Thursday, 3 March 2011

Charlie Sheen: Raving Lunatic or Marketing Genius? / Andrew Hunt

From Twitter: Charlie Sheen and Rachel Oberlin, the first posting on Sheen's verified Twitter account.When you're a self-proclaimed "rock star from Mars" with "goddesses" living at your "Sober Valley Lodge," it only makes one wonder are you a raving lunatic or a marketing genius? 
While many are writing Charlie off as having a mental meltdown and suffering career suicide, he is actually asking for a 50% pay increase.
Is He Really Crazy?
 Sound crazy?  Maybe, maybe not.  Sheen’s hit show “Two and a Half Men” is the most-watched comedy in prime time averaging 15.2 million viewers.  It pulls $207,000 per ad.  Last season, it generated $155.1 million in CBS ad revenue according to Kantar Media.  Sheen earned $30 million last year on the show’s back end.  Bottom line: there’s plenty of money to be made with Sheen back on the small screen, and none if he’s not.
One could actually argue the show has never been more popular.  Sheen himself has never been in more demand.  Sheen's quotes, culled from interviews with NBC, ABC, TMZ, and CNN, are popping up as mock Facebook status updates and serving as fodder for various Twitter accounts featuring made-up tweets by the actor.  In a twist Tuesday evening, Sheen launched his own verified Twitter account with the handle @charliesheen.  His first tweet: "Winning..! Choose your vice.”  Attached was a photo of Sheen holding a bottle of what appears to be chocolate milk with his girlfriend Rachel Oberlin.
Whether you agree with him or not, it’s hard to argue that he has built his name and following to such a level that he demands attention.  Fans of the Sheen-isms (of which there are huge numbers) say he's doing something many people wish they could: say whatever he wants.  Social media provides the  opportunity for anyone to voice their opinion, Charlie Sheen is certainly doing that.
In this age of self-promotion, it is the people who push things to the extreme who are idolized and revered.  Take twitter queen Lady GaGa.  She is not afraid to push the limits on what is deemed normal and pop culture and social media has revered her for it.  She is the Madonna of this generation;   unlike train wreck veterans Britney Spears or Christina Aguilera, she did not have to make out with Madonna to get that title. Is Charlie so wrong?  I don’t mean in regards to his lunatic behavior but in regards to how to market yourself or your company.  I am not advocating these extreme comments. With such mass publication abilities those who have a “same old same old” corporate or personal message are getting drowned out..  You need to push things to the extreme, while still being genuine, in order to be heard.

So What Can You Learn From This?

For most of us, we will never be in Sheen’s position.  However, you may find yourself working for a client or a company who has had some bad publicity.  I recently had a question with a company with just such a problem.  They have a history of not-so-sterling treatment of customers (think “wham, bam thank-you ma’am”).  The company’s online reputation is not good (and that’s an understatement).  They asked if I could help them eliminate the negative results that are popping up about them in search results.
Many people will claim to help your company, if it's in this situation.  Usually, they'll try to have the review sites remove the offending opinions because they are inaccurate.  Sometimes that can work, but it helps a lot if those opinions truly are inaccurate.  In this case, they aren't.  If the charges are true and can't be removed, you need to get those results off the search page completely.
The best way to do that is to accentuate the positive, which is actually good advice whether you have a reputation problem or not.  However, I am not sure Charlie has quite picked out his “positive” points. Search engines aren't necessarily drawn to negative news—they show the sites that seem to have the most attention, which can often be negative sites, but not always.  You can use social media to create your own positive presence, but to do so, you need to have a story in which people are interested.
So, you can tell stories about the good things that your business does for the public and for your clients.  Moreover, you can put out lots of helpful information not aimed at selling something.   You might think of many such stories, but you might want to start with the most important one: " We haven’t valued our customers like we should have… we realize that's wrong and we have cleaned up our act."
But that's the hard part, right?  First off, you need to be willing to admit to what happened publicly (and more importantly) express a true desire to change (Please note, I don’t think Charlie Sheen is anywhere near this point yet).  If you're willing to be up front about that, it could definitely get some social media traction, but I've found it is the rare business with a checkered past that actually steps up to being open, honest, and willing to make amends for the past.  If your company just sees online reputation management as one more thing to manipulate to succeed, I'd recommend that you not even try, because it is more likely to backfire and make things even worse in the end.
But to me, the most important part is the hardest.  You have to truly want to change the way you do business.  If improving your online reputation is just another quick-fix manipulation tactic rather than a real "heart-felt change" for your business, it will inevitably backfire, and the resulting reviews  will make the ones you hate now pale in comparison.  Whatever short-run success you might glean by manipulating things will make it even harder to come back from when the backlash happens.   You can only fake sincerity once.
There are some great examples for Charlie of stars who have managed to turn around and make lots of money in the process by first admitting they truly have a problem.  Topping the list is, of course, Robert Downey Jr. His is perhaps the greatest Hollywood comeback story of all time.  But others include Mickey Rourke, Drew Barrymore and Michael Vick.  The biggest thing and the key to online brand management:   you have to truly want to change, which our self-proclaimed “rock star from Mars” is just not ready to do.
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