Crisis Management: Mel Gibson & Personal reputation management: Crisis Response – from the archives
Actor Mel Gibson’s 2006 verbal attack on Jews while being arrested for drunken driving gave us a window into reputation rebuilding. His stumble let us examine options while reflecting on what we would have done if our business fat were in the fire. In retrospect, these were some of the choices:
Say and do nothing – Generally works better in the entertainment world than corporate. If the offense is minor (fistfight, drunken driving or nasty divorce) and you aren’t a first magnitude star then lie low. Take brief shots from the mainstream press. Let the tabloids chew awhile. Don’t give interviews or make appearances. Surface slowly and either say nothing or admit it was a stupid mistake that you’ve put behind you. Out of sight, out of mind after awhile. Mr. Gibson, this would not work for you because you are a first tier star with past anti-Semitic shadows who drunkenly defamed Jews.
Apologize in a press conference – At the other extreme you could let it all hang out. Call in the media, make a contrite statement of how idiotically you behaved and let the press yell while serving as surrogates for all who are offended or just rubber-necking. Part of me thinks the “Road Warrior” could handle this, but it is so risky. You could not control the herd. Just one antagonistic reporter eager to put your head on a platter (and on his resume) could precipitate soundbites everyone would want. The maelstrom would bury your apology and give the media enough video of you in deep doo doo to retrieve for the rest of your life and probably for your obituary. Pass.
Apologize to a specific reporter – You could cherry pick your favorite journalist – Oprah, Barbara or Katie – and have a much better chance of telling your side and getting reasonable treatment. Like a Roman Colosseum crowd, viewers could ogle as the reporter titan asked, “Mel, how could you?” “What were you thinking?” “How does it feel to look like a fool in front of the world?” “How could you let down your family and fans?” “Are you an anti-Semite? Why?” You’d hang your head, take your lumps, maybe shed a tear, and then, after the show and a furious few days of video clip redux, continue your career. After all, you ARE Mel Gibson. Who in Hollywood would want to disown you when some day you might help them make money? You will almost certainly do the diva thing, just not now. The issue is hot. Let it cool. Besides, you’re in rehab.
Apologize in writing – This lacks the drama and wailing and gnashing of journalistic teeth of interviews with you, but gives maximum control. After all, what else can the media use? It’s your statement or nothing, and no one wants to report nothing on THIS story. Of course, this is what you did; although legal eagle Richard Levick criticized you for being slow in offering it and crisis expert Jonathan Bernstein noted that you completely left out the Jews in the first of your two apologies. Bad form, good intent, smart move.
Be penitent and make reparations – Payback is hell, except in a crisis. Fall all over yourself to atone for those you’ve slimed. You are doing this with your pleas to Jewish leaders for forgiveness and guidance. To your good fortune, they say they are willing to help.
After a, forgive me, wobbly start, I believe you are doing the right things. You’ll emerge from treatment, prostrate yourself before a news doyenne (unless the “Road Warrior” in you compels a news conference), and once again be embraced by your movie brethren and most fans. As someone once said, “The dogs bark but the parade goes on.”
Oh, one last thing. You do realize, Mr. Gibson, you will have a reputational scar that no PR cosmetic surgery will remove. Sorry.