5 Lessons We Learn From Bad Public Figures


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Sash with Mayor of San Diego Bob Filner in 2012

I wrote this article about hiring a Public Relations Strategist for Brand Management on November 19, 2013. These lessons repeat themselves in the press time and time again. Brand health is crucial for any business with a public face.

In every industry we see leaders face controversy. Often they take legal advice as to how to protect themselves, only to watch the demise of their career and aspirations. Read on for 5 important lessons we should all remember to preserve our reputations.


Recently three mayors of large cities, San Diego Mayor Bob Filner, El Cajon Mayor Mark Lewis, and Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, have made grave mistakes leading them to extreme public ridicule. The mistakes were not just women, drugs and racist remarks, but their handling of these issues in the press.

There are 5 mistakes that they wouldn’t have made had they hired a Public Relations Strategist:

#1 – Taking matters into your own hands.

Bob Filner’s hands are what got him there in the first place. He should have listened to a public relations strategist, not legal counsel, to determine his plan of attack. Simply allowing things to unfold, rather than plotting a course, left him dead in the water from the beginning.

#2 – Passively accepted guilt.

If we learned anything from Bill Clinton, it was continue to deny, deny, deny even when the evidence against you is as glaring as the white stains on the blue dress. As a result, the man remained in office to finish his term and is still beloved by many. What people want is to rally behind a strong leader. A leader capable of fighting adversity is their hero. They want a hero, not a villain. Rob Ford should never have stood in front a group of reporters and claimed, “Yes, I may have tried crack cocaine in one of my drunken stupors. . .” Really Rob?

#3 – Allowed himself to be portrayed as the villain.

Accusers continued to come out of the closet looking for their own moment in the spotlight, many of them capitalists, jumping on the “Victim Bandwagon” in the case of Bob Filner. In our society victims have all the power once the situation hits the light. Media attention only adds fuel to the vindication fire. Had he taken a harder line, a more dominant stance, he could have swayed the media to see him as the victim rather than the attention hounds seeking to bring him down.

#4 – Allowed the situation to grow.

Calling Gloria Allred! Calling all litigious capitalists! Here’s a hot button issue with bleeding “victims” floating in the sea, chumming the waters, fresh blood luring the legal sharks into a feeding frenzy. Once the situation reached this level, it was all over. All that’s left is for the credits to roll. The city council meetings in Toronto have become fodder for comedians worldwide due to Rob Ford and his hysterical, albeit humiliating comments he makes to the press. Allowing him to continue to comment on this topic only complicates the matter and feeds that vicious frenzy.

#5 – Stayed in the spotlight

Even though Mark Lewis was caught in his racist remarks, he should have stayed out of the spotlight. Instead of speaking on his own behalf, he should have hired a firm and taken a vacation. Create an environment where you can NOT be the focus except to send out the occasional righteously indignant press release regarding the mendacity of the media hounds. Control your exposure.

The internet is full of lies, half-truths and exaggerations such as Yelp reviews, Facebook remarks and vengeful bloggers. To build a business or a career in the public eye one must be proactive in finding these lies, half truths and exaggerations and then address each one. Hiring the right public relations firm is crucial. It only takes your competitor one good bite at the apple of your reputation to cause permanent damage. Your business may suffer long term damages, or perhaps even fold, under the pressure of an attack.

More importantly is how to address truths when they appear. Ignoring them can be just as deadly as ignoring lies. If your customers complain, it’s important that you address those concerns immediately and with care.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

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