Local Business Owner Needs SERIOUS Reputation Management

Follow along with me, please: The story begins on Sunday, when our local newspaper runs an article about a local military man named Burke Jensen who’s facing legal action because his new home isn’t landscaped.

Shortly after Jensen and his wife bought the house, he was sent to Kuwait. His wife went back to live with family on the East Coast during her pregnancy. So, the home is in a new neighborhood, nobody’s in the house, and the yard isn’t finished.

That’s when the local developer, Chick Edwards, makes the mistake of opening his mouth. He gets angry that the yard isn’t done, that Jensen is violating the homeowner’s association covenants, and calls the Army Reservist a “clown.” Here are the developer’s quotes from the Sunday paper:

  • “I really don’t give a (expletive) where he is or what his problem is.”
  • “It doesn’t matter to me.”
  • “(Jensen) doesn’t have the right to walk away from his obligation.”
  • “I have most of the property still, so I am the homeowners association.”
  • “This is a contract. I don’t like the way his property looks. This clown gets to do what he wants and I’m as mad as hell.”

Uh-oh. The developer obviously screwed up by opening his mouth like that about a guy who’s halfway across the world serving our country.

Online Conversations and Reputation Management

That one print article alone is a problem for the developer’s reputation. Tens of thousands of people probably read it and got angry. But, this is 2008 and we’re in the age of conversation. And our local newspaper just so happens to allow readers to comment on their stories online. You can imagine what people said:

“Sorry you’re such an awful, awful person… maybe you’ll learn when no one else buys your lots, you *******.”

“I for one will let everyone I know NOT to even consider purchasing a lot from you. You can have your development all to yourself. You deserve yourself as a neighbor.”

“I can’t understand how you could be so cold! Mr. Edwards I think you should have to take Lt. Jensen’s place in Kuwait while he comes home to clean up his yard for you.”

“You are not worthy to be living in the United States that our sons and daughters are fighting for right now. May God, karma, or whatever you believe in come full circle and bite you where you live.”

They also post his phone number, web site address, and call for others to tell Edwards directly how they feel about him.

Today, the Internet makes it easier than ever for people to spread the word about businesses they don’t like or don’t respect.

And it wasn’t just on this one article, either. The conversation continued in an online letter to the editor about the situation. It continued in an updated story about local residents coming together to fix the yard for Lt. Jensen:

“I am simply amazed that a member of this community can think that treating people like this will gain them recognition or business in some way. My wife and I are in the market for a new home with a couple of acres of land, but I will be sure to skip this offering while looking.”

“I’m sure he’s pleased that Jensen’s yard is being done, but I hope he realizes that it has cost him some seriously bad publicity.”

Viral News and Reputation Management

It has cost the developer some “serious bad publicity,” and not just on our local paper’s web site. In 2008, conversations spread quickly and easily.

  • A Seattle radio station picked up the story and got the developer on-air the next morning, where his excuse was something about having “a bad hair day” when he spoke to the newspaper.
  • The Seattle Times picked up the story, and two days later it’s still the most read article on their site.
    Seattle Times screenshot
  • Even Seattle Times’ readers are blasting the developer online.
  • The story hit social news sites like plime, on craigslist, and blogs as far away as Chicago.

How Does It End?

According to reports, the developer has stopped answering his phone and is getting bombarded with angry emails. Although local real estate agents would never admit to it, chances are good that a lot of them would warn their clients about moving into Edwards’ development. And he has about zero chance of ever restoring the Google SERPs on a search for his name.

No doubt this is an extreme example, but I think it proves the point I made a couple months ago: small businesses need to be concerned with reputation management. You may never anger your customers like Chick Edwards did, but this is a lesson in how bad things spread quickly online.

Comments (17)

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  1. Mike Harris says:

    Hey, there, I’m your “Chicago” hyperlink. Since your article seems to focus on how the news spread, you should know I grabbed it off of POPUrls.Net, which is an aggregator from the various sites like Digg, Reddit, etc.

  2. Todd Mintz says:

    ChickEdwards.com is still available. If he’s smart, he’d grab that name (and others) to try to get some positive SERPS going…though I have a feeling he’s not going to get the message.

  3. David Mihm says:

    Wow, what a horrifying story. The old phrase “what goes around comes around” comes to mind…just that it comes around a lot faster today than it did 10 years ago!!

    The guy clearly lacks all common sense? How much would it have cost him to have someone come in and fix the yard, maybe a couple hundred dollars? Seems to me that is the least he could have done with Burke Jensen serving in Kuwait.

