Marketing Doctor John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week: Carol Bartz and Saab


Brand Winner…

And Loser…


Marketing Doctor John Tantillo’s Winner and Loser of The Week

Winner:  Carol Bartz


Loser:  Saab



Public Relations 101 would probably call this week’s winner, Carol Bartz, the recently fired CEO of Yahoo, a loser.

But PR 101 would be very wrong. 

And that’s why I’m a fan of what I call Targeted Relations –not public relations.  After all, why worry about what the whole world thinks when only a particular portion of the world and its opinion matters to you.

First, let’s look at what happened.

Carol Bartz had been at the helm of Yahoo for a little over two years.  The company had been in decline before she arrived. 

It was three years ago that Microsoft made a bid for the company that was rejected by the board because they believed it significantly undervalued the company.

That bid was for $44.6 billion.  Today, the company is worth half that.

Sure, Bartz presided over the decline.  But she had been brought in to help turnaround a company that was already declining and, moreover, facing the kind of major market changes that in the tech world often prove irreversible.

But the part we care about is her firing and how Bartz responded.

Executives are fired all the time, but the unpleasant reality is covered up by euphemisms that suggest the executive simply can’t wait to have more time to focus on new, exciting opportunities or spend more quality time with his or her family.

Well, apparently Bartz would have none of that.  She publicized her firing and the way it was done. 

Bartz already has a reputation for “salty language” and calling it like she sees it, but after she was unceremoniously dismissed in a phone call from the chairman, she really hit back.

She called Yahoo’s board doofuses and in a move that must make the public relations’ folks cringe said they had “f- me over.”

Again, PR 101 advocates smooth exits for all parties during such corporate divorces.  The thinking goes that it is professional for the CEO to pretend that he or she still cares about the company that he or she is leaving and the best way to do this is to act as if everything is amiable among all top level management.

By these rules, Bartz failed.  But these rules don’t really get what’s going on with Yahoo or with its relationship with Bartz.  Bartz was always a company outsider and it makes little sense for either Bartz or Yahoo to pretend as if her interests and the company’s interests were or should remain in some kind of perfect alignment.

Bottom line, Yahoo is a company with thousands of employees that is in a fight for its life.  Bartz is a fighter and she was brought in to help Yahoo fight.  Her brand is not the corporate shrinking violet and the story now looks like this: Bartz wanted to fight for the company but the board did not.

In her remarks, she didn’t scorn Yahoo.  She affirmed her support for the employees of Yahoo but struck out at the management that she seems to believe is hurting the company.  In fact, the manner of her firing was more evidence for Bartz of bad management by the board.

Fact is, Bartz has accomplished two things by being bold and uncensored.  She has re-affirmed her own brand.  Sure, she was fired but she is clearly a powerhouse and my guess is that someone is going hire her again and soon.  And two, she used communications to re-position the argument in her favor.  Now it looks like the board, not her, is the problem.

In this case, to thine own brand be true could never be truer.


It looks like Saab, the Swedish luxury car brand, might be about to become history.

A court in Sweden has denied it a lifeline –it is trying to voluntarily reorganize.

The problems might date back to its relationship with GM.

You might remember a fairly recent TV ad that made the connection between Saab and jet engine technology.  The ad didn’t do too much to help the withering brand and its no surprise why.

Apparently when a GM executive was asked what the Saab/jet campaign was supposed to be telling Saab’s target market and potential buyers, he shrugged and said “I don’t know.”

Wow!  Talk about forgetting the importance of knowing your brand before you even lift a finger to promote it.

Bottom line, companies fall apart long after their brands do.  But this collapse is sad to watch because, after all, Saab is a name that people recognize. 

It might be that China will still rescue Saab with a buyout, but even if it does, the Saab people must remember what it was in the first place that made their cars so sought after in the past.  Brands are more than names and whoever tries to revitalize Saab must find what it was about the car that made the name so strong.

One place to start might be some market research, so an executive connected to this brand will never again say “I don’t know” when it comes to why Saab buyers are Saab buyers.

And, remember, it’s always easier when you keep marketing and branding in mind. 



TODAY’S TANTILLO TAKEAWAY –  Use the essential features of your brand to determine what communications rulebook applies to you or your company.








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