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Ryan Lochte: When Celebrity Influencers Become Toxic

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Ellie Pierce

Can execute figurative cartwheels, just not the literal kind. #NopeForever

LSB_Blog_RyanLochtePost_1000x1000Yesterday some big news came down in the world of celebrity influencers: Speedo announced it was ending its relationship with the Olympic swimmer Ryan Lochte. Ralph Lauren, too, dropped Lochte, as did the hair-removal company Syneron Candela.

Speedo’s announcement read, in part: “While we have enjoyed a winning relationship with Ryan for over a decade and he has been an important member of the Speedo team, we cannot condone behavior that is counter to the values this brand has long stood for.”

The Backstory

The Cliff’s notes for those who have been living under a rock: Lochte and three other American swimmers vandalized a gas station and, at best, Lochte completely “over-exaggerated” when he made up a story about getting robbed at gunpoint. At worst, he flat-out lied to everybody from his mom to the police to the USOC.

If it sounds bad, it only gets worse when you consider how it must feel for Brazilians. Many people in Brazil were already sensitive about what the Olympic games have spotlighted about their country.

And while some may want to take a “boys will be boys” attitude about the whole affair, at 32, Lochte is hardly a kid.

What Can We All Learn from Lochte’s Apparent Downfall?

This is really an important reminder about influencer relations, and specifically about celebrity influencers.

Brands often think that “influencer relations” just means “pay big money for a celebrity endorsement and walk away happy.” But using influencers is always risky. That’s the point of their influence: You don’t control celebrities.

In fact, the very appeal of all influencers—from celebrity influencers to bloggers—lies in the fact that they are real people. They have real strengths and weaknesses. The fact that they don’t sound (or act) like your marketing is what makes them influential.

But … that also means they can behave in bone-headed ways. You have to be prepared to deal with it. The “our celebrity influencer just did an internationally stupid thing” scenario is far from uncommon. Who doesn’t remember current Olympic golden-boy (pun intended) Michael Phelps’s own bong problem a few years back?

Don’t forget: Celebrity influencers aren’t the only way

This is also a good time to bring up another reminder: Celebrity influencers aren’t the only way to gain influence for your brand.

Instead, think beyond sponsorships. As Amy Rohn and Todd LaBeau recently talked about on the LSB Marketing Toddcast, there are many highly effective ways to use influencers to help your brand. Many of them don’t involve million-dollar deals with athletes and other famous folk.

Influencer relations can be anything from giveaway sponsorships with YouTubers to collaborations with fresh new content creators. You can work with folks who already have a passion for your brand.

Regardless of how you do influencers, spend some time thinking about who you really want to align your brand with.

Or at the very least have a strong plan B in case that bad-boy celeb does something that crosses the line from questionable to unacceptable.

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