Was Anyone Spotting for John Skipper?

March 24, 2018

I feel for John Skipper, former ESPN chief.  It’s hard not to, in some capacity, when you see someone’s life work unplugged and unravelled.  But here is where my mind goes after reading his fall-from-grace story – he was not alone. I grew up watching ESPN and I know a lot of what I came to love about the ESPN brand and sports was a direct result of John’s efforts and passion. As a professional, I also had the privilege of working with ESPN on numerous occasions with NASCAR, NHRA, B.A.S.S., and other sports properties.  I can tell you that the people who worked there reflected John’s attitude and vision – they were first-class people. Now, I also believe that we make and must stand by our choices.  And, like John, we are not alone. In racing, we have spotters.  These people have an elevated perspective of the race track and tell drivers what is happening in their blind spots and how to navigate through wrecks happening ahead of or around them.  There is a remarkably high level of trust between drivers and their spotters to ensure their safety and ultimately their success – as a team.   I don’t know who John’s spotters were in his years of cocaine addiction, or if they tried to help and he ignored them.  But I can’t believe he was alone. Can we learn from this? Yes. Who are your spotters? Who are the small group of people in your life that are looking out for you?  The ones to tell you what you need to hear and not what you want to hear.  We may not like what they have to say, but if they are trusted, then we know from where their words are coming – and we need to listen. So, who are they? Can you rattle off their names right now?  Do they even know that you consider them your spotters? Who are you a spotter for in your life? We are all in this journey together and need each other to have our backs when we are operating in our blind spots. Career stage does not matter.  Life stage does not matter either.  We all need spotters and they need to know that we need them to shoot straight with us and that we will listen! John, I have no doubt you will rebound from this and be stronger than before!

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2 Critical Components to Rebuild a Reputation

February 4, 2018

I am often asked if a person or company can recover from a reputation crisis.  The simple answer is, “yes”, but the effort and discipline it takes to do so is not that simple and is solely up to the individual or the leadership of an organization to act upon two vital elements – consistency and time. While reputations are fragile, and once cracked can never quite be put exactly back together, recovery can be achieved if there is genuine and transparent acknowledgement of what was done, if there is clear and consistent behavior to make amends, and this is done (again) consistently over time. Robert Downey Jr., comes to mind when I think of a person who rose to prominence, fell, and then repaired his reputation to find success (and work in Hollywood) again.  Johnson & Johnson’s Tylenol brand is another example of a brand that lost confidence among consumers, but through diligent and consistent efforts, earned that trust back to regain its place as a global category leader, and a product welcomed back in people’s homes. Consistency – the key here is to recognize what actions or behaviors led to the reputation issue, make the proper amends, and then outline the ways in which you or your company will move forward in an authentic way to demonstrate your intent to regain trust and reputation – day in and day out! Downey Jr., took time to rehab his body from the addiction to drugs while also nurturing his mind and spirit to focus on what would be meaningful in his life and surrounding himself with like-minded people.  People soon saw that he was consistently working to make amends and move forward in a positive manner.  I’m not saying that the Iron Man franchise would not have happened without him, but there’s no question that his involvement and talent made it a blockbuster! Time – people can be skeptical as well as forgiving, so the critical element here is consistent behavior over time.  Commitment to a vision of regaining reputation is what will drive the consistent behavior over time.  Repetition (not only in how I ended the last two sentences) is the key to turning skeptics into supporters and from supporters to potential advocates.  Tylenol’s emergence from the cyanide tampering in the 1980s is an example of not only acting quickly (another form of time – see this story for the power of time), but also how leadership focused on creating a tamper-proof solution that would continue to demonstrate trust and reliability over time. If you or your company have been caught in a reputation crisis, it does not signal the end!  However, it will take deliberate planning to outline what must be done differently, clear communication to your family, friends, colleagues, customers or other key constituents as to what will be done differently moving forward, and then ‘walking the walk‘ each and every day!  Easier said than done, but your future and your reputation are more than worth the work! Don’t you think?

