Herman Cain Shows How Not To Use PR

Once again a national personality has failed when it comes to effectively using public relations.
Herman Cain, the surprising frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination is right now facing a firestorm of questions surrounding the alleged sexual harassment complaints that were filed against him during his time as an executive with the National Restaurant Association.

Cain has largely used the power of public relations in his climb from fringe candidate to frontrunner status with his 9-9-9 tax mantra and his congeniality and folksy approach during the nationally televised candidate debates.

Portraying himself as a different type of candidate, Cain has connected with his followers, especially conservative voters looking for an alternative to Mitt Romney. However, just as Texas Governor Rick Perry has faltered in the way he has handled himself in the televised debates, opening the door for Cain, the former Chairman of Godfather’s Pizza has also failed miserably in how he has dealt with this crisis.

Why has this “new” type of candidate failed?  Basically, because he has strayed from the basic tenets of public relations, something many individuals and companies do whenever they are faced with a crisis.

Let us explore the ways in which Herman Cain has failed PR 101.

When the news first broke, Cain quickly dismissed the charges saying they had no validity. He did so by going on television and then giving a talk at the National Press Club. Within a couple of hours he changed his story as he seemingly recalled some of the facts associated with the decade-old cases.  He also claimed not knowing about any settlements and then started estimating what he thought was the settlement.  The national media, now smelling blood did their job and began investigating the facts, showing in one case that one of the accusers received a year’s salary as a payout.

Never, should a company or individual be flippant when a controversy emerges. These are big stakes now for Cain. To dismiss charges automatically and then have to fill in the blanks with information on an hourly basis is not the way to handle a crisis.  It makes one beg to reason, where’s the truth?  By not addressing the charges head on and not putting out the correct information and instead, winging it, Cain opened himself up to further scrutiny.

Cain should have met with his staff and conducted a full download of the history of the cases with them. He then should have come
clean and admitted that his actions at the time were deemed questionable and he felt badly that they were interpreted that way and in no way does he condone harassment in any form.  This should all have happened before he addressed the media.

Playing the race card and making himself a victim was another cardinal sin.  It may have helped him raise a large amount of campaign cash but in the end, it will ultimately hurt his candidacy severely, as other past victims are tempted to come forward.

By also blaming his opponents, notably Rick Perry for launching this smear campaign against him, Cain continues to play the victim. This is certain to provide for great theater during the next televised debate. However, whether his candidacy survives will largely rely on how he deals with the continued fallout.

Cain has appealed to voters because they see in him a successful CEO that has built businesses and is proposing bold economic change with his 9-9-9 tax reform plan.  However, they are also looking for leadership. As his poll numbers have climbed, Cain
has faced intense scrutiny on every issue coming his way.

A true leader gets out in front of issues. Making things up along the way and dismissing serious issues is not the way to become
president.

Companies and individuals that overcome crisis situations are those that recognize the vital importance of the issue facing them, gather up all the facts, and come out with an honest response.  They take the lead on the issue and do not allow it to lead them.

Which way will Herman Cain go? He can still use the public relations tools at his disposal, only he must be consistent and use them in a positive fashion. Blaming others and not recognizing the seriousness of the issue will not fly.

Tom Cosentino

 

 

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