What South Carolina can teach us about crisis management

I avoid writing politics on this blog, I will admit that I had a political blog a few years back and it became too much of burden to keep up. I also felt that to do it properly I needed to research and be much more attentive to the blog. But this post will not be about politics but more about some lessons we can learn, for business and marketing, from what has happened in the Republican primary in South Carolina.  As of this writing it would appear that Newt Gingrich pulled off what, a week ago, would have appeared as impossible. What can be attributed to this swing? To me it is how the two candidates handled what I would call crisis management.

Let’s look at the front runner Willard Romney. His crisis revolved around his releasing of his tax records as well as the attacks on his time running Bain Capital. Newt flashed some brilliance in releasing years of tax returns the morning of a debate, knowing full well the question would be posed to Willard. Romney, when asked if he would do as did his father and release 12 years of returns, uttered “Maybe” as his first word…then laughed and gave some confusing answer that wasn’t really an answer. This go him a round of boos from the audience. During the week he also answered a question about his tax percentage with some cryptic response and even had the audacity of saying “oh and some speaker fees…which weren’t very much.” I guess when those add up to close to $400k those are not seen as “very much.”   Just for perspective, the median national household income for 2010 was $50,000.

On the other hand, Newt Gingrich had his own crisis, specifically a bomb shell interview from his second wife about his moral compass. How did Newt deal with it? Head on. When asked this as an opening question he tore right into it, attacking the “liberal media,” Obama, CNN and those that wanted to see him fail in one swoop. He took a negative and turned it into a soap box to give his southern Republicans some red meat to chew on – look at the standing ovations.

Two different ways of handling what were difficult situations, and two apparent different results. Just like in a crisis – poor corporate results, scandal, hostile acquisition, executive turn over to name a few – one has to get ahead of the message. One must be aggressive in sharing information, because there is no hiding in today’s connected world. One cannot always hope for the results Newt enjoyed, but one certainly can avoid the gaffs from Mitt.

Sometimes the light of day makes events appear less important than when constantly trying to dodge the issue and appear evasive.

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