Speedo Drops Ryan Lochte: How-To Protect Your Brand From Bad Behavior

636025723792521613-USP-SWIMMING-U.S-82940834Well, we all knew this was coming. Disgraced Olympian, Ryan Lochte has lost his first major sponsor.

Speedo dropped the swimmer due to Lochte’s fabricated a tale that he was robbed at gunpoint in Rio de Janeiro during the Olympics.

As has been widely reported, after a night of partying, Lochte damaged a gas station door and got into a verbal altercation with security guards. Later, he made up a story about being robbed and his lie was debunked by video from the scene.

A spokesperson from Speedo released this statement:

“While we have enjoyed a winning relationship with Ryan for over a decade and he has been an important member of the Speedo team, we cannot condone behavior that is counter to the values this brand has long stood for. We appreciate his many achievements and hope he moves forward and learns from this experience.”

In a brilliant PR move, the swimsuit company is reportedly donating $50,000 from what would have been Lochte’s sponsorship fee to the global charity Save the Children with the fund earmarked for the children of Brazil.

Other sponsors Ralph Lauren and Airweave have yet to announce any changes to their deal with Lochte.

This is a great reminder for brands that sponsorships or partnerships with athletes, actors, musicians or other “influencers” can sometimes cause more problems than good. The last thing any brand wants is for its image to be held hostage by a spokesperson’s negative press.

Here are a few things to consider when teaming up with celebrity partners/sponsors.

Do your values align? And, do you have that in writing?

Try to find an influencer whose public values already match your brand’s position. Of course, you may team up with a seemingly squeaky-clean celebrity and they go all “Tiger Woods” on you.

So, many brands include a morality or “values alignment” clause in the sponsorship agreement to ensure the spokesperson doesn’t engage in behavior that would create a negative backlash. While it may not prevent negative behavior, it can protect a brand from lawsuits should a sponsorship deal be cancelled.

Consider whose brand equity will be enhanced – yours or theirs?

In the 1970s, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ breakout star was a man known as “Mean Joe” Greene. In reality, Greene was a lovable guy off the field. It was this dual persona that gave Coca-Cola the idea of Mean Joe tossing his jersey to a young boy in exchange for a bottle of Coke. The commercial made charming use of Mean Joe’s image, but Coke was the star.

Fast forward to Paris Hilton’s scantily clad, soft porn television commercials for Carl’s Jr. and Hardees. The spots got a lot of attention, but not for the burgers. In fact, they helped Hilton’s image, but Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. endured thousands of consumer complaints. For more examples, Fortune recently comprised a list of celebrity brand endorsements that went sour.

What to do if your celebrity partner misbehaves.

Certainly, if you find yourself in the situation where your celebrity partner creates a scandal. The best thing you can do is exactly what Speedo did. Gracefully announce your separation from the partner and if you can go as far as they did by donating a portion of those sponsor dollars toward a relevant cause, do it.

Research, planning and sponsorship alternatives.

While there are many great examples of celebrity spokespeople drawing positive attention to brands. You want to be sure to do your research in advance and have several meetings with the spokesperson in question about their future ties and shared values.

It’s also important to think about the end game. If you are trying to reach a very specific audience segment, you may not need to find that A-Lister to create worldwide attention. A hyper-targeted blogger or author or local-or-category influencer may be more cost-effective and create a more authentic connection to your target audience in the long run.

If you are interested in learning more about influencer and sponsor programs, find me at Brandware PR and let’s get started!




  1. Ralph Lauren dropped him also today – but said his contract with them was only for the Rio Olympics so his work with them is done. If he’d been hailed as the hero a la Michael Phelps, they’d probably still have him on contract.

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