Leaked video raises reputation issues for presidential hopeful
The tape of Mitt Romney slamming Obama supporters at a private donor dinner is one of those situations that there really is no explaining your way out of. Full of reputation-wrecking quotes like this one, discussing his own father, “Had he been born of Mexican parents, I’d have a better shot of winning this,” and the following, in reference to the 47% of the U.S. population that supports Obama, “My job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility,” it’s a crisis management nightmare of epic proportions.
Besides providing plenty of fodder for The Daily Show, the viral rampage of this video serves as a reminder to anyone seeking to maintain their positive reputation. It doesn’t take a trained spy or experienced journalist to capture video of you in your most candid moments. Whether you’re discussing bribing the safety inspector or how wild the company party was last night, the prevalence of cell phones and easy availability of Bond-esque cameras made to look like everything from pens to designer watches, means that your “private” conversation could be on the web mere minutes after you leave the room.
When literally anything you do could be caught on tape, what can be done to protect your reputation? Well, the easiest part of crisis prevention for this risk is to not say or do things that you’re ashamed of, or that violate company policy/legal boundaries. In addition, if you’re a business, ensure that all employees are properly educated regarding company policies on recording devices, as well as consequences for sharing confidential information or conversations.
If you do get caught with your figurative pants down, the best choice is to fall back on Crisis Management 101. Admit your mistake, deliver a heartfelt mea culpa, and explain how you will work to prevent a similar situation from happening again. This doesn’t mean your video won’t still be the topic du jour, but with a proper apology the public can be surprisingly forgiving. As far as Romney, he’s chosen to embrace the comments and plow ahead as if he had planned the leak all along. Now, there is the possibility that his choice was the right one, but with overwhelmingly negative sentiment surrounding the video sweeping the nation we’re guessing that it’s not going to help come November.
For more resources, see the Free Management Library topic: Crisis Management
[Jonathan Bernstein is president of Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc., an international crisis management consultancy, author of Manager’s Guide to Crisis Management and Keeping the Wolves at Bay – Media Training, and co-host of The Crisis Show. Erik Bernstein is Social Media Manager for the firm, and also editor of its newsletter, Crisis Manager]