BY QUEEN STEVENSON, PR ASSISTANT
In last week’s blog post, we discussed the PR disasters experienced by singer-songwriter Taylor Swift and wife of presidential hopeful Donald Trump, Melania. Now, we’re in the aftermath of these disasters: their Twitter mentions and Instagram comment sections have cooled, the barrage of memes has slowed; thus, we’re finally in a position to examine what both parties could have done differently.
Problems in Taylor’s Response
The recorded evidence is truly damning for Swift. In her response, she denies any culpability and alleges she never heard the song, and that if she did she would have objected to be called “that bitch.” While the “bitch” lyric is never really expressed in the phone call we hear, Swift does indeed approve of Kanye’s artistic judgment by saying “go with whatever line you think is better.”
We could debate semantics all day, but Swift essentially places her stamp of approval, which makes her later complaint of “being falsely painted as a liar” sound unfair, dishonest and manipulative.
Here’s how T. Swift could have responded better:
- Apology directed to her fans. “I’ve made a commitment in my career and in my artistry to tell stories with my music that builds community and gives everyone permission to be their own selves. I apologize that this commitment has been disrupted and or compromised by my misunderstanding with Kanye and Kim.”
- Statement prioritizing the artistry, not the argument. “Kanye and I are fighting for what we both believe in — opportunity to tell bold, authentic stories in our music. Our like-minded missions came to a head and I could have handled my actions better.”
- Being humble > being defensive. While secretly recording a phone call raises some ethical concerns, the footage doesn’t lie: Swift clearly voiced her acceptance (and even amusement with the inevitability of the media’s involvement) with Kanye West’s choice of lyrics. She lied, and her statement was a desperate scramblefest to cover up said lie. At that point, she could have gone the humble and humorous route: “I apologize to any and everyone I hurt or confused, and from now on I’ll do my very best not to — as Kanye says — distract from anyone’s creative process.”
Problems in Melania Trump’s Response
Like the Taylor Swift situation, Melania Trump surrogates also employed denial — complete and utter denial.
Any mention of the incident came from the campaign and not from Melania herself, who said that she wrote the speech with “little to no help.” Well...
Here's how Melania Trump and her team could have handled this better:
- Immediate accountability. Obviously, first and foremost the staffer to blame should be held accountable. That night and the following days, I think every media outlet was on the witch hunt for a fall guy, or girl, in this case. And a couple days after the speech, the Trump campaign gave them one, a staffer named Meredith McIver.
However, this was AFTER the campaign initially completely ignored any plagiarism claims; instead, Ms. McIver should have issued a statement immediately, putting to bed any uncertainty the public was feeling about who actually was professionally responsible, thereby diminishing the chances of additional damage.
- Personal apology. Since she allegedly wrote the majority of her speech, she should have also been the go-to bearer of the public apology. It could have been via video, press conference or even a written statement, but the most important part is that it should have had Melania’s name on it. For those who ask, “why should she be put through the fire as if she’s running for president herself?” Well, in my opinion, for an address as personal as the one you give on behalf of your husband, an address that essentially introduces you — and your character — to a nation, you should personally be held accountable as well.
- Redirect the conversation back to the core issue. “I’ve made mistakes, but one thing I don’t regret is marrying Donald and committing my life to elect him president in order to restore the great values of safety, security and prosperity that we’re known for — the values that pulled me here and made me want to become a citizen 10 years ago.”
At the end of the day, no one ever wants to be in crisis cleanup mode, but life rolls out the unexpected and as PR pros, we’re left to smooth over the cracks and creases. Ultimately, the element that Swift and Trump’s PR disasters have in common is this: a lack of honesty. This brings to mind a principle that we at MEPR Agency live by: we do not spin. We do not lie. We do not cover up. Real public relations professionals have personal codes of ethics which naturally guide us to clients with company culture that keeps our work and partnership honest, genuine and true. If Taylor Swift and Melania Trump — and their teams — were being more honest with themselves, they would have had a lot less to clean up. Even better, they probably wouldn’t have landed themselves here in the first place.