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Can a crisis make you a celebrity?

Picture of man speaking to the press
Ready or not.  Say, “Cheese!”

While artists, athletes, and performers struggle to make their mark in the public eye with a memorable act or viral moment, a different type of celebrity has been emerging on the scene - the spokesperson for a crisis.

Here’s a quick exercise to highlight the point:

Jeffrey Boyd, Lew Frankfort, and Stephen Hemsley. Do these names sound familiar?
If not, don’t feel bad. They are the CEO’s of Priceline.com, Coach, and UnitedHealth Group, respectively.

Now, how about the names Tim Cook and James Comey?
We can immediately recall them as the CEO of Apple and the FBI Director, respectively, feuding over a locked iPhone involving a federal investigation of the San Bernardino shooting.

The media diligently covered Cook and Comey’s debate for more than three months. During that time, both men emerged as stars in a cast of characters ranging from lawyers, judges, politicians, and even presidential candidates. The media and public tuned in to hear their perspectives on data privacy, security, technology, civil rights, and terrorism.

I began to realize that the debates surrounding this crisis provided Apple and the FBI an incredibly influential platform. The media coverage, timeline, communication strategies, public interest, and personality endorsements catapulted these men to celebrity status. Cook and Comey grew to be much more than just representatives for Apple and the FBI. To the public, they embodied the factions in the data privacy / public safety debate, and Cook and Comey did not miss a single opportunity to assert the values of their brands during that debate. What started out as an isolated incident ballooned into a philosophical war where Apple argued for the privacy of individuals and the FBI argued for the transgression of that privacy for the greater good.

While we can clearly see that a crisis can make you a celebrity, the goal is to understand the fine line between celebrity and notoriety. A crisis poses a unique opportunity to build or alter public perceptions, whether those perceptions are positive or negative can be shaped by you.