Sometimes the past can come back to haunt you, and PR really doesn’t have a statute of limitations. Take the following example as a cautionary tale of how your poor decisions years prior can impact your ability to lead in the present.
A recently elected Pennsylvania city councilman just got booted from office because of a felony drug conviction from back in – wait for it – 1993. Now, for those of you who are getting as old as I am, you might want to remember, that was 23 years ago. Yes, really.
Imagine this guy’s surprise. He may have even legitimately forgotten about it when he ran for office. Well, maybe not, but he sure hoped others had. See, Corey Sanders had pleaded no contest to charges he dealt crack cocaine. Sanders was sentenced to six to 15 years in prison. Yes, it was 23 years ago, but you can bet he remembered being sentenced to prison on a crack cocaine conviction.
Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala said he didn’t want to contradict the will of the people who voted for Sanders, but he had no choice under the law. Wouldn’t those voters have liked to have known that before they cast a ballot? By hiding his conviction and hoping no one would notice, Sanders engaged in the sort of self-delusion many people entertain … right before a PR crisis lands squarely on their heads.
Look, if you have an issue in your closet, your team needs to know about it. While certain things are subject to law, anything subject to public relations can be mitigated if, one, you have the right people on your team, and, two, you get control of the message at the right time. That time? Always, as soon as possible.
In Sanders’ case, he got a little ahead of himself. He’s been seeking a state pardon so he could run for office, but that will take years. Sanders decided to roll the dice. He lost … and that impatience likely means his political career is done, at least for the foreseeable future. Plus, if he does get the pardon and decides to run again, you can bet his opponent will bring up how he tried to pull a fast one on voters.
The lesson? Don’t hide from your skeletons. Deal with them … because someone else will be more than happy to pull them out of the closet and put them on parade.