This latest entry in my ongoing series of bad PR examples highlights three men who will go down in history as permanent punchlines:
Former New York congressman Anthony Weiner, defeated in his bid for New York City mayor upon revelations that he continued sexting after this behavior had forced his resignation from the House of Representatives.
Former San Diego mayor Bob Filner, compelled to resign when numerous women accused him of sexual harassment including female members of the armed forces who had been raped while in the service and a great-grandmother in her late sixties.
Quite-possibly-former baseball player Alex Rodriguez, given a 211-game suspension for using performance enhancing drugs, a penalty that comes after he lied on national television about earlier use of PEDs.
Each of these downfalls has commanded media time and the public’s attention. Each man has performed atrociously in crisis communications, resorting to denial, anger and recrimination. However, this post is not about their lack of public relations sensibilities once scandal erupted, or in the cases of Weiner and Rodriguez re-erupted. This is about the practice of true public relations, to be conducted from the moment a person enters public life or a company opens its doors.
I teach from the textbook Public Relations, A Values-Driven Approach. (I was honored to be quoted in the fourth edition of this book.) The authors cite “values” as the component often missing from the public relations model, defined in part as:
…the filters through which we see the world and the world sees us. Everyone has values. Organizations have values. Actions communicate values. Even thoughtless actions taken with little regard of one’s beliefs and standards communicate a value.
The failure to take a values-driven approach has ramifications for all responsible parties in the public relations process:
Some choose to flirt with or even to ignore the boundaries of ethics. Others, failing to pause and consider their organization’s core values, sometimes find themselves in the uncomfortable position of trying to place their actions in an ethical framework after the fact.
In short, there is no way that Weiner, Filner and Rodriguez could have done a good job with public relations once they came under the microscope since they were such poor practitioners when not being scrutinized. Their sense of “filters,” per the above, was non-existent. Public relations is not about eloquence or manipulation after the fact. It’s about reality before the fact. It’s about values in every aspect of the word–standards that must be commonly held, worthiness that must be delivered by politicians, athletes, executives, corporations and any other entity engaging the public.