It is not my intent to speak ill of the dead, nor to be completely crass, but with the sudden demise of the King of Pop, there are lessons to be learned by anyone (or any company) that must face the scrutiny of the public eye -- especially in crisis.
For the past five days, Michael Jackson's death has trumped ANY other story... worldwide. It is truly a testimony to his "icon" status - apparently, "Elvis has left the building." However, as everyone knows, Michael Jackson's eccentricities, his fiscal debts, as well as his accusations of molestation had left his image tarnished and a brand that was on the verge of a star's worst fear: irrelevancy.
So how do you ensure a legacy worth remembering?
You get ahead of the curve and own your content such that you can dictate the message to be digested by your public. Far too often, we see politicians and businesses who have come under bad press precisely because they used a "head in the sand" approach... just hoping for it all to "go away."
Nothing could be worse.
Jackson's family (and publicists) knew the "story" was going to be big - the question was not "Who was going to tell it" (because everyone was), but "How would they tell it?"
By delivering steady portions to a ravenous media, they effectively have controlled which items would be newsworthy in a given news cycle. When everything you do is the fodder for publicity, the anti-crowd can not mount a persuasive campaign because the news of the day is already set. It is my contention that those closest to Jackson - and to his estate - decided very swiftly to set the agenda of how he was to be perceived: whether he was a victim; did someone need to answer for his death; and how others OWED their careers to a "legendary pioneer." A tainted Michael Jackson is a devalued brand. And a devalued brand is money and opportunity... lost.
To my knowledge, there has not been a single derogatory story regarding Jackson. This morning, home movies of Jackson frolicking with his unmasked children appeared, exclusively on the Today Show. "Michael Jackson as good father" should have been the headline. An intriguing rebuttle to the creepiness-factor of veiling your children by offering up the loving dad who did so to protect their identities and to give them a chance at "normalcy". (Curiously, showing their faces now ensures that they will have no such luck from this point forward.) No matter, that's NOT the story. Everyone will still think he was an eccentric, but moving public perception from pedophile to a loving father attempts to soften cynical hearts the rest of us held about his integrity -- giving his memory a new chance at redemption.
What his true legacy will become, only time will tell - but one thing is for certain, those that were in line to put their teeth into his estate to extract their debt owed may be thinking twice as they stand in a line at the profit potential of a "New Graceland" ...for decades and dollars to come.