#36 – What can you do if your company faces its own reputation House of Cards?

#36 – What can you do if your company faces its own reputation House of Cards?


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Kevin Spacey’s reputation is in tatters, what reputation lessons can you learn from this scandal?

Each week, Erin Jones and I take a look at the most interesting reputation management stories, answer your questions, and share valuable ORM tactics. In this week’s episode:

  • What happens when a once perfect reputation collapses like a House of Cards? We look at some reputation lessons beyond the Usual Suspects.

If you have a question you would like us to tackle, please leave a comment below or on my Facebook Page.

Transcript (forgive us for any typos):

Andy Beal:                  We’re back with another episode, and we’re going to do something a little bit different this week. Instead of picking two, three, or four stories that are in the news and giving you a lesson from each one, we’re going to focus on something that’s probably the biggest story that’s out there right now, and that is the allegations against Kevin Spacey. Now, we all think this is heinous if it’s true. Nobody can give him a pass on this because it was 30 years ago, the actor that’s making the claim of sexual assault was just 14 years old at the time. Normally, we would sit back and wait, and say, hey, let’s see how this plays out because there’s always two sides to the story, and this is just alleged. However, there’s more than one person that’s come forward now. Whenever you’ve got more than one person, it’s hard to stick to the innocent until proven guilty. The odds of that are insurmountable.

We’re going to take a look at this story, but what Erin and I are going to do is break it down into three different areas and give you some of our thoughts and reflections and tips based these different areas that are connected to this story.

The first one is really that his apology fell flat because instead of just coming out with a flat out apology, he tried to somewhat deflect the incident by also coming out as a gay man. That didn’t sit too well with anybody, let alone the LGBT community, did it, Erin?

Erin Jones:                  No. The whole thing is offensive and really ridiculous. Thinking that an announcement like that would completely overshadow the fact that he has been victimizing people for the better part of 20, 30 years from what’s coming out right now.

Andy Beal:                  Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. If you try to make an apology with mitigating circumstances, they need to be relevant to what happened and not used as a deflection. Him preying on someone that was an underaged actor, it doesn’t matter whether he was a gay man or not. That doesn’t change anything, but it was almost as if he was trying to deflect it by saying, but here’s my circumstances. I wonder as well if he was just trying to buy a little bit of compassion by coming out as a gay person, and maybe trying to hide under that umbrella, that, hey, I’m a gay man, and almost hoping he would get some support from that. In fact, it was just even more offensive because the LGBT community is really sensitive to the stereotype that gay men, for example, are also sexual predators. That’s basically what he was reinforcing was that stereotype.

Erin Jones:                  Absolutely. It’s just horrible that he did that. The other thing that really from a reputation standpoint is frustrating is at the beginning, his apology was pretty good. He came out. He was sincerely apologetic. He claims to not remember it, which could go either way, but saying that he was sorry for causing someone to have feelings that carried for that many years, and apologizing for the effect it took on this person. It could have been an impactful apology if it hadn’t been followed up by but here’s why I’m the victim too, and then all of these other allegations coming out afterwards. He had to have known this was going to happen.

Andy Beal:                  Yeah. If can’t uncategorically deny the accusations, you need to uncategorically apologize, and he didn’t do that. Like you said, he started off, and you thought you were going to get this good apology. Even though he inserted the whole I don’t remember this, well, maybe if you didn’t get so drunk, which is another stain on your personality, to be this drunkard that does this and tries to hide behind, hey, I was drunk, and I don’t remember it. Then maybe you wouldn’t get into the situation. It was just, I don’t know. I think at this point as well, we talked about this in the past, we get these high profile people that have these reputation crisis. I don’t know. They sit almost in their ivory tower and apologize, but don’t really show any effort to meet with the person face to face, to demonstrate sincerity or compassion to show that there’s a sincere desire to make this right and to change behavior.

