Hillary Clinton’s brand has taken an indisputable beating this past week. As polls are beginning to show her now trailing multiple GOP candidates, and even her own political party competition Sen. Bernie Sanders in New Hampshire, the previous inevitability of her party’s nomination seems all but gone, and she and her presidential campaign staff are now in damage control.
But as any business owners who rely on the media for brand recognition know all too painfully well, healing a broken brand in 2015 just isn’t what it was only 2 or 3 decades ago. This could blow over really quickly for the Clinton campaign, or it could force her out of the race for President in 2016, again really quickly.
As a quick recap, Ms. Clinton, as Secretary of State, had used a personal email address for government communications, and stored her emails on a private email server located in one of her homes. Although the legality of government communications taking place on private email addresses is disputable and certainly evolving over the past few years, what everyone seems to agree on is that nobody should store classified, top-secret information at home on a private server.
Federal investigators now claim that Ms. Clinton stored highly classified information on her private server, despite her claims that there was no classified information on it. So she is now accused of lying to federal investigators.
And here is where the ramifications of brand management in 2015 come in. Consider the following:
- The classified information, according to Ms. Clinton, WASN’T classified when she stored it … a possibly relevant detail
- She has refused to turn over the email server to Congressional investigators, but is now turning it over to the Justice Department … also a relevant detail
- She has generally steadfastly refused to grant media interviews, until very recently
- The interviews she has permitted have been perceived as highly staged, with very restrictive participation
- Media consumers in 2015 are now accustomed to very, very short bursts of information before something else attracts their attention. This can make it extremely difficult for anyone or any organization needing brand rehabilitation, as the public is no longer accustomed to learning details that may very well publicly vindicate the organization or person
20 or 30 years ago, only the results of an investigation would offer Ms. Clinton the opportunity for legal vindication. After legal vindication, she would then have to tell anyone willing to listen (which would include aggressively pursuing media interviews instead of avoiding them as she has been doing) that she was legally vindicated.
But it is 2015, not 1985. Today, her brand will recover … or at least positively morph … in one of 3 ways:
- If some other scandal involving anyone but her becomes salacious enough to distract her potential voters, causing them to forget her troubles. The media message consumers get in this case is “Yeah, she may be bad. But she’s not nearly as bad as XXXXXXX.”
- If media consumers break current trends and actually study into the details of her alleged misdeeds ..,. providing that she is innocent of committing said misdeeds.
- If she can aggressively, and frequently, speak to anyone who will listen to explain the details – again, providing the details clear her of criminal activity. This would involve a very big change in her behavior over the past year.
Lesson for each of us: To keep your brand positive, be as transparent as possible with any activities that affect your client’s decision to use you, and if you aren’t transparent, hope and pray that your competition does something even worse.