Today Toronto Mayor Rob Ford finally admitted that he has smoked crack cocaine. Having dodged media questions for more than six months, issued repeated denials there was a video of him smoking crack, that he had used crack and that he had a substance abuse issue, and accused the media of being out to get him today we saw a clearly contrite Ford acknowledging that he has smoked crack on at least one occasion.
From a PR perspective the crack is now a side-issue. It’s a serious issue, but had Ford done what he has done today when the allegations first surfaced he wouldn’t find himself in the mess he does today. Had he provided clear, honest answers, accepted that there was a video, that he had a substance problem and taken a leave of absence to take care of his personal problems he would have killed the story. He could have dealt with the problems away from the spotlight and worked with his advisers on a strategy to return to city hall and run for a second term as Mayor.
What are the lessons that entrepreneurs can learn from Rob Ford?
First – get ahead of the story. Had Ford admitted there was a chance the rumors of a video were true, that he has an alcohol problem and taken an immediate leave of absence he would have avoided the media feeding frenzy that has descended on him and City Hall over the last six months.
Second – be specific. Vague arguments or semantics will only encourage the media to seek clarity. Had Rob Ford been specific about, what he is now saying is a single use of crack cocaine, it would have avoided the media speculation.
Third – change the story. An admission that he had smoked crack cocaine, had a substance problem and was taking a leave of absence to seek help would have meant the story would have quickly moved on from him smoking crack. There is no long-term story in a man who is seeking treatment for a substance abuse problem.
Fourth – the truth will likely be known. It might not be immediately, but – like Lance Armstrong found out – repeated denials, threats and protestations of innocence only make the situation worse when the truth does eventually emerge.
Read more about Rob Ford’s PR and Media ‘Strategies’