How to Recover When a Spokesperson Tarnishes Your Brand

Did you catch the video of the Chevrolet zone manager’s presentation of the MVP award to San Francisco Giants’ pitcher Madison Bumgarner after his spectacular win in the 2014 World Series final?

Rikk Wilde, the designated spokesperson, became the butt of a lot of criticism and Chevy’s brand was tarnished – for about 24 hours. Then the Chevrolet PR and ad people decided to make lemonade out of a lemon and jumped all over the giant blooper in advertising and social media.

Here’s the presentation that had everyone talking and what Chevy did about it.


Chevy’s Response

According to ABC News, Michael Albano, the brand’s top spokesman, said, “The Chevy leadership team called and told him he did nothing wrong. It’s all good. Everyone here has his back.”

Soon Wilde was being treated like a hero, with the hashtags #TechnologyAndStuff and #ChevyGuy trending on Twitter. Chevy’s social media team immediately began to embrace the hashtag #TechnologyAndStuff and says it may turn it into a wider marketing campaign.

And shortly thereafter the tagline “Technologyandstuff” was appearing in Chevy truck ads.

Can We Have A Rewind?

Sure, Chevy mounted a successful full-court press to contain the damage and actually capitalize on it. But do you want to go into crisis mode, as they did, if your spokesman flubs his presentation? You might not be so lucky.

The purpose of this post isn’t to pile on criticism but to point out the hazards of putting an untrained and seemingly reluctant speaker onto the national stage.

It’s hard to fault Chevy’s zone manager. It wasn’t fair to him. He had clearly not been media trained or rehearsed to command a national platform. He was so uncomfortable, it seemed like he was having a panic attack and had difficulty breathing. You can’t rewind and start over again.

But if that were possible, this is what we would have recommended:

  • Use another spokesperson. As the official vehicle sponsor of the World Series, Chevy should have considered fielding a senior corporate executive more fitting to the occasion (and given him media training). The designated spokesman could have simply introduced Wilde standing beside him. But they didn’t so Chevy should have.
  • Prepare him. Wilde is not a natural public speaker. The Chevy PR Department should have written his very short presentation and coached him to read it verbatim. He even had difficulty reading his own notes.
  • Check his attire. Before he went “on stage” someone from Chevy, or the production team, should have checked his attire and advised him to wear a tie and keep his jacket buttoned.
  • Cut the commercial. It was embarrassing to listen to Wilde touting the Chevy truck’s whiz-bang technology before he gave the keys to Bumgarner. It became all about Chevy and not the MVP and took away from the importance of the moment. They showed the truck in the clip. That was enough.

It wasn’t all Wilde’s fault. It was a bad camera angle and someone walked in front of him as he was speaking. We wonder who the man on the right was? Throughout the award presentation he grimaced and covered his face with his hand. Possibly he was introduced before the video began but, nonetheless, he was a major distraction.

A Plum Assignment Turned Sour

No doubt Rick Wilde was flattered and honored to serve as Chevy’s spokesperson at the World Series finale. Possibly he had never appeared as a Chevy spokesperson before and didn’t appreciate the significance of the situation for the company’s reputation and brand.

Most likely, he felt it was a plum assignment. But the communications professionals at the company should know better. You can’t just push someone on stage without proper training.

Even Sir Laurence Olivier, one of the greatest actors of all time, had to learn his lines, rehearse with the rest of the cast, and abide by the instructions of the director before he stepped on stage.

How can you expect a zone manager that isn’t coached in his lines to command the stage for a global brand on national television? The answer is easy . . . you can’t!

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The Newman Group is a recognized leader in guiding business professionals, celebrities and authors to improve their communications skills in presentations and media interviews.

Our highly skilled and experienced professionals have the expertise in media and presentation training to meet any business situation — from helping an executive to prepare for the challenge of talking to a reporter during a business crisis to presenting a group of investors during an IPO or keeping a celebrity spokesperson on point.