Whether you're a celebrity or an owner of a company or struggling startup, you need to make a number of people happy: your consumers or fans, your employees, and -- perhaps most importantly -- your sponsors. Getting a big sponsorship is heavily tied to reputation management and increasingly online reputation management. One wayward tweet could mean your biggest (or only) sponsor pulls the plug.
Take a look at Stephanie Rice, an Olympic gold medalist swimmer who scored a lucrative sponsorship from Jaguar. However, four years ago she made an anti-gay slur (the other "F-word") on Twitter and Jaguar immediately severed ties with her. Jaguar doesn't take such indiscretions laying down, also dropping Ian Roberts, a previous rugby celeb, after he made the same slur when tweeting about a Wallabies defeat.
Here are a few more sponsorship losses due to sheer stupidity. No matter who you are or where your company stands, remember that one wrong move can cost everything.
State Farm, Donald Sterling and the LA Clippers
State Farm was a massive sponsor of the LA Clippers, but after owner Donald Sterling made what many consider racist slurs on hidden video, it seems his entire team is being punished. Sterling told his mistress, "It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you're associating with black people.
Do you have to? You can sleep with [black people]. You can bring them in, you can do whatever you want. The little I ask you is not to promote it on that…and not to bring them to my games. Don't put him [Johnson] on an Instagram for the world to have to see so they have to call me. And don't bring him to my games."
Heineken, Sam Adams, and Guinness and New York's/Boston's St. Patrick's Day Parade
When the event policies for St. Patrick's Day parades in New York City and Boston included what was deemed anti-GLBTQ, three major beer brands (including Heineken, Sam Adams, and the nearly requisite Guinness) pulled their sponsorship. What was the specific issue? While those in the GLBTQ community could march in the parades, any signs that denoted sexual orientation were banned.
The official statement by Sam Adams included the sentiments, "We have been participating in the South Boston St. Patrick's Day Parade for nearly a decade…we were hopeful that both sides of this issue would be able to come to an agreement that would allow everyone, regardless of orientation, to participate in the parade. But given the current status of the negotiations, we realize this may not be possible." There's no telling what, if any, changes will take place for the 2015 festivities already in planning stages.
Champion and Rashard Mendenhall
The running back for the Pittsburgh Steelers is another Twitter sponsorship tale of warning, tweeting about Osama bin Laden's death, as well as 9/11, in such a way that his sponsor Champion pulled the plug. The tweet in question included (in regards to bin Laden), "What kind of person celebrates death? It's amazing how people can HATE a man they never even heard speak. We've only seen one side…" The 9/11 attack-related tweet read, "We'll never know what really happened. I just have a hard time believing a plane could take a skyscraper down demolition style."
Champion moved quickly, making a public announcement about the severed ties: "Champion is a strong supporter of the government's efforts to fight terrorism and is very appreciative of the dedication and commitment of the US Armed Forces."
Nike (and every other sponsor) and Lance Armstrong
After the intense scandal over Lance Armstrong's revelation of drug/steroid use (and his strange behavior following it), it's no surprise that he lost all of his sponsors. However, perhaps the most lucrative was Nike. The sponsorship was officially dropped on October 17, 2012 with Nike just saying "insurmountable differences" was the cause of the split. However, Nike did say the decision was made "with great sadness" after years of supporting the seemingly immortal cyclist.
Right on the heels of Nike, Anheuser-Busch also pulled sponsorship, saying, "We have decided not to renew our relationship with Lance Armstrong when our current contract expires at the end of 2012." Of course, perhaps losing sponsorship was the least of Armstrong's troubles. There was likely no way to save that reputation beyond riding out the storm -- which could take a lifetime.
Rise Up and Register and Blake Koch
NASCAR favorite Blake Koch had a sweet sponsorship with Rise Up and Register Campaign, which is an organization that encourages all people, or all beliefs and parties, to register to vote. Prior to the 2012 elections, Koch partnered with the Campaign, which many say has deep "political and religious undertones" regardless of the supposed welcoming of all. However, ESPN (not officially a sponsor of course) refused to air Koch's ad which was steeped in Christian beliefs.
The situation left Koch without a primary sponsor and scrambling for support. He said, "I didn't think that my faith in Christ would have an impact on whether or not a sponsor could air a commercial or not. The one thing I will not do is deny my faith just because a particular sponsor might not like the way I express my faith, which I do on my own time." Since he couldn't get his commercial on ESPN, the Campaign went on to greener pastures.
Tiger Woods and Tag Heuer (and everyone else)
The golfer lost many of his endorsement deals and sponsorship when his affair/sex addict drama broke into the media firestorm. However, the first sponsor to pull out was Tag Heuer, the beloved luxury Swiss watchmaker. After seven years of sponsorship, the company quietly pulled ads featuring Woods and opted to not extend the contract once it expired.
Woods also went on to lose agreements with AT&T, PepsiCo, Gatorade, and Accenture. However, this was one athlete Nike chose to stick with even through the toughest of time. Drugs trump sex scandals for this major sponsor. As for the others, most declined to make official statements on the ended relationship with Woods.
OJ Simpson and Hertz
Double murder charges can definitely be enough to end anyone's sponsorship deal, and that's exactly what happened with Simpson and Hertz. In 1995, Hertz was the first to ditch the former pro athlete when he was charged with the alleged double murder that's now become famous. Hertz noted that even though Simpson had little connection with the car rental giant when the charges were made, Vice President of Hertz at the time Joseph Russo said, "Regrettably, OJ Simpson is as highly identified with Hertz as he is with football."
Prior to the trial, Simpson had worked magic for Hertz, making them standout from all the other competition. This led to his securing of several other deals, endorsements, and sponsorships in his career. However, there was no getting around this serious of an issue, and Hertz moved swiftly to separate the company from the Defendant.
Today, there are many more ways for celebrities and companies to mess up than there was in Simpson's time. From numerous social networking platforms to blogs and media that's non-stop, keeping on top of how you're perceived is crucial. That's why the savviest of companies and celebs have an around the clock brand manager and PR rep.
If that's not in the budget? Make each move carefully -- you never know who's watching.
Anna Johansson is a freelance writer from the Olympia, Wash., area.
On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.