Scandalous Skeletons: What’s in Your Closet?
From R. Kelly’s alleged abuse to the unravelling details of the Jeffrey Epstein case: the past is never far from the present when you’re in the public eye. While the aforementioned men are particularly severe examples of an unforgivable past, we’ve all done things we’re not particularly proud of. Ever forgotten to scan that second pack of doughnuts at the Sainsbury’s self-service checkout?
But what happens when you’ve done something potentially career-ruining? Can you stop it getting out? Can you prepare for the online and offline onslaught? And how do you safeguard yourself from that journo feeding frenzy in the first place?
You can’t bury secrets
While you can obtain injunctions to stop the press from reporting on certain misdemeanours, that’s no guarantee your secret won’t get out. In fact, since the press can sometimes publish details but not names, it often makes the story that much more enticing to the internet, who usually go on to figure it out for themselves anyway. When that happens, the celebrity in question is usually judged more harshly for trying to conceal the truth. Remember Ryan Giggs?
The fact is, no matter how hard you try, the internet has made it virtually impossible to keep anything a secret these days. Even if you’ve been in the public eye for a long time, don’t be lulled into a false sense of security: exposure has no expiration date. Tabloid journalists are always in need of juicy stories, so they’ll always be digging for dirt.
Dish your dirt to your PR team first
This is a must. While no one likes to admit the most embarrassing or shameful parts of their lives, it’s within your best interests to tell your PR team or PR agent about any skeletons you might be hiding in your closet. And you need to be thorough. Give them every event, every name and every detail, and make them aware of everyone that might have this dirt on you too.
And make your admissions sooner rather than later. That way, if a scandalous story makes it to the press, your PR team isn’t blindsided and already has a carefully constructed crisis plan in place. If handled effectively, a moderately bad scandal doesn’t have to ruin your career.
Cleanse your social media
The celebrity folk of yesteryear didn’t have to worry about those controversial jokes they made 10 years ago – but you do, because you put them on Facebook along with everyone else. Cleansing your social media of controversial or damaging posts is something you should do before you become well-known. But if you haven’t got around to it yet, it might not be too late to get started.
Within the last few years many people in the public eye have fallen victim to Twitter’s dirt diggers, people who spend hours at a time trawling through celebrity’s Twitter feeds in an attempt to find anything controversial or damaging. The same people also target sites like Instagram and Facebook. So retrace your social media steps and clean up any messes you’ve left behind.
Have a crisis management plan
Most PR teams are used to dealing with scandals. It’s part of our job. It’s also part of our job to prepare in advance for scandals that are likely to happen. Assuming you’ve given your team a detailed and truthful account of your misdemeanours, they can set about creating a plan should the press get hold of the story in the future.
Why prepare? Because timing is everything. A scandalous story spreads across news websites and social media like wildfire, and the longer you leave it without responding, the more your reputation burns. So it’s better to douse it pronto. Have your team write a carefully worded statement. Or come up with a video apology script to address the events in question. Whichever seems more appropriate. It might seem overly contrived when the press hasn’t even caught the scent yet. But doing it in advance gives you the luxury of having the right words at the ready while you’re in the eye of the tornado.
While you can’t change the past, you can certainly take steps to protect yourself from it in the present. Always seek anti-scandal guidance and crisis management advice.