You had to have been living under a rock to not know about the Charlie Sheen, Anthony Weiner and News Corp./Rupert & James Murdoch crises of recent months. It's easy to draw some broad conclusions from these crises, but as PR counselors (especially those of us working in crisis PR and reputation management) we may need to offer more expert guidance to our clients on the lessons they can learn from these recent reputations in crisis. In fact, these lessons are not only important to our clients—they are also handy tips for us to remember ourselves.
Here are five tips that will help prevent you from becoming the next Sheen, Weiner or Murdoch with a reputation in crisis:
A Public Figure's Privacy Is Gone—My firm counsels many public figures of all types. When we first discuss the issue of privacy, I tell them, much to their disdain, and contrary to their legal counsel, that privacy is gone today. What I mean is they must expect and plan for all of their communication to be public. And I mean everything. Why? To educate them to be much more careful about all they say and do. Sheen, Weiner and News Corp. all allegedly did things they hoped would stay private and didn’t. Hope alone won’t help you, but planning to act more ethically and morally will help you every time.
Your Attitude Determines Your Altitude—Ego, hubris, a poor attitude: They all add up to reasons why we do things that come back to bite us every time, especially public figures. Sheen, Weiner and Rupert Murdoch all were filled with hubris, ego and a poor attitude at times during their communications before, during and during their crises. Not a wise reputation and communication strategy.
The Internet Can Help Your Rep or Kill It—Social media, blogs and traditional news sites on the Web are tools for excellent communication or death. Here is the golden rule: Think before you type or release one word on the Internet of any kind, especially with social media. Again, privacy does not exist on the Internet. It never has and never will. Sheen, Weiner and Murdoch all had their reputations sacrificed on the Internet, but Weiner takes the cake in this category, with his crazy tweets and photos to young women who wanted nothing more than to share all with their friends. Not very smart for a U.S. congressman.
If You're Not an Expert Yourself, Don't Do It or Seek Professional Help—As a public figure or as an average citizen, trying to do something you are not trained to do in a public way is just silly and a huge risk. For example, Charlie Sheen is not a comic. There is a big difference between a comic and a comedic actor. Actors are funny because writers develop their words for them and they are given many chances to get it right, versus the expertise of only having one chance on a live stage to bomb or do well like a professional comic. Comedic actors have a team of people on set to help them do well, including a seasoned director, who will allow them to have take after take to get it right and record it and edit it before we ever see the finished product. Sheen obviously thought it was easy to be a comic and make the transition from acting, and failed. In Weiner’s case, for much of his crisis, he spoke directly to the press without his PR counsel’s advice or presence. Again, never a wise strategy. Weiner did this especially in the beginning of his crisis and, ironically, with much attitude and hubris. Weiner believed he had an excellent personal relationship with the press and made a fool of himself when asked very difficult questions he did not want to answer directly.
Never, Ever Lie to the Press or the Government, or in Court—Lying to the press, government or in court is not only unethical, immoral and many times illegal, it is just never a wise communications or reputation strategy. And especially when you are afraid or angry about the results of your own past actions. As reported in the media, Weiner lied. It takes a lot of courage to do the right thing and tell the truth, especially when you have done wrong. But always remember, it is that courage and in that moment in the fork in the road, where your reputation begins to repair itself when you lean on the truth. You have to go through the fire to get there, but the journey is worth every step. It is truly a journey from darkness into light. Think of it as a 12-step program for your reputation. Why? Because your reputation is everything.
Mike Paul is the president and senior counselor of MGP & Associates PR and is a member of PR News' Advisory Board. He is known globally by the registered brand name of The Reputation Doctor®. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.