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Three Steps to Recovering From Bad PR

Staged for the cameras

Three Steps to Recovering From Bad PR

It’s not easy for public figures to recover from off-color comments and other scandals. Cameras are on them 24 hours a day, and the media delights in turning small things into big snafus. The unfortunate truth is that there are some things that can’t be recovered from; people may forget in time, but sometimes it’s not quick enough to change the outcome of an election or to save someone’s career. Such cases are rare, however; most people just want to see public figures apologize and correct their mistakes. Almost everyone understands that, but the way it’s done makes all the difference.

Step One: Come Clean

People respond negatively to whiners. If they think that someone is trying to pawn responsibility off on someone else, they will respond with wailing and gnashing of teeth that rivals biblical descriptions. Humility and responsibility are the two words that someone in the midst of a PR crisis needs to keep in mind. It’s not a time for grand declarations or over-the-top apologies that appear to be lacking sincerity; simply coming out and owning up to it is enough to mix some positive talk into the airwaves.

Step Two: Time Things Right and Stay on Message

The sooner someone apologizes, the better. Even a slight bit of hesitation is enough to kill someone’s chances of being accepted by the public in the aftermath of a scandal. Beyond that, the proper strategy will differ. Some people need to lay low for a while; others need to keep themselves in the news as long as possible. The public will forget most things before too long, and laying low is the best strategy in those cases, but people like Todd Akin and Michael Vick don’t have that luxury.

Michael Vick was able to get his career back because he did everything in his power to prove that he had reformed. Todd Akin acted when he needed to act, but his words only compounded the problem instead of solving it, and there’s a very good chance that he’ll lose the election because of it. The old maxim that “all PR is good PR” is patently false; it doesn’t help someone in the slightest to stay in the public eye while doing and saying the things that got him in trouble in the first place.

Step Three: Learn and Grow

Insincere apologies are the expected norm, and the public has become so cynical that it’s hard to convince them that even the sincerest words uttered by celebrities and politicians are actually genuine. The only thing that has any chance of breaking through pessimistic perceptions is a demonstration of actual change.

In Michael Vick’s case, that meant supporting organizations that work to stop dog fighting. People still argue over whether he actually changed and whether he should have been forgiven, but no one can say that he hasn’t done everything that people could ask him to do. To contrast, Todd Akin tried to say that his comments were just poorly worded, but there’s no way to argue that wording things differently would have substantially altered the core sentiment of his words. He didn’t destroy his chances of being elected with his initial comments, but he made his own victory much less likely by issuing a non-apology to those he offended.

Bad PR Doesn’t Have to be the End of the World

The biggest factor in resolving PR crises is whether or not someone appears human. Politicians and celebrities often seem like they live in a completely different world, and it’s easy for everyday people to feel as if they are utterly divorced from the realities of these peoples’ lives. When someone can humble himself before a national audience and talk to people on their level, they are much more likely to facilitate his future success. It’s the people who continue to act like they’re above the rest of humanity that suffer the most through PR crises, and more often than not, the public is glad to strike them down for good when that happens. When it comes to prominent and powerful people, a little bleeding goes a long way.

Katy Leigh writes for several higher ed blogs. Interested in business? Several universities offer MBA degrees including onlinemba.ohio.edu and www.unc.edu.