--> Gill Blog: Curses! They lost again.

Gill Blog

Thursday, October 16, 2003

Curses! They lost again.

In October of 1945, the Chicago Cubs were hosting the Detroit Tigers in the World Series. A tavern owner named Billy Sianis was one lucky guy. He had scored tickets to the big game. When we get great tickets to a ballgame, one of the first things that comes to mind is who might we treat to a day at the park. A spouse? A business associate? A best friend? A kid? Sianis chose to take his pet goat. Amazingly, he was denied admission to Wrigley Field and, so, he put a curse on the team.

Since that year, the curse seems to have had its effect on the Cubs. In '69 they blew a 9 1/2 game lead to the Mets, who went on to win the Series; in '79 they squandered a 21-9 lead to the Phillies and lost 23-22; and in '84 they couldn't hold onto a 6-3 lead in the seventh inning of the seventh game of the NLCS against the Padres, when first baseman Leon Durham made a crucial error. Last night, after squandering a 3 games to 1 lead in this year's NLCS, the Cubs once again seemed cursed. The goat this year? A cubbies fan who tried to catch a foul ball that was heading for his seat. You've seen the replay. The curse continues to be part of Chicago lore and, in fact, an important part of the Cubs brand. For now, the Cubs brand as the perpetual underdog seems intact...but there is always next year.

The development and nurturing of brand is a cornerstone of organizational policy. It's often been said that it can take years to develop a brand and seconds to seriously damage or destroy it altogether (Enron, Arthur Andersen, Martha Stewart). So, protection of brand has become an important element in business continuity. When I attended the 13th World Conference on Disaster Management in June, I heard a very interesting discussion led by Bill Patterson of Reputation Management Associates, where he stressed the importance of preserving brand through strategic media communications. In many senses, the media response to a particular event can spell the difference between triumph and disaster.

Let's get back to game six. As hard as Wrigley officials tried to conceal the identity of the fan who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, the Sun Times not only identified him as 26-year old Steve Bartman, but disclosed where he worked -- Hewitt Associates. The media doesn't always play fair. It is interesting to note that in the article a spokeperson for Hewitt provided a very measured and carefully-worded statement to the press about their employee. Given the firm's Chicago roots, it was important for Hewitt to address the situation immediately, and prevent it from becoming an event that could take on a life of its own for the company.

Patterson was right. Whether the disaster is an act of God, a man-made screwup, or just a curse, be prepared to manage the media and protect your company brand.


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