Can you PR your way out of bad behavior?

By: Miranda Menard. It’s not new news that celebrities, athletes and politicians are constantly getting into trouble by behaving poorly. For decades, they have been getting themselves into scandals and stirring the pot. Some of these incidents are big, like the President Clinton and other celebrity cheating scandals or Ray Rice getting busted for abusing his girlfriend in an elevator. 

Ray Rice at press conference after assault incident.

Thinking about current events, Donald Trump delivered his final State of the Union a few days ago. At the time, he was coming out of the Iowa caucus and walking on eggshells due to the impeachment trial. However, during this time and throughout his time in office he has been able to sneak his way out of trouble.

Politics aside, he has been able to get out of  messy situations that would have ruined most other peoples’ careers. He, like many who find themselves in situations caused by bad behavior, owe their continued success to their  public relations teams for keeping him afloat.

For Trump, during his campaign he was put under fire for racist, sexist and other horrible comments and actions he made. His team was able to train him to talk to the media and put out content to cover it up and keep people on his side. This ultimately won the presidential election. 

Is using strategic PR and social media branding to get public figures and leaders out of trouble ethical? Are the apologies and follow up actions legit? Do these people feel remorse? Have these people truly changed? 

What incident will be SO big that the person is not able to PR their way out of bad behavior? 

This Article Has 3 Comments
  1. Katie Zurbrick says:

    “Is using strategic PR and social media branding to get public figures and leaders out of trouble ethical?”

    That’s tricky, and I don’t think there’s a black and white answer to this question. For one, if you’re doing PR for a client, your whole job is to portray them to the public in the best possible light. That is by no means inherently unethical… That’s just your job.

    In order for PR to be “ethical,” does that require everyone’s dirty laundry to be highlighted and constantly brought back to the center of public conversation?

    While yeah, a lot of people do things that are awful and inexcusable and completely unjustified, people are more than the bad decisions they’ve made. If I hire a PR specialist to represent me, and they highlight the volunteer hours I’ve spent at food banks and the shelter puppies I’ve saved rather than the times I’ve cut people off in traffic, made a snarky comment about a peer, or lied about having a scheduling conflict to get out of hanging out with someone I don’t really care for, is that unethical? I don’t think so necessarily.

  2. abigail portwood says:

    I think this is a bit of a gray area, considering each situation is unique in certain aspects. The PR team’s role in publicity is to help the person, company, etc upkeep a trustworthy and clean appearance, and since it is so highly individual with each scenario, there are a lot of instances where the ethical line gets crossed. The problem with public people doing bad things is that they are not necessarily unique in this, but since they are famous their actions are amplified into the public. While this is understandable in certain situations, the celebrities, companies etc who know they have a large audience and are highly recognized should hold higher standards for their actions since it doesn’t take long for many people to find out about their mistakes, but this doesn’t always happen. An interesting concept is the distinction between a PR team coming in to clear someones name versus letting the person or company deal with their mistake personally, if it is bad enough.

  3. Hayley Williamson says:

    Hi! I think this is something really interesting to think about. I believe that having a good PR team is crucial for celebrities or people in the public light, especially if they are involved in some sort of scandal. There are definitely times when people are able to use positive public relations and sincere apologies to get out of a bad situation. However, I think there is a limit to how many times you are able to “PR your way out of bad behavior”.

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