Lesson Learned: Brand Stewardship Requires Relentless Vigilance… and Then Some

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Last week, I was reading a terrific article to be published in the University of Pennsylvania Law Review by Professor Elizabeth Pollman entitled, “Startup Governance.”  

I made my way through the lion’s share of the article when I saw the below footnote on page 43. Professor Pollman cited a comment that I made a couple of years ago to an article written by Jessica E. Lessin and published on a subscription-based, online, technology-focused publication called The Information.

The instructive moment here is that I wasn’t quoted from a book or article that I authored, nor were comments I made excerpted from a speaking or media engagement.  Rather, I was quoted from… a comment field in an article that was behind a paywall.

Now, for the record, I’m not suggesting that Professor Pollman did anything untoward.  The citation was 100 percent accurate, and the context in which it was proffered was unassailable.

Irrespective of whatever guard rails are set forth in The Information’s user and privacy agreements, I had no expectation that what I was writing in that comment field was in any way private – full stop.  That said, I also didn’t pause to think that what I was writing was going to end up in the nation’s oldest law journal either. In hindsight, I wouldn’t have written my comment any differently, but that’s not really the point.

The lesson is a poignant one: Absolutely anything you say or type – in any venue whatsoever – is fair game.

It could be a restaurant review, it could be an informal comment to a blogger at an industry conference, or it could be the speech you give in the locker room as coach of your kid’s victorious soccer team.  The comment you make to that New York Times article might seem funny and irreverent when you hit send, but a year from now some of your stakeholders might feel a bit differently.

Life is not meant to be lived under a veil of suffocating self-censorship.  But even if you feel – as I do – that you are abundantly careful in that regard… be even more careful.  

It’s often said that small-cap stock prices take the stairs going up, but the escalator down.  The same is true of personal and corporate brands.

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ADAM J. EPSTEIN

A globally recognized small-cap expert, Mr. Epstein has advised, governed, and invested in hundreds of small-cap companies. His capital markets and corporate governance acumen are products of a singular perspective – a former corporate attorney, operating executive, institutional investor, and, now, board advisor. As Bloomberg Businessweek commented regarding Mr. Epstein’s category-defining corporate governance book, “attention, directors of small-cap companies. Help is on the way.” 

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