Navigate Communications, PR, and Social like a Bawse

When bite, bites back (or, how not to do transparency)


I’m turning 40 this year. All that means is I know the sand in my hourglass of eat whatever, do whatever, sleep very little, eat-some-more-and-bounce-right-back, has very much run out. Oh, you can still do all the things you love to do, it’s just it shows now is all. It shows in your hair, your body (every part of it), your skin. I’ve been lucky-ish thus far, not needing to do too much skin-wise, since I have some of the oiliest variety this side of Kuwait, and it’s (only) now paying off (not today wrinkles). The difference now is I know my time of sometimeish skincare was running short and I needed to start some sort of proper regimen, stat.

Enter The Ordinary, the skincare and beauty brand that pegs itself as The Abnormal Beauty Company. It’s perfect for someone like me. Someone who wants top quality stuff, for low-quality prices. Their skincare line is a beautiful array of just that. High quality ingredients developed for all that ails me (honestly, it’s like they’ve been in my bathroom and my head) – hyperpigmentation, anti-aging, oil and acne control, and all for a fraction (and sometimes a fraction of a fraction), of the price of similar products on the market. Seriously, most of it is under $10. Plus, their tendency to make power-duos out of key ingredients means I’ve been able to streamline my regimen. It’s a parade I’ll wave a flag high for.

So imagine my chagrin when this mess began. In a nutshell, Brandon Truaxe, the co-founder and CEO of the brand’s parent company Deciem , has gone…. messy. Back in January, he decided to take over the brand’s Instagram account. He would, from that point forward, post, comment and interact with followers, all by himself. Take a long lunch marketing and communications department. Seems cute right? In theory, yes.

Everyone is constantly saying that brands need to be more transparent, more personable, more accessible, and simply more human with their customers, especially in this digital and social age. So what better way to do this than for the CEO her/himself to hop online? Many others such as Richard Branson, Elon Musk, Gary Vaynerchuk, and Mary Barra do an amazing job of somehow running Fortune 500s and fantastic social accounts at the same time.

Not so with Brandon. Instead, what ensued after his decision to take the wheel, was a nightmare of a downward spiral (still going by the way) that spawned commentary, backlash, Twitter explosions, and far worse (as in people threatening to stop buying  the brand altogether) just about all around the world. The drama has also caused a slow panic of brand loyalists that this fiasco could end with the demise of the brand itself.


So, what the hell happened? To be clear I do not have any inside track and so I can’t say for certain, but what I would bet the return of Niacinamide to available inventory  is that Brandon decided to go against the better judgement of those very folks he hired to provide guidance in the area of the ever-important communications strategy front. He said as much, using one post to explicitly state that he had excused the team formerly responsible for running the account.

The difference is that those folks I mentioned earlier who are killing it on social is – They. Have. Help. Each understands their personal brand and identity is directly tethered to the brands they run. They know that business core values must stay front and centre, and that the things they say and do have an enormous effect and ripple, for days. I’m not suggesting someone is holding their hands across every rock in the pond.  These are brilliant, highly experienced people who have a clear grasp of how social works and how to bloody use it – well. But you can be sure that they have the input, guidance, advice, and probably inherent safeguards, from equally brilliant communications/PR/community relations people at their disposal.

The job of such people isn’t to sugar-coat, sweep under, or mislead the audience, it’s to do the exact opposite. Either Brandon misunderstands the value of his own team and the expertise they bring to the table, or he found them wanting, and rather than replacing them with better skilled and perhaps more ethical staff, he decided he could handle it. Now I am not a CEO of a highly successful international conglomerate but I’m guessing if I was – I’d have bigger fish to fry. My job would be to set the overall tone, culture, and vision of the company. To make 10- year plans. To hire people whom, I could trust to disseminate that mission throughout the land, and who in turn would hire more awesome people to carry out the strategies and tasks their management put before them. It’s intensely presumptuous to think that anyone of us can do it all, and even more so – do it well.

How does whatever move you make serve the greater good of your company? What’s the larger purpose of your business, and the value it brings? The core of any strategy is to be useful to your audience. Do you entertain, help, educate, celebrate? In short – how do you solve their problems? If your reasoning to take over social, start a blog, make a speech, write a book, or whatever other way to amplify your own voice doesn’t answer that question, either at all, or jive with what everyone you work with agrees to, just don’t. Silence really is golden and its perfectly ok to employ it sometimes.

Make a plan, trust the people whose expertise helped to craft it and to guide it, then stick to it. And if you have any personal epiphanies, that’s great, some of the best ideas are born this way – just, do everyone a favour and run them by someone who’s got an honest ear ok? Happy social-ing.


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