The back-to-back car accidents involving Secretary of Commerce John Bryson this past weekend could have ended up burning the fingers of an Obama administration already trying to manage the President’s “private sector is doing fine” PR-fire.
Fortunately for the administration, the PR-nightmare never materialized in this case for two reasons. First, reports indicate that Secretary Bryson’s alleged hit-and-run accidents seem caused by health-related seizure and not intoxication or reckless driving. And second, and from a PR-perspective most importantly, the administration reacted quickly and assumed control of the conversation surrounding the incident.
As soon as the news surfaced on Monday, President Obama succinctly declared that he hoped Bryson was “doing all right” and that it all “appeared to be health-related.” On Tuesday, Bryson took a medical leave of absence from cabinet duties. Then Press Secretary Jay Carney punted on media questions about Bryson’s future.
The administration’s reaction underscores the importance of a prompt reaction to a crisis. This is why we at CommCore advise our clients to:
• Respond promptly, transparently, and calmly to crises to assume control of the conversation
• Allow the facts to surface first without distortion. (Remember Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsak’s premature condemnation of Shirley Sherrod’s out-of-context comments?)
• Show genuine concern for anyone who is injured or ill
• Don’t speculate on future implications of an incident if they are unclear or potentially controversial
• Plan for crises — nothing enables a timely and effective reaction better than adequate preparation.