  4. Ryan Rose says:

    I can’t believe someone from the TC could act this way. You would think after the whole Holly Hollenbeck article in the Herald, people would choose their actions and words a little more carefully. Matt, I’d keep going but I wouldn’t want you to have to delete this…. hehe


  5. Julie Kosbab says:

    An odd side-effect of the backlash against this developer – who still apparently owns most of the land around Burke Jensen’s house – is that the property value of Mr. Jensen’s land is likely to take a nose-dive.

    Reputation is a funny thing.

  6. Ryan Rose says:

    To follow up… I just listened to the Bob Rivers interview and the one thing I’ll agree with that Chick said is that the Tri-City Herald isn’t exactly the most accurate paper in the country. They’ve been known to editorialize an article from “time to time” and not check all the facts.

    However, this is a prime example of needing to be more mindful of your words in the digital age.

  7. Matt McGee says:

    Thanks for all the comments, folks. Wow – Mike – I didn’t know it hit POPurls, too. Crazy.

    Todd — you’re right. I was surprised the guy even has a web site for his development.

    Ryan — I think the same could be said about any newspaper in the country. Even the NYT has had its integrity questioned in recent years. It doesn’t diminish this small business owner’s problems, and what’s happening to him online. 🙂

  8. Ryan Rose says:

    Matt. It definitely doesn’t diminish what’s happening to him online. If this was a case of him being misquoted, I’d quote Chick a price to tackle this. But after listening to the Bob River’s radio interview, I’d tell him to go pound sand. Chick confirmed what he said, and chalked it up to “having a bad hair day”.

    It highlights very strongly the need to take great care about what is said in public and then recorded online.

  9. MiriamEllis says:

    What an article Matt!

    It’s important, I think, to see the chronology of how this disaster happened.

    1) An agreement was signed between the client and developer.

    2) Something extraordinary happened – the tour of duty and the expectant mother.

    3) Doubtless, completely caught up in dealing with the extraordinary happening, the family forgot to tell the developer that something had come up that would prevent them from honoring their contract.

    4) The developer jumped to the wrong conclusion, became bloated with righteous indignation and decided that going to the media would be a fine revenge.

    As I see it, these are the 4 steps that create so many situations of similar character, and they are largely preventable if somewhere between steps 2 and 4, communication happens.

    Would the developer have been so inhuman if he knew what had happened to the family? Would he have made such a stellar mistake of complaining to media and destroying his own local reputation? I have to doubt it, though the whole situation of forcing people to have their yards look a certain way in homes they own is rather controlling and weird, suggestive of obsessive thinking on the part of the developer.

    If the family left him with literally no way to contact them, the developer was put in a bad position of having no way to get his contract honored.

    But I’m guessing they were still making some type of payments on the house, and he should have made every effort to find the family and speak to them.

    And he should never had decided to air this dirty laundry in public. It could never have reflected well on him, even if the family WAS at fault…which, clearly, no one would say they were, under such special circumstances.

    Lack of communication leads to feelings of fear, and certain types of people respond to this by wanting to take revenge. Taking revenge online is a very poor bet. I’m betting the developer gets this by now.

    The only reputation management that I can see as appropriate in this situation would be for the developer to give that house + lifelong landscaping maintenance as a gift to the soldier and his family, plus a vast public apology stating that he’d learned his lesson and was terribly sorry for his mistake.

    Thanks for the coverage, Matt. A lesson for every reader in this.

  10. Wow… well, usually guys who can be this harsh normally AREN’T of good character anyhow so maybe this just was a long time coming. This certainly doesn’t seem to be a “small innocent slip up” that caused him this newly found bad rep. But yes, it shows the POWER of bad worth of mouth!

  11. Michelle says:

    You might want to check your facts before perpetuating the lies and half-truths reported in the Tri-City Herald. This is a newspaper struggling with huge losses in readership and it seems their reporters will do just about anything to hook new readers.

    Fact: There was never a lawsuit. There was never even a threat of lawsuit. What did happen was a letter was set to ALL homeowners in the association who had not met the covenants they had signed at closing. The Jensens were never singled out.

    Fact: The condition of the Jensen’s yard went way, way beyond just not doing the landscaping. Their yard was never mowed (orchard grass was present when they moved in.) Their yard was never watered. And when the above letter was sent, their yard was full of trash. Despite Mr. Miller’s claim to the contrary, many of us in the neighborhood were appalled at the condition and did complain to Mr. Edwards.

    Fact: The covenants for this association are not onerous. 12 months after closing were given for putting in landscaping. 12 months!

