For Presidential Candidates, It’s Always Crisis Time

The Presidential horse race between President Obama and Mitt Romney, the presumed Republican contender, has already begun. As in recent years, the nominating conventions will simply be great big pep rallies.

Visions of the late Mike Wallace and other reporters being pushed around the convention floor by unruly conventioneers are a distant memory.

Now all the real action is on the stump, when the media will be analyzing every word and gesture of the presidential candidates for hidden meanings and bloopers.

Crisis Communications

As never before, the candidates and their PR staffs need to be ready for the inevitable gaffes that result in a communications crisis. Putting politics aside, we’ve already seen the candidates and their staffs scramble to contain the damage of a thoughtless remark tossed out in the heat of the moment by the candidate or an operative affiliated with their campaign.

Mitt Romney will be haunted by his remark, “I’m not concerned about the very poor because we have a safety net there.”

And a Democratic political consultant is still apologizing for her remark claiming “Ann Romney never worked a day in her life.”  Ouch.

The New Media

Was it an attack on Ann Romney or the candidate? Does Mitt Romney really not care about the very poor? It doesn’t matter in the political game.

What does matter is how the media plays it – and social media networks like YouTube and Twitter are often where the news circulates first. They are the new media where old media such as print and broadcasting companies go to for breaking news.

Here are videos in which Mitt Romney and Hilary Rosen created major firestorms with their statements.

This video shows Mr. Romney making his initial statement, and then apologizing. But he is uncomfortable and his apology is confusing and unconvincing. Meanwhile, dozens of videos condemning his initial comments are circulating the Internet.

The next video shows Hilary Rosen making her unfortunate comment. Then, the second video shows her response to the avalanche of criticism. But note that she does not immediately apologize.

How to Handle an Instant Crisis

As these videos demonstrate, the fallout from a careless remark can last forever. You can be sure these gaffes will show up in the barrage of political advertising that will be running in the next few months.

We wrote about the three kinds of crisis in our earlier posts: the brewing crisis, the Act of God crisis, and the instant crisis.

Here is what the candidates and their parties should do to manage an instant crisis during the presidential campaign:

  • Act quickly. Hold a press briefing with the reporters following the campaign. Explain what went wrong and why and what is being done to correct the mistake. Issue an apology, if one is called for.
  • Get out all the bad news at once. Do not deny that something went wrong. It’s all over the Internet already. Don’t dribble out the news, allowing rumors to fly and the media and the opposing camp to make unfounded accusations. You cannot hide behind “no comment.” Transparency is key.
  • Refute false information immediately. Campaigns and political partisans will be spreading misinformation. You must immediately refute this information with facts that prove the truth.
  • Issue immediate updates. A crisis is like a moving target. If there is a new development issue a statement immediately.
  • Leverage social media.  Get your response out on your branded social media networks where it will go viral instantly. Create a Twitter hashtag (such as #romneyupdates) for reporters and your followers. Monitor what is being said in online and offline media and respond quickly with correct information.
  • Get continuous media training. The candidates may have had media training in the past. But it’s critical that they carve out time in their crowded schedules to work with a media trainer, continually refining their key messages as events dictate.

Presidential campaigns are like horse races. You may stumble getting out of the gate and rounding the curves. But you increase your odds of reaching the finish line first if you say what you mean and mean what you say.

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