Tony Robbins’ PR Gains & Losses From #MeToo Comments in Front of Thousands

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Self-help guru Tony Robbins is facing a backlash for controversial comments he made about the #MeToo movement.

In an 11-minute video filmed at Robbins’ “Unleash the Power Within” event on March 15 in San Jose, Calif., Robbins told his audience of thousands that women were relying on #MeToo to “try to get significance and certainty by attacking and destroying someone else.” Audience member Nanine McCool, who has since come forward as a sexual assault survivor, is shown attempting to explain to Robbins that he misunderstood the importance of #MeToo before being interrupted by him with more provocative statements and disturbing physical contact with her.

The video, posted on Facebook after the event by activist and musician Butterscotch, garnered some attention at the time but had to be removed on March 25 due to “legal reasons,” according to a post on Butterscotch’s Facebook page.

But Robbins was not off the hook yet. Video news channel NowThis posted an edited clip of the interaction on April 6, which as of this writing has been viewed more than 5 million times. After the clipped video was released, Tarana Burke, founder of the #MeToo movement, tweeted that Tony Robbins’ team contacted her before she had even seen the video to try to “give her context,” but she was not interested. She also linked to a new post of the full 11-minute video, which can be watched on McCool’s personal YouTube channel (the conversation begins at the 0:30 mark).

It seems Tony Robbins has a lot to answer for, and he appears to understand that: He issued a formal apology statement on April 8 expressing his support for the #MeToo movement and explaining that “it is clear I still have much to learn.”

Even so, from a PR perspective, has Robbins really lost anything from this incident? Or might he even stand to gain?

Appearance-wise, the edited video from NowThis paints Robbins in a negative light (though as Tarana Burke suggested on Twitter, the full, unedited video also does that without the jump cuts and overlaid text). The video trended on Twitter as well, and multiple celebrities, including Alyssa Milano and Kathy Griffin, called Robbins out for his comments. And though Robbins has a huge following, if McCool’s attendance is any indication, he likely has many followers who share a similar experience to her and may be offended by his choice words. Combined with the embarrassment of a public apology, his reputation might need some time to recover.

On the other hand, though, the old adage “all press is good press” may ring true here. Robbins hasn’t been front-page news recently, and despite the negative way he arrived there, he is now back in the limelight. Trending on Twitter can be a negative, but it can also garner attention he wouldn’t have received otherwise. And Robbins is not the only person who has expressed issue with the #MeToo movement since it gained traction in 2017, so he could gain a larger following among certain communities—even after his apology.

In today’s world of constant sharing, it is more important than ever for influencers to watch what they say lest it go viral on the internet. But Robbins has been performing for huge crowds for decades and must be aware of the risks of lambasting a popular movement in a room of thousands with camera phones. This begs the question: Was Tony Robbins really blissfully unaware until it was too late that his contestable comments may come back to bite him? Or was he purposefully provocative in the hopes to gain attention in the public sphere?

 

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