It’s almost cliche as a public relations professional for me to say that the devil is in the cover-up, but in the sexual harassment saga of republican presidential nominee hopeful Herman Cain it’s simply true.
Did he harass or assault those women? We don’t know. But Cain’s mishandling of the crisis is going to doom his candidacy, regardless of his guilt or innocence.
Sure, some people are doubling down and money is flowing into his campaign coffers, but his sound-bites and clips in the last two weeks could be used to virtually hand Obama a second term if Cain gets the GOP nomination.
What Cain keeps getting wrong are the fundamentals of effective media relations.
First, you do not fully control the situation as you might control a company as a CEO. This is often a bitter pill my powerful business clients have to swallow when they are facing a media crisis. Cain tried to control the media by declaring he was not going to talk about the allegations, only to have to hold a full press conference the very next day.
Second, stay calm and focused or you make stupid mistakes. I spend half my time getting my otherwise rational clients to think rationally during a media crisis when they want to be angry and waste time railing against the media. Not only did Cain get angry in front of the media, his Chief of Staff confirmed incorrect information about the source of one of the accusations and they have reversed themselves so often it’s bordering on the ridiculous.
Which leads me to my last point - take responsibility for what you have done, explain your side, take the wind out of the sails of the media by telling them what they are going to find out anyway, so that you truly can get back on message.
Until Cain does this, his message will never get the airtime he needs to become president. And given how badly he has handled his first crisis that’s probably a good thing.