The scope for the strategic use of scandals

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24 November 2020

Scandals are pervasive in many areas of human life. Organizational leaders are human, and sometimes they are involved in scandalous issues that affect the organization. We propose a characterization of scandals that explicitly considers the potential benefits of scandals for transgressors. Even if scandals are frequently considered as undesirable for the targets or transgressors, we develop four rationales by which scandals can be beneficial for the scandal targets. First, scandals can propel the individual and the organization or cause into the limelight and generate a low cost publicity that can serve the interest of the target, e.g., by increasing the visibility and salience of a given issue or getting the right-to-explain what happened with great mass media coverage. Second, scandal targets can decide to serve as altruistic or egoistic scapegoats. Third, scandal targets can use scandals to divert attention from more serious issues. Fourth, scandals can constitute a way to disadvantage competitors or foes who would be more harmed than the initial self-inflicted target. Moreover, for each rationale, we suggest some conditions of its success. Anecdotal evidence and real-world examples are also provided to illustrate and support these rationales.