Ike is taking the day off from blogging, so I have agreed to fill the void in his absence. I plan to use this platform to exorcise some verbal demons. After all, if reputation management is really about doing what you state you will, then it’s important that we agree on terms.

Let’s start with a dangerous word: ‘promise.’

A declaration assuring that one will or will not do something; a vow.

There are a couple of key components there that make this a strong concept indeed.

  • A declaration — meaning a proactive statement. Something you had to go out of your way to do. Not implied.
  • Assuring — strictly speaking, a guarantee made to ease another’s ill feelings or misgivings.

Your institutional reputation is a function of what you promise.

For some reason, this word “promise” carries a stronger connotation than many related words:


An earnest promise to perform a specified act or behave in a certain manner; A declaration or assertion.


A solemn binding promise; A token or sign

In both instances, the definition of “vow” and “pledge” starts with the concept of a “promise,” but with more restrictive modifiers like “earnest,” “solemn,” or “binding.” Yet each of them “weasels down” with additional meanings like “token” or “assertion.”

Because the other words can be more ambiguous, “promise” tends to resonate as a stronger word. I mention this, because companies can “pledge” to get better with customer service, can “assert” better financial auditing and controls, and “vow” to initiate diversity programs. But “promise” is a tough one to live up to. You either putt it into the clown’s mouth or you don’t. A public promise to rectify a mistake reeks of sincerity. A broken promise just plain reeks.

Every level of your company, from the CEO to the receptionist, needs to understand what’s at stake when a “promise” is made. It can be a very effective word. It can also blow up in your face.

That’s a guarantee.