Let’s talk reputation for a hot minute, specifically with respect to 2016. That particular year suffered a serious smackdown in street cred, as far as keeping our best and brightest on the roster. The number of respected celebrities and amazing beacons of talent that were extinguished in 2016 practically became laughable. Except none of it was funny.

But, if we’re talking talent gone too soon, I’d like to give the middle finger to 2014 for three words: Phillip. Seymour. Hoffman. One of the best actors of my generation – without question (seriously, don’t even try it) – Hoffman gained attention early in his career as the little puke in Scent of a Woman who essentially attempts to silence Chris O’Donnell’s (what ever happened to him?) character.

But Hoffman’s acting career continued to explode as the years rolled on, with amazing portrayals of Truman Capote, lovable buffoon types in Along Came Polly, and just the coolest of the cool in Pirate Radio. Sure, he also delighted fans of The Hunger Games series by gracing that film franchise with his talented presence. His most memorable role and the one that leads me to my point was his exceptional performance as Father Flynn in John Patrick Shanley’s thought-provoking play-turned-film, Doubt.

Flynn, suspected of and basically accused of engaging in questionable behavior with the school’s only African-American student, responds to his accuser, Sister Aloysius, played by Meryl Streep, by delivering a sermon about gossip.

For context and a chance to appreciate Hoffman on screen yet again, treat yourself to this sermon (it’s less than three minutes. I’m a fallen Catholic. I wouldn’t dream of asking you for a greater commitment than three minutes of cinematic gold, trust me). The gist is that gossip – a wrong, damaging, or altogether false message – is harder to recover than the feathers of a gutted pillow, after they’ve taken to the wind.

As a marketer, this resonates with me. Tasked with telling my client’s story, and protecting their reputation, I can’t afford to risk the wrong message. Careful research and clear communication with my clients is key. Sure, that might seem obvious, but the necessity of each cannot be overstated. When I think of every blog post, press release, – hell, every word written for a client as a feather, I am inspired to proceed with caution, but confidence. Ultimately, I want these messages to take to the air and impact change, whether that change involves rebranding a client’s image, informing the consumer about a new product or service, or entertaining an already existing fan base with creative blog posts.

In fact, I was reminded of Father Flynn’s sermon during a recent brainstorming with a client. This particular meeting required addressing the client’s concern regarding how to teach a target population – in this case, adolescent women, about the dangers of social media, but without being parental or preachy.

Yes, I went directly to preaching when I shared Father Flynn’s sermon, which ultimately proved too complex an idea for that particular audience, given their age. When I realized I couldn’t stop thinking about that sermon, that scene, I sat down to consider why that might be.

As with so many issues that nag at our minds and keep us up at night, the reason was simple: FEAR. Sometimes, recognizing that fear is what’s really at the heart of a continually revisited thought is enough to weaken it.

As a business owner, I can’t let the fear of feathers stop me from sending out a message. But knowing that you can’t re-gather those feathers, just as you can’t un-ring a bell, motivates me to constantly research, check, verify, check again, and polish every word so that my client’s – and my company’s – reputation soars.

Fear of Feathers: Why Your Brand Reputation Matters

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