Image Rehab, Eliot Spitzer-Style

What do you do when you go from governor of New York to Client No. 9 overnight? That’s what Elliot Spitzer and his communications team was asking themselves almost exactly one year ago, when Spitzer landed in the center of a prostitution scandal that prompted his resignation from office, not to mention his damnation to the fringe of society, where the most amoral and disdained members of the population reside.

As details of the scandal emerged, Spitzer kept a low profile—what else could he do?—but now, a year later, the media is revisiting the historic event. In doing so, a textbook case study of how one re-brands his soiled personal image is being constructed.

Image rehabilitation—it’s a concept that’s all too familiar to celebrities, politicians and corporate executives (and, by default, to these individuals’ PR people). It also happens to follow a similar timeframe to traditional rehab programs: You lay low for a period of time, and then you slowly reintroduce yourself to normal daily activities—walking the dog, for example.

The same can be said for Spitzer, who, according to a recent Newsweek article, used his wheaten terrier James to help ease in back into the public eye a few months after his fall from grace. According to Spitzer, “I explained to James that he was a good-looking dog. People wanted to take his picture. You put up barriers and sort of prepare yourself.”

He also admitted that he left his other dog—a bichon frisé—at home deliberately during those walks, which were documented by the army of paparazzi that camped out in front of his apartment. “I wouldn’t take her [the bichon] out in public,” he told Newsweek. “I thought James was a better image for me.” (Now, his bichon accompanies him on these walks. Spitzer explained by saying, “It’s like, OK, I have a bichon, a little white ball of fluff … I don’t care. What do you have to lose?”)

Some media outlets mocked and criticized his approach, but it seems to me to be well within the realm of normal image-rehab measures. So too does his next “staged” entrée back into the public eye, as a columnist (for and media commentator.

Anyway, the renewed attention to Spitzer’s re-integration into mainstream society just got me thinking about the whole process of rehabilitating your own tarnished personal brand, and how a person can go about doing it without being completely condemned by the media.  Thoughts?

  • Mike Smith

    I think Spitzer is a great case study. He obviously did the right thing after the scandal broke. When he was on the Today Show recently, Lauer did not focus on his indiscretions and the scandal. They talked a little bit about it, but also about government and the economy. And Spitzer put a good spin on it saying he could have helped New York’s economy if he didn’t mess up.