The two most influential newspapers in the country — the New York Times and Wall Street Journal — couldn’t have disagreed more. (I’m referring to their supposedly unbiased news columns, not their expectedly biased editorial/opinion pages.)
Two days before the presidential election, both carried online maps breaking down their estimates of the Electoral College vote — the only tally that really counts. One had Barack Obama a virtual shoo-in with only a few battlegrounds. The other had Obama holding the slimmest lead and Mitt Romney gaining steadily, with an extensive list of toss-ups. When the dust had settled, the long list of toss-ups was unrealistic.
The same tendency of wishful thinking continued into election day. Several hours before Ohio’s polls closed, the Cincinnati Enquirer posted a template election-results page on its website claiming Romney was leading the state by a significant margin — an oopsie it quickly retracted. Shortly after 9PM EST, the WSJ moved a news alert — “Romney Wins Michigan.” Five minutes later, it issued a correction — “Obama Wins Michigan.” (Both papers endorsed Romney.)
You heard the same tune from the talking heads — the political commentariat. The more aligned they were with either side, the more their predicted outcome favored their desired candidate.
All this comes under the heading of letting your desires color your judgment. It may be comforting in the short term. But it only works until a situation reaches its inevitable conclusion. Then all bets must be paid.
Wishful thinking isn’t an option in Crisis & Reputation Management. You must assess the situation and the client’s options without emotion from the get-go. You must tell the client what he needs to hear, not what he wants to hear. If things occasionally turn out better than hoped, it’s gravy. But if you’ve done your job properly, that’s rare.
The best way to keep a client happy is to be realistic upfront. Don’t sugar-coat the prospects. The best way to disappoint is to over-promise and under-deliver.
“Because Reputation Is Your Most Valuable Asset”
Gillott Communications is a Los Angeles-based public relations firm that specializes in high-stakes Crisis & Reputation Management. If you don’t already subscribe, please sign up for our blog Insights on High-Stakes PR. You can reach Roger Gillott directly at 310-826-8696.