“Etch A Sketch. Those three little words may become more of a bane to Mitt Romney’s campaign than, say, Bain Capital.” – Frank James, NPR

MittIt’s no secret the public relations arena has changed dramatically with the advent of social media.  After all, we now live in a world where 140 characters or a simple “Quotable Quote” (#QQuote) can make or break a brand in an instant.

For example, a top Mitt Romney aide, Eric Fehrnstrom, famously declared with respect to his candidate’s ability to shift messaging between the Republican party primary and general election (should he become the party nominee), the following short and simple quote:

“I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign. Everything changes. It’s almost like an Etch A Sketch. You can kind of shake it up, and we start all over again.”

His statement instantly became the hottest story in an otherwise highly contentious Republican primary season.  What Fehrnstrom quickly found out, was that his quote impacted more than Mitt Romney’s PR – it ‘shook-up’ Fehrnstrom’s own personal brand AND the personal brand of Martin Killgallon, marketing director for Ohio Arts, which makes Etch A Sketch.

While Fehrnstrom now faces an instantaneous and unexpected degree of professional scrutiny, Ohio Arts’ Martin Killgallon has been ‘saluted’ for his quote:

“We have a left knob and a right knob,” he said of his company’s Etch A Sketch, “so we neutrally speak to both parties.” 

Smooth quote, Martin Killgallon!  Was it just a quote, brilliant PR or a thoughtful “crisis communications” messaged-response?

Let’s compare the quotes: 

  1. “I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign. Everything changes. It’s almost like an Etch A Sketch. You can kind of shake it up, and we start all over again.”
  2. “We have a left knob and a right knob, so we neutrally speak to both parties.”

On a typical day, in a typical conversation, these quotes mean what they say.

Unfortunately, in PR—and especially in political PR—typical days simply don’t exist.  In the world of PR, everything you say can and will be used against or for you (and sometimes others, as in this case); therefore, you need to be ready for anything, and, quite frankly, everything.

So, how does one get ready for anything and everything?

A crisis communications plan can be much like a bulletproof vest — strong, powerful and covers the heart.  While a detailed crisis communications plan requires a great amount of thought and expertise, the following five (5) crisis communications secrets should be kept in mind when the best intentions don’t go according to plan:

  1. Coordinate  with a pre-assigned “Swat Team” that you trust to help you devise the most thoughtful and positive quotes and approach
  2. Monitor, evaluate and respect positive and negative sentiment
  3. Develop Messages with honest and transparent Quotable Quotes
  4. Have a tailored process in place to Manage any crisis to contain negative exposure, visibility, and publicity
  5. Be prepared to Measure the reach via social media channels, media coverage, blog posts and other communications outlets – analyze and learn from the results

Overall, the next time you want to say what you mean, make sure you mean what you say.  Make sense?  If not, ask a PR professional — they just might save you from taking a bullet to your personal brand.

Have you ever been misquoted, quoted out-of-context or regretted a quote?  If so, please share your comments below.