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What PR Pros Can Learn from the James Comey Firing

Just months after praising FBI director James Comey for having the “guts” to re-open the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails, President Trump fired him — and it’s a textbook case in anticipating a PR crisis even if you don’t think it’ll happen.

The Trump administration announced Comey’s firing late in the day on Tuesday, assuming it wouldn’t result in much immediate media attention. Except it did. It spurred a backlash among critics, leaving President Trump — as Peter Baker, chief White House correspondent for The New York Times said on yesterday’s “The Daily” podcast — with “nobody defending him.”

Baker suggested the White House didn’t have a communications strategy, adding “suddenly they have to go back out in public to try to balance out the discussion.”

So what did the Trump administration do wrong? Everything.

  1. They forgot we live in a world with a 24/7 news cycle. Even if the news broke overnight, we’d still wake up to a firestorm of tweets that would have erupted almost immediately. There are reporters who work the graveyard shifts. No matter when you make an announcement, however big or small, you need to be prepared to respond.
  2. They failed to anticipate the news value. Comey is the guy who has been blamed for potentially costing Clinton the president election and, as of late, he’s been leading the investigation into whether or not Russia interfered in the 2016 election. If anyone that high profile gets fired, it’s going to get attention.
  3. It was poor timing. Not that there’s ever a good time to fire a high-ranking person, but countless media outlets are reporting that Comey asked for additional resources for the Russia investigation just days before he was fired. The Trump administration denied the two were related, but it’s all just seems too convenient.
  4. It lacked a consistent message. The White House initially stated President Trump fired Comey following a recommendation from the Department of Justice. But yesterday, Trump told NBC News he was going to fire Comey “regardless of the recommendation.”