By Gerard Braud –
In yesterday’s article I mentioned The New York Times called me Friday for a comment about Rand Paul’s hostile interview with NBC’s Savannah Guthrie. When the Times starts calling for observations, that means the political season is in full swing.
You can learn a lot about your own media interview dos and don’ts during campaigns, especially the presidential campaigns. We’ll take some time this week to look at a few lessons from the current presidential campaign, as well as the last campaign.
We can learn two lessons from the 2012 failed campaign of former pizza CEO Herman Cain.
Lesson #2: When you have big negatives in your past, you must be ready to explain them to the media the day you decide you want to be a candidate. Therefore you must spend time to craft your answer, then practice that answer, and be able to deliver it flawlessly the day you get asked about it.
Lesson #3: Don’t be in denial about your negatives. The media will eventually find out, ask you about it and you’ll need a perfect quote and explanation.
The Herman Cain lesson begins with the fact that he had, according to reports, been accused by several women of sexual harassment. His employer at the time settled out of court and the accusers signed a confidentiality agreement about the settlements. However, before the settlement was signed, it is possible that these women discussed their cases with their friends. You can also bet that opposing campaigns hired opposition research experts who would eventually discover this. Those researchers will look for an opportunity to leak it to the media. The media eventually asked Herman Cain the question, “Have you ever been accused of sexual harassment?” Cain replied, “Well have you ever been accused of sexual harassment?”
Really Herman? You wanted to be the President of the United States and on the day you announced your candidacy you didn’t know how you would answer your toughest question? This is such a rookie mistake, yet also a typical mistake of high powered people.
Regarding Lesson #1: The day after this quote aired, Cain told everyone it wasn’t hurting his campaign and that checks were still coming in from supporters. The reality is checks were arriving from people who wrote them before the bad quote. The checks stopped rolling in later that week and the campaign ended. My opening sentence in each media training class I teach is the question, “If you could attach a dollar to ever word you say, would you make money or lose money?” Herman Cain’s situation proved this point.
Regarding Lesson #2: The day a candidate launches their campaign, they must have their quotes written and practiced for every negative in their lives. Failure to do so is unprofessional. In public relations, failure of a PR person to do this for their company and failure of the C-Suite to know the answers is unacceptable and amateurish. It is the job of the PR team and the job of the executives to be prepared. As a public relations person, you must be willing to push your CEO hard enough that if he or she doesn’t listen, you are willing to quit your job.
Regarding Lesson #3: Every candidate has negatives, just as every company has negatives. It is only a matter of time before an opponent learns of the negatives and tips off the media. It is better for you to acknowledge this and prepare for this than to live your life hoping it never gets discovered. Hope is not a public relations or crisis communications strategy.
Next, we’ll apply these lessons to Hilary Clinton.