I feel, almost, like we’re getting to point now where maybe they’ve been listening to us so much to the point where they just go through a checklist of how to apologize, and try to be as sincere as possible and use the right words, but I’m not getting a sense from a lot of these apologies that these people are doing anything more than paying lip service.

Erin Jones:                  No, it feels very narcissistic, which tends to go with the stature and power of the film industry. He’s definitely not the only person in the news right now for similar allegations. It does, it seems like they say, okay, I said I’m sorry, so let’s move forward now.

Andy Beal:                  It reminds me of something I’ve been saying for a long time, is that when you take a shortcut, make a mistake, do something wrong and you try to cover it up. Eventually, a big lie is going to get a big reveal. You can only hide this for so long, so I think that we’re going to see a lot more of these allegations. I think I even saw one today that was an allegation against Dustin Hoffman, which I think we’re now in a situation where it’s easy to say, oh, everybody’s just cashing in and just capitalizing on this and doing a me too kind of thing.

Interesting take on that is it takes a lot of courage for these people to come forward, especially in the Hollywood industry, because they don’t want to feel the pressure of their peers and whatever. You’ve got to believe these statements that these are real, but I think we’re going to see an era where, I think, more and more people are going to feel, hey, this is not right. I’m going to come forward, share my story. Hopefully, the hate for the people that had to go through this, but at some point we’ll get to the stage where just these actors or anybody in a high profile situation will realize that this is just not right, and you can’t cover this up.

Erin Jones:                  Right. I think that the growth of social media, and the voice that is has given, quote, unquote, to the little guy is really going to provide some more avenues for things like this, taking the us versus them out of it. They’re not going to be able to silence things as quickly, and people do have more of a voice. It seems like they’re using that voice a little bit more now.

Andy Beal:                  Yeah. The only thing, as well … I use the only thing a lot, but … The one things I worry about as well, is social media tends to seem to be somewhat superficial in the offense that we take. My question is, are we actually going to stop watching Kevin Spacey movies? Are we going to boycott his TV shows? Are we going to complain to the companies that use him in their TV commercials? Or is this just going to blow over and we’re not actually going to do anything about it? That’s my concern. Cause I feel like social media is very quick to attack. We get these hash tag campaigns going, but then I feel like we just don’t want to make the effort to see that there’s a real change. That’s my concern.

Erin Jones:                  I think that a lot of the responsibility for this one is going to have to be put on the advertisers and the networks.

Andy Beal:                  Yeah.

Erin Jones:                  If they don’t hire him, then people will see that Hollywood is taking this seriously. I think people want a bigger response than just a specific actor being avoided. I think people want to see that producers aren’t hiring these people, or the producers that are doing these things aren’t getting the jobs. Shows that these people are on are switching them out. I know the TV This Is Us had a Kevin Spacey reference in the show this week, and they actually took it out.

Andy Beal:                  Oh. Wow.

Well, on that note Netflix, when they got wind of this and saw this, they announced initially that the sixth season of House of Cards would be the last one, and that they were going to cancel the show after the sixth season aired. They took a lot of heat for this non-action action, because it appeared, at least to me, that they valued the investment they had made into the series and into Kevin Spacey more than they looked at what the hit was going to be against their reputation. I mean, saying that you’re going … I can almost hear them. We’re going to take a stand, and we’re going to cancel this show after it’s aired and we’ve made our money back from it.

Erin Jones:                  I think they also wanted to see his character, Frank Underwood, on the show has some very similar behavior patterns. Maybe they were going, hey, is this life imitating art going to get us even better ratings, or should we do the quote, unquote right thing and shut this down?

Andy Beal:                  Wow. They ended up, 24 hours later, announcing it’s actually going to be suspended. In heart, it reads Netflix have decided to suspend of The House of Cards season six until further notice to give us time to review the current situation and address any concerns of our cast and crew. Now, that should have been their first announcement, don’t you think?

