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Michael and the Media

Michael Phelps and the Media

Much ado about Michael Phelps. Well, so much for the person as the focus seems to be on his image.

As Fox News wrote, “A photo of Phelps smoking marijuana out of a bong at a party in November has brought his endorsement career to a crossroads, marketing experts say.” Indeed, the image consultants were out in force, even if his sponsors have thus far been supportive

Clearly this is an interesting development to anyone whose responsibility is to manage a pseudo-celebrity’s reputation. It’s quite possible a case study will wind up published in future editions of marketing textbooks. Still, even as a PR practitioner myself, the call for “a serious PR campaign” to remedy Mr. Phelps persona strike me as a bit much.

Clearly smoking dope won’t add value to his image, and there is certainly work to be done given the focus the media has placed on this event. But seriously…a PR campaign? Less PR and more sincerity strike me as a more appropriate approach, though I fully acknowledge the irony of my advice.

So what is my advice to Mr. Phelps?


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First, downplay the newsworthiness as sensationalism. After all, if a President can admit to experimentation, are activities of a college party really worthy of coverage of this magnitude?

Second, intensify the concept that Michael is a kid and as the Guardian pointed out, kids do make mistakes.

Third, people admire those who overcome adversity. There is, on occasion, wisdom in cliché and actions do at times speak louder than words: the public, at least the American public, is often very forgiving. A sincere effort to impart what you have learned from this mistake to your youthful admirers will go a long way. Do not promote these engagements as that will only serve the appearance of reputation management: just do it.

Finally, stay human Michael, like you did with your initial apology: Avoid a script and speak from your heart.

And may you win many more gold medals in the future.


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Photo credit: Flickr, thaines, Michael PhelpCC BY-ND 2.0

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