At tonight’s MTV Video Music Awards, singer Rihanna may test the old adage that any press is good press if she performs, presents or is seen with recording artist Chris Brown, as some sources are reporting.
Both stars are already famous for their controversial personas – whether cultivated or completely natural.
As a quick background for the uninitiated, the former couple broke up following a highly public fight in 2009 that left Rihanna in the hospital with facial injuries.
For her own part, Rihanna has been known to make waves with her highly sexualized public persona and all-access Twitter account that has attracted more than 25 million followers.
They are sure to give the show a huge jump in ratings with a joint public appearance.
But is it worth it for them and MTV?
This sort of risk-reward equation is a common issue when it comes to public relations, both traditional and through social media. It’s something that many brands will come across at one time or another.
Using the potential Rihanna-Chris Brown performance as an example, let’s look at the two main questions brands should ask when a risky opportunity or stunt comes up to highlight the considerations that could play into the decision.
What positives are we going to get out of it?
This seems simple, but it is important to get a firm grasp on every potential benefit so you can weigh the odds accurately. For brands, this means looking at potential positive media coverage, increases in social media followers, new sales opportunities, potential partnerships and any afterglow effect from the stunt.
In the case of the VMAs, the benefit side of the scale would definitely include a bump-up in viewers, increased social media traction and press coverage. Rihanna and Mr. Brown are already dominating the pre-event buzz with numerous articles discussing how close they are sitting to each other or their previous joint performance at the VMAs. All of which will also benefit Rihanna and Mr. Brown personally with a short-term increase in followers.
What could go wrong?
Again, it is important to cover as many bases as you can here to avoid that “didn’t see that coming” moment.
The No. 1 thing that can go wrong with a stunt is that people just won’t care. If it’s too obvious or has been done before, forget it.
In this case, MTV fans already seem more likely to tune in out of curiosity than they are to tune out, so the event’s organizers won’t have to worry about alienating a significant portion of their audience.
But it would do them well to consider what could happen further down the line. If there is another incident involving these two, at the event or otherwise, MTV could shoulder a portion of the blame for bringing them back together.
From a personal brand perspective, Rihanna certainly has a lot more to lose. Performing or appearing publicly with Mr. Brown could seriously affect her credibility with both existing fans and casual onlookers. A strong backlash could happen if fans believe she is going against everything she has stood for to date, a quick stunt to drive her industry buzz.
So, is this buzz worth it for MTV, Rihanna and Mr. Brown?
For MTV and Mr. Brown, for sure. For Rihanna, I’m not so sure. Quick gains, whether you are a celebrity or a brand, do not always deliver the long-term brand equity you are looking for.
Evaluate the risk-and-reward equation and think twice before committing to a highly controversial, short-term PR strategy.
Special to The Globe and Mail
Mia Pearson is the co-founder of North Strategic . She has more than two decades of experience in creating and growing communications agencies, and her experience spans many sectors, including financial, technology, consumer and lifestyle.
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