For those of us who were fans of the incredibly popular Sex and the City series during the ‘90s, a rather alarming feud between two of the show’s leading stars – Sarah Jessica Parker and Kim Cattrall – has busted our little bubble that drew us into the iconic series about four female besties.
The public feud has become progressively more bitter between the two and has now officially spiralled out of control with Cattrall levelling scathing remarks on Instagram at Parker following the star offering her condolences after the tragic death of Cattrall’s brother. Of course, only those involved really know the truth in terms of what’s happened in the past but this situation is the stuff that keeps PR professionals up at night, tossing and turning.
Regardless of what’s taken place between the celebrities, there is no benefit to be gained by either party playing hurtful comment ping-pong. Does either really want to be known as ‘that actress who had the very public feud with a former co-star?’ Thanks to social media and the shareability of such juicy content, these kind of hatred-fuelled posts are almost always guaranteed to go viral and stick. For a very long time.
When we glance over and look at politics, for those of us who’ve lived long enough, we’ll be able to reel off a number of very public bust-ups, one of the most recent being Kevin Rudd versus Julia Gillard (who are two former Australian politicians, who were once part of the Labor party). To cut a long story short, Gillard asked Rudd to resign or face a leadership challenge back in 2010. As you can imagine, the media had a field day with the very public airing of a situation between two leaders who very clearly, were not on a same page and weren’t working towards the same goals. Gillard’s wish was granted but unfortunately for her, Rudd never truly disappeared and reclaimed the leadership of the party in 2013. Unfortunately for him, Rudd lost his battle against Tony Abbott later in the year.
If it all sounds like a big mess, it sure was! At the end of the day, both Gillard and Rudd walked away from the battle with their reputation in dire straits and their political careers over. While both have bounced back to go onto notable public positions, the legacy they leave behind will ultimately be shadowed by the fact that each played a part in what was arguably one of Labor’s darkest periods in history as a party.
So what are some key lessons for those of us who aren’t so high profile but whose thought-leadership and public profile is a work in progress (that covers everyone in the public sphere)?
Find a trusted media/PR advisor and actually trust them to do their job
All of the above people mentioned and most public figures almost always have a media or PR advisor. That person’s job is to think ahead and help to avoid sticky public situations as much as possible and when something pops-up that is unavoidable, their role is to devise and follow through with PR crisis management. If you choose not to listen to this professional, you can’t then cry over spilt milk and a gross lack of judgement on your part.
If you’ve got an issue with someone, address it with them directly
We’ve all seen that person on social media who airs their dirty laundry in a way that names someone or is very obviously a direct attack at someone. Our advice: don’t do that. Whether it’s another business owner, a customer or even a relative, pick up the phone, write an email (be careful to send it to the right person), organise a coffee chat – there is nothing harder to manage from a PR perspective than comments that are so juicy, they’re destined to go viral. You don’t want to be that organisation that takes eight hours to respond to a customer complaint that has been seen by thousands already (case in point, British Airways’ lack of response after a customer took to social media to air their anger at lost luggage).
Be accountable and think about what you say and don’t say, at all times
The more successful you are at establishing yourself as the go-to brand, the more switched on you need to be at all times. We’ve said it before, what you say publicly matters, what you don’t say matters and what you do in a crisis matters most. If you anticipate a situation spiralling out of control, work with your media/PR consultant to develop key messages to stick to and don’t veer off-course. And if you’re not in the right headspace to give an interview, it’s wise not to chat with the media. You can’t take inflammatory comments back.
At the end of the day, public spats between people, regardless of their cause or the industry in question, leaves a bad taste in everyone’s mouth and they do have an impact on your reputation in various ways. Sure, you might have the phone ringing off the hook with journalists seeking your comment but it will be for all the wrong reasons.
Sarah Cannata is the founding editor of This Woman Can.