They say success is a journey. They don’t always mention how bumpy the path can be. Whether you’re trying to climb your way to a corporate corner office or attempting to build a million dollar brand from the ground up, you’re bound to make some mistakes along the way. Of course, the more successful you become, the more consequential a misstep can be, especially in the age of social media that gives millions of people the opportunity to add their voices to a chorus of judgment and criticism.
Time and again, we’ve seen CEOs, influencers and celebrities thrown into the harsh spotlight of public scrutiny. While some have had their careers destroyed by their scandals, others have not only recovered but thrived.
Alechia Reese, a public relations professional and the director of PR and creative marketing for Soledad Obrien’s PowHERful Foundation, explains that the key to overcoming a public mistake is in how you handle it.
“Barring an egregious crime or offense, there’s always a way to spin a misstep, error, or scandal. If managed properly, a scandal can also serve as the catalyst to the exponential growth of a brand as well. A perfect example is Kim Kardashian. Whether you like or dislike the brand she’s built, her scandal was the conduit that has led to the billion dollar Kardashian-Jenner empire we now see. It truly is all in how you spin it,” Reese explained.
While Reese suggests seeking out the help of a professional crisis management firm for trickier situations, there are some, like Jyoti and Kiran Matharoo, who choose to lean on their own intuition to navigate the murky waters of a public scandal. The Matharoo’s, known for their luxury lifestyles, high fashion wardrobes, perfectly curated Instagram feeds, and billionaire boyfriends found themselves behind the bars of a Nigerian jail cell, falsely accused of running a gossip blog full of salacious stories about the African nation’s elites.
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Many speculated that the scandal would spell the end of the Matharoo sisters’ social media fame, but much like their namesakes, the two sisters have managed to turn an ugly story into an opportunity for growth. Not only did the Matharoo’s do what many said they couldn’t—remove their names from Interpol’s database of red notices without the help of a lawyer—they’ve also bounced back from their unfortunate circumstances to rebuild their brands all on their own.
I recently spoke with these two sisters to find out how they managed to pivot from jail cells and no-fly lists into burgeoning careers as social media influencers, and their advice for other women who find themselves dealing with a public scandal.
The Truth Will Set You Free
Reese advises that the ‘out of sight, (hopefully) out of mind’ strategy is best to be avoided, and the Matharoo’s agree. “The best thing you can do for your brand is be completely open and honest about what happened. Recently, we did an interview which was probably the most transparent we’ve ever been and, to this day, our followers send us messages telling us how much they appreciate our candidness and how strong and resilient we are.”
Be The One To Tell The Story
While you can’t change what happened, you can control the narrative, the Matharoo’s said. “Don’t let people bully you and make you out to be something you’re not. We took an assertive approach and wrote to all the publications who wrote false and derogatory stories about us, threatening to sue if they didn’t print retractions. They offered to share our side of the story when we were ready to do interviews to clear our names. These false stories will always be available online, but so will alternate stories setting the record straight.”
Remind People Of Your Humanity
“A perfect life is unrealistic and unrelatable,” the Matharoo’s noted. “When people got a glimpse of our worst times and saw that our lives are not perfect, it really helped us connect with our audience more. Sharing our story literally turned enemies into fans and caused people who we never thought would reach out to us to do just that. Vulnerability shows you are real, that you have ups and downs just like everyone else.”
When People Talk, Talk Back
Just like you need to control the narrative, you’ll want to control the conversation too, and the best way to do that is to participate. “After the scandal, we wrote an official statement on our blog, and our followers had lots of questions. We replied to all of them. They really appreciated that, and since then, we try to engage directly with them more often which has really improved our overall connection and relationship with them,” the Matharoo’s said.
Own Your Mistake, Don’t Let It Own You
Reese and the Matharoo’s both acknowledge how important it is to recognize that everyone makes mistakes and forgive yourself for yours. “Everyone has downfalls,” the Matharoo’s observed, “the only difference is ours happened in the pubic eye while most people fight their battles in private. We’ve always been unapologetic about who we are. No one can hold your past against you if you own it. What can anyone say about us now after the worst has already been said? It’s empowering.”
Following their own advice, the Matharoo’s have transformed themselves from tabloid fodder to social media mavens. Between them, they share 92,000 avid Instagram followers, a lifestyle blog, Matropolitan, that covers everything from food and fashion to beauty and photography, and the pair are in the midst of designing their own clothing line, SPCTRMStudio. They will also be co-authoring a book which will be released later this year.
The Matharoo’s are proof that life continues in the wake of a scandal, and success can too, as long as you are prepared to do the challenging and often uncomfortable work it takes to own your mistakes and spin them into an opportunity for growth. In the words of Nikki Giovanni, “Mistakes are a fact of life, it is the response to error that counts.”
Pauleanna Reid is the Co-Founder of New Girl on the Block, a mentorship platform for millennials.