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Reputational Risk

Star-Studded Risk

Celebrity spokespersons can significantly elevate a brand, as long as they stay on their best behavior.
By: | October 1, 2016 • 6 min read

As the value of a celebrity or sports star’s contract with a major sponsor has increased in recent years, so it seems has the risk of them disgracing themselves in public.

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The benefits of having an A-list celebrity promote your brand can be enormous — boosting customer sales and raising your company’s profile. Many celebrities rake in multimillion dollar sums for being the face of top brands such as Nike or Coca-Cola.

However, such sponsorships are not without risk, particularly if a brand ambassador commits a disgraceful or criminal act. The consequences can be far-reaching. One small slip-up can turn into a PR disaster, ruining an entire advertising campaign and resulting in huge financial losses for the brand.

Rising NFL star Johnny Manziel, whose sponsors included Nike and McDonald’s, was dismissed halfway through his $8.2 million contract by the Cleveland Browns after breaking the NFL’s substance abuse policy, along with having the shadow of domestic violence charges hanging over him.

Earlier this year, tennis star Maria Sharapova was suspended for two years from the sport by the International Tennis Federation for taking a banned substance. Since testing positive, she has been dropped by most of her major sponsors.

Just weeks ago, Olympic swimming medalist Ryan Lochte was caught in a lie after trying to cover up bad behavior during the Olympic Games in Rio. Lochte lost four major sponsorships, including Speedo USA and Ralph Lauren.

Incidents like these are motivating more companies to seek out death, disability and disgrace insurance to protect themselves against such losses. The market, driven by Lloyd’s of London, has grown to $1 billion, according to industry estimates. Payouts are believed to range into the millions of dollars, sources said.

“There’s obviously massive benefit to using a celebrity to promote your product,” said Alan Norris, head of contingency at Talbot Underwriting. “But there’s also a huge potential downside that comes with it.”

In addition to advertisers and sponsors, financial institutions that provide loans and mortgages to sports stars are buying the coverage to mitigate losses when a player’s contract is terminated for criminal or distasteful behavior.

Public Expectations Tied to Value

The number of high-profile cases where a celebrity has become involved in a scandal or commits a disgraceful act has prompted worry among many advertisers and sponsors.

“Certainly more high-profile scenarios have grabbed the headlines in recent times,” said Mark Symons, contingency underwriter at Beazley, who has seen a 50 percent increase in business over the last five years.

On top of that, he said, social media and the ever-increasing immediacy of news tend to magnify even the smallest indiscretion, and companies have become acutely aware of that reality.

“Because of the internet, the speed at which a person’s behavior can destroy their reputation is almost instantaneous.” — Nir Kossovsky, CEO, Steel City Re

“Because of the internet, the speed at which a person’s behavior can destroy their reputation is almost instantaneous,” said Nir Kossovsky, CEO of Steel City Re, a provider of D&O reputation solutions.

“The attributes of that person are expected to reflect favorably upon a product or brand, so therefore the loss of value of those attributes will have a negative impact on that product,” he said.

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Kossovsky said that an individual’s reputation value was tied to six major behaviors — ethics, innovation, safety, sustainability, security and quality — and their failure to live up to public expectation would put both the sponsor’s and their own value at risk.

“In Sharapova’s case it was ethics — the drug enhancement issue,” he said. “It was the impairment of her value to her sponsor resulting from a failure to meet her public’s expectations in terms of her behavior.”

Lori Shaw, GAMES practice leader at Lockton’s Charlotte office, said that because reputation accounts for 25 percent of a company’s market value, choosing the right brand ambassador is critical.

“Companies need to be aware of what they are getting into when they take on a talent or celebrity to promote their brand, as well as protecting their balance sheet against the exposures that brings,” she said.

One of the biggest problems for insurers is determining what constitutes a disgraceful act and how to price that risk accordingly.

Broadly speaking, a death, disability and disgrace policy is triggered by “an offense against public taste or decency,” ranging from criminal acts to offensive statements.

Both Kossovsky and Symons noted that the loss of value often depended on that one individual’s expected behavior.

Celebrities with an existing reputation for being controversial are less of a risk than those with a squeaky clean image.

“Perversely, that means the most sensitive risk is often the individual with the best reputation because the impact of their actions can be felt far more disproportionately than someone who has a track record,” said Symons.

Quantifying Losses

Death, disability and disgrace insurance can be bought either as a stand-alone product or as part of a broader policy.

In addition to covering the costs associated with having to change or drop a campaign altogether, a standard policy can also be used to protect against a loss in sales linked to the death or disgrace of the individual concerned.

