Written by Ashleigh Carson
Those following along with the “Scandoval” that broke in early March with the characters of “Vanderpump Rules” know the importance of PR, brand reputation and being ready for any crisis communications scenario. For those who are unaware, two of the characters were having a months-long affair behind the back of another castmate.
Not a true No. 1 guy of the group, Tom Sandoval was in a nine-year relationship with girlfriend Ariana Madix, but he had been in a secret affair with newcomer Raquel Leviss since August 2022. Tom’s best friend and business partner Tom Schwartz also knew about the affair. More to come on that (and why he needs an intense media training session) a bit later.
For those who may not be up on their Bravo-lebrities, here’s a 90s reference for you: This would be like if Chandler from “Friends” was having an affair with Phoebe behind Monica’s back, and Joey knew about it the entire time.
As the drama unfolded, and just kept unfolding, these reality TV stars utilized their public relations skills (or lack thereof) in different ways. Here are some takeaways I have from watching the “Scandoval” unfold. The opinions of what happened between the Toms, Raquel and Ariana, and their group of friends are my own, but the PR lessons are very applicable.
Tom’s statement: In a statement posted to his Instagram on March 4 Tom wrote, “Hey, I fully understand and deserve ur anger & disappointment towards me, but please leave Schwartz my friends and family out of this situation…Schwartz specifically only found out about this very recently and most definitely did not condone my actions.” He goes on to talk about the impact on his bar, admonish people, and ask them to not take actions against his best friend and family. Three days later, he did apologize to Ariana, but too little too late.
Lesson learned: There are a couple of lessons to learn from Tom’s bad step here. First: use proper grammar. The use of “ur” in his statement makes it seem like he didn’t put much effort into it. Not offering any apology in his first statement makes it seem like he only cares about his business, his friends, and his family. He doesn’t acknowledge the person who was perhaps hurt the most in this situation. Tom’s business was getting threats of violence and vandalism, and that’s definitely not something to condone. But what could have maybe helped Tom as the scandal broke was to offer honesty, transparency and be straightforward. His statement landed flat. In a crisis or any communication, it’s important to have a strong, clear statement ready.
Raquel’s statement: Raquel issued a statement on March 8, five days after the initial scandal broke. She posted to her Instagram on March 8, “I want to apologize for my actions and my choices to Ariana, my friends and the fans so invested in our relationships…”
Lesson learned: While that’s a lot of time to go by without saying anything, her statement landed a little better, in part because it offered a direct apology. Bottom line, let the professionals help you with your communications strategy so if a crisis does happen, they can be there to offer guidance, craft a direct, clear, concise statement and spell check to prevent “ur” mistakes.
Unhinged interview: As the scandal unfolded, many Bravo-lovers had their theories on whether Tom’s best friend Tom Schwartz knew about the affair. Well, we got our answer in an unhinged and very loose appearance on “Watch What Happens Live” on April 5. In the interview he: called his ex-wife “a monster,” compared his best friend’s new girlfriend to heroin, encouraged everyone to give Tom Sandoval a hug, and revealed that he knew about his best friend cheating on his girlfriend for months.
Lesson learned: Tom’s ex-wife Katie Maloney offered up some sage advice on her Instagram page after seeing his interview. “Tom, I have two words for you: media training! Because you are just going to say whatever lands in your head, and that’s not good.” During a media training, people learn how to represent themselves or their brand in an engaging and professional way. Media training is a great way to prepare for media interviews, podcast appearances, live videos on social media and more.
Successful bridge: Another sideshow of the scandal involved Raquel and castmate and former BFF Scheana Shay. As the affair came to light, Raquel and Scheana got into an altercation that led to Raquel filing a temporary restraining order against Scheana. On the day of the hearing, Raquel did not show up to court. Scheana did show up and outside of the courtroom she was confronted by TMZ cameras. A paparazzi asked, “Why do you think she dropped the restraining order?”
“Well, she didn’t drop it, which is why we had to come here today,” said Shay. “But I think her absence today further proves this is all a PR stunt from the beginning. You know, there are people out there who actually need this. There are real victims of domestic violence. There are amazing organizations such as Futures Without Violence, Lifewire who help people who really need this.”
Lesson learned: Bridging is a tactic an interviewee can use to help acknowledge the reporter’s question but shift, or bridge, back to a key talking point. The bridge in this example is so simple. “You know,” is all she had to say to transition/bridge back to her talking point. She has clearly been media trained, and her team knew to prepare Shay with talking points about how to leverage the spotlight on her to talk about a larger discussion of domestic violence victims.
Yes, this is reality TV, so the examples are heightened, but good lessons from bad PR can be found everywhere. If you could use help with communications needs like writing statements, receiving a media training and learning how to bridge, reach out today to see how T&C can help.