Thursday, March 13, 2008

Eliot Spitzer’s tarnished brand – can he remarket himself?

The Eliot Spitzer scandal will keep on mesmerizing us for some time to come.
For marketing and PR professionals, the big question is if and how Spitzer will reposition himself.
Over the years, he has been building his own brand as Mr. Clean and the Sheriff of Wall Street.
During his tenure as state attorney general he took on the insurance, mutual fund and securities industries, including a high profile and still unresolved case against former NYSE boss Dick Grasso.
He was even pegged to run for president in 2012.

Spitzer is not the first (and will not be the last) public figure that disgraced himself.
We all remember the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal – Clinton came out of that one almost unscratched, even finishing his term with a high approval rate.
Coby Bryant was able to save both his career and his marriage.
Barney Frank’s boyfriend ran a full-service prostitution ring out of Frank's Capitol Hill apartment – Frank not only stayed in congress, but heads the powerful house committee on financial services.
Inside trader and convicted white collar criminal Michael Milken is nowadays first and foremost know for his relentless fight against prostate cancer.
Hugh Grant’s career not only survived, but even prospered from his tryst with Ms. Brown.

The problem with Spitzer is first and foremost that he is not a likeable man.
This scandal hits him hard since he defined his own standards of right and wrong during his crime fighting years. The “holier-than-thou” have it tough, in contrast to libertines such as Clinton, Kennedy and Frank. So what should Spitzer do?

Phase 1 – the bomb dropped and he has to deal with the fallout.
Hiring a good publicist aka a crisis management expert is highly recommended.
He has to realize that his situation is bad, with powerful enemies out for his blood.

Phase 2 – he has to make a public statement on a respected TV show (60 minutes, Larry King Live) telling the world what a fool he has been and how very, very sorry he is.
Hugh Grant’s mea culpa on the Jay Leno show did him (and his career) a world of good.

Phase 3 – He needs to drop out of the public eye for a while.
Both Martha Stewart and Kate Moss did just that, which excellent results.
Let the next scandal take up front page space.

Phase 4 – It would be clever to get therapy for his addictive, compulsive behavior.
The public loves a rehab story, just look at President Bush.

Phase 5 – He could embrace religion, it’s a proven way to reposition oneself as an ethical person. The world just loves a repenting sinner.

Phase 6 – He needs to embrace a charity; it’s a proven way for redemption and atonement. Milken and Armstrong have a stellar reputation as crusaders, putting their scandals in the shadow. But it’s crucial to select one that makes sense, such as the fight against sexual slavery.

Phase 7 – Once he has repositioned himself, he can start his career in the private sector.

Spitzer has to realize that his life will never be the same again.
He needs an excellent sense of humor to weather this storm.
He will be referred to as “Client 9” and "Luv Guv" for years to come.
The best way to overcome this, is to write a tell-tale, tongue-in-cheek” book.
He has to make sure that the public has empathy for him.

Can he make it? It all depends if he follows the proven survival guide:
Public statement – teary confession – staunch support of wife & family – redemption.

Spitzer is a smart guy, and with the right advisors by his side, he will be able to remarket himself.

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