Don’t Lash Out During a PR Crisis – Why Trump is Playing With Fire

Don't lash out in a PR CrisisToday’s post was inspired by a personal anecdote that shines a light on why leaders shouldn’t lash out when faced with a PR crisis and negative press coverage.

Like many teenagers, my 14-year-old daughter has shown zero interest in politics or current affairs to date. But, she happened to be around while I was watching a news show on Irish television – which was featuring extended highlights from President Trump’s recent impromptu press conference, held just 4 weeks after his inauguration.

She listened for a few moments and, irked by what she heard, we had the following conversation:

Meg – Why is he behaving like that?

Me – Like what?

Meg – Not thinking before he speaks and being so rude to everyone

‘Wow, ok’, I think, ‘where’s that coming from?’ And being curious why my mild mannered daughter was riled, I continued:

Me – Interesting! What are your impressions of him as a leader?

Meg – I think he loves himself. He’s all about ‘me, me, and me’!

Me – That’s a strong view Meg. Tell me more. From whatever you’ve heard over the last while, how do you think he’s doing as a leader?

Meg – Not well. He clearly doesn’t listen. And all he is does when people disagree with him is to say ‘no, no, no’ and ‘fake this’ or ‘fake that’…and then he throws out blame for anything that’s gone wrong elsewhere. He can’t be trusted.

Her last stream of consciousness stopped me in my tracks – not just because I was fascinated by her forthright conclusions (a very teen thing, right?)…

…But because, here was a greenhorn youngster speaking directly to a major issue faced by any leader who tries to rail against potentially embarrassing or damaging news (In this case, potential fall out from General Flynn’s resignation) by lashing out and claiming to be a victim.

Here it is:

Why Your Intent Matters as Much as Your Words

Audiences will likely pay as much (and sometimes more) attention to your perceived motivations as the words you say when deciding how they should react to you.

And if they get any sense you’re jumping from one foot to the other to cover over gaps in what you say or that you are deliberately attempting to be dismissive, evasive or even deceitful, your credibility will be shot and you’ll struggle to win anyone over.

Why? Simply this, ‘trust dented or lost is never regained!’

Of course, isn’t it understandable and even human to fight back if you think or want to argue that ‘someone is doing you some wrong’?


What You Can Learn About PR Crisis Management From Presidents of Old

But, before doing that…it pays to learn from the experience of others – Including presidents who had a mostly positive scorecard when working with the press (bearing in mind that this is relative, since no president ever got a free pass from the media), like John F Kennedy, FDR and James Monroe…

…Versus those who suffered hugely from toe-to-toe, down and dirty fights played out in the media, like Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson, Teddy Roosevelt (who coined the phrase ‘muckrakers’ for US journalists and other writers that exposed corruption in politics and business), and Richard Nixon.

And the biggest lessons?

The former regularly achieved a focus on stories of ‘how things could be’ while the latter became thwarted, bruised and damaged because they wallowed in what they thought was wrong, lashed out, and couldn’t resist throwing muck. And the price? They all lost out in the court of public opinion.

And Here’s Why You Also Need to ‘Think Team’ During a PR Crisis

But, that’s not all. There’s another huge issue that needs to be considered in politics and business when tackling crises: Staff loyalty and cohesion.

If these are dented as a response to your words and actions, your ability to attract and keep the right people around you to get things done can be compromised.

And guess what? That’s exactly what’s been playing out in recent times.

In the week since General Flynn left the building, President Trump has had to settle for his third pick for National Security Advisor – since his first 2 choices turned him down (which is hugely unusual for such a prestigious post)…

…And, the White House has been haemorrhaging staff and advisors (reported as getting on for 20 folks in the last week alone) through a combination of resignations, firings and reassignments.

Truth is, discord, dissent, and upset seem to abound.

And this begs a question, what can President Trump do to turn the ship around and win the respect and support he needs to pursue his agenda?

Time will tell. But, in the meantime, here’s the moral of today’s story: Be careful with matches and setting fires. If not managed well, they can get out of control and cause untold, unintended, and sometimes irreparable consequences.

If you’d like to learn how to tell a better story for you or your business, contact me at I’ll be delighted to help you.


Photo credit: Gage Skidmore










About Eamonn O'Brien

Public speaking master, Eamonn O'Brien is the founder of The Reluctant Speakers Club.