"Who Do We Think We Are?"

"Who Do We Think We Are?"

One of my favorite songs right now is "Who Do We Think We Are?" by John Legend featuring Rick Ross.

I like the song because I believe as it has several messages in the song that relate to the work of public relations professionals and community advocates.

Fantasia Barrino: The Lessons We Can Learn From Her Crisis


Note: This post is not an attack on Fantasia.  I admire her in many ways because as a woman I understand her struggle.  In all honesty, I have lived some of her struggles and have no room for judgment. This post is designed to educate those in crisis on how to best manage their crisis before it blows up.

Former American Idol winner Fantasia Barrino has been the subject of many conversations these days.  From television news reporters to blogger stories to conversations in beauty salons, barber shops and girl nights, Barrino has sparked quite an interest with the people. The reason? Her relationship with Antwan Cook. 

I am not going to attempt to tell the story about the relationship with Cook; there are several versions of the story floating around and you can Google her name (or his) and get your share of the story.  I want to analyze how Fantasia has handled this PR crisis.

If you have read any of my blogs then you will know I value honesty, transparency and authenticity.  I believe that these are the keys to any good relationship.  Fantasia has given us that - for the most part.

Issue 1| Lies: Lying hurts your credibility.

I say for the most part because while the mess has just hit the proverbial fan for everyone, the story of her relationship with Cook has been floating around for more than a year...and for more than a year she has been lying about the relationship. During an interview with Honeymag.com dated November 2009 Barrino is asked about the relationship:

[Laughs] Okay, let’s talk rumors. There’s been a lot of blog talk that you’re dealing with a married boo and even got his name tattooed…

Yes, [the rumors] were all really cute to me. I guess it was something about a guy from T-Mobile? Inaccurate. He was hot, but I think I’m looking for my own man. There’s no boo in my life, I’m married to my career. Right now I’m not really focused on a boyfriend; we all know what happens when you get them… I have no tattoo on my shoulder, [that rumor] was very well put together! I wear my body out more purposefully now and when I’m walking I see people checking, “Like does she have a tattoo there?” As a matter of fact, I’ve never even [met him] before. I think I’d want to be with a guy who’s in the same tax bracket as I am … or higher!

She has lied about it as recently as August 11 during an interview with TT Torrez when she says she didn't date Cook.

So, she hasn't been completely honest until two weeks ago when she admitted - through a statement released by her manager - that she had been having an on-again-off-again relationship with Cook. That brings me to issue number 2.

Issue 2| Silence: Silence can kill your reputation.

The first rule in crisis management is tell it all and tell it fast.  Fantasia didn't do that early on.  When the rumors first started she lied and didn't speak about them for months, but that didn't keep the bloggers from talking about her and this relationship.  Pictures surfaced with the two on trips and the blogs kept jumping with rumors about their relationship.  'Tasia was quiet, leaving the masses to form conclusions for themselves. Even after the news broke about her attempted suicide, we heard from her manager and not her. We heard from Toure' on Good Morning America on how he thought she felt, but not her.

Issue 3 | Timing: If your timing if off, you could jeopardize it all.

It has been said that Fantasia's suicide attempt and her recent willingness to speak about the relationship was all a strategic publicity stunt to help boost album sales and to get people to watch the second season of her VH1 special, Fantasia For Real. Regardless of your position on the matter, you have to admit her timing is awful. To wait to speak about this two weeks before your album drops is not a good look.  It makes it look as if this was a calculated publicity stut. Perception is reality.

Issue 4| Messaging: You have to have the right messages in crisis situations.

Since breaking her silence on the issue, Fantasia has been honest about having a relationship with Cook. She has also been quick to deflect blame in the situation.  While she isn't pointing fingers at him directly or making him out to be the bad guy by defaming his character, she isn't outright taking responsibility for her part in the situation.  She hasn't come out in any interview and stated that she was wrong in any way or issued an apology (from her mouth, not through a statement issued by her manager) for the role she played in this.  This is key for anyone in a crisis situation.

The lesson. There are several lessons we can learn from Fantasia:

  • Be honest from the start.  If you aren't honest from the start you could jeopardize your credibility once you start being honest.
  • Own your mistakes. Playing the victim turns your power over to other people.  You must own your mistakes and take control of how you will work to overcome them.  Share that and show it in your actions.  As my Twitter friend @strategicgal suggests: Complete redemption comes when you own your part in any situation. It increases your credibility and strips others of their power over you.
  • Don't allow others to control your message or when you issue it.


on 2011-08-01 12:17 by Brandi N. Williams, APR

A few weeks ago it was reported that Fantasia was preggers.  She came out with a statement saying that she wasn't pregnant.  She said the weight she'd gained was the result of preparation for her getting ready to play Mahalia Jackson in an upcoming movie.  In true Fantasia fashion she later comes back and lets us know she's pregnant.

The lesson (again). Don't lie. The truth is ALWAYS better than a lie.

And a bit of advice ... get a new team.  They keep you looking crazy!


on 2010-08-24 15:10 by Brandi N. Williams, APR

I missed Fantasia's live interview with Robin Roberts of GMA this morning, but I was interested in hearing what she had to say in her first live television interview since the attempted suicide. It looks like she has gotten it together.  She has learned the crisis PR lessons.  In the interview, Fantasia is real and honest (two things that she has always been until this relationship incident).  She speaks about the challenges she faces and helps to humanize herself (all she has to do next is accept ownership for the repeated issues ...). Great job 'Tasia.


on 2010-08-26 16:13 by Brandi N. Williams, APR

I didn't catch Fantasia live on "Lopez Tonight" last night. It wasn't because I missed it (that was why I didn't see her on GMA). I made a conscious decision NOT to watch. I didn't want to hear the same story over again. Well, somehow I found the video online (and I wasn't looking) and I enjoyed hearing her talk to George. I enjoyed hearing the old Fantasia.  I am rooting for you ... for women all around the world who know the struggle you are experiencing.  I hold fast to the fact that it starts with you freeing yourself. It requires you to stop frontin' and get real.

