Build a Brand to Withstand Controversy

Posted September 10, 2012 by Marcy Twete in Building Your Brand

Branding is tricky, we all know this. Sure, McDonald’s wants to pump you full of commercials telling you they’re committed to healthy living. But you know the truth. We all do. Of course Talbot’s wants you to believe they’re a brand for all women, but you know your mom is more likely to wear their clothing than you are. But these brands are working on their angles, their pitches, and their logos. What happens when a brand, even a strong one, faces controversy.

That’s exactly what’s happened recently to the Lance Armstrong Foundation – better known as Livestrong. Since 2001, this organization has built an internationally recognizable brand. We all know they started the snappy plastic bracelet trend, and whether you’re wearing a purple one or a pink one today, the yellow Livestrong bracelet started it all.

Inc. recently spoke with Livestrong CEO Doug Ulman and asked him how the organization would cope with the controversy surrounding Lance Armstrong’s steroid charges. His insights are powerful.

What have you learned about dealing with controversy?
It’s easy to be distracted. But you have to stay mission-driven and mission-focused. And that’s what we do. We talk about the controversy all the time, internally and with our supporters. But–and it sounds sort of cliché maybe–there are people all over the world that are counting on us, and expecting us to help them. If we ever lose sight of that we’ll lose our way.  Everything else will be taken care of by itself.

Doug Ulman is exactly right. Brands aren’t about cleaning up PR messes. They’re about missions. They’re about feelings. They’re about making you connect with a company on a stronger and deeper level.

So how can you weather controversy when building your own brand?

  • Focus on your mission. What do you really want out of your career? Will this snaffu really make a difference in whether or not you get there?
  • Don’t avoid, confront. If there is controversy on your resume or in your life, trying to hide it will create more controversy. Deal with it head on, answer questions honestly, and be authentic in your approach.
  • Create allies. When you’re going through something controversial, you’ll need your friends and family to stand beside you. Lance Armstrong’s Foundation is standing tall because his supporters, their CEO, and employees turned toward him, not away from him. Surround yourself with people who will go into the fight with you.

About the Author

Marcy Twete

Marcy Twete is a career fundraiser turned corporate responsibility executive, a career and networking expert and the author of the book "You Know Everybody! A Career Girl’s Guide to Building a Network That Works."