02/08/2011 07:32 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Apple, Gabrielle Giffords, Toyota: When Good Stories Go Bad

I've been a teller of stories all my life - in front of the camera, behind the camera, as an entrepreneur, executive, leader and professor at UCLA for close to four decades. The purposeful story - one that drives your listeners/audience to your goal and incites and excites them to heed your call to action and viral market it as their own - is one of the most potent resources any individual, brand, or company can tap into and have it be their game-changer.

Most of the time...

And sometimes, very often publically, there's the good story that's gone bad. Circumstances might have changed, decisions driven by greed or shortcuts are made, or Mother Nature might have taken control, creating the telling of a new story that is a fabrication of reality or resulting in the complete cessation of telling any story. Both of these scenarios have the power to repel an audience, alienating them from your brand and causing your enterprise to tank.

In my own life, I've experienced trying to remedy a good story gone bad first hand. Sometimes you can't hold fast, you just have to hold on - for dear life! Many years ago, I partnered with a major comedy brand, Woody Allen, a star and director. Just before the release of his new movie, news broke out about Woody's romance with Soon-Yi Previn who was none other than Woody's girlfriend, Mia Farrow's, adopted daughter! Imagine managing a $30 million dollar brand, called unbelievably, "Husbands and Wives" and having his horrible story being told? I couldn't pitch through it and that story struck us out. There was no story I could tell to salvage that brand.

My epiphany was, when brands are hooked up to people and their personal behavior, bad stuff can happen that pollutes the brand's story and becomes the brand's story. In my case, the best business decision was to cut my losses. While the "cutting loss" strategy be can the best last resort decision, many business folks don't have it as an option.

Sometimes you have to confront bad news head on. Recently, these folks and brands have been victims, many self-inflicted, of good stories gone bad.


This post has been corrected from an earlier version.