How The National Speakers Association Can Recover From A Major Mistake

Recently the National Speakers Association made a major mistake when they rebranded their conference as “Platform.”

NSA's branding (L) and Hyatt's (R)

The colors they chose, the elements of the design, and they way they are used seem nearly identical to author Michael Hyatt‘s previously established brand. A few years ago, Hyatt published a book called “Platform: Get Noticed In a Noisy World”. Hyatt also has a conference called “Platform” and a membership website called “Platform University”. What do we make of all this? Well…

NOTE: The NSA quickly responded to this situation, and handled it honorably. While they did not, to my knowledge, follow all of my recommendations, they did alter their branding. Thanks to Bruce Johnson for pointing out that the honaroable thing for me to do would be to publish this update!

It seems inconceivable that the NSA did not know of Hyatt, his brand, and its visual appearance. Either they intentionally copied Hyatt’s branding, or they are so ignorant of their own industry they don’t know who Michael Hyatt is. Considering the fact that Hyatt’s book is a New York Times, USA Today, and Wall Street Journal best seller, and the fact that he has nearly a half million social media followers, it seems very unlikely the NSA isn’t aware of him.

It seems clear, in fact, that the NSA has “borrowed” Hyatt’s branding. This was an enormous mistake. Now that they have been called on the carpet by Hyatt’s friends and fans, including Stu McLaren, Andy Traub, Mike Kim, and Kathleen Thompson, the NSA seems to be trying to sweep the matter under the rug quietly. Too late, NSA.

It’s not too late for the National Speakers Association to make this right, and even recover from this major screwup. NSA, if you’re reading this, here’s what I recommend you do immediately:

  1. Issue a public statement admitting what you did. Don’t hide behind a “we were just thinking about it” response.
  2. Apologize for the error, without trying to “spin it”. You might refer to this posting on Hyatt’s blog. It explains what a real apology should look like.
  3. Remove all references to Platform from your sites and events. Remove any and all visual elements that are in any way similar to Michael Hyatt’s.
  4. If you really want to turn this stinker into a winner, you will take one more step: invite (and pay) Michael Hyatt to speak at your convention, and seek his guidance on how you might move forward.

This may seem radical and perhaps even humiliating to you, NSA. But I assure you, it is the best way to redeem this situation, which may otherwise permanently damage your organization. If you choose to do what most organizations do when they are caught with their hand in the cookie jar, and “spin doctor” this, that will backfire on you.

You have an opportunity to either resurrect your dying organization, or you can pound the last few nails into its coffin. The choice is yours.

I urge you to do the right thing.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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41 thoughts on “How The National Speakers Association Can Recover From A Major Mistake

  1. Ray, I believe a sign of great leadership is being able to admit when you are wrong. Hopefully, the leadership of NSA will change course and make the situation right. I think the issue is not so much the name change, but the boasting about doing “research” and using the styling/branding that any of Michael Hyatt’s followers would quickly recognize as similar.

    BTW – I really enjoy your podcast. I’m glad my friend Eric recommended it.

  2. Too bad they didn’t do anything wrong. it’s a mistake for someone to think they own a common word, and that everybody should never use that word in any context again. If you look back through the history of the NSA (which is decades longer than Michaels) they have used the word platform in their marketing for a long time. And let’s not forget their “Platform Profits” sub-conference they have every year. A simple search on Amazon shows a lot of people using the word Platform as their book title that are in the same field of speaking and thought leadership. There is a lot more going on here than meets the eye on social media alone. Be careful about rushing to Michael’s defense without the full picture.

    • Patrick, thanks for taking time to share your perspective on this. I think you’re right about nobody “owning” a common word. That’s not the issue. The issue is they seem to have copied Michael’s branding, his colors, his look and feel. These elements are original to him and he has invested a great deal of time, energy, and money in establishing his brand.

