It’s only three, or is it two, days in to 2013 and we already have an excellent example of the crisis manager’s best friend and worst enemy, the self-induced crisis. This is the crisis that never should have happened, but for the client’s, umm, unsmartness.
Hey, it’s always something.
It seems that several chapters of Gilda’s Club — the national cancer support organization named after Saturday Night Live star Gilda Radner — changed their names to, wait for it, the Cancer Support Community.
OK, putting aside the pure vanilla of the name and the changing of a strong brand, these chapters’ boards had to know the publicity on this would be bad, bad, bad. Even if current generations didn’t know who Gilda Radner was, a quick Google and they’d probably find Roseanne Roseannadanna, Baba Wawa and Emily Litella living on in YouTube splendor.
And, when you have a brand associated as long as Gilda’s Club has with a standout person, why would you want to change it to something so uselessly generic? Usually ad agencies are hired to do the reverse — add punch to a brand, not extract it. Would Apple go for “the iNetwork,” or the NFL, “Football For Money?” How about Coke or Pepsi scrapping over which could first embrace “Sweet Brown Liquid,” for a brand?
But it’s an especially bad idea because Radner’s husband, beloved actor Gene Wilder, didn’t think much of it — and likely was not consulted in advance. Neither did Radner’s comedy writing partner, Alan Zweibel, who wrote bluntly that he was “appalled by the unadulterated idiocy” of some chapters changing their name. That’s gotta hurt.
That’s the point of a self-inflicted crisis. Your audience, which you likely never thought much about from the start, is out there angry and scratching its collective head. Cancer Support Community? Really? Just rolls right off the tongue.
When Radner died in 1989 from ovarian cancer, the Emmy Award winner became a symbol for the Baby Boom generation that even a comic who could bend over with laughter millions of people could die at 43. Her legacy is of support, fundraising for research and an enduring symbol of fighting that terrible disease.
The national leadership of Gilda’s Club said there was no mandate to change the name. Chapters in Chicago and New York affirmed keeping Gilda’s Club. After the objections of Wilder and Radner’s other friends, it would seem most will not change the name; and those who did should consider reversing the decision.
For that’s really the only way out of this mess. Take a time out, accept the excessive dumbness penalty, back up 15 yards, apologize and fire the guy re-making the sign outside the building.
In the end, all I can say is the name changers are lucky John Belushi’s not around.
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.