It’s Not About Plagiarism

Let’s get this out of the way: the kerfuffle over Melania Trump’s speech is silly and we should all move along.

But what is instructive is how an organization, in this case the Trump Campaign, managed, or more accurately, mismanaged, it’s communications over the last two-and-a-half days. A solid communications team with a solid crisis communications plan could have nipped this controversy in the bud within a couple hours. How?

Well, first an organization needs a crisis communications plan. Among other elements, the plan would include a list of possible crisis scenarios that might hit a political campaign. Charges of plagiarism would naturally appear on that list, since a number of prominent politicians have been dinged with this charge over the years. This was a completely predictable situation (even though with a professional writing team, it would be unlikely).

Second, the plan would develop in advance quick responses to a plagiarism charge that could be shared with news media within minutes. These responses might include describing how speeches for the campaign are written; commitments to originality,  authenticity, and accountability; a promise to investigate and identify any issues promptly;  and a promise to avoid similar problems in the future.

Instead, we got almost 72 hours of circular firing squad, as Trump aides trotted out an ever-shifting series of explanations, deflections, and denials, none of which served the goal of getting the story off of home pages or social media feeds. By the time an underling publicly took responsibility, the story had been cemented in the public consciousness and will likely follow the campaign for some time. (As my beer guy said to me yesterday as I was buying a case, “Is there anyone who actually believes she wrote that speech?”)

Hey, maybe that won’t make any difference. If nothing else, the Trump campaign has proved itself immune from self-inflicted wounds.

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