As complicated as crisis communications can be, there remain some basics all of us who have lived through one, or more, know. Two things to always remember: Don’t say today what you’ll regret tomorrow and everything you say today is being recorded.
When you violate those, you will probably meet karma and, well, we all know what karma can do. Case in point: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
In May, DeSantis ripped into the media in a tirade about how wrong they were about the virus affecting Florida. According to multiple media reports of that encounter, he said: “So any insinuation otherwise is just typical, partisan narrative trying to be spun and part of the reason is that you've got a lot of people in your profession who waxed poetically for weeks and weeks about how Florida was going to be just like New York. Wait two weeks, Florida is going to be next. Just like Italy, wait two weeks.' Well hell, we're eight weeks away from that and it hasn't happened!”
Oops. Florida is now one of the virus hot spots in the nation. Since July 1, Florida has had more than 47,000 cases, including more than 11,000 on July 4. Sadly, since his comments, more than 1,600 have died in Florida. His remarks were, to say the least, premature and are a classic example of saying things that will either prove not to be true or make it appear you are trying to blame others. The media didn’t wax poetically, it reported what scientists and others were saying was going to happen. And it did.
DeSantis is not the only elected official to make this mistake. That has especially been true during the COVID-19 pandemic. For example:
· Multiple officials have repeatedly said the virus is under control. It isn’t.
· Multiple officials have said it was only a few cases. It’s now more than 2.9 million in the U.S.
· Multiple officials have said it’s not as deadly as the flu. More than 129,000 have died from it in the U.S.
· Multiple officials have said heat will kill it. The virus is spiking in Florida, Texas and Arizona, states known for their extreme heat.
· Multiple officials have said the economy is roaring back. The stock market is down 3,000 points from its high in January and nearly 18 million people are unemployed.
All of these statements are now available online and, as with DeSantis, are coming back like the Ghost of Christmas Past to highlight their mistakes. All public figures, especially those in very high profile and/or elected positions, need to think about what they say because those recordings will last long after there are in their positions. But, while they are in their offices, they can be used against them in our current fractured and divided nation.
As an objective observer, I had to wonder where are these leaders’ advisors? People like us who are there to ask the hard questions, point out the potential problems with such comments, and, in some cases, to ask as the conscience of the organization.
Sometimes the hardest part of our jobs is to tell our bosses no. No, saying making that comment is not a good idea. No, that doesn’t help our organization. No, you are not going to look good if you do that.