Avoiding a Public Apology: Public Relations Tactics in Case of Crisis

Problem Manager

(DGIwire) — Celebrities, especially comedians, have been known to put a well-heeled foot in their mouth at times. Perhaps an off-color remark is overheard by a reporter or captured on a smartphone. Maybe a well-planned joke that was intended to make people laugh was taken the wrong way, and instead offended and angered a large group of people.

It seems as if it’s human nature to gawk at a car wreck: watching a celebrity talk him or herself into a publicity disaster is no different. Let us not forget celebrity chef Paula Deen spouting racial epithets, or actor Mel Gibson’s sexist and anti-Semitic rant following his DUI. Most recently, actor and comedian Adam Sandler found himself the subject of a scandal. While filming his movie The Ridiculous Six, which is supposed to be a spoof on The Magnificent Seven, approximately a dozen Native American actors and actresses—as well as the Native cultural advisor—walked off set.

The actors, who were primarily from the Navajo Nation, left after Sandler’s script repeatedly insulted Native American women and their elders and “grossly misrepresented Apache culture,” according to Indian Country Today Media Network. Among the actors who walked off were Navajo Nation tribal members Loren Anthony and film student Allison Young. While Anthony said that he understood the movie was intended to be a comedy, he and others of his tribe felt the portrayal of the Apache was severely insulting and the insults to women were offensive.

Clearly Sandler was in need of some help on the publicity front. On May 12, Sandler appeared on Late Night with David Letterman, where he broke out his acoustic guitar—a throwback to his Saturday Night Live days—and played an original and charming song. While this may not have been an overt apology, and while many people may not soon forget Sandler’s offensive script—especially since the movie is due out in theaters in late 2015—his talk show appearance served as a pacifying measure for the time being to remind his long-time fans of his goofy appeal.

“Many celebrities wind up having to make these public apologies, whether explicitly or subliminally, after they’ve been caught saying or doing something that put a stain on their reputations,” says public relations specialist Dian Griesel, Ph.D. Sandler isn’t the only one to have toed the line between famous and infamous. Celebrities such as Jonah Hill, Justin Bieber, Alec Baldwin and even Reese Witherspoon have all recently had to make public apologies.

As President of Dian Griesel International, an award-winning media relations and news placement agency based in New York City and author of ENGAGE: Smart Ideas to Get More Media Coverage, Build Your Influence & Grow Your Business, Griesel knows the importance of creating and maintaining a solid plan if—and when—a public relations crisis occurs.

“Celebrities are human; they make mistakes,” says Griesel. “But being a public figure requires a high degree of prudence and tact, especially since any passerby can catch a snide remark or belligerent action with a smartphone camera. Their videos can go viral within minutes, taking your reputation down with it.”

For public figures, companies and organizations alike, Griesel recommends having a solid PR plan in place just in case one’s reputation is on the line. “It’s better to be prepared,” she adds, “than to have to scramble at the last minute to do damage control.”