Crisis Management With Celebrity Endorsers

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One of the great joys of being in marketing is working with celebrity endorsers.  I’ve had the pleasure of working with several of them, and it has almost always been a positive experience, both for myself and for the brands I work with.  However, one of the things a smart marketer must always be aware of is the halo effect the endorser can have on a brand – both positive and negative – especially with the endorser gets caught up in controversy.

We all do things we are not proud of in life.  However, the ramifications of our actions typically only impacts our close circle of friends, relatives and associates.  When it happens with a celebrity or athlete endorser, the impact can also extend to the brands and franchises they represent.

As a brand, agency or individual working with endorsers going through a crisis, here are a few questions to ask yourself as you determine how to best respond.

  • What’s our track record like with this endorser?  Is he or she an upstanding citizen, and unlikely to repeat this mistake?  Have they always been upfront and honest with you?  Are they willing to apologize internally to your brand team and senior management?  If it’s a great relationship, and the endorser can provide an honest apology, you may want to consider going dark for a bit (to let the press and public move on from the matter) but not end the partnership completely.  If it’s not the first time a negative situation has happened, it may be best for your brand to move on.
  • How is the endorser handling the situation with the press and the public?  Are they being upfront and honest with their fans and the people who cover them?  Does it seem like there might still be something to hide?  Do you trust your endorser’s crisis management team to provide the right guidance and advice?  The relationship you have with your endorser should go beyond just the individual and encompass their agents, managers, franchises and support networks.  If you feel confident that the endorser has the situation under control, it may make sense to continue the relationship.  If you have to ask yourself “who’s giving them this advice,” it may be time to move on.
  • Is the offense forgivable?  Frankly, this is a tough one, as we all have different standards of morality.  It’s easy to say you don’t want your brand associated with an accused murderer, a drug user, or a liar.  But it’s not always that cut and dry.  Put yourself in the shoes of your brand’s customers – how do you think they will feel about the endorser in the next 30 days, three months, six months or next year?  Is this situation something likely to stick with a consumer and influence their long-term purchase habits in a negative way?  Or, maybe once the endorser says “I’m sorry”, your customer will forgive and move on.  Be careful not to “throw the baby out with the bath water” and make a rash decision you may regret down the road.  But also be careful waiting too long to make a decision at all.

Typically, I almost always advise clients to take a “wait and see” approach.  Sometimes, an over-reaction can do more harm than good, and the only thing America loves more than a crash is the redemption story that follows.  However, if the offense is so great that it could damage your brand’s long-term reputation,  a quick separation may be in order.  Remember, endorsers can come and go, but you want your brand to stand the test of time.

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