NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Several years ago, B.L. Ochman ran a business called "Rent a Kvetch," in which clients hired her to complain for them and get results. Most of the complaints had to do with lousy customer service from large, impersonal companies. "In the '80s, there was no way for average people to get heard," she says.
Enter the Internet, which has afforded a sounding board for anyone who wants to complain -- anonymously or otherwise -- and gives erstwhile powerless individuals the chance to thump a company's reputation.
"It could be one kid in Bulgaria making a video about your product, but that's going to cause a problem if it starts spreading around," says Ochman, now a director at Proof Digital Media, the online media arm of the public relations agency Burson-Marsteller -- the company that helped handle reputation damage control for Exxon Mobil
The stubborn permanence of online condemnation is a common problem among clients of Reputation Defender, a venture-funded Redwood City, Calif., company that specializes in monitoring and managing online reputations for businesses and their executives. "It might be a lawsuit that they were involved with 10 years ago," says Michael Fertik, CEO of Reputation Defender. "A few of them have had very high-profile divorces. And some of the really large companies are dealing with dedicated attack sites -- Web sites specifically aimed at criticizing them."