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January 6, 2012
Outsource Your Marketing, Outsource Your Ethics
 
Perform a Google search for the Avenger controller, made by video game controller manufacturer N-Control. Doing so will query a variety of sites containing information about the device. The search will also include stories about how a marketing firm contracted by N-Control nearly destroyed their brand.
 
When N-Control outsourced their public relations to Paul Christoforo at Ocean Marketing, they had no idea they were about to enter a PR nightmare that has forever tarnished the name of N-Control and the Avenger controller. While the actions of rogue egomaniacs can never truly be foreseen, N-Control should have known the dangers of letting their brand image be controlled out-of-house.
 
As attorney Eric Turkewitz says, “outsourcing marketing = outsourcing ethics.”
 
Managing a brand is more than deciding the colors on the packaging, or keeping your marketing message consistent. Brands are constituted via hundreds of moving parts, including every facet of the organization. From the ease of getting to customer service agents, to the copy on the packaging — everything a company does feeds into its brand image.
 
When marketing is outsourced, so are the ethics. And, if brands don’t keep a constant eye on the marketing, it can’t possibly ensure that the marketing tactics are within the ethics of the brand. This is why Popehat.com added to Turkewitz’s maxim, saying that one also outsources their “reputation” with their marketing, as N-Control saw in the worst way possible.
 
Outsourcing happens. Nearly every product that has been manufactured (outside of the lonely, wooden toy maker in a rustic Prague neighborhood) has used outsourced parts or labor. However, outsourcing a highly visible brand component, such as marketing or public relations, is a completely different story.
 
While not every instance is going to turn into Christofoesque nightmare, it has the potential to if not carefully monitored and managed. The Internet is fast. Christoforo’s infamous emails were sent on Dec. 26, 2011. The next day, they were on Penny-Arcade.com, one of the most highly trafficked sites in the nation (ranked 1,006 of US sites by Alexa.com).
 
The word “blindsided” does not even begin to describe what happened to N-Control. But, by handing the branding keys to a little man with a big ego, N-Control opened the door for this to happen, and was crippled when it came to responding.
 
The lesson here is to outsource what you need, but be wary about doing so with crucial elements to your brand’s image. All it takes is a few emails to cripple a brand.

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Andrew Davis is a Charleston, SC-based creative services consultant to small businesses and non-profits. Follow him on Twitter here.
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