Britney Spears’ 16 year old sister, a Nickelodeon actress named Jamie-Lynn, is pregnant. Here’s why you should care: the sisters, and their mother (who was slated for a book deal) are a textbook case of How To Ruin Your Personal Brand, and watching their deconstruction has become a fascinating look at a case study in mismanagement.
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The three Spears women are, doubtless, entrepreneurs of an unusual stripe; all entertainers are. But no matter the niche, startup owners have to be almost myopic about preserving the integrity and reliability of their brand. Lose the trust and regard of your customers, and any further efforts your business makes will be laughably disregarded. Here’s how the Louisianan Ladies have royally screwed up a multi-million dollar franchise.
The Pregnancy: For Jamie-Lynn alone, getting pregnant was probably an unwise decision (or mistake, depending on the circumstances). The producers of the network show she starts on, “Zoey 101,” won’t be too amenable to writing in a teen pregnancy to the kid-oriented script. The show was set to resume filming in February, but since Hollywood waits for no one, you can bet Jamie-Lynn is out of a job.
But consider her pregnancy in the context of her mother and her sister, and the bigger picture of brand bone-headedness comes into view. The Spears matriarch, Lynne, had been in the midst of negotiating a book deal about the challenge of raising two successful, high-profile girls. It was supposed to come out on Mother’s Day under the title “Pop Culture Mom: A Real Story of Fame and Family in a Tabloid World.” According to Us Magazine, it was summarized as a parenting book with a number of “faith elements to it.” Unsurprisingly, the book deal has been indefinitely delayed.
The Disunity: When questioned about her younger daughter’s indiscretions, Lynne Spears reportedly told MTV: “I didn’t believe it because Jamie Lynn’s always been so conscientious. She’s never late for her curfew. I was in shock. I mean, this is my 16-year-old baby.” This is not crisis-management language.
“Wait,” you might be saying; “this is a family we’re talking about, not a business.” Yes, it is a family. But when you run a family business, it becomes both, and needs to be treated as such. Lynne’s reaction smacks of inattentive parenting and cluelessness — did she not know her daughter was sexually active? Did her daughter fail to inform her before the press did? That kind of dissonance between reality and illusion (“my 16-year-old baby”) doesn’t speak well for her aptitude as a mother or a career adviser. For those that think she shouldn’t be held to the standard of the latter position, remember that she once managed both her daughters, and was the driving parent behind their entry into show business as children.
The Craziness: Taken in isolation, Jamie-Lynn’s pregnancy shoots her mother’s book deal in the foot. But in the scheme of Britney’s two-year long descent into ostensible insanity, it reeks of the unmistakable scent of family craziness. And that is exactly the kind of nuttiness that can sink even a juggernaut business like Britney’s.
Consider a nearly analogous situation: the Simpson family (Jessica and Ashlee, not Homer and Marge). Jessica Simpson’s father, also her manager for a period of her career, is a bonafied lunatic who is on record with numerous lascivious comments about his own daughter’s sexual appeal and breast size. He also has an infamous temper. His younger daughter, Ashlee, has made a fool of herself on at least two occasions, botching live performances with a lip-synching disaster on SNL and a boo-earning performance at the Superbowl. Even so, Jessica and Ashlee have continued to keep their professional heads above water, because their imperfections look like a product of circumstance and bad luck, not a product of familial insanity. That’s mostly a product of Jessica’s even keel in public, and her consistent work as an artist (even if the term “artist” is arguably misapplied).
Compare that to Lynne Spears and her daughters, and you see a different breed of disasters: the self-imposed kind. Britney’s numerous quick divorces, legal battles, careless parenting, drug and alcohol addiction all made her most recent album’s negative reviews a foregone conclusion. To be a successful artist, and more broadly, entrepreneur, there has to be at least the illusion of composure and confidence behind the scene. Once that disappears, the quality of the product ceases to be the issue, because no one wants to buy anything from a crazy person.
The End Result: In a perfect world, each of the Spears’ indiscretions would handicap only their own careers. But they reinforce each other, compounding the knot of incompetence and rendering each of their brands’ values — and their common brand — increasingly devoid in value. Rarely does celebrity news have too much to teach the business world, but in this case, take some heed: no one operates in a vacuum, especially a family. And personal life and business are rarely as divorced as anyone would like. Take it from Lynne Spears: keep tabs on your business partners now, and avoid disaster later.