      • I’d be very surprised if they knowingly copied anything or were even aware that this would be an issues. This is not a bunch of yokels sitting in a back office paying someone on 99design. The NSA has some pretty brilliant branding experts as members, one of which headed up the rebranding.

        • I think that’s the point that has people frustrated… the fact that they either weren’t aware it would be an issue because they didn’t do their research or they were aware and decided to proceed anyway

        • I think that’s the point that has people frustrated… the fact that they either weren’t aware it would be an issue because they didn’t do their research or they were aware and decided to proceed anyway

  3. Hmm. Interesting. When will the scandal come up of the guy/girl who did the design on this one? Maybe she/he just didn’t have google at the time or the 500,000 followers of Hyatt including myself were off of twitter. Oh wait and FB, oh and Google +. Yes we were all making wheels in the cave including the NSA it would appear. 🙂

  4. Greg, you can work on an employee’s quality, quantity, safety and attendance but YOU cannot instill honesty and integrity in a person. They either have it or they don’t.

    You will never be good enough nor lucky enough to catch a thief the first time they steal from you and until they change their heart, they will steal from you again.

    Jim McMains to new HR manager, Greg Gilbert in October 1989. I’ve never forgotten it and it was my first thought when I read what the NSA chose to do. Some members have tried to put lipstick on a pig but it’s still a pig.

    There is not one person in the NSA that wouldn’t feel stolen from if they were in Michael Hyatt’s position.

    Sorry, Patrick, when I think of Michael Hyatt in this situation, I don’t think of defense. Michael has the ball and is on offense. I agree with Ray. NSA should forfeit.

  5. I agree with your analysis and recommendation to “make it right with Hyatt.”

    Humbly admitting their mistake would be the right thing to do. Even going into detail – either “We didn’t do our research,” or, “We didn’t realize this would be a big deal.” would help to make it right.

    I’ve found the best way to diffuse a situation like this is to offer a mea culpa, with no strings attached. Sometimes, when apologizing, people say “We’re sorry, but…” It’s that “but” that makes the apology insincere.

    I am looking forward to seeing how the NSA remedies this. The ball is in their court, and they have to opportunity to shine or fail epically….

    • Amy this is so true…”Sometimes, when apologizing, people say “We’re sorry, but…” It’s that “but” that makes the apology insincere.”

  6. It’s an interesting situation and I can see why you’d feel this way, Ray.

    But I think it’s a grey area…

    “Platform” is a common word in the speaking business as well as the influencer business. And the “branding” of a speaking bubble, or whatever you want to call the image in the logo, is pretty common as is the color red.

    I’m not an attorney, but I think the big question is, “Is there confusion?”

    The company that owns Entrepreneur Magazine has had a lot of similar situations, suing people for using the word “entrepreneur.” Perhaps there is precedent there.

    Will be interesting to see how it all works out.

    • Platform is not a “client” word – meeting planners NEVER say platform and meeting planners hire 90% of the speakers who speak. It is not uncommon for people so close to the center of their industry to become so myopic that they forget client vocabulary.

      • Good point Rick.

        And David, it’s not about Michael “owning” the word. Clearly he doesn’t. But the BRAND IDENTITY – consisting of the visual elements of a curtain, audience. distinctive red color, and “word balloon”, all in the industry of speaking and building a “platform”… that IS clearly his. Even if it were legal to infringe on his brand (it isn’t), doing so would still be inconsiderate. And stupid.

        • I see the argument.

          Still, being inconsiderate is subjective. Platform is a common word that has been used for years within the industry and the images are common. Look up “speaking logo” on Google and you’ll see three things — a word bubble, a microphone, and a lectern.

          I think this will actually help Michael’s business. NSA is exposing the word to more people and, if he’s the authority, he’ll benefit through more book sales and bookings.

      • Platform is absolutely a client word. Go to NSA or Toastmasters and you’ll see some great speakers who never get hired because nobody knows who they are and they have no draw. On the other hand, if you have a draw, you don’t have to get a great speaker to get gigs.

