Hillary Clinton's Team Needs To Act - Fast

13/09/2016 09:34

Twitter has suddenly acquired a very large number of top medical experts. These people can diagnose someone from just from looking at a photo or a long-range video. Remarkably, I can't because I'm not her personal doctor, so I don't know what's wrong with Hillary Clinton.

But Mrs Clinton's health scare at the 9/11 ceremony does highlight how much people care about the health of their leaders and how important personal PR and crisis management really are for public figures.

When you're a political leader, your physical and mental health are in the spotlight. You might not like this; it might not seem fair - but it's a fact. As soon as you stick your head above the parapet, stand up amongst your peers, run for President or Prime Minister anywhere in the world, you're opening yourself up to scrutiny. And that includes not only your policies but your character and your health too.

Quite rightly, in the West we have a long tradition of keeping our leaders' general health matters under wraps. For example, no one needs to know if the most powerful person in the country has an ingrowing toenail or takes low-dose blood pressure tablets or suffers from a minor condition, such as occasional migraines or a bad back. It's a private matter. It doesn't impact their ability to do the job.

However, if you collapse at a public event or faint at a banquet or become in some way infirm either physically or mentally, then it is not just your private business. It is impacting on your ability to do the job, and it is impacting your reputation. You can't hide from this and because media speculation is so very damaging it's vital that your PR team actively manages the fall out.

I'm a huge Hillary Clinton fan. I think she would make the best President the US has ever had. But I'm concerned about her, and even more concerned about the advice she's being given by her team. Her collapse at the 9/11 ceremony was very distressing. If she was a relative of mine I'd be incredibly worried about her. I'd be telling her to slow down; think about herself and her family, and depending on her own diagnosis, seriously consider the most difficult choices in light of recent events. But I'm not a family member and I'm not in possession of the full facts. But her PR team are. And they control the messages.

Let's look at this from a different angle. When a rock-star celebrity pulls out of a world tour due to 'exhaustion', we all know that that means they've either been struck down with very severe depression or they are battling addiction. No one questions this; they just nod knowingly, forget all about it and wait for that person to re-emerge. Euphemisms work for celebrities. They do not work for politicians. In Hillary Clinton's case, the PR team decided to use the word 'overheated', when actually, her doctor later confirmed that she is suffering from pneumonia. They must have known this - so why didn't they just say it?

And herein lies the problem in this case. Hillary's PR team have all the facts. They know her medical history and they know that this kind of collapse may well be a possibility at any time. So why didn't they have a proper statement ready? But more than this, why have they left it so long, many months, to really tackle the growing questions about Mrs Clinton's health?

This episode has not suddenly become a crisis. It was a crisis right from the first moment that the media began speculating about her health. It was way back then that they should have been on it - and they were, to a certain extent.

In July last year they released a very detailed letter from Mrs Clinton's doctor, the conclusion of which is that she suffers from hypothyroidism, a very common complaint. Sadly, the public has now forgotten this letter and the PR team have done nothing to keep this diagnosis front of mind, or explain her condition and its symptoms.

But this week, in a recent post-collapse comment, the team now state that there are "no other underlying conditions, the pneumonia is the extent of it". This statement now prompts even more questions - specifically, what happened to the hypothyroidism? But in any event, they have certainly not driven the agenda on her health or managed the coverage.

Hillary Clinton's communications director Jennifer Palmieri PR has accepted that they 'could have done better' when it came to the events on Sunday. But their inaction has caused a vacuum that will continue to be filled by lurid speculation. If they want to ensure Hillary is elected, they need to get back on the front foot, manage the coverage, build better relationships with the press, explain her diagnosis and accept that when you're running to be President of a superpower, your health is global news.