March is Women’s History Month and there are quite a few women, past and present with a stellar public relations game that we can all learn from. As women in the pubic eye, the way in which these five women handled their public image in the midst of change is inspiring. All very different women, with different professions, the below women have each secured their place in history in one way or another with their unique approach to media relations.
Bree Newsome, Activist, Writer, Filmmaker
In June of 2015, the strong and fearless Bree Newsome climbed the flagpole outside of the South Carolina statehouse and removed the Confederate battle flag. Yes, it was that simple. Her action was fueled by intolerance and the hurt and anger she felt after the racially motivated shooting that killed nine Charleston worshippers. Prior to her heroic act, the writer, director and activist was best known in the independent film circuit, but was at that time also very active in protest, however it was Newsome’s heroic act in 2015 that led her to being a household name.
Soon after the media attention flourished, and it gave Newsome a platform to address the change she and so many others yearned for. She brought media attention to the pain the flag represents and started a conversation that so many were not having.
Lesson: Take action
Gloria Steinem, Feminist and Journalist
Gloria Steinem is a journalist and activist, most known for being a leader of the feminist movement in the 1960’s. Since Steinem rose to fame the journey of equality for women has had progression, set backs and at times stagnation. Through it all consistency in the message has remained.
More than five decades later Steinem continues to travel the world as an organizer, lecturer and spokesperson on equality.
Lesson: Be consistent
Elizabeth Gilbert, Author Eat Pray Love
Elizabeth Gilbert is an author catapulted to recognition over 10 years ago after the release of her book Eat Pray Love, which was later made into a movie. In the memoir, Gilbert took the reader along with her in search of healing after a divorce. The book’s highly anticipated sequel, Committed invited the reader back into her life as she made peace with marriage again. Readers became invested in Gilbert’s relationship with “Felipe”. Her story of healing, growth and ending up fulfilled by a deep love, provided hope to many.
In 2016, readers were quite shocked to learn she was divorcing for a second time and was now in love with her best friend, a woman. Gilbert used social media to make the announcement in an eloquent and open way. The news quickly circulated social media and news outlets, some of her fans offering support, others feeling betrayed. It is safe to assume that as Gilbert contemplated sharing her news, she had to weigh how her pending divorce would affect her brand. Gilbert could have covered up the events of her personal life; instead she continued to be as open and honest about her journey as she had always been.
Gilbert’s transparency of her personal life is what made her successful. Even when things in her life got complicated, she chose to stay true to her brand in the way she engaged her fans and the media, ultimately that choice resulted in her ongoing success. She went on to write a self-help book, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear and her fans followed.
Lesson: Always be true to your brand
Olivia Pope, Television Character on Scandal
If you’ve ever seen an episode of Scandal then chances are you have seen the way in which main character, Olivia Pope, played by Kerry Washington prepares her clients for interviews. As a crisis manager, it is the job of Olivia Pope to fix situations, and the first step in fixing a crisis is managing the media message. Olivia encourages her clients to manage their emotions, and to be clear and concise in interviews. She stresses that preparation is key and there are often scenes of Olivia prepping her clients by running through potential questions. Whether in the midst of crisis or not, It is this strategy that can help you communicate effectively with the media.
Lesson: Media training is crucial in crisis
Hillary Clinton, Politician
It is fair to say that former First Lady and 67th United States Secretary of State has had her share of media attention, both negative and positive.
Whether you are a Hillary fan or not, one thing we can all agree on is that Hillary faces adversity and negativity with class. From personal to professional scandal, harrowing debates and disappointing elections, we never saw her lose her cool. The public relations lesson here is that when faced with a PR crisis, when your name, your brand or your integrity is in question, never let them see you sweat. Maintain your game face, and keep it ladylike at all times.
Lesson: Stay classy and take the high road