By Soraya Calavassy, Co-Founder of Neon Black, a PR and creative communications agency. (Originally published on mUmbrella)

The past 72 hours has seen the entire world avidly watching one of the biggest reputational crises of 2016 unfold before our very eyes. The Taylor Swift vs Kim Kardashian takedown has seen saccharine sweet pop-star Taylor Swift presented to the world as a liar, a master manipulator and has caused her to shed her carefully cultivated good girl image in the blink of an eye, or a series of 10 second Snapchat posts.

When it comes down to it, the downfall of Swift’s reputation is due to one thing: She lied publicly. Releasing a statement to media months ago, Swift blatantly said she never gave approval to Kanye West for the lyrics in his song ‘Famous’ and instead, she cautioned him about the misogynistic nature of the song. Swift and her ‘Squad’ then proceeded to very publicly speak out against West’s song ‘Famous’ to media and on their own social channels. The drama culminated at the Grammy Awards where, in her acceptance speech, Swift implied West was trying to take credit for her success.

In defence of her husband, Kardashian released a series of damning videos to her Snapchat account, showing that a full conversation had in fact occurred between West and Swift and she had given consent for the line in the song, even mentioning how nice it was to be asked for approval.

The world stopped as everybody waited for Swift’s reaction to see how she navigated this very public slandering. Every cloud has a silver lining, and for communications professionals and brands alike, there’s the opportunity to learn from Team Swift when it comes to the management of this reputational crisis. 

Assemble your team and react quickly
One can only assume that within seconds of Kardashian pressing ‘My Story’ and ‘SEND’ on her Snapchat videos after the latest episode of ‘Keeping Up with the Kardashian’s’ aired, members of Swift’s team were on high alert for the media storm that followed.

Making headlines within minutes, Swift and her team of experts did what any communications professional would do in this situation. Sit down, assess the impact for Swift and her future, and devise a strategy.

Time is of the essence when it comes to crisis communications, and even though this story broke at 10:00pm Pacific Time on a Sunday, Swift’s team were able to take stock, strategise and respond to the situation within hours. This quick action worked to limit risk and allowed them to have input before the world and media could spend too long speculating and drawing their own conclusions on the situation.

That moment when Kanye West secretly records your phone call, then Kim posts it on the Internet.

A photo posted by Taylor Swift (@taylorswift) on

Own your channels and your response
Swift has the ability to broadcast to millions of people with the click of a button via her database, social platforms and profiles. While the world waited with bated breath for a response from Swift, she and her team chose to release the same carefully crafted message across her Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages.

Having full control of these channels allowed Swift and her team to own the message. Her overarching response to the situation (specifically mentioning Kardashian and West) was read and quoted in its entirety by media and also gave her dedicated fan base the opportunity to visit each of these channels and see her response firsthand.

While your brand might not have the same volume of followers and media probably won’t be visiting your social pages looking for content in the same way as Swift’s, there’s still something to be learnt from this experience.

Brands have the ability to be selective about who they choose to speak with, and when they choose to share their response during a crisis. Using experts to manage media, determine the best outlets to speak with who will share a balanced view of the story and who will be able tomonitor interviews and control the message will provide the best result for your brand and could be the saving grace of your reputation.

Owning this response by sharing a complete statement on your own channels and referring media and consumers back to this is also a way to ensure your words don’t get twisted and can be used as a reference point for both consumers and media.

Don’t get hung up on, or caught out on, a technicality
One of the hardest types of crises to come back from are those that impact reputation. Product issues can be solved, people can find ways to forgive design flaws, distribution issues and even illness as a result of a product. However, misleading the public and appearing openly deceptive can be considered kryptonite for any brand and there is no quick fix for this.

Swift had openly lied which caused a problem for her team; do they opt to take ownership and act with integrity, or try focus on a technicality to ease the blow? In this instance, Swift’s team attempted to run with option two, noting in her official response that West had not requested approval for one specific line in his song which Swift took offence to, despite video footage of her agreeing with other components of the song.

This is where the crisis has been mismanaged  by Swift. Already people had lost faith and trust in Swift, and already she had been publicly branded a liar. In any crisis, consumers value when brands recognise their faults and communicate honestly.

Swift’s refusal to take any ownership in the situation, and her attempts to position herself as a victim of Kardashian and West has injected more tension creating backlash, even from the most dedicated of fans.

Slander won’t rebuild your reputation
It’s pretty simple, while the spotlight is on you, don’t try to divert attention from your own crisis by slamming individuals, competitors or other people involved.

In the 12 hours following this initial news breaking, a series of stories were placed in media outlets (assumed to be by Swift’s team), indicating Swift had intentions of suing West and Kardashian while also questioning the legality of the phone call recordings and planting the concept of defamation within this scenario.

This public declaration of legal action from Swift has highlighted her guilt in this situation. It’s also helped fuel the fire, build the story and has continued to paint a negative picture of Swift in the eyes of her fans and media worldwide.

One of the most important things an individual or a brand can do when in the midst of a crisis is behave ethically, act with integrity and ride out the storm. Ceasing to do this and place blame elsewhere has the ability to do more harm than good for any brand and their reputation

Can she really ‘Shake it Off’? 

We all know that every media story has a lifespan and as long as you stop adding fuel to the fire, it will more or less disappear. In the case of Swift, it’s not quite the same.

The 26-year-old has had her fair share of negative publicity over the years and many stories have been continually resurrected no matter how big her achievements, hits and accolades. It must also be mentioned there is nothing in her past that rivals this level of personal backlash.

While we can only assume Taylor’s crisis will blow over eventually and her talent will allow her to continue to build her own success and increase her profile, this experience is an important lesson for communications professionals and marketers.

Firstly, no matter how big your brand and the number of consumer advocates you have, there’s always the chance the public will turn.

It doesn’t take much for people to lose faith, loyalty and change their opinion of something they have been fans of for years.

Should this happen, for any brand, business or identity in the midst of a crisis, it’s important to remember that it’s not always the crisis itself but how it’s managed that sticks in the mind of media and the public.

No matter the size or type of crisis, the impact to others, and the impact to your reputation, you can always come back from the negative backlash.

Provided you meticulously manage your message, respond quickly, take ownership and act ethically, your reputation can always be rebuilt and your brand can recover, make a comeback and regain consumer trust and sentiment.


Co-founder of Neon Black Creative Communications Agency. 


Neon Black is more than just a PR Agency. We are creative communicators dedicated to telling the story of your brand and achieving results that directly impact your business. With clients Australia-wide, we have made waves in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth, as well as worked on globally recognised brands and campaigns. We are a hybrid mix of experts, offering PR, communications, marketing, digital, social media, SEO and creative to help your business grow and your customers sit up and take notice.s