We’ve all heard it before, “You’re only as good as the people you hang out with”. The same holds true, not only for people, but companies as well. In the business world, your reputation is only as clean as the brands you associate with. Reputations, however, can shift. We have seen a very dramatic case over the past year as we have watched a once beloved “America’s Dad” become “repeat sexual predator”.
Normally, we would have included the word “alleged,” but in the court of public opinion, the burden of proof is much lower. In the light of his recent statements admitting to obtaining prescription drugs and giving them to unsuspecting women, Bill Cosby’s defenders have little left to hold on to. With this new information, it really doesn’t matter if the judicial system ever reaches a verdict, because companies have begun dropping any and all association with the comedian.
Until this week, a Bill Cosby statue stood in Disney’s Hollywood Studios theme park. Cosby’s bust stood among famous celebrities such as Lucille Ball and Oprah Winfrey in the Television Academy Hall of Fame. As a large company whose reputation relies on an association with family values and entertainment, the Walt Disney Company acknowledged that their brand could not be associated with conflicting values. Disney correctly recognized that by allowing his bust to stay, they were sending the message that Disney turns a blind eye to Cosby’s predatory behavior.
The decision to drop relationships, sponsorships or any other associations with celebrities can be hard, especially if there are personal connections, but the decision must be made. When celebrities associated with your brand get into real trouble, they can take your reputation down with them.
To sit and wait for a court decision or for something to “blow over” could be the end of your career. It’s important to immediately cut all ties and show that your company is dedicated to the values you hold and that a celebrity’s actions do not reflect on your own.
Smart move, Disney.