Hillary Clinton is in crisis. As her ship of state sinks below the waves, she shows us some lessons in crisis communication:
1. What you say today must stand the test of time. Be careful that neither current facts nor future developments can disprove what you’re saying today. Clinton lectured Obama at the Texas debate Thursday — If your campaign is about words, the words should be your own. Lifting whole sections of a speech is change you can Xerox, she said. It took only minutes for the networks and cable stations to start showing Hillary had lifted her emotional ending to Thursday’s debate almost word for word from Bill Clinton and John Edwards. Live by somebody else’s words, die by somebody else’s words. Which brings us to the next lesson:
2. Be honest with yourselves. You can just see it — the night before the debate, some eager panting consultant says, “Hillary, hit him with this, ‘That’s not change you can believe in, that’s change you can Xerox.'” And did anybody in that room say, “Hmm, are we lifting anything?” When you’re a true believer, and your organization or candidate is under attack and taking water, you might feel ready to do or say anything it takes. Take a breath, and see what the words you propose really mean, and what they invite. And whether they’re true.
3. Don’t lose your cool.There’s a difference between passionate and desperate, between firm and flailing, between confident and crazed. Hillary on Saturday said “Shame on you” to Barack Obama over his challenge to her positions on trade agreements. And she has a small point to make — the Obama flier said Hillary called NAFTA a “boon,” when that word was a reporter’s word characterizing her position. But, listening to too many advisors calling up her dark side, Hillary went nuclear. “Let’s have a debate on your tactics and your behavior in this campaign,” she said, with venom, and said the Obama flier was “straight out of Karl Rove’s playbook.” Later she compared Obama to George W Bush. Both promised change, she said, and look how W has worked out — “Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.” She’s coming across (to me, and I’m biased against her now) as hissing and spitting. She doesn’t seem confident, she seems like a kid who thinks if you’re saying something that isn’t true, just scream and cry a little and it might all work out. In a crisis, if you’re accused of something that’s not true, be strong, make your case firmly, make it with passion and even some anger if appropriate, but don’t go over the edge. And be careful that you’re not righteously slamming your opposition for things you’re also doing.
Bad crisis communication shatters an organization’s or a person’s reputation. Hillary is not looking strong, she’s looking desperate — and that might be the last impression she leaves. I said this morning, watching the clips of her slashing at Obama, that if she’s the nominee, I’m voting for McCain. I’m afraid I might mean it. The crisis lesson here is that a bad spokesperson can harm her organization.
–Bruce Benidt grant applications kind