        NSA is finally catching up with the times. Success in this business has little to do with how well you can speak.

  7. Integrity is directly connected to influence. It is my desire to see the NSA respond promptly, honestly, and with full integrity. The longer there is silence, the more confusion lingers. In the words of John Maxwell, “If a good reputation is like gold, then having integrity is like owning the mine.

  8. Thanks Ray. Great points and I would find it shocking that the NSA doesn’t know about Michael Hyatt or his book and conference. I agree with your recommendations and it will be interesting to see how this plays out.

    • Daron – It should not be shocking at all. Michael has a following, but they are a fraction of the fraction of total internet users. He is front and center in your brain because you are a follow and no doubt a huge fan (probably why you bought his website theme when it came out) . Most of the world of public speaking has no idea who he is . He is new in this industry. The NSA has been around since 1973 and has multiple worldwide annual conferences and members in every state and most countries . There is a far better chance of a MH member knowing about NSA than vice-versa. Even with that there are still people that don’t know about the NSA.

      • True, Michael does have a following and not everyone knows about him yet. And there is a chance that the NSA leadership team didn’t know who he was.

        However if that were the case, then the NSA should not claim to have done a “great deal of research, planning, and market testing”. A Google search for the word “Platform” would immediately reveal who he is to the NSA given that his website is in spot #3 and his book is also listed on the first page as well.

        • Was going to say the SAME THING @myideaguy:disqus. I just Googled ‘Platform’ and Michael Hyatt and his book came up in the #4 and #5 spot on page 1. Certainly if they did ‘research’ they would have Googled the name, right?

          • Also, it seems unlikely that an organization that represents an entire national industry has no awareness of one of the top leaders in that industry. And if they really didn’t know about him… well, that’s a different sort of condemnation, isn’t it?

  9. Nice written Ray! I was shocked by this when I saw it. I like the points you laid out about how they can make it right. I think these are right on and could help the NSA put this whole mess behind them ASAP. Thank you for a thoughtful piece on the subject.

  10. Even is NSA assumes they have done nothing wrong, it would go a long way for them to issue an apology for the confusion and still ask Michael to speak at their event. I would think that Platform University Graduastes could potentially be future NSA members.

    • Who would they apologize to, and what would they apologize for ? And is anybody still confused that an association that calls themselves Platform is completely unrelated to a blogger who has a book called Platform?

      • Pigeon holing Michael as just a “blogger” is unfair. Blogging is just part of his business – but so is speaking. Part of his income comes from speaking to other organizations and at various conferences and events (as he will be later this week in front of 3,000+ people at the World Domination Summit).

        But not only that, Michael has conferences and events specifically designed to help other speakers build and grow their business. So yes, you’re right, there will be confusion – but that’s the confusion that will be (and already is) happening in the market based on people thinking that there is some kind of alignment between Michael and the NSA (which is not true).

        And given that the book (which also happens to be a New York Times best-seller) focuses on helping speakers (among others) build their platform – which is exactly what the NSA is doing – I think it’s a stretch to say that they are “unrelated”.

        In fact, it specifically mentions “public speakers” in the book’s description.

  11. This was such a mistake on SOOO many levels. Even if we give NSA the benefit of the doubt re: AHEM! “borrowing” from Michael Hyatt, what good could come of abandoning their brand equity and identity so entirely? If — understandably -they wanted to get rid of the now besmirched NSA initials, why not change it to International Speakers’ Assn (ISA) or Global Speakers’ Assn (GSA) since I imagine that at least some members are not Americans or speak internationally? Then if they needed a new conference moniker, it could have been “The World Stage” or something that didn’t rip off anyone and came across as an evolution or expansion rather than an out-of-left-field, knee-jerk, and frankly WTF (sorry Ray) reaction? Beyond this, I agree with your ideas for making amends.