Matter Chatter

If you were Charlie Sheen’s publicist, what would you have done?

Charlie Sheen. I don’t need to rehash why he’s been in the news these past few weeks, and I don’t plan to offer any theories on what’s really going on. But one aspect of the Sheen saga that definitely grabbed my attention last week was when his longtime publicist, Stan Rosenfield, quit. The announcement was short and sweet: “I have worked with Charlie Sheen for a long time and I care about him very much,” Rosenfield said. “However, at this time, I’m unable to work effectively as his publicist and have respectfully resigned.”

One could say that Rosenfield was making the only smart — and sane — choice, running as far away from a hugely epic celebrity meltdown as he possibly could, without saying anything negatively about his (now former) client. On the other hand, is he passing up an opportunity to intervene, help a longtime friend and client navigate the mess he finds himself in, and perhaps (eventually) be a part of a major star’s comeback? Is he leaving when his client needs him the most?

When dealing with things like substance abuse, mental illness, big egos, celebrity feuds, and multi-million dollar contracts falling apart, it’s a lot easier to observe from afar and say “this is what I would have done.” For some, sticking around would have jeopardized Sheen’s publicist’s credibility: how can he expect to accomplish any degree of damage control when his client is behaving like a loose cannon and becoming more outrageous to the public by the hour? For others, staying on board might have been seen as honorable or brave: what’s more loyal than attempting to guide a client through a full-blown crisis, especially if (as many suspect) that client needs real help, much deeper than PR guidance?

It’s an interesting dilemma, but I’m inclined to agree with Rosenfield’s instinct. I probably would have wished Charlie the best and then run from that scene as fast as humanly possible, hoping, praying, and crossing my fingers that he ends up okay in the end. 

As PR professionals, we’re prepared to handle tough situations; running away is not typically an option. But there are certain situations where we cannot, in good faith, grin and bear it. With any luck, these situations are very few and very far between…but every so often, they present themselves and the only reasonable thing to do is to deliver a difficult recommendation and part ways.

What about you? Would you have stuck around, or walked away?

  • http://www.oracle.com Dave Cosio

    I would have likely tried to advise him that the best revenge could is to be successful for the competition. If Sheen isn’t prepared to put together an action plan to accomplish that success (which includes a bit of humility) then at some point staying as his publicist would be impossible. Rosenfield will be more respected for his departure than if he stayed. I have to deal with damage control everyday. I work for the largest (and in some cases the most hated) software company on the planet. Damage control is something I mastered a long time ago. It always comes down to taking ownership of your actions and doing what you say, and saying what you will do. It is always hard to rebuild trust but it is a big part of Damage control.