Five Kinds of People In Need of a Good Brand Trolling

White Hat Trolls - "Pre-Crisis" Consulting to Prevent Brand Crises

I recently kicked-off this blog with some meandering thoughts about how we got here, what the White Hat Trolls are all about, and how I think Weezer’s cover of Rosanna is better than their cover of Africa, etc. I posted it on a Friday. Conventional wisdom says not to do anything on a Friday (except maybe thank God and go casual). Going forward, I hope to have a new bit of Troll-think for you earlier in the week. Until then, here is a Thursday night blog post about the five brand defenders with whom we’d like to work.

The White Hat Trolls slash, bludgeon, and hack at our clients’ ideas and materials before the trolls out there in the wild get their chance. We’re like the good guy rogues in the classic 1992 Phil Alden Robinson film, Sneakers.

We’re wildly optimistic as to how many brands — both organizational and individual — could take excellent advantage of our services. There are certain specific individuals, though, whom we believe should get in touch with us right away. Here’s how we’d break that group down into a nice, shamelessly SEO’d listicle:

1. C-level executives with a brand that’s about to do something new/different

With brands, as with almost everything in business, any time you do something new or different, there’s a degree of risk. Start talking about a new thing, to a new group of people, or more loudly than you’ve spoken before, and you run the risk of saying the wrong thing. At White Hat Trolls, we want to see you succeed — not have to apologize. We want to see your content shared because it’s ? or ?, not because it’s ? or ?.

Whatever you’re about to do, we know your people have looked at it, but their people looked at this stuff, too. We’ll look at it differently, coming at it from every angle we can imagine, to help make sure there’s nothing you missed.

2. C-level executives with a brand already in crisis

OK, so, you didn’t call us (or we weren’t around yet), and there was something you missed, and all hell broke loose.

Your brand trended for all the wrong reasons. You pulled the product, deleted the post, apologized for the ads in all the magazines, and somebody important has resigned to spend more time with their family.

But that was then… This is now, and now, it’s almost go-time again. You’ve got your next big thing, ready to go, but you’re hesitating. You know they’re all watching, looking for any chance to call you out, again. Your competition. Your detractors. The trades. The folks running the @whitehattrolls Twitter account. You have to show them all that you learned something from your mistake — that the financial hit your brand took was tuition, as they say.

As a baseball fan, the image of a batter stepping back into the box after being plunked (or worse, beaned) comes to mind. The ball’s going to come at you just as fast as it did when you got hit. Will you flinch? Or will you stand there with confidence, ready to swing away? You can think of the White Hat Trolls as one of those big elbow pads that crowds the strike zone, or the new cheek protector thingy that so many batters have bolted to their helmets, these days.

We’ll help you feel secure again at the plate, so you can put the next heater into the bleachers.


3. Board members overseeing the abovementioned execs

Boards are put in place to help ensure the organization’s stakeholders — from prospects and current customers, to partners and suppliers, to the owners of the company — have good leaders making good decisions on their behalf.

From a brand value perspective, being on a board of directors is a symbiotic relationship. You contribute the value of your name, experience, judgment, and credibility to the organization in question. In return, you enhance your own personal brand (and that of your organization, if you represent one of your own) by being there.

But when the organization suffers a brand crisis, and you’re on the board, you take that hit, as well — especially if you’re the board member responsible for the operational area where the crisis originated.

You don’t want that, and if you’re already recovering from such a crisis, you sure don’t want another one. Not on your watch.

But remember: you’re on the board because of your great track record of making good decisions. And now you know about White Hat Trolls, and how we specialize in pointing out bad decisions, so you know what must be done. You know the good decision that should be made. And by gum, you’re just the director to do it.

4. High-profile individuals looking to stay high-profile for the right reasons

You’re a celebrity. An influencer. A household name, at least in the households you care about. You’ve either built a personal brand by doing a thing — acting, directing, singing, being a sports superstar, getting yourself elected, being the face of a major organization, etc. — or you’re one of those for whom having a personal brand is why you’re famous in the first place.

In either case, you probably have people who help you make decisions about what to do and say next. Maybe even people to help you do and say it? In the end, the results will be on you, though, not them.

We can’t walk around next to you to police your personal tweets and Instagram stories. We can, however, opine upon your plan for such things. Considering your next Hollywood project? We’ll try to get ahead of the punchlines and the memes that might follow. As for politicians and other public figures, well… We think we can certainly do better than whoever it was who thought this was a good idea:

5. People who want to pay to hear us talk about this

Your in-house team is good, but they’ve let a few bad bags of spinach leave the farm. Your senior staff shoots straight, but that next level down is scared witless to raise a hand and point out a problem. Or maybe it’s you, C-level exec, board member, or celebrity? Perhaps you’re afraid of what you don’t know, and you want a personal consultation so you can up your game. (Out of your team’s earshot, of course.)

We can come to you and lead a White Hat Troll boot camp. We can explore case studies from within your world. And we’re happy to help you strategize for an important meeting or event.

The greatest indicator of our success will be when a client no longer needs our services. That will mean they’ve learned to think through their work as we would, which is as the world will. The edgy, angry, immature, and awful parts of the world, that is. If coming in to show you how to mix the special sauce gets you there faster than mixing it up ourselves, we’re happy to oblige.

TED/TEDx talks and keynote speeches at massive Las Vegas conventions and offsite meetings are also OK, I guess. If they work for my schedule.

We’re White Hat Trolls — we don’t bite

It can’t hurt to reach out to us and have a conversation.

It can really hurt if you don’t.

