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Experts Give Failing Grade to Gov Sanford Presser, with a Chance of Book Deal

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South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford illustrated to the PR world again yesterday that politics is the wildest and wooliest area of communications, and many in it are in great need of expert council.

PRNewser solicited analysis of the elements of Sanford’s press conference, including style, substance, delivery and length. Only one expert gave him a passing grade, barely. None were fans of the length, details of his state of mind, and lack of preparation, though one found him attractive.

Agency head Dorothy Crenshaw called it a study in narcissism, and that it made John Edwards’ confession look like a masterpiece of self-restraint and candor. Attempting to compare the level of drama with the Real Housewives of New Jersey, Crenshaw settles on Evita, “you know, crying & Argentina”.

Top crisis guru Eric Dezenhall went with nuts & bolts advice–get off the stage, achieve the goal of making the situation less bad.

Andy Plesser went the post-Blago route, and found Sanford’s performance excellent…if he wants a book & movie deal.

Fraser Seitel, the man who literally wrote the book on PR, grades it an N/A in the wake of such a huge lie.

Jay Strell graded on a curve, giving the “biblical” meltown a D–no message, no clear idea of audience, an unforgivable dereliction of duty to voters

Full responses are after the jump:


Dorothy Crenshaw, Crenshaw Communications:

I don’t see how it could be anything higher than an F.

He vomited 17 minutes of irrelevant, meandering musings, coupled with apologies to everyone in his life, while spending about a minute disclosing the actual facts.

He broke the cardinal rules of disclosing much of what you shouldn’t ever say–self-justifying details of how the affair started, calling out his kids by name, etc.–and very little of what needed to be said. Okay, he did mention he would resign as head of the Republican Governors Assoc., but left the major questions unanswered: Will he resign as Governor? Did he lie to staff? Did he use taxpayer funds to finance the trips? Is the affair over?

It was a study in narcissism, but more to the point, in PR terms, poor preparation, inarticulate and unclear communication, and disingenuousness. It doesn’t help that it came out that a couple of newspapers (both in SC and Argentina) were ready to run with the story, so he was forced into this “soul-baring” confession.

His performance makes John Edwards’ confession (considered kind of self-indulgent) look like a masterpiece of self-restraint and candor. The only thing he did right was in not dragging his wife there…but then, it’s pretty clear she wouldn’t have come!

The wistfulness and extraneous details were sad, frustrating, and ridiculous. He mentioned being a “bottom-line guy” but then spent 18 minutes essentially trying to run out the clock and avoid answering any tough questions. I think he would have gained far more respect if he had kept the details of the affair private and been prepared to answer some key questions about the political consequences of this – in 5 minutes, no questions. And he could have had the cojones to say he had no plans to resign as Governor, and make his case. Instead, he squandered his opportunity.

But, it was great television – right up there with the Real Housewives of New Jersey! I guess Sanford was more like Evita…you know, crying & Argentina

Eric Dezenhall, Dezenhall Resources, author of Damage Control:

There is absolutely no correlation between the quantity of an apology and the resolution of the crisis. Less is almost always more. As Jerry Seinfeld once said, know when to get off stage. Sanford didn’t.

The first question you ask a client in this situation is what happened? The second question is, what’s your crisis management goal? With something like this, the goal is to make the situation less bad. Sanford won’t be able to save the presidency in 2012, but he may very well be able to serve out his current term and preserve his family.

The big question is: malfeasance or just adultery? If there is a corruption angle, he’ll have a job security problem. If it’s strictly personal, he can serve out his term.

Andy Plesser, Plesser-Holland:

The event was a brilliant set up for book and movie deal he was handsome, dramatic and earnest. Bad for his political career, probably over.

Fraser Seitel, Emerald Partners, author of The Practice of Public Relations:

I have little sympathy for a guy who tells his staff he is hiking in Appalachia when, in fact, he is canoodling in Argentina.

Jay Strell, Sunshine & Sachs:

D, at best.

It was a televised meltdown of biblical proportions. His folksy parsing only added to the surreal nature (as many have pointed out, for the first 5 minutes you didn’t know if he was going to cop to an affair with a man or a woman) of the press conference and further undermined what little credibility he had left.

Secondly, he never addressed the central point that will ultimately drive him out of office—leaving the country with no one in charge. This is a dereliction of duty that Carolinians will likely not forgive.

Resigning from the GOP Governors Association is so inside baseball, most Carolinians probably didn’t even know he was the chair. Means nothing to them.

Lastly, with these types of press conferences or speeches, you have to keep in mind who your audience is and what message you want to get across to them.

There was nothing in there that spoke to the press, voters, legislators or his family. Saying “I’m sorry and I messed up big time and I would like your forgiveness and a second chance.”

[AP photo via TimesOnline]

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