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Eric Dezenhall On The GOP and Crisis PR In Cleveland

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Eric Dezenhall is the author of Glass Jaw and one of D.C. most esteemed crisis PR specialists.  His firm handles meltdowns (as well as the standard forms of PR and media training.) So I asked him today what the GOP ought to be doing now to ready itself for (10 an open convention with many ballots, and (2) violence in the streets brought by professional disrupters of the sort that have broken up Donald Trump’s rallies.)




HH: Mitt Romney endorsed Ted Cruz. That means Ted Cruz will definitely win Utah. He may come back in Arizona, though Donald Trump is favored there. We’ll talk more about that next hour with Chuck Todd. But it also means the likelihood of an open convention grows even greater than it was yesterday, and it was big yesterday. And an open convention means a lot of chaos, and at the same time, in the streets of Cleveland, outside agitators and protester such have plagued Donald Trump all over the country will be gathering there. There is likely to be violence and demonstrations, maybe even a riot in the streets. If you know all that going in, what do you do if you’re Reince Priebus and the RNC? I thought I would ask Eric Dezenhall. He’s a columnist, he’s the author, his book, Glass Jaw, is must-reading for anyone who wants to know about crisis PR. He’s the president of Dezenhall Resources, and he’s been a guest on the program before. Eric, welcome back to the Hugh Hewitt Show.

ED: Thanks, Hugh.

HH: Eric, given all that I just said, Reince Priebus calls you up. What do you think that the GOP ought to be doing to get ready for what could be chaos in Cleveland?

ED: Well, I think that the first thing you have to do is define what success would look like. I think that you know, there’s a lot that they can’t control, but I think one of the things that I say to most clients in tough situations is keep in mind that no matter what you do, it will be declared a debacle, because that is now, we now have this peculiar me environment where you have a crisis, you have the response to the crisis, and then you have the pundits declare the crisis to have been mismanaged. So you have to go into it knowing that. The second point is the best crisis management is unseen. You know, the Secret Service is not stupid. Law enforcement authorities are not stupid. There are going to be a lot of things that are going to happen that we will never see – infiltrations, legal surveillance, things that will attempt to anticipate what might happen, discussions with certain groups to encourage them to peacefully demonstrate. So there’s a lot of things like that, that the public will never see, that they will do. I think that the final point is there has to be some sort of protocol for dealing with disruptions. Nobody, the law enforcement and the Republican Party doesn’t want people getting hurt, and so they’re going to have to look at the actual tactics that are used, which may include some aggressive things, but the difference was, and then back in the 1960s, there was really not a lot of precedence for these type of protests. We’ve learned a lot. And so I think that you will see protocols in place that may not look pretty, but may be successful in defusing what actually ends up happening on the street. And I’m sure something will happen, because it’s going to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

HH: And Eric Dezenhall, I remember from Glass Jaw, I read it last year when it came out, I recommend everyone get Glass Jaw. You said manage expectations and try and overload with information. If you’re going to have multi ballots, no one really knows what that looks like. What do Sean Spicer and Reince Priebus do? My guess would be they over-communicate from the beginning that there will be many ballots, and it’s not unexpected, and people may be here longer than they think. What do you think?

ED: No, I think that that’s exactly right. I mean, I think part of the problem that I have with the PR industry is there is this instinctive notion that we just want to calm everybody down and say everything is going to be okay. You know, for example, whenever you have an indicted politician, there is always somebody, the politician always says something moronic like I welcome this indictment. I mean, who welcomes an indictment? Nobody. And so you know, sometimes, truth is the best swindle, that to come out and say I think that this could be a mess, I think we could have some real problems, we hope it doesn’t happen, but it may. And I think people need to understand that there is not going to be an overnight solution. There’s going to be an eventual solution, but I think, Hugh, for example, if you look at what happens with a lot of crises in the news, you have a crisis, and then somebody gets on TV and says don’t you think that the CEO of this company needs to resign. The problem is we are assuming that the resolution of crises happens within the news cycle. The truth is that most people, most organizations and corporations do recover from crisis. They just don’t recover by the end of the day. I mean, remember, there were riots in Ferguson. That calmed down, just not right away. And I think the same template will be true of Cleveland.