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Crisis of Values

December 24, 2017

We have a problem.  That’s right, we have a problem.  It’s not someone else’s problem – it’s our problem as leaders. The floodgates have burst opened through traditional and social media channels on the subject of people in power abusing their positions by taking advantage of those further down the organizational chart.  The storylines read of sexual misconduct, harassment, and greed, to name a few behavioral trends. Have these stories been told because people are fed up and are ready to name names? Is it because there are more news outlets willing to cover these stories? Perhaps it just took one brave person to step up and tell their story for others to find the courage to do the same?  I believe it’s a combination of all of those and more.  However, what I also know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, is that these stories shine a spotlight on the crisis of values that we see in leadership. The word values is one that we grew up hearing about and were told to reflect upon, think about, and use in our daily activities to guide us through the maze of life.  What we are seeing is a significant disregard of values by people in positions of leadership and power.  This chasm between values and behavior is what I’ve seen time and time again when deconstructing crisis situations over my 25-year career. Media reports make us first-hand witnesses to the void in the individual’s value in themselves, their relationships, their intentions, and their legacies.  Ultimately their actions, not just from a year or two ago, but some accusations spanning decades, are all being judged in the court of public opinion delivering career-shattering verdicts. These power plays have been happening for thousands of years and are not isolated to people on the public stage.  And, these behaviors are not gender based either as I think about inappropriate male student/female teacher relationships that are just as much about position and power as a senior-level executive or influential TV talking head.  But in today’s world of instant information sharing and online lynch-mob trolling, the stakes are at an all-time high. In many cases, careers have been ended, families have been split, decades of work have been unravelled, and legacies forever tarnished. And this isn’t just an issue for those in the public eye.  I can think of a person in my life who was a very close friend and was fired from his job of 10 years for embezzlement, which ended with jail time and a divorce.  Can you think of a scenario in your life that has hit close like this? What could have stopped these missteps from occurring? Some cases may have required professional counseling, however, at the foundation of this is a lack of values – plain and simple. Our values should be at the core of who we are … or, at least they should be! Our values are not negotiable … or, at least they shouldn’t be! Our values are what make us stand up for what we believe even when not popular … or at least they […]

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3 Steps Adidas Must Take in Wake of College Bribery Scandal

October 5, 2017

Adidas is the latest example of the risk that all brands are subject to because reputations rest upon the shoulders of those employees wearing its logo. Jim Gatto, head of marketing for Adidas’ basketball division, is one of 10 people who are at the center of an FBI investigation centered on a high school athlete/college sports bribery scandal that is rocking the college sports industry. Business Insider writer, Dennis Green, put it very well in his Sept. 27 article on the topic, “Part of the reason for Adidas’ newfound success is its evolved reputation. It has courted fashion trendsetters and lifestyle gurus to help turn it into a “cool” brand. If the scandal grows, it’s not hard to see how that reputation could vanish.”   It takes both time and consistent effort to build, shape and protect a reputation. As Warren Buffett once said, “it takes 20 years to build a strong reputation and five minutes to ruin it.  If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.” Beyond the damaged public perception and tarnished image, Adidas also suffered a direct financial foul after the scandal hit headlines and saw its U.S. stock value dropped by 3% in one day. This type of reputation scenario as well as the financial and public fallout happens every day at varying levels to large and small organizations. While the court of public opinion has yet to deliver its verdict, below are three steps that Adidas – and any company – must take in the wake of a public scandal to not lose its business stride and come out stronger in public perception! 3 Steps Adidas must take in the wake of college basketball bribery scandal Commit to Action & Communicate – You can’t control where the investigation goes or what life it takes on as this scandal unravels.  However, Adidas can control how it processes the information it learns through its own internal investigation, the development of its action plan, and then how it is shared to its stakeholders, employees, and customers to demonstrate its commitment to doing the right thing. Demonstrate Transparency – What did you learn through the investigation? It might be tough to look at and even scarier to share, but understand that in this age of instant information, it will eventually come out.  It’s always best to ‘own’ the message versus it come from a third-party source.  The actions of an individual certainly don’t always reflect that of the organization.  This is the time to acknowledge breakdowns in the system and emphasize that this is not how business is done at Adidas. Outline Change – This is the proverbial ‘Tylenol moment’ and the stamp in time that will either propel a brand forward or anchor it down after the crisis. In every crisis there is opportunity to use a negative situation to create positive industry-wide change.  This is exactly what Tylenol did back in 1982 after seven people died of cyanide poisoning due to Tylenol bottle tampering.  Tylenol went on to create revolutionary bottle safety measures that helped re-establish the brand as an industry leader committed to safety.  Bribery is not new […]

