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

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.

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