What PR Pros Can Learn From Kristen Stewart’s ‘Momentary Indiscretion’

Kathy Scott

What happens when your brand is accused of betraying its customers or audience and, following the number one rule of PR—transparency—you have to admit that the whispers and innuendo of impropriety are all true?

The release by Us Weekly of photos showing actress Kristen Stewart and film director Rupert Sanders locked in a steamy embrace, and the resulting public apology from Stewart, has forced her PR team or, more likely, the execs at Summit Entertainment (the company set to release the final installment of The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part 2 on Nov. 16), to work overtime.

To date, the Twilight films have grossed over $2 billion worldwide, driven perhaps in part by the off-screen romance of Kristen Stewart (Bella) and Robert Pattinson (Edward), and there is no doubt that Summit is expecting the final film in the series to be a blockbuster. Now comes a slight wrinkle in the all-too-perfect scenario. Actually, it’s an enormous wrinkle, given the state of trust in our world.

This year’s Millward Brown’s BrandZ Top 100 Most Valuable Global Brands List provided several key takeaways on what affects brand value, including reputation:

“Consumers have little patience with brands—and corporations—that violate trust. They publicize transgressions immediately and widely on social media. When PR is facing damage control, it’s too late for the reputation conversation. Reputation is a core strategic concern. No brand gets a free pass. Consumers continued to distrust banks, no surprise. But they also scrutinized more revered brands like Apple, Facebook and Google.

And, take note PR professionals: According to the 2012 Edelman Trust Barometer, CEOs' credibility dropped 12% this year, the largest in barometer history. Respondents cited “a person like me” much higher in terms of veracity than a company CEO. In fact, this year that “person” enjoyed a 22% increase in credibility in just one year, which makes social media monitoring even more vital during a crisis.

Not to pass judgment on what is (or was) a private affair, but what Kristen Stewart called a “momentary indiscretion” is a kind of betrayal of the Twilight fans who believed in the romance between the two stars, and it has damaged the Twilight brand. There are a few lessons PR pros can learn from this unfortunate saga.

Transparency Sometimes Sucks:
As PR professionals, we understand the enormous weight and necessity that trust imposes upon us. Every strategy, every plan, every release has a foundation of trust embedded in it. Without it, confidence in the brand is lost and its value takes a hit. Sometimes the best strategy is just to wade into the hurricane.

Be Honest:
This is always the first rule of crisis PR. In the case of Stewart, she openly admitted to an affair and publicly begged for forgiveness from Pattinson, professing her undying love to her on-screen/off-screen beau.

Let’s face it, Stewart didn’t owe any of us a statement, but her public supplication did change the conversation, from her betrayal to sadness for Pattinson as all eyes were on what he planned to do next. Social media blew up with support for the actor, balancing the vitriolic comments aimed at Stewart.

Stay Out of the Public Eye:
An act of contrition cannot be followed by contrary behavior. Trust is tenuous at best. The public is not above forgiveness, but like most who feel wronged, the public wants to heal on its own terms.

Repairing brand trust is a delicate process, and time is a true ally. There are numerous examples of brands that were hit hard—for instance, Tylenol and Tiger Woods. Once a public confession is made, trust and loyalty can be regained as long as there are sincere efforts to mend ways. Woods also publicly confessed, something that many thought was odd at the time. It did offer a moment of atonement and, again, a change in the conversation.

Make Meaningful Strides:
Consider ways to earn back the trust that has been lost. Meaningful strides are simply ways to earn back trust. It can be as simple as new product initiatives or industry panel participation at conferences. It is imperative to show forward movement and that the crisis didn’t cripple the organization.

You Have to Let Go of Some Things: In the wake of the Stewart scandal and her public confession, a young woman named Emma Clark became a viral sensation with her emotional rebuke of Stewart. The 4:23 minute video appeared on major news networks and was shared in social media circles. On YouTube, the video has been viewed nearly 2 million times and has earned thousands of comments. This particular video worked in Stewart’s favor, with many commenting on Clark’s overblown attachment to the couple. She became the line that no one wanted to cross.

Kathy Scott is the corporate PR director and social media strategist for Cygnus Business Media. She can be reached at Kathy.Scott@cygnus.com.