I was in the checkout line at the grocery store last night and, as I was throwing my purchases onto the conveyor belt, I noticed that almost every tabloid and entertainment magazine had a cover story about Jesse James’ marital affair and the word “monster” somehow worked into the headline. My first thought was, “How sad.” My second thought was, “What’s his PR team doing about this?”
With a client roster comprised of highly reputable, forward-thinking companies, I don’t often get to dabble in crisis PR, but this made me think about how I’d handle this situation.
Call me crazy, but under these circumstances, I think honesty and candor is the best policy. When celebrities like Tiger Woods and Jesse James go mum or offer vague statements and apologies (like James did) stating that the “vast majority” of the allegations are untrue, it drags out the process – and the criticism. We don’t need all the juicy details, but a direct response and an interview here and there might quell the speculation. Being elusive and running off to rehab only makes matters worse and gives the public – and the media – more time to hypothesize. When did rehab become the new crisis PR, anyway?
Take, for instance, the Tiger Woods situation. That saga continued for months until he finally surfaced and made public statements on Feb. 19. The news that followed was that Woods had hired former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, that he was returning to golf and, later, that he and Fleischer had parted ways. Chapter over. Situation status quo. If he’s lucky, the next bit of news will likely be about his fifth win at the Masters.
Time may have been a factor in helping Woods smooth things over with the court of public opinion, but I believe that coming out of hiding and showing his face was the best thing he’s done yet. If I were Jesse James’ publicist or PR rep, I’d suggest doing the same, but sooner rather than later.
So now I turn to you, fellow PR pros and colleagues, what would be your advice to someone in those shoes? Let’s discuss …