Alan Norris, head of contingency, Talbot Underwriting

Alan Norris, head of contingency, Talbot Underwriting

Often, however, it’s difficult to quantify the size of a potential loss in revenue or damage to the brand associated with an endorsement when things go wrong.

“With a death, disability and disgrace policy you can only really insure the actual costs associated with that campaign, but what you can’t insure against is the financial damage to the brand because it’s an intangible asset,” said Norris.

Shaw said that even before assessing the impact of a celebrity’s behavior on a company’s market value, you’ve got the upfront costs of scrapping the campaign or starting a new one.

Initial costs can include hiring a replacement spokesperson, removing a celebrity’s image from packaging, reshooting or reproducing new advertising material or reimbursing the money paid to secure the endorsement in the first place.

It can also extend to money spent on TV or radio commercials and advertising space.

Edel Ryan, partner and head of media and entertainment at JLT Specialty Ltd., said that the onus was on the policyholder to prove that the celebrity had committed a disgraceful act according to the contract.

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“The underwriter will start by looking at the morals clause within the contract and the celebrity’s past history to determine if the policy should be triggered,” said Lockton’s Shaw.

Some acts, though considered outrageous, might be excluded if they are deemed to be within the bounds of the celebrity’s normal behavior.

All things considered, the benefits of a celebrity sponsorship must be weighed against the potential pitfalls.

“It’s critical to have the right cover in place to protect against the loss of value to their product or service,” said Kossovsky. &

Alex Wright is a U.K.-based business journalist, who previously was deputy business editor at The Royal Gazette in Bermuda. You can reach him at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

High Net Worth

High Net Worth Clients Live in CAT Zones. Here’s What Their Resiliency Plan Should Include

Having a resiliency plan and practicing it can make all the difference in a disaster.
By: | September 14, 2018 • 7 min read

Packed with state-of-the-art electronics, priceless collections and high-end furnishings, and situated in scenic, often remote locations, the dwellings of high net worth individuals and families pose particular challenges when it comes to disaster resiliency. But help is on the way.

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Armed with loss data, innovative new programs, technological advances, and a growing army of niche service-providers aimed at addressing an astonishingly diverse set of risks, insurers are increasingly determined to not just insure against their high net worth clients’ losses, but to prevent them.

Insurers have long been proactive in risk mitigation, but increasingly, after the recent surge in wildfire and storm losses, insureds are now, too.

“Before, insurance was considered the only step in risk management. Now, our client families realize it is one of the many imperative steps in an effective risk management strategy,” said Laura Sherman, founding partner at Baldwin Krystyn Sherman Partners.

And especially in the high net worth space, preventing that loss is vastly preferable to a payout, for insurers and insureds alike.

“If insurers can preserve even one house that’s 10 or 20 or 40 million dollars … whatever they have spent in a year is money well spent. Plus they’ve saved this important asset for the client,” said Bruce Gendelman, chairman and founder Bruce Gendelman Insurance Services.

High Net Worth Vulnerabilities

Laura Sherman, founding partner, Baldwin Krystyn Sherman Partners

As the number and size of luxury homes built in vulnerable areas has increased, so has the frequency and magnitude of extreme weather events, including hurricanes, harsh cold and winter storms, and wildfires.

“There is a growing desire to inhabit this riskier terrain,” said Jason Metzger, SVP Risk Management, PURE group of insurance companies. “In the western states alone, a little over a million homes are highly vulnerable to wildfires because of their proximity to forests that are fuller of fuel than they have been in years past.”

Such homes are often filled with expensive artwork and collections, from fine wine to rare books to couture to automobiles, each presenting unique challenges. The homes themselves present other vulnerabilities.

“Larger, more sophisticated homes are bristling with more technology than ever,” said Stephen Poux, SVP and head of Risk Management Services and Loss Prevention for AIG’s Private Client Group.

“A lightning strike can trash every electronic in the home.”

Niche Service Providers

A variety of niche service providers are stepping forward to help.

Secure facilities provide hurricane-proof, wildfire-proof off-site storage for artwork, antiques, and all manner of collectibles for seasonal or rotating storage, as well as ahead of impending disasters.

Other companies help manage such collections — a substantial challenge anytime, but especially during a crisis.

“Knowing where it is, is a huge part of mitigating the risk,” said Eric Kahan, founder of Collector Systems, a cloud-based collection management company that allows collectors to monitor their collections during loans to museums, transit between homes, or evacuation to secure storage.

“Before, insurance was considered the only step in risk management. Now, our client families realize it is one of the many imperative steps in an effective risk management strategy.” — Laura Sherman, founding partner, Baldwin Krystyn Sherman Partners

Insurers also employ specialists in-house. AIG employs four art curators who advise clients on how to protect and preserve their art collections.