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3 Steps to Increase Reputation Influence During Times of Uncertainty

September 20, 2017

In the HBO Game of Thrones series a manipulative character named Petyr Baelish, better known as Littlefinger, said, “Chaos isn’t a pit.  Chaos is a ladder.”  Our current world, nation, states, and communities have their share of uncertainty, some may call chaos.  But how we approach and frame up this uncertainty can actually increase our reputation influence. Now, Littlefinger looked at life and chaos through the lens of how can I climb this ladder for my benefit, even at the expense of others?  For this he ultimately met his fate on his knees with a knife at his throat. What can we learn from Littlefinger’s mindset and approach to uncertainty?  It’s simple – in times of uncertainty take your focus off of you.  There are ways for you to benefit from this that not only helps your reputation, but more importantly helps others.   That is the frame through which we should look –how can I help others during this time of uncertainty? Below are three steps that you can personalize and strategically use to benefit your family, friends, business, community, team, colleagues, customers and, yes, your reputation.  I want to stress – let’s learn from Littlefinger – this should not be done with a manipulative mindset.  People will see through that and you will end up doing more harm than good to your reputation (as well as your business and those around you!). Three Steps for building reputation influence during times of uncertainty: Understand the Impact of the Situation -Uncertainty happens on Main Street as well as Wall Street, so your focus may not be on a national or global scale.  Some of the most positive personal demonstrations of support and kindness have started at the grassroots level.  Being in touch with local or regional issues and understanding the impact is the most critical step in this process.  Start by answering some simple questions to gauge the scope, impact and your personal connection to the uncertainty. What could the impact of (insert uncertainty) be to my business industry? To my city? In my community? Within my neighborhood? Why does this matter to me? My customers? My community? My friends? Become a Conduit of Information – The old adage that ‘knowledge is power’ is quite valid in times of uncertainty.  This is the first step in providing value to those around you.  Resources and conduits of information in times of uncertainty are highly regarded.  This could be as simple as writing an email to a core group of people or posting hyperlinks with key and reputable sources on your social media channels where people can get informed.  Yes, you will need to ensure these are credible sources.  Simply put, you send out credible information, it increases your credibility.  Conversely, if you send people resources that are sketchy – well, you get the point and how it reflects upon you!  Do your homework! Share Channels of Action – Now that you’ve identified the areas of potential impact and you found sourced information, can you provide avenues for people to engage and act?  This could be as simple as coordinating a conference call to discuss an uncertainty […]

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Are You Involved or Are You Committed?

September 7, 2017

I was eating a bacon and egg breakfast the other morning and was reminded of a conversation I had with NASCAR Hall of Famer Junior Johnson several years ago around the question of involvement versus commitment. At the time, I was running the PR campaign for NASCAR’s 50th Anniversary where I had the great fortune and opportunity to meet and work with some of the legends of the sport, including Junior.  During one encounter with the former moonshiner, whose life story was put on the big screen in the 1973 movie The Last American Hero, we were talking about what it took to be successful in this sport. He smiled and said in his low voice and Southern drawl, “Well, let me ask you a question. Are you involved or are you committed?” I wasn’t sure where he was going with this, so I naively asked him, “involved or committed in what way?” Junior went on to explain his point.  “You see, success comes down to being committed not involved,” he said.  “It’s like a bacon and egg breakfast – it took two animals to make that meal and one was committed and one was involved. “Now, that hog gave you everything it had – everything – while that chicken gave you something it could make plenty more of. It wasn’t that big of a deal.” I never looked at a bacon and egg breakfast the same after that chat. So, I’ll ask you the same question as you look at your business growth or perhaps how you are leading your team or organization – are you involved or are you committed? Better yet, do you know if your team is just involved or are they fully committed?  Are they committed to your company’s goals, culture and priorities? That is a vital question to consider when a study by Gallup found that more than 70% of employees feel disengaged at the office.  What’s worse is that an Allegis Group Services study found that more than 84% percent of employees would leave their current place of employment for a company with a better reputation (Aug. 2012).  Can it get worse? Yup! A study by Glassdoor Data Labs found that less than 50% of employees would even recommend their employer to a friend (Dec. 2015)! Your team will become a reflection of you.  So, when it comes to leadership and the type of team and business you are building, do you want an office full of chickens? Nope … bring on the hogs!

