Has Trump Changed the Crisis Rules Forever?



Candidate blows through golden rules of Apologize, Take Ownership and Make Amends


Wherever your vote is going on Tuesday November 8th, it has been fascinating watching the two candidates’ very different approaches to handling their campaign challenges.

Clinton’s main issue is clearly her decision to use a private email server during her time as Secretary of State with the consequent lack of clarity about the content of the emails, where they are now and who might have hacked her system to read them.

Register Now! Email Course: 5 Steps to Operationalizing Your Crisis Management  Plans

Her approach has been – for the large part – straight out of the crisis management 101 textbook.

In summary – “I apologize, I clearly made a mistake, I co-operated with the authorities and an investigation cleared me of the most extreme accusations made by my critics. I have learned a lesson and we move on”.

Trump’s issues have been many, too many to include here, but the highlights include the legal action against Trump University, the apparent mocking of POWs, people with disabilities and anyone overweight, the conduct of the Trump Foundation and the tapes of his ‘locker room’ conversation with Billy Bush which only added to the perception that he has a poor attitude to women and even that he condones sexual assault as long as you are a celebrity.

Only the last one of these issues produced anything resembling an apology, but it was half-hearted, took no real responsibility for the words and was used as an on-ramp for an unprecedented attack on his opponent using her husband’s alleged activities from 20 years ago.

By the old rules, Trump’s campaign should have been buried.

Yet, the day after the Presidential debate in St Louis on October 9th, during which Trump broke all the crisis rules, no less a publication than the Wall Street Journal, headed its front page story, ‘A Reeling Trump Regains Footing’.

So is Trump re-writing the rules for all of us?

Should the leaders of Wells Fargo just have reminded everyone that they make billions of dollars of profit each year, so they clearly know how to run a bank better than any congressman?

That newspapers keep going out of business, so clearly journalists have no idea how to make money – so why don’t they fix that rather than attack Wells Fargo?

And regulators would be in business making a lot more money if they were any good at it?

I am pretty sure this would not have worked for Wells Fargo.

In fact, I cannot think of any feasible instance in any recent crisis that the apparent guilty party would have been better off going on the attack, questioning the character of its accusers and asserting that its success shielded the organization from any scrutiny from ‘loser’ outsiders with lesser track records.

The concept of ‘the exception that proves the rule’ was created by Cicero when he was defending the Roman politician, Lucius Cornelius Balbus.

How ironic.

The rule for all of us is that we still need to have our crisis plans prepared just in case, have well trained crisis teams at the ready and the plans available at a moment’s notice via a mobile app.

The exception that proves the rule exists is Donald Trump.

 Find out more about the author by visiting www.thehatcliffegroup.com


About The Author

Mike Hatcliffe is founder and president of The Hatcliffe Group, a reputation, issues and crisis consultancy. Previously, Mike spent nearly 25 years with two of the world's leading PR agencies. Most recently, he spent 10 years at Ogilvy, as managing director of its US corporate practice, and before that 14 years with Ketchum in both the US and the UK. Mike has worked on crisis and reputation assignments with a range of blue chip companies, leaders in their fields, including LG Electronics, Wells Fargo, Carlsberg, Zebra Technologies, CDW, Quintiles, Rockwell Automation, Unilever, Pepsico, Deloitte, Grant Thornton and HSBC.