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Torossian: Making a Comeback From a PR Crisis — What’s Next for Al Gore?

While it’s always a relief to be cleared of criminal allegations, for high-profile leaders like Al Gore, an acquittal in the court of law does not imply a similar outcome by the court of public opinion.

[IMGCAP(1)]We tend to remember public figures for their mishaps and embarrassments.

Unfortunately, the media don’t always hold an “innocent until proven guilty” stance like they do when allegations first come out. In fact, some of you may have followed Portland’s sexual harassment story but not heard of Portland’s court decision to close the case. The decision was just not as “newsworthy” as the story itself.

So how should the former vice president go about clearing his name in the “court of public opinion”? Now that Gore’s been officially cleared of charges, and with sour legal issues behind him, he needs to make a major public appearance: a major “softball” interview in a selected media outlet.

Gore’s been cleared in the court of law — and kudos to his lawyers for that — but now it’s time for his PR game to follow suit. In his interview, he needs to share his bewilderment with false accusations, the harm done to the “Gore” brand, and the harm done to his personal brand, too. Now it’s up to Gore to go on national TV and take a front-line spot to make a strong statement for his brand name.

Individual brands build strong associations in the minds of the general public — both positive and negative. Gore maintained a clean reputation during the Clinton years in the White House. He was seen as the well-focused Harvard scholar and photojournalist who attended the Vietnam battlefields and was later titled “founder of the Internet.” More recently, however, Gore became the “ambassador of global warming,” known to speak all around the world with extraordinary interest and enthusiasm on the dangers of this environmental phenomenon. Now is a critical time to determine his next brand association. It is up to him to decide where his reputation goes from here.

Here are some practical ways to recover from a crisis:

1. Break the silence: Strategically attract a top-tier media organization for a “softball” interview. This will get the attention necessary to put a positive spin on the resolved case, identify how easy it is to make false accusations, and show how baffled you were by the accuser’s actions.

2. Make factual points: For example, the public was not present in the interrogation rooms. Only a few among the media mentioned that the allegedly harassed woman failed a polygraph test or that the case was closed for conflicting details in her testimony. Consider sharing these details to make a basic point of “knowing the facts” before making any judgments.

3. Present your new “you”: So what’s next on your agenda? How will the public benefit from your service to the country, the environment or any other cause you choose to promote. Make sure the public wants your name to be cleared — because you act for and represent the public’s best interest. Attract sympathy and support showing you’re willing to find new energies.

4. Inspire: The public loves comeback stories, so give them one. Make the private viewer relate to you by telling how this was a learning experience and how we all face ups, downs and crises in our lives, which only need to strengthen us in our different directions.

5. Replace the news items under “Al Gore”: PR news crises of the sexual kind are particularly hard to control and they don’t fade quickly. Internet searches will bring up results covering this humiliating topic, but it’s only true up until you provide some new items that relate to your true actions. Tiger Woods had to wait to replace his mess with the U.S. Open scores and achievements. Your brand is associated with many more aspects of life, giving you the leverage to relate to various issues. Make sure to strategically bring us new news.

It’s not easy to recover from a PR crisis, but public figures can apply professional communication strategies to make, and even remake, their positive reputation. Every crisis is also an opportunity.

Ronn Torossian is president and CEO of the public relations firm 5WPR.

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