Any Press Is Good Press….Or Is It?

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For years a myth has plagued those who work in the media relations/public relations industry that “any press is good press.” Yet the idea that any news is good news for the publicity of a company or person has been proven untrue by many examples of publicity gone wrong.  In July of 2011, the Atlantic News Paper ran a story discussing the ten companies that were “burned” worst by bad publicity.

The number one company on their list was global gas and oil company,BP, whose Deepwater Horizon oil spill was described as, “the largest public relations disaster in corporate history.” This incident in 2010 was the largest oil spill the industry had ever seen, and after viewing the devastation that ravaged marine life and human industries along the Gulf Coast,the infuriated citizens of the Gulf Coast states looked to BP.

The oil spill itself was horrendous enough but the response from the corporate heads at BP was simply insulting to all those affected by the tragedy. Not only did officials from BP refuse to take responsibility for the accident, they also put the blame on the individuals who were drilling and the contractors who were in their  employment.   As images of birds covered in oil struggling to fly on Louisiana beaches were splashed across national newspapers, the officials at BP continued to deny their part on the tragedy.  As a result of their response BP received a huge, negative backlash of public opinion who saw the company as apathetic and uncaring.

When working in public relations it is important to distinguish between good publicity and bad publicity.  As BP learned,  the axiom “all press is good press,” is clearly false.  More citizens are able to access news at a faster rate than ever before, and it is essential for companies to not only tell the truth but accept responsibility during times of crisis. In an age where information is readily accessible by any person with a computer, television or smart phone, it is necssary for companies to be forthcoming, responsible and above all  truthful and honest.

Kim Kardashian-A Case Study In Public Perception

 

(Image via SmartGirlConsulting.com)

Lets be honest, Kim Kardashian has never been America’s Sweetheart.  But for all her lack of apparent talent, she has become a household name and her Kardashian brand is one of the most powerful and influential in the United States and around the world.  She is reportedly worth over $35 million dollars, money she made through reality television contracts, perfume sales and a variety of other entrepreneurial ventures.

Kim started out as a stylist to the stars, and after gaining some brief publicity for appearing with Paris Hilton on the red carpet, it was her sex tape with a popular R&B singer that put Kim’s name on the map. The notorious sex tape scandal combined with her beauty, famously large derriere and outrageous lifestyle soon generated interest in the American public.  A few months later she and her large family became an instant television hit through their reality show, “Keeping Up With the Kardashians,” and the rest is history.

After her over the top wedding to NBA baller Kris Humphries in Fall of 2011, Kardashian had ridden her PR train into the sunset of her fantasy wedding.  Through viral marketing, media saturation and consistent public appearances, the Kardashian brand had been built on three very marketable sisters who were simultaneously beloved and repulsed by the American public.

However, just 72 days after tying the knot, Kim announced that she would be filing for divorce from her husband.  The media absolutely exploded.  Rumors that the wedding was an elaborate PR stunt swirled online, and the public quickly turned its back on the newly single Kim.  People said she had just gone too far, that divorce so shortly after her extravagant, $20 million wedding was an outrage.  Kim’s public image took a major hit, and many criticized her decision to continue pushing marketing for her upcoming fragrance and reality television show.

Instead of going into hiding and laying low Kim defiantly continued her notoriously busy schedule, even flying to Australia for a press tour on the day the divorce was announced.  On Hearprenuer.com they discussed how many people felt that Kim had destroyed the sanctity of marriage (if the marriage truly was scripted, as many claim it to be).  In the wake of the negative backlash Kim’s attempts to repair her image even soured among public opinion; many rejected the idea that donating her wedding gifts to charity could make up for it, and her trip to Haiti was criticized for being a publicity stunt.

Despite all of the scandals Kim and the Kardashian brand has proved to have staying power, and resonates among millions of consumers who purchase their clothing line, weight loss pills, self tanners and so on.   It is certain that Kim Kardashian has ridden the roller coaster of public perception, and only time will tell if this latest scandal is too much for the public to tolerate, even for  a Kardashian.

Chris Brown’s Attempt to Repair His Broken Image

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Before February of 2009 Chris Brown was known as a hugely popular R&B and Pop singer who created hit after hit, mesmerizing female fans with his toothy grin and winning over new admirers with his amazing dance skills. Yet in February 2009 Brown and then-girlfriend, fellow pop star Rihanna, got into an altercation while driving  to the Grammy Music Awards.  The result is well known; Brown was later arrested and charged with felony assault and making criminal threats, and the pictures of Rihanna’s bruised and swollen face were plastered across the Internet. Brown became America’s most hated pop star overnight.

