Put a fork in Herman Cain. As a presidential candidate, he’s done. Cain is about to make the same fundamental mistakes made in almost every case study involving crisis public relations: Lying first, contradicting yourself next, “remembering” the truth, then apologizing after the damage has been done.
It was reported yesterday (November 5) in The Guardian this way: “In his first comments, Cain confirmed that he had been the subject of sexual harassment complaints involving two female workers in the restaurant industry‚ but said he had been ‘falsely accused.’ In the morning, he had described the claims as ‘trumped up’ and said he was ‘unaware of any sort of settlement. I hope it wasn’t for much, because I didn’t do anything.’ But in interviews broadcast on Monday night, he admitted there had been ‘some sort of settlement or termination’ and it had been worth maybe two or three months’ salary. Cain initially played down the alleged incidents but in later interviews he began to fill in some of the details. He told PBS: ‘I referenced this lady’s height, and I was standing near her, and I did this saying: ‘You’re the same height of my wife,’ because my wife is five feet tall, and she comes up to my chin. This lady’s five feet tall, and she comes up to my chin. So obviously she thought that that was too close for comfort.'” Thus concluded Week One of the Cain controversy.
I predict that this will end badly for Herman Cain. Just as credibility is the PR professional’s bread and butter, so it is for a presidential candidate. Sexual harassment is awful, and lying followed by selective memory followed by the “outed” truth is almost always a formula for disaster. This kind of thing happens to politicians and corporate CEOs and other powerful people over and over again, and they never seem to learn from others’ past mistakes. We learn it in PR Fundamentals class when we discuss crisis PR: You’ve got to tell the truth, tell it quickly, show remorse, and demonstrate a remedy. It’s the only way to survive something like this. Herman Cain won’t.