Can You Recover From a Public Scandal?

I’ve had just about enough this Rachel Dolezal craziness, haven’t you?

When the news reached me last Thursday evening, I was extremely puzzled and will admit to giggling at the #AskRachel comedy on Twitter and Instagram (Sorry, I’m human..lol). By Friday morning, it had made the national news circuit and I started to receive a few calls and messages from colleagues at media outlets asking for some expert quotes on this scandal.

Questions like “what should she do?” “should she speak to media or make a statement at this point?” “how can she recover?” were the focus of their inquiries. I find major conflicts with the facts of the Dolezal crisis – mainly cultural conflicts that bother me personally. Meanwhile, though the professional conflicts are equally as offensive (I cringed at her response in an interview where a reporter asked what she thought of the things people were saying about her), we’re all too familiar with the central theme of this kind of public scandal and it all starts with one thing – a presumed lie.

A public scandal is tough to cope with and often times even tougher to recover from. Most times, scandals that surfaced from a cover-up or hidden truth are the worst to bounce back from. I have a lot of advice here so this blog post will be one of three in a series about personal brand management in the midst of a crisis situation.

Let’s start by defining a crisis:

Crisis PRA crisis is anything that has the potential to have lasting damage on the public’s perception of a brand.

Whether the news broke, leaked or spread, you are now exposed, ashamed and embarrassed.

What should you do?

Accept your wrongdoing.

The recovery period of a scandal is often the most sensitive because it’s a time of reflection where the consequences of the situation start to hit hard emotionally. The shame that lingers during the aftermath can be painful. You must admit that you were wrong in order to start the recovery process. Have you noticed how critical we’ve become of public figures nowadays? We’re probably a bit too critical of each other sometimes considering no one is perfect but we certainly don’t appreciate being lied to – we want honesty and we respect transparency. This is a time when you need to take a moment to heal in private so you can ultimately try to make a public effort to present yourself in a repented and reformed fashion.

Receive and accept the right guidance.

Many times, in a public scandal, you discover who has your best interest, loves you unconditionally and will give you the best advice they know how. On the other hand, you realize who may have never truly had your back, was only along for the ride when things were good or who want to be attached to your drama for selfish reasons. Stick close to professional supporters such as legal and PR counselors skilled and trained in helping you mop up the mess and to the loved ones who give sincere guidance. Avoid the ambulance chasers who only want to be affiliated with your failure because it gives them a chance at 15 minutes of fame or a potential payday.

Come back with credibility.

Your image took a blow and you’re going to have to handle your comeback with care. The ultimate test of a full recovery shouldn’t be whether the public accepts you back as you once were. Even years after a scandal takes place, it can linger in the memory of the public if your comeback plan is not intact. The court of public opinion is tough but most people love a comeback and will often root for a fallen brand that is making a real attempt at earning the public’s trust again grounded by the truth. A successful reintroduction effort can make the scandal a vague memory. Don’t expect this overnight. Don’t even expect to be a loved as you once were. Just expect that slowly but surely, if you are true to your talents and consistently building toward the future, the public will grant you a measure of grace.

I will say more about the keys to damage control and the do’s and don’ts with any crisis situation in my next two posts. Stay tuned!

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For The Record

The recent scandal that led U.S. Rep. Chris Lee to his sudden resignation is a tale of online reputation. Here you have a 46-year-old married member of Congress who answered a Craigslist singles ad as a 39-year-old divorced lobbyist. And, for the sake of eye candy, he included a picture of himself standing half-naked in front of a mirror flexing his muscles. Lucky for him, the woman whose ad he answered, was a 34 year-old single mom searching online for a date who decided to check his story on Facebook. Once she realized he was a married politician, she forwarded his goodies to gossip site Gawker and the exposure set his resignation in motion.

For the record, a public figure (or anyone really) should beware sharing anything online that is meant to be a private matter. Some say the single woman is the bad guy for sending the shirtless pics of the Craigslist Congressman and sharing her flirtatious convo with Gawker – Lee had never even met or been involved with her. I say – when you play with fire online, you might get burned in public.

No one is safe.

