The Internet’s newest villain of the week came in the form of Martin Shkreli, ex-hedge fund manager and pharma investor, who recently raised the price of a parasite-fighting drug from $13.75 to $750. Prescription drug price increases are nothing new in the pharmaceutical world. While morally questioned, price increases are not illegal and often pass by unnoticed by the general public. However when it went public Martin Shkreli shot himself in the foot and kept shooting himself in the foot by using his twitter account like Hitler commanding the Wehrmacht. Getting into needless arguments with other twitterers, making insensitive tone-deaf responses to his business decision have all led to a visceral reaction from the internet.
It didn’t have to be that way, Martin Shkreli could have relied on some tried-and true PR tactics, that would have called for him to help blow over. That is acting out the villain redemption, the heel-face turn, showing remorse for one’s actions. There are three keys of PR: action, transparency and leadership, but I am going to explain it in a villainous heel-face turn.
Realize they’ve done wrong
For any villainous redemption, the villain must have their epiphany (or at least act like it) realizing that their actions are wrong. For example the Operative from Serenity is by far one of the greatest villains in sci-fi history, not because he is a monster but he realizes that he is a monster, that he must do evil in order to create better worlds for the galaxy. It is only when he sees the horrific end result of one of his “better” worlds that he realizes how wrong he is.
In handling a PR crisis, making sure you understand what you’ve done wrong is essential to fix any PR crisis. It means understanding the audience perception, and then creating a strategy to set up a redemption story to the public. It does not mean having the strategy and self-control of a 12-year old boy on World of Warcraft when his parents aren’t home.
Admit they have done wrong
This is when the villain admits (usually to the hero) that they have done wrong, sometimes through a self-reflective confession or thanking the hero for revealing their misguided ways it’s showing to the audience that the villain has reformed. In “Adventures of Jackie Chan” Toru one of the villains of the first season, changed sides after realizing his boss didn’t’ care about him and he heard the good guys had “free donuts on Thursdays”
This is the crux of PR crises, the public response. Using the same medium from which the crisis spread (usually social media) a public spokesperson must get it out the public that they are aware of the misdeed, they are apologetic (if guilty) and that they are going to deal with it.
Stop your evil way!
Often a villain realizes the crimes they committed and so attempt or try to stop it.In Spider-Man 2 (the good one with Tobey Maguire) Doctor Octopus realizes that his tentacles are corrupting him in continuing a dangerous scientific experiment. So he forces his tentacles to obey him and destroys his experiment to save the city (at the cost of his own life).
In any real-life scenario for someone to be believed, they have to take action in fixing whatever they did wrong. For Martin Shkreli, it was reducing the price of a drug, a fitting conclusion even if it was done under pressure with no recovery of his brand image. Handling the crisis and fixing it is especially prevalent with the age of social media where social media gaffes are common (we’ve all made mistakes) that can cause severe damage to a brand. However everyone loves a good redemption story and by fixing errors can brands recover.