‘An exhausting feeling that you’re not good enough’: Confessions of a publicist on weathering a media crisis
This article is part of our Confessions series, in which we trade anonymity for candor to get an unvarnished look at the people, processes and problems inside the industry. More from the series →
A growing number of social media influencers and celebrities today own their own products and promote them directly to their followers through their social media channels. As a result of their name recognition alone, curious buyers are more likely to try out their product.
But what happens if a celebrity’s product ends up being swept up in the TikTok de-influencing trend? A publicist would be expected to come up with a plan for their client – even if there might not be one.
In the latest edition our Confessions series, in which anonymity is exchanged for candor, an entertainment publicist details the difficulty of unrealistic expectations during the midst of a media crisis – from the client and the agency — as well as the demanding nature of the news cycle.
You recently dealt with a celebrity in the middle of a crisis. How do you manage that?
Usually with crisis comms, it’s just more about putting out fires and field interview requests from reporters. It seems like as soon as something detrimental happens, it’s the only time where a reporter will actually reach out to you. Those are the typical steps that we’ve had to take, kind of just fielding the responses from reporters, flagging it immediately to find the lead on that certain celebrity.
How did you go about addressing a crisis?
[For example, we dealt with a case where] this celebrity launched a product at a time when the de-influencing wave was at its highest. [People] trashed the celebrity and the product. We were put in place to reshape that narrative a bit about their products actually being authentic, real and whatnot in a short period of time.
With crisis comms, it’s a little bit different because there is more to it than waiting for the heat to die down. There’s pressure in terms of making sure that media sentiment around that celebrity is positive or at least neutral. We never want the celebrity to be placed in the blame of something, especially if something is not true or taken out of context. But there’s definitely a different layer of pressure to that.
How long it would take you to deal with the celebrity’s bad press and the strategy?
There’s really no real time frame. You have to be on call for when [that] happens. And the bad thing about it too, is that it doesn’t help that you could potentially broaden the relationship with the reporters who are reporting on bad news about the celebrity because of course it is our first imperative to keep the celebrity happy.
Sometimes celebrities and even my superiors don’t really consider the fact that [publicists have] taken time to create this relationship with a reporter. My superiors have so much experience and they know when it’s necessary to go back to the reporter. They know when it’s necessary to tell a celebrity that they’re actually not going to make this change because of X, Y and Z. But it still doesn’t erase the fact that it all just boils down to pressure and empathy.
When a crisis is happening a lot is out of your control. How do you try to manage that?
The only thing there is to do is counter pivot with a campaign approach or having the celebrity address certain sentiments in cultivated ways. But with social media, I have to do stuff like a lot of monitoring and flagging. But there’s really not too much that I can do on that end because I can’t just get someone to take it down. The only thing I can do with that is just move forward and start trying to cultivate different pitch angles, stories and interview ideas for the celebrity to address those things and clear the air.
You mentioned having to work overtime amid a crisis. How has that affected your well-being?
I’ve been doing this for six years now and it’s just an exhausting feeling that you’re not good enough. It’s an exhausting feeling like your clients and celebrities don’t understand you. It’s even worse when you feel like your superiors don’t understand you. So it’s like your brain is constantly being pulled in multiple different directions and you’re just expected to be multitasking every single day for the rest of your life in this industry.
Do you want to stay in entertainment PR?
There’s been multiple times, including recently, where I was trying to look for other career paths within the communications field and just outside of PR. Or if I was to stay in PR , I definitely would try to in-house but in-house PR is very hard to do. I also do acknowledge that my mental health comes first and I’m doing the best that I can every single day even with the high pressure sometimes.
It would be nice to get some recognition for all the hard work that you do even when I put out all these fires during a crisis. It’s just very difficult because everybody knows that the media landscape is an ever changing. As a publicist, you really have to try and keep your finger on the culture trigger as they’re calling out to see what’s going on, what a reporter is talking about, what’s going on in the news.
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