Celebrities: few get it right and so many get it wrong when amplifying causes

Thank you Marcus Rashford, for using your voice, your platform and your reach to ensure 1.3 million children in England will not go hungry through the summer.

When it becomes more about the ‘I’ than the ‘we’, an intervention is ill advised, argues Chloe Franses
When it becomes more about the ‘I’ than the ‘we’, an intervention is ill advised, argues Chloe Franses

Since lockdown started we have seen a lot of heightened emotions.

We have also seen celebrities, in all their glorious forms, come together as a creative community and get shot down for sentiments that are not reflective of the real-life threats and inequalities that are presenting themselves every day, in all their various forms – devastation, destruction, death.

However, it takes a moment to get over the A-list celebrities who encouraged us to ‘Imagine’ through a singalong, while people are dying and we enter recession/depression.

Or those shot artfully in black and white, talking about their ‘responsibility’ and messaging about doing better for the BLM movement, when people are being shot at and gassed in the streets.

These are great, talented people at the top of their game and I don’t doubt they mean that they are sorry, sad and compassionate when it comes to wrongdoings.

There is a part of me that wishes all their collective actions could be embraced, because they speak to so many and the intention is unquestionably positive.

But when it becomes more about the ‘I’ than the ‘we’, and it is not an inclusive message or does not have a practical purpose that moves the needle, it is ill-advised to say the least.

Let us not knock the need for celebrities to become involved in changing the world, though.

There are those doing it with true purpose in mind – thank you again, Marcus Rashford.

Other celebrities have changed things over history: John Lennon's deportation case led to change in US immigration law; Oprah Winfrey is part of the reason there is a registry of convicted child abusers in the US; Hugh Jackman and Deborra-lee Furness are helping to drive change in Australia's adoption laws.

This is what 25 years of working with NGOs, celebrities and brands has taught me: if they become self-involved groups, drinking their own Kool-Aid, they can be a danger to themselves and, potentially, to others.

At a time of such messy and chaotic global politics, heightened emotions and lack of clarity around even the most basic actions, celebrities – and all those with influence over large audiences – are capable of driving great change.

However, they are not at the coalface of communication at times of crisis.

There is a need for guidance, help with direction, egos to be set aside, and passion to be driven by the need to do better.

These are important differences, and where our industry can be great and elevate us at a time of urgency.

Celebrity taps into the main vein of mass audience the way journalism used to.

They can call governments to account, push for legislative change, influence boards and elevate narrative – but not without help and guidance to navigate what is not their day job.

We should never make content we would title ‘worthy’, using celebrities, without those who are affected being part of it.

Nor should we create black-and-white content when embracing colour and beauty ensures that we embrace all.

And if there is no direct call to action, if we are not calling upon those fan bases to be engaged by those celebrities to take an action that can bring about a change, then they should not be the voices to carry that attention.

Leave that void-filling to the politicians.

Chloe Franses is founder and chief executive of Franses

PRWeek UK is committed to having a more diverse selection of commentators in our articles, and is compiling a list of BME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) PR professionals who are willing to be quoted. To be added to the list, please email john.harrington@haymarket.com and include your specialist areas of expertise, and/or preferred subjects for commentary. 

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