Posts Taged branding

The CEO’s role in a brand crisis

brand crisis ceo

In the middle of a crisis for your brand, who do you want facing the public and weathering the storm? The instinctual answer might be your CEO. However, even in the midst of an exceptionally terrible time for your brand, someone other than your CEO could be a better option to help communicate with the public. There are a variety of factors to consider, and the planning for these scenarios should happen long before a crisis occurs.

The debate

As the head of your company, the CEO probably already has a public presence. Whether or not they’re always the best spokesperson for your company, however, is up for debate.

Public perception of business executive duties and roles is one of the strongest arguments for having your CEO step up to the plate in a crisis. As the highest-ranking executive, consumers expect them to know what’s going on, care about finding a solution, and figure out how to implement this quickly. Especially with corporations, where CEOs are often well-paid, consumers assume CEOs are adept at managing their businesses and place a high priority on customer experience. In a brand crisis, having the person highest on the executive chain publicly address it can go a long way in quelling public upset. A CEO who appears absent (or worse, isn’t good with the media) can prolong the crisis.

On the other hand, however, certain crisis situations can benefit from having the CEO be present, but not serving as the “mouth-piece.” Interacting professionally with the media and public isn’t a skill that comes naturally, and a CEO not prepared to defend their brand while keeping public perception in mind can create a long-term brand reputation issue. Additionally, a CEO doing rounds of media interviews may appear to be doing nothing more than talking; if they’re always on TV, are they jumping in and doing any of the hard work to solve the problem? In some cases, it makes more sense to have the CEO on the ground, visibly working to solve the issue, and leave the speaking to a lower ranking executive or official spokesperson.

Preparing for a crisis with your CEO

Whether or not they’ll be the spokesperson, a CEO needs know the crisis communications plan inside and out well before an issue arises. Plans to address a crisis and the role top executives will play should be developed to address a wide variety of potential problems, and should be revisited and updated often. Key things to keep in mind:

  • Transparency and authenticity above all else. “No comment” is not an option. Brands and their spokesperson need to be ready to be transparent about how the problem happened and what they’re doing to solve it. The response needs to show concern for the customers affected, authentically – don’t have a Tony Hayward And if your CEO does slip and make a statement like Hayward’s “I want my life back,” make sure they’re not photographed on their yacht a few days later.


tony hayward BP

Tony Hayward, former BP CEO

  • Media training. Even if they won’t be doing the press rounds and will be focusing on being hands on, media will likely still approach and cover the CEO’s activities during the crisis. CEOs should be fully media trained, with refresher courses frequently. Beyond speaking to journalists in person, this should include how to present themselves in public in case of any photos, and how to handle their personal social media channels.
  • Understand the level of response required. Not all crises are 5-alarm fires. Adidas’ recent flub with their Boston Marathon congratulatory email was bad, but the majority of the public understood the intern. It didn’t require a groveling press tour from the CEO, and their response was quick, open, and authentic. United Airline’s recent troubles, however are definitely a serious crisis that requires the visibility of the CEO.


In times of crisis, the CEO certainly has a role – it just might not be that of spokesperson. As United Airlines’ Oscar Munoz has shown recently, this can backfire – and Munoz and the airline are both paying for it. Whether or not the situation calls for the CEO to be the spokesperson, the key thing to remember is that planning for a crisis can often avert one before it starts, and save your brand a lot of trouble.

The beauty of a brand manifesto

Mieux Derma Brand Manifesto

Mieux Derma Brand Manifesto

I’ve talked about the moodboard process, as well as the importance of brand guides, but have yet to touch on one of the other tools in the master brand toolkit: the brand manifesto.

What is a brand manifesto?

As a manifesto is “a written statement declaring publicly the intentions, motives, or views of its issuer” (Miriam-Webster), a brand manifesto is just that, publicly declaring the intentions, motivations and views of the brand. While not every company needs a manifesto, it can be a great way to get to the essence of a brand. The language that forms the manifesto helps excite and guide employees as they share the brand with the world, and also inspires and connects with consumers who interact with the brand.

Key elements

A manifesto can be a single page statement, or a lengthy, designed “bible,” but it needs to have some basic elements:

Impact – This is the call to action, for you, your employees, and your consumers. What do you want to enable/inspire/change/create?

Passion – This is main differentiator for the manifesto (compared with the straight brand guide). Stir the emotions, and open up. Be vulnerable, be authentic. If there’s something about your company’s mission or goals that makes your heart pound, put it down here.

Essence – What do you believe? Why are you getting out of bed everyday to do this? What really drives you?

Connection – A good brand manifesto will inspire and create excitement and connection, resulting in easy brand evangelism. Employees will enthusiastically sell and consumers will enthusiastically buy in.

Muse Manifesto

Muse Manifesto

Make it look good

Turn it into a designed poster for the office, a glossy brochure, or a beautiful hardback book. Just give it some design love—it represents the heart of your business, so should be considered and given special attention.


