Case studies

Crisis management

A PR deep dive: The Sandoval-Leviss affair fallout on Vanderpump Rules

By Matisse Hamel-Nelis on June 12, 2023

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Ariana Madix, Tom Sandoval, and Raquel Leviss.

In the world of reality television, rumours and scandals often fuel audience intrigue. The unfolding affair between Tom Sandoval and Raquel Leviss on the popular show Vanderpump Rules provides an interesting case study into reality TV’s public relations world. How this event has been managed and its fallout provides many lessons about PR and image management in the public sphere.

Public perception and immediate reactions

First impressions count. As soon as the scandal surfaced, public perception was the first battleground. Fans took to social media to express their shock, betrayal, and even anticipation. However, it wasn’t the revelations that created ripples—it was how the involved parties, their friends, and the show producers handled it.

One key PR lesson from this affair is managing initial reactions swiftly and effectively; for both Sandoval and Leviss, who initially maintained their innocence throughout, dealing with the backlash required a delicate balance of damage control without outright denying their viewers’ emotions.

Crisis communication strategy: Turning the tables

Leviss and Sandoval immediately engaged in crisis communication—a vital PR tool for any celebrity or public figure facing a scandal. They turned to social media to control their narrative. By sharing their side of the story and interacting with fans, they attempted to steer the conversation in their favour.

The duo’s crisis communication strategy included candidly addressing the scandal, expressing their feelings, and showing empathy towards the parties affected.

Ariana Madix, Tom Sandoval and Raquel Leviss.
Photo: Amanda Edwards/Getty; Emma McIntyre/Wireimage; Charles Sykes/Bravo/Getty

Public apology: A double-edged sword

Public apologies are a common PR tactic in the face of controversy. However, these can be a double-edged sword, potentially giving the controversy more oxygen, especially if it seems insincere or forced. The key lies in offering an apology that appears sincere and heartfelt, acknowledging the feelings of the aggrieved party without necessarily admitting guilt.

As part of the lead-up to the Vanderpump Rules reunion episodes, apologies made by both Sandoval and Leviss came across as forced and, at times, fake, with additional allegations from fans claiming both were using crocodile tears to gain sympathy.

Image repair and redirection

Until the reunion episodes have aired, it will be difficult for Sandoval and Leviss to shift their PR focus to image repair. But when the time comes, they’ll want to try to redirect the conversation about their respective careers and the positive aspects of their public personas. The aim will be to demonstrate that they are more than just the characters in a reality TV show or the subjects of a scandal.

This could include discussing their philanthropic initiatives, professional achievements, and personal developments, subtly reminding the public and their fans of their multifaceted identities.

Long-term PR strategy: Rebuilding trust

Rebuilding trust after a scandal is a marathon, not a sprint. It involves showing consistent behaviour over time to regain the audience’s trust. While the reality TV environment accelerates this process due to its intense nature, the fundamental principles remain the same.

It will be interesting to see if and how these two will be able to rebuild trust with their audiences, given how deeply impacted fans were by the revelations of this affair.

Wrapping it up

The Sandoval-Leviss affair on Vanderpump Rules exemplifies the intersection of reality TV, personal lives, and public relations. It underscores the importance of effective PR strategies in managing public perception and steering the narrative in times of crisis.

The controversy also underlines the complexities of managing public relations in the reality TV world. While the scandal may have been a ratings boost for Vanderpump Rules, the long-term PR ramifications for the individuals involved are nuanced and multifaceted, and only time will tell how successful their crisis management strategies have been.

In the realm of reality TV, the Sandoval-Leviss affair on Vanderpump Rules serves as a compelling reminder of the intricate dance between personal lives and public relations. As the dust settles and the cameras fade, the true test lies in whether their carefully crafted crisis management strategies have effectively navigated the treacherous waters of public perception and paved the way for redemption.

Effective PR does its job, but the question is, has it been done well?

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