Sunday night he got drunk, pulled a fire alarm, tussled with a Nashville hotel guest and ended up in the ER with a black eye after a fence moved too quickly for him to avoid it. He’s 26 and probably looking at the end of some lucrative sponsorships. And that’s surely motivation to publicly apologize on Facebook.
But it’s smart beyond that. It’s good crisis management.
Since snowboarding and jumping 30 feet skyward off a half-pipe doesn’t sell a lot of tickets, especially with global warming, his success is measured in endorsements, ads and reputation. He is, literally, his own brand.
According to his Wiki page, he’s been sponsored since he was seven. Today sponsors include, Burton Snowboards, Oakley, Inc., Birdhouse Skateboards, Park City Mountain Resort, Target Corp., Red Bull, Ubisoft, Adio and Hewlett-Packard. White also has his own character on the game Shaun Palmer’s Pro Snowboarder as well as the video game Shaun White Snowboarding and the upcoming video game Shaun White Skateboarding. In 2009, Forbes magazine estimated that he had earned $9 million from his endorsements in 2008. The fans of that list might actually like that he has a dark side.
But now he crapped the bed. His bed.
If, however, you look through the comments on his FB page, they are overwhelmingly favorable and inform and confirm what we teach at EMA: That if you apologize and mean it, most people will forgive a stupid, youthful, out-of-character, bad decision.
If, too, you only have to ask once. Repeat bad behavior [Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton, Robert Downey Jr.] gets you a ticket to rehab and perp walks outside the Los Angeles County Courthouse.
But White has had a good record, worked with the right charities, kept his nose publicly clean. People are willing to forgive because they think they know the public persona. They’ve seen him interviewed and judged him before and after winning Olympic gold medals. They’ve been aware of his career. He comes off as a decent person.
He’s smart to apologize, though I’m not sure that people care that he was whooping it up with “family.” That almost makes his miscues worse, not better. [“If he does this with mom and dad and cousin Judy, what’s he like when he’s out at Aspen with the X-Games posse?”]
We’d have counselled him to be a little more direct and take responsibility more cleanly. I doubt he can blame his uncles for doing shooters with him. Man up.
Nonetheless, for the myriad celebrities out there who hide behind publicists and dark glasses, this is a smart move by a guy who probably will and should survive a single bad night.
As long as it’s only one bad night.
The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the Northeast and Southeast. Learn more about EMA at http://www.mower.com. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.