President’s Compliment a Downside Risk

In a world where everything is potentially offensive and nothing goes unheard, many high-level executives are making inappropriate comments with lasting negative effects on their company’s brand image.

From BP’s former CEO Tony Hayward wanting his “life back” to Ryanair’s CEO Michael O’Leary calling his customers “idiots,” it’s clear that PR professionals have their work cut out for them.

More recently, at a fundraiser in California, President Obama complimented California’s Attorney General Kamala Harris saying she was the “best looking attorney general in the country,” which spurred millions to speak out on sexism in the workplace.

California Attorney General Kamala Harris

California Attorney General Kamala Harris

Obama eventually apologized to Harris in a call after the fundraiser where he made his remarks, but not before many leftist bloggers and news agencies took their swings at the President for his “sexist remarks.”

His comment probably would’ve otherwise been forgotten if said 20 years ago, but due to the growing popularity of social media, it was magnified by millions of tweets commenting on both sides of the “sexism in the workplace” debate.

Whether his comment was sexist or not, it is not something with which the Obama camp wants to be associated. However, countless news organizations unremittingly discussed it for days further cementing a public perception of sexism in the White House.

Although the President’s remark was off-the-cuff and in a “casual setting,” it begs the question: How much freedom should PR professionals allow their executives when going “off script?”

Is it better for companies to be safe and have their CEOs sound scripted or allow them to connect with the public through impromptu conversation?

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