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Open Mouth, Insert Foot, Close Mouth-Mitt… PR Lessons Learned From a Crumbled Cookie?

Apr 23, 2012

Pop icon and singer Britney Spears’ second album may have been called “Oops!…I Did It Again” but it seems the 12 year-old phrase is getting a new lease of life in Republican hopeful Mitt Romney’s continuing saga of campaign trail gaffes.

Yes, oops he did it again! But at least his latest remark helps underscore some base public relations principals and makes for good blog post fodder.  Thank you Mr Romney.

The latest tongue-tie comes out of the Bethel Park community, a southern suburb of Pittsburgh, where at a recent a campaign rally/picnic, Romney hinted that the event’s sub-par cookies were coming from a 7-Eleven chain bakery. His humorous, though mildly condescending tone suggested local bakers bake better, more “authentic tasting cookies.”

Anyone following the story (which went viral as CookieGate) knows that Romney’s comments were a not-so-subtle nod to Republican Party basics: espousing the vitality and vibrancy of small business.

But that’s not how the cookie crumbled for “open-mouth-insert-foot-close-mouth-Mitt.” His jibe to the quality of 7-Eleven baked goods backfired in several ways:

1)      The offending cookies were made by a 57-year-old local bakery, which had been hired for the event.

2)      7-Eleven is not a bakery, a remark that has again sparked concern that Romney is out of touch with everyday Americans, who, while they make struggle through the lyrics of the Star Spangled Banner, know exactly what their “local” 7-Eleven offers.

For Romney, this latest gaffe, like his Etch A Sketch comment a month ago, can’t easily be shaken off.

It also reinforces that effective public relations isn’t just about writing press releases – far from it. In fact we are constantly reminding clients that press release generation is in some ways, the least critical part of what we do. Managing a client’s message – in print, online, in person on Twitter and Facebook, and everywhere else their name and their brand are promoted.

Hindsight is, after all, 20/20, but isn’t it possible that a particularly on-the-ball communications whiz could have anticipated that their boss would try to inspire the small town business spark knowing that cookies would be served at the event? And if so, Romney could have turned that info into his advantage instead of spoiled dough.

By now, “CookieGate,” a week old and it’s entirely possible the Romney campaign will find humor after al. 7-Eleven’s PR team has already done that while the bakery is cashing in on its Internet notoriety by offering a “CookieGate” special: buy a dozen, get a half-dozen free.

Kudos….eerrrr…..cookies to them!

Considering that Romney gaffes are nearing bakers dozen regularity, it’s likely he’ll have plenty of time to improve his PR game before the big PR game heats up this fall.  And then we can talk about how the cookie crumbled.

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