Nike Running Manifesto

Put it into action

The brand manifesto is more than a fluffy brand exercise—it can translate into hard marketing strategy around your service or product. The emotion and messaging can be tweaked for target audiences and applied to marketing materials that will create strong brand connections. We’ve seen this a lot with brands like Nike, Levi’s, and Apple.

Levi's Ad

Levi’s Ad

A brand manifesto may be unnecessary or excessive for some companies. But for those attempting to connect with consumers on a human level, those experiencing the challenges of focus despite growth, or those simply needing to document the essential “why” of their business, a brand manifesto can be a beautiful part of their brand identity toolkit.

Let it go: don’t worry about control on social media

brand voice social media

Brands put a lot of work into fine tuning their voice, and can understandably be protective of their image. Companies want their audience to talk about them a certain way, and marketing, advertising, and public relations all work together in the hopes of achieving positive buzz and brand loyalty. However, brands often have trouble getting their social media platforms to “play nice” and stay in control. The conversation on social media is tough to control, but brands should embrace this fact rather than fear it.

Social media channels don’t function the same way an advertising piece does, where the content is tightly controlled and distributed. You can put in hours of work into a piece of content, just to have it turn into an unflattering, viral meme. Social media moves quickly, and brands can struggle to keep up. However, companies shouldn’t bail on social media entirely or resort to a corporate, sterile voice on these platforms. Instead, brands should jump into the deep end with both feet and utilize social media platforms for what they are – customer experience tools, not a brand megaphone.

Plan, and then let it go

Social media still requires planning and knowing your brand voice inside and out before starting to post. Companies should make sure their brand voice and image is unified across all the channels they’ll be using, and have a set of guidelines in place for tone and style for whoever will be posting on their behalf. Know what your brand would say and would never dream of saying before beginning. Make sure posts are edited before going live.

Once the content is out there, it’s in the hands of your audience. Brands must be ready to “let it go” to a certain extent after this point, as the engagement that happens may not be what you expect. Whatever the response is, take it and run with it rather than try to change it. It’s bad practice to delete negative comments; instead, use them as a customer service opportunity (or a humor opportunity, if it’s right for your brand and the complaint being made). Engage with the positive responses too, and shine a spotlight on the users responding. In some cases, you can even take advantage of user generated content in response to what you post. It might not be the quality or style your marketing department would have chosen, but it makes an authentic connection with your audience, something an ad rarely does.

Choose transparency over control

The days of “no comment” in response to a crisis are long gone thanks to social media. Social media users have no tolerance for slow responses, no response, or robotic corporate responses. When a brand crisis arises, it will be talked about on social media. No matter how appealing it can be to state “no response” or stay quiet until you’ve had ample time to come up with a polished statement, this is rarely the right choice.

While having a few days to think and present a response spears to give a company the chance to get a handle on the situation, they’re losing valuable time with an audience that is already discussing it. Transparency is far more important than an illusion of control on social media. Sometimes it’s even fine for a company to say “we’re aware, and we’re taking some time to collect our thoughts” rather than avoid posting for a few days and then attempt to look like they were always in control. Honesty with your audience (and even admitting you were blindsided) can go a long way with social media users.

Social media is a PR tool, not a marketing one

Marketing and public relations departments must work together to achieve success for the brand, and social media is no different. However, given the inherent lack of control with social media, PR professionals are better positioned to drive these efforts. Public relations is a two-way conversation, as is social media. Marketing is a brand megaphone; great in certain circumstances, but not really a fit for social media. Social media users have an extremely low tolerance for ads, and have high expectations for authentic communication from the brands they follow.

Public relations should work with marketing to ensure that the brand voice on social media is up to par, but marketing should be comfortable with PR leading social and communicating with their audience without several rounds of content approval. Conversations on social happen at the speed of light, and the key to success on these channels is listening and jumping in quickly. When a brand remembers that social is more about their audience than their company, they’ll be able to stay on top of conversations while getting comfortable with letting go of control. The rewards of social media can be numerous when brands let go – for both companies and their audience.

Selling it with serifs

I’ll say it over and over: font choice is so important. It impacts our feelings about a brand both consciously and unconsciously. So is there an essential font to use if you’re trying to make something come across as expensive or luxury? Apparently so. According to Sarah Hyndman, who recently studied the relationship between font choice and perceived value, there are typefaces that convey greater value, and others that look, well–cheap. And the ultimate “expensive” font is: Didot.

Swanky Serifs

As Madeleine Morley summarizes in AIGA’s Eye On Design “After surveying over 368 people, the results suggest that bold typefaces with rounder terminals appear cheaper, whereas lighter weights, serifs, and contrasts are rated appear more expensive, with the modern Didot selected as the diamond of all fonts.”

Didot typeface

So what about all the sans serif fonts we’re seeing used in high-end brand systems? Roanne Adams of RoAndCo believes digital culture may play into it: “Considering the digital space, the thin serif characteristics were hard to translate on screen, which has called for stronger, more usable and clear typography.”

