GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney has just concluded his highly visible international tour with stops in the U.K, Israel and Poland. Officially, his team has been quick to label the tour a success and portray the governor as a leader of international proportions. Unofficially – and all politics aside – it was a rocky road for the candidate, at least when viewed through a communication and media relations lens. Domestic and international media coverage of the trip reminds those of us in the business that words – when, where and how they are used – still very much matter.
By any measure, Mr. Romney was tripped up in London when he suggested security preparations for the Olympic Games were ‘disconcerting.’ He reportedly had a few other gaffes, too, but the Olympic remark generated international media buzz of the not-so-positive kind. The British press (those leaning left, right and in between), the Prime Minister and the gaffe-prone London mayor himself have all had a field day lampooning the governor in public, some going so far as to judge his various misspeaks on an Olympic scale of 1 to 10. There we no 10s. Lesson: Do not offend your hosts and choose your words wisely.
Things didn’t get any easier in Jerusalem when an economic comparison Mr. Romney was making about the Israeli and Palestinians went awry and angered the assembled Palestinian leaders. Lesson: Remember your audience’s sensitivities and choose your words wisely.
What can only be described as a complete communication meltdown, however, occurred in Warsaw when a member of Romney’s communication team snapped at reporters to ‘shove it’ and ‘kiss my a**’ as they pleaded with the governor to take a few on-the-fly questions. Turns out, the candidate took only three questions from the traveling press over an entire six-day period. Lessons: Choose your words wisely, do not offend the press regardless of what they might do, do not invite press to an event and then ignore them, do not become a part of the story by upstaging your boss (or client).
If one skipped the analysis and just looked at headlines from the trip, the perception would not be good. They included ‘Was Trip Success or Gaffe-Filled Disaster?,’ ‘Trip Did More Harm than Good,’ ‘Romney’s International Stumble,’ ‘Bad Headlines for Romney,’’ After Gaffe-Filled Foreign Trip Europe Asks Is Mitt Romney A Loser?,’ and a real zinger in ‘Mitt the Twit.’ Yikes!
Despite this unrelenting negative barrage, chances are the public will soon forget about the reported stumbles. They sting nonetheless. It’s likely that we have all received a headline we really didn’t want at some point in our career. It actually pained me to think of the Romney team sitting around pondering ‘what happened to our media strategy?’ Until, that is, when the over- zealous press aide barked at the reporters. That was not cool.
To those of us who have both the opportunity and responsibility to interact with the media, we know it never pays to insult them, or say the wrong thing, or say nothing to them at all, especially when we rely on them to help us tell our stories. And, as Mr. Romney’s trip reminds us, their stories are only as good as the content we provide them.
What about you? Has your media strategy ever not gone as planned? What lessons did you learn?