Hillary’s Perfect “How Not To” Crisis Case Study

“Tell it all, tell it early, tell it yourself.” These are Lanny Davis’s guidelines for crisis communications.

Hillary Clinton has violated all of them. And that’s why the email albatross is still screeching around her neck, making the majority of Americans feel she’s not truthful. Clinton’s email mess and her increasing obfuscation and dodging is the quintessential example of a crisis so poorly handled that it is never allowed to die. She shot herself in the left foot by setting up a private email system, and she continues to shoot off toe after toe on her own right foot with increasingly obtuse loads of bullshit which are crippling her campaign and destroying her credibility.crisis-tales-9781451679298_hr

Lanny Davis helped Bill Clinton through Monica and impeachment, is a partner in a crisis communications firm, and has written a pretty darn good book about handling crises, Crisis Tales. Hillary has been acting for months not only as if she’s never met Davis, but as if she’s never heard the most basic advice a junior account executive in PR would give someone in a crisis — “get the thing over with, get everything out, deal with it and don’t let it drag on.”

Another crisis comm bromide: It you’re explaining, you’re losing. Clinton is still explaining, to Fox News, to the associations of Black and Hispanic Journalists, to anybody who can still stand to listen. Which is almost nobody.

And the final rule in handling crises — have somebody with a finely tuned bullshit detector on your team who will speak truth to power. Somebody needed to sit Clinton down and tell her last week — “No, Hillary, FBI director Comey did NOT say your FBI testimony was consistent with all your public statements. No, Hillary, you did NOT short-circuit your answer with Chris Wallace on Fox, you were NOT talking past each other. What you are saying, Hillary, is NOT TRUE. And people will know it, and they’ll recognize that you’re still spinning and dodging and dancing and they’ll rightly conclude you’re not trustworthy.” Tough stuff to say, but that’s what a smart person needs around her, someone who will tell her the truth. Has anyone? Does she not listen?

As hundreds of observers have said, this whole mess could have been dealt with honestly and openly when the email issue first surfaced and it would have caused much less harm than this dragged-out water torture has.

But what should Hillary do now? I watched Joe Scarborough struggle with this on Morning Joe today, trying to role play what Hillary might say now. It’s not easy. Scarborough stumbled through some straight talk and some obfuscation, went too far, said too much, and ended up promising a Clinton term would be the most ethical in history.

If I were advising Clinton, I’d have her say something like this: “I haven’t been as forthcoming and clear as I need to be about this email mistake I made, and I want to correct that. Having a private server was a mistake in judgment pure and simple, and I’m sorry for it. And how I’ve handled questions about it has caused many people to doubt my honesty, and I regret that. I ask people to judge my character and capability based on my whole record of public service, where my constituents and colleagues have trusted me.”

Something like this could help, even now. What she says has to be short, simple, and has to address head on the elephant in the room — people don’t trust Hillary.

By not stepping up and openly taking the hit, Clinton has caused herself months and months of debilitating atrophy of her reputation and — has increased the possibility that a crude, immature, ignorant huckster might become president. We’re all paying the price for Hillary Clinton’s refusal to deal honestly and forthrightly with a crisis.

— Bruce Benidt





New Tech Update

9-19-2009 10-49-41 AMI’ve spent the morning playing with Google Voice and it seems like a fun, shiny new toy.

The concept is pretty simple: you create a master phone number – 612-234-5172 in my case – and then link to that one number all the other phone numbers of your life – home, work, cell, cabin, grandpa’s barn, etc.  When someone goes looking for you, they dial the master number and GV then finds you regardless of your location.  You can add numbers on the fly so if you’re staying someplace where cell service is spotty, you can add the landline of your cottage or the number of your colleague who’s covering for you.  Google has added lots of nice embroidery like voicemail that you can listen in on as it’s being recorded (and pick up if you want), voice transcription, chatting, cheap international calling and more.

There’s even a widget you can embed on a web site so visitors can call you right from the page:

Which is supposed to be right here, but I couldn’t get it to work.  Oh well.

Let me know what you think.

Google Voice is not without controversy, of course.  Apple has pretty much refused to allow Google and others to distribute iPhone apps for the service and some people question the need for this kind of service in an era when people are increasingly shifting to a single phone number i.e. their cell that’s always with them.  That said, there is plenty to like about this tech and the capabilities it offers as Lance Ulanoff recently wrote.

GV is so far an invitation-only affair, but I don’t think this is a tough ticket (I got one, after all).  There’s a link on the homepage above where you can sign up for an account.

I’m looking at using GV to create a virtual call center for crisis response and while I have to test it a bit more, in theory it should work.  If it works as advertised, I should be able to stitch together a group of 5-10 people who – without having to convene at a central location – can receive calls dialed to a single number (replicating the “roll over” feature we old-timers recall from yesterday’s phone systems).  There are some questions to be answered about how much volume the system will handle and how much control I have over what rings and what goes to voicemail, but it’s intriguing.  Couple some functionality like this with some on-line collaboration tools so those same 5-10 people could be working off the same set of information and you’d address one of the big challenges of crisis response, namely the lag time between something bad happening and the company spinning up an organized communications response to the crush of inbound calls.

Wouldn’t that be cool?

– Austin

What If Franken Shot Straight?

What if beleaguered U.S. Senate candidate Al Franken just bought a big hunk of TV time and shot it to voters straight?

Hi, I’m Al Franken, the rookie candidate in Minnesota’s campaign for U.S. Senate.

