“I am not a witch!” Tea Party Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell held a news conference this week to introduce her “I am not a witch” campaign ads. She admitted that she dabbled in witchcraft at a younger age, and now her critics are taking advantage of the admission. Her response is a PR person’s worst nightmare.
Why, oh why would she create a political ad to promote this message, and why would her manager allow her to do it? By sending out this message – and giving it a campaign priority, O’Donnell has broken one of the top rules of PR — never repeat a negative. Richard Nixon broke the rule: “I am not a crook.” Mayor Richard M. Daley did it: “I am not a wimp.” And now O’Donnell. Responding to a negative question with a negative answer only reinforces in the mind of the listener that you really ARE what you say you AREN’T! The negative sticks to you.
By putting out this ad, and making it her message, her problem didn’t go away. It just got worse. I, like many people, didn’t pay attention to the details of her background. I was amused by her candidacy, but I wouldn’t have cared, because I’m not voting for her.
Now, she’s allowed her campaign to become even more of a circus act than it already was. I’ll follow her now, just for the entertainment value of witnessing her next PR blunder.
How might she have responded to questions about her past interest in witchcraft? She could have responded “I’ve already answered questions about that, and it’s not relavent today, when so many other challenges are facing our country.” Or she might have said, “I’m sure all of us regret some of our youthful indiscretions, and my campaign is about finding answers to our problems, and not looking back.”
Is that a sincere answer? Probably not, but it would have saved her from the damaging headlines and the lingering story. Heck, just as she announced “I am not a witch,” a new doll manufacturer came out with the Christine O’Donnell action figure, and guess what, she’s dressed as a witch!
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