PR Crisis Campaign – How NOT to Manage a Crisis Campaign with the Media

By Mark Macias

Showtime has a new documentary out on former Congressman Anthony Weiner’s disgraceful fall from power, and it provides a lesson for any PR crisis campaign. You don’t have to be a political junkie to appreciate the insight from this documentary that explores – in my view – what not to do with the media when a crisis erupts.

The New York tabloids have followed Weiner’s public humiliation over the years after he was caught lying about sexting and sending photos of his crotch to women. At first, Weiner denied the scandalous photo on his Twitter feed was from him, but after reporters began probing, he admitted he had lied.

In the Showtime documentary, viewers get an intimate and close-up view as Weiner tries to manipulate the media. The cameras are rolling as Weiner plots how to position his wife as the empathetic forgiver from his transgressions. Later in the documentary, Weiner plots (in front of the cameras) a lie to deceive reporters on why his wife didn’t accompany him to the polls.

Crisis Advice – How to Handle a Scandal

Rule Number One: when you’re caught in a scandal or crisis situation, don’t lie your way out of it. The media is paid to uncover lies and if you try to deceive them, your credibility is over.

Weiner learned this lesson at the end of the documentary, when he admits on camera “parsing language was clearly not the way to go.” He also said part of his scandal stemmed from the media’s inability to decipher nuance.

You don’t manage a crisis by mincing words with the media. Parsing language just underscores the deception.

Weiner also said in the documentary that scandals and crises have a 72 hour window with the media. This is also horrible advice and not true. If you don’t answer reporters questions from the start, the story won’t go away.  In many cases, it will make the situation worse.

We all witnessed this in 2015 and 2016 when Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton tried to ignore the media’s inquiry about her private server. I wrote an editorial for CNBC when the story first broke, explaining why her communications advisors were wrongly running a publicity campaign when they should have been running a crisis campaign.

A Publicity Campaign is not a Crisis Campaign

A scandal can last years if you don’t get in front of it. A crisis campaign won’t go away anymore than a forest fire with trees will stop on its own.

Hopefully, you or your business won’t be involved in any scandal or crisis, but if you are, please don’t follow Anthony Weiner’s lead or advice. But watch the Showtime movie. It’s good.

Macias PR was named the 2016 “Financial PR Firm of the Year – USA” and the 2015 “PR Consultant Firm of the Year – USA” by Finance Monthly. We have launched and led media campaigns for clients in healthcare, finance, tech and the nonprofit sectors. The founder of Macias PR – Mark Macias – is a former Executive Producer with NBC and Senior Producer with CBS in New York. He is also a PR contributor with CNBC, providing media analysis, insight and crisis advice on timely business topics.