The BLACK paPR Report

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PR from an African American Perspective

The Celebrity Divorce

Reframe a crisis and in the process reframe a client’s image…

Recently there have been a number of celebrity marriage crises, including one that involves an actress primarily famous in the African American community. The actress married her prince in a fairytale wedding a couple of years ago, but the fairytale is now a nightmare, and the couple is separated with divorce looming in their future.

Most optimists in love, and I am one, truly hope that a marriage – any marriage – can survive a crisis. We wish the best for the people we love and simply want to see them happy. Unfortunately, the bond can be so irreparably broken and the vows breached to the point of divorce, which is hard on the average citizen but worse for the celebrity who is under a public microscope.

For private citizens such as me, we can heal quietly without fanfare, at least without the fanfare of media and other watchful eyes hoping for a story. For the celebrity, an ugly divorce can make or break a career, depending on how it is played out in the public and that largely depends on the celebrity’s gatekeepers – lawyers, managers and the publicist (s).

A publicist or PR consultant is not a magician and cannot happily make a crisis go away. However, she or he can use their skill set and brain to reframe a celebrity marriage crisis and ultimately reframe a celebrity’s image with the help of first, the celebrity, and then the gatekeeping team.

It begins with the celebrity.

The celebrity has to decide what is most important to him or her – an image that is worth its weight in gold or an image potentially tarnished by a need to vent publicly and carelessly. The celebrity has to stop thinking emotionally and think rationally about the long-term effect of his or her actions surrounding an impending divorce, especially if the terms are ugly. And, believe it or not, a celebrity has a choice to vent privately and present a stoic image to the public or vent publicly and risk looking absolutely crazy.

God bless the publicist who enables and promotes the latter. God bless the publicist with a client who against their better judgment does the latter – God bless you and run right out of that contract, because no matter how loyal you are, you will look incompetent and crazy too.

PR consultants and publicists with integrity and intelligence value their own reputations as they do their clients’ reputations. Yet, when a client is intent on ruining their own reputation then they will surely throw a practitioner’s reputation under a bus too. It’s not a good look for either party, which leads to the second step…

It is imperative that all gatekeepers and stakeholders in the celebrity’s career hold an intervention to strategize on the direction of publicity and the public decorum of the client. Everyone has to decide with or without the client’s help the direction in which to follow to insure (1) an untarnished image, (2) no loss of revenue and (3) no loss of reputation. Gatekeepers have every bit as much to lose as the client. If the client loses income based on his or her public behavior during a crisis, then the gatekeepers lose income and potentially their reputations as well.

A well-crafted strategy includes accountability elements for the gatekeepers and the client. While the strategy is a preventative measure, it is also a tool to keep every party mindful of the ramifications should there be a misstep or deviation from the plan. For example, if the client decides to step outside of the plan and do something in total violation of it, thereby risking their reputation; the gatekeepers have every right to bail in an effort to keep their vested interests, including relationships with other clients, in tact.

In the not-so distant past, I was in a situation involving someone of celebrity status who refused to obey the law. Two other gatekeepers were complicit, and put the pressure on me to go along with the program. However, a fourth gatekeeper, the lawyer bailed immediately, and when she left I followed soon behind.

Note: IF the lawyer leaves, then don’t hesitate to follow. A lawyer is a gatekeeper with not only a reputation to lose but a license. It is essential for the client to understand that their gatekeepers are people who have led them to a satisfying career and people who have the capabilities to forward that career. They are to be valued.

In short, a strategy has to be employed that insures client accountability to the gatekeepers and vice-versa or disaster will follow.

This is the first phase of the reframing process: Reframing the client’s thinking and reframing the crisis with a strategy.

The next phase involves reframing the media and their role in helping the client achieve the end goal of the strategy. Media cannot be used and abused or manipulated. That’s lame and unethical. Instead, they have to be viewed as partners who have a mission to report the news; and as influential partners who have a vested interest in presenting the client’s story with dignity and tact. It has to be understood, if the client makes a fool of him or herself in a crisis, then in effect, they make a fool of their media partners and give fodder to the type of journalism that can make or break a career.

Deviate from the strategy and make a mockery of media partners in the process and make unintentional enemies who will tell the story their way and without the client’s cooperation.

Lastly, it is up to the gatekeepers to keep a few things in perspective in enabling the client to see the bigger picture: (1) The costs of cleaning up a mess, (2) the costs involved in continuing a mess, (3) the loss of a career and carefully crafted image, and (4) the window of time in which a crisis can be reframed and a client continue in their celebrity relatively unscathed. The gatekeepers have to pose one simple question to the client: Is it worth it?

In terms of celebrity marriage crises, many celebrities rebound just fine even on the heels of serious problems played out in the public eye. Their careers continued and they rebounded just fine with the fans and in some cases, created new ones. (My favorite stories involve celebrities who have reinvented their careers and public personas after a divorce or crisis.) And the one thing they all had in common was that they got out of their own ways and allowed their gatekeepers to competently and quietly pool their resources to avert more trouble.

Note to clients: Fire the gatekeeper who plays crazy with you. In the end, you’re paying someone to mess up your career and perhaps your life.

Best, Robin

robin@thejstandard.com

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Filed under: African Americans, Client Relations, Crisis Management, Ethics, Help for the Practitioner, Media Relations, PR Standards & Practices, Public Relations, , , , , , , , , , ,

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