road-44143_1280During the primary campaign, I wrote about the masterful job of PR that the Trump campaign conducted – and even when they weren’t doing things right they didn’t seem to take any heat for it.

For a campaign that seemingly couldn’t do anything wrong, the launch into the limelight of the Republican National Convention exposes a group that can’t do anything right. It’s like what happens with a lot of companies who plod along doing an adequate or even good job of keeping their image on the positive end of the scale but blow up when the lights get too bright or they are hit by a crisis.

The Trump campaign hit both bumps in the road last night when the candidate’s wife, Melania gave what was a pretty impassioned speech before the delegates. The trouble started when it seemed that some passages of her speech mimicked a similar address from current First Lady Michelle Obama in 2008.

So many of these speeches sound the same and use the same themes. And perhaps it can be argued that they merely used similar words to describe similar experiences, but unfortunately for the Trump campaign it wasn’t that simple to explain away. So what went wrong?

  1. Calling the speechwriter, please come to the podium. Really, what were the speechwriters thinking at such a pivotal moment that could have been a huge win for the Trump campaign, you have to make sure that you have checked everything. Every. Thing.   At the very least, run it through an online tool that checks for plagiarism for heaven’s sake.
  2. Uh, campaign staff, you don’t run every word past a team of people? Then shame on you. And if no one in the campaign noticed the similarities, you are not very bright. If you did and decided you didn’t care, then you are downright stupid.
  3. If I were Trump, there would be hell to pay. You leave your candidate’s wife out to dry and to be the butt of every joke on late night TV and in the social media world? You’re fired! Period.
  4. Missed opportunity. The best word I can use to describe Melania is brave. This isn’t her world. She’s a model. By all accounts she is a smart, classy model but she is neither a public speaker nor a politician. All the Trump speechwriter needed to do was substitute those similar phrases with personal anecdotes that tied back to the theme. That’s all. It would have made that speech stronger and avoided the potential controversy.
  5. Tell the truth. Now I realize that this is an odd concept to politicians around the world but in particular in today’s U.S. political system. But geez – after the questions came up about the speech, what’s the real story? Did Melania write it? (I doubt it, not because she couldn’t but I can’t imagine a campaign allowing it). Did the speechwriter screw up? (uh yes) and is he or she going to be canned (should be). But there must have been six different stories that came out afterward to try to explain the similar phrasing and that should worry anyone who follows the Trump campaign and cares about how it communicates in a crisis. I thought Clinton had that part screwed up royally but it seems that both sides of the aisle are equally unable to handle tough questions in times of crisis.

For a campaign that had done so many PR things right and seemed to be pretty Teflon when messages weren’t on point, this counts as a major screw up and is perhaps a sign of things to come. Stay tuned to the Convention coverage to see what’s next.