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Schwarzenegger And The Fragility Of A Personal Brand

I’m never surprised when famous people behave badly. They’re only human after all, and their behavior is usually not any different from the population at large. (Watch my video on this topic here.)

What continues to amaze me, however, is how oblivious they become to the prospect of getting caught and the tremendous damage this ignorance can do to a personal brand.I want to focus on Arnold Schwarzenegger, who admitted to fathering a child of a member of his household staff 14 years ago and the method by which he came clean.

In order to run for Governor of CA, Schwarzenegger, with the help of powerful friends and his own family, successfully beat back allegations that he had habitually sexually harassed women throughout his acting career. In doing so, he formed a bond and a trust with the public, who were led to believe he was that double-threat, a successful business person AND loyal family man. (We insist our politicians have “family values.”)

I would argue that this trust was broken not so much by the behavior itself, but by the decision he made to keep the secret from the very people it would impact most–his wife and children–until he left office–that is until it was good and convenient for him.

All those “truths,” just lies! Poof goes the brand!

We can all learn from watching these types of stories unfold, even if we’re not famous.

First, if you’re in a business and something goes wrong, the media will converge. You have to be ready. Have a plan in place.

Second, do it quickly. Every minute you remain silent is a minute the media and the public will fill in the empty space with their OWN version of the truth. And it’s difficult to stop that train once it gets rolling.

Third, Be appropriately apologetic. Apology is a powerful way to defuse a conflict. People have an amazing capacity for forgiveness if they think they’re being dealt with forthrightly. If you try to dissemble, explain, obfuscate, or lie, it will only get worse.

Now, the good thing about the 24/7 media cycle is that these things get brushed aside by other, more important, or at least, more salacious stories. So, I suspect that Arnold will be back in the good graces of the movie-going public in short order.

But look at the damage he left behind. “Brand Arnold” as the good father, the loyal husband, and tell-it-like-it-is politician is gone forever.

Any doubts? See Tiger Woods.

Copyright 2011 Ruth Sherman. All Rights Reserved.

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