Silence Isn’t Golden: The Story of Chris Brown’s PR

Last night was the 10th Annual BET Awards Ceremony, and let me tell you, I never thought I’d cry during that show.

Marking the one-year anniversary of the death of Michael Jackson, BET decided to gamble on a second tribute (since the first was a bust) and allow the infamous Chris Brown to perform. Last year, the ever-powerful Jay Z threatened to skip out on the awards show if Chris was even invited, resulting in a lackluster tribute to the King of Pop. I’m assuming the same thing happened this year since not only did Jay Z miss out, but Beyonce and Rihanna skipped out as well. Regardless of Jay Z’s disagreement with the tribute, Chris Brown’s performance was arguably the best performance of the night and is the best impersonation of Michael Jackson in recent years.

I have seen some (not much) backlash at Brown’s teary performance. I agree with some of the speculation. During the months following the incident involving Rihanna, silence surrounded Chris and his label (which I interned with this past spring). In the PR world, silence is not golden. Silence is questionable, suspicious and frowned upon. “No Comment” are the famous last words. As a Chris Brown supporter since he first broke into the scene around 2005, I was in shock with the handling of such a touchy and controversial incident. No apology…for months! Finally, when the apology did come on Larry King Live, he was decked out in a bow tie using words which I know he could not define, let alone spell. An educated audience could see right through the apology, and as a fan, I was terrified for his career. Slowly, venues started turning Brown away. Chris couldn’t GIVE tickets away. And at his label, there was conflict of how and when to release his next single.

But, nearly a year and five months after his assault of Hollywood’s starlet, Chris was given a second chance. He displayed raw emotion which fans and critics alike wished to see since Day 1. Unable to sing Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror,” the audience rose to its feet in support for Brown and the rebirth of his career. In the final moments of the show, Chris was awarded the AOL Fandemonium Award and finally said the words his fans had hoped he’d say months before; “I let you down before but I won’t do it again, I promise.” Spoken like a true 21-year old in the midst of a career crisis, no big words, no bow tie, no manipulation of his true feelings. Chris spoke directly to the audience and his fans, and in turn, it appears he may have more fans now than before the February 2009 assault.

If anything, this “Case Study” shows the ineffectiveness of a silent approach. Suspicions and animosity grew while Chris and Co. remained silent. Additionally, it proves to speechwriters and publicists alike that writing in the voice of your client is key; do not put words into your client’s mouth which he cannot spell! It leads to disaster. Let a client speak from the heart with some gentle guidance and it will go a long way.

Congratulations, Chris, on doing what your management would not allow in the first place. What do you think?


About cristinmcgrath

Cristin is a consumer engagement consultant who is currently exploring new opportunities within social media strategy and digital marketing. With experiences ranging from traditional media relations and public affairs to interactive and digital marketing with a specialization in emerging media, she is a versatile marketing professional.

11 thoughts on “Silence Isn’t Golden: The Story of Chris Brown’s PR

  1. Alright, you’ve shown Chris in a different light. I guess he deserves a second chance. After all, he’s only 21!

  2. I think it was a good PR strategy but I think I will forgive Chris Brown now. You know if MJ was alive now, he would not have wanted people to hate on Chris Brown. MJ was all about peace and love and the world.

    • Agreed. People are now accusing Chris Brown of being told to “cry” by Lloyd, but the words are being misconstrued.

      This kid cannot catch a break. Kids make mistakes (granted, that was a BIG mistake) but it is obvious he is hurting.

  3. I thought the performance was really good. I didn’t get why he was crying and to be honest I can’t really be a fan of his the way I was prior to the Rihanna thing but no one can deny he’s talented.

    • I feel like he got lost in the moment. He really hasn’t performed like that since the incident AND when he did perform, the arena certainly wasn’t sold out. I just tried to put myself in his shoes. When the one thing you love to do is taken away from you and you are given a second chance to get it back…I can’t even imagine what someone would be feeling.

      Talent is definitely not questionable. I agree I can’t be the same fan I used to be (I thought he could do not wrong) but I stand by him. For now.

  4. Great post, Cristin. You pointed out some of the reasons fans and viewers saw through Chris Brown’s apology on Larry King. In your professional opinion how much should an apology be coached, if at all?

    • Thanks! I’m not sure if it could be called a “professional” opinion, but in my entry-level opinion, I think there is a small space for an apology to be coached. I have two examples:

      Chris Brown’s 1st Apology: Terrible. Over-coached and the “speech” completely disregarded his vocabulary, attitude and age. It sounded as if (and it probably was) written by a 50-year old publicist with years of education and experience. Chris didn’t graduate from high school.

      Tony Hayward’s Apology: Under-coached. Complete lack of emotion, sounded arrogant and was completely unbelievable.

      Like I said, an apology should have only a gentle guidance.

      • I lean toward thinking apologies should come naturally or not at all. We automatically tune out apologies from public figures and celebrities. I assumed Chris Brown’s apology was insincere before he said a word – just as I did Tiger Woods, Kobe Bryant, Mel Gibson, etc.

        I’ve seen a movement in the marketing/advertising industry toward sincere and genuine communication. That alone enables products and services to jump out at consumers. The same might be true for celebs in the PR world. You are a good example. I visit this blog because of the humanness and excitement you put into the posts.

        I realize that there are some people, especially celebs, that don’t even know how to apologize. If communication was easy, marketing and PR professionals wouldn’t exist. So I definitely see that my thinking is Utopian if not naive.

  5. I did not catch the BET awards this year, but read/heard about it afterwards. I do have to say that I agree that everyone deserves a second chance, I mean who are we to judge?! We’ve all made mistakes and I hope he is sincere in his apparent changes. And you can’t deny that Chris Brown has talent!

    • The first half of the awards show was TERRIBLE, but after Chris performed, the show seemed to pick up steam.

      Team Breezy, all the way.

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