In the years since that fateful evening, Brown has repeatedly attempted to repair his image, and convince America that his violent ways are behind him. Yet, despite his attempts, Brown’s temper has continued to flare in a series of incidents.  Last year in March of 2011 Brown was supposed to appear in an interview with Good Morning America to promote his new album. However, after being asked a series of questions regarding Rihanna and the 2009 incident he got so angry that he threw his chair through a glass window of the ABC building in downtown New York City.

Then, after the 2012 Grammy Awards, in which he was invited to perform not one but two dance numbers, many criticized the producers of the Grammys for allowing a man convicted of beating his girlfriend back onto the stage. Brown subsequently took to his Twitter, tweeting an expletive filled statement, “HATE ALL YOU WANT BECUZ I GOT A GRAMMY Now! That’s the ultimate FUCK OFF.”   The tweet was quickly deleted and even condemned by his own mother, but the fact remains that Brown continues to let his temper get the best of him.

Brown has repeatedly asked fans to focus on the positive side of  his life, his music.  Brown is a very talented artist and claims to only want the public to appreciate his music, but he must learn that being a major celebrity means all aspects of his life will be under intense scrutiny. The public may continue to remind Brown of his past, but it is up to him how to react.  If Brown wants to repair his image, he must learn to deal with his past and remind the world that there is a brighter future for him.

Is Addressing A Crisis Always Necessary?

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One of the most frustrating things that a company can do during a time of crisis is not to acknowledge what is happening.   As I have mentioned many times in my blog posts the social media climate has changed the way that people access and share information, and because of this companies must change the way they respond to crisis or scandal or get left behind in a cloud of public resentment.

In a post by the Bernstein Crisis Management team, they discuss how companies are hesitant to join the conversation during times of crisis, but how it is essential to the integrity of the company to release accurate and truthful information.  There are so many examples today of companies who leave for the weekend and come back on Monday only to discover that a social media storm has engulfed them  while they have been absent.   A company who does not respond or communicate effectively is often seen as lacking empathy and responsibility.

Should Celebrities Have Access To Twitter?

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Celebrities are a big focus of my blog because they provide great examples of poor public relations. As I mentioned in one of my first posts, Twitter can give fans unprecedented access to their favorite athlete, public figure, actor, etc.  Twitters that are run by celebrities get the coveted blue check next to their name, verifying their account so you know its not an impostor.

Through Twitter you get a fairly unfiltered picture of your favorite celebrity.  The things they like, dislike, events they are promoting, music they listen to, what their dog does that makes them laugh.  You get the picture. But this free access to celebrities has repeatedly proven that maybe its not such a good idea for celebrities to run their Twitter account themselves.

Just to name a few Twitter scandals…….

1.) Chris Brown’s post-Grammy Tweet

2.) Chris Brown’s homophobic tweets circa  2011

3.) Courtney Love vs. Billy Corgan

4.) John Mayer calling his penis a “white supremacist.”

The list goes on.  A brief Google search brings up  any number of Twitter controversies between celebrities and their peers, celebrities and their fans, celebrities and their managers…..so this begs the question, should Twitter be the platform that celebrities use to post their innermost thoughts? In an article for Crushable.com entitled, “Dear PR People Stop Letting Celebrities Tweet,” Jenni Maier brings up a very valid argument. She remarks that every week there is some type of  offensive tweet put out by a celebrity that draws media attention but is then deleted quickly. Maier says, “Within 24 hours the tweets are deleted and replaced with a vague apology tweet that you just know was quickly crafted by an anxious PR person — desperate for her client not to sound racist/homophobic/ignorant/sexist.”

In a previous post I said that Twitters can be helpful in generating POSITIVE fan interaction, for example,  Lady Gaga, Britney Spears and Shaquille O’Neal. Unfortunately,  many celebrities are using their Twitter in the wrong way, resulting in embarrassing/scandalous situations.   In fact, it has almost become expected for celebrities to tweet offensive, rude, or insulting comments.   Celebrities are human too, with thoughts and feelings like the rest of us, but they need to understand that there are certain boundaries when you are in the public spotlight.

Tell The Truth, Tell the Truth All the Time, No Matter What.

 

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Too often publicists and professionals in the public relations industry are falsely labeled as “spin doctors,” people who will change or put their best “spin,” on a story.  There are also those who say that that a publicist or PR agency has a duty to their client, and not necessarily to telling the truth. However, as I have repeatedly stated in other posts the public simply is not buying it anymore.  As audiences are becoming increasingly Internet savvy the age where companies and celebrities could get away with twisting or completely covering the truth is ending.

