“Tell it early. Tell it all. Tell it yourself.”
This is the advice from crisis counselor Lanny Davis, who has helped everyone from Bill Clinton to Penn State to, most recently, Alex Rodriguez, deal with their public image problems. And it’s what I’ve been telling my clients for the past two decades.
Former White House Counsel Lanny Davis
The rule is “bad news comes from you.” This allows you to appear (and be) open and honest, and have some control over the tenor of the story. And, as the Public Relations Journal article I discussed here pointed out, getting all of your bad news out at once lessens the amount of time and space spent on the story, which limits your damage.
Davis is facing criticism for his work with the government of the Ivory Coast. You can read a good analysis of Davis, and his work for that government, in this Washington Post article.
The most interesting part of this story, to me, is how Davis reacted when he was asked questions about his own crisis. From the WaPo story:
“One thing I learned is never, ever mislead the press,” Davis says. “I spent a week misleading every reporter about what I was doing. I had the naive belief that this would be easy to accomplish, it would all work out and I would have served a good cause. . . . I was more than naive. I was stupid.”
As a crisis counselor, it’s important to remember that my client really, REALLY wants the story to “go away.” And there is an instinct that a lie, a really REALLY convincing lie, can perform that magic. But it’s just not the case.
While I am sure there are lies that have gotten public figures out of trouble, I am also sure that at least 80% of the time the truth does win out. And when it does, all credibility is shattered. We may be living and working in an age of easy forgiveness, but it is better to not need that forgiveness in the first place.