There are many fabulous industry awards and “best of” lists that public relations teams help their clients go for every year. These include everything from the Stevie Awards and the EOY (Entrepreneur of the Year) to best workplace awards like those sponsored by Inc. and others. And that doesn’t even include vertical awards and “best of” lists for tech, healthcare, and other industries.
But recently I read about a new list – one that no PR person or client wants to land on. It’s a response to the Forbes’ Most Powerful People annual list and is called, of course, the 50 Least Powerful People. First, what we love about the list is the terrific PR achieved by the creator, financial news website 24/7 Wall Street. This list was everywhere. Now, the scary part; what would you do if your company or client found itself here with top-ranked Anthony Scaramucci and an eclectic bottom forty-nine that includes Chris Christie, Tiger Woods and assorted bad-acting CEOs? Before we get to recommendations for career resuscitation, let’s look at some other lists and awards to avoid.
The granddaddy of “best” and “worst” lists, Ranker is actually a digital media platform for opinion-based, crowdsourced rankings on everything from “The Most Annoying Social Media Fads Ever” to “Most Shocking Stories from Whole Foods.” No one is immune to the “wisdom of the crowd,” 50 million of whom rank topics comprising pop culture, sports, politics, brands and lifestyle every month.
Esquire’s Dubious Achievement Awards
Esteemed men’s magazine Esquire has made a name for itself as a chronicler of poor judgment with its annual Dubious Achievement Awards. Winners have included Trump, (too easy, but a natural) as well as Martin Shkreli, Lindsay Lohan and businesses like KFC for its 2016 introduction of Extra Crispy Sunscreen, an SPF 30 sunblock with a fried-chicken scent. The list is an institution and also finds itself earning press coverage – hard to get from potentially competitive media. That just demonstrates the staying power of this kind of “achievement.”
Biggest Junk Science
Sponsored by Real Clear Science, the science portal for Real Clear Media offers the best and most relevant science stories from around the world. The platform also prides itself on outing bad science through its annual review of junk proffered as fact. Has anything ever been so relevant in the era of fake news? Some of this year’s “winners” include a false report claiming NASA had changed the astrological signs! Then there was this proclamation from Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein, a Harvard-educated physician, about wireless connectivity. “We should not be subjecting kids brains… to that,” later adding, “We make guinea pigs out of whole populations and then we discover how many die.” Real Clear had a field day with that one.
This list offers a caution – it’s all too easy to make a blunder or create a fiction that is magnified in the 24/7 news cycle and then, thanks to the internet, lives forever. But, never fear, there are some practical PR strategies to mitigate the negative blowback if you end up on one of these ignominious lists. Here are some do’s and don’ts.
Do roll with it!
The good news is, most of these lists aren’t taken seriously. Unless the list has labeled you a criminal, the smart CEO or other personality would do well by having a laugh at his own expense and riding the wave with some humor. Think of Oscar-winning actress Halle Berry’s move in arriving in person to accept the Golden Raspberry for Worst Actress for her performance in “Catwoman.” It won Berry huge coverage and approval as a good sport and humble artist.
Do fight the negative with some positive.
We recommend helping build on positive achievements as a counterweight to press like this. Now is the time for news releases, social posts and articles heralding CSR work, internal stories and client or partner case histories that illustrate and illuminate the positive.
Don’t be snarky.
The aforementioned Martin Shkreli is clueless on this front. The Esquire list probably delighted him since his recent guilty verdict simply sent him to Twitter to post more questionable drivel.
Don’t defend the indefensible.
If in fact the list or award does call out an executive for offensive or even criminal wrongdoing, this isn’t the forum for a war of words. If the claim is truly libelous or otherwise injurious, you can always go the legal route.
Do remember time is on your side.
News moves so fast that many of yesterday’s negative headlines are already old news this morning. Even Anthony Scaramucci found his fortunes changing a bit just this week after appearances with Stephen Colbert and others. However, redemption isn’t in the cards for everyone, so the best advice will always be for public figures to think before they speak and have really, really good PR counsel!