It’s an unimaginable horror to be in the middle of an awful tabloid scandal, your human frailty laid bare. Yes dear reader – I’ve been there when it’s happened. It’s a dark, sad, dank and lonely space. Watching and being with the subject is not the most edifying part of my job, witnessing a tsunami of emotions hitting from all directions as the story is outed.
The humiliation, the public outrage, everyone diving in to offer an opinion. The sniggers the jokes, then the realisation that ‘I’ve lost everyone. Will my sponsors disappear? What an end to my career! Please make the professional humiliation go away. How will my family cope? Will it ever be the same again?’ This rush of emotions concludes with: ‘how could I have been so stupid?’.
This is the point when a chink of light breaks through the storm clouds. These emotions, and the considerable sums of money that lead to them when an indiscretion is outed, are why public figures will invest in expensive legal counsel to protect their privacy, especially if the true picture doesn’t fit the brand image.
Celebrities want to use super-injunctions to keep their dirty laundry locked away so tightly that not even the slightest whiff of scandal can escape. But the social media world means that whatever the spun image that celebrities try to present, the truth, or a version of it, will always emerge. If they’re a caddish serial offender, they’ll be found out.
Twitter makes a PR’s job harder, and the PR profession is grappling with the change. In the 10 minute news swirl, the hope is that you can deal with the issue, put the past behind you and move on. Very few who have dealt with a crisis have not been able to shape a new narrative. OK, it’s horrible at the time but events can be reshaped if you grit your teeth.
The list is enormous. Lesley Grantham, Kate Moss, Richard Bacon, the Hamilton’s, David Mellor, Michael Portillo are just a few names that spring immediately to mind. Obituaries have been written for all of their careers, but they all have one other thing in common; they didn’t hide away when the effluvium hit the air conditioning but dealt with the crisis, no matter how personal and unpleasant it was to do so. They managed the fallout and reinvented their narrative. “You know who” and the club of 2010 play the privacy joker and they are outed more explosively thanks to the fragile vacuum their need for privacy creates.
The truth is they are delaying the inevitable, making it worse. Let’s not forget the great British unwashed make allowances for human fragility but the crowd devours hypocrisy, feeds on the carcass of a sleb reputation downed by hubris and fear. Twitter is akin to a school of piranhas maniacally feeding on the reputation of the victim. Prompt, clear and decisive action needs to be taken before brand gangrene sets in and there aren’t enough limbs left to amputate. Expecting a highly paid legal firm to hold back the tide is lunacy.
“Let all men know how empty and worthless is the power of kings. For there is none worthy of the name but God, whom heaven, earth and sea obey”. These are the words of King Canute, seated on his throne on the seashore, waves lapping round his feet. Canute had been told by oleaginous courtiers that he was: “so great, he could command the tides of the sea to go back”. In the modern age, legal muscle are the new courtiers. Where, though, are the new Canutes?
The revolution in celebrity has changed the rules of engagement and the role of the celebrity has changed. This is the age of the super-injunction, the age when celebrities want to keep their dirty laundry in bomb- and journalist-proof cages so that not even the slightest whiff of scandal can escape. Celebrity is now more than just playing in a team or starring on the screen.
The public investment in the brand and therefore brand truth is more important than a spun image. The days of suppressing the facts are over.