PRedicting the fall of a candidate

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.

Your thoughts?

14 thoughts on “PRedicting the fall of a candidate

  1. prshopgirl2232

    No public relations campaign could be magical enough to save Mr. Cain from himself. But he definitely got a lot of bad suggestions along the way. It seems as though Jerry Sandusky and Mr. Cain have been getting advice from the same guy. These two men crashed and burned during two horrendously planned phone interviews. Fist, Mr. Cain jumped under his own bus when he chose to state what he personally believe to be sexual harassment to be and how he had never really been charged with previously allegation but maybe he kinda has, he just couldn’t remember. And good old Jerry really iced the cake when he was asked if he liked having sex with young boys. He then answers with something to the effect of that he really enjoyed spending time with little children and like to rough house with the. Then followed by a long pause and a slow “no i do not like to have sexual relations with young children.” A few major suggestions to walk away with when analyzing these situations. If you can’t represent yourself effectively then don’t and if you can’t, then hire someone how can.

  2. Meredith Golden

    Now that Cain has officially dropped out of the race for candidacy, we can see the impact that media coverage can have on an individual. I mean, honestly, we can go on and on about how he should have been transparent, he should have been honest, he should have responded quickly, etc. etc.

    In the end it comes down to this: if you’ve sexually harassed women in your past, it’s probably not a good idea to run for President of the United States.

  3. blgilmartin

    I find this truly hard to believe. As you said in your opening paragraph this is a well known fundamental mistake. Every PR class I’ve ever taken has pointed out not only the ethical issues with this tactic but also that it just doesn’t work. How is anyone still using this tactic.

  4. Clarissa Kouri

    He didn’t. Cain proved that the fundamental of PR is correct: tell the truth. Cain through out the last couple of weeks denied, denied and denied. The denial got so big, that it was obvious he was lying. Had Cain followed the first fundamental it wouldn’t have gotten so big and he might still be in the race.

  5. alipr107

    Even if he were to come out on his own before the public found out from other sources, he still wouldn’t have a good chance of being a successful or threatening candidate.
    No matter how much PR you did, noone could make Cain look like a saint. There is way to much room for speculation, and the only way to come out clear of the situation would to be dishonest. I dont even know why he or his PR is trying. Especially since a woman just came out and said she had a 13 year long affair with Cain, and given money to be quite about it. His response was that he was just “helping a friend out.” He should consider finding a better PR team because that excuse is clearly a lie, and horrible one at that.

  6. Jahlisa

    Herman Cain is a foolish man. To make a statement as bold as “I have never seen
    that woman in my life” is insane. Considering today’s technological
    advances, it is possible for someone to have an image, a video or even an
    audio recording of him interacting with this woman would tarnish his
    reputation forever.  Currently his image is tainted, if news breaks of him
    interacting with this woman he will be forever ruined in politics. I do
    agree that his credibility is questioned. Transparency is key and since he
    entered this with a lie he must now keep up with the lie. But it will come
    out eventually and when it does he needs to be prepared with the

  7. darrahrachman

    I agree with the majority of posts that Cain is definitely done and will not be able to bounce back from this detrimental scandal. Sexual harassment/sex scandals cases are taken extremely serious in today’s society and this has been especially demonstrated in the environment of politics (Clinton, Weiner, Spitzer). We have all seen how these cases have ended and how their careers are basically over. Lying is also a huge problem and did not help in Cain’s case. I think that the fact that he lied and then tried to change his statements is just too much to ever come back from.

  8. Chrissy Giglio

    Despite how little I actually know when it comes to politics, I would definitely agree in saying that Cain probably won’t be able to come back from this scandal. One of the most important things you need to do when you’re a public figure is be transparent. If he’s not going to be open and honest about this particular personal circumstance, how do we know he’ll be open and honest with all of us if he’s elected into office? The situation should have been handled in a much more timely and appropriate manner. If he can’t handle this one thing, how can we trust that he’ll be able to handle the role of president?

  9. Kevin Rosenberg

    I too agree that Cain is finished. Stories like this can be a campaign ruiner, and at such a crucial stage in the election process, its going to be hard for Cain to recover. Had he handled the situation differently from the get-go, perhaps the fate of Cain would be a different one.

  10. Thanishap

    I completely agree that Herman Cain is done for. He mad the biggest mistake when it comes to becoming a political figure and that’s lack of transparency. The people want someone they can trust and someone who can represent them. People also want to see what their representatives are doing and how they are serving them. Cain obviously shows that if he became a political figure he has no respect for transparency and probably doesn’t hope to practice it. I also question who is handling his PR and why havent they handled this situation better. Even I as a PR student knew the correct way to handle this situation.

  11. AOkPR

    Unfortunately, I must agree that this method of handling the situation will most likely be the end-all for Herman Cain’s presidential campaign. He had so much going for him from a PR perspective: a real life businessman running for president, a relatively moderate tax plan, and a positive attitude. Then he posted his controversial YouTube advertisement (that I still think could have been turned into a positive PR tool, as I mentioned in class). But this new development is an absolute disaster. A crisis arose and it was not handled very well – or well at all. I think it would take a miracle to dig Cain’s campaign out of the grave it just jumped into with all of this.

  12. Lauren Means

    Sexual harassment charges always seem to be the worst-handled PR crises for politicians. The official story is muddled and confusing; and just when the public is starting to accept the limited amount of information they’re getting, the politicians think they can fix everything by giving out information opposite to his official story. Politicians, though dependent on publicity, do not seem to use it well. In a situation such as this they panic and try to regain control over their campaign by taking publicity into their own hands.

  13. samwilbur

    I agree that he’s done; it’ll be hard for him to recover from it. He’s had several poor PR moments of late: his strange, yet hilarious, campaign video with his campaign manager smoking and Cain’s smile certainly didn’t help his chances; he’s also had a lot of poor statements about immigrants, and has flip flopped on certain issues such as abortion–but these things, especially flip flopping won’t hurt him as much–see Romney.

    This, however is much more serious. The fact that his statements have changed and he started by denying everything makes him look bad. Perhaps if he would’ve apologized at first and tried to explain what happened, then it wouldn’t have been such an issue. It is unbelievable to me how often people seem to be invincible and lie–more often than not, the truth will come out. Apologizing and addressing the issues are key to crisis management, and Cain and his staff failed here. I don’t see much of a future for him in this presidential race.

  14. Jon Fisco

    That makes me wonder if he’d be treated any differently if he had come clean about the accusations right away. Acknowledging the problem and trying to explain it all wouldn’t make Cain the most popular candidate at first but at least he’d be able to hold onto some credibility, which seems to be a rarity in politicians who have ghosts of the past come back to haunt them.


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