Hugh Hefner’s brainchild, Playboy, is out to reinvent itself. Will less smut mean more money-making deals?

Scott Flanders, 55, is the first CEO outside of the Hefner family to run the privately held Playboy Enterprises Inc. Flanders has shrunk the staff by 75 percent, outsourced much of the business, and moved company headquarters from its historic home in Chicago to Los Angeles.

After 60 years of American hedonism, Playboy is moving away from the seedier aspects of the brand and morphing into a licensing company. Flanders’ goal is to build an upscale lifestyle brand around an iconic bunny logo.

The new Playboy is both smaller and more profitable. The corporate home is filled with dealmakers but devoid of bunnies and playmates.

Playboy sold its TV channels and digital properties to Internet porn giant Manwin, according to the Wall Street Journal, and struck partnership deals with art and fashion leaders like Dolce & Gabbana to reposition the brand. Long barred from Apple’s digital storefronts because of its titillating past, Playboy will create a nudity free app for the iPhone that features lifestyle tips, beautiful women and articles from the magazine.

Playboy still has a ways to go to achieve the profitability it needs to satisfy its bankers and private equity owners. More licensing deals will help, but what Playboy doesn’t know about their brand might hurt them.

Probe for Your Own Vulnerable Spots

Not knowing your real reputation in the marketplace can kill deals. Here are some ways to probe for your perceived weak spots.

1.Never Assume. A brand like Playboy carries a lot of baggage. You are probably not an icon, but people will naturally form opinions about you too. Assumptions are being made and impressions formed about your company you are neither aware of or possibly in control of, so don’t be in the dark. You have to figure out what they are and how to influence them.  Social media mining will give you a real-time picture, but not necessarily the deeper formed bias. You’ll have to dig for that. Customer satisfaction surveys will provide user opinions, but not as clear a sense of the broader public. You need to take the time and money to find the more complete picture. Remember, facts are your friends, even if they aren’t friendly.

2.Find the Truth. If you don’t ask, you don’t get. Playboy needs to ask potential licensing partners what they really think of the brand. So should you. A client of ours almost lost a deal because his prospects were concerned that his financial support might not be strong enough if they tripled their purchases from him over the next year.  Only because he asked each of the people at the prospect’s table by phone “In your mind, at this point, what would be the #1 thing that might keep us from working together?” did he find out the truth.  He got on a plane with his CFO and his banker, visited the prospects, and closed the deal at that meeting.

3.Go Negative. In deals we are often cautious about bringing up the negatives.  We have been taught that is a bad thing.  However, in your next big deal, what you do not know will kill you. Going negative can actually be a positive. If you know there are negatives, then be the first to the punch by bringing up what you know they know. Then ask what it means to the buyer and how it will affect the deal. Pretending the issue does not exist gives the issue power. Acknowledging and addressing the issue gives you the power.

Playboy has used feedback in these same ways, and as a result is redesigning its print look with modern photography and is even going as far as bringing in a sexual anthropologist to help make its content more appealing to the current generation. Understanding how the market perceives you and where your weak spots are is the first step in redesigning and redefining your brand.

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