Here’s the story (ABC News):

For The Record

There’s no crying in politics. Tell that to newly elected Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH). Known for his emotional moments in Congress, Boehner cried during a recent 60 Minutes appearance. The politician’s consistent tear trigger seems to be the idea of ensuring that we all have a shot at the American dream. Whether it’s a passion for people or a reminder of humble beginnings, congressmen aren’t expected to choke up on camera. What media messages do Boehner’s display of emotion convey about our perception of politicians? Watch a few of his waterworks in a candid interview by Lesley Stahl.

(CBS/Washington Post)

Victory for Vick’s PR

It’s going to be an interesting season for the team of PR and image consultants who are delivering the winning strategy for reinstated NFL player Michael Vick. Known as one of the most dynamic quarterbacks in the league, Vick’s rise to gridiron fame and fall to criminal intent has proven to be a PR challenge to tackle.

Without knowing the details of the team’s members and plans, their attempt to carefully rebrand Vick and map out a road to redemption following his release from federal prison is turning out to be a PR victory. nfl_a_vick_480

Since Vick’s admitted act of animal cruelty, his team has made a public effort to present him in a repented and reformed fashion. They recently positioned Vick to confess his sins and express immense guilt on CBS “60 Minutes” along side former NFL coach Tony Dungy, commissioned by the league to be his mentor, and President of the Humane Society of the United States, Wayne Pacelle, to be his community partner. We all know you’ve got to have a bit of cache to tell your story on “60 Minutes” and the PR team that knows Vick has to come back with some credibility.

Whether his remorse is scripted or sincere, you must admit his team is gaining yards toward the goal. Yet, the ultimate test of a winning strategy is whether the public believes you. Vick is going to have to walk the walk. If he doesn’t, his PR team will end up seeing a bigger chunk from that first $1.6 million to keep him on the straight and narrow. Judging by the execution and perceived outcome, Vick has gotten his money’s worth, but the team must continue to move strategically so the public won’t think Vick’s efforts are contrived.

Personally, I’ve always been an advocate for second chances. Only time will tell how Vick shapes up while his PR team shows out. Our culture often forgives, and, most times, forgets the sins of public figures. So the more touchdown passes Vick throws, the further his wrongdoings will be from our minds.

Bad Publicity is NEVER Good

This month has been pretty busy for the sports and entertainment industries. Events like the Grammy Awards, Oscars, Super Bowl and NBA All-Star Weekend are enough to keep a celeb on the red carpet and a PR pro on their trail. But with all the glitz and glamour of star-studded events, sometimes a PR crisis is waiting to happen. Actors, entertainers, athletes and personalities are under such close scrutiny in the public eye that anything they do or say can be held against them and their PR pro and could possibly put their careers on the line.

Understanding how to deal with a crisis is not an easy job. PR pros should have a crisis contingency plan but that doesn’t mean they should result to being a babysitter. It means that should a client face an arrest, argument, embarrassment, lawsuit, divorce and even death, a plan is in place to help them navigate the problem and save any instant damage to their career. Crisis management is often an overlooked PR strategy. Who sits and waits for a crisis to happen? No one. But they happen. No one is above a crisis or immune to one. And when the danger lurks, it must be dealt with.

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PR pros – fight the urge to make hasty decisions in a crisis. One snap comment, untrue statement or rash decision can ruin your credibility, upset the media and make your client resent you. Once you have proven you can handle a crisis in a methodical and graceful manner, you may become the Johnnie Cockran of PR.

Companies and celebs – be honest with your PR and legal counsel. They need to know the facts of your situation. Remember that most incidents involving the police, courts or emergency medical are public record. That means they can be readily accessed for fact-finding in media reports. If your family would be embarrassed or you’d be ashamed by your words or actions, then its probably not a wise move.

The cliche, any publicity is good publicity, is false. Contrary to what we may have assumed for decades, publicity means nothing if your name is as good as mud. Good crisis management makes a distinct difference between a few minutes of fame and a long-lived run of notoriety. Bad crisis management can lead to terrible publicity, severe ramifications and a long battle of image recovery.

Here are a few do’s and don’ts to remember when communicating with the media as you approach a crisis: badpub2

DO be calm, alert and positive.

DON’T fill in silent pauses. Say what you have to say and stop! Get comfortable with silence.

