PR lessons learned from the Justice Department’s search of Mar-a-Lago

by | Sep 6, 2022 | Analysis, Public Relations

For decades I’ve been telling PR agency people that they can learn a lot about media relations by paying close attention to the political scene. Why do I know that is true? Because my first job in our business was with a political PR firm, where I worked on local, statewide and presidential campaigns. The owner of that firm tragically died very young and I decided to move on to other aspects of public relations. If that kind, caring and creative person did not die my career patch might have been different…

There’s no doubt that following political PR tactics will provide lessons not learned in the cookie-cutter communications schools. That’s because political PR pros have to react at a moment’s notice, unlike agency and non-profit communicators that take meetings before coming to a decision.

I’ve been following the Justice Department’s affidavit story closely and in this post I’ll provide some mistakes that Trump advocates made and that PR people should remember.

Their biggest mistake was to emulate the Aesop Fable tale of “The Boy Who Cried Wolf”

Instead of simply denying that he did anything wrong, Trump took to the offensive and said that what the justice department was doing to him was similar to a public hanging

He also labeled the FBI search at Mar-a-Logo a raid even though it was no such thing.  It was a legitimate search sanctioned by a federal magistrate. He also accused the FBI of planting evidence.

Perhaps Trump’s biggest mistake was calling for the affidavit to be made public because when parts of it were released it made the case against the former president stronger.

Trump’s actions remind me of when Boeing and Wells Fargo attempted to blame others during the early days of their crises. Pointing fingers didn’t work then and it doesn’t work now.

There are several important PR lessons to be learned from this saga

Never make a statement that can easily be proven not to be true. Example:  Trump spokespeople said that the General Services Administration was responsible for the boxes sent to Mar-a-Lago, which the agency promptly denied.

Despite Trump’s claim that the search warrant was not necessary because he was cooperating with the National Archives, government documents showed the opposite.

History shows that accusing others of playing dirty when your client is under investigation will most likely backfire.

During a PR crisis investigation, its best to have attorneys make public statements because chief executives behave like they can do no wrong

No matter how the accused person or entity attacks the crisis investigators it doesn’t change the outcome. The facts will win out.

The above also applies to attacks complaining that the media coverage is biased

Delaying tactics usually backfire. They result in the rehashing of negative media coverage.

Every false statement an individual or entity in a PR crisis disseminates will result in additional negative media coverage.

When a PR crisis is being investigated by the government, it’s best to cooperate because governments have unlimited resources that they can use.

And unless the accused can prove that they are innocent of the charges, the best strategy is remaining quiet.

Arthur Solomon
Arthur Solomon, a former journalist, was a senior VP/senior counselor at Burson-Marsteller, and was responsible for restructuring, managing and playing key roles in some of the most significant national and international sports and non-sports programs. He also traveled internationally as a media adviser to high-ranking government officials. He now is a frequent contributor to public relations publications, consults on public relations projects and was on the Seoul Peace Prize nominating committee. He has been a key player on Olympic marketing programs and also has worked at high-level positions directly for Olympic organizations. During his political agency days, he worked on local, statewide and presidential campaigns. He can be reached at arthursolomon4pr (at) juno.com.