Digital PR Lessons from Romney’s Really Bad Week

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Celebrities and big companies are some of our favorite teachers when it comes to learning about brand engagement. From old directors who talk to furniture to stage moms who show up wasted on talk shows, the last few weeks have been filled with tons of great “What Not to Do Lessons” in online PR. Yet nothing has been more powerful than those Romney videos — you know the ones — that have been making waves this week.

In case you slept through the last three days, a video from a fundraiser last spring made waves this week for featuring the Republican presidential nominee describing 47 percent of Americans as government-dependent, self-defined “victims.” This bitch-slap to the American population was explained in a stumbling, sweaty press conference. Romney didn’t really apologize in this clearing of the air and in fact sort of made things worse. Then another video featuring Romney’s thoughts on Israel and Palestine was leaked on Tuesday where he claimed that Palestinians are not interested in peace. He went from casually ticking off the people of the U.S. to basically spitting on the rest of the planet. If PR disasters were big-budget movies, Romney’s week would make Titanic look like an independent film.

The first thing we can never, ever do (that Romney has done repeatedly) is forget that everything will eventually go viral, especially if you’re on a national stage. What planet does he and his team live on where what we say doesn’t eventually end up in an online video? This baffling arrogance regarding the digital media has cost Romney dearly. As marketers and small business owners, we owe it to our brands to carefully watch our language, social media messages and appearances at events, regardless of how casual they seem.

The second lesson here is to skip the apology and explanation press conference if you’re not going to really do either. Press conferences and Twitter statements all have their place if the message is sincere and really talks about the issue at hand. In short, only apologize if you’re really sorry.

The final thing we can all learn from Romney is to have a good team around us. From day one, this campaign has suffered from sloppy marketing, confused social media strategies and weird public relations choices. Someone paid by that campaign should have told him what to say and how to say it and that, hey, everything’s gonna end up on the Internet.

Keeping knowledgeable people around us and listening to their advice is essential for great PR, online marketing and social media management. Obviously, Team Romney didn’t get that memo.

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