Brandjacking, an Old Concept with a New Name

In the Outlander series on STARZ, the character of Claire Randall is confronted in episode 5, Rent, with the character of Jamie sleeping outside the door to her room. After finding out what he is doing there she offers to share her room with him. He balks, saying that would ruin her reputation. Her reputation? Yes.


But she should give a damn. A reputation is something that is hard to change once the public makes decisions about it. And whether its a woman’s reputation in the 18th century or a celebrity’s reputation in the 21st, or a corporate reputation, or a product’s, it all comes back to the idea that these are brands. You are your own brand, and your reputation means something.

Quentin Langley has written an incisive book about the phenomenon, and it should be required reading for crisis PR professionals and students of communications. His insights on crises and how they were managed or mismanaged are the result of a professional’s eye and mind turned towards how companies and individuals lose their reputations through different bad steps or judgments. How their public relations are handled during and after a crisis is carefully scrutinized, with key takeaways on what we should learn from both missteps and good responses.

The impact of social media is covered in detail in the book, looking at how publics are driving new dynamics of crises. Langley uses the United Airlines Breaks Guitars case as a stepping off point here, and he hits the nail on the head. One person took to social media in the form of a song and video posted on You Tube about United Airlines flawed customer service policies. The video was shared and reshared, and others began to speak up about the case. United Airlines had to rethink and refashion itself in response. Its brand suffered. Even today I know people who will not fly United Airlines because they fear dealing with United’s customer service. United’s bad response to the initial crisis created more of a crisis. This book helps PR professionals, students and even laypeople understand what it means to lose a reputation when your brand is squarely in the public eye.

Langley doesn’t shy away from looking at politics either. From the Middle East to the UK and US, there have been major political missteps in public relations in recent years. Heck, just this past week the head of the US Secret Service stepped down after a crisis involving the bureau’s severe mismanagement of presidential security. “I wish to God you were protecting the White House like you were protecting your reputation here today,” said Massachusetts Congressman Stephen Lynch as a congressional inquiry took place this past week. He got it right. The bureau was trying to protect its reputation, not own up to problems in its ranks. How does the public now view the Secret Service? How does the White House feel about the agents assigned to protect the president and his family? The immediate crisis is over, but the fallout is yet to be seen.

As a student of communications at CUNY City College, and with hopes of launching my own PR career soon, I found this book a rare look at the issues and crises that face the world today. It is written in language that is easy to understand, and where terms are used from the PR industry, they are explained well in lay terms. The book is organized into two sections: an exposition of what a brandjack is and its variations, and sections on case studies by year, going through 2012. There is a summary chapter at the end as well. It is well thought out, offers key insights and adds knowledge about crises that are already in the public consciousness.

Given the nature of today’s communications media, I could see this book being reissued by its publisher (Palgrave-MacMillan) in years to come so that new media and new crises can be covered for the professional and student. Social media is ever-growing and changing, with new groups finding new ways to share, and new platforms arising. Companies are finding out that they do not have handles on their internal communications because of social media. Langley’s book could be a trainer for people who are working in the fields of crisis communications. His years as both professional and teacher show through in his writing. He picks cases that are both well known and only known in some areas, but all have something to tell us about the brand, the crisis and the brandjack that occurred. Take away even one thing from this book and you will be a better communicator for it.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s