Should Celebrities Use Reputation Management?
Although the phrase “reputation management” is relatively new, literature and history classes teachers have taught that kings and conquerors relied on reputation management techniques for thousands of years.
The best-known examples come from ancient Egypt and Rome. Egyptian Pharoahs carved or painted their achievements and exploits on great pillars and temple walls. These tales of glory may only have lasted a lifetime, however, because a Pharoah’s successor might have sought to erase his predecessor’s name from history.
Roman literature provides many examples of reputation-building and destroying stories. The Aeneid is a blatant attempt to leverage the popularity of the Greek Epic Poets such as Homer by attaching a retroactive history of Rome’s supposed ancestors to the tale of Troy.
But Gaius Julius Caesar is considered the all-time champion of reputation management. His annual reports to the Senate about his campaigns in Gaul are considered to be some of the best self-serving propaganda ever written.
The ancient world had its share of famous athletes, entertainers, and soldiers. But there was no news media to celebrate their achievements or unveil their failings. The masses learned only what news was deemed important for them to hear from their leaders.
The Roman world learned of the disasters at Herculaneum and Pompeii within days of Mount Vesuvius’ destruction. But it would be 25 years before Pliny the Younger wrote an eye-witness account of the event, telling how his uncle Pliny the Elder died rescuing people from the disaster.
The modern world shares the tiniest details about barely-known celebrities’ personal lives instantaneously. The need for reputation management is very different today from what it was 2,000 years ago.
The Celebrity Lifestyle Invites Public Scrutiny
Some of the most famous TV and movie stars lead very private lives. They simply don’t talk about their families, their personal thoughts, or what they do for entertainment.
And yet ever since show promoters and movie studios took responsibility for building the mystique of celebrity, the public has been entertained with brief glimpses into celebrity lives. The classic publicity tour is supposed to give actors and directors a chance to promote their films.
And yet, every now and then the media lights up with interesting speculation about subtle indications of actor or director dissatisfaction. When Ben Affleck fell silent during one interview promoting a movie, some people created parodies depicting his mood by overlaying “The Sound of Silence” by Simon and Garfunkel.
Another media interview between actors in the Avengers franchise served as the basis of commentary for body language analysis. Amateur and professional journalists speculated on possible emotional distance between cast members.
Film Studios and Book Publishers Created the Myth of Information Control
When a studio or publisher assigns a publicist to help actors or authors, the expectation is that the publicist acts as a go-between with the media. The publicist schedules interviews, helps decide the topics to be discussed, and coaches the celebrity in what to say and what to expect.
But if there is any hint of controversy about anything the publicist may be the first person asked any questions. The publicist may also be given directives by their clients or employers to steer conversations away from some topics, or to keep conversations focused on some areas.
The public and the media don’t always follow the guidebook on salacious gossip or breaking news. They ask whatever questions they please.
When the studios produced the newsreels for theaters and the publishers decided which authors were awarded the most attention, the machinery of publicity helped keep things under control. Journalists who covered the entertainment industry often complied with requests for silence to avoid being blacklisted.
But the Internet makes everyone a star, and everyone is a journalist. Anyone with a blog, a social media account, or an active presence in a web forum can keep any conversation going for as long as they wish.
Neither the celebrities nor the studios and publishers can keep the cat in the bag any more. The idea that the flow of information can be controlled no longer seems true.
Celebrities Should Respond to Controversy in Some Way
One can choose to ignore the conversation or to be part of the conversation. But it’s a mistake to assume one can, by virtue of their fame, control the conversation.
Regardless of how you feel about O.J. Simpson, he didn’t control any part of the conversation when he called the media and tried to defend himself against accusations of murder. Some people argue he made things worse for himself.
When people respond angrily to criticism or accusations of any kind, they are venting natural human emotions. The response isn’t a clear indication of anyone’s guilt but it does reveal that their emotions are strong and they’re not practicing self-discipline.
False accusations are as difficult to disprove as truthful ones. Despite clear evidence that Barack Obama was born a United States citizen and a practicing Christian, his detractors successfully sowed doubt about his constitutional eligibility to become President and his religious beliefs.
Obama released his birth certificate to the media – an unprecedented act for any Presidential candidate – and he, like many other candidates before him, allowed the media to record his attendance in church.
This measured response was sufficient to quell most of the false accusations, enough so that they were no longer campaign issues. But the falsehoods will be repeated endlessly by a minority of people. The Obamas will never be able to stamp out these untruths, although history may eventually bury them under the centuries.
Professional Reputation Management Helps Celebrities Avoid Mistakes
No ORM strategy is perfect and any unexpected event can unravel great success. But when a celebrity works with a specialist who understands the need for measure response, the celebrity has a second opinion that may help them avoid another unwanted controversy.
It’s not reputation management’s job to acquit someone of criminal charges. Nor is ethical reputation management used to subdue people who complain about past behavior. The reputation management specialist should not be asked or expected to “cover it up” by burying the truth.
The truth isn’t just out there, it’s scrutinized in detail with every attempt to hide it.
A reputation management campaign must promote what is positive but honest. The path forward covers the things the celebrity client does that are worthy of mention and acceptance. It may be too much to seek praise for any good deed.
Asking too much of the public is nearly as bad as pretending the past doesn’t exist. A reputation management specialist can help temper client expectations. The response to controversy should be balanced and as unbiased as possible.
Celebrities Are Entitled to Their Own Voices
Many celebrities don’t manage their own social media or Websites. They hire someone else to manage these responsibilities. Sometimes they work informally with fans or friends and family members.
Reputation management specialists may suggest ways for celebrities to leverage their own online assets to their best advantage. There may be many news articles, images, videos, or statements that can be brought forward to highlight a celebrity’s career, beliefs, and favored causes.
When the celebrity voice is angry and defensive, people may not be as sympathetic as hoped for. Each situation is different. Some celebrities earn reputations for being difficult or distant but people respect and love them anyway.
The story the celebrity wants to tell should be heard. His or her career may depend in part how aware the public is of that person’s work. The reputation management specialist covers as much of a career as should be helpful in the future.
Reputation Management Includes Fan Relations
Although an actor or author doesn’t need to hire a reputation management firm to handle a fan club, engaging with a fan community can have a great impact on someone’s career and professional success.
Reputation management can highlight these interactions in many ways, and sometime create or identify opportunities for positive engagements between celebrities and fans.
This part of the reputation construction may come from a publicist or media specialist. But they should discuss future opportunities with firms they work with to manage online reputation.
Reputation Management Relies on Attentive Monitoring of the Conversation
The conversation includes every comment, every news story and blog post, and every social media tag campaign. If someone mentions a client by name or implication, that comment becomes part of the ongoing conversation. The conversation may die down but it doesn’t have to end.
Some people prefer not to be the subject of discussion and they avoid the limelight when not acting or publishing something new. Their solitude and privacy are important and reputation management strategies must reflect that value.
Simply monitoring the online discussions is a passive for of reputation management, but a necessary one. It’s no less important than monitoring news stories.
Although most celebrities don’t have to deal with public outrage about anything, they all rely on some type of reputation management. Whether it’s self-promotion or a publicity campaign orchestrated by a studio or publisher, many celebrities benefit from reputation management throughout their careers. Personal reputation management for famous people should be distinct and complementary with organizational reputation campaigns. A less emotional point of view helps to direct the celebrity’s passions in positive, uplifting directions.