HH: Now Eric, this is way in the weeds, but I’ve been to enough conventions, and I’ve covered them. They’re usually highly-scripted down to the minute, because one person is in charge of them. Mitt Romney was in charge of 2012, John McCain in charge of 2008, W. in charge of 2000 and 2004. Reince is going to be in charge, the chairman of the RNC. And he has to decide what to do before the balloting begins, and when to begin the balloting, and who’s going to speak. And everyone’s picked up sides except basically me and somebody in Switzerland and somebody in Belgium. And so who would you have open the convention and start talking? I myself believe, but I’m open to being persuaded about this, they ought to get to the balloting immediately to try and fast forward the process as quickly as possible. What does Eric, you might not even have thought about this, yet, and you might start thinking about it, Eric Dezenhall, but what do you think?

ED: Well, look, my instinct, and that’s all it is, is to frontload heartache, because the fact is eventually, it passes. And to the extent that you are able to frontload, I think that that is one of your options. But what you have to keep in mind, Hugh, is one of, as you read Glass Jaw, you probably recall one of the clichés that I criticized, which is the term ‘get ahead of the story’, which is one of those things that sounds wonderful, but absolutely has no meaning or use whatsoever.

HH: Can’t be done, yeah.

ED: It’s basically like saying the way to live a long life is to not die. And so what you have to keep in mind is sometimes attempting to inoculate introduces the virus into the system, and you have something you can’t control. So you know, the idea that you’re going to get ahead of it, just understand that that is a theory, but that’s not, that doesn’t mean that trying to get ahead of it will control it.

HH: But I like that get the heartache over with. That would mean start the balloting and try and conclude it with a couple of days or prime time left to repair it.

ED: That’s right. And the other thing that I would say, and I don’t know as much about conventions as you do, but one of the things you said that is spot on is, which dovetails with something I said as well, which is a lot of the things that are going to happen, people are going to try to negotiate in advance. And to the extent you can go into things trying to figure them out before they happen, and be scripted, you’re better off.

HH: Eric, always a pleasure. I think we’ll be talking often, because the summer of crisis is upon the RNC. In fact, Eric, if I can keep you one more segment, I’d like to ask you about the companies that are sponsoring the conventions. Stay tuned.

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HH: Eric, a lot of companies do a lot of events at conventions. They throw parties, they brand, they contribute, and they do so, because it’s in their best interest to influence this group of elected officials and party movers and shakers, and the candidates themselves. If it’s going to be a mess, what do you say to Coca-Cola? What do you say to Boeing? What do you say to Raytheon? What do you say to any company that’s got a connection to the Cleveland convention?

ED: What I say is the thing you have to understand about companies more than anything is they hate controversy. And you know, despite the fact that Hollywood portrays corporate people as these ruthless troublemakers who can stand up to anything, my experience, 35 years working with big corporations, is they don’t want to be anywhere around controversy. So I think that what you’re going to see is an adjustment of profile. It’s one thing to sponsor something discreetly, quietly, in order to cultivate relationships with political people you want to know. But it’s another thing to be advertising it. And I think that what, there are certainly a lot of conversations happening about how do we sponsor something discreetly, but not necessarily see our banner hanging somewhere, because I just don’t think that, I mean, I don’t know one corporate person who isn’t mortified about Donald Trump, and who wants to be anywhere near him. And I think that one of the things that, the discussions that’s going on in corporations is are we going to be protested? Are we going to have resolutions introduced at annual meetings? Are we going to have boycotts? They just don’t want it. And so what you’re going to see is a much more low key involvement than you might have seen in other conventions.

HH: Unless he’s not likely to win the nomination, right?

ED: I’m sorry?

HH: Unless his momentum crumbles, and Ted Cruz or John Kasich is surging, in which case the brand isn’t so radioactive for the Republicans?

ED: I think that that’s true, but I have to tell you, and this always shocks people when I tell people this. You know, my corporate clients really are very nervous about being associated with Republicans and conservative causes. They like giving to Democrats and more Democratic causes in terms of being public. And people, while there’s no question that small businessmen lean Republican, so much of what I spend my time doing is dealing with corporate clients that want to be embraced, however they can, by the cultural left. And I know it’s counterintuitive, but remember, you know, Mitt Romney wasn’t entirely wrong when he talked about corporations being people. Corporations are made up of people, and a lot of what those people want is to be liked by the culture.

HH: How interesting. More of that at another time. Eric Dezenhall, author of Glass Jaw, president of Dezenhall Resources, thanks for joining us. Follow him on Twitter, @EricDezenhall.

End of interview.


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