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Steinbrenner: A Study in how not to handle a personal brand.

Posted by: David Kiley on October 10, 2007


The Yankees lost their series to Cleveland. Lots of Yankee haters are happy. Yankee fans are disgusted. Whether or not the fans blame the pitching, Alex Rodriguez’s quiet bat, Joe Torre or general manager Brian Cashman, one thing is certain. Yankee owner George Steinbrenner somewhere along the way totally lost sight of his own brand.

I’m not talking about the Yankee brand, but the Steinbrenner brand. Time was that “Big Stein,” as he was known on Seinfeld, defined the image of an executive who was bold, risk-taking, brash, a doer. Like him or hate him (Jay Buhner for Ken Phelps was a disaster trade of his making, he stood for something.

But in the last few years, Steinbrenner has taken on the role of cowering noodge. Case in point, a typical paragraph from today’s New York Times story about his likely change of managers: “His [Steinbrenner’s] only statement came through his publicist, Howard Rubenstein, who said Steinbrenner was flying home to Tampa, Fla., and had nothing to say for now. Steinbrenner will seek opinions on whether to offer Torre a new contract, but his public decree before Game 3 of the division series — that Torre would lose his job if the Yankees lost the series to Cleveland — resonates.”

“His publicist, Howard Rubeinstein.” For years now, Steinbrenner has done very few interviews, choosing instead to issue mostly empty and cryptic statements through PR-man Rubenstein.

Note to CEOs everywhere: Its fine to issue press releases with statements. But on a semi-regular basis, you should get out there and say something about your product and your brand. Speak for yourself and your company…for pete’s sake.

Does Steinbrenner think he is cultivating some sort of Joe DiMaggio- like mystique by consistently hiding behind Rubenstein? Does anyone think that the words the media and public get are actually coming from Steinbrenner? Not likely. Getting a statement from Rubenstein is like getting an autographed baseball that was actually signed by the club-house attendant (a regular practice going back decades) instead of the baseball star.

Steinbrenner’s deference to Rubenstein has made him look weak, limp and beyond running the gold-standard sports franchise in organized sports. Not a good image for a CEO.

If Rubenstein was the image handler he is supposed to be, he would have advised his client of this years ago.

Reader Comments


October 10, 2007 1:05 PM

This is one of the most ignorant stories written. Why does this writer try to take on the Boss and deface him where so many other reporters have failed in the past. His logic makes very little sense. Event the President of the United States use a Press Sec to send his message to the public. I guess Kiley never was a boy scount and helped an old person to cross the street and or needed an attorney to protect his interest. The Yankees are Steinbrenner's personal investment - what he does is his own business. Quit picking on an old man!

Lehel Reeves

October 10, 2007 1:07 PM

The 'Yankees Team' is an oxymoron. Baseball ultimatly is still a TEAM sport. The Yankees have become a bunch of individuals from top to bottom who attempted to come together as a team after the all star break, but like anything forced, unatural and not based in chemistry, they could not sustain.

Mike Chase

October 10, 2007 5:44 PM

George needs to evaluate his general manager Brian Cashman. Its not all the managers fault.
I think trying to use clemens was a waste. The pitching needs to be cleaned up. Use the farm system. Get a decent trade. But quit blaming Torre for losing the series. The other teams in the American League are catching up to the Yankees.

The Ad Contrarian

October 10, 2007 9:34 PM

When is this appalling practice of
translating everything into the dreadful jargon of marketing going to end? Steinbrenner is not a brand. He's a person.

Bill Marshall

October 11, 2007 10:23 AM

Mr. Steinbrenner does not deal directly with the press because he has serious health problems. All of us should be sensitive to his situation.


October 12, 2007 10:42 AM

David - I very much agree with you. Even as a longtime Yankees fan, I'm a bit disgusted with the statements Steinbrenner releases through Howard R. In this time of post-season defeat, the Yankees brand needs someone to stand up.

Steinbrenner's negativity and lack of direct contact with the public does nothing to lift the spirit of both his team and Yankees' fans around the nation.

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News, opinions, inflammatory meanderings and occasional ravings about the world of advertising, marketing and media. By marketing editor Burt Helm, Innovation Editor Helen Walters, and senior correspondent Michael Arndt.

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