Fixing broken brands

Back in the game: Tiger Woods staged a successful comeback. (AFP)
Back in the game: Tiger Woods staged a successful comeback. (AFP)
THE series of articles we’ve been running over the past few months has looked at the importance of brand/corporate reputation, and how it is taken seriously - or not - by businesses operating in South Africa.

We’ve seen blunders in the private and public sectors; we’ve also seen smart management approaches to reputation. Unfortunately, the blunders do seem to dominate our observation. The seriousness with which organisations take reputation is, to a large extent, a product of the extent to which their stakeholders demonstrate the importance they themselves attach to it.

The more informed and militant stakeholders are, the more action they will take – punitive or rewarding – vis-à-vis the brands they patronise. The corollary of this is that businesses and other organisations tend to invest only enough resources in reputation management to retain stakeholder support. Too few of them seem ready to go beyond stakeholder expectations when investing in reputation-enhancing activities.  

But what happens to damaged brand reputation? This week we look at how a tarnished personal brand reputation can make - as well as fail to make - a comeback; next week we shall look at examples in the corporate sector.

Tiger Woods: Back to earning big bucks

When the news of his philandering broke out a few years ago, Tiger Woods immediately went into hiding for a number of weeks. Pressured by public opinion, a number of key sponsors withdrew their support, leaving the golfer potentially broke.

At the time, I thought that whoever was advising him had made a mistake in not encouraging him to stand up and face the allegations head-on as early as possible. During his silence, the media space was taken over by negative conversations that buried him deeper into a quagmire from which he would struggle to resurface.

But, on second thoughts, it also seemed like he wanted to give time to more of his lovers to come out of the closet, as the list was rather long and slow in trickling out.

When he finally emerged, the golfer faced the world, admitted to wrongdoing and apologised. He seemed sincere in his apology and much of the world agreed to let bygones be bygones. His world warmed up again and so did goodwill. Today, there is no sign that people still remember that sad episode.

Tiger Woods and his wife were amicably divorced, he now has a new girlfriend, sponsors have returned in droves, and Woods is back to playing golf and earning big bucks.

Compared to Pallo Jordan’s experience, brand Tiger Woods managed to turn his revival into a happy ending.

Pallo Jordan: Grim picture for a man of substance

Pallo Jordan, on the other hand, remains in virtual hiding even months after his story was exposed. When it became public that he did not have the university degrees and, particularly, the PhD that had been associated with his name for decades, he took a swift dive and withdrew from public life. In a lengthy interview with City Press, Jordan explained how it came about that the title “Dr” was linked to his name in 1983 and, over time, gained a momentum of its own.

He also admitted to have allowed it to happen because the title opened many doors for him, enabling him to be received in places where he would otherwise not have been allowed. So, he played along and hoped that the truth would never see the light of day.
Many people who knew and respected Pallo Jordan were disappointed at the revelation but, significantly, they hoped it was not true because, PhD or no PhD, he remained an intellectual of substance to them.

He is intelligent, makes weighty contributions in discussions of politics and ethics, and is a brave, independent thinker who has never been afraid to challenge wrongdoing, even from within his beloved ANC. So, why stop now? Why not simply apologise and explain, as he has, then assure us all that he remains who he is?

The question is, what does Pallo Jordan want to be remembered for? With his last public act being his City Press interview and, as things stand, an exit from the public stage with his tail between his legs, it is a grim picture for the man of substance that he is. Left like this, it would be a total waste of a formidable intellectual brand built over time, even if falsely clothed.

Whoever advises Pallo Jordan should tell him that his impressive brand can still regain its glory, PhD or no PhD, and that he needs to return so that, at the very least, he can stage a better exit one day.

All brands, corporate and personal, falter at some stage along their journey. Well guided and managed, they can stand up again and shine.        
* Solly Moeng is brand reputation management adviser and CEO of strategic corporate communications consultancy DonValley. Views expressed are his own.

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