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Quit Climbing Trees if You Were Made to Swim!

July 7, 2017

Quit Climbing Trees if You Were Made to Swim! I’ve been thinking a lot about the word authenticity lately.  Authenticity, in my opinion, is powerful because it calls out our uniqueness, our individuality in our thoughts, reflections and, subsequently, our actions and interactions. There’s amazing power and liberation in simply being you.  Yet why is it so hard to identify it and own it? I had so many different questions running through my head such as, what does living authentically really mean?  Is living authentically a reflection of how we see ourselves internally?  Does authenticity show itself in only certain areas of our lives?  Maybe it’s the culmination of taking multiple aptitude and personality assessment tests to understanding where our strengths lie? Better yet, maybe it’s knowing what we aren’t so good at doing? Perhaps it’s all of those things and this is a rabbit hole best left alone and I should just continue to ‘stay the course’ of what is comfortable? Sometimes the status quo can be a safe (and predictable) place. Then, one day I was scrolling through my Instagram feed and came across the picture in this post that really helped put a visual to what I was seeing around me these days and also took me back to a comment from a mentor of mine that I didn’t pay much attention to at the time. I see authenticity being a two-way street.  This cartoon points out the way the first way that some companies go about selecting key talent via ‘standardized’ process.  Which I do believe, in some ways, is fair.  For example, if a company is looking for an accountant, then there are specific skills, training and experience that are required for that role in order for the individual (and the company) to succeed. This leads me to the second way down this two-way street and that is the individual.  If you don’t have any accounting experience, then don’t put yourself in that position.  Don’t try and climb a tree if you were meant to swim!  Yeah, I know – that’s not rocket science!  But how many times do we or people we know do this? Have you ever heard the phrase, “it just isn’t a good fit”?  I used to think of that phrase as being a trite and polite way of saying that a person wasn’t doing a good job and they had to leave. I now see that ‘f’ word as being a more vital link to happiness than pacifying rhetoric. Truth be told, I used that ‘not a good fit’ message years ago when I was a manager at a public relations agency.  There was a person who was on my team that was talented, but just not strong in the area of creative work, where his role currently had him placed.  His strengths were more in line with account management.  While his performance was low in this particular area, this young man embodied the values of our agency, treated his teammates very well and was passionate about the work he delivered to our clients, so I didn’t think letting him go […]

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Is Your Customer Service Killing Your Brand?

