25 Jul A lesson in crisis communications
By Chad McLeod
Organizations hate releasing bad news – or any information that potentially puts them in a negative light. It’s not in our nature to air our dirty laundry before someone else finds it. But as PR counselors who work in crisis communications, sometimes we’re tasked with convincing leaders that sharing unflattering news is in their best interest. Take Donald Trump Jr.’s emails. At first glance, it may seem he was taking our unsolicited advice by sharing the emails about his meeting with a Russian lawyer before the media reported on it.
Too little, too late?
However, the meeting was a year ago, not last week. The Trump-Russia story has been brewing for months, and the news involving the president’s son just breathed more life into it. Releasing the emails on his own at this point – when he knew the New York Times had the story – seemed like a last-minute attempt to get ahead of the fallout.
We’re not debating the legality or even the appropriateness of the meeting. There are plenty of legal experts weighing in on that part. But if the Russia collusion allegations are truly a “nothing burger” as the Trump team has claimed from day one, they should have disclosed the meeting earlier. Yes, it would have likely sparked a firestorm then, but the fallout would have been more manageable. Now it seems like they were hiding this until the Times got the story.
A changing story
Trump Jr.’s explanations are also a problem. His first statement to the media should have been clear and complete. Instead he dug a deeper hole by offering different explanations, first claiming the discussion was about the Magnitsky Act and the adoption of Russian children. While that may be partly true, his emails show he was expecting to receive opposition research on Hillary Clinton. Any reporter – or anyone for that matter – would question his first statement.
Waiting for someone to pick up on a potentially negative story is risky. It’s hard enough to communicate bad news when your sharing on your own terms. It becomes much harder when it appears you’ve been hiding the news. People rightly begin to ask, “What else are you covering up?” In this case, it makes it look like Trump and Co. were trying to keep this meeting under wraps. If that’s true, this crisis is just getting started.
Chad McLeod is the principal and chief strategist at McLeod Communications.