Business Q & A

A conversation with Richard Torrenzano

For Richard Torrenzano, chairman and CEO of Torrenzano Group, online attacks are a real threat to businesses, big and small.

“Almost every minute of every day, an individual, company, organization or institution is digitally attacked and assassinated,” Torrenzano said in a phone interview.

“Cyberattacks have dominated news headlines.”

Based in New York City, Torrenzano Group is a reputation and high-stakes issues management firm that specializes in corporate perception.

Torrenzano will speak on Nov. 26 to the Rotary Club of Wichita. He’ll also hold a book-signing event from 5 to 7 p.m. Nov. 27 at Watermark Books, 4701 E. Douglas. The book signing is open to the public.

His book, “Digital Assassination: Protecting your reputation, brand or business against online attacks,” discusses the “seven swords of digital assassination” that online attackers use and how businesses and individuals can deal with or thwart such attacks.

How did you come up with the idea for your book?

A number of our clients across the country and world were having a number of real problems with being character assassinated, product assassinated and brand assassinated from a variety of sources. …

We’ve seen character assassination in the early stages of Americana with (Alexander) Hamilton and (Thomas) Jefferson fighting each other. We’ve seen business or brand assassination going back to the walls of the Roman Empire.

While the behavior of people has remained the same, the vehicles and platforms they can use to attack are very different. The Internet is 24/7. It has an eternal memory and can be seen in a matter of seconds.

How has your background helped you see what role the Internet has on reputations?

I spent my entire career in the corporate affairs area, domestically and globally. I lived in London for seven years and worked for SmithKline Beecham, now Glaxo, and in corporate affairs for the New York Stock Exchange.

Those experiences, to be at the center of American capitalism and the international post in London, … is at the heart of all this.

Why is it important for businesses to manage their online reputations?

First of all, you can’t ignore this. You must participate. If you don’t, you get killed.

Second, you have to have real understanding of what’s out there. … We say in the book, “In the future, which is now, everyone will have their 15 minutes of shame.”

Youth needs to approach the digital world with more wisdom, while age needs to approach the digital world with more skill. This affects everyone in and out of business and personal lives. …

Even small businesses … need to understand what people are saying about you and respond in a thoughtful way. Yelling and writing nasty notes (on the Internet is) not going to win you a lot of points.

Can you share any horror stories from which people can learn?

In the D.C. area there was a new health club that opened about three years ago. The owners put a great deal of effort and money into the facility, and when it opened, Yelp had a number of bad reviews talking about disgusting water in the pool. The problem was the health center didn’t have a pool.

You have to look at the Internet and see what’s real and what’s not.

We’re used to filters like newspapers, TV, radios – journalistic standards and ethics – but on the Internet, it’s “anything goes” and there are no standards and no truth squad. There is no Internet police.

Once it’s on the Internet, even if it’s changed, it’s on there forever because of archival sites like Wayback Machine … people need to understand the power scope and reach and what they can and cannot do to protect themselves.

What are some simple ways that small businesses can protect their reputations?

Most major corporations have resources to do that. Most small businesses and individuals don’t. The only way to do that is education, going back to school and learning.

This is the first shield in digital assassination. “I am, therefore who do I think I am?” looking at yourself on Internet.

The most major thing people can do … is put as much positive, thoughtful information out there about your brand, business or self that’s relevant or real and hopefully that will balance anything that’s negative out there about you.

People should be monitoring their company and names on a regular basis, and an easy way is Google Alerts. … Most small businesses don’t think of that. They try to hire someone. You really don’t need to hire someone unless the business already has a problem.