Friday, June 26, 2009

Who Do You Feel Sorry For?

Remember Dina McGreevey, at the time, wife of former New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey, standing next to him at the news conference in which he announced he was “a gay American”?

How about Silda Spitzer, standing beside her husband, former Gov. Eliot Spitzer, at the news conference where he confessed he had been “client 9” to a call girl?

What about Jenny Sanford, estranged wife of South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford?

She was not by his side when he met state house reporters and tearfully admitted “disappearing” to Argentina to see his “dear, dear friend” and lover.

In the corporate world this same thing happens and in some cases the "outed" man gets public attention and in a few cases not.

More and more, a public figure, no matter whether a corporate leader, a politician or another kind of public person will call us or a consulting practice like the Institute for Crisis Management and ask for help.

We were asked a couple of weeks ago if a man should have his wife stand beside him when he made a preemptive public disclosure. My response – “Absolutely not, unless she has something to confess also.”

Think about the subsequent news coverage following McGreevey and Spitzer’s public mea culpa. Neither man really looked repentant and both wives looked like they were absolutely miserable. And, that made their husbands look that much worse.

Gov. Sanford and Nevada Senator John Ensign do get credit for taking the “gotcha” out of the story and pre-empting someone else from making the disclosure. That still doesn’t mean they will escape with their careers, and certainly their reputations are seriously damaged.

In recent years, we have advised more than one public person how to minimize the damage from their own mistakes. The ones that listened, and did the “right thing,” didn’t get off without some pain, but they saved their careers. Those who thought they were untouchable or the public wouldn’t care or they could control their wives’ reactions were very, unpleasantly surprised.

I hate it when we make the correct call and clients do not take our advice.

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