Pop Culture + PR: Meek Mill and Image Repair Strategy

This blog post isn’t to rehash what happened between two rappers. Billboard does a nice summary of the beef/problem and how it escalated from a tweet to an epic takedown at a concert: http://www.billboard.com/articles/columns/the-juice/6641784/meek-mill-drake-timeline

I joked on Twitter as Drake was modulating a straight diss via PowerPoint presentation: “What is Meek Mill’s image repair strategy? Will Drake suffer from the velcro effect?” This should be a grad student’s PR research paper.

Alas, no one took me up on this offer, so I decided to write-up a quick analysis. Here’s my quickie analysis. Both of these guys are celebrity brands within a certain niche of pop culture, and what transpired between them–a feud or a beef–happens with some of the companies and brands we use every day (e.g., Krispy Kreme vs. Dunkin Donuts, Arby’s vs. Everybody, Google vs. Yahoo).

Based on what I learned and saw, I typed up a few key propositions that I would give to any client if it was involved in an online or real-life brouhaha.

Proposition 1: Watch what you tweet.
This is basic PR 101. Every brand has learned this at some point. Meek Mill did not. Sometimes you need to leave some things unsaid online. Sometimes you have to leave some tweets in the draft folder and/or walk away from the inbox/@ column before you say unkind things. Meek should have done that.

Proposition 2: The meek shall inherit the earth, but they damn sure don’t win rap battles.
Meek win because his team didn’t think strategically. They had a series of bad tweets and a poorly executed diss track. Against Drake, one of the best rappers in the game right now with reach and pull. Sir Meek, you brought a paper clip to a nuclear war.

Proposition 3: Steal thunder when you can.
As a brand and as a strategist, you need to know when to steal thunder and culture jack a situation to your benefit. Drake did that. Take note of how he did that. He jumped ahead of the Meek Mill comments about alleged ghostwriting. Review the memes Drake rapped in front of. (He crowdsourced his diss, using user-generated content to exemplify his stance.) Review the two tracks Drake pushed out. (He capitalized on the moment to showcase his writing and flow skills and critique Meek Mill’s ghostwriting claim.)

Proposition 4: Image restoration would have worked early in the game.
Now Meek Mill is basically a carcass on the road of hip hop. He had the opportunity to stop assess where he was and pivot back to sanity, high record sales, and Nicki Minaj’s arms. His team could have examined the available image restoration options. Timothy Coombs offers a cogent, thoughtful explanation of these strategies and options here: http://www.instituteforpr.org/crisis-management-communications/
Unfortunately, Meek didn’t pause and reflect. He chose to not make an apology and “take full responsibility for the crisis and asks stakeholders for forgiveness.” That’s not what happens in rap battles due to ego, masculinity, and sheer bone-headedness. He didn’t have to even use the term apology because that might sound soft. He could have squashed this with a simple call or face to face meeting or, in the classic Jay-Z/Nas way, by meeting on stage and declaring a truce. (Tangent: The best diss track I’ve ever heard is Nas’ Ether. To learn more about the Jay-Z/Nas beef, check out the Wikipedia page dedicated to it.) He continued to charge and now he is the butt of jokes and is watching his career opportunities spontaneously combust.

Proposition 5: There’s not much Meek Mill can do except burrow in a hole and reconsider his life choices.
After a crisis, a brand or person may need to step out of the spotlight and do some assessment, asking questions like:
a. What are the attitudes and behaviors of my fan base? Would they still be interested in the products I have?
b. Is my reputation velcro or halo?
c. Has the word of mouth communication about me died down?
d. Should I consider a career in gospel rap?
e. Can I be a house husband to Nicki? Would she let me help her with her lyrics?

Seriously, in a real crisis with an actual company or brand, the first three questions are applicable. It behooves all practitioners and publicist to think about a fluid crisis strategy, as advocated in this Cision post. As for Meek Mill, I doubt that he even cares anymore, but he should.