Perhaps the best known and most striking example of this kind of direct insurer involvement are the fire teams insurers retain or employ to monitor fires and even spray retardant or water on threatened properties.

High-Level Service for High Net Worth

All high net worth carriers have programs that leverage expertise, loss data, and relationships with vendors to help clients avoid and recover from losses, employing the highest levels of customer service to accomplish this as unobtrusively as possible.

“What allows you to do your job best is when you develop that relationship with a client, where it’s the same people that are interacting with them on every front for their risk management,” said Steve Bitterman, chief risk services officer for Vault Insurance.

Site visits are an essential first step, allowing insurers to assess risks, make recommendations to reduce them, and establish plans in the event of a disaster.

“When you’re in a catastrophic situation, it’s high stress, time is of the essence, and people forget things,” said Sherman. “Having a written plan in place is paramount to success.”

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Another important component is knowing who will execute that plan in homes that are often unoccupied.

Domestic staff may lack the knowledge or authority to protect the homeowner’s assets, and during a disaster may be distracted dealing with threats to their own homes and families. Adequate planning includes ensuring that whoever is responsible has the training and authority to execute the plan.

Evaluating New Technology

Insurers use technologies like GPS and satellite imagery to determine which homes are directly threatened by storms or wildfires. They also assess and vet technologies that can be implemented by homeowners, from impact glass to alarm and monitoring systems, to more obscure but potentially more important options.

AIG’s Poux recommends two types of vents that mitigate important, and unexpected risks.

“There’s a fantastic technology called Smart Vent, which allows water to flow in and out of the foundation,” Poux said. “… The weight of water outside a foundation can push a foundation wall in. If you equalize that water inside and out at the same level, you negate that.”

Another wildfire risk — embers getting sucked into the attic — is, according to Poux, “typically the greatest cause of the destruction of homes.” But, he said, “Special ember-resisting venting, like Brandguard Vents, can remove that exposure altogether.”

Building Smart

Many disaster resiliency technologies can be applied at any time, but often the cost is fractional if implemented during initial construction. AIG’s Smart Build is a free program for new or remodeled homes that evolved out of AIG’s construction insurance programs.

Previously available only to homes valued at $5 million and up, Smart Build recently expanded to include homes of $1 million and up. Roughly 100 homes are enrolled, with an average value of $13 million.

“In the high net worth space, sometimes it takes longer potentially to recover, simply because there are limited contractors available to do specialty work.” — Curt Goetsch, head of underwriting, Private Client Group, Ironshore

“We know what goes wrong in high net worth homes,” said Poux, citing AIG’s decades of loss data.

“We’re incenting our client and by proxy their builder, their architects and their broker, to give us a seat at the design table. … That enables us to help tweak the architectural plans in ways that are very easy to do with a pencil, as opposed to after a home is built.”

Poux cites a remote ranch property in Texas.

Curt Goetsch, head of underwriting, Private Client Group, Ironshore

“The client was rebuilding a home but also installing new roads and grading and driveways. … The property was very far from the fire department and there wasn’t any available water on the property.”

Poux’s team was able to recommend underground water storage tanks, something that would have been prohibitively expensive after construction.

“But if the ground is open and you’ve got heavy equipment, it’s a relatively minor additional expense.”

Homes that graduate from the Smart Build program may be eligible for preferred pricing due to their added resilience, Poux said.

Recovery from Loss

A major component of disaster resiliency is still recovery from loss, and preparation is key to the prompt service expected by homeowners paying six- or seven-figure premiums.

Before Irma, PURE sent contact information for pre-assigned claim adjusters to insureds in the storm’s direct path.

“In the high net worth space, sometimes it takes longer potentially to recover, simply because there are limited contractors available to do specialty work,” said Curt Goetsch, head of underwriting for Ironshore’s Private Client Group.

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“If you’ve got custom construction or imported materials in your house, you’re not going to go down the street and just find somebody that can do that kind of work, or has those materials in stock.”

In the wake of disaster, even basic services can be scarce.

“Our claims and risk management departments have to work together in advance of the storm,” said Bitterman, “to have contractors and restoration companies and tarp and board services that are going to respond to our company’s clients, that will commit resources to us.”

And while local agents’ connections can be invaluable, Goetsch sees insurers taking more of that responsibility from the agent, to at least get the claim started.

“When there is a disaster, the agency’s staff may have to deal with personal losses,” Goetsch said. &

Jon McGoran is a novelist and magazine editor based outside of Philadelphia. He can be reached at [email protected]