November 11, 2016

Is Your Customer Service Killing Your Brand? Customer relationships, retention, growth and referrals are vital links for any brand’s success in today’s Reputation Economy.  However, it only takes one negative experience to wipe-away the relational equity that had built up and for their business (money and loyalty) to go elsewhere.  Not to even mention the negative impact to your brand if/when the experience is shared via Social Channels. In my opinion, customer service representatives need proactive empowerment, upgraded training and more resources from their leaders to reshape the reputation that this particular group has developed – whether it was honestly earned or they are guilty by association! Customer service must be a mindset that transcends all organizational departments.  New idea? Nope.  But, think about some of your recent experiences in this area? Was that indeed a mindset? Did you get the sense that the person was empowered to make a positive impact? But here’s the reality – We are ALL in the customer service business!  From the top to the bottom and everywhere in between. Below are two stories that I believe illustrate the points above from two different perspectives – one being from the front-line employee and the other a more traditional customer service scenario with two completely different outcomes. The $6,000 Egg: Todd Duncan tells a phenomenal story about he and his wife’s experience at a local restaurant at which they were regulars and also used the facility for corporate events. As the story goes, Todd makes a simple request to add a fried egg to his hamburger, but is repeatedly told by the server that they can’t fulfill his request because they may run out of eggs for the day’s special. His disbelief turns to dismay when he starts to calculate how much money he, his wife and his company have spent at this specific restaurant, which he estimated to be roughly $6,000 in one year!  And he still can’t get a 35-cent egg for his burger! This is a great example of how a front-line associate, representing the brand, was not able (or perhaps not empowered) to make a choice or decision that would have delighted a valuable customer – and in today’s terms, a valuable customer is someone who is spending money with you, period.  He no longer goes to that restaurant nor takes his corporate business there either. How Lego Builds Legendary Reputation: When you are 7 years old and love Legos, they are your world. Legos can be the cradle of imagination, creativity and expression. But, when you lose your favorite Lego character, it can force you to do something as a child that many adults, if given the choice between dealing with customer service or preparing their own taxes, would say, “where are those receipts?” Customer Service, a necessary evil in many minds, a place where we go to wait on hold or worse yet, get bounced around to different departments in search of some type of resolution. We Are All In The Customer Service Business!   So, young Luka emails Lego customer service and explains his situation unaware of the crap-shoot peril in which he just placed himself! However, […]

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2 Critical Actions that Saved Belmont University’s Reputation

September 26, 2016

2 Critical Actions that Saved Belmont University’s Reputation:  When leaders or brands find themselves in the middle of a crisis there are two critical elements to remember in order to protect a reputation – time and decisive action. I’ve worked through my share of crisis situations over the past two decades – ranging from race car driver deaths to sponsor/brand crisis – and employed two vital components for successfully managing through those reputation challenges. Belmont University nailed both of them when the school was pulled into a social conversation by one of its students who posted a racially charged post on Snapchat. Click on the link below to read more from the New York Daily News. http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/football/belmont-boots-student-called-protesting-eagles-n-word-article-1.2799746 Below are 2 critical actions that saved Belmont University’s reputation. Time is not on your side Time is not on your side when assessing and beginning to manage a crisis situation. The Belmont University communications team quickly acknowledged, via the university’s Facebook page, that the administration was aware of the social post. Belmont University’s Facebook statement at 11:43 AM: “This morning, we were made aware of a racist social media post by a freshman student at Belmont. We reject comments rooted in racism or bigotry. This is not free speech – this is hate speech. The University is investigating and will take immediate action. As a Christian institution, it is our goal to build a diverse and inclusive community where all members feel accepted, safe and valued.” Acknowledgment, especially in today’s socially connected world, is a critical step in the timeline of reputation management. In fact, the expectation is that a brand or leader will respond through Social Media channels in a matter of hours. A response that takes too long can be considered to be avoidance or disinterest by the leader, organization or brand. Decisive Action is Necessary Theodore Roosevelt once said, “In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.” While the crisis-management clock is ticking, the social-media monster is still feeding – people are watching social timelines for updates, posting comments and armchair quarterbacking what should be done. While it is beneficial to monitor what is being said, those comments should never guide your actions and next steps. The best way to chart the path towards action is to ‘check in’ with your values. Does your action plan align with your values? If so, move forward. Now. If not and you choose to proceed, then you are opening yourself (or company) up to additional scrutiny and reputation damage beyond the initial issue. It’s time to put your plan into action once you have evaluated and selected a values-based decision. Now that your decision has been made, you must see it through. Anything less is indecisive and will undermine your efforts. Belmont University’s Facebook Update at 1:22 PM (less than 2 hours later): “After investigating a racist social media post that surfaced earlier today, we can report that the person involved is no longer a student at Belmont. […]

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