nothing to earn. Such a reputation will easily be blown apart by future adversaries. Part of the third stage, according to the experts, involves going back to the instructions on “Building a Personal Brand”. If even one of these blocks is missing from the brand, Italian dry-cleaning will not work. There is also a fourth element needed, which is lifestyle.