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Managing Director @ The Tag Experience | New York Times Best-Selling Author | Former Editor in Chief of Ocean Drive Magazine | Dad
I always say the most important characteristic of being a gossip columnist is keeping secrets. If you’ve ever been around A-list celebrities, you know that what they value most is confidentiality. They keep a tight circle — oftentimes consisting of management, longtime friends, family and hairdressers. The last thing they want is a stranger revealing their lifestyle. In fact, of all the gossip news I broke (I spent 12 years working for Us Weekly, Star, TV Guide, Life & Style and In Touch Weekly), I equally have kept as many secrets. I believe confidentiality and letting people know they can trust you is one of the most important aspects of a business relationship.
I’ll never forget the night I realized this. Sitting atop a rooftop bar in Manhattan, I had been a gossip columnist for over a decade, breaking big stories — from divorces, splits and crises to engagements, marriages, pregnancies and more. Gossip is neither negative or positive; it’s just news. I was sitting in a booth with an A-list star who was about to tell a juicy personal story. “Don’t tell him! He’ll tell everyone,” a friend of the A-lister said, pointing at me. At the time, I was the editorial director of Life & Style Weekly and In Touch Weekly, then two of the largest magazines on newsstands, selling 60 million copies each year. But I prided myself on things I didn’t spill, the information I kept between me and the person who told me. I never, ever screwed anyone over. “It’s okay, he’s with us. He won’t say a word,” the A-lister’s publicist, a longtime friend of mine, said. And on went the story.
Whether it’s A-list secrets, or more commonly for those of us in the PR industry (I made the jump from publishing to PR three years ago) keeping the secrets of our clients, it’s a tactic we can never overlook. As publicists, we all know where the bodies are buried. We’ve traveled with our clients, seen bank statements, been out on wild nights, heard difficult conversations, seen major downfalls and know about massive successes weeks before they can be revealed. But it’s all confidential and must remain that way. Of course, not everyone plays like that.
Your Contract Means Nothing
We all have contracts. You probably have hundreds, if not thousands, detailing everything from payments to confidentiality, terms, duration, severability and 50 other things. But how many times have you actually lawyered up and gone to court? Even if you have a contract, the odds are either you or the other side is going to do everything possible to avoid litigation. Breaking confidentiality seems to be one of those things and it’s also difficult to prove. But if a client thinks — or, even worse, knows — that you’ve violated their confidentiality, then you’ve lost the most important thing between a client and an agency: their trust.
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Word on the Street Is…
As I mentioned above, trust is everything. As a former magazine editor, I used to have publicists complain about their clients to me on the phone or in person all the time. “Ugh, if only they paid their bills on time.” “She is nasty. Stay away.” “He doesn’t know what he wants. He changes every day. What a nightmare client.” I’ve heard it all. Mind you, this was the publicist badtalking their client. Word spreads. If the publicist is doing that to their client, what else are they out there saying?
They Might Come Back
A couple of years ago, we had a client shut down for various reasons outside of their control. No matter how many times people tried to get the real story from me, mum was the word. It’s no one’s business but mine and the client’s. A year later, they came back to me with a different company and more work. “I’ll never forget the way you handled everything,” they said to me. Business is a marathon, not a sprint. Don’t do anything in 2021 that’s going to hurt you in 2023.
Some Things Aren’t Confidential
I can tell you a lot of things about my jobs that aren’t confidential. When I was about 25 years old, Star magazine rented me a Chevrolet Monte Carlo with a V-8 engine so I could chase a then-recently engaged Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez (on a speeding motorcycle) down the I-95 highway in southern Georgia. Have you ever tried to slam on the brakes at 120 mph, cross a grass median and floor it again to get to 120? I can tell you that I used to put reporters in first-class seats on American Airlines to sit next to Angelina Jolie from NYC to LA. Do I feel bad about that? Yes. Is it confidential? No.
Confidentiality is not just a signature or a binding agreement. It’s not even a handshake. It’s a forever understanding. Confidentiality either maintains or it doesn’t; there is no halfway. At my company, it’s something we constantly enforce. Remember the old saying, “What Happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas?” With social media and iPhones, I’m not sure that’s true anymore. But what happens at your company should stay at your company.
Forbes Business Council is the foremost growth and networking organization for business owners and leaders. Do I qualify?
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Author: Jared Shapiro, Forbes Councils Member
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