We’ve all seen the famous scene in Casablanca where Captain Renault reacts to the graft taking place right under his watch. “I’m shocked, SHOCKED, to find that gambling is going on in here!” he says as the croupier hands him a pile of money. The movie was a prescient statement about today’s world where business and political leaders are seemingly shocked by events that they knew about and consequences that they should have known were coming. A few weeks ago I wrote about hedge fund billionaire Phil Falcone and his ongoing battle with AT&T and other cellular communications companies. While Falcone may be in the right, poor handling of his public persona and private battles conspired to help him snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Where some media training and a strategically aggressive communications campaign could have changed his situation, now he very well might watch a billion-dollar investment waste away to nothing.
How about Herman Cain? Just a month ago this rising political star was the darling of the Republican Party, now he’s watching his poll numbers, and his future, swirl around and down the toilet of public opinion.
It was a little more than a week ago that the news broke that Cain was accused of sexual harassment when he was president of the National Restaurant Association. At the time, his response was that that he knew nothing about the claims and the rumors were patently untrue. But on Thursday word came out that Cain had actually paid $45,000 to settle the claims of one of his accusers. $45,000 cash! Kind of hard to forget about that, eh?
In a defense of sorts, campaign spokesman J.D. Gordon said that the campaign had raised $1.2 million since news of the allegations. “Mr. Cain’s supporters around the country have rallied around him…as we battle this appalling smear campaign.” Gordon’s suggestion, of course, is that the $1.2 million is proof positive that Cain couldn’t possibly be guilty. Needless to say, one thing has nothing to do with the other.
“They have not followed the cardinal rule of Crisis Management 101,” said Steve Caldiera, who worked for Mr. Cain at the restaurant association and says he’s a friend. “Above all, you get everything out there right away.”
The worst part is, there was no need for either of these disasters. If companies and candidates would simply practice effective Brand Aid, they’d build strong brands that would resonate with their consumers and protect their futures.
Tylenol Did It. Toyota Didn’t.
Corrupted Tylenol products were accused of poisoning their customers, yet thanks to a well-orchestrated marketing response, Tylenol created the textbook case for rescuing a damaged brand. And when five Ferrari 458 supercars burst into spontaneous fireballs, the Italian company’s quick and aggressive response not only rescued their brand but added value directly to their bottom line. Toyota, on the other hand, botched their unintended acceleration problem so badly that even though experts later exonerated the car company of any wrongdoing, estimates are their brand lost over a billion dollars in value.
The steps for rescuing an endangered brand are easy to recite but not so easy to implement. Still, with some advance planning and creativity, profitable brands can build an effective response to most any bad news that comes their way. Or as they used to say about naughty congressmen, bad news doesn’t matter unless you’re caught in bed with a live boy or a dead girl.
Five Steps To Save Your Brand.
1. Confess. Steve Caldiera was right. You must get all the information in front of the public as quickly as possible. Just like obsessively tormenting a painful cavity with your tongue, nothing is worse than bad information that oozes out slowly. Instead, it’s crucial to step up to the plate, admit all your wrongdoings, and move on. If the public needs to hear bad news, they need to hear it from you. Once.
2. Define. As my good friend Ray Ruga constantly reminds me, define your issue before someone else does. Nature abhors a vacuum and the competition is just waiting for the opportunity to fill empty airspace with negative comments. Decide on your best strategy and stick to it.
3. Act. Fix the problem permanently and unequivocally. Tylenol took all their products off the shelves, not just the potentially tainted bottles. Ferrari replaced every damaged car with a brand new vehicle regardless of mileage or ownership status. Besides demonstrating that you care, your customers can’t effectively complain about problems that no longer exist.
4. Apologize. Apologize honestly, sincerely, and completely. “I’m sorry if you were upset” is not an apology. If your words of remorse contain “if” or “but,” chances are you’re not being as contrite as you should.
5. Relate. Finally, make sure that your entire brand mitigation program appeals to your audience’s emotional side. As we discussed in the previous post, Falcone failed because his explanations were full of technical “speeds and feeds” details while his competition was talking about farmers not being able to produce food and planes falling out of the sky. Remember that people make decisions based on their emotions and justify those decisions with facts. Brands that forget this simple truism do so at their own peril.
Remember to act quickly and decisively. Today’s 24-hour news cycle doesn’t leave any opportunity to wait or delay. Your brand reclamation program should be crafted long in advance and sit patiently on the shelf next to the fire extinguisher. You never know which one you’ll need to save your life.
And above all, remember to call us to help build your brand value. After all, crafting powerful and successful brands is exactly what we do.