Obviously, don’t dress up in blackface. But if you have skeletons in your closet, as you climb the business or political ladder, disclosing them to your team may defuse a bomb down the road.
Our Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been under fire this past week for photos and a video of him in blackface and brownface, which made international news.
When questioned by Canadian media, he said he never told his team about the incidents. Trudeau told reporters in Winnipeg, “I never talked about this. Quite frankly, I was embarrassed.”
Set aside the incidents themselves, and let’s talk about this aspect for a moment.
It should go without saying that before a politician runs for office, they should disclose to their team details about their past – especially those they find embarrassing. Every time I conduct a media training session, I ask for disclosure on anything that could be harmful to the individual or business if it came out.
Sometimes what comes out are stories of past vindictive lovers, potentially problematic investments, or embarrassing drunken videos. Obviously, information like this can be awkward to disclose – but it’s vital for a communications team to be aware, so they can create a response strategy.
Yes, it’s embarrassing. But it would be so much worse to be caught defending yourself to the public when your team is also hearing about it for the first time.
As a child, if your parents were like mine, they would have told you that hiding something you did would always bring more trouble than just fessing up and being honest up front. If it’s true that Trudeau did not disclose these incidents to his staff, it shows a lack of judgement; he’s smart enough to know that only hampered their ability to respond.
Once public, you still have another opportunity to fess up; it seems Trudeau missed this one as well. His inability (or refusal) to give a concrete number of times he dressed up in blackface only means the story got amped up with each subsequent photo – and now with a trail of breadcrumbs, there will likely be more digging and questions into what other ghosts are in his past.
When someone admits they can’t be upfront – even with their own staff and the people closest to them – it’s difficult for the public to trust them. Political teams, just like communications professionals, have probably heard close to everything already anyway. It takes a lot to shock them.
In the business world, a communications professional dealing with a crisis like this would likely advise the leader to step down.
Right now, the face of the country is covered with dirt – but had he been up front from the beginning, it might have been a different story.
Ada Slivinski is the Founder & Principal of Jam PR, a boutique agency focused on helping small businesses get big exposure. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org