The recent tearful media confession of scandal-plagued Michigan State Representative Cindy Gamrat brings up a question we are often asked. Can a PR campaign save the job of someone in trouble? The answer is, in virtually every case, “no.”
In Gamrat’s case, after being caught in an affair with a fellow moralizing Tea Party Representative, then perhaps involved in the cover-up, a press gathering a full week after dominating the headlines, seemed to be part of a strategy to maintain her power. Her attorneys and advisors pulled out all of the traditional stops. Her husband stood melancholy by her side. She was flanked by men she identified as “veterans” and “supporters,” who could somehow empathize with her plight because of their military service. But, really, is anyone disgusted by her behavior going to say to themselves, “She’s a hypocrite and is at least guilty of bad judgment. But I want her to represent me because she cried on TV?”
Gamrat, and the other 50 percent of the affair, Rep. Todd Courser, if they were truly interested in preserving their reputations and concerned about the rest of their lives rather than their clinging to power, should have resigned at the beginning of the scandal’s reporting. Instead, they are just prolonging the crisis, digging their holes deeper and deeper.
This reminds me of a case we worked on in a recent year. A CEO-type was internally and publicly criticized because of decisions he made and a quagmire caused by people he hired. Problem-solving was a particular challenge because the CEO-type had alienated himself so much within the organization. I was asked by someone within his organization if I would help advise them on crisis management and PR. I agreed to take the assignment under one condition – there was no expectation whatsoever that I would somehow help “save” the CEO’s job through PR. Rather, my work would focus on using every communications opportunity to do the right things to re-build confidence among audiences in the organization itself. A month later, the CEO-type resigned. There had been too much self-inflicted damage for him to recover. But, now, some time later, the organization’s reputation has greatly improved.
This displays a fundamental difference between business and politics. In business, the organization is generally about much more than just one individual. In politics, the entire PR focus is typically on one individual. In neither case, though, can truly bad behavior or truly negative public sentiment be “fixed” through PR alone. Instead, in these cases, PR’s job is to rise above conventional wisdom and operate at a higher level of advice for the long-term good of everyone affected.