In the Public Eye

Being a Hollywood celebrity or the mayor of a large city has its advantages: being in a position to influence public opinion, meeting world leaders, invitations to swanky parties attended by other elite members of society – and no doubt many other perks.

But for some, the downside might be that you are always in the public eye!

This week, we saw a political PR crisis unfold when Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson didn’t realize the microphone he was wearing was on when he ranted with fellow city councillors about a community group. Not only did he make disparaging remarks about members of a delegation of West End residents, but he dropped the F-bomb – TWICE! Media has been abuzz about the “green mayor’s” unparliamentary language, as seen on this YouTube clip posted by the West End Neighbours:

I would argue that it would be prudent for the Mayor to erase swear words from his vocabulary, since he is ALWAYS in the public eye. No matter whether he’s at a restaurant with his family, in a public restroom, at a football game or on a personal phone call with a friend, he is ALWAYS in the public eye. His actions and words will be under public scrutiny as long as he holds a public position.

Mel Gibson knows a thing or two about that. His ex-girlfriend Oksana Grigorieva released new tapes of their phone conversations/arguments. Engaged in a bitter custody battle, this was no-doubt one of several angry conversations between the two. However, in this latest taped conversation, he allegedly admits to hitting her and says she deserved it. This has entertainment reporters wondering if Mel’s career is sunk.

Again the lesson to be learned is that NOTHING is private when you’re in the public eye.

For that reason, when I prepare clients for media interviews, I always spend time helping them to be aware of what they say and how they behave. That often means not taking a phone call in the middle of a TV interview while they are wearing a microphone, and no aside comments or jokes. Making an off-colour joke then saying, “but that’s off the record,” doesn’t cut it! Those remarks can be placed out of context – and there’s no recourse if you actually said something. It’s difficult to argue against your own words that have been recorded – which is why it’s best to think before you speak and anticipate that anything you say will be repeated (at best).  

The CEO of an organization must always appear professional before his peers, employees, media, shareholders, etc. That’s his role. It is also best to adopt a culture where swearing is not appropriate in the workplace – especially in environments where the public, media and VIP visitors are often coming through. If staff are used to dropping the F-bomb, then chances are it will slip out during a very public situation – it’s just a matter of time.

While most people eventually forgive and forget these slip-ups – they are extremely embarrassing and can damage reputations (and careers) for quite some time.

I highly recommend public officials and spokespeople go through media training regularly, with someone like myself, who will refresh them on the basics as well as work with organizations to help hone messaging. Having done media training with over 100 spokespeople, I also have a keen eye for identifying gestures and word crutches that spokespeople can work on changing.

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One Response to “In the Public Eye”

  1. harrietglynn 14. Jul, 2010 at 3:28 pm #

    And in a world dominated by social media (twitter/flicker/youtube/facebook etc), privacy is totally DEAD. Anyone can catch your gaffes.

    That all said, I think we all need a place where we can rant. Perhaps the mayor and his cohorts need a padded room somewhere.

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