This week the White House woke up to a new crisis: How to respond to the allegations former Press Secretary Scott McClellan, made in his new book What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington’s Culture of Deception. What followed is a non-credible barrage of repetitious message points from both McClellan’s and the Bush Administration’s crisis communications playbook. While we are not condemning the themes and messages, we are questioning the execution.
In a day of innumerable media-outlet choices, credibility is hurt when your audience sees or hears the exact same wording over and over again. It is fodder for John Stewart’s Daily Show, MSNBC or Fox to butt-cut together sound bites in order to ridicule the authors. The Law of Crisis PR has been unnecessarily broken here and all parties barely get passing grades.
First the White House was “stunned” by McClellan’s tell-all attempt. Then Administration talking heads were “puzzled.” And for inquiring minds wanting to know more pundits became “puzzled and bewildered.” No, these were not quotes from one or two high-profile White House sources; they were responses from Dan Bartlett, Dana Perino, and Karl Rove, respectively who scratched their heads saying, “this is not the Scott we know.” As for the President himself? Rove speaking on his behalf said Bush was also “puzzled.” And the list goes on.
But birds of a feather also flock together. Or in this case sound very much alike. After all, McClellan and his Administration attackers were once a family and spoke, literally and figuratively, the same language. So McClellan is at every turn criticizing the “permanent campaign” the Bush administration has created in Washington and around the nation and is, of course “disappointed.”
But alas, there are always lessons to be learned from any communications crisis situation and McClellan and the White House has taught us some important ones.
Stay away from canned, rehearsed, buzzword-filled responses and be familiar enough with your subject so you can target specifics… in this case Scott-bashers might want to actually read the book.
Choose the most effective message points that really appeal to your audience. Message points should be created for different audiences – anything else is laziness and kills you in front of the audience du jour or the consumer who sees the exact quote over and over and over and over and over again.
What do you think? Your comments are welcome.
Scott Sobel and Ufuoma Otu handle high-profile government, media and litigation public relations as part of the D.C.-based Media & Communications Strategies, LLC. Visit our crisis PR firm website for more information.