Public Relations Lessons From Celebrities That Apply to Not-So-Celebrity Clients

By Heather Ebert

Recently, singer Taylor Swift penned an open letter to Apple via her Tumblr page expressing dissatisfaction with Apple Music’s policy to not pay artists for music streamed during the service’s free three-month trial period. She stated that because of this policy she would not release her album “1989” on the platform. Apple quickly reversed its policy and pledged to pay artists during the trial period, which began June 30.

The intensity and reach of the public eye often requires that celebrities like Swift be very transparent and responsive with the media and their fans, especially when news stories or scandals break. There are many celebrities that handle such events almost seamlessly, but there are others whose actions make the situation worse. There are lessons to be learned from both. Here are the top three PR do’s and don’ts that we can take from celebrities.

Do: Develop positive relationships with the media

Actor and star of “The Vampire Diaries,” Ian Somerhalder interacted with E! News on Twitter in April after a reporter investigated rumors that his ex-girlfriend and co-star Nina Dobrev left the show due to on-set tensions between the two. When the story was published, Somerhalder tweeted E! praising them for addressing the rumor and getting the story right.
The lesson that can be taken from this example is simple – companies should engage with the media covering them or their industry. If a reporter is writing a story about you, your company or your industry, be sure to follow and engage with them on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and other respective social media platforms similar to how Somerhalder did.

Do: Tailor communication to the situation

Different times call for different measures. A perfect example of this is how singer Beyoncé Knowles responded differently in two situations. Knowles addressed criticism for lip-syncing during her performance of the national anthem at President Obama’s 2013 inauguration. A month later, at a Super Bowl press conference, Knowles walked in, sang “The Star Spangled Banner” and then closed with an explanation of why she lip synced. A year later, Knowles was the center of attention yet again, when husband Jay-Z was attacked by her sister Solange on camera in an elevator at the Met Gala. Instead of holding a press conference to address the event, she, Jay-Z and Solange released an exclusive joint statement to the Associated Press regarding the incident and did not discuss it any further.
Even for a client not of Knowles’ stature, this lesson is still extremely important – different circumstances require different types of communication. A company should communicate differently in response to a crisis situation than it would if a CEO is retiring. Sometimes releasing a statement or press release is enough, but there are times when a press conference or primetime interview is necessary. All of this depends on what the message is and who should be receiving it.

Don’t: Speak on an unfamiliar topic

This lesson can be taken from rapper Kanye West. In response to Beck winning “Album of the Year” at the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards, West commented that Beck should have given his award to Knowles if he respected artistry. In an interview months later, West went on to admit that he was unaware Beck plays 14 instruments and he had since listened to Beck’s music and liked it. Even though West apologized and praised Beck after the fact, he will continue to be judged by his first remarks.
It is important that anyone – famous or not – be prepared for interviews and providing statements and to make sure that they only discuss what they are experts on. It is okay to say, “I don’t know,” and in fact, the damage will be far worse if they need to apologize or retract their statements later.
These three lessons are extremely important and relevant not only to celebrities but to all companies or individuals who deal with the media. While there are many other things to be considered, these can be used as starting points to provide a well-thought out, cohesive communications strategy.