Back in 1990, singer George Michael’s career was sky-high, but he was unhappy. In an interview, he detailed his disillusionment with fame. A response came from a surprising source: Frank Sinatra. In an open letter, Sinatra offered his opinion on the interview and offered Michael some stern advice. He said talent should not be wasted.
Now, I don’t know if George Santos’ communications director Naysa Woomer is suited for the job, but she has a job and this retired pr veteran has some Sinatra-like stern advice for her: Run. As far away as you can!
But seriously, in taking a high profile and likely thankless job, you are blowing your credibility with not only a lost cause but this is way beyond damage control and it does not appear on the surface you have the bona fides to do the job. No offense. As a seasoned, crisis management person, this is akin to being the person asked to rearrange the chairs on the deck of the Titanic. On-the-job training is often a good thing—this is mistrial by fire.
The S.S. Mea Culpa sailed for Santos many weeks ago and while this is a high profile job, it will haunt you wherever you go next.
Now, if there’s any industry that has a short memory—or any memory—it’s politics. You may still be employable but if there’s ever been an opportunity to retire the word "spin," this is it. "Truth" is a better word and while it is unlikely to salvage Santos’ career, you, as a fellow communications professional, must demonstrate the highest level of trust, not subterfuge or wordsmithing.
I recall a study from a few years ago where pr people ranked below members of Congress in terms of trust and believability. That’s because they became mouthpieces who were afraid to tell the emperor he was not wearing any clothes. It happens in business and politics. I, your fellow "professional," fought this perception for all the years I worked. My late mother once said to me: “Let me tell you what happened to cousin Arlene and..oh..this is off the record!”
They say even guilty people are entitled to a proper defense. When you tell a lie enough times, you become the lie. While it can often escalate to a legal level, it’s not a criminal conundrum, it’s a moral one.
Articles have been written about celebrities who share advice for those up and coming or to their younger selves. Reflecting, I don’t think I would change too much. I think it was both a plus and minus for me to tell CEOs what I thought. Some didn’t want to hear it, but most respected it and it had its rewards in my career.
Naysa: You can choose how your career goes. You can choose veracity over varnishing. The late comedian Soupy Sales said: “Be true to your teeth and they won’t be false to you.” It’s the best advice I can give.
Barry Kluger is a former senior communications executive at MTV Networks, Prodigy and USA. He ran his own agency for 25 years and is now retired.
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