Reputation Risks of Celebrity Spokespeople

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    Actions of those who represent your organization can result in a need for crisis management

    Celebrities are commonly used as spokespeople for everything from sodas to cars to underwear, but they certainly make for risky investments. As a quick look at the TMZ website (warning, not always SFW) shows, celebrity seems to breed controversy in a large percentage of people who achieve it, as a recent Ameritrade article article by Quentin Fottrell pointed out when it documented six deals gone bad, including this example:

    Aflac hired comedian Gilbert Gottfried to provide the voice for the insurance company’s animated duck, but the jokes he tweeted about the Japanese earthquake last year fell flat — and cost him. After a contract that lasted 11 years — likely in the low-six figures per year, Tuchman says –Aflac terminated its contract.

    “Gilbert’s recent comments about the crisis in Japan were lacking in humor and certainly do not represent the thoughts and feelings of anyone at Aflac,” the company said. (Aflac declined to comment on the terms of the agreement.) Gottfried apologized “sincerely” for his tweets and regretted any offense caused. But it was too little, too late: Aflac gets most of its revenue from Japan and, as such, had no option but act swiftly, says Jonathan Bernstein, president of Bernstein Crisis Management.

    As Jonathan explained, organizations often must act quickly in order to distance themselves from suddenly-controversial celeb spokespeople like Gottfried. Sure, he apologized, but while it’s easy for Aflac to snag another mid-level celeb spokesperson with its six-figure budget, it would probably require a concentrated (and costly) crisis management campaign in order to rehab Gilbert’s image, something for which no employer wants to be responsible.

    For more resources, see the Free Management Library topic: Crisis Management

    [Jonathan Bernstein is president of Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc., an international crisis management consultancy, author of Manager’s Guide to Crisis Management and Keeping the Wolves at Bay – Media Training. Erik Bernstein is Social Media Manager for the firm, and also editor of its newsletter, Crisis Manager]