Nothing gives us crisis communications professionals agita like a good long presidential campaign. Every political campaign is a mini crisis all on its own. The unceasing media attention, the unrelenting schedule, the exhaustion of the players, and the fast-paced, heat-of-the-moment atmosphere make for a perfect storm – a cauldron of communications errors.
Take, for example, the recent gaffe-of-the-week committed by Newark wunder-mayor Cory Booker. On Sunday’s “Meet The Press,” Booker, one of the up-and-coming figures in the Democratic Party, came right out and said that he finds attacks on Bain Capital just as “nauseating” as attacks on Jeremiah Wright. Considering that Bain is Mitt Romney’s former place of work (as Rev. Wright is Barack Obama’s former pastor), Republicans had a field day, and Booker was forced – well, tried – to walk back the comment. He has now been publicly rebuked by the Obama campaign.
Then there’s the Etch A Sketch kerfuffle, set off in March, during the Republican primary campaign, by Eric Fehrnstrom, one of Mitt’s closest and longest standing advisors. Asked how Romney would “pivot” to the general election campaign (assuming he’d be the Republican nominee), Fehrnstrom described the process as “almost like an Etch A Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and restart all over again.” Which led to some very gleeful comments from some very gleeful Democrats about Romney and flip-floppiness.
And let us not forget Democratic strategist and White House insider Hilary Rosen. Last month during her regular duties as a CNN commentator, Rosen opined that Ann Romney “never worked a day in her life.” Seemed like Rosen wasn’t counting all those years spent bearing, birthing and raising five boys. And just when Obama was beginning to try to solidify his lead among women voters. Oops. Republicans pounced on the comment, Democrats immediately denounced it, and Rosen had to issue a raft of apologies.
If only, we crisis comms pros groan to ourselves, if only the candidates’ various minions, proxies and prominent supporters would follow our few very simple rules:
- Do no harm.
- Think before you speak.
- Remember that if you’re publicly associated with a [political movement] [product] [company], you’re a spokesperson, whether it’s official or not.