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Strive for brand success, but only with honor

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In the past, I have written from my catbird seat in bucolic State College, Pa., about the lack of a crisis communication planning at Penn State, in the wake of the crisis that unfolded late last year involving charges of child sex abuse. A quick Google search reveals that I was not the only one who thought the university’s lack of planning was absolutely astonishing.

Nonetheless, several BtoB readers believed I was somehow an apologist for the university or head football coach Joe Paterno. I assure you that I have nothing at stake in this affair (except perhaps the real estate value of my house).

My position is simply that everyone should gather the facts and let the adjudication process play out before passing judgment. And my only point was that we could all learn a lesson from the unnecessary beat-down that the Penn State administration and board of trustees inflicted on its own brand.

Well, events continue to unfold. Former coach Jerry Sandusky, judged guilty of child abuse, is in prison. But as I write this, the uncivil war being waged in the media has become brutal. The report by former federal judge and FBI Director Louis J. Freeh was released last week, pointing fingers because that’s what he was paid to do.

For those unfamiliar with Paterno, he most certainly was not your stereotypical "dumb jock." A literature degree from Brown University and a passion for Shakespeare, opera and the classical myths combined to instill in him a healthy respect for how fate deals with tragic heroes. He once said, "Losing a game is heartbreaking. Losing your sense of excellence or worth is a tragedy."

You see, the tragic hero always falls from a great height. And the greater the hero, the harder and farther the fall. Even when those in power know the dangers of hubris they cannot escape the will of fate. In short, what goes up must come down.

We in marketing are not immune from this. It is our business to build our brand, a task made easier when we work for a company in which we truly believe. Still, we must build our brands with humility because, inevitably, we cannot escape the will of fate. As Coach Paterno said, "Success without honor is an unseasoned dish; it will satisfy your hunger, but it won't taste good."

Joe Paterno also is credited as the first to say, "The name on the front of the jersey is more important than the name on the back of the jersey." Ironically Penn State doesn’t have names on either side of its football jerseys. It’s terrible marketing—dare I call it "anti-marketing?"—but great humility. Still, fate will have its way and humility or not, all great things must fall.

Be judgmental if you will, after reading the Freeh report, but learn a lesson from all of this: Look to your own brand and always strive for "success with honor."

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