Negative Publicity a Weighty Issue? Not For Ex-Baywatch Star

Celebrity and negative publicity often go together like hand in glove. Case in point, I recently spent two weeks in London and the newspapers there are a lot more “tabloid” in their approach to news than their USA counterparts.

And of course, I’m sure you’ve been following the David Letterman extortion plot saga. He had affairs with female staff members and when faced with extortion went public and admitted his failings with transparency and humor.

Letterman has received good grades in his response to the negative publicity. And his ratings are up 38% since the disclosure.And while Letterman’s ethics and response have been debated at length, in this article I focus on a lesser known celebrity’s response to negative publicity.

In fact, I chose this example because the issue is one more common and sympathetic: an athletic starlet’s weight gain from a previously “hot” body.

Here’s the headline from The Huffington Post: “Nicole Eggert Fat? Baywatch Babe Takes on Weight Critics In Funny or Die Video”

So come with me as I explore the thick and thin about this fat story… icon smile Negative Publicity a Weighty Issue? Not For Ex Baywatch Star

The Situation

Nicole Eggert played lifeguard Summer Quinn in over 45 episodes on Baywatch, the TV show from 1992-1994.  As such, she spent many an episode in a red two piece bathing suit and developed her own sex symbol appeal. Flash forward to today. Some 15 years later. Nicole Eggert is now 37, has had a child and not a real surprise, gained some weight.

Naturally, the tabloids shared some unflattering photos. Followed by the usual round of whispers and gossip.

At this point Nicole Eggert faced a choice on how to respond. When any one of us are confronted with negative publicity there are typically three ways in which to respond…

  1. Ignore it and hide
  2. Be reactive and defensive (damage control)
  3. Be proactive and go on the offensive

Now before we get to Nicole Eggert’s response, a question: if you’ve been hit with some negative publicity, which approach did you take? Can you guess which path Nicole Eggert took? She chose #3, which brings us to the next part of the story…

Nicole’s Response

to the Negative Publicity

Nicole Eggert chose to go on the offensive. She followed a technique that’s proven successful in everything from martial arts to political strategists like Karl Rove. Turn your opponents strength against them.

The video Nicole did via her “Funny or Die” video did exactly that. The technique that had glamorized her in the past, the slo-mo running down the beach was featured again. But this time, there is the very noticeable jiggle of a few extra pounds at work, thus skewering the “babe” imagery from the past.

What’s evident here is Nicole Eggert is comfortable in her own skin, which is in more abundant supply compared to her Baywatch days.

In short, Nicole Eggert responded with humor and confidence to the negative publicity about her weight gain. She not only took her recent physique in stride, she took her own path in a funny and involving way. Which leads us to the actual results once the video hit the Internets…

The Results

First off, Nicole Eggert went from near obscurity to celebrity in the blink of an eye. Yes, she made news. The story hit the first pages of authority sites The Huffington Post and Salon. As the Salon article stated, “The video would seem — well, if not terribly witty, then at least a nice dose of female empowerment, a move that simultaneously strikes a blow toward the tyranny of the paparrazi and places Eggert back in the public eye on her own terms.”

Another article phrased it this way, “The comedic short makes a point about some people’s shallow hang-ups about weight.”

Even more interesting and encouraging were the hundreds of comments to these stories. The tone of those comments was universal in support of Nicole Eggert and her physique as a “real woman.”

And the results didn’t stop there. Consider the amount of publicity and shift in opinion that was generated…

Metrics from Nicole Eggert’s “Fat Video” response:

  • The video viewed over 600,000 times in three days
  • Thousands of Tweets with links to the video
  • Over 500 diggs on Digg
  • Numerous articles and stories on mainstream news and entertainment sites
  • A search of “Nicole Eggert” on Google shows 5 listings on the first page of Google are about the “fat” video

Conclusion

In researching this story, I learned that Nicole Eggert will be starring with Kevin Federline in the upcoming season of the reality TV show, “Celebrity Fit Club.” As a result, many have called Nicole Eggert’s video response to her “fat” image more of a publicity stunt than a demonstration of female empowerment.

My take? It’s both and in my mind it shows a real savvy sense of publicity. So what can we learn from all this? Humor, when used appropriately can be powerful weapon in combating negative publicity. Obviously, humor needs to be used selectively. And real screw-ups need to be admitted as same. You don’t use humor to make light of an oil spill, for goodness sake.

In the final analysis, when using humor, there is a risk it can backfire. But kudos to those that refuse to let others define who they are and what they’re all about.

Please share your comments on this article. I’d especially like to hear from women on this topic.

Story

highlights and action steps:
  • Time to review: 13 minutes
    • There are three typical responses to addressing negative publicity:
      1. Ignore it and hide
      2. Be reactive and defensive (damage control)
      3. Be proactive and go on the offensive
    • Nicole Eggert utilized humor and both male and female stereotypes to her advantage
    • Funny or Die video generated 600,000 viewings and hundreds of supportive comments
    • A valuable lesson in defining your public image on your own terms
  • Action Steps:
    • Brainstorm ways you could combat negative publicity using humor
    • Be mindful of how people in the public eye manage their image
    • If confronted with negative publicity, remember the three ways you can respond

Marc Harty is an online publicity expert, professional speaker, Internet marketing consultant and CEO of MainTopic Media, Inc. Marc’s Online PR Made Easy can help anyone at any skill level generate targeted web site traffic on autopilot.

