Brown Sugar and Mike Paul Teach Reputation Management

Fox Searchlight Movie's "Brown Sugar" (2002) tells the story of two people in love with hip-hop...and each other.  The official movie website describes the movie:

Dre (Taye Diggs) and Sidney (Sanaa Lathan) can attribute their friendship and the launch of their careers to a single childhood moment - the day they discovered hip-hop on a New York street corner. Now some 15 years later, she is a revered music critic and he is a successful, though unfulfilled music executive. As they lay down the tracks toward their futures, hip-hop isn't the only thing that keeps them coming back to that moment on the corner.

What the description does not tell is the movie has an important lesson for public relations professionals.

Case and point.

During the movie Dre (Taye Diggs) finds out that his label is about to sign a new group that is completely commercial. He is adamantly opposed to the decision and goes to his boss to express his frustrations.  His boss blows him off and essentially tells him he has two choices - deal with the decision or find another job.  Dre is at a crossroad.  He has to decide what is most important to him - his reputation as a music executive dedicated to promoting artists who produce quality music or making money.  In the end Dre decides to quit his job and start an independent label - Brown Sugar. 

His first order of business after starting the company is to get a local underground artist (played by Mos Def) to sign with him.  It is important to note that he approached the artist previously when employed at Millennium Records and the artist declined to discuss a record contract because he didn't believe the company produced quality music.  So, when he went back to him, he had to convince him that he was serious about releasing quality hip hop.  He succeeded.

The lesson. Don't sell out. It could damage your reputation. According to Reputation Doctor Mike Paul, "The court of law is only half of the picture and it is usually short term, while the court of public opinion is long term and holds the key to your reputation."  Paul calls the point where you have to make a decision to sell out or stick to your beliefs the brinksmanship moment.  He says the decision you make (i.e. your actions) will ultimately become your reputation.  A long-term, positive reputation is based on truth, transparency, accountability, humility, and consistency, says Paul.

To truly be effective public relations practitioners we have to ask ourselves:

  • What do our actions say about us?
  • What reputation are we building by performing these actions? 

The answers to these questions will allow us to be the best practitioners we can be. 

We must also ask the same questions of our clients and organizations. What do their actions say about them? What reputation are they building by their actions?  Having these conversations will allow them to be the best they can be for the people they serve.