Erin Jones:                  I absolutely think so. Especially since after this had a little bit of time to pick up steam, it was revealed that the show was going to end at the end of the season anyways.

Andy Beal:                  Yeah.

Erin Jones:                  They really could have gotten ahead of this, and used it as a really good platform to say this is wrong. We don’t agree, and say the show was set to end at the end of this season, but we’re going to cut it off now.

Andy Beal:                  Yeah.

Erin Jones:                  Something.

Andy Beal:                  Yeah. I get it hurts, right? Our third thing we want to talk about is if you’ve got a spokesperson or a high profile individual at your company that has scandal, it hurts when this happens, but their reputation crisis becomes your reputation crisis. I mean, you rode the good times, right. You had the benefit of being associated with this individual when they were getting positive press and in the spotlight for positive things. You got all of the benefits, but you can’t be insulated from the hit that they’re going to take their reputation. This has become as much as Netflix’s crises Kevin Spacey’s, and, I think, for a company that hires any kind of … whether it’s a micro-influencer on Instagram or an A-lister, if they have a reputation attack, it’s as much as your issue as it is theirs.

Erin Jones:                  Absolutely. Something that’s scary about this is reputation has such a far reaching effect that people’s reputations get affected by association. Not just the network, his coworkers, people who have given him positive reviews or spoken highly of him in the press that know him on a personal level. People are going to be side eying all of them from here on out, going, did you know this was going on, and you just let it gloss over because he was such a feather in your cap? How far can this ripple out?

Andy Beal:                  Yeah. This is personally happened to me to some degree. For those that are familiar or have read my first book, Radically Transparent, you may not remember that Robert Scoble wrote our forward. At the time, he was a huge influencer. He’d just written a book, Naked Conversations, and I had interacted with him a lot online, met him a couple of times face to face. We were delighted to have him write the forward, but I haven’t spoken to him in 5, 6 years and had no idea what these allegation or this behavior. Now I’m thinking to myself, this reflect well on Radically Transparent even though the book is not even in a mass production anymore. It’s on demand, print press thing. I’ve reached out the Wiley and said, hey, what can we do to remove the forward, because I just don’t feel comfortable having my name associated with Robert’s. He’s got his scandal to figure out and deal with. I don’t want it to look like that I’m still endorsing that behavior by selling a book that has his forward. I’m going through this on personal basis.

Erin Jones:                  Then, moving forward, would you recommend someone in a similar situation get a new forward written for new reprints of the book? What are you thinking you’ll do to … because it’s a great book. You don’t want to tarnish your book and your name. I think that your name is pretty well protected from the fact that you don’t associate with those kinds of behaviors or people who do, but the book now has his name stamped right in the front of it.

Andy Beal:                  From my perspective, not every single book needs to have a forward, anyway. It’s not like I’m going to take a huge hit. The book hardly sells anything anymore, so there’s not a massive … I don’t want to make it seem like I’m going to by dying on sacrificial deal here financially. For me, I would like … I’ve asked Wiley, I’ve implied what I would like to see is just have the forward removed. It wouldn’t take much effort to remove his name the front cover, and just to remove the forward altogether. That would be the simplest approach. Now, if it was Repped, my latest book, then I would probably look to use this as an opportunity to perhaps do a second edition of the book. Update it a little bit, and go out and get somebody new to write the forward for the second edition, and just completely obliterate the first edition.

It’s a little different situation for me because, yes, I was riding on the coattails of Scoble at the time, but there was no money paid. It wasn’t like there was a big co-branding effort there. When someone asks you to write a forward, you do so just because it’s what’s done in the world of publishing. Somebody asks you, you ask somebody else. We scratch each other’s back. I don’t think it’s a big huge deal just to have it removed. Again, these are all alleged situations right now. But as I said, he had a similar apology where it was try to twist and redefine sexual harassment, and try to somewhat undermine the character of the women making the allegations.

