Protecting Your Brand

pilot2It takes a lifetime to build a personal and professional reputation, but, fair or not, it could take just a minute to lose it.

By Jim Callahan.

I’ve always preached and firmly believe that one reprimand wipes out 10 “atta boys.” To me, this is an absolute truism that I always caution employees about. 

I utter those words not to upset anyone, but rather in an effort to bring a bit of much-needed realism to the forefront. Recent events from one of our industry’s iconic and most respected companies, Pilot Flying J, has me using this same thought process. If you buy into the theory 10 atta boys are wiped out by one indiscretion, can you imagine the impact on your company’s reputation if your business ethics were called into serious question and placed under the scrutiny of the national media on an almost daily basis? 

Indeed, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that the mere glare of such negative national attention—regardless of guilt or innocence, mistake or intent—could alone potentially destroy a lifetime of integrity. In the court of public opinion, unfortunately, people are quick to judge and always assume the worst.

Operating With Honor
The message here, clearly, is that no business is bullet proof and when it comes to innuendo and accusations businesses can find themselves powerless to stem the steady stream of bad press.

My caution to all business owners is that when you are writing a memo or conducting a meeting, no matter how private it is, be careful to speak not just to the people in front of you, but to all others that might ever get to read or hear a recording of your words. It’s a practice that will serve you well and might just save you from a public relations nightmare.

The fact that our industry always does such a noble job in fundraising for so many charitable organizations is indeed a practice to be envied. I really don’t know of another channel of trade that that does as good a job as the convenience store industry. No matter what goodwill you have built up with your consumers, one simple, even unsubstantiated rumor involving corporate misbehavior has the potential to trump every good deed and charitable act that your company has conducted over a lifetime.

The vast majority of business owners and their employees have a strong desire to run their businesses with great pride and integrity and to do the right thing. To those fine companies I offer my respect and a hearty vote of confidence. As the saying goes, good intentions are not enough anymore to earn respect. Hard work, honesty and execution remain the foundation of building trust with our customers.

While I’m not an expert in the laws that govern business, I can say that the recent events surrounding Pilot Flying J should be a wake-up call for companies of all sizes to sit down with their corporate attorneys to review business practices with an eye toward finding and eliminating any possible areas of concern. If there is any questionable behavior or unsavory business practices that could surface as a result of a disgruntled employee—or ex-employee—it must be addressed sooner rather than later. Don’t give a third party the ammunition to tear apart your reputation or even worse, a lifetime of hard work.

The unfortunate circumstances surrounding the recent allegations and accusations at Pilot Flying J should really serve as a wake-up call for the entire industry. After all, sometimes the best defense is a good offense.

Jim Callahan has more than 40 years of experience as a convenience store and petroleum marketer. His Convenience Store Solutions blog appears regularly on He can be reached at (678) 485-4773 or via e-mail at


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