  • Marc Harty

    I’m really curious to see what you think about this article. It’s a topic that has a lot of very sensitive touch points. Let me know your thoughts.

    ~ Marc

  • Marc Harty

    I’m really curious to see what you think about this article. It’s a topic that has a lot of very sensitive touch points. Let me know your thoughts.

    ~ Marc

  • http://www.twitter.com/dmburrows David Burrows

    This works for celebrities who are their own brand of personality. People who will have a following no matter what. But, it doesn’t translate as well for the other 95% of people and business entities who need damage control PR. I just can’t see a Taco Bell doing a comedy-based video because of tainted Green Onions, or Exxon Mobil because of yet another oil spill. Humor can backfire because the audience may view it as they don’t really care and they take the subject lightly or too much self deprecation via humor can appear even more negative.

    All that said, I’d never let my daughter intern for David Letterman. :-/

  • http://www.twitter.com/dmburrows David Burrows

    This works for celebrities who are their own brand of personality. People who will have a following no matter what. But, it doesn’t translate as well for the other 95% of people and business entities who need damage control PR. I just can’t see a Taco Bell doing a comedy-based video because of tainted Green Onions, or Exxon Mobil because of yet another oil spill. Humor can backfire because the audience may view it as they don’t really care and they take the subject lightly or too much self deprecation via humor can appear even more negative.

    All that said, I’d never let my daughter intern for David Letterman. :-/

  • http://www.theprdoc.com/ Jim Bowman

    I see your point, David, but I view the main message being about taking an active role when confronted with negative publicity, rather than letting someone else define the rules and shape the conversation. That’s the best way, unless other considerations (such as involving a business partner or other third party) dictate a different course. I can recall some situations when companies I have represented had to stand still and take a public beating for the sake of a client, but those events aren’t commonplace.

    In most cases, it’s best to get ahead of a negative issue. If that’s not possible, a quick and reasoned response helps dial down the volume and shows concern for the people involved. Humor clearly isn’t always appropriate, but it does work well, even in serious situations, as Letterman’s predicament illustrates. Sexual harassment and infidelity are serious subjects, but Letterman’s self-deprecating style softened the body blows he was taking.

    Good thought-provoking piece, Marc. jrb

  • http://www.theprdoc.com Jim Bowman

    I see your point, David, but I view the main message being about taking an active role when confronted with negative publicity, rather than letting someone else define the rules and shape the conversation. That’s the best way, unless other considerations (such as involving a business partner or other third party) dictate a different course. I can recall some situations when companies I have represented had to stand still and take a public beating for the sake of a client, but those events aren’t commonplace.

    In most cases, it’s best to get ahead of a negative issue. If that’s not possible, a quick and reasoned response helps dial down the volume and shows concern for the people involved. Humor clearly isn’t always appropriate, but it does work well, even in serious situations, as Letterman’s predicament illustrates. Sexual harassment and infidelity are serious subjects, but Letterman’s self-deprecating style softened the body blows he was taking.

    Good thought-provoking piece, Marc. jrb

  • http://www.sat-essay.net/ Rodney

    I think Nicole’s response to the tabloids was right on. You can’t always respond this way to every sort of bad publicity but I think the main idea is to never run and hide. Always do something productive and creative in response to criticism. Or if you are wrong just admit it and move on.

    Rodney

  • http://www.sat-essay.net Rodney

    I think Nicole’s response to the tabloids was right on. You can’t always respond this way to every sort of bad publicity but I think the main idea is to never run and hide. Always do something productive and creative in response to criticism. Or if you are wrong just admit it and move on.

    Rodney

  • albert

    Thank you for summarizing the three responses and doing so without judgment as different responses are appropriate for different circumstances. We tried all three approaches over the past 2 years of unfounded haranguing and are still recovering from cyber-stalking strangers who have nothing better to do than ruin lives. Sometimes it’s just easier to disappear and start over anew.
    Thanks again for your incisive articles. Happy New Year of “Expansion.”

  • albert

    Thank you for summarizing the three responses and doing so without judgment as different responses are appropriate for different circumstances. We tried all three approaches over the past 2 years of unfounded haranguing and are still recovering from cyber-stalking strangers who have nothing better to do than ruin lives. Sometimes it’s just easier to disappear and start over anew.
    Thanks again for your incisive articles. Happy New Year of “Expansion.”

  • Marc Harty

    Albert,

    Thanks for sharing your feedback and good luck in 2010. What is your theme for this year?

    ~ Marc

  • Marc Harty

    Albert,

    Thanks for sharing your feedback and good luck in 2010. What is your theme for this year?

    ~ Marc