From a public relations perspective, 2015 was full of wonderful case studies and examples of PR crisis. As we move further away from the conservative PR dos and don’ts we used to impose upon talent years ago, it has become open season for PR crises to run amok. Today, everything is much more relaxed and celebrities often run their own media platforms to the public’s delight and their team’s dismay. For PR practitioners at the big agencies who aren’t involved or more importantly invested in their client’s brand on a day-to-day basis, its less work and probably assures them a bigger payday, but for those actively working with clients, it can be frustrating.
It’s no secret that the biggest contributor to PR crises is, of course, social media. A mere nanosecond after a celebrity has made a mistake in the public eye, fans, “stans” and “haters” have joined forces to create Instagram memes, satirical tweets and edited Snapchat parodies mocking the celebrity’s mistake. Depending on the level of mockery, it can take up to approximately 72 hours for said celebrity to retire from being the laughingstock of social media.
As you’ll see in our countdown, it happens to the best of them, however what separates A-listers from the “others” is their team’s ability to control the online circus at their client’s expense. A-list talent like Beyonce and Halle Berry have very few issues with public mockery, as their celebrity affords them the luxury of high-powered teams with vast connections that are able to bully social media platforms, while celebs with less clout or continuous bad behavior are left to the mercy of their fans and “haters.”
In celebration of a great year of celebrity PR snafus, we comprised a list highlighting the 10 biggest of 2015. Not all of these mistakes were made by talent, one was made by an entire network and media maven, and, of course, 2015 allowed us to see many made by politicians, nevertheless once a mistake has entered the public sphere of social media, everything is open season.
10.) LifeTime & Wendy Williams biopic of R&B star Aaliyah, titled: “Aaliyah: The Princess of R&B”
The official Aaliyah biopic or as super producer Timbaland called it, “that b*llsh*t Aaliyah movie” gets the last slot on our list. Although the movie was released at the tail end of 2014, it makes our countdown as one of the biggest PR FAILS over the last year. From the movie’s inception, things were suspect with Disney darling Zendaya jumping ship because she wasn’t comfortable playing the role without the deceased singers involved to R. Kelly and Timbaland’s public denouncement of the film, things went from bad to worse. With a premiere night filled with sarcastic silence from Timbaland, Missy and everyone affiliated with Aaliyah, to social media poking fun at the bad acting, poorly written storyline and horribly re-done music, it was a huge fail for the Lifetime Network and Wendy Williams. There were countless articles mocking the film and no record of any supporters for the film. We’re hoping Lifetime will be able to revive its reputation with the Toni Braxton biopic slated for release in 2016.
9.) Beverly Johnson shocks the public and incriminates Bill Cosby; months later her manager refutes her story and labels her a liar
While mainstream America reluctantly turned its back on Bill Cosby after numerous white women recounted stories of waking up drugged and sexually violated after spending time with Bill Cosby. The African American community reserved judgement until former model Beverly Johnson came forward and added her name to the list of Cosby accusers via an appearance on The View. Johnson’s long-time manager of twenty-plus years, Don Gibble, recanted Johnson’s story and will probably be a witness in Cosby’s pending lawsuit against Johnson and several others. “She said she had brunch with him and his wife, and it was a great experience. And then on ‘The View,’ it flip-flopped,” Gibble said, referring to Johnson’s recent appearance on the popular daytime talk show. “It was odd to me that she changed her story. She said [she was] drugged and raped. I just remember that was not the conversation we had. And we had it repeatedly. It was brunch. It was just one time. It was a typical nice pleasant experience. It can be easily proven that Camille Cosby was at that brunch, so it was kind of dumb for her to lie.” (Yikes!)
8.) Donald Trump makes fun of a handicapped reporter
We were being kind not to give “The Donald” more spots on this countdown. From his comments about Muslims to his insensitive remarks about Hispanics, it appears the CEO of Trump Towers could use a course on cultural sensitivity or at the very least a trusted media consultant. His hardest comments to explain could be his public mockery of Serge Kovaleski, a disabled New York Times reporter. Trump mocked the disabled reporter at a rally in South Carolina. In addition to mocking the reporters lisp, Trump flailed his arms around notating the reporter’s physical limitations. Kovaleski has arthrogryposis, a condition that affects the movement of joints and is noticeable in his right arm and hand. A New York Times spokeswoman said, “We think it’s outrageous that he would ridicule the appearance of one of our reporters.”
