Ronn Torossian, CEO, 5WPR
Just a few years ago, Kevin Spacey was a nearly-universally-adored A-List actor with an impressive list of movie credits and a massive hit Netflix series. Now, he’s a disgraced former actor who lost his show, his reputation, and much of his fan base due to allegations of sexual impropriety in his past.
If the story ended there, it would be difficult enough for Spacey and his representation to work toward defending his name and repairing his brand. But the story isn’t ending there. Due to court cases winding slowly through the system, Spacey’s name pops up in headlines every few months, which gives fans yet another opportunity to read or listen to all the details of the allegations against him.
Essentially, every few months, Spacey’s brand is damaged all over again, essentially forcing his representation to start over with any attempt to protect the actor or revive his name and career.
Regardless of how you, personally, feel about this example, the lesson here is that, when you are facing a long court case or lengthy investigation, understand that you need to be prepared to properly respond to repeated stories about the issue at hand. And, many times, there will be a significant gap in between the stories, during which people will “forget,” only to be reminded all over again. Old news will become “new” old news over and over again.
This situation is difficult enough, but there’s yet another factor to consider. When court cases run long, it gives other people time to speak out about their own similar situations. In the case of Spacey, that turned out to be an 18-year-old Massachusetts man who claims Spacey “groped” him in a restaurant back in 2016. Video of the alleged incident made it into court, and that got a lot of people talking.
Spacey’s defense says the video does not show what the man in the video says it shows. According to them, there’s a hand touching someone else’s shirt; no one was being groped. Yet, despite the scant evidence and emphatic denial by the defense team, many former Spacey fans are more likely to believe the story, because they keep hearing about the allegations of his aggression toward teen boys.
Practically speaking, that means the standard distance between assumed guilt and assumed innocence is drastically reduced. People who may have given a person or a brand the benefit of the doubt are less inclined to do so because of the previous-and-repeated-
Addressing these two inherent and implicit public relations challenges that accompany lengthy investigations or long court cases should be a significant concern for any PR team whose client is facing a long-term scenario in which they are best left not speaking out in their own defense.