PR Tip: When Your Rival Trips, Take The High Road

Posted in PR by David Oates

It’s been entertaining from a PR standpoint to watch both the Republican and Democratic National Conventions, but not for the rhetoric. Instead, I’ve been fascinated about how both camps have responded when the other stumbled. They have been excellent examples of what business should and - more important - should NOT do when a competitor gets embroiled in a controversy.

Here’s what I mean. If you recall, Melania Trump, the current wife of GOP Presidential Nominee Donald Trump, got called out for plagiarizing a portion of First Lady Michelle Obama’s 2008 Democratic National Convention speech in her remarks in Cleveland last week. This would have been an easy one for the Hillary Clinton camp to pounce on. They didn’t. Instead, this was the response from the White House:

But when now former DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz was forced to resign amidst an email scandal that emerged after the party’s hacked servers revealed a high-level strategy to prevent U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders from becoming the nominee, Mr. Trump decided to weigh in on the matter.

What followed was a melee of inquires to the Trump-Pence campaign that now had to answer questions relating to their nominee’s intent in calling for Russia to conduct a cyber attack against prominent U.S. political figures. The ensuing media circus took the spotlight off the Democrats who were reeling from what was a significant misstep at arguably the worst time of the campaign.

Let this serve as a lesson to business leaders. When a competitor is dealing with a crisis, a natural reaction will be to take advantage of the situation. Resist that temptation. Your rivals are most likely doing a great job of stubbing their own toe. Don’t try and add fuel to that fire. You’ll run a great risk of getting yourself burned in the process.

About David Oates

David Oates, APR, is Founder and President of Stalwart Communications, a Pay-On-Performance PR and Marketing Agency. He possesses 20 years of extensive experience directing marketing and public relations programs on a tactical and strategic level through a long and successful career that spans both agency, corporate and military environments. David is an accredited public relations expert affiliated with the Public Relations Society of America. He can be reached at
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