As you probably heard, I messed up my business taxes badly. A lot of political consultants told me not to admit mistakes and not to lay out all the details like I am today. But I decided to do it my way. The straight up way. I paid for this time, because you have a right to know.

So here’s the deal. My business operates in 17 states. It’s pretty complicated, so I hired an accountant. Then I stopped paying attention. Almost entirely. That’s MY fault, not the accountants’.

So, I messed up. Big time. I made a boneheaded blunder. And I’m really sorry about it all. Paying taxes correctly is critically important, and I should have paid closer attention to it all. I embarrassed myself and my family, and I failed in the civic duty that is expected of all of us. And I’m very sorry about it all.

I can’t turn back the clock, but I’m doing what I can to fix things. In the states where my business didn’t pay enough, I’ve circled back and paid the taxes, interest and penalties. In the states where I paid way too much, I will be getting back refunds.

And now I’m taking steps to make certain I won’t have problems in the future.

Let’s just say I’ve forged a closer bond with my accountant. We’re spending lots of quality time together these days. And I’ve settled in with some light summer reading (Holds up a copy of “Taxes for Dummies”).

So, I made a $53,000 mistake. And you can bet my opponent will make my mistake part of the debate. Fair enough. It should be part of the debate, and I should be accountable for it.

But for your sake, I hope the debate is about more than just that single blunder.

The debate between me and Senator Coleman should include other blunders too. Such as Seantor Coleman’s mistake of entering a war that has cost us thousands of young American patriots’ lives, and at least $535 billion. And Senator Coleman’s mistake of turning a budget surplus into a huge budget deficit, which will result in a multi-trillion dollar debt left to our children and grandchildren. On these issues and others, Senator Coleman has not admitted any mistakes, makes no apologies and offers no changes for the future.

I’m running for Senate because I believe Senator Coleman should be accountable for THOSE multi-BILLION dollar mistakes. And I believe we need to change course. So, let’s have that debate. Your job as a voter is to sort out which mistakes hurt you, your family and our country more – mine or Senator Coleman’s.

So, if you have any more questions about my boneheaded tax blunder – and trust me, I really hope you don’t – I’m providing much more detail at http://www.alfrankensboneheadedtaxblunder.com. The site also includes my entire tax form and a 10-minute video of me and my accountant explaining the situation in painful detail.

Thanks for hearing me out on this issue. Again, I just wanted to apologize, shoot it to you straight up, and trust you to sort it out yourself. I appreciate your time and consideration.

He could also make it a web video for those who miss it. The idea would be to disclose, apologize, self-degradate and reframe in one fell swoop. Leave out all excuses, even legitimate ones. Try to get closer to closure, and maybe even win points for honesty, accountability and not talking down to people.

Partially mitigate damage? Turn a net political liability into a net asset? Political suicide?

– Loveland

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Don’t Blink…You May Miss Eliot Spitzer’s Resignation Announcement

No, he hasn’t announced yet, but the speed at which this drama is unfolding makes me want to be near from a TV and computer today. In about 18 hours, Lovernor Spitzer has suffered one of the most rapid descents in American politics. According to several news outlets, including the Wall Street Journal, his resignation could come as early as today.

There are several reasons for this dive to deck, but the two most important, I think, are 1) this was apparently not a one-night stand and that there’s some kink to the story (the affidavit reports some of the women described the Lovernor as “difficult” and “would ask you to do things that, like, you might not think were safe – you know – I mean that . . . very basic things.”) and 2) Mr. Spitzer has made a lot of enemies over the years and they are – to a person it seems – eager to pile on now. It’s interesting that a good amount of the resignation buzz can be traced back to an anonymous source described as an aide to Lovernor, implying either that person is acting on orders/acquiescence from on high or that the insiders are jumping ship. Either way, not a good sign.

– Austin automated clearing house kind

Client #9’s PR Problem

Governor Eliot Spitzer’s brief statement today represents an interesting case study in crisis management.  Clearly, he is trying to get out in front of the story by making a statement that acknowledges some unspecified lapses on his part and that offers apologies to his family, friends and constituents.  By invoking the phrase “private matter” and stressing about three times that he is most concerned about his “family” he’s also trying to signal that his issues – whatever they ultimately turn out to be – are not really appropriate topics for public discussion.

Good luck with that.

Right now, hundreds of reporters between Albany and Washington, DC, plus an army of bloggers, pundits and others across the world are raising a dustcloud that is going to linger over Client #9’s head for the foreseeable future.  Part of this will be driven by the natural response of the media and the blogosphere to any story like this – powerful politician unmasked to reveal a darker side – but part of it is the “Gotcha” payback to a guy who has built his career by taking down bad guys including – ironically – a couple of prostitution rings.  This ain’t going away with a statement pleading for privacy, especially one as lame as his:

If the Lovernor has a hope of preserving his public career, he’ll be back in front of the media – as awful as that will be – pretty damned quick with a full accounting of his predilections in this area. He may not need to recount every detail (“My preference is for blondes in nurses outfits…”) – even though that is going to come out, particularly if he’s bent in some particularly kinky way – but he’s going to have to answer how long, how many, has he been tested for STDs, has his wife, will they, are they going to stay together, will they seek counseling, will he resign, what if he’s indicted, convicted and on and on. He’s going to need his wife to not only be at his side but to speak on his behalf as well.

Look for pictures of the woman in question within the next 48 hours.  Given the proximity of the incident, there’s probably still lots of security camera footage around.  Oh, joy.

– Austin business loan kind