Reputation Management - A Brand Crisis

Flashback to November 18th, 2009 - Thierry Henry, the most famous Soccer player on the planet, appeared to cheat in a crucial knock-out game that qualified France for the World Cup finals, thus knocking out the ferociously passionate Irish team. Henry was a Gillette Global ambassador and I was leading Gillette Marketing Communications at the time. Soon after the final whistle, my phone was bombarded with calls from the media.

France vs Ireland November 18th, 2009

Brand & Reputation Crisis? Sounds ridiculous really… but it took approximately 2hrs before the global ‘Boycott Gillette Products’ movement was in full flow. Consumers in Ireland and soccer fans around the world who sympathized with the Irish team, wanted Henry punished — and one way to do it, was to get him fired from his lucrative Gillette contract.

Now, I’d never much appreciated the PR Crisis Management Training I had to go through on a quarterly basis, until this day, as I handled calls from every major news organization in Europe. My goal was clear — distance the brand from the issue, don’t throw Henry under the bus, and don’t waiver on his contract. In the end, the message was simple and consistent, and translated well across dozens of languages:

“It’s not our role to comment on the refereeing of a match and it will not affect our relationship with Thierry Henry” — WSJ, Sportune France, Bild Germany, The Times UK.

After a few days reiterating the message, the media saw we weren’t going to budge, and more importantly, we weren’t really to blame. Everything soon settled down, but throughout the crisis, I had Warren Buffets words permanently embedded in my head:

“It takes years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.”

A poorly managed response would have had serious repercussions. A misstep with Henry could negatively impact our ability to sign future athletes, and momentum behind the boycott movement would have had financial implications. I’d learned from other big brand PR disasters (ie. Domino’s YouTube)— stay true to the brand character and work to shut down the story quickly and honestly.

Whether you're a global billion-dollar brand or a small independent company, your business stands on its reputation. From publicity in the media to crucially influential online reviews (Google, Facebook, Amazon, Yelp etc.) — every company has to proactively build and guard their reputation as if it were the lifeblood of their business.

“Regard your good name as the richest jewel you can possibly be possessed of — for credit is like fire; when once you have kindled it you may easily preserve it, but if you once extinguish it, you will find it an arduous task to rekindle it again. The way to a good reputation is to endeavor to be what you desire to appear.” — Socrates

Learn more about reputation management today @