Humanizing your Brand is Good Business, Plain and Simple
If recent news reports are accurate, Justin Kwan, the former Barclays analyst who choreographed his own 15 minutes of fame with a tongue-in-cheek email to an incoming crop of summer interns, has departed the firm.
I assume his exit was anything but voluntary. And, if there’s truth to The Carlyle Group canning Kwan before he was slated to start this summer, thanks to “Emailgate,” the poor guy’s a two-time loser in a race few people ever get to run.
While Kwan’s email was an ill-conceived blend of wit and silliness, he clearly meant no harm.
Perhaps that’s why he’ll likely never ascend to the legendary heights of Greg Smith. Smith, you may recall, is the former Goldman Sachs executive director who famously quit his 12-year stint at the storied firm via a vitriolic New York Times op-ed. Some folks, it seems, swing for the fences while the rest of us settle for a life of singles and the occasional double.
Back to Kwan. So, Barclays allegedly showed him the door just days after his email checked all of the boxes on the laws of unintended consequences, going viral faster than news of the stork’s impending visit to the Kardashian-West household. Maybe his departure was performance related, but the timing from the click of the send button to the slam of Barclays’ front door are just a little too close to make this coincidental.
So what can we learn from this unfortunate turn of events? Think twice before hitting “send.” That’d be a good one. Keep your powder dry; that’d be another. How about engage brain before acting? There’s wisdom in that, too. But that’s not the lesson to which I’m referring.
Simply put, we’ve forgotten how to laugh at ourselves.
Wake up, Corporate America, when did you start taking yourself so seriously? Did you forget how to laugh at yourself? No one else has, and this sure isn’t going to help. What about making lemonade out of lemons, or turning a frown upside down, or making a mole hill out of a mountain?
My advice to Barclays, if they hadn’t already pulled the trigger, would be this: Your brand is under enough assault in the U.S. to revive The Full Employment Act for your communications teams (opinion, not advice, I’ll give you that).
Instead of heavy-handing your response, take whatever fallout may have come from the email and fashion it into a positive. Publicly celebrate the youthful (if not slightly misguided) intelligencia of your analysts. Leverage it to humanize your brand; imbuing it with a chromosome or two of personality can go a long way.
Why not welcome the summer interns with a public response that heeding Kwan’s advice (#1 on his list), senior leadership has pledged to wear bowties to work on the first day of the internship – men and women, alike?
Let the world know the next generation of Barclays’ up-and-comers, as well as current leadership, has humor and personality, as well as smarts. Laugh at yourself just a little and the account will instantly be relegated to the annals of history. Maybe people will even feel good about your brand and the sporting way in which you handled this episode.
Unfortunately, acting as you did has only served to breathe enough life into the story to sustain it on and off for weeks to come, one embarrassing jab at a time.
And guess what? Kwan’s name will be forgotten by week’s end. Barclays, on the other hand, will be remembered not for its artful handling of an innocent gaffe, but as just another corporate behemoth who bobbed when it should’ve weaved.