It reminds me of a court case actually, just to waffle on just few more minutes. I was on jury selection, and there was a man accused of pointing a gun at his wife. I was asked, among other potential jurors, would I be influenced by the fact that the husband would not take the stand to defend himself? I was, heck, yeah, I’d be influenced by that. If you can not stand there, under oath, and say that this is not true, and you never did this, I’m going to question the facts, and really believe that you really did do it. You just don’t want to incriminate yourself. With any kind of reputation crisis, if you can not come out and just uncategorically deny it. Instead, you come out and try to twist things around and do a semi-apology, then you’re basically admitting that there’s some evidence, some truth, to what’s being alleged.

Erin Jones:                  I think, not only are you admitting it, you’re really making me question your integrity further.

Andy Beal:                  Right.

Erin Jones:                  It’s one thing to say, yeah, I really screwed up here, and I’m going to do what I can to make it right. It’s a completely different thing to go, well, it was their fault too.

Andy Beal:                  Yeah. Yeah. I think different … Not all scandals are the same. There might be something where it’s just more of a black mark that is not a huge scandal. Maybe you monitor social media, see how far spread the scandal is. Let’s say a celebrity was late filing their tax return, but they did file it and paid the penalty. Yeah. Maybe not something necessarily to fire the person over or to distance yourself, but the more heinous the allegation, the swifter and more decisive the action you need to take. You need to maybe even think ahead. If you’re going to hire somebody as a spokesperson or an influencer, to have some dismissal clause due to any kind of scandal or disparagement that could affect you, so that you can get out of that quickly.

Erin Jones:                  I think it also depends on what industry you’re in and who’s representing you. Because if I hear about an actor whose not paying their taxes, I’m probably going to roll my eyes and move on. If I have a respected financial advisor that I take advice from, and I find out that they’re not managing their money well, it may change my level of doing business with them. Not only being aware of your reputation, but being aware of your audience.

Andy Beal:                  Right. It’s absolutely try. This goes back to an authentic reputation. If you have a spokesperson that let’s say they drink a lot and cuss a lot, but you sell whiskey, then, hey, that may actually play into the brand that you’re trying build. You’ve got to consider, like you said, Erin, you’ve got to take into perspective as to what we’re talking about here. What might be a scandal in one industry, wouldn’t be a scandal in another. You do have to assess this, but for the most part, you can not be seen, even perceived to be seen, to be putting your profits ahead of everything else. In fact, it will backfire because you’ll think, and maybe Netflix was thinking, hey, we’ve got a lot of money invested in this sixth season, so let’s just see it out, then cancel it. Finally, hopefully, someone came to the realization, that no, actually, if we go through with this, there’s going to be boycotts. There’s going to be news written about this all the time, and we’re going to take a hit to the bottom line. We need to cut our losses and cancel it now. Like I said, I think their second announcement should have been their first announcement.

Maybe they were just too quick to come out and make a statement because they felt like they needed to act quickly. I don’t think, necessarily, anybody at that point was attacking the studios and the advertisers. They were just still in shock and attacking Kevin Spacey and letting it play out. Now when the additional allegations come out, when they came out shortly after, that would have really sealed it that, hey, we need to make this announcement and cancel this show. Hindsight’s 20/20, I guess.

Erin Jones:                  Every time.

Andy Beal:                  Alright, guys. Thanks for tuning in. Something a little bit different. Hope you’ve enjoyed it. If there’s any questions or follow up from this, please go to the Facebook page Andy Beal ORM, leave us a comment there, or just go to AndyBeal.com, find any of the podcasts posts. You can always leave a question whether it’s about this particular episode, or whether you’ve got a question about any other reputation issue for you or quote, unquote a friend, we’d be happy to discuss that.

Erin, as always, I enjoy chatting with you.

Erin Jones:                  Thank you. I enjoyed being here.

Andy Beal:                  Thank you guys for listening. We’ll hope you’ll catch us again next time. Thank a lot and bye-bye.

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