How we got here: The White Hat Trolls blog begins

A playlist of thought, on shuffle

I was out for a run the other day, fueled by the excitement and the anxiety of where I am with the launch of White Hat Trolls, and trying to escape by listening to a streaming station based on the music of Weezer. I’m in a big Weezer phase right now, dovetailing off a several-years-long Cake phase. Thanks to the efforts of @weezerafrica, I’ve had their cover of Toto’s “Rosanna” stuck in my head all week.

(Sorry, @weezerafrica — it’s better than their “Africa.” But nice job getting both out of them!)

But I digress…

So, I’m running, and “Once in a Lifetime” by Talking Heads comes on.

An interesting association, I thought to myself — the Talking Heads showing up in my Weezer-inspired stream. I’m always fascinated by the selections made by the DJ bots behind Pandora, Spotify, and Apple Music, and this one was particularly intriguing. I remembered Pandora’s early days, when we were all learning why it served up certain songs (using the “Music Genome Project”). I’d order Cake and get Weezer for dessert. Similarities in the lyrical stylings of both bands, or something like that.

Yeah, maybe it’s the lyrics, I thought.

Are you there, White Hat Trolls? It’s me, David Byrne

Now, I tend to listen more closely to lyrics while running compared to when I’m driving or in any other music-listening situation. (I suspect this is part of my attempts to forget that I’m running in the first place.) I’ve heard “Once in a Lifetime” a thousand times, but due to some combination of my “why this song?” curiosity and the fact that I’d just started my run and had a lot of distracting myself ahead of me, I locked on to them. The song, from start to finish, spoke to me, but especially:

And you may ask yourself, well… How did I get here?”

Which is what you’re probably thinking, at this very second. Especially now that you’ve read those words. Now you’re really thinking about it. Kind of like that “don’t think about pink elephants” thing, or “visualize whirled peas” bumper stickers.

How did the White Hat Trolls get here?

I think most of the White Hat Trolls would agree with me when I say that we arrived after a lot of astonished head shaking, our mouths bone dry from our jaws hanging agape at what we were seeing and hearing. Sure, history is full of examples of people (before everyone and everything started getting called a “brand”) saying and doing stupid things. Leaders listening only to those who confirm their own ideas and opinions. Folks unwilling to put themselves at risk by pointing out the flaws in the prevailing plan. Heck, it was 1837 when Hans Christian Andersen wrote a children’s story about an emperor and his (non-existent) new clothes — clothes no one would dare mention weren’t there, lest they be deemed foolish or incompetent.

Yet here we are, nearly two hundred years later, and we’re still wondering “How did that get past everyone that looked at it?” and “Wasn’t there anyone who raised their hand and said, ‘Hey, I’m not sure about this…’”

A brand crisis and your “permanent record”

When Gordon Gano of the Violent Femmes sang, “I hope you know that this will go down on your permanent record,” it was 1983 — still a decade away from the arrival of the World Wide Web. For a brand crisis, there wasn’t much “permanence” to that “permanent record.” There were only a few legendary names in the annals of brand failure, and some of those legends weren’t even true.

Plus, to even have a chance to be a pop cultural punchline, your crisis had to make headlines — there was still the “worthy” part to the term “newsworthy.” Only so many embarrassing things could be covered on the front page of The New York Times, as the old admonition used to go. Sure, Ted Turner had already (just) launched CNN, but it would be years until the insatiable appetite of the 24-hour news cycle.

No… To do real damage to your brand, you had to really screw up in a big, visible way, with high-profile celebrity spokespeople, make national headlines, and perhaps be the brunt of a Johnny Carson bit.

The tweets are coming from inside the house!

Right now, thanks to social media, modern mobile digital, and even “old fashioned” channels like the Web and email, there’s a person or a team of people in your organization with access to the world at their fingertips. (And the same goes for you if you’re a high-profile individual in control of your own communication channels, but good luck firing yourself when things go south.) Those people are on your side, though, so you probably only have to worry about them accidentally damaging your brand.

The White Hat Trolls specialize in the “They”

Then, there are all the people who don’t work for you: your customers, your competition, the media, your critics and detractors, and those with nothing better to do than make your brand’s life a living hell. We call them the “They.”

Some men just want to watch the world burn
And he doesn’t blink

If your new campaign is a flop, your execs or spokespeople say the wrong thing, or you respond poorly to a crisis or concern, the front page of The Times will be the least of your worries.

Oh, and there’s just one more thing… (And yes, you can read those words in the voice of either Detective Lieutenant Columbo or Steve Jobs — your choice): Diversity.

Think about everyone you’re not thinking about

I was serious, up above, when I wrote “access to the world” and added the bold and italics for emphasis, just in case you were skimming this. When you’re speaking to the public, you don’t get to redefine that word — the public’s the public. That means everybody. If you’re only thinking about your “target demographic,” the target is very quickly going to be on your brand, and rightfully so.

Your idea is only as good as:

  • The people behind it.
  • The people who’ve had a chance to review it.
  • The voices given the opportunity to chime in.
  • How willing you were to take their perspectives into consideration.

In a perfect world, the faces, voices, and perspectives in your board rooms, conference rooms, offices, and cubicles would reflect the world outside your doors. It is not yet a perfect world. Until it is, you owe it to your customers, your audience, your stakeholders, your employees — your brand itself — to understand how your words and actions will be received by one and all.

You’re here. We’re here. Let’s talk.

As the Femmes’ Kiss Off continued back in 1983, “don’t get so distressed.” You’ve found your way to the White Hat Trolls, and we’re here to help. Drop us a line so we can start a conversation about everything you’re not going to do wrong.