Fantasia on "Lopez Tonight"


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Trey Songz: What's Your Position? (Part Deux)

Tremaine Aldon Neverson's (bka Trey Songz) first album was a commercial flop, selling a mere 40,000 albums its first week and never being certified by the RIAA (for the record, I was in the number ... I purchased the first album). A bit disconcerting considering he had the stamp of approval from the Queen of Soul herself, Ms. Aretha Franklin. It however is not surprising - at least for those of us in the PR, marketing and advertising industry. Trey's failure was due in large part to the failure of his team to recognize that his look and sound didn't match his age or the audience they were targeting.

Stop Frontin' and Get Real

UPDATE: It's 2014, and we are still having the get real conversation. While many still need to hear it, there are some who really do get it. Check out the video links below from intimate, exclusive interviews by Necole Bitchie with JHud and KMichelle. 

In 2002, eight-time Grammy Award winning artist Lauryn Hill released MTV Unplugged 2.0. The cd was very different from her freshman project The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill.  The album featured only her voice, accompanied by acoustic guitar. She used lengthy interludes as an opportunity to explain to her fans the things she realized during her hiatus from the music industry, the most important being self-realization.  Many considered the album a flop and criticized Hill for being so candid. Others praised her forher passion, brillance and honesty, and according to Hill, there is something to be said for honesty. 

During Hill's 12-minute Interlude 5 (the first track on the second of the two-disk CD), she defends honesty and challenges her fans - and the world - to be real...to be honest.  "We were in Florida this weekend. We took the kids to Disney World. They gave us a tour so they escorted us through the back. And when they escorted us through the back we got to see how there were all these people working all hard and it was real dirty back there. Of course in the front it was all immaculate and clean. And I said people need to see the reality. They need to see how these people slave to maintain this illusion….what’s the point. Oh, I just threw this together…. Slavin to act like I wake up like this. And none of us do….and reality is good. It means that everybody can exhale and let your belly out ….that is the blessing [to be able to] go around and say, 'oh you got one too.' And be free."

WHY KMICHELLE THOUGHT SHE WAS GOING TO DIE http://instagram.com/p/tjXBUZzQwY/?modal=true

Fastforward five years and it seems that though many thought Hill was "confused," several artists in the industry are taking advice from the confused Lauryn Hill, proving that honesty is the best policy.

Mariah Carey is one such artist.  After two lackluster albums, a very emotional breakdown that delayed the filming of her movie and a bitter divorce many thought that Carey's career was over.  It was even rumored in 2001 that her record label, Virgin, was close to "severing ties" with Carey.  Carey and her team knew that she had to come strong on the next project.  She also had to deal with the real issues.  And she did.

FULL JHUD INTERVIEW TEASER: http://instagram.com/p/tguGsrTQyc/?modal=true

On her latest project,The Emancipation of MiMi, Carey shares her personal side.  When discussing the title of the project, Mariah explained:  "the word "emancipation" referred to the freedom from her ex-husband, Tommy Mottola, which contrasted with the promotion for her three previous studio albums since her divorce, as she had never previously spoken in great detail about it (though a gag order had prevented her from talking about the marriage for a few years). Carey also explained that "Mimi" is a nickname previously used only by close friends and relatives, adding that she wanted the title of the album to be "representative of where I'm at as an artist.... This is the fun side, the real me, and not the image and the baggage that comes with the whole 'Mariah Carey' thing" (taken from Wikipedia).

Emanicpation debuted at number one with the highest first-week sales of Carey's career.  The album was certifed platinum six times and won the 2006 Grammy for Best Contemporary R&B album. 

One could argue that it was the quality of the music helped Carey regain her status as an R & B diva, but the strategy behind the persona was the real catalyst.  Carey's personal approach and honesty put her back on the map.

REALLY THOUGH? THIS AGAIN? http://instagram.com/p/tk_p7DTQ1C/?modal=true

Rising star Keyshia Cole is also proving that reality and honest equals success.  Often criticized for her rough around the edges persona and hard to deal with personality, Keyshia Coles' public relations team made a strategic decision to allow BET to produce a weekly reality television show that "offers a look into the daily grind" of the songtress. The show, The Way It Is, provides viewers with a weekly dose of Keyshia's reality.  It gives an honest look into Coles' past and present, allowing them to understand the woman behind the golden voice. During the show Coles is honest, telling the painful details of her past and and explaining why she "has to handle her business like a man."  On the show she is caring and sincere, allowing viewers to see the things that make her vulnerable and human. The result? Each week fans fall deeper in love with Keyshia. Each week the haters become fans. Each week brings her closer to another platinum album.

Why are so many people choosing to put their life on display for the world?  Because as Lauryn pointed out years ago, "It's reality."  We are all going through the same thing.  The reality for public relations professionals is that people are tired of hearing made up success stories. They are tired of the created illusion; they want to see and hear from real people.

The lesson.  Public Relations 101 teaches us to be honest and open in crisis situations.  Real life is teaching us that honesty is always the best policy.  Don't be ashamed of your organization's or client's reality.  Don't be held captive by the urge to create an illusion.  Find the real  and stop frontin. Real situations inspire people and cause them to act.  Find the real situations in your projects and use them to achieve your goals.