He’s (Not So) Gr-r-r-eight! Kelloggs Fires Phelps in a Good PR Move


August 19, 2008 marked an exciting day for Kellogg Company.  This is what was released on the wire: “As an Official Sponsor of the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team and a proud sponsor of Phelps, it is only fitting that Kellogg Company feature this world-class athlete on its iconic boxes of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes and Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes cereals,” said Marta Cyhan, Vice President, Global Promotions, Kellogg Company. “Michael embodies the values behind our Frosted Flakes Earn Your Stripes program. He knows that winning is not just about the glory that comes with gold medals, but about good sportsmanship, working hard and being your best.”

From a PR standpoint, I think firing Phelps was a good move by Kellogg.  I mean after all, moms all across the country will continue buying Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes(R) and Kellogg’s Corn Flakes(R) Cereal  while explaining to their impressionable kiddies that if you smoke dope (or at least get caught doing it) you won’t be featured on the box.  Moms get to feel good and Kellogg gets to continue hawking flakes!

I tend to agree with those people who believe that athletes should not be placed on a pedestal as role models, but I do believe that his firing was justified. 

From a business perspective, if a CEO or anyone paid to do a specific job gets caught on camera smoking a bowl and it’s leaked to the press, the likelihood is that they would be fired.  Kellogg hired Phelps to ostensibly do the job of promulgating his perception as an aspiration (and role model) to youths.  He failed. He was terminated for a job done, well, not so  Gr-r-r-eight!

1 Comment
  1. Chip Manly
    March 4, 2009

    Hey Deb,

    If Kellogg's sales are any indication of whether or not the PR move was a good one, then it didn't turn out as grrrreat as predicted. It seems, the only real failure was the PR move, not to mention your post.

    It may not have been obvious at the time you wrote this, but this country's marijuana views have matured considerably since the Reefer Madness days. Michael Phelps just happened to bring the conversation to the dinner table. The message is that, in this day and age, it is more harmful to fire a pothead endorser than it is to address the situation in a publicly mature manner with, perhaps, a suspension.

    I believe modern-day PR is going to have to mature along with the public to be able to do their job effectively. It is ironic that you represent a Northern California PR company that celebrates the connoisseurship of a locally grown mind-altering crop. I'm curious to read a post-backlash follow up, not necessarily to this comment, knowing what you know now and whether or not you stand behind your blog post.

    - Chip

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