There are many examples in the past few years where the fabrications after a scandal generated  even more fallout than the initial problem. A good example of this is former Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain.  Cain was a promising Tea Party politician who threw his hat into the ring for the Republican party nomination.  However, shortly after announcing his intention to run for the nomination, a woman came forward with allegations that he had sexually harassed her during their time working together in the 1990’s.  Cain and his PR team vehemently denied these allegations, claiming the woman was a fraud and liar.  In an article for CommproBiz, Roshini Rajkumar discusses how skepticism is rampant among the public today. “Cain wants you to believe [the allegations] are all fiction. But the American public won’t rest with that…” The fallout continued when two more women came forward with similar accusations, and Cain continued to deny what he called the  “baseless,” claims.  Yet amid his denials, his once stellar public opinion was quickly dropping and soon his poll numbers were so low that he was forced to drop out of the race.

Sexual harassment is a serious allegation, and had Cain acknowledged that the allegations were true he likely would have had to drop out of the race anyways. The public may have appreciated hearing the truth, instead of spin and denials from  candidate.  In the Edelman Trust Barometer, it shows that the public trusts the government and CEOs of companies the least. Telling the truth may have cost him his presidential campaign bid but he may have escaped with something perhaps more valuable in the long run, his integrity as a politician.

Integrity In Public Relations…Is It Possible?

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Public relations is not exactly the industry that is known for being trustworthy and honest.  In fact, it is often known for just the opposite.   Edelman’s Trust Barometer revealed in 2010 that according to the survey “trust is an essential line in business,” and that being a transparent, honest, trustworthy business are among the top ranked qualities for a company to possess.

It is important for companies to present the most honest and ethical face to their public.  Many times a company or public figure will initially address a scandal with a false truth or spin, refusing to acknowledge the actual problem.  This compromises the integrity of the company, and chances are the public will eventually find out the truth, further compromising the public perception of the company.

Keeping your integrity in public relations is not easy.  Scandals are not called scandals without reason, and no company wants to admit that their cars’ brakes are defective, or that it was their employee who sent out that inflammatory tweet.  But to be an transparent business where the truth is readily available is becoming an invaluable tool in today’s society.

Lindsay Lohan- Lessons in PR

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We first met Lindsay Lohan as the plucky red-head in the “Parent Trap,” a young girl so full of talent it was hard to imagine she would ever be unemployed in the acting world.  Fast forward ten years and you see Lindsay Lohan, the platinum blonde, orange faced socialite whose legal woes have made the press much more often than her acting roles.

In March of 2011, Platform Magazine compiled a list of the public relations flubs that Lohan has made ever since her 2007 arrest following her first DUI.  After a second DUI, three stints in rehab, a public altercation with her father, Lohan’s public image seemed irreversibly tarnished.  More importantly her personal life seemed to be getting increasingly dangerous and self-destructive. When she appeared in court, she was repeatedly chastised for dressing inappropriately, arriving late, and not taking the consequences seriously.  Family, friends, law enforcement and even dedicated fans of Lohan were getting fed up with her seemingly non-caring attitude, lack of responsibility for her actions and an overall blase attitude towards getting her life back on track.

One of the most important things that Lohan should have done initially was to take responsibility for what was going on and strive to keep the distance between her public and private life.  Her publicist repeatedly denied claims of substance abuse, claiming Lohan was doing just fine, while the tabloids were video taping her stumbling out of a night club at 4 a.m.  Instead of lying to the public to keep face, Lohan should have admitted her problems and sought to deal with them privately. While it can be unimaginably difficult to deal with personal issues as a celebrity, there are those celebrities who are able to be famous without having their lives splashed across a tabloid.

Lohan also needed to do the little things to show that she truly wanted to repair her image, as she claimed in an interview with Extra magazine last year.  Little things like dressing professionally and being prompt instead of showing up an hour late to a court hearing wearing six inch heels and a low cut blouse.  Platform Magazine also cites Lindsay’s tendency to fall back on her past successes without looking forward to future projects for motivation.

Lindsay Lohan has experienced the extreme pitfalls that come with being a celebrity and there have been many public relations lessons to learn from observing her media history.  The good news for Lohan is that things are looking up; she has almost completed her mandatory hours working the Los Angeles County Morgue,  she is planning on hosting Saturday Night live and she is also slated to portray Elizabeth Taylor in her biopic.  Hopefully Lohan has learned from her past and will strive to be a responsible and more private celebrity in the future.