Source: Chicago Tribune
The stories involving Republican Presidential candidate Herman Cain concerning allegations of sexual harrassment are falling into a predictable pattern. They also provide a lesson or two on crisis communications.
First, Cain was on the defensive, saying he was falsely accused. Later, in a series of media interviews, Cain offered shifting accounts of what he says happened while he was president of the National Restaurant Association. He also said at first that he knew nothing about any settlements with his two female accusers, then said one of the cases may have been for two or three months' salary.
If neither woman comes forward publicly, which appears to be unlikely since they reportedly signed confidentiality agreements, the controversy could blow over in a few days. Cain could even find support among many Republican voters who are quick to blame the media.
However, the crisis communications and public relations lesson from Cain's controversy is that saying nothing often makes things worse. Politico, which broke the story, said that Cain and his campaign had repeatedly declined to respond to questions about the allegations over the 10 days leading up to its first report.
A second point is that shifting accounts of what happened always erode one's credibility. Cain should have gathered all of the facts and searched his memory so that he could give a clear, consistent response, no matter how unpleasant. The public often cares more about how you respond than they do about the original issue.
A crisis may or may not be of your own making. Your opponent or competitor may be behind the claims. But, the questions don't go away just because you'd rather not answer them.