As a PR pro, you are in charge of managing your client's reputation and, although it is your responsibility to sort out that comms crisis, both you and your client must acknowledge that you are not a miracle worker — you are an expert communicator; there is a difference.

This means if your clients have misstepped completely, saving their reputation or trying to guard it becomes almost impossible … even for you.

So, what is the main purpose of a PR pro if not to try and save a broken reputation? Well, PR pros are there to help build and maintain a brand's reputation.

But it is also a brand's responsibility to uphold its own personal image. You can have the best brand in the world, up there with Sony and Apple, but that doesn't mean that you leave everything to your publicist.

PR pros, it's time to inform your clients about where you draw the line. Here to provide moral support is media update's Talisa Carlson.

Ready to get into it? Here are three things that you, dear PR pro, can consider when identifying those boundaries:

1. Your client makes their own decisions

As a PR professional, it's your responsibility to help build, maintain and protect your client's reputation. There is only so much that you can do when your client behaves or responds to a certain situation.

You can prep them beforehand and be there for your client when a crisis hits, but in that very moment when your client decides to actually say or do something, there is not much you can do for them.

An example of this is the incident that took place at the Oscars with Will Smith and Chris Rock.

Smith walked up on stage and slapped Rock in the face after he had made a joke about Smith's wife. It can be argued that Smith was standing up for his wife's honour, but at the same time, resorting to physical violence has placed his reputation in a negative light.

Does this mean a PR professional will magically be able to convince the entire world that Smith did this in an honourable light, for an honourable cause? Well, no!

And this leads us to point out the first difficult area in crisis comms: Your client's actions are theirs to make and yours to build from. The lesson is this: Remind your client (and yourself) at the very first handshake in your partnership that their decisions determine the hand of cards that you are given. They should be careful to provide you with the ones that you need to make the most out of any scenario.

*Image sourced from Imgflip

media update top tip: As a PR pro, you are not in control of how your client will respond. That is why it's vital to do a character case and be prepared. Know what you can expect from your client when they are faced with certain situations and take their reputation into account. Conduct research on how they have responded in the past — this will allow you to interfere or preemptively assist before things get out of hand.

2. You can influence a brand's perception but you can't change it

Being in the PR industry means that you know that brands, celebrities and influencers are constantly in the spotlight.

It is only a matter of time before your client says or does something that others don't agree with — especially if you have a very controversial client.
Let's take Johnny Depp as an example of a current individual in the limelight. Now while being a complex scenario, the whole situation comes down to his ex-wife accusing him of being abusive. Being labelled as such is quite damaging to a person's reputation, as well as to everyone that they associate with.

So, what did big brands such as Disney and Warner Bros. do? They decided to cut ties with Depp. But interestingly enough, luxury brand Christian Dior has stuck by him and has kept him on as the face of its fragrance Sauvage.

Here, we see big companies that have two completely different approaches to the Depp situation. As a PR with a client in a similar position, there is only so much you can do for your client.

Here is where the second difficult area in PR comms comes into play: You can't make a decision for a third party on whether they like your client or not. Rather, their decision will be based on various factors, including the current state of their relationship with your client, as well as your (and your client's) reputation.

Furthermore, the benefits of being associated weigh a significant amount on their shoulders when reestablishing where they stand. No PR can have these factors magically disappear to reinforce a specific reaction from them. Rather, you can continually act to ensure that these factors will play towards your advantage, should a comms crisis emerge.

media update top tip: Something that you can always help your client achieve is strong and positive relationships with other brands. It is all about networking. In this particular case, Depp has built a strong relationship with Dior, which means that his PR pro knows that they've got a friend in Dior. So, although you as the PR might not be able to influence a third party's choice, you can ensure that you build authentic and long-lasting relationships with them.

3. The majority rules

Cancel culture can catch anyone, from celebrities to influencers. This means that if the general public is not happy with someone, they can cancel them with the snap of a finger. If your client said or did something that the public is not happy with and they decided to cancel them, it will be extremely difficult to rebuild their reputation.

Yet, it seems that there is one way to reach the hearts of millions … and that is by being honest and transparent at all times.
For example, Robert Downey Jr. has not always been the beloved Iron Man to millions. His past was filled with drug abuse from his adolescent years and he was sent to prison for 36 months. Instead of these things making him a hard person, "Downey's sympathy is informed by his past."

Downey has spoken openly about his struggles in life and has kept his fans in close proximity to that reality. This approach to his public image has allowed the general public a glimpse inside the genuine life that he has lived, as well as into the life that he is living now.

People are not always too keen on giving second chances — after Downey was released from prison, people may have thought that he would not make it in Hollywood again.

But 'the public (tribe) has spoken'. So, onto our third difficult area in the life of PR: If the public approves, it could be easier for a PR pro to rebuild their client's reputation; if not, it can be a lot harder to achieve. Your success mostly lies in the hands of the public at large, and this is not a factor that you can go about changing.

media update top tip: If (and when) you work with a controversial client, or with an individual that comes with a questionable past, it is essential to make sure that your clients have the same current mission, vision and ethics as you — and the masses — do. This will allow you to better manage your client’s reputation, knowing that if the client did say something controversial, your PR house will be able to better stand by them.

What are some other examples of PR pros showing how they are not miracle workers? Be sure to let us know in the comments section below.

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PR pros also need to protect their own reputation, so be sure to read When to cut ties with a client: Three red flags revealed.
*Image courtesy of Pexels