The Washington Post reports today that DC Mayor Adrian Fenty has backed out of a mayoral election debate with his top challenger. So, so, so many things wrong with this move from the PR perspective:
• “The Fenty campaign has not responded to e-mails requesting comment.” If you commit to doing a political debate, which Fenty did, then you better have a really solid reason for standing up your date. This last sentence from the Post’s article is probably the most damning in the eyes of voters and the media.
• Big steps require clear explanation. Fenty’s campaign website has no explanation as to his unexcused absence. Whenever your organization is about to take big steps, know that consequences come out of that, and that your stakeholders — this time the voters and the media — are entitled to know why. If there’s a legitimate and honest explanation, then say so. Otherwise, don’t complain after the fact about the bad PR you’re getting.
• Remedies require 100% accuracy. To build on the previous point, there may be an innocent reason why Fenty is skipping the debate. But smart PR requires you to explain why and do so immediately. In other words, a great excuse has a very short shelf-life. If you don’t get the word out fast, any attempt to remedy your missteps will already be lost in the news cycle.
• The image is terrible. Fenty has been the target of several bad Post headlines lately, so this misstep only adds to the miserable PR pattern.
It’s been a hot start to the DC summer, but at this rate, Fenty’s campaign could soon be put on ice.