    Fact: Mr. Jensen is not even in Kuwait. He is taking classes over in Seattle and comes home on the weekends. We’ve heard that he goes overseas in November. Which means, from the time he purchased the home in June of 2007 til now, he has had 15 months of NON-DEPLOYED time to finish what he and his wife agreed to. He is a reservist, not full time military. I don’t get how being military absolved anyone of taking care of responsibilities on the homefront.

    Fact: Mr. Edwards has never even met the Jensens. Not for lack of trying, to be sure. He tried to reach them at their home and by phone many times. Many in the neighborhood suspected that they were avoiding him and simply refused to answer the door. And then they just disappeared. Noone knew their whereabouts and the home appeared to be abandoned. If he had known the issues the Jensens were having with their fraudulent contractor, he would have been the first to step in and help, as he has done with other neighbors who have had issues with getting things done.

    While I certainly think Mr. Edwards has a potty mouth and needs some anger management lessons, he absolutely does not deserve the vilification and crucifying of character he has received all over the press and internet.

  12. Ryan Rose says:

    Michelle, I can appreciate your comments. No matter what the time line of events were. No matter where Mr. Jensen was (Ft. Lewis or Kuwait). Where Chick Edwards went drastically wrong and the reason he is getting slammed in the online community is due to the fact that Chick said, “I really don’t give a (expletive) where he is or what his problem is”.

    When asked to confirm that statement on the Bob Rivers Radio interview, Chick did. In today’s climate and view of our troops and the role they serve, Chick’s comments were truly dispicable.

    As far as anyone perpetuating lies and half truths, this blog is only highlighting how easy it is to set off a “fire storm” and how important it is for all of us to be mindful of our words and actions.

    Ryan Rose

  13. Matt McGee says:

    Thx for your comments, Michelle. You should understand that this is a marketing blog, and this post I wrote is about small business and their reputations.

    Whether or not the paper got the story straight or not is immaterial to my post. He said what he said, they printed what they printed, and now Mr. Edwards’ reputation is probably irrevocably damaged, as is his business, it would seem (judging from the public outcry and comments left online).

    My post isn’t about him or the homeowners. It’s about how the internet changes everything for small business owners. Too many small biz owners have told me they don’t need to worry about online reputation management, and my point is that they do. And this story — right or wrong — proves it.

    Thanks again for commenting, and I welcome you back anytime if you’re interested in topics related to online marketing for small businesses.

  14. Michelle says:

    My apologies for using this forum incorrectly. I know the Edwards and they are not anything like what has been portrayed and it is difficult to see what they are going through, especially knowing the truth of what happened. Not only has their business reputation been destroyed, but they have received numerous death threats and threats against their property. A firestorm, indeed.

    That said, how would one go about mopping up after a mess like this? Is their business and reputation irrevocably harmed? It seems like any apology or explanation at this point would be seen as sour grapes or given the actual circumstances, an attempt to smear the Jensen’s name.

    Obviously, the ideal would have been to answer the initial contact with TCH’s reporter with calm and cool intellect. In talking with Mrs. Edwards, however, Mr. Edwards was a bit blind-sided by the call (Lt. Jensen’s lawyer sent the correspondence directly to the TCH and according to the Edwards, they did not receive the “original” letter until Saturday, several days after the reporter had it and was already in contact with Mr. Edwards.) I can understand his initial anger, especially being provoked by a very combative and accusatory reporter.

    A cautionary tale, to say the least. In this day and age, it seems that absolutely everything about us can be discovered somewhere on the internet.

    Again, my apologies and I would definitely pass along any feedback you or your audience may have in the area of reputation repair.

  15. Matt McGee says:

    Hi Michelle,

    I think it would be fairly time-consuming and somewhat spendy to clean up the Google results when people search for his name. Is it possible? Sure. But it might cost more money and take more time than Chick wants to invest.

    As far as locally, it may be too late now, but I think he should’ve immediately made a public apology for his comments to the paper, and very delicately explained his side of the story — just lay out the facts in a non-combative way. I think he also should’ve gotten involved with the group of volunteers who fixed up the yard and helped them out personally, with his time and/or money. (If he did that, I missed the news.) He might consider going to a different media outlet (say, the local TV stations) and offering to do interviews in which he would offer an apology, explain what the impact has been on him personally (death threats) and professionally (loss of business?) since the incident, and ask for a second chance. We’re Americans. We love to give people a second chance when they’re sincere.

    Hope this helps.

  16. This case might be beyond online reputation management. He might have to just change his name. Probably less time and money than outranking all of those news articles.

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