By Carmie McCook, President, Carmie McCook & Associates
R&B star Chris Brown, no stranger to making negative news headlines, pulled a triple whammy last week. At a time when his image is still tarnished from his 2009 assault on former girlfriend Rihanna, Brown’s interview on Good Morning America (GMA) and subsequent window-breaking rampage, did nothing to repair his reputation. In an effort to smooth things over, the following day he issued an apology … sort of.
Rebuilding a client’s bad image is a publicist’s nightmare. But with the right TV appearances and the chance to publicly demonstrate good behavior, a foundation can be laid to begin mending negative perceptions. Thanks to his publicist, Brown had a great opportunity to use his appearance on GMA to shore up his character. The opportunity to be interviewed by Robin Roberts, generally regarded as one of the nicest reporters in television, and to have a performance slot on one of the nation’s top morning news shows is a visit to heaven. Instead, Brown turned it into a decent into Dante’s Inferno.
Overall grade for Brown: F. Here is where he went wrong:
• No-no #1: Never get defensive with the reporter. Brown’s missteps began when he started getting snippy with Robin Roberts. Bad move! When asked about how he was moving forward after the assault charge and restraining order, Brown’s facial expressions, body language, and words conveyed aggravation and contempt.
Appearing irritated with a reporter’s questions only makes you look bad. If you have a notorious incident in your past, there is a real good chance you are going to be asked about it, no matter what the agreed upon topic or reason for the interview. You may not like it, but you must go into the interview with a prepared response and keep a pleasant composure when answering. But to be disrespectful to a reporter celebrated for being gentle and who is generally loved by the public only amplified his damaging conduct.
• No-no #2: Never think you are off the news radar just because you are no longer on the set. Brown’s unprofessional behavior during the interview was nothing compared to his barbaric behavior afterwards. Yelling as he walked back down the hall to his dressing room, ripping his shirt off, and throwing a chair through the window to “let off a little steam” reinforced the out-of-control anger image he was hoping to quell from 2009.
Just because the microphones are off and the cameras are not recording, does not mean every word you say and everything you do within range of a reporter (or their staff) is not going to be part of the story—and bad behavior is guaranteed to make news. Behaving like a complete lout because you did not want to answer certain questions, quickly adds another negative headline to your public resume.
• No-no # 3: When issuing an apology, do not place blame for your actions on others. The day after the interview Brown appeared on the Black Entertainment Network, where he was asked about the GMA incident. He babbled a few minutes about how, moments after his blowup, he was doing fine and “just trying to enjoy life.” He then launched in to a backhanded apology. While saying he apologized “to anybody who was startled in the office, anybody who was offended or really looked disappointed in my actions,” Brown then began trying to justify his tirade claiming that Roberts did not stick to agreed-upon talking points, which “threw me off…I felt like they told us this just so they get us on the show to exploit me. And so I took it very, very hard,” stated Brown.
Giving talking points to a reporter is not unusual, but it does not mean that the reporter will not ask other questions. This is especially true if you are, or have been, the subject of another high-profile news story. Using a couple of apologetic words then blaming others for your ignoble behavior is unprofessional and renders your apology insincere.
Lessons to be learned: First, most reporters are not out to get you. They have a job to do and asking tough questions is part of that job. Always be prepared to answer difficult questions honestly and briefly.
Next, remain composed and never show anger through your eye contact, body language, or tone of voice during the interview, no matter how much you do not want to answer the question. Needless to say, it is vital to maintain a professional demeanor before, during, and after the interview. Everything you say and do while on the news set can be used in a news story.
Finally, an apology should be sincere and brief. Never try to validate improper words or actions. It only makes you look hypocritical.
And one final note. Finding a good publicist for bad celebrities is not easy. Within 24 hours of Brown’s public outburst, his publicist, Tammy Brooks, quit.
Carmie McCook is a nationally known executive communications trainer and coach, (www.carmie.com) specializing in preparing high-profile clients for media interviews, crisis communications, keynote speeches, and presentations. A former TV reporter and former Communications Manager for a Fortune 100 company, Carmie now uses her powers for good rather than evil. She is based in Washington, DC. and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.