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Can DSK Become a Comeback Kid?

Friday, 1 Jul 2011 | 12:07 PM ET

Warren Buffett famously said: "It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it."

Former International Monetary Fund leader Dominique Strauss-Kahn enters New York State Supreme Court for a hearing on July 1, 2011 in New York City.
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Former International Monetary Fund leader Dominique Strauss-Kahn enters New York State Supreme Court for a hearing on July 1, 2011 in New York City.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn has had close to two months to survey the near-destruction of his position in the public eye after his arrest on charges of sexually assaulting a hotel maid in New York's Sofitel hotel.

As the prosecution case against the former head of the International Monetary Fund on charges of sexual assault looked shakier on Friday, and he was released bail-free, how could the man once tipped as the next President of France rebuild his reputation?

"He has to tread carefully if he emerges," Michael Hayman, co-founder of Seven Hills public relations, told CNBC.com.

"There are two schools of thought here. One is that a crisis is like a suntan, and will fade away. "The other is the Buffett view."

Even if Mr Strauss-Kahn is eventually cleared, he may find it difficult to restore his good name.

"While he may not be proven guilty in a court, there is also the court of public opinion, which has already judged him," Hayman said. "There will still be a reputational cloud over him, and people will always think there's no smoke without fire."

Former President Bill Clinton was dubbed The Comeback Kid after winning the White House despite allegations of adultery.

In contrast, several high-profile Conservative politicians in the UK had to leave office during the 1990s after being caught having extramarital affairs.

John Profumo, the former British Secretary of State for War, spent the best part of three decades trying to atone for his part in what became known as the Profumo Affair, including a period cleaning toilets in a charitable institution in the East End of London.

The classic crisis management approach is called CAP, which stands for Concern, Action and Perspective.

So, a business leader caught up in a crisis, such as Tony Hayward was after a BP oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico began to leak last year, should first express concern, then show that they are taking action, before they can start to put the incident into perspective – by saying "the environmental damage won't be that bad", for example.

France may be more forgiving of sexual indiscretion than the US or the UK, according to Hayman.

He thinks that some of the coverage in the US press may help Strauss-Kahn paint himself as a victim.

"There could be a nationalistic card to be played as it was a US court," he added.

"It's a stereotype that the US and France have always had a slightly sniffy view of each other."

The French public has been tolerant of politicians' sexual indiscretions in the past. Former President Francois Mitterrand fathered a daughter with his long-term mistress, although her existence was not made public until close to his death.

“This is the friend of Dominique Strauss-Kahn talking,” said Martine Aubry, the head of the Socialist party in France, and candidate for the party’s primary elections, said Friday.

“I wish, with all my heart that the American justice establishes the truth… all my affection goes to him, his wife, Anne, and his children.”

Strauss-Kahn shouldn't adapt the often-used politician's pose with his wife and family on the doorstep of the family home, Hayman believes.

"Anything too staged or posed isn't going to work with the public," he said.

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