10 Commandments of Public Relations
Excerpt from Where's My Fifteen Minutes
- All press is not good press
Whoever said all press is good press is an idiot. Bad press is bad press. It stinks. It hurts. It’s often sensationalistic, inaccurate and vindictive. Even the most seasoned celebrities don’t like to deal with it. It’s not comfortable to have your personal life splayed across the pages or blaring on the tube.
Dr. Phil was interviewing some man who had molested children and was trying to save his marriage. Dr. Phil said, "What were you thinking?" I ask the same question as Dr. Phil, but for a different reason. Why would you go on national television in front of millions of people to discuss your most personal of issues? It’s tough enough to handle personal issues in our own living rooms, therapist’s offices or with our local clergyman. What kind of fool thinks it's therapeutic to have an in-studio audience shout their disgust at you and watch your wife crying hysterically as your most personal issues are played-out in 17 million homes across America in high definition?
I tell my clients I don’t care what they do, just do it privately. Close the curtains. Put the cameras and video cameras away. Don’t keep weapons around. Then go to town.
You can’t avoid bad press, but you can be such a wonderful person that the press isn’t quite so eager to tear you down. It’s Oprah vs. Martha Stewart. Oprah’s known for helping people, her causes, and her unique ability to touch people. When she got in a 'beef', millions rushed to her side and the media gave her the benefit of the doubt. Martha had no such reservoir of goodwill. I’m sure she supported some worthwhile causes, but they were not front and center. It was all about Martha and her millions. When Martha traded down, the media gladly kicked her. Why? Because: PERCEPTION IS REALITY
- Perception is reality
Don’t be fooled into thinking that the masses would let the truth get in the way of a good story. Your life must go through the media filter and what remains is neither the whole truth nor nothing but the truth. Yet, it is your truth and that is the baseline that has to be worked from.
It goes back to the basic psychological concept of primacy. The first images remain the most powerful, and perceptions and attitudes will evolve from that image. No one knows this more than Madonna. Having met Madonna, I think of her as an intelligent woman, an amazing mother, and a loving wife. She knows that ain’t the part of her material world that’s going to move the merchandise.
She’s used her wile, her passion, her majestic instincts, to craft an image that is very alive and constantly changing while building on the foundation of passion for her work, her causes, her loves and her family.
Madonna surely knows how to: CREATE A BRAND
- Create a brand
You’re not a singer, you’re a brand, silly. What are your attributes? Who is your target audience? How loyal are they? You’ve been reading "People" magazine when you should have been reading "American Demographics" all along.
Now match your brand with other complementary components. Find a gut-wrenching charity that touches your target. Find a consumer product that shares all your energy and vivacity and offers tons of cross promotion opportunities.
Most importantly, break out of that box. If you’re an actor, sing; if you’re a singer, act; and if you’re an athlete get on the cover of Vogue magazine in a hot red dress, like Olympic superstar Marian Jones did, with the help of a wily publicist. Any athlete can get on the cover of Sports Illustrated—this is the big leagues.
The goal is to become multi-faceted, full of positive attributes, and a magnet for respect, fans, work and lucrative commercial endorsements. It’s hardly enough to do one thing well anymore.
The secret is to make that brand something based in reality. A phony baloney image won’t have legs. It will be too hard to fake it; the people who really know you will realize it’s an act; and as you should know: THE TRUTH SEEKS ITS OWN LEVEL
- The truth seeks its own level
There are no secrets anymore. Pictures taken long ago appear on the internet. Secret documents appear in The New York Times. Promises made about discretion are promises broken. You can run, but you can’t hide—the truth is out there and it’s going to bite you in the ass.
It may take moments, it may take weeks or it may take years. It doesn’t matter. That sword is dangling over your head and is ready to fall. It may not do irreparable damage, but it will require some catharsis in order to get beyond it. We call it youthful indiscretion, a lapse in judgment or an effect of bad times. Whether or not it’s a speed bump or a roadblock is often dependent on how one addresses it.
Hugh Grant did a divine job of getting beyond his indiscreet moment. There was no hesitation, no denial and he took full responsibility for his actions in a timely manner. By acting in such a textbook manner, Grant was able to: ENERGIZE A BASE
- Energize a base
Articles don't just land in a newspaper. They have to be pitched to a specific writer and targeted for a specific section. It's a lot like landing a 747 at O'Hare. If there's no gate, the big guy doesn't land. It's the same with publicity.
To succeed, you need to work backwards from your media targets and from your base. A target group can be as small as three or as large as a billion. You just have to define it by looking inward. Are you black, gay, Jewish, an environmentalist, a liberal, against capital punishment, do you have diabetes, are you Asian, Catholic, from Missouri, from Malaysia, do you speak Spanish, drive a hybrid or live in East Los Angeles? These are all definable groups that are targetable with a message and reachable by specific media audiences.
