A Case Study In Personal Brand Destruction

A minor blogosphere tussle has turned ugly. That’s nothing new; what’s surprising about this particular fight is that one of the participants, Shel Israel, is a well known author and consultant who makes a living advising others on how to avoid the very trap that he fell into himself. In the process Israel has done considerable damage to his personal brand.

Israel is a long time PR and strategy consultant, and co-authored the book Naked Conversations with blogger Robert Scoble. The book advises companies to embrace new media conversations with customers and potential customers.

Israel recently teamed with Scoble on a new project – video interviews for FastCompanyTV. On March 19 Israel uploaded the first four of twenty interviews he’s recorded.

Frankly, the interviews are pretty bad. One in particular, with Forrester senior analyst Jeremiah Owyang, is particularly poor. While Owyang goes on a long monologue, an uninterested Israel drinks coffee and holds a microphone that at times covers large parts of Owyang’s face.

Up to this point, there’s nothing much of note. Israel admits that video interviews are new to him, and he values the opportunity to learn and improve. He should have taken the comments and feedback, even the highly critical feedback, from the few people who watched the video as constructive criticism and moved on. Israel certainly would have advised his clients to do exactly that.

But he didn’t take his own advice, and that’s where the real trouble began.

Enter Loren Feldman, a video blogger and general trouble maker. Feldman seems to have a nose for thin skinned people and targets them on his video blog, 1938Media. When he saw Israel’s first show, he went on the attack, and shortly thereafter recorded a steady stream of faux interviews with a hand puppet as Israel. Feldman has now recorded ten or more videos using the puppets.

Israel became enraged at the puppet videos and went on the attack, writing multiple personal attacks against Feldman. He called Feldman a racist and a pornographer, and talked about hiring lawyers and private investigators, to go after Feldman. He also made other vaguely threatening remarks.

The blogosphere reacted, predictably taking sides with Feldman.

Israel responded, but it was too late. The damage was done.

I spoke with Israel today on the phone, and his comments reflected what he wrote in the blog post. He stressed that the video interviews would get better over time, and regretted his reaction to Feldman.

What should Israel have done? Absolutely nothing at best, or simply acknowledged the attention from Feldman as childish but somewhat funny. I know from experience that this is the best way to handle Feldman – over a year ago he also did a hit job on me, which I ignored. He moved on to other targets.

Feldman and Israel are both friends of mine today. I hosted the launch party for Naked Conversations at my house in February 2006, and Feldman is staying at my house this week (which is why I heard about this in the first place). I doubt that the two will ever be on friendly terms with each other, but I hope that something positive can come from this for Israel. He should start by reading his own book.