Nick Westergaard

Nick Westergaard

Let’s face it. Nobody wants to think about crisis communication. Imagining potential hazards that could befall your brand is an easy way to get your thoughts and emotions running amok. What if we have a high-profile customer service fail? What if someone from our organization is caught up in a scandal? For example, I doubt anyone at Netflix loved the idea of strategizing what to do if the star of one of their most-viewed series was revealed as a longtime sexual predator.

But that’s exactly what happened this past week when House of Cards star Kevin Spacey was accused of sexual assault by former costars and colleagues from both his past and present, several of whom were underage. To their credit, Netflix acted swiftly by first announcing that the House of Cards season in production would be the last and shortly thereafter severing ties with Spacey altogether, promising that there wouldn’t be any more Cards involving Spacey.

The actor’s behavior is reprehensible. I hesitate writing a “ripped-from-the-headlines” article about it. But, as our fast-paced digital world is heavy on spin and light on integrity, it’s worth examining what Netflix did and how your brand can learn from it.

Velocity and Speed

To be clear, Netflix wasn’t accused of anything. The brand could have stayed quiet. However, they chose to respond almost immediately — within 24 hours of the news first breaking. Someone at Netflix understood that velocity and intensity are the biggest changes in today’s media storms. News travels with intense speed and great force. The story breaks and, in many cases, continues to unravel rapidly before our eyes.

Historically, a “wait-and-see” approach could work as stories took longer to develop. It took a while to get to learn the truth. Plus, the truth could be suppressed as distractions were easier. The internet has changed all of this. Revelations about brands travel with gale force.

Getting out in front of the story early helped Netflix contain the damage. While they weren’t perpetrators, they did have a major relationship with Spacey. Had they stayed silent it wouldn’t have taken long for stories to surface questioning Netflix and what their silence meant. By responding swiftly and decisively, they contained the storm’s damage. They also protected their brand.

Protecting Your Brand, Preserving Your Culture

A recent Brand Keys study of top brands ranked by customer loyalty shows Netflix in fourth place, behind Amazon, Google, and Apple. Your brand is a powerful asset, especially in the digital age. More so when you’re a digital company that many interact with online only. The brand must be protected at all costs.

Many internally could have argued that House of Cards and Kevin Spacey helped Netflix blaze new trails in original programming. Shouldn’t that asset be protected as well? In the short-term, one could get clouded by this thinking but when you consider the bigger picture, Netflix has grown into their own as a media brand through other original shows like Orange is the New Black and Stranger Things. Like products and services, shows come and go. Your brand is forever.

You can also flip this the other way. Ultimately, your brand should distill who you are and what you stand for. Anyone who’s read about Netflix’s company practices and policies knows the brand values integrity and promoting a positive culture. That’s who they are and what they stand for. Beyond protecting these ideals, they can use them as a diving rod to help navigate decisions. Put through the lens of their “people-over-process” approach, enabling a predator isn’t compatible with the Netflix brand.

Your brand isn’t just something you protect. By distilling who you are and what you stand for, it should be a tool that helps you make the right decision on both good days and bad.



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