7.) Rachel Dolezal, NAACP masquerades as a Black woman; the truth is revealed, leading to embarrassing social media jokes
Rachel Dolezal was undoubtedly one of the biggest stories of 2015. The former NAACP Spokane, Washington chapter president, and Howard University graduate was also a professor of Africana studies. In her post with the NAACP, Dolezal had been a model president, so much fact the NAACP released a statement praising Dolezal’s work with the organization albeit accepting her resignation after it became public knowledge that she lied about her heritage. In June 2015, Dolezal’s parents outed their daughter, explaining that their daughter who was living as a black woman was actually of Czech, German and Swedish origin. This was particularly embarrassing as Dolezal had filed numerous complaints of discrimination against her as a black woman. Initially Dolezal wouldn’t fess up to her deception, claiming her racial identity was genuine, even if her ancestry did not reflect an African American heritage. After being badgered via social media for months, Dolezal confessed on The Real in November 2015, after some brutal prompting by Tamar Braxton, that she had in fact lied about her African American heritage. Since her public debacle, Dolezal gave up her civil rights career and has become a hairdresser.
6.) Chris Brown’s ex Karreuche Tran, is clowned by the cast of “The Real” for sticking by his side – he cheats on her and has a baby
Chris Brown is no stranger to public humiliation and PR Crisis, instead his career has continued to thrive in spite of his love hate relationship with public perception. His ex-girlfriend Karreuche became famous from their public outings and his references to her in his lyrics. Brown’s antics spilled over to his girlfriend when after yet another public breakup and reconciliation. Karreuche visited Iyanla Vanzant’s “Fix My Life” special edition, trying to explain her position and protect Brown to the best of her ability. Aside from fans and social media jokesters, the cast of The Real chose to speak about Karreuche’s dubious loyalty to her famous boyfriend. Brown jumped to his girlfriend’s aid, but nothing could save her from Brown’s treatment of her when a girl he had a fling with ended up with a positive DNA test and a 7month old baby. Karrueche and Brown broke up for the umpteenth time and she began making public appearances solo. The jury is still out on the two reconciling, especially as Brown has a song on his latest CD Royalty, entitled “Discover” that feels like an obvious attempt to get his girl back. Only time will tell…
5.) Raven-Symoné – That’s so Raven says that name is too ghetto!
Raven-Symoné may be the poster child for saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, still her inappropriate commentary landed her a plush gig on ABC’s ‘The View’. After a string of inappropriate comments, most of which involved race, producers obviously believed Symone’s brash tongue would add popularity to the show and their predictions were correct. In a discussion with The View’s female panel on urban names, Symone stated, “”I’m not about to hire you if your name is Watermelondrea. It’s just not going to happen,” the former child star said. “I’m not going to hire you.” Her comments immediately sparked an outrage on social media, with fans of The View starting a petition to have Symone fired from the show. While producers of the show didn’t come to Symone’s aid, they did respond that she was not being fired from the show. Symone’s father and former manager, however did acknowledge his daughter’s comment was not one that he would condone. Symone’s father responded in a Facebook post to comments directed at him about his daughter. “Children grow up and become influenced by many things, situations and people. I certainly don’t agree with what she said….but she is damn near thirty years old. She’s a grown ass woman making grown ass mistakes. We all have been guilty of this.”
4.) Vivica Fox – 50 Cent’s former lover accuses him of being gay on national TV
Vivica Fox had a great comeback year in 2015. Aside from several independent films, fans got a chance to see their favorite sistergirl next door actress in two episodes of Fox’s monster hit show ‘Empire’. While doing promo about her upcoming episode, Fox visited Bravo’s ‘Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen”. Fox looked great and the appearance was going great until Andy Cohen asked Fox about alleged statements her ex-boyfriend 50 Cent made about Empire’s fledgling ratings. Fox responded with a tongue in cheek insinuation that 50 Cent could’ve made a homophobic statement because he was hiding behind his own sexuality. Cohen jumped like a professional at the insinuation and asked Fox to clarify. The interest added fuel to Fox’s fire and she clearly stated she believed the rapper was gay. Fox took it a step further recalling a former XXL cover featuring 50 Cent and Soldier Boy, where she claimed 50 Cent looked like a “booty snatcher”. Cohen’s mouth dropped in shock and delight as he couldn’t believe his good fortune and inevitable ratings for the night. As expected both 50 Cent and Soldier Boy immediately responded with old pictures of Vivica and several accusations. Soulja Boy referred to Fox as a Grandma, while 50 Cent shared some of he and Fox’s private sexcapades with social media along with numerous unflattering throwback pictures. Double yikes!
