Media fame, whether or not it’s the result of a scandal, acts like a proverbial carrot dangled before business owners and investors who flock to it like moths to a flame. Intense paparazzi-style blitzes follow, especially when an ordinary organization takes on a high-profile staff member. Many companies fall prey to “hiring stunts” with very little actual return on investment beyond initial get-it-quick publicity. Even if they know their celebrity du jour isn’t a perfect fit, leveraging that person’s name (i.e. fame), contacts and relationships is usually the main focus. However, the question remains whether or not these risky maneuvers count as successes or failures, given that most famous hires (celebrities, dethroned politicians or other has-beens) often make rather poor employees.
Case in point: an invitation from public affairs and lobbying firm MWW to disgraced former congressman Anthony Weiner (of “Weiner-gate” fame) to join its board of advisors this past July. The married ex-politico was forced out of the House once it came to light that he had sent pictures of his man-parts to young women under the moniker “Carlos Danger” and then proceeded to lie about it. Given the immense scrutiny and scandal surrounding the man, most would wonder why any recruiter, HR representative or business owner would ever consider hiring him for a job. The answer, of course, is publicity. And, while MWW earned some headlines, it also recently – unexpectedly – parted ways with Weiner, less than 60 days after his original date of hire.
When media favorites take on new roles post-scandal, publicity surrounding their next moves can be extensive. Whether or not Weiner could do the job seemed irrelevant, given the tremendous amount of buzz MWW gained simply from bringing him aboard. Yet, fast-forward to this week and Weiner, once again, is out of a job. But why? Was he not a good fit for a position in crisis communications?
According to reports, MWW chief Michael Kempner felt Weiner’s presence created “unwanted noise and distraction.” This insight begs the question as to why the firm hired someone so hopelessly mired in media frenzies surrounding a sexting scandal while holding political office? Was he qualified to become a member of the firm’s board of advisors? The media asked that question and received an answer this week: Weiner’s hire likely wasn’t a good move.
Therefore, before hiring a “celebrity” as a stunt just for the notoriety, consider the following:
Understand your short-term and long-range goals. Is the hire or partnership worth potentially muddying your corporate mission or the loss of loyal staff members? Just as a celebrity A-lister can add clout to your brand, he can just as easily suck the livelihood from your operation. If you want to hire someone who knows how to get the media’s attention, it’s important that you also know how to manage the media once she comes on board, as they’ll all follow closely behind.
Pack a parachute. Even if you feel you know what you’re doing at the time, the practice of teaming with or hiring high-profile individuals comes with its own set of rules, though many who feel they are above them often ignore them anyway. While adding a big name to the staff provides an undeniable opportunity to advance a business’ reputation, it also brings potential for embarrassment and loss of credibility should plans go awry. Having a crisis plan in place before pulling the trigger may ultimately be your one saving grace.
Choose wisely. A critical rule of thumb when considering a hiring stunt is to make the partnership as seamless as possible by selecting a natural fit. For example, if a sports drink or energy bar company wanted to add a star athlete to its board of advisers, that would make more sense than if it opted to call on the experience of a “Real Housewife.” Obviously, hiring or collaborating with a media favorite almost assuredly guarantees press attention. However, the type of attention you receive is dependent on the circumstances surrounding the hire. Does it make sense? Is it a natural progression or is it strange, at best? The media is tenacious enough to spot a stunt as opposed to a savvy business move and, rest assured, they will call you out.
In Weiner’s case, media skepticism and concern was high and, by all accounts, led to his ultimate demotion. Weiner was quoted as saying, “I need a PR company to recover from working for a PR company.” Given that he may have just temporarily traveled down a side alley instead of his intended freeway, we’d be happy to assist him with course correction. Mr. Weiner, you can reach us at 888-PR-FIRM-8. We’re here to help.
Wendy Bulawa Agudelo has more than 15 years of experience in technology, business, consumer and non-profit public relations. In addition to serving on the Massachusetts Down Syndrome Congress PR Task Force, Wendy enjoys cooking and rooting for her favorite New England teams.
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