By Scott Sobel, MA, Media Psychology; President, Media & Communications Strategies
It seems like every day another entertainment celebrity, sports hero, significant CEO or politician or maybe a religious figure, is in front of cameras or an audience to ring their hands, mouth a mea culpa and ask for forgiveness. They are self–admitted embezzlers, thieves of all kinds, adulterers, con artists, and worse … high-profile people who have made mistakes and generally have gotten caught with their hands in the proverbial cookie jar or a horrifying list of other metaphoric treasure chests.
Eyes red, generally avoiding the direct gaze of their audience or interrogator, oftentimes a spouse or supporters surrounding them, but maybe not too closely.
You get the picture, we've all seen it an astonishing number of times, and the list continues to balloon. Now Lance Armstrong follows in the footsteps of Arnold, Tiger, Elliot, Bernie, Lindsay (comparatively fewer women!), Bill, John, Ted and on and on — world without end, amen. The famous confessors are so recognizable that their last names aren't necessary.
I believe the ubiquity of these kinds of confessions is directly linked to the pervasive media (all kinds), evolving forensic techniques (DNA testing) and recording technology like iPhones or so many other devices with tiny video or still cameras.
Simply put, these days it is easier to be in the public eye and easier to be caught.
Expect to see more celebrity revelations and the time-tested reputation management litany: Common sense tells you, and we certainly counsel clients, that:
- A public personality, especially one who has a great expectation of being convicted because of prima facie evidence like a smoking email, needs to ask forgiveness as part of the rehabilitation of reputation.
- The longer you wait, the harder it is to get forgiveness.
- Delay the inevitable confession and the more damage will be done to your reputation because the public, including voters and ad sponsors, become more convinced that you are a bad person and that you are less likely to be truthful in the future.
- Gather your friends around you (Oprah if she isn't booked, great get Oprah!).
- Know your enemies and be ready to blunt attacks.
- Start to slowly do good works that can at least help you climb back into the good graces of the public, your business associates, constituencies and maybe, just maybe, advertising executives.
There are innumerable other nuanced actions to take, few of them are surprising, the success comes in the execution of the plan for redemption and the sincerity of the apology which is generally in direct proportion to the likeability of the celebrity apologist.
I won't bore you with all of the famous confession quotes on the Web spilling out of the mouths of all the pundits now, enough said that every one has a more interesting way of announcing that a confession is the first step on the way to a new life. If you are in the business of public relations or media psychology, you and your clients will be well served to recognize all of us humans are flawed. Most of us recognize our own imperfections and are willing to forgive others, depending on the extent of the transgression, if only the transgressor admits his or her human frailty. The perfect and the unrepentant generally don't get a pass from us sinners.
So all the signs are there, the trends are climbing upward, the new technology and evaporating ability to be private will further afflict those who live in the public eye. Lance will not be the last of the celebrity confessors. He will also not be the last famous or powerful person to be surrounded by yes-men and women who tell the boss he is bulletproof and will live in the glow of success forever, no matter how they got into that spotlight.
Scott Sobel is president of Media & Communications Strategies, Inc., a Washington, DC-based public relations firm that manages reputation and communications challenges of all kinds worldwide. He is also a former corporate public relations practitioner and major market and TV network investigative journalist. Scott has an MA In Media Psychology from Touro University Worldwide.