This past week, famous (infamous?) unauthorized celebrity biographer Kitty Kelley released her latest tell-all book, this one about talk show host Oprah Winfrey. Kelley’s pen has struck many famous targets in the past, such as Frank Sinatra, the Bush family and even royal dynasties.
Oprah is more than just a celebrity, she is a bona-fide billion dollar brand – therefore the stakes are much higher in protecting and managing that image. Crisis management 101 dictates that attacks on one’s brand and reputation must never go unanswered, and the two Oprahs – the person and the brand – are no exception.
So what crisis public relations steps should Oprah take as Kelley continues her book publicity tour, dishing seedy details and other awkward revelations?
• Stay above the fray. Oprah’s handlers already maintain a tight perimeter around their boss, and no doubt that circle will hold strong during the book’s initial release. Still, Oprah’s fans will seek reassurance about their idol, and that guidance is best administered from Oprah herself. At the same time, Oprah shouldn’t indulge the book’s themes or specifics, so getting on the record with a diplomatic and confident statement is a smart move. Something to the effect of “I don’t traffic in rumors and speculation … Ms. Kelley peddles in gossip, so I think that speaks for itself.”
• Have third-parties criticize aggressively. Oprah’s brand has empowered a legion of other stars in her orbit. These loyal and trusted advocates can criticize the book openly without dragging Oprah into it. Imagine having Dr. Phil, Dr. Oz and Rachael Ray all drop responses here and there: “well, regardless of what’s in the gossip pages, this isn’t the Oprah that I know.”
• Lean on past success. This isn’t the first time Oprah has faced a sharp attack, such as several years ago when Texas beef producers sued her for defamation, claiming that Oprah’s criticism of beef consumption was a direct attack on their business. Instead of relying simply on scorched-earth litigation tactics, Oprah took complete command of the controversy by actually moving her television production to Texas for several days. In doing so, she won over the locals, made the plaintiffs seem foolish and greedy, and looped the media theme back in her favor as a talk show host who cares about her fans. Oh, and by the way, she won the lawsuit.