I know that I have already posted on why companies should consider their words very carefully before releasing them into the public arena. However, what confronted me in the news this morning, has driven me to post on this subject again.
Sharon Stone, that well known and award-winning actress, producer and former fashion model, is the most recent high profile individual to attract condemnation for something she has said to the media. Stone has been in the movie industry for about 16 years. You would think that she would know, by now, not to blurt out the first thing that comes to mind when confronted with a journalist. Yet, at the Cannes film festival last week, Stone told Hong Kong Entertainment News that the earthquake in China could have been the result of bad karma over the Chinese government's treatment of Tibet. Stone said:
'Well you know it was very interesting because at first, you know, I am not happy about the ways the Chinese were treating the Tibetans because I don’t think anyone should be unkind to anyone else. And so I have been very concerned about how to think and what to do about that because I don’t like THAT.
And I had been this, you know, concerned about, oh how should we deal with the Olympics because they are not being nice to the Dalai Lama, who is a good friend of mine.
And all these earthquake and stuff happened and I thought: IS THAT KARMA? When you are not nice that bad things happen to you.
And then I got a letter, from the Tibetan Foundations that they want to go and be helpful. And that made me cry. And they ask me if I would write a quote about that and I said, “I would.” And it was a big lesson to me, that some times you have to learn to put your head down and be of service even to people who are not nice to you. And that’s a big lesson for me.'
Not surprisingly, these words are having a significant impact on her status as a movie star in China. According to the Hollywood Reporter, the founder of one of China's biggest cinema chains has stated that his company will not show her films in his theatres. The light in which people from all over the world regard her has also, understandably, shifted.
This situation is a great demonstration of the power of the Internet. When you type the keywords 'Sharon', 'Stone', 'karma' and 'earthquake into the Google search engine you are rewarded with 41,900 results. Not only is the story being recounted on the websites of the more well-known and traditional newspapers and magazines across the world, such as The Telegraph (UK), The New Zealand Herald, The Age (AU) and a whole host of Chinese news sites, but the story has also swept like wild-fire through blogs and forums. Both members of the public and large corporations are commenting on this story, all over the net. Below are just a few of the blogs, forums and websites covering this issue:
- Ahpek Dot Com
- The UK Guardian Blog
- Blogging for China
- The China Desk
- Korean Job Discussion Forum
- SG Forums: Singapore's Online Community
- Asia Finest Discussion Forum
- Shanghai Expat Forum
- Vogue Forum (AU)
Public relations disasters such as this one should serve as a reminder to high-profile company leaders to really think about how they are communicating with their audiences. A few words, even though they may seem harmless at the time, can significantly change how your key stakeholders perceive you and can make or break your company.
As for Sharon Stone...maybe it's about time she brought a PR professional on board. Is anybody up for the challenge...?