THE BLOG

Jian's PR Team Made a Fatal Misstep and Ruined His Career

11/06/2014 01:25 EST | Updated 01/06/2015 05:59 EST

In less than a week, former CBC personality Jian Ghomeshi has gone from being the Internet posterchild to a pariah. And for this, he can blame his public relations counsel.

Ghomeshi had a way out of the scandal he's currently in already clearly laid out in front of him -- retiring from the public's eye after taking a long amount of 'personal' time after the death of his father. He would have been questioned, perhaps missed, but for the most part, left alone.

But Ghomeshi didn't want to take that road. For reasons known only to him, he decided to launch war.

He made a point of rather publicly hiring an issues management firm and announced he would be filing a $50 million lawsuit against CBC, while he posted a very detailed Facebook post. It was classic issues management -- get out ahead of an issue and frame the problem in your own terms.

Ghomeshi essentially outed himself, taking it as the lesser of two evils. He made a very public statement saying (in essence), "I'm into kinky sex, and because I'm hot and irresistible, women love me. But one or two are trying to make a name for themselves and are claiming non-consensual violence."

It's a tenuous move, but it was a reasonably successful one -- at first. After all, Ghomeshi's initial Facebook post attracted over 100 thousand 'likes.' There were numerous petitions launched protesting the CBC decision to fire the popular broadcaster. Thousands of comments on his Facebook post pronounced their support for him.

Things were looking up for Ghomeshi. You could smell the book deal in the brewing, if not a TV movie. Things started to look rosy. But the entire strategy started to unravel.

And the reason it began to unravel is simple, but powerful. There is a major, gaping hole in that strategy -- it needs to be honest in order to work.

Where Ghomeshi (and his PR team) failed was by not calculating "the other shoe to drop."

Ghomeshi probably thought he could get away with it. He's been accused of nefarious behavior in the past - one anonymous complainant was ridiculed in an online post claiming Ghomeshi was a 'bad date.' Rumours have been around for a while, and one complainant even created a Twitter account to complain about Ghomeshi's conduct. But no one noticed or cared.

But that was before Ghomeshi chose to turn the spotlight on himself. Perhaps it was his ego, perhaps he wasn't thinking carefully... But that's what a good crisis communicator does. They think for you when you aren't thinking clearly. They give you reasonable options instead of emotional reactions.

By turning the spotlight on himself, Ghomeshi has opened himself up to public disclosure - and the public chose to disclose. The Toronto Star now claims not one or two, but up to eight victims.

And the victims are starting to become a whole lot less anonymous. Actress Lucy DeCoutere has stepped forward, claiming she too, was a victim of Ghomeshi's violent attacks. As more and more evidence comes forward, it becomes harder and harder to take his side.

If his PR counsel knew the full extent of the allegations against their client, would they still choose a spotlight strategy? I can not fathom a scenario where any sane communications professional would choose to turn on the spotlight if they knew the full truth of the allegations.

The very act of jumping into the spotlight has been hugely damaging. Members of the public, who initially bought into the Ghomeshi claim, feel misled. The number of people who are rescinding their support for Ghomeshi grows by the hour, and with it, the number of people who are upset they were 'sold a lie.'

The "blowback effect" is twice as bad for Ghomeshi as it could have been. This is a classic PR misstep. The backfire will damage Ghomeshi's stature immeasurably.

He could have survived a quiet retirement at the age of 47. As many media personalities do, he could do the occasional guest host of a TV special, or perhaps written a book.

But that won't happen now. For the rest of his life, Jian Ghomeshi and his PR counsel will have to live with the fact they have very publicly transformed him into the poster-child of abuse against women.

If anything, the only saving grace in this sad debacle is that by publicly outing himself, Ghomeshi has warned previously unknowing members of the public to stay away from his bedroom.

(Note: Jeff Chatterton is a crisis communicator and the owner of Checkmate Public Affairs. Neither the CBC or Jian Ghomeshi are clients.)