Column: Risk Management

A Brand, Cracked but Intact

By: | December 1, 2013

Joanna Makomaski is a specialist in innovative enterprise risk management methods and implementation techniques. She can be reached at [email protected].

Rob Ford, the mayor of Toronto, is having issues. His situation raises an interesting point about appearances versus actions and how they affect reputation and job performance. Apart from Ford’s foibles, we know that public figures have a tough life. Politicians, celebrities, athletes and business leaders are examined, analyzed, hailed and demonized — sometimes all on the same day.  Every image, every statement, every gesture is under a microscope every day. Any sudden change in behavior could be interpreted positively or negatively. A disheveled appearance may give us less confidence in that person’s ability to run a government, let alone run their own life.

With the plethora of media websites, social media and 24-hour news channels, everyone in the public eye is under continuous scrutiny. It is a daunting tightrope to walk, for sure. Teetering and risking their personal reputations and brand daily. I am amazed so few implode under such pressure.

But perhaps all of the above is what led Ford to crack, if you’ll pardon the double entendre. In early November, he admitted to smoking crack cocaine. This comes after a long cat-and-mouse game with the press and police. Initially, he adamantly denied doing so, but in the end he was seen on video smoking crack cocaine. Throughout the whole media carnival, he’s been the butt of endless jokes on late-night talk shows around the world.

Ford’s missteps don’t end with crack-cocaine use. In three short years, he was fired as a public high school football coach because he brought disgrace to the school. He has been asked to leave public events for being excessively drunk. He was caught in his office at city hall with a bottle of alcohol, visibly intoxicated.  And now, he admits publicly that he has smoked crack cocaine.

Yet, as a city councilor, he defended the honor of his constituents. He railed against the fiscally irresponsible. He pounded his fist to get the attention of the media to bring the mismanagement of the city to light. He championed the over-taxed electorate. In those moments, he appeared to be a genuine defender of the taxpayer.

Through all of these more recent events, he maintains a steady approval rating as mayor. He has held that he has been true to his core values and takes his duties as mayor seriously.

Should we be concerned then? Perhaps we should ignore his missteps and trust that — at his core — he means well. Perhaps he struggled with addiction even before he became mayor. Perhaps he knows he is troubled. If so, I hope he gets the counseling and support he truly needs.

But the question stands, does tripping over yourself mean that you are not adhering to your core values? Is the only risk mitigation to walk-the-talk in a saint-like manner in order for people to trust your value system?

If we think of corporate brands, your brand should define what your organization stands for. Your brand understands what an organization is, not what the organization does. By being yourself, you are true to your core values.

But what if being yourself involves behaviors that are not perfect? What impact does this have on management of your image and to what end result?

There is a delta between Ford’s approval rating and what we would expect would happen to the approval ratings of a public figure caught smoking crack.

Perhaps there is something to note here in our study of reputational risk.

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