Celebrities in Crisis: Is all PR really good PR?

“When written in Chinese, the word ‘Crisis’ is composed of two characters: One represents danger and the other represents opportunity.” John F. Kennedy.

This quote pokes the bear in the great debate about Celebrity PR scandals, and as we move away from the archaic belief that “All PR is good PR”, it’s clear to me that one critical element of Public Relations remains; Crisis Management.  Feel free to disagree, but from my experience the two go hand in hand and every PR campaign should have an element of crisis built in, just in case the “What if?” situation becomes the “What now?” situation.

What has really grabbed my attention over the past year is the amount of crises I have seen in the celebrity world amidst the huge Harvey Weinstein scandal.

Harvey Weinstein has really piqued my interest in this area over the past and I along with the rest of the developed world have watched as the dramatic, complex, and undignified scandal unraveled before our eyes.

In case you missed it (or have been in a coma for the last year) back in 2017, Harvey Weinstein, a Hollywood mogul always pictured at glamorous Hollywood parties pictured with many famous A-List stars was slammed across all media channels after a number of different women came forward claiming they were sexually harassed by the now former film producer.

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In the early hours of the scandal, The Weinstein Company released a statement to the media saying that they were launching an inquiry into the allegations,  which translated in PR language means “give us some time to try and come up with a wordy statement that doesn’t answer any of your questions but makes it look like we know what to do in this situation and has been picked apart by our lawyers to ensure limited legal liability.”

After 13 more women spoke out, celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow and George Clooney condemning him, his lawyer resigning, his wife leaving him and the inevitable dismissal from his own company there really was no scope for any kind of crisis management plan. Weinstein could only deny the allegations but the mass effect the media coverage had on this huge scandal meant his reputation had no hope of a recovery.

The Weinstein case seemed to cause a ripple effect in the celebrity world and soon enough many PR practitioners representing many different celebrities, business people and even government officials were facing this unprecedented crisis.

Another case that caught my eye was The Spacey Scandal…

Kevin Spacey was one of Hollywood’s most decorated actors and personally starred in one of my favourite Netflix tv series- House of Cards.

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So, naturally when this crisis came out I was stunned.

A grand total of 30 men claimed that Spacey, made a sexual advance upon them dating back to 1982.  Kevin Spacey’s response?

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Personally, I found his response quite interesting in terms of crisis management. He doesn’t try to deny the claims like Weinstein, he also doesn’t admit that he did it. But he tries to protect his image by apologizing and revealing something very personal about his life. In terms of PR one could raise the question… is Kevin Spacey revealing his sexuality as a PR spin? Is he trying to deflect from the situation? Who knows. But, a common tactic especially for PR Spin Doctors is to bury bad news in bad news, so it could be argued that this is a tactical move.

Anyway, it’s not all about sexual allegations when discussing PR scandals in the celebrity world. Comedian Kathy Griffin faced a huge media crisis when a picture was released of her holding a decapitated head of Donald Trump (look away if you are squeamish).

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Her management of this crisis was completely different to both Spacey and Weinstein. In fact, she admitted she was wrong and explicitly begged her fans for forgiveness claiming she “went too far”. Interesting, but her career and reputation were still damaged, and she was pulled from a huge TV ad as well as having to cancel several comedy shows.

All in all, crises in the celebrity world are usually unprecedented, erupt suddenly with little time to figure out how to recover. PR has an important role to play in the world of celebrity, there are many different ways to manage the type of crises I have mentioned but no matter what, when stories are leaked in the media they are everywhere. Forever. Try as they may, it can be difficult for celebrities and top figures to comeback from these types of catastrophes.

So, can celebrity PR scandals be managed?  In my opinion, it depends. It depends on the context, the scandal, the fan following, the time, the circumstances and sometimes, just sometimes, these factors can create the perfect storm. They can be managed to an extent but evidently, PR teams cannot prepare for the types of crises that can implode on them out of the blue on a Monday morning.  Hats off to them for the effort!

Orlaith Strong is a Final Year BSc in Communication Management and Public Relations at Ulster University. She can be found on Twitter @orlaith_strong and LinkedIn @orlaithstrong

Placement Year: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Each year, a number of Ulster University students are given the opportunity to leave the comfort and safety of their cosy, convenience-filled university existence to go out into the big bad world of work as part of their studies to get the much-sought after experience they’ll need for life after education.

I’m currently in my final year of studying Communication Management and Public Relations and as part of my course I was offered the opportunity to be one of those students. I’ll be honest, when I first heard about it I thought ‘no way’, working life is not for me yet and I want to just power through with my studies and get final year done.

But, as the weeks went on I got more information, heard more success stories and invested some time researching the benefits. It became hard to justify not taking the opportunity. After all, research has shown that the average salaries of those who do placement is 8% higher than those who don’t. Money talks.  My classmates started applying for jobs, and the inevitable FOMO kicked in.

I’m not going to lie to you, the placement market is tough, it’s competitive, and after a few months of applications and interviews (some better than others) I had secured a placement in the third-sector with a really great charity.

I was delighted, scared, and eager to make a good impression.

Now, it’s time to get to the good stuff. Going on placement is a big undertaking, one that requires thought and research so let me impart some of my insights on the good, the bad, and the ugly life of a placement student.

The Good…

  • Get ready for your CV to shine- As I head into final year I am now starting to think, what next? I am starting to think about my future career and where I want to go when it’s all over. Thankfully, my CV is now bursting with lots of different examples of my skills and experience that I have acquired through my placement. Doing a placement will allow you to put your foot in the door and help you stand out to an employer when applying for jobs in the future.

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  • Networking- Fortunately, throughout my time in placement I was to be able to meet and chat with lots of different people within the industry. Doing a placement will allow you to make necessary contacts that may be useful to you in the future. It’s a big world out there and getting yourself known is essential to any job in PR/Communications.

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  • Experience- Probably the best reason to choose to do a placement year. It’s an experience. It will allow you to see first-hand what it’s like to work in your chosen field. For me, before doing my placement I had no clue what I wanted to do in terms of my career, I felt like I was just floating by hoping someday a light bulb would go off and I would know what I want to do. My placement year was an eye opener, it allowed me to see what I’m good at, what I need to improve on and most importantly where I would like to go career wise.

The Bad…

  • Trying to find a placement- This was a toughie for me. Once I made the decision to do a placement year I then had to go and get it myself. The university is a great help in terms of advertising jobs and providing interview tips but ultimately, it’s all down to you in the interview.

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The Ugly…

  • Adapting to the change- Doing a placement year allows you to get out into the big bad world and have a serious role in a field you are interested in. At first, this can be overwhelming and a big change compared to university life. You may have to miss out on a few Wednesday night drinking sessions due to having work at 9am or you might end up in this situation…

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  • Your financial situation- You might be one of the lucky ones that gets a placement that pays fairly well. However, more and more placements are now unpaid or will only pay travel costs. It may be unfeasible for you to afford to leave your current job or you might have to take on a job elsewhere which can be stressful. At the start of my placement I was working six days a week, two jobs isn’t easy!

Ultimately, deciding to do a placement in third year is completely up to you.

Personally, I wouldn’t look back. I think I made the best decision and I loved getting the experience of working full-time. I now feel well prepared to apply for graduate jobs with a lot of experience behind me.

However, it may not be for you and that’s completely fine too. Speak to your lecturers, career’s advisers and even your friends to help you decide.

Don’t stress just do what’s best for you!

(Orlaith Strong is a final year BSc in Communication Management and Public Relations student at Ulster University. She can be found on Twitter: @orlaith_strong and Linkedin: @orlaithstrong)