This priceless axiom manifested itself in Michigan’s Macomb County this week at a press conference held by Attorney General Mike Cox. In the midst of investigating a campaign finance reform scandal, Cox became intimately involved in an imbroglio of his own, upon admitting he had an extramarital affair in March 2003. Why did Cox choose November 10, 2005 to share this information with the public? He was following the advice that any PR pro worth his/her PRSA membership could have supplied: get out in front of impending negative news; don’t let it beat you to the press.
Faced with the possibility of his affair being “outed” by his competition – in this case, the subject of his investigation – Cox chose instead to hold his own press conference and deliver the salacious news himself. To the untrained eye, this is a curious move. Why would Cox put his home life and possibly his career in jeopardy all on his own? Answer: by taking the lead in revealing this story, Cox partially diffused a ticking PR time bomb. He was able to counteract negative blowback before it even happened by owning the news and releasing it on his terms. In addition, by admitting an embarrassing mistake and underscoring how threats to reveal such a misdeed would not prevent him from doing his job, Cox strengthened his position as a dutiful, unwavering Attorney General.
This story provides a template for managing crisis communications: instead of trying to shove a potentially embarrassing, damaging story under the rug, shine your own spotlight on the story. This will allow you to highlight the news from an optimum angle – one that reflects you and/or your client in the most positive light and may even strengthen what would’ve have become a dangerously precarious position.
-- Andy Kill