PR Lessons From the Imploding Weiner Campaign

By Bill Huey

(This column first appeared at O’Dwyer PR on April 14, 2013)

As the Anthony Weiner campaign trudges along — leaking vital fluids like a soldier in Napoleon’s army at the Russian front — some important lessons (and eternal verities) are emerging. They don’t all have to do with communication, but certainly have a lot to do with effective PR.

Here are five lessons we can learn from the Weiner campaign thus far:

1.    Fix Yourself First — Whether it’s narcissism, addiction, sexual compulsion, or simply an unlikable trait that can be corrected, fix it before presenting yourself as a candidate. We’re all human, but the higher the office, the greater the scrutiny. That’s why Eliot Spitzer chose to run for Comptroller of New York City, an obscure but important office that will put him back on the path to public service and political rehabilitation.

2.    Don’t Use Surrogates — You are the candidate. Not your wife, your campaign advisor, or your media consultant. Stand up there and show you can take the flak. After, being mayor of the most important city in the world is no walk in the park, and if you should win, people aren’t going to want to hear from your aides. They want YOU. 

3.    Don’t Whine About Media Coverage (an eternal verity) — Weiner was on last night whining about how the media only want to cover negative stuff. Be thankful you have any coverage at all, instead of just stand-ups and B-roll. And for God’s sake, don’t start in about “style over substance,” especially when you don’t have much substance yourself.

4.    Be Humble (eternal verity deux)—When you’ve been slapped down but given another chance to show you’ve changed, be humble. Show you can control your emotions and listen to people without calling them names like “grandpa” or making fun of their foreign accents. After all, New York is a city of immigrants, and you’re not exactly descended from Peter Stuyvesant.

5.    Offer a Plan, Not Just Yourself — When you are obviously a flawed character, you need to make the campaign about issues that matter, not just about you. Yes, the media want to ignore that, but if you keep talking about issues they will have no choice except to listen and report.

What can you do to make things better, or simply continue them as they are? What is being overlooked? Hunger, vaccinations, hurricane victims, storm preparedness in general? There must be a least a dozen issues from which to choose. Pick three and stay with them until the bitter end.

Nothing can save Anthony Weiner’s campaign, but if you are ever advising someone trying to make a comeback, it might serve you well to remember these lessons.

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Bill Huey is president of Strategic Communications, a corporate communications and marketing consultancy, and author of “Carbon Man,” a novel about greed.