Remember that scene in the old Boris Karloff movie, “Frankenstein,” when the villagers have headed up the hill toward the castle with torches and pitchforks because they have heard about the dangerous “monster” and want to protect their village? If only Dr. Frankenstein hadn’t let the situation get out of control. Imagine if he had gotten ahead of the issue, letting the villagers know about his failed experiment and how he was handling it. If he had been up front about the situation and had managed it properly, “the monster” might have ultimately been happily installed in an over-sized booth selling tickets for castle tours rather than destroyed by angry, frightened villagers. And Dr. Frankenstein would have kept the integrity of his name instead of having it forever associated with the monster he created. His brand would have remained intact and his castle would be a tourist attraction rather than a burned out mess.
These days the villagers may not be carrying torches and pitchforks when a situation gets out of control. But they certainly are armed with smartphones, tablets, laptops and fully charged Twitter and Facebook accounts to voice their disapproval. The DeMoulas family is learning this first-hand and for that reason they have earned a coveted “What Were they Thinking?” award. Like Dr. Frankenstein, they didn’t plan this family dispute very well or think through its consequences. My mother always taught me that no one needs to know your family business. And I have lived by that advice. But when your family is also your brand, that advice is particularly valuable and needs to be part of a very carefully constructed and followed communications and crisis plan. And you need to put aside family pride and stubbornness and listen to your communications counselors.
The Boston Globe published a very interesting account this morning of the twists and turns of this family battle that is being played out in social media as well as via live protests at local MA stores and boycotts of the Market Basket chain of supermarkets the company owns. Communications clearly was used by the ousted CEO in advance of his forced departure. As the article describes, the ousted CEO was the “villain” in an earlier family battle, but good communications helped him repair his image and be repositioned as the hero of the employees today. The DeMoulas family members on the other side of the dispute clearly didn’t have their communications plan blocked out quite as well and are making adjustments now to try to repair the damage. To the employees and loyal customers, they are being perceived to have practically fired Santa Claus. They have to backtrack now, with the help of their new communications and crisis counsel. But if they had planned better initially regarding how their ousting of the beloved CEO would be perceived, the villagers might not be heading up that virtual hill with their Tweets and Facebook pages and posts that are doing more damage every day to the brand than a whole pile of torches and clubs. And a brand might not be in danger of being destroyed, to the detriment of its hard working employees.