Lizzo has been making the headlines over the last few days, but for all the wrong reasons and as providers of media training for celebrities, we’ve been particularly interested in the story. Three of the singer’s dancers have accused her of sexual harassment and creating a hostile work environment. Alongside alleged incidents of sexual, racial and religious harassment, Lizzo, who is known for her campaigning against body shaming, is also accused of criticising a member of her dance troupe for gaining weight.
Lizzo’s Instagram Statement
Now, in a statement on social media, Lizzo has said that: “the last few days have been gut-wrenchingly difficult and overwhelmingly disappointing…my work ethic, morals and respectfulness have been questioned. My character has been criticised.”
In a world of social media comment and angrier debate as well as greater regulatory scrutiny and more demanding and vocal consumers, our crisis communications courses are increasingly in demand among law firms, retailers, travel companies, financial services firms and others – including celebrities.
Lizzo, whose real name is Melissa Viviane Jefferson, is right, we would say, to reply to the allegations made against her. She did, though, spend some time before she made her announcement. In our crisis communications workshops, we recommend that organisations put out a message as soon as the news breaks. “Isn’t this too early?” people sometimes ask us. In fact, there’s quite a lot you can say before you know any of the detail – and if you don’t say it quickly, you can bet that others will be commenting in a way that isn’t favourable to you. As well as looking at what to say in crisis communications courses, we advise on how to say it – tone of voice and media. Lizzo has chosen social media, which is increasingly the means to put out messages in these situations, but there are other media that might be relevant depending on the organisation and the issue.
“Usually, I choose not to respond to false allegations, but these are as unbelievable as they sound and too outrageous to not be addressed,” she says. Knowing what to respond to and how to set the record straight while avoiding getting drawn into a tit-for-tat slanging match with commentators on social media and elsewhere is also essential.
Positives and Negatives of her Statement
Lizzo’s statement is lengthy – too lengthy, in our opinion. The more you say in a statement, the greater the risk of giving the story legs – new information for the media and other stakeholders to use in Fresh reports and updated coverage. Keeping a statement brief and concise also gives you more control as anyone quoting it has less to choose from – they more or less have to quote what you said rather than picking elements that might suit them but might miss your key messages and give the wrong impression.
One thing that the singer does include is an element of sympathy. She says that it was never her “intention to make anyone feel uncomfortable or like they aren’t valued as an important part of the team”. However, we would say that there should be more expressions of sympathy and concern, and it should be higher up her statement.
Lizzo also goes on to attack the media. “I am not here to be looked at as a victim, but I also know that I am not the villain that people and the media have portrayed me to be these last few days,” she says. As we explain in our crisis communications training, however, infuriating journalists might be, do not attack them. For the public, they’re principally reporting the facts and conveying a message. Journalists can also take this criticism as evidence that you are rattled and panicking. Appearing calm, in control and compassionate is essential during a crisis.
Finally, one thing that Lizzo has not mentioned, and it’s something that we always recommend in crisis communications, and that is an investigation. Whether it’s a data breach, an accusation of bullying, as in this case, a problem with the product or criticism of your operations and supply chain, to say that you’re carrying out an investigation ticks a number of boxes. First, it makes it clear that you regard the situation as serious; second, it shows that you are taking action; and third, it means that the answer to almost any question by the media or journalistic speculation can be answered by pointing out that you will have to allow the investigation to take its course.
Lawsuit Crisis Management
It will be interesting to see how much longer the Lizzo story lasts and what effect it has on her reputation. Reputation management is a key element of crisis communications training, and it’s something that more and more companies, celebrities and other organisations are asking us about.