Maria Sharapova - Personal Reputation

Tennis player Maria Sharapova has recently been hit by a significant reputational crisis. However, the star’s response could teach us a lesson in how to effectively manage personal reputation.

Maria’s story

PR Week recently reported that Maria Sharapova has admitted to taking the drug meledonium for health concerns since 2006. The star announced that the International Tennis Federation, which only banned meledonium recently, found the drug in a blood test at the Australian Open back in January.

Within two days of Sharapova’s announcement, her career fell down around her. The tennis star has been dropped as the face of international brands such as Nike, Tag Heuer, and Porsche. We have yet to discover if – and how long for – Sharapova will be banned from playing tennis.

Despite the initial consequences of Sharapova’s admission, the media noise is already starting to die down, so is it better to admit your wrongdoings and move on, rather than deny you have done anything wrong in the first place?

Deny like Armstrong

Sports stars traditionally deny all wrongdoing when hit with a scandal. But the cover-up can often inflict more damage on their reputation than the incident itself. Lance Armstrong is the ultimate example of how denying an accusation can cause pro-longed damage to your personal reputation.

The Guardian writes that he tested positive for the corticosteroid triamcinolone in 1999. Armstrong denied the allegation by suggesting that the substance was from a skin cream he used. The cyclist went on to win seven consecutive Tour De France competitions.

But the scandal has dogged his steps for years; Armstrong has been subjected to several investigations concerning his drug use. He finally admitted to Oprah Winfrey in 2013 that he has used performance enhancing drugs and his reputation has never recovered.

The Sharapova response

However, Sharapova’s decision to break the story herself immediately has been praised. Fellow tennis star Serena Williams was quoted by ET Online saying: “I think most people were surprised and shocked by Maria but at the same time most people were happy that she was just upfront and very honest and showed a lot of courage to admit to what she had done and what she had neglected to look at.”

According to The Telegraph, Sharapova’s decision to be “upfront” proved to be a “master-class in damage limitation.” PR Week noted that by getting out in front of a story as she did, what it is now calling “the Sharapova response,” you can control the narrative and limit the effect of a crisis situation on your reputation. Explaining the effectiveness of the Sharapova response, PR Week wrote:

“Information flows from the source directly to the media, unfiltered… through the lens of an initially honest act. There are no wars to wage, no careers to ruin, no reputations to compromise beyond the athlete’s, which was going to happen anyway. Today’s news cycle is fast. The fastest way to starve it is to remove the fresh meat, and it will wander off in search of its next meal.”

Own the narrative

Therefore, Maria Sharapova’s decision to get out ahead of the scandal could benefit her reputation long-term.

By announcing the news herself, she has deprived the press of a reason to spend months speculating over whether she is taking drugs, curtailing the damage to her reputation. Take the same approach to your personal reputation, by engaging in online reputation management.

How you are perceived online is particularly important. We would advise you to ensure you maintain a positive personal reputation on Google. The Huffington Post writes, for instance, that 80% of employers search for candidates on Google before inviting them for a job interview, showing that how you are perceived online has real life consequences.

It is vital that if somebody researches you online, the first page of a search on Google for your name portrays you in a positive light. A study conducted in 2010 shows that less than 10% of users look past the first page of a Google search. So it is essential that you control what appears on this page to protect your reputation online; this is where online reputation management comes in.

This marketing strategy depends on the creation of digital assets such as social media profiles. These assets are optimised with your name so that when people type it into Google, said assets appear on the first page of the search. When people search for your name on Google, you control what they see – allowing you to control your reputation online.

Take your cue from Maria

Maria Sharapova’s decision to own up to her scandal could prove an effective reputational management strategy. It allowed the tennis star to take control of how the story is reported in the media, ensuring the scandal does not drag out and keep damaging her reputation for years to come.

If you want to build a positive reputation online, you may want to take your cue from Maria. Engage in online reputation management strategies so you can control how you are perceived online. This could allow you to safeguard your personal reputation from potentially-damaging reputational events.