Lessons

Politics as PR, Part 2: How Trump Fans the Fire

Politics as PR, Part 2: How Trump Fans the Fire

It hasn’t even been two weeks.

Hard to believe, I know. But it wasn’t even two weeks ago that Sally Yates and James Clapper testified before Congress in the ongoing Michael Flynn investigation. In that time, we’ve been witnessing a presidency implode on a scale not seen since Watergate, and at a clip never seen period. The firing of James Comey on May 8 set off a chaotic, scandal-ridden Rube Goldberg machine, with every day bringing about a new twist, a new wrinkle, a new turn that can’t be unmade.

And there at the center of the swirling and inchoate mess is none other than the sweaty, pulse-veined brow of a sitting president who has no idea how to contain the damage or avoid the perception, however correct, that he has committed the cardinal sin of his personal religion: losing.

For Trump, there is nothing worse. And it’s getting increasingly hard to avoid the implication, what with the appointment of a special counsel to investigate the Comey firing and Russia connection (see Archibald Cox and Kenneth Starr, key players in previous scandals that ended, or almost ended, in impeachment). Trump finds himself unable to make a case for himself, and even the acting FBI director was uninterested in perpetuating Trump’s confused justification for terminating his predecessor.

Oh, but the president fancies himself a fighter, and in fighting, has done little but exacerbate the damage. His ineffective flailing has only thrown the White House into chaos as he undermined his own surrogates by flatly contradicting their justifications for Comey’s firing. And now their external PR campaign has entirely collapsed, leaving the administration with essentially no public voice to contain the damage.

None, that is, but the president’s terse, hostile tweets.

Let’s milk it, shall we?

United Airlines Has A Bigger Problem Than You Think

United Airlines Has A Bigger Problem Than You Think

United has a big, stupid, obvious mess on its hands.

Big because it dragged a bloodied, ticketed passenger off a plane for the simple crime of wanting to go where he paid to go. Stupid, because it was entirely avoidable. Obvious, because for all our shock, nobody was particularly floored to learn that a major airline had mistreated a paying customer in such a ridiculously over-the-top way.

We live in an era in which everything transpires in real time; communication is immediate and asymmetric. It’s never been harder to control the story, not when everyone has the power to film and mass disseminate in real time at their literal fingertips (an ability that would make news organizations of just a decade ago fall over in jealousy). It’s a simple matter of hitting “Go Live” on Twitter Periscope or Facebook Live and broadcasting to the whole world.

The upshot of all this is that messaging isn’t unidirectional anymore. People are paying attention to a much larger conversation than they once were, and they’re keyed into stories about the abuse of power in ways they haven’t ever been before. That’s a big part of why this story, and others like it, spread so rapidly and reach instantaneous viral status.

It’s a foolish person who says that the airline industry’s standing in American culture is remotely positive. After decades of declining service quality paired with sharply rising prices and the ongoing indignities of security theatre (which, it happens, you can simply pay to avoid, strongly suggesting that airport security is less about security than the implication of it), people resent the hell out of these companies. The incident with United was exactly as unsurprising as it was controversial. Donald Trump is president; the idea that an airline would begin actually assaulting people is already passé before you’ve had time to digest it.

2016's PR Winners and Losers

2016's PR Winners and Losers

Having made a career out of managing crises and PR disasters, I can’t help but see the headlines through a particular lens. With another year gone by, 2016 was yet another fascinating year in the world of PR.

America’s Bigotry and Hate Speech Problem Can’t Be Ignored

America’s Bigotry and Hate Speech Problem Can’t Be Ignored

In an age where being politically correct and standing up for social justice are seen as weaknesses, those that are victims of social injustice are often berated with slurs, insults, and threats through social media. Twitter, which considers itself the “free speech wing of the free speech party,” has come under fire from both ends of the political spectrum (for simultaneously doing too much and too little to police hate speech on its platform).

This summer, conservative writer Milo Yiannopoulos’ attacks on SNL and Ghostbusters 2016 star Leslie Jones were well documented. While Twitter decided to permanently ban Yiannopoulos for his racist and sexist comments against Jones, this response did little to slow down the hateful army of the “alt-right” - an aggressive group of conservative racist nationalists. Those informed on the incident regardless of political leaning will tell you that removing abusers and instigators like Yiannopoulos is not enough to stop hate speech. While the alt-right rally behind those like Yiannopoulos - decrying that Twitter is no longer a beacon of free speech - most decent human beings plead with Twitter to do more to combat the pervasive and overtly racist and misogynistic hate speech that runs rampant on its platform.

2015's PR Winners and Losers

2015's PR Winners and Losers

The Year's Most Memorable PR Moments & Cringeworthy Catastrophes

Having made a career out of managing crises and PR disasters, I can’t help but see the headlines through a particular lens. Suffice it to say, as far as PR goes, 2015 did not disappoint. With everything from bizarre rambling tweetstorms, mortifying meltdowns, and humiliatingly awkward blunders to damning exposé, blogging wars, and public feuds, the year saw a veritable smorgasbord of PR spectacles that were both comically entertaining and often captivating in their cringeworthiness. So without further adieu, below are a few of my top picks for 2015’s best PR moments — from the good to the bad to the just plain ugly.