DO be cooperative. Know what you will and won’t say.

DON’T ever say “No Comment.” Whenever possible explain why you can’t give them the information. For instance, “I cannot speak about that at the moment due to legal reasons.” No comment IS a comment.

DO have a one sentence message you want to communicate no matter what is asked. For example, “I am committed to my family, my career and my fans.”

DON’T start an argument with reporters. Look and sound calm and controlled. An argument makes you look hostile.

DO make your point in 20 seconds or less to avoid being taken out of context. An uncontrolled or long-winded response could contain conflicting statements and confuse the media.

DON’T say or do anything you don’t want reported. There’s no such thing as “off the record” when speaking to the media in a crisis. Any statement you make is likely to make the news. Avoid speculation, lying or talking about anything that’s not a known fact. It’s OK to say “I don’t know.”

DO stand still behind the microphone and use comfortable, meaningful gestures. Make friendly hand movements and facial expressions. It shows you’re not intimidated by the media nor have intentions of intimidating them.

DON’T keep talking as you’re walking away. Stop talking before you walk.

DO allow a PR professional or legal counsel to advise and coach you in ways that are most comfortable for you.

Reality Checkpoints for Athletes

With football season now over and basketball season about to climb to its peak, sports fans couldn’t be more excited.The thrill it brings with each year continues prove the sports industry to be one of the powerful agents of media culture. But the public’s interest spans further than touchdowns and championship trophies.

More than ever before, pro athletes are increasingly seen as celebrities, stars and ballers but known less for their power plays on the field. Sure, that’s great branding for name recognition but how many players can you name but have no idea what team the guy plays for? More importantly, at what moment did you learn or remember his name – during a hot media crisis buzzing amid the news or after reading a good magazine article about his journey to the pros?

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The reality is athletes aren’t hard to brand. Their public relations efforts are made simple by their league and team affiliations. Take the media legend of Terrell ‘T.O.’ Owens for instance. Though he grew into some rather unfavorable moments while becoming one of the most outspoken and unpredictable players in the NFL, T.O. has weathered the storm. The Dallas Cowboys’ receiver is getting his own reality show on VH1 this summer showing what life off the field is like. Kudos to his publicists Monique Jackson and Kita Williams tasked with the taming of success.

Not every athlete will have a shot at a reality show. Not every athlete wants their daily life off the field to be peered into. Not every athlete will face public crisis or turmoil. Nonetheless, the responsibility for athletes to manage their image very carefully couldn’t be greater.

Here are three reality checkpoints of PR for athletes:reailtycheck1

First, realize that the sports industry has gone far beyond just getting in the game. PR is a must. Athletes have to study both games and acknowledge their strengths and weaknesses. Knowing this firsthand will help them tackle their seasons with success.

Second, work hard. Hard work never kills but it pays.
If you’re an all-around hardworking guy, you will surely make progress in your career. This will make people respect and see you as an icon. Hardwork includes going to practice on time and as well as maintaining your character in front of the public.

Third, humble yourself and be disciplined.
This is one of the greatest assets of success. Remember, its public relations, the art of relating to the public and it requires you to be in touch with who you are as player and a person.

Prep Your Rep

Who knew the social media movement would be such a trendy yet powerful tool? If you’ve ever “Googled” yourself or your business, you must be aware that you now you have an online reputation. It’s not the type of reputation based on what others say about you like maybe after they’ve met you or got word about your business. It’s the kind you create. prep-your-rep

An online reputation is based your online activity. The sites you frequent, the comments your post, the blogs you write, the tweets you Twitter – they make up your online reputation.
Your professional rep, and sometimes your personal one, can be identified and judged through online content and essentially defines what type of business person you are.

Prepare yourself to define an online reputation. Your rep is re-established every time you log-in or click a mouse. If you dedicate time to joining social media sites or writing a regular blog column, think about the outcome of what you plan to achieve in the long run. Ask yourself, “How do I want to be remembered?” or “Will this affect my business identity or ability to generate revenue?”

An online reputation is mandatory for survival but a bad one can turn away future customers, clients, employers and business partners. You don’t have to jump on the bandwagon of every new social media trend. Use what’s best for you and your business.

Take to time to prep your rep and make it a good one.