These are the groups that likely gave you your start and these are the people who catapulted you into the mainstream. You need them. They count themselves among your most loyal followers because of a ‘special connection’ and these are the groups who will see you through thick and thin. If Al Gore had remembered his Tennessee roots he would be President today.
To communicate effectively to your base and everyone in fact, you need to remember: THE MEDIA WILL NOT WAIT FOR YOU
- The media will not wait for you
The first lesson of media training can be illustrated best by is a sports analogy. I tell clients, they’re playing offence, not defense. The job of the interviewee is not to be slapping questions away like a veteran hockey goalie. The job of the interviewee is to proactively impart his messages throughout the interview.
If you don't have any messages then you don’t have anything to say and you shouldn't be doing the interview in the first place. It's that simple.
We go by the premise that contemporary media can absorb three or four messages in a session--certainly no more and oftentimes less. If you're pushing a new film, your messages would be about the film, your role, your team including fellow actors and people behind the camera; and finally, the studio and their incredible marketing campaign and belief in the project.
No matter how eager you are to tell them about your new love, your new home and that new charity you just created hold off—you'll only muddle the story. Remember; don't just wait for the press to come to you.
It's equally important to remember: THERE IS NO WALL BETWEEN PUBLIC AND PRIVATE
- There is no wall between public and private
Did you ever notice that past the age of 11, there are no parties any more? We only have events. Events are different from parties. Events are parties with a purpose. To be a proper celebrity you need to go to events; not because of the shrimp—because of the press line.
Joan Crawford’s rose garden media strategy doesn't cut it anymore because it's not enough to have the press come to you. You have to walk the line.
No where else will you find two dozen television cameras, 60 paparazzi and Mary Hart angling to be your best friend. You get free clothing and people will loan you millions of dollars worth of jewelry. Joan Rivers dishes you. It beats the warehouse sale at Barney’s.
You get to show off your wit, your fashion sense and your posse; in Gina Davis' case, that’s a typo.
But never forget that: THE MEDIUM IS STILL THE MESSAGE
- The medium is still the message
Now, more than ever, Marshall MacLuhan resonates. Remember who you’re talking to and who their audience is. You can’t afford not to. Sure, there are more media channels than ever before, but there are more landmines too.
Everyone thought that the internet would change everything. As it turns out, the internet is to information what cotton candy is to food. Increased speed has resulted in more incorrect information. The magic of home publishing has created an utter lack of respect for journalistic standards.
Stick to media that are good for you. There’s no reason to avoid the pop culture icons like People and Entertainment Tonight. They have audiences in the mega millions and loyal audiences. But, balance your diva moments with an occasional serious interview in The New York Times and spend a little time in introspection on the Bravo network.
There’s nothing to really worry about, because: YOU CAN GO HOME AGAIN
- You can go home again
Even if you get Joyce Dewitted out of the celebrity club, you can come back, and we loved you all along. Honest.
In Sunset Boulevard, Norma Desmond exclaimed, “Comeback? I hate that term. It’s a return!” Whatever you call it, the public loves someone who keeps on trying. John Travolta Pulp Fictionalized himself into a superstar after a considerable absence. We loved him once, we’ll love him again. All it takes is a big opening weekend or a few television share points and you can be right on top of your game again.
Act like you never left. Forget those 17 years in Bulgarian soap operas. That was you getting in touch with your inner peasant. This is the new new thing. Dwelling on an unhappy past is borscht.
In marketing terms, we call it 'pre-promoted'. For your return, the audience has some starting awareness, some loyalty and this momentum just needs to be redirected a bit. It saves on marketing costs and gives higher awareness levels than someone just starting out.
While you’re savoring that moment at the top, it’s important to remember: THEY’RE ONLY BUILDING YOU UP TO KNOCK YOU DOWN
- They're only building you up to knock you down
Oh Anna, oh Ozzie, oh Martha, oh Arnold, oh Leona, oh OJ, oh. Whatever were you thinking? Did you think you could stay up on that pedestal forever? It’s called, “The Pinata Syndrome.” Like children, we love piñatas. Let me take a swing and see what goodies come out.
If there’s anything we like more than creating unreachable icons, it’s knocking the tar out of them and bringing them down to our level, or worse. Sure, you can move to a monastery at the top of a mountain and avoid controversy, but why miss all the fun?
It’s almost impossible to recover from the big one. There’s the court of law and there’s the court of public opinion. You can lose in court and win with the public and conversely, you can win your case and lose favor with the public, Mr. Simpson.
The best defense is a good offense. Build up a reservoir of goodwill with the public and the media through your many generous and caring acts. Stay married, avoid violence and close your curtains.
Live your life like someone’s watching, because they are.