Falling

Let’s face it, falling isn’t pretty. And when it’s from a great height it can have some devastating consequences:

  • First, there’s the obvious. Bruises, broken bones, and if you’re really unlucky, maybe even some internal damage
  • Second, should you actually be able to stand up and walk away, there’s the aftershock. Did that really just happen to me? Did anyone see it?
  • Third, should you still be alive, there’s a protracted recovery period.

And that recovery period depends on two things: how hard the impact was (physical) and how many people witnessed it (psychological).

This week, we’ve seen two massive falls. Jimmy Savile and Lance Armstrong. One a once popular DJ, TV presenter and charity activist; the other a man who defeated all the odds to become one of the greatest cyclists of our era, a paragon of what ‘fighter’ looks like. Or so we thought.

They were household names just a few weeks ago, held in affection or awe. They are now being talked about in very different tones. And whatever our own personal thoughts, the general accepted view of these men was one of reverence. Personal brands that were, forgive my prose, untouchable.

While I’m hearing people say they’re not so surprised, I still think there’s an element of shock that the revelations have been so, well, on such an industrial scale. In both cases.  Why do we, passive viewers mostly, feel a bit stupefied? It’s simple. We believed them. We thought they were authentic. I know this feels uncomfortable – but we (mostly) trusted them.

Brands are built entirely on behaviours and actions following a promise. The difference between personal and corporate brands is human behaviour. We, as humans, can relate to people. Of course, we still want to relate to ‘things’ (and boy, do those corporate women and men try to help us!) but it’s just not in our human nature to connect on an emotional level with a product. This is what makes the personal brand fall even harder. It’s why the column inches, the broadcast air time, the social media conversations are even bigger.

While each must yet be properly judged, I fear the damage is done. How do you recover from such a monumental impact. For Jimmy Savile, we might argue that it doesn’t even matter.  He’s dead. So what? Well, indeed. But there is the question of his family and how they feel about his legacy. As for Lance Armstrong? I’m interested in what the legal rebuttal hopes to achieve. Short term, it’s about saving his reputation but long term? Experience tells me that you can’t argue with facts – and reputation management must take this into account. The risk of not doing so ends in far greater toxicity.

And sometimes, if it’s appropriate, it’s about saying sorry. Why? Because we’re human beings. Because we talk to each other, because we can reason and because we can feel. Because we can assimilate evidence and reach logical conclusions from it.

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