Bad press is a fact of life in politics. No matter how squeaky clean a candidate is, his or her opponent will usually hit the candidate – every candidate – with some perceived past indiscretion, view, statement taken out of context or other item intended to raise the candidate’s negatives.
Bad press can arise because of what you did (or didn’t) say or do, or because you hold an unpopular belief about one issue, are in some way different than the electorate, or because of something a friend or family member did or said. Because bad press happens to almost every candidate in almost every election, it is imperative that your campaign be prepared to handle the issues before they come up.
The single best thing your campaign can do to be ready for negative campaigning and bad press when they come up is to prepare before the campaign even begins. As part of the planning process, the candidate should sit down with a select group of trusted advisors to discuss what negative issues may come up during the campaign.
Discuss these negatives openly and honestly, and decide on the best course of action. Should the campaign announce the issue early, to get it out in the open on your own terms? Should you try to quash the issue? Do you need to do more research on the issue specifics?
Once you determine the best course of action for each possible negative issue, determine the campaign’s response to each issue – a well-thought out paragraph or two that explains your side and moves the issue to the background. Even if you decided that the campaign should “sit” on the issue, waiting to see if it comes out in the future, be prepared… devise your response now, before you need it, so that you aren’t forced to strategize in the heat of battle.
Get Out in Front
When an issue does come out… either through your opponent’s negative campaigning, a media story, or a campaign slip-up, get out in front of it. Many campaigns make the mistake of hiding from bad press, thinking that it will eventually blow over and they can then get back to the “real campaign.” This strategy rarely works. When bad press strikes, gather your team, review your response, and get out there and address the issue. Deny it, clarify it, admit and explain it… whatever the correct course of action, do it! Don’t sit in the wings waiting for the issue to be forgotten – it rarely is, at least not without doing major damage to your candidate and his or her reputation.
Bring it Back to Your Message
No matter what your response is to the issue at hand – whether you admit a past indiscretion, deny a past statement, or publicly rebuke a wayward friend, once you get through your response, bring it back to your campaign message. No matter the issue, your candidate’s job is to get out in front, explain the issue, and then move everyone – the media, the voters, your opponent – back to the campaign, and back to focusing on your own campaign’s vision and message. Get people back to thinking about the issues that matter, and away from thinking about the negative issue. The sooner you can do that, the sooner you can move away from the bad press and get back to generating positive headlines.
Speaking of dealing with the political press, do you know The #1 Rule for Getting Press Coverage for Your Campaign?