Same, But Different – Personal and Company Brands

The resignation yesterday of Kevin Roberts, Chairman of advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi due to his comments on gender parity in his interview with Business Insider is seemingly the neatest of studies on one of the most talked about branding issues of our time.

Kevin Roberts says he ‘failed exceptionally fast’ with comments on women
Kevin Roberts says he ‘failed exceptionally fast’ with comments on women

As reported in the Financial Times (subscription required), he’s a self-styled provocateur and evangelist of harnessing earned media by adapting to the world of ‘Vuca’ – the world full of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity by making their marketing fiercer, stronger and less predictable. It’s a nice piece of thinking in my opinion.

The journalist, John Gapper, warns that personal brands (like Mr Robert’s) behave differently from brands of organisations as they tend to have safety nets of executives that can be fired or product news to dilute a toxic issue.

However, what the article stops short of concluding is that even though personal brands can fail faster (using Mr Roberts’ apologetic rhetoric), personal brands can also draw a line and move on quicker. In addition, those dependable products which can distract from an issue, can also be an ember which will never let the issue die e.g. VW emissions scandal.

And what about those brands who are entwined with the individuals in and around them like Byron Burger – how does a brand born of the community around it, reconcile issues centred around its trustworthiness of those people e.g. its recent illegal immigrant staff swoop / manipulation?

The difference between personal and organisational brands are not worlds apart. There are different tolerances, timelines and stakes – but there is no containment. In fact, as John Gapper points out, it was probably the interplay between Mr Roberts’ comments and his client’s revenue being put at risk that has propelled him to resign.

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