So, actress Reese Witherspoon made news recently in a way she probably didn’t want to. She and her husband were allegedly pulled over for a DUI – her husband was driving. As the story goes, while her husband was being administered a field sobriety test, she was not too helpful. Witherspoon apparently told the police officer “Do you know my name? You’re about to find out who I am.” That’s certainly a bad moment and news of it is all over the place. When you’re such a public figure – this includes many tech executives – choosing your words wisely is critical, particularly if you’re in front of a police officer.
There are some reports that suggest this will all blow over and that it may actually help. First, never plan to get media attention in such a way. It’s a bad gamble. I’m not suggesting she did this on purpose but, if anyone would plan to get such media coverage in such a way on purpose, that’s just a bad idea almost all of the time. No matter how much is forgotten some will remember and this will put at least a small stain on her career for life. Period. We continue to live in an era where people growingly see a clear separation of classes in our society. Her suggestion of her position in society only negatively fuels this perpetual belief and it doesn’t help her.
Tech CEOs stand in a similar light. Every time they are in public or speak to media they must remember this. Their actions can and will be used against them if they’re caught doing the wrong thing. There were probably thousands of DUI arrests the same night as this one but, only one got this amount of headlines. Key company executives would garner similar coverage for any poor public performance. A crisis plan should be in place in case it ever happens. I understand so far that Witherspoon has cancelled a few public appearances. She, and anyone else in a similar position, would do well to get into the public sooner rather than later. I understand there are legal implications here but, there are public relations implications too that are even more damaging than the legal ones. She owes fans an apology and explanation from her own mouth, not through a statement. This is the best remedy at this point and she’d better do it right.
Analysis: How Should Brands Respond to Tragedy on Social Media
Another story lays out some advice on how brands should respond to tragedies using social media. It first suggests you do not tie a tragic event to a promotion. This should go without saying. It also stated not to send pitches if the event is on-going. It goes on to suggest other potential ideas.
The problem with this is that brands aren’t people. They don’t have feelings. So, a tweet from @ACMEcorp, for example, stating how horrible it feels is disingenuous to begin with. Now, I know there’s a new debate as to whether or not corporations are people. But, from a PR perspective, they are not. If a brand is going to make a statement about a tragedy, it should come from the personal account of the CEO and it should reflect the general feeling of its employees or just the CEO. It shouldn’t come from the brand account itself. Or, if it does come from the brand account, it should reflect it is a message from the CEO. That brands are sorry about something is just, well, sorry.