If there’s one thing about the reaction to the remarks made by a Michigan State Senator to a journalist this week can teach us, it’s that the already significant differences between political PR and business PR are widening.
During media training sessions for executives and spokespeople, we teach two fundamentals that the Senator would have been served well to follow:
-“Don’t be a comedian” – Attempts at humor are often used as a defense mechanism. But it almost always doesn’t work in a media situation. This could become a textbook example of something the subject will say was “a joke” but was perceived as offensive, or worse, otherwise.
-“Nothing is off the record” – Just because there isn’t an official sit-down interview happening, doesn’t mean a reporter can’t report what he or she hears or sees.
In business, there would be a few options in the wake of this story, depending on the culture and purported values of the organization. It might cost an executive his job if the stain on the brand was deemed too difficult to remove. If not, there would need to be a real apology, including a phone call or a meeting with the reporter and maybe her bosses. Regardless of the remedy, there would be no plausible argument that such an interaction could somehow help the reputation of the business.
But this sure isn’t business.
In politics in 2020, it seems, from here on the outside of that bubble, that there’s at least a faction, maybe more, that would argue that this incident is somehow good for this politician’s career and aspirations. Some element of that was reported at a forum in his district. Does this make him more like the partisan hero, the President of the United States himself (“He says what’s on his mind!!”) and therefore, more popular to his “base” of supporters?
If the answer to that question is even a “maybe,” it underscores the chasm between what’s expected of politicians and just about everyone else. Over here, bad behavior is still bad for business.