Weinergate continues to sweep the country, and everyone seems to have an opinion or joke about what Congressman Anthony Weiner did and how he handled himself. Political sex scandals in America are nothing new—even founding fathers Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton had their dirty laundry aired in the earliest days of the country. In today’s media world, however, scandals have moved to another level. Jefferson and Hamilton never had to deal with live press conferences, 24-hour cable channels, Twitter and the brutal wit of late-night talk show hosts. These days, when a scandal happens, we will hear about it, analyze it, make fun of it and do it all over again tomorrow.
The business of managing a scandal or crisis has never been more important. Because of the needs of the 24/7 media cycle and the endless appetite of the internet, once the spotlight is on you, everything you do will be analyzed and twisted in every possible way. There’s a lot that goes into the PR of crisis management, but the interesting thing is that a lot of it comes back to one simple thing, whether you are an individual or a company: treat the public the way you would treat a friend. The more you conduct yourself with respect, morality and integrity, the better you’ll manage your public image.
Viewed through this lens, let’s look at some lessons from the saga of Congressman Weiner on how to avoid or manage a crisis:
Don’t Cheat on Your Wife: Seems fairly self-explanatory. And don’t get too literal with the definition of “cheating.” Bill Clinton went down that road and it didn’t turn out well.
Don’t Cheat on Your Wife WHILE SHE’S PREGNANT: Come on, man.
Don’t Lie: It might seem like the best option at first, but it will always come back to bite you. This doesn’t mean you have to tell everyone everything. A lot of the time what you don’t say is more important than what you do say. But don’t invite reporters to interview you and then lie to them. It’s difficult to forgive someone who isn’t faithful. It’s more difficult to forgive someone who isn’t faithful and blatantly lies about it. Plus, you’re giving TV producers and YouTube clips that will keep popping up long after the story should be over. Ever heard the phrase “I did not have sexual relations with that woman” before?
Don’t Put Off Addressing It: The quicker you address the issue, come clean and apologize, the faster the story will go away. You will get hammered, but then people will run out of things to talk about. Never underestimate how quickly a story can end. Thought much about Charlie Sheen recently?
Don’t Wing It: I caught Wiener’s apology in our president’s office, and as it grew more and more awkward, she just kept shaking her head and looking incredulous. As someone who has spent years expertly managing crisis situations for companies and individuals, Carol couldn’t believe how poorly a congressman like Wiener flubbed his remarks. He hemmed and hawed, alternately acted apologetic and defensive, and failed to garner any sympathy from me. When addressing an issue, you’ve got to create an authentic, clear message that will resonate. Don’t read from a script like a robot (we’re looking at you, Tiger Woods), but you’ve got to know what you’re going to say, what you’re going to be asked and how to respond.
Don’t Do It Alone: Mishandling a crisis can be worse than creating one in the first place, so make sure you get advice from people who know what they’re doing. Our team has multiple years of experience dealing with everything from local to national issues and a reputation for sound advice and counsel in tough situations.