6 Rules for Managing a Scandal

Welcome back! It's been a whirlwind time at McLoughlin Media as we celebrate our 30th anniversary in April. Laura and I have been traveling from New York (media training); to L.A. (message development); to Montreal (media training); and Toronto (presentation skills). Earlier this week I was in beautiful St. Louis doing a seminar in crisis communications. So life has been busy.

Just yesterday, we completed the term for our course, 'Political Management and the Media' in the Clayton H. Riddell Masters of Political Management program at Carleton University. Once again, a great group of students who represent the political spectrum and who are an inspiration for the future of politics.

On April 7th Laura and I will be attending the Women in Communications and Technology Awards Gala at the Westin Hotel in Ottawa where Laura will be receiving the Communications Excellence Award. Congratulations Laura!
After that, Laura and I are back in L.A. where we are on a panel discussion at the Spring Meeting of the American Bar Association, April 11th, called "Scandal Scarred: Managing Your Clients Through a Political or Government Scandal.  We're looking forward to it.

Which brings me to my topic of this post....

Six Rules for Managing a Scandal
Over the past thirty years, we have consulted on behalf of clients in the political, corporate, government and non-profit sectors. Here are some rules for managing scandals.
1. Make sure your client doesn't become a joke. This week's outrage was that Mayor Ford had to stand up and change two votes - in which he had voted AGAINST Council congratulating Canada's Olympic and Para-Olympian teams, and AGAINST naming a street after Nelson Mandela. Jimmy Kimmell had another field day with that piece of news, and even Bill Clinton weighed in [ironic isn't it?] Interestingly enough, it looks like Rob Ford will probably avoid criminal charges for his actions, but will it save his political future? Right now, it's even odds that he could pull off a victory in October against John Tory and Olivia Chow, as they seem determined not to bring up the Mayor's ahem peccadillos.
Dimitri and Eve
2. Don't bring in people who are 'toxic' to manage other people.
The antics of Conservative MP Eve Adams and her fiancé, Conservative Party Executive Director Dimitri Soudas have tripped up Prime Minister Harper's efforts to shake loose last year's Senate 'Scandal'. Now that Mr. Soudas has been let go, there isn't anyone in his camp willing to defend him.

3. Turn the channel. Mr. Harper's strongest suit as Prime Minister was on show last week as his visit to Ukraine, Germany and the G7 in Brussels showed him to be resolute in his stance for justice and call to action on Putin's take-over of Crimea. However, when he arrived home to the swirling controversy over the Dimitri Soudas-Eve Adams side-show, he must have been furious that he couldn't spend one day basking in the success of his European trip.

Premier Redford Takes Her Leave
4. Style of leadership matters. The resignation of Alberta Premier Alison Redford underscores the importance of leading by listening and motivating - not by command and control. A government requires a team. It is not a one-person power machine. No matter the progress she was making in Alberta's economy and development, her style began to grate - first internally, and then with the public.

5. Understand and respect your own brand. Every successful government understands its brand - that is, it's promise to voters. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie still hasn't recovered the damage to his 'just folks, man of the people' brand as a result of the 'Bridge' scandal. In Canada, for three elections, the Conservative brand was powerfully and persuasively built, but it has eroded badly since the last election - on political reform, the military, veterans and even solid management. The Conservatives have only 18 months to re-discover their brand and get off the defensive.
6. Make sure your message hits the target. The government's 'Canada's Economic Advantage' campaign is long in the tooth and has lost its ability to move the dial. The party's 'He's in way over his head' personal attack ads on Justin Trudeau seem weirdly personal (clips of him removing his shirt) and not serious.  Justin Trudeau's F-bomb at a charity boxing match last week, followed by his cursing on television last night won't cause permanent damage. However, it does play into the counter-narrative that the Conservatives have proven so adept at creating - with former Liberal leaders Stephane Dion and Michael Ignatieff. Will lightning strike three times? Although Mr. Trudeau seems to have a teflon coating, the Conservatives are betting heavily that the attacks will start to stick.

So those are only some of the rules for managing a scandal. But they're a start!

Until next time......welcome to spring!

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  1. I love your blogs, Barry. It's very generous of you to share your wealth of experience. Thanks!

  2. the only message that sticks from the greatly exaggerated ads on JT by the conservatives, is that the conservatives don't have policies to talk about. it is tiresome and frankly miscalculates the intelligence of the viewer.

  3. Mr.Trudeau is attempting to speak to the younger demographic the conservatives are having a difficult time reaching. His recent uses of bad language have been reacted to with a shrug and have made those who make a point of criticizing them look somewhat out of touch.

  4. I agree. People of class don't belittle the opposition with personal attacks; instead they demonstrate why they are a better alternative. Unless, I suppose, they have nothing.
    F. McKay

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