3) R. Kelly tells Huff Post LIVE reporter “f–k that” in video interview
I’m not sure who thought it would be a good idea for R. Kelly to do an interview with the Huffington Post, but for some reason the self-proclaimed “pied piper of music” sat down with HuffPost Live host, Caroline Modarressy-Tehrani for the purpose of promoting his new album. While there are many outlets, mainly urban ones that would’ve granted R. Kelly a supportive interview, one would have to imagine that an outlet like HuffPost Live wouldn’t be the best place for a less than eloquent fallen R&B icon. Instead of being a great promotional opportunity, the interview quickly went left with R. Kelly becoming increasingly belligerent at the questions being asked by Modarressy-Tehrani. Although it’s been over a decade since R. Kelly was put on trial for having sex with an underage girl, he still hasn’t perfected a way to deflect questions about his past from when speaking with media. When asked about if his past allegations with underage would affect album sales, Kelly simply responded, “F*ck That” and started slandering the interviewer. He asked her if she drank and if she got drunk and lost control of herself. When she replied she had gotten drunk on occasion, he tried to draw a shaky correlation between his negative questions towards her and her negative questions towards him. The interview ended with Kelly walking off set, but not before he told Modarressy-Tehrani he loved everyone including her and also saying she was beautiful. She in turn told him he didn’t have to comment on her external appearance. Awkward! Where was the PR team for Kelly? MIA
2.) Steve Harvey crowns wrong Miss Universe; corrects mistake after the famous acceptance walk
Number two comes from one of black Hollywood’s brightest stars and if this piece had been written any earlier we may have missed it. On Sunday, December 21, 2015, Steve Harvey hosted The Miss Universe pageant on LIVE television. After an electrifying show, Harvey dramatically announced the evening’s winner of the prestigious title as Miss Colombia. Miss Universe Colombia 2015, Ariadna Gutierrez-Arévalo cried the stereotypical beauty queen acceptance tears, graciously accepted her crown and did the famous acceptance walk. After she’d returned to the stage to wave and blow kisses at her new subjects, Harvey awkwardly announced he’d made a mistake and that the “real” winner was Miss Philippines 2015, Pia Alonzo Wurtzbach. Both ladies were awe struck in what was probably the longest minute in television history. In a beyond uncomfortable move Miss Universe 2014 removed the crown from Miss Columbia’s head and transferred the crown unceremoniously to Miss Phillipine’s head. After this second crowning a dazed Miss Phillipines did an acceptance walk of her own, looking the picture of unbelief and confusion. Harvey took his mistake like the leader he is and immediately took responsibility for his error. As a result of his responsibility, the Miss Universe corporate advisors have supported Harvey in the backlash of hate slurs he received via social media. Harvey’s high powered public relations team was able to get many of the negative comments against him removed from the internet, but there was still a hailstorm of negativity. The Miss Universe posted this statement on their official website immediately following the broadcast. “The excitement of live TV was evident tonight on The Miss Universe stage with over 10 million live fan votes tabulated. Unfortunately, a live telecast means that human error can come into play. We witnessed that tonight when the wrong winner was initially announced. Our sincerest apologies to Miss Universe Colombia 2015, Ariadna Gutierrez-Arévalo, Miss Universe Philippines 2015, Pia Alonzo Wurtzbach, their families and fans. We congratulate Miss Universe Philippines as Miss Universe 2015.”
1.) Meek Mill vs. Drake – Meek Mill goes after Drake to the dismay of his fans and supporters … and probably his girlfriend
In what has to be the biggest PR snafu of 2015 Philly rapper Meek Mill became disenchanted after fellow rapper Drake didn’t publicly support his new album. With the alleged assistance of DJ Drama, Meek Mill made a few public statements via social media claiming Drake didn’t write his own lyrics. Understanding Drake’s lyrical prowess outweighed Mill’s by far, most rap critics waited with baited breath on Drake’s response. Both camps aided and abetted in the Instagram tomfoolery showing memes clowning both sides of the beef, but eventually Drake responded….and then he responded again. His dis track, ‘Back 2 Back’ made a public spectacle of Meek’s inability to match his girlfriend’s fly. The lyrics were classic and the record became a top 10 favorite in the club and on the radio. The unexpected rap beef attracted the likes of CNN and MSNBC most noting they weren’t familiar with Meek Mill, it also sparked a need for fans to point out the huge difference in the net worth, record sales and popularity of the two battling emcees. Drake morphed Meek Mill in every category, in both mainstream and the underground music communities. While the rap community was split in two, Meek’s next move would alienate even his own supporters and cement Drake as the winner of the battle. Mill’s response was less than clever, less than hard and less than convincing. His fans embarrassed him and the social media devils laid his pride to rest. For weeks Mill cancelled his public appearances and remained silent on social media. Later in the year, Drake received a Grammy nomination for his “Back 2 Back” dis against Mill. If he wins the Grammy, it’ll be a perfect example of a hater becoming a motivation for greatness.