Is there such a thing as a Frank Sinatra Comeback Complex?

David Leen takes a look at the best business comebacks, and discusses what it takes for brands to redeem themselves following public disgrace.

Everyone loves a comeback; particularly if against the odds, impossible adversity, or when all is lost.

Someone close to me, who is very wise, says that “There’s always a way back for someone”. This is normally around some public figure that has disgraced themselves. I will generally say yes, there’s a way back, but not for him/her. That said, what do Camilla Parker-Bowles, David Beckham and Andy Murray have in common? They have at different points in their lives been Public Enemy No1, but have somehow managed to claw their way back into the public’s hearts.

One of my favourite sports writers, Matthew Syed recently asked the question “Why are the Murrays so hard to love?” He put up robust argument for and against, but what couldn’t be ignored was how hard they have all worked to balance negative press, from Judy doing Strictly, Andy and his wife Kim on a BBC documentary giving some insight to their personal lives, and Andy being less grumpy in interviews. It’s all helped to make him and the rest of his family more lovable.

MarioBalotelliAnd then I look at the footballer Mario Balotelli, his list of ‘crimes’ are both laughable and staggering – from setting fireworks off in his bathroom at home causing the fire service to be called, to showing up at other team’s press conferences. Then you look at the less well publicised stuff, giving money to the homeless, and going to a school to confront a bully (crazy but well-meaning). These don’t really conform with his bad-boy image. Is there a way back for Mario? Surely not, but maybe….?

In business the best comebacks of the last 20 years would be IBM and Apple. IBM moving from PC and mainframe manufacturing to a services colossus under Lou Gerstner, and Apple – I am sure you know the story if not there is a good biopic out at the moment on Steve Jobs.

There are less heralded ones but still pretty good – Converse got pushed out of the trainer/sneaker markets by Nike and Adidas in the 80s and 90s but has staged the most amazing comeback, and is one of the coolest brands on the planet. And Starbucks, of course, who grew on the coffee boom globally then went into reverse through a lack of innovation, only for its original CEO, Howard Schultz to return to take the helm and take the firm to new and even greater heights.

However, the one I think for so many reasons is maybe the greatest is Marvel Comics. They went bust a few years back but over the past decade have created their own genre in movie-making. Stan Lee, a mere 92 years old and the creative energy of Marvel, must love his cameos in the each of the new Marvel films as he totters on for his latest ‘blink and you’ll miss him’ slot. He must have a quiet giggle that at his venerable age, his, is one of the greatest comebacks, and I am sure he will say it was well worth the wait.

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