OK, let’s deconstruct the PR debacle known as Congressman Anthony Weiner. First, the good news: he’s going to be a dad, though not quite in time to win any father of the year awards this year. And more good news…unlike with John Edwards, the woman who’s pregnant is actually his wife (at least for now).
What exactly happened to derail the Weiner train? Some have suggested it’s a delayed reaction to his nerdy days in high school, Now, those of you who know me are going to find this difficult to believe, but I too was just a bit, shall we say, socially challenged as a teenager. Let me just say those of us who sat at the dweeb table in the school cafeteria haven’t all grown up to tweet photos of ourselves in Jockey shorts (you’re welcome).
I do, however, have at least one thing in common with the Congressman: he told one of his Twitter gals that he was a caped crusader looking for a sidekick. Well, when I was five or six, my mom would tuck a terrycloth towel in the back of my shirt and I’d walk around the neighborhood pretending to be Superman or Spiderman or Batman (Bam! Pow! Whack!). However, when no one wanted to be relegated to the role of being my sidekick, I just invented yet another imaginary friend. Hence, my first PR pointer to politicians: imaginary friends rarely rat you out and tend to be difficult for the media to locate.
Anyhow, let’s review the Congressman’s soup-to-nuts PR strategy:
1. Ignore reporters’ questions by saying you refuse to dignify such ludicrous accusations with a response.
2. Pointedly attack any reporter (using the word “jackass”) who would ask such questions…and encourage others to do the same.
3. Upon reflection, opt to sit down with various journalists and media personalities and do long one-on-one interviews denying any inappropriate behavior, explaining you got hacked but don’t feel the need to involve the FBI (read that as: “I don’t want to illegally file a false report”)
4. Upon more reflection—which occurs right around the time you realize things like this don’t go away because you want them to—admit you lied.
So friends and colleagues, what do you think? If you were on the Congressman’s communications staff, and he came clean to you from the start, how would you suggest he handle it to minimize the damage…and perhaps hold onto his job? And would you take away his BlackBerry? (or at least disable the camera?)