Crisis Communications and Public Relations
Bravo viewers who follow the network’s stars on social media have had a hard time with the seemingly tone-deaf posts of Erika Jayne Girardi, estranged wife of disbarred attorney Tom Girardi who misappropriated funds owed to plane crash and gas explosion victims’ families.
What was lacking from The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star’s feeds early on, when news first broke of Tom’s crimes, was an expression of sympathy for the victims’ loved ones. Even if blindsided by Tom’s actions, Erika’s mantra of giving “zero f*%ks” was not an appropriate sentiment considering the news, which included that she had received gifts from Tom which were paid for with the stolen money.
Parallels Between Entertainers and Entrepreneurs/Tech Titans
There are parallels between the optics of how entertainers conduct themselves “on the gram” to how disgraced entrepreneurs have behaved historically.
Much of it boils down to the severity of the crime. The late Jim McAfee, a Silicon Valley legend, was considered a key suspect in a murder, later committed tax evasion, and still went on to splashily run for president twice as a Libertarian candidate. Erika Jayne, on the other hand, is being scrutinized for her conduct in the aftermath of her husband’s misdemeanors (and not her own), although she allegedly profited from his misappropriations.
More commonly in the business world, a crisis can involve:
- Merger/acquisition activity
- C-suite changes
- Product development delays
All can adversely affect how a brand is perceived.
The Attorney’s Take
Jay Edelson Esq. of Edelson PC, the attorney fighting pro bono for families of Tom Girardi’s victims, says: “I’ve always been fascinated by accepted strategies in ‘crisis’ PR. What I’ve seen is that individuals who find themselves in the hot seat hire big teams who move slowly, give empty platitudes or non-substantive denials, and are purely reactive. When they try to be proactive, they tend to go on the attack in the most unthoughtful ways.”
He continued, “Erika’s recent strategy is instructive. Her lawyers and my team worked out an agreement to avoid fighting over whether Illinois courts have jurisdiction over her, moving the case to California to create efficiencies in litigation. Erika and her lawyer decided to use this as an opportunity to go on the offensive, putting out false statements claiming she’d somehow been vindicated in the courts. She was giving herself high fives on social media, telling the world she’d won. We responded immediately, and the story shifted to the fact that she was lying. Our next filing was going to be bad for her. Her PR team did not respond: they hadn’t thought two steps ahead.”
Edelson emphasizes that Erika and Bravo could have used her platform to raise funds for the families early on. He also feels that had Erika agreed to go through the settlement process, it would have cast her in a sympathetic light.
While this is Edelson’s perspective, Bospar’s Laurenn Wolpoff has a slightly differing take. “My heart breaks for the families impacted, but when it comes to Erika, people are smart enough to see through the smoke and mirrors of a person pretending to have changed based on traumatic experiences forced on them as a result of their spouse’s crimes. Authenticity wins.”
‘A Tone-Deaf Comment Is Always Newsroom Gold’
Of the parallels between entertainers and businesspeople, Bospar’s Brett Larson, a former tech journalist/broadcaster, opines: “A tone-deaf comment is always newsroom gold. Everyone starts digging for more to get the story on air with a bigger bite.”
Clients facing a crisis should keep honesty top-of-mind. Communicate candidly and quickly, stressing open communication. And, if the circumstances merit it, accept responsibility (while taking any legal constraints or ramifications into account). The best crisis communications tactic could well be an apology!