What We Can Learn from Celebrity Crisis Comm Failures

When celebrities face scandals, we hear about it. In some cases, there’s something we can learn from it. Here’s what we can glean from two high-profile cases in the news now.

Bill Cosby: Allegations of sexual assault and rape are all over the news and people are wondering what to think of the famous comedian, who charmed so many households with The Cosby Show.

A piece in the Philadelphia Business Journal says the Cosby controversy has crisis management lessons.

  • “Bill Cosby is a classic case of how NOT to handle the media during times of crisis. Instead of delivering a statement and addressing the accusations, when asked about it on NPR radio, he remained silent and refused to answer. Perhaps his lawyer told him to shut up, but this type of behavior can send signals that you have something to hide,” writes Karen Friedman, a communications professional, in the article.
  • “In an earlier interview with the Associated Press, when questioned about the allegations, he also refused to discuss it. Then, while the microphone was still on, he asked the reporter not to share that portion of the interview. Cosby then tried to turn the tables on the reporter, questioning AP's integrity. Blaming others or trying to exert pressure on the media is not a good strategy. For someone who has been interviewed so often, Cosby should also know that the microphone is always on,” she says.
  • “Finally, the media has a job to do whether you like it or not. If you agree to an interview, you must be prepared for all questions, not just the ones you want to answer. You don't get to pick questions, edit answers or determine what news is or is not.”

Jian Ghomeshi: Ghomeshi is the former host of a popular cultural affairs radio program, Q, in Canada. After making headlines for weeks with allegations that he had sexually assaulted multiple women, he was charged with four counts of sexual assault and one count of overcoming resistance by choking. He was arrested by Toronto police and released on $100,000 bail on the same day, November 26. (Click here for more.)

A Guelph Mercury piece says Ghomeshi’s crisis management is a “textbook” PR fail.

The article states, “It's been a precipitous fall from grace, aided by Ghomeshi himself, who made a series of terrible strategic errors in managing the crisis, say public relations experts.”

Bill Walker, principal at MidtownPR, which specializes in crisis management, is quoted in the piece. He says, “He [Ghomeshi] failed to understand the magnitude of his actions and the reaction to his disclosures. He was so wrapped up in his own self-interest and in positioning himself as victim that he failed to see that there are many women in our society who have been victims.”

The article continues:

“Each time Ghomeshi tried to bring people onside, they ended up turning against him, starting with his own employers. When Ghomeshi showed the CBC [the company he worked for as a radio host] material he thought would exonerate him, they fired him. He then published his side of the story on Facebook and asked people to support him in the face of unfounded attacks.

‘These moves demonstrated he was in involved in heinous acts, but he didn't recognize that,’ said Scott Reid, a political analyst who worked for former prime minister Paul Martin. ‘Maybe that's a reflection of self-delusion. Perhaps it's narcissism. Maybe it's just flat-out idiocy. But those misjudgments are striking.’

The Facebook posting, which followed the crisis management textbook by getting out in front of an issue, was initially successful in reframing the issue as one of sexual proclivity. But it also spurred the alleged victims from his past to go public.

‘It literally antagonized his victims,’ said Reid. ‘It's waving a red flag.’

Ultimately, the Facebook post provided the Toronto Star with the public interest obligation to publish allegations of non-consensual sexual violence. After the Star report, more and more women came forward, eventually totalling nine, claiming that Ghomeshi had sexually assaulted, assaulted or harassed them.

‘He fundamentally misjudged the social environment that this story was going to land in,’ said Walker. ‘His case will be a textbook case of a colossally, horribly misplayed first step. He's opened up a whole Pandora's box.’” (end article excerpt)

According to the Guelph Mercury, Ghomeshi hired Navigator, a prestigious crisis management firm, to help with his image. Then, according to sources from the Toronto Star, Navigator quit because Ghomeshi lied to their advisers.


For the Ghomeshi story: http://www.guelphmercury.com/news-story/5159534-ghomeshi-s-crisis-management-is-a-textbook-pr-fail/

For the Cosby story: http://www.bizjournals.com/philadelphia/blog/guest-comment/2014/11/crisis-management-lessons-learned-from-bill-cosby.html