50 Shades of Scandal

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2014 has been the year of scandal for Canada. From the Canadian Senate scandal and everything Rob Ford to the current Jian Ghomeshi sex scandal. Canada is no longer the quiet neighbour.

While the Ghomeshi scandal has raised important discussions regarding sexual harassment, consent and sexual violence; so much has come to light in the past few weeks that it seems like eons ago that Ghomeshi posted his initial statement on his Facebook fan page announcing to his fans that he was fired from CBC because his private life was to risqué for them. Of course now our focus is on the multiple accounts of alleged assault, but his statement really stuck with me, or rather parts of it stuck with me. Yes it was eloquently drafted by a PR/crisis management firm, but what I can’t get out of my head is not his 50 Shades of Grey bedroom tastes, but this line:

“To recap, I am being fired in my prime from the show I love and built and threw myself into for years because of what I do in my private life.”

As a PR professional who worked in media for many years, what immediately came to mind was how naïve that line was. It worked well as a rallying cry to garner initial sympathy and support; but the hard reality is, as a public figure you’ve basically relinquished your right to a true private life. Tiger Woods lost millions in sponsorship deals when his private life very publicly exploded, so why did Ghomeshi think he’d be different? As a public face of an organization, you are a representation of its brand; and if your actions are no longer are in alignment with the brand, then it’s time to part ways. That’s just business.

I’m not saying that public figures shouldn’t be allowed to have a private life or privacy. But it does seem to be the cost of fame. Once you’ve put yourself in the spotlight; it’s going to shine everywhere – especially into those deep dark corners that you’d rather keep hidden. Suddenly everything is on display for public consumption in the form of entertainment news, tabloid magazines and gossip blogs.

We are a hungry society. We move from scandal to scandal, consuming every siliceous detail until we’ve outright bored ourselves; then we move on to the next big thing. It is then that a scandal has ‘blown over’ and people can start to bounce back. Think of where Robert Downey Jr was 15 years ago. Look at Martha Stewart… Of course now that legal allegations are in play, what’s to come of this particular scandal remains to be seen. But one thing is certain, regardless of the outcome, this too will eventually blow over.

Here’s some tips to channel your inner Kerri Washington if you or your clients are ever caught by the short and curlies:

Make a Plan BEFORE a Crisis Hits:

  • Develop a crisis plan by identifying the top threats and plan out in advance how they will be dealt with.
  • Establish a crisis communication team, which at a bare minimum should include an official spokesperson, a public relations advisor and a lawyer.
  • When dealing with sensitive situations, write down everything! A written record of what transpired is the best way to protect you and your clients.

When The Shit Hits The Fan:

  • Response time matters so implement your crisis communication plan within the first 48 hours.
  • Control the flow of information by establishing a spokesperson and a means for disseminating information early on so you can shape the story.
  • Evaluate available strategies to address the problem and take action.
  • Know your answers before the questions get asked. ‘Winging it’ is NOT part of an effective crisis management strategy. Identify the questions out of your worst nightmare and decide how you’ll address them.
  • Don’t ignore the elephant in the room. Ignoring the problem doesn’t make it disappear; in fact, in most situations it makes it worse.
  • While you are confronting that elephant have key messages in place. Address any mistakes. Emphasize that you have a plan. If you can’t comment for legal reasons, say that. Express compassion for any victims involved and display a commitment to correcting the situation.
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