A little of each

If you’re unsure of which to use, combinations can work beautifully. This handy tool from Hoefler & Co. can help you figure out perfect pairings, through examples that express “wit,” “energy,” “poise,” and “dignity.”

font pairing

And now we know: when in doubt, go with Didot.

First Impressions

business cards

Look into creative business card designs

What does your business card look like? Is it memorable? Interactive? I’m sad to say that even as a designer, my business card is pretty boring compared to these creative examples. DeMilked pulled together “30 of the Most Creative Business Card Designs” (full post here) and they’re a mix of humor, irreverence, and elegance, expressed through clever cuts, materials, and concepts.

Some of the most fun examples are in the fitness space.

Creative Business Card Designs

The world’s tiniest yoga mat.

Creative Business Card Designs

Sweat the details.

Creative Business Card Designs

If only shedding the pounds were this easy…(Personal Trainer’s business card, by ad agency Leo Burnett, Dubai, United Arab Emirates)

I also love the useful cards:

Creative Business Card Designs

Lovely design, lush lawn.

Bike repair Creative Business Card Designs

A useful tool for those road repairs that don’t require a visit to the shop…and ready access to the company info when it’s time to call the experts.

And sometimes, all it takes is a simple custom die-cut for less-is-more elegance:

Restaurant Creative Business Card Designs

Salt. Simple. A beautiful and relevant solution for a restaurant business card.

I’m sure many of these creative business card designs required a chunk of change in extra printing costs…but I bet it was worth it. Are you ready to redesign your cards? I am!

Happy Spring!

enjoying spring

Spring is here, and it’s a sunny Friday to boot! In honor of all the blooming things, here is some beautiful spring-themed design inspiration.

spring-themed design

Illustration by Kamran Sadikhov

spring-themed design

Collateral design by David Davidopoulos and Irene Laschi

spring-themed design

Zine design by Oddds Designers

spring-themed design

Zine design by Oddds Designers

spring-themed design

Invitation/Event design by Red Antler

spring-themed design

Invitation/Event design by Red Antler

spring-themed design

Branding/Collateral design by Carmen

spring-themed design

Branding by Ingrid Picanyol

Enjoy your weekend!

Happy Birthday, George Washington

Presidents' Day

Happy Presidents’ Day!

Or rather, Happy Washington’s Birthday (since that’s really what today’s date commemorates). Because it appears on many calendars as “Presidents’ Day,” I’ll go with it. Here’s a fun peek at how the nation is celebrating.

Presidential branding

Take a look at this fun personal project by Meg Jannott is a collection of quick studies to Brand the Presidents.

George Washington's "brand"

Thomas Jefferson's "brand"

Rutherford B. Hayes' "brand"

Zachary Taylor's "brand"

Franklin Roosevelt's "brand"

For quick explorations, I think some of them are quite stunning.

Wassail to the chief

Seattle Met magazine took a different and playful spin on Presidents’ Day trivia with “Potable POTUS: Seattle’s Ultimate Presidents’ Day Bar Crawl.” (Read the full article here.)

Presidents' Day drinks

A prediction of each president’s poison, were he alive today.

What would Washington have washed it down with? Their prediction: “The Bohr, essentially a Manhattan made with that white whiskey.” Aside from intriguing drink match-ups, there’s some interesting presidential trivia here…I’ll drink to that!

AT&T and Herzog Join Forces on PSA

It seems an unlikely match. Werner Herzog, director of bizarre but awesome films and documentaries such as “Aguirre, the Wrath of God” and “Grizzly Man”, has joined forces with AT&T to create a documentary on the devastating consequences of texting while driving. Sharing the stories of both victims and perpetrators of texting and driving, the documentary is meant to raise awareness about an issue that continues to impact lives in our technology-driven culture.

In the past, Herzog has been outspoken against product marketing in creative mediums, but explained to the AP that this was entirely different. “This has nothing to do with consumerism or being part of advertising products. This whole campaign is rather dissuading you from excessive use of a product. It’s a campaign. We’re not trying to sell anything to you. We’re not trying to sell a mobile phone to you. We’re trying to raise awareness.”

PSA or ad campaign?

But is it really possible for a company like AT&T to launch any campaign completely free from the ties of consumerism? I would argue that it’s not. They are a company and they sell things. While such a campaign deserves to be noticed and hopefully will have a positive effect on those who can’t put their phones down, anything that AT&T puts out into the world is building their brand and their emotional connection with current customers and would-be customers. That’s just the nature of branding and public relations. While the use of Herzog, a talented, famous and famously anti-marketing director, adds star power and credibility to the documentary, it doesn’t necessarily negate the company’s ultimate connection to the campaign. And why should it? There’s nothing wrong with a company doing something good and predominantly altruistic once in a while; AT&T and Herzog is a great PR move. Having nothing to do with consumerism may be stretch, but let’s hope this particular campaign has some positive impact.