In the list of words some people in the public eye just can’t say, no matter the context, the N-word probably tops the list. By now, nearly everyone understands the potential career consequences of a celebrity uttering that term in public, no matter what their reasons may be. Many fans see the headline, and they couldn’t care less about the context. Yet, for some reasons, celebrities continue to learn that lesson the hard way.
The latest prominent personality to experience this lesson is Bachelorette star Hannah Brown. A former pageant contestant from Alabama, Brown was singing along to a song in which a rapper used the term, and she sang it on camera. The backlash was immediate. Social media users launched on Brown without mercy, even many who did not see the original video of the incident. Would some of them have been mollified if they knew she used the term while singing a song lyric? Maybe, maybe not. The point, from an entertainment Public Relations perspective, is that if a person is in a headline indicating they used that term, they will have suffered consequences. That’s the simple reality of the situation.
In response, Brown publicly apologized on Instagram, saying, “I owe you all a major apology… There is no excuse, and I will not justify what I said. I have read your messages and seen the hurt I have caused. I own it all. I am terribly sorry, and I know that whether in public or private, this language is unacceptable. I promise to do better.”
Reactions to this apology varied, but one of the most public came from another Bachelorette star, Rachel Lindsay, who is known for being the first black lead on the program. Lindsay said she “did not want to” respond to Brown’s apology, but that she was “personally offended,” adding: “To be honest, I’m so tired of feeling like I have to be the one to say something. It’s easy to make a statement, easy to hide behind words, but when you’re bold enough to say the N-word on camera, on your platform, then you need to be bold enough to use your face on camera and apologize in the same way you said the word… We have to hold people accountable…”
Lindsay responded to people who pointed out that Brown had apologized by saying they should be “disheartened and upset” and that “You should feel disgusted when you say that word…” Lindsay went on to talk about her view of that term in the eight-minute response video, saying at one point, “I don’t care if you are singing along to it in a song. (That word) was used to make people feel inferior and every time you use (it) you give that word power…”
Based on the response to both TV stars, as well as previous responses to similar incidents, opinions on this matter are all over the map. What isn’t up for debate is the career consequences that can happen if a person uses that term in public. As Brown is learning, apologies are often not enough.
Ronn Torossian: Insights from a Native New Yorker and CEO of 5WPR
Ronn Torossian is the founder and CEO of 5W Public Relations, one of the largest independently-owned PR firms in the United States. With over 20 years of experience crafting and executing powerful narratives, Torossian is one of America's most prolific and well-respected Public Relations professionals.
Since founding 5WPR in 2003, he has led the company's growth, overseeing more than 250 professionals in the company's headquarters in midtown Manhattan. With clients spanning corporate, technology, consumer and crisis, in addition to digital marketing and public affairs capabilities, 5WPR is regularly recognized as an industry leader and has been named "PR Agency of the Year" by the American Business Awards on multiple occasions.
Throughout his career, Torossian has worked with some of the world's most visible companies, brands and organizations. His strategic, resourceful approach has been recognized with numerous awards including being named the Stevie American Business Awards 2020 Entrepreneur of the Year, the American Business Awards PR Executive of the Year, twice over, an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year semi-finalist, Metropolitan Magazine's Most Influential New Yorker, a 2020 Top Crisis Communications Professional by Business Insider, and a recipient of Crain’s New York 2021 Most Notable in Marketing & PR.
Torossian is known as one of the country's foremost experts on crisis communications, and is called on to counsel blue chip companies, top business executives and entrepreneurs both in the United States and worldwide. Torossian has lectured on crisis PR at Harvard Business School, appears regularly on CNN & CNBC, is a contributing columnist for Forbes and the New York Observer, and has authored two editions of his book, "For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results With Game-Changing Public Relations," which is an industry best-seller.
A NYC native, Torossian lives in Manhattan with his children. He is a member of Young Presidents Organization (YPO), and active in numerous charities