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Personal public relations and celebrity scandals: A cross-cultural analysis of Twitter communication in the aftermath of Johnny Depp’s accusations of domestic violence

Roxana D. Maiorescu (Department of Marketing Communication, Emerson College, Boston, Massachusetts, USA)

Journal of Communication Management

ISSN: 1363-254X

Article publication date: 7 August 2017

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Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to examine the relationship between personal public relations practices, which trigger parasocial relationships between celebrities and their followers, and initial reactions to celebrity crises. For this purpose, the study analyzed Johnny Depp’s (JD’s) communication practices over a period of 15 years and assessed online perceptions of responsibility attribution and message valence in the aftermath of JD’s 2016 divorce and accusations of domestic violence.

Design/methodology/approach

The study employed the case study methodology and analyzed two data sets. First, a frequency analysis was conducted to determine the most prevalent cultural dimensions (Hofstede, 2011) present in JD’s interviews (n=116). Second, several χ2 tests were run on an additional sample of analysis (n=1,044) which comprised reactions on Twitter in the aftermath of the crisis. The study tested whether there was a relationship between culture, responsibility attribution, and message valence.

Findings

The results indicate a relationship between the dimension of long-term/short-term orientation and message valence, indulgence/restraint and responsibility attribution and finally, male dominance and message valence. These results suggest that, to a certain degree, the reactions to the crisis analyzed mirrored the celebrity’s public relations practices. Namely, cross-culturally initial responsibility attribution and message valence were influenced by the degree to which the celebrity’s values carried more weight in a culture than in others.

Research limitations/implications

The study only considered tweets that were written in English and stemmed from profiles that identified the location of the users. Furthermore, this analysis took a case study approach and assessed JD’s public relations practices. Therefore, it is difficult to generalize the results and their implications especially in circumstances in which celebrities do want to promote an image that deviates from their real identity so as to hide certain less appealing aspects of their lives. Nonetheless, the study represents a step forward toward the transition from marketing celebrities to promoting them transparently and around their personal values.

Practical implications

Currently, the entertainment industry is dominated by a marketing approach that commodifies celebrities to the extent to which their promotion deviates significantly from their personal values. As a result of this deviation, the approach makes it difficult to appropriately address crises since the latter constitute unexpected events. In addition, the marketing approach has been shown to further erode a celebrity’s well-being and lead to self-destructive behaviors. Conversely, a personal public relations approach allows practitioners to anticipate reactions to crises and respond adequately, therefore reducing further reputational damage. In addition, personal public relations practices trigger parasocial relationships between a celebrity and their followers by focusing on the transparent promotion of a celebrity, and therefore address concerns that celebrities raised in the past with regard to their objectification.

Social implications

Personal public relations practices shed light on the reality behind stardom and the promotion of personal values may be inspirational for celebrity followers. While marketing celebrities exposes publics to the glamorous life at Hollywood, personal public relations sheds light on the factors that triggered it, among which commitment, hard work, and/or dedication.

Originality/value

Currently, there is a paucity of studies that shed light on personal public relations and parasocial relationships in international contexts. In addition, the strategic communication literature with regard to celebrity crises lacks studies that analyze the publics’ reactions to crises. The present study aimed to fill these gaps.

Keywords

Citation

Maiorescu, R.D. (2017), "Personal public relations and celebrity scandals: A cross-cultural analysis of Twitter communication in the aftermath of Johnny Depp’s accusations of domestic violence", Journal of Communication Management, Vol. 21 No. 3, pp. 254-266. https://doi.org/10.1108/JCOM-02-2017-0006

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited