5 Reputation Strategies I Learned While Working with Celebrities

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5 Reputation Strategies I Learned While Working with Celebrities

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C’mon, is there anyone out there who doesn’t think Kim K. and Pete D. were a curated love affair? Hollywood is full of set-up relationships and staged situations aimed at one goal: garner media attention. And the more attention, the better, because increased media attention translates directly to increased dollar value.

Brand image is everything to a celebrity’s career. When the image is positive, it can influence everything from box office share to book sales, from what tequila flies off the shelves to what paint color is all the rage. One utterance of a coined term can go viral within hours. One sighting of a piece of clothing on a certain someone can catapult a design star overnight.

But when a celebrity brand takes a hit, it can be devastating. It isn’t always — some reputations prove more resilient than others, but if the damage is great enough, fans and followers will knock you off the pedestal as quickly as they hoisted you up there.

In my 15-year career in PR, I’ve worked with various celebrity types, including influencers, A-listers and corporate bigwigs. A crisis can pop up at any time, especially in today’s hypersensitive cancel culture, and that’s when more than just a hastily tweeted apology or lying low for a while is called for. That’s when it’s time for a crisis expert to step in with some strategic moves that have the power to move the needle in the direction you want it to go.

Here are some of the tried-and-true methods that have gotten my clients out of hot water when it threatens to scald their reputations permanently.

Related: Why Investing in Reputation Management is Crucial for Your Business Strategy

1. There’s always a scapegoat

In every narrative, there has to be a villain. And your job is to make sure the villain isn’t your client. Case in point: When I handled a celebrity divorce, the famous one, my client (the husband), was getting raked over the coals for some silly choices and behaviors — he seemed like the bad guy in the story, but really, his not-well-known wife was the one cheating.

We documented everything meticulously and were able to back up our claims of her infidelity; in the process, we pointed the blame where blame was due and salvaged his career. We didn’t make the wife the scapegoat; she was the scapegoat. But the public didn’t know that until we told a more accurate story than the one that was initially circulated.

Related: How to Turn Failures Into Wins As an Entrepreneur

2. Someone is pulling the strings for the other party, so you’d best have someone doing the same on your side

People work hard to build a life, a name or a brand. An insurance policy is needed to ensure they don’t lose it all at the whim of public fodder. A publicity specialist is that insurance, operating behind the scenes to move pieces into place and leverage connections to rewrite a narrative heading south.

PR firms are often hired for just this purpose alone — for on-call crisis management and nothing more — because it’s far better to have already an established relationship with an expert in your corner than to seek out a stranger once a crisis has arisen frantically.

I remember a story that was about to break about a client of mine that would have reflected poorly on him because of a bit of misinformation. Because I already knew and trusted him quite well, I believed his account of things. I picked up my cell phone, called the CNN writer, and got the nonfactual information edited out from the story. If I didn’t have that in with CNN, my client’s career could have suffered greatly.

3. Use the press to your advantage

The press can be your enemy, but it can also be your friend. It’s its own form of gossip mill and works in quite the same way. You know how bad news can spread like wildfire when the media sinks its teeth into a juicy story? Well, the opposite is equally true: Good news can be canvassed far and wide if you have a worthwhile story to tell and get it out there in time.

If there’s anything the PR community has learned in this day and age of big-name and big-brand crises plastered all over social media, it’s that narratives have power. On behalf of your clientele, you need to tell the narratives they want to be publicized. The press literally follows celebrities around everywhere. It’s just as easy to get them to snap a shot of your client speaking at a charity brunch as it is to get a shot of them sneaking out of a late-night club bleary-eyed. Book the photo op. Get the views. With enough views, a new story is written.

Related: 5 Ways to Make Journalists Actually Want to Publish Your Brand’s Stories

4. Know when to hold them and when to let them go

All this said, there is a time and place to sit tight and wait things out. Strategizing is one thing, but smart management is another. When someone’s sizzling in the flames of bad press, that’s not the time to open their new restaurant or launch their new fragrance. Wait until the fire has died down but isn’t completely out — when your client is still a hot object of media attention but no longer the catch of the day — and then have them rise from the ashes.

5. Listen, learn and do NOT repeat

Helping someone out of a pickle once or twice is to be expected when you manage reputations. Anyone can get into a bit of trouble over almost anything these days. But if a client keeps making the same mistakes, you can either choose to cut them loose, or you can firmly guide them to stop pushing the repeat button!

Attend to what’s being said about a public figure or brand; learn what you can from how these reports affect (or do not affect) your interest; and then, at almost all costs, avoid getting in hot water again. The easiest way out of a sticky situation is to not get into it in the first place.

PR is an art, not a science, and like any art, you can get training in it to learn how to draw your own portrait, paint your own scene and write your own script. With media training and advice from publicity veterans, you can get ahead and get in front of the story — the story you want to tell.

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