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Everybody is watching you

Media Concept
By Robin Tozer
26 March 2024
Corporate Reputation

The Australian actress Rebel Wilson is soon to publish a memoir in which she planned to name a famous actor who she worked with, that was to put it politely, in her opinion, an “A-Hole”. Without naming the actor, she told her Instagram followers He’s hired a crisis PR manager and lawyers. He’s trying to stop press coming out about my new book. But the book WILL come out and you will all know the truth.”

She has now named the person as Sacha Baron Cohen who has denied the allegations. So, despite the alleged Crisis PR manager and lawyers, the story is out there. One assumes Rebel Wilson is equally well supported, but the fact she felt able to name him reflects a change in how reputations are now managed.

Now, even if their lawyers can stop cases, celebrities are tried in the court of public opinion through social media. Kevin Spacey was not convicted but reports of his poor behaviour over the years means the big studios now won’t touch him.

It’s not just abuse that is being challenged but how actors interact with co-stars and the public. Hollywood gossip has long traded on the knowledge that celebrities that appeared nice in public, could be awful in private. Gossip magazines and the likes of Popbitch regularly ran stories but the mainstream media kept clear as PRs and Lawyers did their work. 

In the past, fame and wealth were enough to shut down investigations and silence victims. Lawyers and PRs kept their clients out of the news pages. When a tabloid got compromising pictures of Tiger Woods, a deal was cut for him to feature in another of the tabloid publisher’s magazines to kill the story.

However, the sheer scale of social media, and the declining power of traditional publications, means that the type of dealmaking deployed by Tiger Woods is dying out. For example, recently trending on TikTok were stories from wait staff or film crews describing the worst celebrities they had ever dealt with. James Corden had to publicly apologise after a restaurant owner posted online about his behaviour in a New York restaurant. Now a celebrity could try and shut all this down through lawyers but its time consuming, expensive, and legally difficult. Also, there are a million ways now for the news to get out.

In the business world, we’ve seen CEOs stand down over office affairs or inappropriate behaviour. In general, HR departments have kept things in check in terms of obnoxious behaviour, but expectations of what constitutes good and bad behaviour is changing. UK law firms are facing two dozen investigations into allegations of violent threats, racism, and other workplace mistreatment of their staff. I suspect that 20 years ago, this would never have got out. What was acceptable in terms of staff engagement when I started working is very different. Raised voices in the office workplace now seem rare, when once they were commonplace. 

Recent years have seen a fundamental change in how celebrity behaviour is viewed which has lessons for the corporate world, especially after the #MeToo movement highlighted the toxic and illegal behaviour of many in Hollywood.

The truth is that we are all at risk of having our behaviour exposed if someone deems it wrong. For celebrities and business leaders, it is not enough to just to call in crisis lawyers and PR when news breaks, reputation needs to be constantly considered. Culture is more important than ever, with issues quickly addressed, before they fester. You can’t just behave well in public, or a Company appear to be good from the outside if inside the culture is rotten. The truth will get out.