The Unsolvable PR Crisis

Arthur Solomon, Public Relations Consultant

The barrage of sexual harassment charges against prominent people should have provided several valuable lessons for PR practitioners.

They are:

That denial of the charges, unlike years ago, is not the end of the negative media coverage, much to the dismay of many PR crisis specialists.

Another is that an apology to the victims has no affect on media coverage.

Having prominent third party spokespeople defending a person, a long cherished PR crisis tactic, does nothing to change the news coverage or public opinion.

Neither does another tactic used ever since the invention of PR crisis specialists: Having a woman stand by her man.
But the main lesson that should have been learned dates back to a proverb traced back to Geoffrey Chaucer’s “Troilus and Criseyde in 1385. It is, “People who live in glass houses should not throw stones.”

And the self-anointed greatest PR expert who either forgot or never read the advice of Chaucer is President Trump.

Here’s why:

On November 16, when Trump was under attack for not condemning the senatorial campaign of Alabama’s Roy Moore, the president couldn’t resist attacking Sen. Al Franken for forcing himself on a female reporter.

Trump’s ill-conceived attack against Franken had an unwanted boomerang effect, causing news organizations to revisit the accusations against Trump by more than a dozen women during the 2016 election. The tape of Trump’s crude and less than gentlemanly behavior and remarks were again news for days. (As I write this on November 20, it is still a news story and will continue to be for some time.)

So there are four additional lessons learned from this episode.

  • Clients with a checkered past should be advised not to rejoice publicly about the travails of others.
  • Just because an individual believes that the media can be manipulated doesn’t mean it will be.
  • Self-appointed PR geniuses are not always as smart as they think they are
  • The media has the last word.

The correctness of the last bullet was proved by the give and take between reporters and defenders of Trump, when they were asked questions about the president’s attack on Franken and his refusal to condemn Moore. This exposed, once again, a too common failure of PR spokespeople defending a client in crisis: Making statements that can easily be revealed as lies or half lies.

Asked about what was labeled “selective outrage” because the president and Moore were also accused of sexual harassment, White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that, according to a quote in USA TODAY, “Sen. Franken has admitted wrongdoing, and the president hasn’t,” despite multiple accusations of misconduct against women by the president.

Sanders response ignores the actual (not alternative) facts about Trump’s lewd comments on the “Access Hollywood” tape, when he said, “I said it, I was wrong and I apologize,” which his defenders brushed aside as just locker room talk.

I’ve long preached that once a person or entity has been the center of a PR crisis it is embedded in its DNA and can be revived by the media at any time it fits into a story. The rehashing of Trump’s crass remarks on tape and the accusations against him by women will forever be part of his historical legacy. And every denial he or his supporters mount will generate negative news coverage because the facts will always be included.

As William Shakespeare wrote in “Julius Caesar:” “The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones.”

I’ve also said for years that all PR crises are different and they deserve original thinking because there is no one size fits all solution. Often there are no solutions.

The transgressions against the vulnerable by the powerful will always be fodder for the media. And all the so-called PR crisis experts in the world can’t erase the misdoings of those reprobates, nor should they try to if they have any self respect.

 

About the Author: Arthur Solomon was a senior VP/senior counselor at Burson-Marsteller, and was responsible for restructuring, managing and playing key roles in some of the most significant national and international sports and non-sports programs. He now is a frequent contributor to public relations and sports business publications, consults on public relations projects and was on the Seoul Peace Prize nominating committee. He can be reached at arthursolomon4pr@juno.com

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