Donald Trump almost makes me want to come out of retirement and get back into the crisis communications business. He makes it seem so easy.
When I worked with corporations and individuals there was a simple three part formula that worked to solve most every communications crisis:
React with concern:
“We are shocked and troubled that the engines on our latest SUV explode when drivers turn on the ignition.”
(Notice the spokesman would seem to regret this horror but would not take responsibility. Assuming responsibility makes the hearts of trial lawyer’s race like NASCAR. That is if they have hearts.)
“We had no idea this was an extensive problem in our new line of SUVs”:
This is the hardest part you have to look like a carless idiot, but it sets up number three.
We’re fixing the problem:
‘We are already investigating the cause of this terrible tragedy and will take immediate steps to ensure it never happens again.”
(Notice this doesn’t say you’re promising it won’t happen again, just creating a program to make sure it doesn’t happen again.)
This is what you say in public. Privately you say to the lawyers who are suing you for every last dime, “who do we pay and how much is the check.” Corporations want this matter settled; uncertainty is bad for the stock value. And also because, in discovery lawyers will find some email or memo or something written down that someone in your employ was aware of the problem. So you either did know or should have known that adding a small part at a cost of a nickel would have prevented the whole deal. You want to settle.
Along the way the CEO or spokesman will have to do dozens of painful interviews where they follow the formula above. There will be hidden video showing you had to know about this, so you’re either stupid or lying or both. Self-righteous TV and print reporters will go out of their way to make you look heartless and venal.
No sweat, media training will help the corporate shill get through the public beating, with the help of a set of ironclad rules I used to call: Keys to Control.
Deliver your message and stop talking
Bridge to the positive
Avoid “No comment”
Correct rumor and misinformation
Anticipate negative questions
Maintain eye contact
Be upbeat and positive
Smile and keep your sense of humor; be animated and energetic
Donald Trump has reduced crisis communications and everything I’ve just laid out, down to two simple words “Bite Me.” And he tops it off with attacking the reporter and the media outlet, relentlessly.
OK, I know you can’t compare politics to corporations who have to worry about their stock and pissing off their customers. Trump’s voters don’t care about policy or that most of what he says he’ll do is an uninformed lie that sounds wonderful. Customers can be a lot pickier.
But today’s media landscape is fragmented and there are more sources than ever to get your message out. So go with “Bite Me.”
Years ago, I wrote a short how-to manual on media relations called, “The Zen of Spin.”
I think I’ll start working on a new one in this era of Trump: “Screw your customers, pollute the river and lie your ass off.”